Author: pastormjc

Sermon for May 28, 2023, The Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:14-21 (The Day of Pentecost—Series A)

“Beyond Anything Experienced Before”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 28, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the Second Reading from Acts 2:

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;

20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

          The Day of Pentecost was one of the three Old Testament festivals that God required the Israelites to celebrate each year along with the Feasts of Passover and Tabernacles. Pentecost takes place fifty days following the first Sunday after Passover, when the first sheaf of the barley harvest was reaped. If you count back fifty days to the first Sunday after the Passover, you’ll find yourself on Easter morning when the Lord Jesus is risen from the dead! Just 10 days prior to the Pentecost events of Acts 2, the risen Lord Jesus, true God and true Man, ascended into heaven. Before His Ascension to the right hand of God in power, glory, and majesty, Jesus told His disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.You are witnesses of these things.And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:46–49 ESV).

          On the Day of Pentecost, Jesus fulfilled that promise. God the Holy Spirit was poured out in power upon the chosen disciples. Jesus fulfilled the promise He had given the Apostles in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,  even the Spirit of truth, . . . But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:16–17, 26 ESV). But wait, there’s more! On this Day of Pentecost following the Lord Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the promise that He made all the way back through His servant, the prophet Joel, saw the beginning of its fulfillment. God poured out His Spirit upon all flesh so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus might be saved from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

          Now, I have to confess something to you. At the beginning of the week, I was really struggling to choose a text on which to preach today. I was working with the Gospel reading, and had some okay material to work with, but it really wasn’t clicking. I came home and there, in my living room, was a package from Concordia Publishing House—a commentary inside—the brand-new commentary on the Book of Joel. Is this just a fluke in timing? Peter’s sermon text on Pentecost was Joel 2! And here I am struggling with a text to preach on Pentecost Sunday. Maybe this delivery was the Holy Spirit’s way of saying, “Hey, why not look at Peter’s text!” And here we are, looking at Peter using the text of Joel 2, telling those assembled in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover that what they were hearing and seeing was not a result of drunkenness at nine in the morning. It was God the Father and God the Son doing what they had long promised to do—pour out the Holy Spirit in power onto thirsty souls so that people might know by a Spirit-given faith that “God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

          You see, this Pentecost marked a new beginning in which all believers find themselves included. The pouring out in power of God the Holy Spirit ushers in what we would call the “New Testament era,” which is characterized by the generous outpouring of the Spirit. “The end-time event prophesied by Joel . . . took place already at Pentecost and recurs every time a person is baptized in the triune name of God and so receives the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, along with the forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation in Christ. . . . During this time, God’s people are called, gathered, and preserved in faith by the Holy Spirit.”[1]

          But wasn’t the Holy Spirit working in the Old Testament time, too? Absolutely! Yes, yes, yes! God’s Word makes clear that no one can believe in Jesus, the Messiah promised to come (in the case of God’s Old Testament people) or the Messiah who has come (for us on this side of the timeline), without the Holy Spirit bringing people to faith and keeping people in that faith and trust. 1 Corinthians 12:3, “No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” And Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5–6 ESV). If the Holy Spirit wasn’t active in Old Testament times creating and preserving faith, how are we to think that the Old Testament people came to faith and were saved? Indeed, God the Holy Spirit was active in all believers, then and now, bringing them to faith and remaining in them to preserve them in faith.

          So, then, what difference does Pentecost make? Joel prophesied that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all people, even on people from the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. All of the normal categories of human distinction like gender, age, and social position are irrelevant when it comes to the Spirit’s work of creating and sustaining faith in Jesus Christ. From an Old Testament perspective, this is unexpected and shocking! What is new and different after Pentecost is that salvation is indeed freely going to people of all nations, ages, and social positions! Since Pentecost, the Spirit has been converting Gentiles in large numbers, as it was always God’s intention that the Israelites share the message of salvation in the promised Messiah with other nations. But the admittance of Gentiles into God’s family was something new and different in the years immediately after Pentecost. Just read the Book of Acts! Consider Paul, an apostle to whom? The Gentiles! And for us who are Gentiles, this is hugely significant. It means that you and I are beneficiaries of God’s salvation through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

          Through the preached Word and the hearing of the Gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit has created saving faith within you. The Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies, and keeps you in the one, true faith as a child of the heavenly Father. As the Spirit does the same work of converting sinners and making them holy that He has always done, since Pentecost, the role and importance of the Spirit in believer’s lives is expanded. The Spirit’s work in us is deeper, richer, greater, and fuller in this New Testament era in which we live.

          At His Ascension, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would give believers power. This power shows itself in speaking and in actions—in Christian ministry and in Christian living. Who would have thought Peter could have preached such a sermon as he did on that Pentecost day? Through the power of the Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel, Baptism, and Lord’s Supper, all believers can break the dominion of sin, saying “no” to temptation, as well as being courageous witnesses for Jesus Christ with their lives. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God guards and keeps us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us. We are able to overcome them and win the victory by the power that the Holy Spirit gives to us by His grace!

          Before Pentecost, the disciples’ understanding of the work of Jesus was fuzzy and incomplete. The simply didn’t understand that it was necessary for Jesus to suffer, die, and rise again. After Pentecost, Jesus’ followers clearly proclaimed the forgiveness of sins won by the death and resurrection of Christ. They became authoritative teachers of the church and the inspirited authors of the New Testament. This fulfills the promise that the Spirit would bring greater insight and understanding to the people of God. The disciples believed and had a blurry understanding before Pentecost, but with the gracious outpouring of the Spirit, they believed and received a clear understanding of Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, which they boldly proclaimed. To you the Spirit also gives a level of spiritual knowledge of Jesus and His person as true God and Man, your Savior and Lord. And that is greater than what was available for the Old Testament believers. Through His New Testament, the Spirit is able to teach to you the full story of God’s plan of salvation with its glorious fulfillment in Christ.

          Needless to say, there is so much more that could be said today about the person and work of God the Holy Spirit and His gracious outpouring on the Day of Pentecost which fulfills the promises of God through Joel, the rest of the prophets, and our Lord Jesus Himself. With the outpouring of the Spirit, we enjoy something beyond anything experienced by God’s Old Testament people. We, by grace, are recipients of the Spirit’s “enhanced activity” in our own lives. “Jesus has baptized us in the Holy Spirit and the Spirit lives in us. This Spirit works faith in Christ, leads us to grow in sanctified [holy] living, and equips us to be of service to others. In this way, we are blessed beyond God’s people in [Old Testament] times.”[2]

          In those times, the Spirit made use of foreshadowings and preliminary sketches, involving human priests, animal sacrifices, events like the Exodus, and institutions like the Temple. Now, in these New Testament days, the Spirit connects us to the completed redemptive work of Jesus Christ. So, when the Spirit works through the Gospel, He seeks to magnify Jesus, not Himself. “The Spirit is happy to remain in the background, as Jesus is glorified.”

And this is the work of the Spirit, bringing people like you to faith in Jesus Christ through Baptism and the Gospel Word. And it’s all about Jesus—the very Jesus who lived a perfect life in our place so that He might exchange His rightness for our sins and then endure suffering, death, and hell for them in our place on the cross. In order to give us and all people eternal life, Jesus suffered and died, winning for the world forgiveness and new life. With His death and resurrection, He paid for all your sins in full. You are forgiven. You have eternal life as a free gift. As a guarantee of this salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil, God the Holy Spirit has been given to you (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:14). The Spirit strengthens your most holy faith in Jesus through the Word of the Gospel and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. “The end result is that we love Jesus more and more and we want to share the message of Jesus more and more with people of all nations.”[3]

And “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5 ESV). That love is Jesus Christ, received by faith through the Spirit’s gift. And the love we have from Christ and for Christ now overflows in our lives in the fruits of saving faith as we serve the Lord and our neighbor in love each and every day.

God’s promise in Joel is fulfilled. The Holy Spirit is poured out in power by the Lord’s Means of Grace in Word and water. You are Spirit-filled believers in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. You are in the love of Christ to show the love of Christ to all people. And that’s something beyond what had been experienced before this day full of grace—Pentecost. Amen.

     [1] Horrace Hummel, Ezekiel 21-48, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2007), 1145.

     [2] Thomas P. Nass, Joel, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia , 2023), 416.

     [3] Nass, 417.

Sermon for May 21, 2023, Sevent Sunday of Easter

John 17:1-11 (Seventh Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“Christ Prays and Intercedes for You”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 21, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 17:

1Jesus spoke these things, and after He lifted up His eyes into heaven, He said, “Father, the hour is come. Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You, 2just as You gave Him authority over all flesh, so that He might give to all whom You have given to Him eternal life. 3Now this is eternal life, namely, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You sent. 4I glorified You on the earth by accomplishing the work that You have given Me to do. 5And now You, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory which I had with You before the world existed. 6I made known Your name to the people whom You gave Me out from the world. They were Yours and You gave them to Me and Your word they have kept. 7Now they have come to know that everything You have given to Me is from You, 8for the words which You gave Me I have given to them, and they received and have come to know truly that I came from You, and they have come to believe that You sent me. 9I Myself am asking for their sake; I am not asking for the sake of the world, but for the sake of those whom You have given to Me, because they are Yours. 10All things that are Mine are Yours and all Your things are Mine, and I am glorified in them. 11And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which you have given Me so that they may be one just as We are one.

          John 17 is often called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. Its outline follows that of the role of the High Priest on the Old Testament Day of Atonement. On that day, the High Priest would first make atonement for his own sins, then for the sins of the priestly house, his family, and finally, atonement would be made for the whole people of Israel. In the portion of Jesus’  prayer we read this morning, Jesus prays first for Himself and then for His disciples. Following this, in verses 20-21, Jesus also prays for those who would come to believe in Him through the preaching and witness of His disciples.

As we look at Jesus’ prayer this morning, we find the wondrous truth that Jesus, before His arrest, suffering, and death, prayed for all of His followers, then and now and in the future. Let this sink in . . . before His death on the cross for the sins of the whole world, Jesus prayed for you. He prayed that all of His disciples might be made holy by the truth of God’s Word in Christ. Jesus asked the Father in heaven that we may be one, even as He is one God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus prayed for our new life of holiness, and in that holiness, He prayed for our oneness. Jesus would pray, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:17-21 ESV).

          Jesus, the only Son of God, came into this world as a man in order to secure for us a new life of holiness. Jesus’ prayer before His sacrificial death on the cross is that people would be made holy through His life-giving blood shed on the cross.

          By nature, we are not holy. We are not set apart from sin and evil. To the contrary, we are, as we confess, sinful. A small boat in a stream of swiftly rushing water is secured to shore by a chain of only ten links. How many links must be cut to set the boat adrift? A lady, wearing white gloves and wielding fine steel sheers, may open one link—there goes the boat. Just one little link, but the boat is gone. A man may come down with a blow torch. He burns out all ten links—there goes the boat. The person who commits one so-called “little” sin is the same in God’s sight as the person who breaks all the commandments. If a person is less holy than God, he or she is a sinner. Whether one link is broken, or all the links are broken, the boat is adrift.

Since every one of us is conceived and born sinful, we are not holy in and of ourselves. We are not perfect as God wants us to be. We do break the Ten Commandment by what we think, say, desire, and do. We don’t always fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We place our trust and love in ourselves and in our abilities or in what we have. We love our money or status more than God. We trust more in our abilities to get what we want or to get us out of a situation than we trust in God’s help. We curse, swear, lie, and deceive by God’s holy name. St. James writes, “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:8-10 ESV). The Lord Jesus Himself also tells us, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).

As a result of our complete lack of holiness, we are condemned by the wrath of God who alone is holy and, according to His perfect justice, must punish sin. That punishment is physical death and eternal condemnation. Because we are not holy, you and I would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). God sent us Jesus, His One-of-a-Kind Son, to be our Savior from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. Jesus came to make us holy in the sight of God so that we would live forever with Him. We read in our text, “Father, the hour is come. Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You, just as You gave Him authority over all flesh, so that He might give to all whom You have given to Him eternal life. Now this is eternal life, namely, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You sent” (John 17:1-3).

Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, sacrificed Himself for our sins on the cross. He died in our place for all of our sins of thought, desire, speech, and action. Jesus’ shed His blood to make us clean from our sins of loving other things and self more than God. Jesus paid in full our sins of lust and foul language, for our lying and cheating. All of our sins, every last one, are covered in the blood of Jesus, shed for us in His death on the cross. That means you and I are forgiven. We are forgiven by the Word of God that declares to us holy in God’s sight because of the death of Jesus on the cross. We have been called into the holiness of Christ as we have been cleansed by His blood shed for us on the cross. The writer to the Hebrews said, “And by that will we have been [made holy] through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 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 [made holy]” (Hebrews 10:10-14 ESV).

Jesus, our Great High Priest, who prayed for His disciples before His suffering and death, offered Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins to make our lives holy, cleansing us from sin and rescuing us from death by His blood. We receive this new life of holiness through the waters of Baptism. In Baptism we were washed. We were made holy. We were declared “not guilty of sin” in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1Cor. 6:11). Our sins are forgiven and we do have eternal life!

In our text, Jesus not only prayed for our holiness but also our oneness as His people. “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which you have given Me so that they may be one just as We are one.” Through the washing of Holy Baptism, we are all made members of God’s family, the Church. In and through Baptism, we receive the oneness that Jesus prayed for before His suffering and death. 1Peter 2:9 declares this wonderful truth, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  We are God’s holy people in Christ Jesus. We are reminded of this in Ephesians 4, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV). In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all our sins as Jesus continues to pray and to intercede for us.

This is where our text this morning impacts our everyday lives. Jesus, who died and rose again, who has ascended to the Father, continues now to pray and to intercede for us to His Father in heaven. He continues to pray for our holiness and oneness. Jesus “always lives to make intercession for [us]” (Hebrews 7:25). The Crucified, Risen, and Ascended Lord Jesus speaks to the Father in our defense, praying for us that we might continue steadfast in the faith and life of holiness which He alone has given us through His cross and resurrection. As our Great High Priest, Jesus continues to pray for His holy Church, that we maintain the unity of the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

This is pure comfort and joy to know that Jesus, our Savior, prays for us. Jesus prays for you continually. He who died to give you His holiness, prays for you, even as He did for His first century disciples. He prays that you may be kept in your baptismal faith unto life everlasting. He prays that you would “be kept safe and secure in the ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving God’s name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope.” 

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, your Savior today is praying and interceding for you with His blood. The Lord Christ continually intercedes for you before His Father in heaven, showing you to be marked with His cross, the people redeemed by His blood. May your holiness of faith and life in the oneness of Christ’s Church always be filled with excitement and joy in Jesus Christ, who is praying for you. Amen.

Sermon for May 14, 2023, Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 17:16-31 (Sixth Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“The Culture Needs Christ”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 14, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the First Reading from Acts 17:

16While Paul waited for [Silas and Timothy] in Athens, it irked his spirit within him when he saw the city so full of idols. 17So he conversed in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks and in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be around. 18Now some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also debated with him, and some said, “What is this foolish babbler trying to say?” But others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange divinities,” because he was preaching the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection. 19So they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this teaching is, of which you speak? 20For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. So, we wish to know what these things mean. 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who live there found time for nothing else than telling or hearing the latest novelty. 22So, Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, began to speak, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in everything. 23For as I was passing through and looking at your objects of worship, I also found an altar on which was inscribed, ‘To the Unknown God.’ Therefore, what you worship as one unknown, this is the One I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, He being Lord of heaven and earth, does not reside in hand-made temples, 25nor is He served by human hands as if He needed anything. He is the Giver of all life and breath and all things. 26He made from one [man] every nation of people to live on the whole face of the earth, after He had determined the allotted seasons and the boundaries of their dwelling-place, 27to seek God, if indeed they might grope for Him and find Him. And yet, He is not far from each one of us. 28’For in him we live and move and have our being,’ as indeed some of your own poets have said, ‘for we are indeed his offspring.’ 29Therefore, being offspring of God, we ought not to think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, the engraving of human art and thought. 30So, one the one hand, God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because He has set a day on which He is about to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom He appointed, having given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.”

          The apostle Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him in the great city of Athens. Let me try to paint a brief picture. In the time of Paul in the early first century A.D., Athens continued to represent the highest levels of culture in classical antiquity. The sculpture, literature, and oratory of Athens, the philosophy too, placed this city in the leading place. As Paul walked the streets, everywhere it seemed, he would have seen temples and images of pagan divinities. The city was full of idols, dedicated to the worship of gods that were no gods at all. In addition to the synagogue, Paul also spent time in the Agora, the marketplace, the very center of Athenian life and activity. There he talked with anyone who happened to be around. And as he did, he would have seen square pillars with sculptures of the head of Hermes, the messenger of the Greek gods. Wherever Paul looked there was a forest of idols. Luke writes, not to our surprise, that all these idols and objects of worship “irked his spirit.” And yet Paul would not be deterred in his God-given mission to share the good news of Jesus Christ and the Resurrection not only in the synagogue of the Jews but also in the marketplace of the pagan Greeks.

Today, the comparison is generally being made that our culture here in the 21st Century is similar to the culture of the first century A.D. Luke writes that “all the Athenians and the foreigners who live there found time for nothing else than telling or hearing the latest novelty.” If it’s new, it’s in! If it’s popular, everybody should think it, believe it, or do it. If not, you’re a bigot or a hypocrite or simply out of touch with reality. Maybe you’ve heard, or have even had, the conversation that begins, “Well, everyone else is doing it?” “If everyone was jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you?” Just because something is culturally popular does not mean it is good for you. Jumping off any bridge, I assure you, is not good for you. Hurting or harming yourself in your body is not good for you. Your body is created by the only true God. As some of the Greek poets had written, “In Him we live and move and have our being, for we are His offspring.”

But the culture lacks the knowledge of the only true God, the Creator, who made the world and everything in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, who doesn’t live in hand-made temples and is not served by people because He has a need. This God, the only God, is the “Giver of all life and breath and all things.” This was Paul’s initial message to the Athenians who had taken him to the Areopagus, or “hill of Ares” (the Greek god of war), to their official court to discuss matters, where Paul could expound his teaching before “experts.”

How, then, does our culture today reflect that of the first-century Athenian culture? How does our setting in which we are to live and move and have our being as Christians compare with that of Paul in Athens? Like the Stoic philosophers in Paul’s day, many people today lay the greatest emphasis on their own rational thinking, on individual self-sufficiency. Who needs God in their life when the person himself or herself has the best mind to handle things? Who needs God when someone is self-sufficient on their own? In fact, you can be your own god. Isn’t that what the devil said in his temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden, “In the day that you eat of the fruit of the tree, you will be like God knowing good and evil”? (Gen 3:5). You already have it all in that great mind of yours. You know how to think and if something isn’t rational, don’t bother with it. None of this God nonsense is needed. What do you need a Savior from anyway? You’re fine just the way you are. And if your life can no longer be sustained with dignity, suicide is an honorable means of escape from life. That’s what the Stoics believed. And do not some in our culture support medically assisted suicides? Are there not people in our culture who say that if having a baby wouldn’t be good for you, simply get an abortion and let the child die? That proud Stoic spirit of personal independence irks the heart of the only true God. Can we, then, stand idly by and not speak God’s message of truth?

Paul also debated with Epicureans in his day. These followers of Epicurus said that pleasure is the chief goal in life. If it feels good, do it! If it makes you happy, get it! One’s pleasure in life is of utmost importance. As long as you are happy and pleased, no one and nothing else matters, even God. Besides, God doesn’t really care about people. He has no interest in your life. Doesn’t that sound like our culture today? “If there is a god, and we’re not sure that there is, he clearly doesn’t care. He’s not involved with you, why be involved with him? Do whatever you like so that you can have pleasure! Be who you are for your happiness and pleasure and don’t worry about anyone else or especially any of this religious blah blah blah.”

We live in a world and culture much like Athen’s in Paul’s day. It’s a culture full of idols, and the most popular idol is the self. “It’s all about me.” There’s another trinity on the block—me, myself, and I—that the devil, the world, and our own flesh uses to obscure the only true God and His Son, Jesus Christ, from our hearts and minds.

This is the malady for us today. This is the problem—idolatry, making of gods to suit peoples’ wants and desires and pleasures. And you and I are not immune from it. God forbid that we should sit here and think, “The Pastor is talking about those people,” whoever they are precisely. No. I’m talking about all people. I’m also talking about you and me. We, too, are tempted and fall into idolatry. We have placed ourselves first in our lives. We have put pleasure, greed, lust, and many other things before our fear, love, and trust in God. We have, at times, made for ourselves gods and lords, including our own selves, as we have bought into the thinking of the culture. This is our world, this is our culture, and we live in it, but we don’t have to be of it. Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 1 Pet. 1:14, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,” the ignorance of our sinful nature that does not know God or trust in God or live for God.

Paul was showing the people of Athens on the hill of Ares that there is a God, unknown to them, but known to Paul. He is the only God, the Creator. He’s not bound by hand-made temples and altars. He doesn’t need the service of humans like their deities because He is all-sufficient, all-powerful, all-knowing, the Lord of heaven and earth, the Giver of all life and breath and all things. He set up this very creation, the whole world, for the benefit and blessing of humanity so that they might find Him as their God, and Lord, and Savior. And Paul concludes that the period for this Almighty God to overlook the times of ignorance has ended. There is a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness. And the One who judges is the Man God Himself appointed for the task, the Man whom God raised from the dead.

And that Man is also God—Jesus, God-made-flesh, Crucified and Risen for the world, for the people of Athens, for the people of our culture, and indeed, for you. Now is the time of repentance, literally a change in heart and mind, for all people, including ourselves. Martin Luther wrote in the Smalcald Articles of our Lutheran Confessions, “And God now ‘commands all people everywhere to repent’ (Acts 17:30). ‘All people,’ He says. No one is an exception who is a human being. This repentance teaches us to discern sin: We are completely lost; there is nothing good in us from head to foot; and we must become absolutely new and different people.”[1]

You are a new and different person because God the Father and Son have given to you the promised Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth.” “You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). By the power of the Holy Spirit, God has brought you to repentance. He has given you, through the Gospel Word, a change of heart and mind in the gift of saving faith. The promise of God through His servant Ezekiel has come to fulfillment, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezek. 36:26a ESV).

This gift is yours because God gave His only Son to be the world’s Savior from idolatry. Jesus, the very Son of God, gave up His life into death so that every Stoic, Epicurean, every idolater and unbeliever, might have the forgiveness of sins through the gift of saving faith in Him who is Faithful and True—Jesus (Rev 19:11). In Christ Jesus, your sins are forgiven. Your idolatry, selfishness, and greed are forgiven. The Spirit dwells in you, making you new people in Christ who live for Christ and who desire, like Paul, to share the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection with the people of our culture to whom He is as yet unknown.

Paul saw that the people of Athens needed Jesus Christ. He saw their need for a Savior from their sins and their unbelief. He offered to the Athenians the One who alone is Savior and Judge, the God-Man, Jesus, whose Easter resurrection seals and guarantees forgiveness and eternal life won by His death on the cross. Paul preached Jesus and the Resurrection. He gave to the people the free gift of Jesus so that they might know Him who was previously unknown, so that they would come to know Him as God and Savior. Paul offered in the name of Jesus forgiveness and salvation. And through God’s grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord created faith in the hearts of some of them.

People in our culture already have so many other gods—idols—things they place first and foremost in their lives, like pleasure and self-sufficiency. Now, by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, you are like Paul. You are here in your “Athens” among a culture that needs Jesus Christ and the salvation He has already won for them on the cross. Salvation from sin and death is not found in any one other than Jesus. He alone is the Savior who died for the sins of the world and rose again from the dead guaranteeing forgiveness and eternal life for everyone. The things that people worship in this world as their gods will be of no value in the world to come. The one thing needful is a trusting faith in Jesus Christ. People need what you have already been given in Christ. The culture today needs the gift of faith in Jesus for salvation. We, the Church, the people of God in Christ Jesus, have the opportunity to show folks their need for repentance and forgiveness as we offer them their Savior through the Gospel.

Paul saw this need in Athens, and wherever he went. Do you see it? As Christians, we step out in faith, into our unbelieving, idolatrous culture. We step outside of our comfort zones as we renounce our fears and trust that the Lord will guide our speech and actions through His Holy Spirit, the Helper who is with us forever (John 14:16). As you speak the Good News of Jesus and His Resurrection, the Holy Spirit will teach you what you ought to say (Luke 12:12). He will lead and guide your words just as He did Paul’s in Athens. And as He did through Paul, the Lord, the only true God, will bless your proclamation about Jesus. Some people will mock you. Some won’t want to hear. Some will hate you and call you a bigot or worse. But think about those who will come to faith through the Gospel message. God’s Word never returns to Him empty, but always accomplishes the purpose for which He sent it (Is 55:11). By God’s grace, we pray that many people will be brought to repentance and faith as they come to know and to confess Jesus as Lord and God. Amen.

     [1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 276.

Sermon for May 7, 2023, Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 14:1-7 (Fifth Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“Your Place is in Christ”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 7, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is from today’s Gospel reading, recorded in John 14:

1Do not let your hearts be troubled; believe in God and believe in Me. 2In the house of My Father are many dwelling places. Now if not, would I have said to you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3And if I should go and prepare a place for you, again I am coming and will receive you to Myself so that where I am, you may be also. 4And where I Myself am going you know the way. 5Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How are we able to know the way?” 6Jesus said to Him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7If you have known Me, also you will know the Father. And from now on, you do know Him and you have seen Him.

          These are very familiar words from Jesus. These verses are often read at a Christian’s funeral. Because these verses are so familiar, they have taken on a “popular understanding” that is not, in and of itself, wrong, but that has almost watered-down or diluted what these verses in the context of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” is really saying.

          John chapters 14-17 are commonly called Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.” In the Upper Room where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, where Jesus instituted the new covenant in His Body and Blood with the bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar, and then continuing on the walk to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus spoke His final words, His last teaching, to His chosen Apostles (minus Judas Iscariot who has already gone out into the night to lead soldiers to arrest Jesus in that very garden). The lead up to Chapter 14:1 is this conversation between Jesus and Peter: Jesus said, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’. . . Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.’Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times’” (John 13:33–38 ESV).

          Where is it that Jesus is going and the Jews cannot follow? Where is it that Jesus is going that His disciples, including Simon Peter, cannot follow? Jesus is going away to the cross! He is going away to His sacrificial death and rest in the tomb. Jesus is going away to die as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. No one else can do this, only Jesus. No one else but the Good Shepherd can lay down His life for the sheep. Jesus has been preparing His disciples for this during their whole time together. He had directly predicted His Passion and death (and resurrection!) three times. Here again, talk of the cross is too much for Jesus’ followers. Their hearts are troubled and agitated.

          And it is then that our Lord speaks to the anxious heart of His disciples and says, “Stop being troubled. Believe in God and believe in Me.” In other words, “Trust Me and the Father who sent Me because I and the Father are One” (John 10:30). The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, one divine Being and Essence, yet in three distinct persons who are coequal in majesty, glory, and power. Oh, the blessed mystery of the Holy Trinity! But Jesus has repeated instructed the disciples and the Jews that He has come from the Father. The Father has sent the Son to do His work of salvation. Verse 7 of our text, “If you have known Me, also you will know the Father. And from now on, you do know Him and you have seen Him.” A few verses later in our Gospel, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:9–11 ESV).

          “So trust in Me as the One-of-a-Kind Son of the Father,” Jesus tells them. “Believe in God and believe in Me, because very soon you will not see Me. I am going away, but that is not a reason for you to be troubled. Where I am going is for your blessing and benefit, to prepare a place for you.” Again, where is Jesus going? To the cross! On the cross is where Jesus prepares a place for you in the house of His heavenly Father. Remember that “popular understanding”? It comes into play here and goes something like this. Jesus is going away back into heaven to get a room ready for you so that when you die, your room in heaven is ready. But heaven is not the Comfort Inn. It’s not the Hotel 1620 in Plymouth, MA where the Pastors’ Conference was held.

          Now this is not to say that there isn’t a place for you in heaven for your soul when you die. That’s kind of a given. There’s a lot of room in heaven for you and for all people! True! But I don’t think this is Jesus’ point. He’s not talking about going to heaven to get rooms ready. He is talking about going to the cross, and it is there that the place is prepared for those who believe in God and believe in Jesus. He’s going, notice, not to get a room ready, but to prepare a “place” for you in “the house of My Father.”

          Well, isn’t that just another way of saying “heaven”? Isn’t “My Father’s house” heaven itself? From a certain point of view, yes. It’s not wrong to call heaven the Father’s house. But that’s not how John, writing by the power of the Holy Spirit, wants us to read Jesus’ words. It is rare in the Old Testament for heaven specifically to be called God’s “house” or God’s “temple.” Since those were the Scriptures of the disciples, how would they have understood “the house of My Father”? In the Greek text of the Old Testament familiar to Jesus’ followers, the phrase “house of God” refers to the place where Israel’s God is uniquely present—not in heaven!—on earth. It acts as a phrase that really means “sanctuary” or “temple.” In John 2, when Jesus cleans out the temple of Herod in Jerusalem, He calls the temple, “my Father’s house.” And John records, “So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’But he was speaking about the temple of his body.When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:18–22 ESV). Jesus Himself is, in fact, the new and greater temple, God dwelling with His people in the person of Christ.

          Considering the Old Testament and the setting of John 14, for Jesus, the only Son, to refer to “the house of My Father,” would almost certainly be heard as “temple language” in the ears of Jesus’ disciples and of John’s readers, too. And it is Jesus as the Divine Son who has come and “templed” or “tabernacled” or “dwelt” among us, full of grace and truth—John 1:14. God the Son in the person of Jesus Christ, Immanuel—God with Us—is where God dwells among His people. Jesus is the new and greater temple. Jesus in His own body is the location of God’s new “temple-presence” in the world. And it is this Jesus who goes to the cross to prepare for the disciples a dwelling place in the house of His Father. After He so prepares, after He dies and rises again, all believers in Jesus will find a place for themselves in Jesus Himself when He receives them to Himself; where Jesus is, there they will be as well.

          Jesus, then, is going where He has been saying that His is going. He is going to the cross, to lay down His life for the sins of the world. In doing so, and in again coming to them (rising from the dead on the third day!), He prepares a place of refuge and peace and refreshment for His disciples in the new temple, in Himself. The words of Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Psa. 27:4 ESV). It is this that we have in Jesus, a place to dwell with God in the Father’s house.

Perhaps we can summarize it this way, in the words of Dr. Jeff Gibbs, retired from our St. Louis Seminary:

[Jesus] himself is the house of his Father; this is why so often he speaks of his utter unity with the Father, of being in the Father and the Father being in him, and so forth. As God’s true temple, Jesus fulfills in greater fashion the functions of the first temple and in him, the longing of the psalmists to dwell in the courts of the Lord finds its fruition. Beginning with Mary Magdalene and the apostles, the crucified and risen Jesus comes to them to draw them to himself in faith. Being drawn to Jesus, disciples begin to dwell in the house of the Father, finding atonement for sin and grace and glory and beauty and protection and truth. The Lord’s promise continues to come true in the generations that hear the Spirit-directed word of the apostles. Others believe, and they also find an abiding-room in the Father’s house. Indeed, the Father and Son come and make their abiding-room with believers wherever the apostolic word is believed.[1]

          So the good news is better than even realized. You and I do not have to wait until we die to find a place in the Father’s house. You are already in it for you are already in Jesus Christ through your baptismal faith. The nearness and forgiveness and beauty was already God’s gift to you that He began in your Baptism. You are in Christ. You are baptized into His death and His resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life with God. To be sure, there is plenty of room in heaven for you and me and all believers in Jesus. But even better, there is plenty of room in Jesus for you. You have a place with God because you were given a place in Jesus. For Jesus is the Father’s house in whom you dwell by grace through faith forevermore. Amen.

     [1] Gibbs, Jeffrey A. “Already Dwelling in the Father’s House: Reading John 14:2-3 in Context.” Concordia Journal 49, no. 1 (Wint 2023): 13–34.

Sermon for April 30, 2023, Fourth Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 2:19-25 (Fourth Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“A Life Shaped by the Cross”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 30, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the Epistle Reading from 1 Peter 2:

19For this finds favor, if, because of the awareness of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20For what kind of credit is it if you sin and are beaten and endure it? But if you are doing good and suffer you endure it, this finds favor with God. 21For into this you have been called because Christ also suffered on your behalf, leaving for you an example, in order that you might follow in His footsteps; 22Who committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth, 23Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return, when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to the One who judges justly; 24Who Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but now you have turned to the Shepherd and Keeper of your souls.

          The right Jesus that we worship in Spirit and truth as the Savior of all and the Lord of all is the Jesus who is risen from the dead. The right Jesus is the One who lives, the nail marks still visible in His hands and feet, His side scarred by the spear that pierced Him. Forevermore, Jesus is the Risen One who is the Crucified One. He “Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” It is the Crucified and Risen Jesus, who remains eternally God and Man, one Christ, who has revealed Himself to us in the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread to not only be who He says He is, but also to deliver to you through His Gospel Word the very forgiveness of sins that His sacrifice, death, and resurrection purchased and won for you with His own blood. It is by this Gospel that you have been called by the Holy Spirit to a living faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is by this Gospel that you receive the gifts of Christ’s cross. And it is in the peace of Christ, the peace that the death and resurrection of Jesus earned for you with God your Father, that your Lord and Master sends you to live the Christian life of faith and good works as His disciples and followers, indeed children of the heavenly Father, sisters and brothers of Jesus Himself.

          What, then, does this look like? What does it mean that “into this you have been called because Christ suffered on your behalf, leaving for you an example, in order that you might follow in His footsteps”? It means suffering for doing good and enduring that suffering under the very care of Jesus who is your Shepherd and Keeper.

          As Christians, we cannot live in an “Alice in Wonderland” fairytale. Nowhere do the Scriptures say, “Follow Christ and have a wonderful life.” Rather, the Bible says to us, from Jesus Himself, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The life of a believer in Jesus—the living of the Christian life—is a cruciform life, a life shaped by the cross. Consider with me Jesus’ words to His disciples, and by extension, also to us, in John 15, spoken by our Lord on the night in which He was betrayed, hours before His own suffering: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (John 15:18–21 ESV).

          Are you familiar with the phrase, “like father, like son”? With the same understanding, “like Master, like disciple.” Jesus’ disciples, both then and today, face hostility from the unbelieving world. Several of you have shared with me over the last few months that you see Christians under attack in this country. Subtle persecutions are becoming more blatant against believers. There seems to be more of a “get in your face” attitude by unbelievers toward those who confess Christ as Lord. While certainly troublesome, it is not unexpected or out of the blue. Those who would think it easy to be a Christian fail to understand the real consequences of following Jesus Christ. As part of the cruciform life of faith, we are called to suffer and to be abused while we, as followers of Jesus, conscientiously do good to others, producing the fruits of our Spirit-given faith. As we learn from the Large Catechism of Dr. Luther, “If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and count on having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies [Matthew 25:41; Revelation 12:9]. They will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us. For where God’s Word is preached, accepted, or believed and produces fruit, there the holy cross cannot be missing [Acts 14:22]. And let no one think that he shall have peace [Matthew 10:34]. He must risk whatever he has upon earth—possessions, honor, house and estate, wife and children, body and life. Now, this hurts our flesh and the old Adam [Ephesians 4:22]. The test is to be steadfast and to suffer with patience [James 5:7–8] in whatever way we are assaulted, and to let go whatever is taken from us [1 Peter 2:20–21].”[1] And here is a reference to 1 Peter 2:20-21, “For what kind of credit is it if you sin and are beaten and endure it? But if you are doing good and suffer you endure it, this finds favor with God. For into this you have been called because Christ also suffered on your behalf, leaving for you an example, in order that you might follow in His footsteps.”

          Like our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, so are we as His disciples who confess Christ with our mouth even as we believe in our hearts, living the life of faith and good works under the cross, enduring the suffering caused by the enemies of Christ and His people—the devil and the world. Into this you have been called, namely, to suffer wrong just as Christ did. In a great paradox, something that seems so contradictory but is nevertheless true, as Christians, the more we are wronged, the better it is for us. “If you are doing good and suffer and you endure it, this finds favor with God.” We walk literally in the footsteps of Jesus through suffering into glory.

          Christians live out their faith in the midst of suffering. We bear a cross for the sake of the Gospel, whatever that cross might be, and this is a holy, precious, noble, and blessed calling because we Christians face such sufferings from the devil and the world of unbelievers with God’s strength. Christ Jesus suffered on your behalf. He suffered at the hands of the devil and the world. He suffered the hellish punishment for your sins on the cross, reviled, mocked, threatened, beaten, and murdered. He bore our sins in His body on that cursed tree so that you might die to sin and live to righteousness. Jesus’ wounds have healed you from your sins. Jesus’ wounds have rescued you from sin, death, and the devil with His holy, precious blood so that, by grace alone, you have been called by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel to believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master. You have become His disciples who follow in His footsteps through suffering to the glory of the age to come.

          Whatever we suffer in this life for the sake of Jesus and the true Gospel of His life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins truly pales in comparison to what our Lord suffered for us. As we first receive Jesus as our Savior, only then are we able to receive Him as an example for us to follow when we, like our Lord and Master, face suffering because of His name and for the sake of the Gospel. “If the master takes the lead and steps into the mire, it stands to reason that the servant will follow.”[2]

          And what is the example that our Savior Jesus Christ has given to us as we follow Him in living the Christian life under the form of the cross and face sufferings from the world? Jesus committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth, not even in the face of completely undeserved suffering and abuse. By the grace of God, may the same be said of us when we are in the thick of suffering. May God the Holy Spirit preserve us from sinning. Jesus, when He was reviled, did not revile in return, when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to the One who judges justly—the heavenly Father. By the grace of God, may the same be said of us when we are in the thick of suffering for His Name. May God the Holy Spirit give us the strength to endure suffering for doing good, to bear up under the abuse that comes because we belong to Christ Jesus, ever trusting in our heavenly Father.

          Should God allow us this cross to carry, know that He has promised to give to you the strength to bear it by faith. Jesus Christ is your Good Shepherd. He is the Keeper of your life. He has called you by name in your Baptism. He has brought you into His fold through the Gospel. He cares for you in the midst of suffering as you follow in His footsteps to the glory of the age to come. As with Jesus, there was a cross and suffering before the glory, so it shall be with His disciples. The cross comes first and then the glory of life everlasting.

          By the Holy Spirit, we are empowered by the Gospel to endure suffering as we continue to do good to others, bearing the fruits of our most holy faith, following the example of our Lord and Master whose disciples we are. Ignatius of Antioch, who died for his Christian faith around AD 110, illustrated what this looks like in the lives of Christians. He wrote, “Pray continually for the rest of mankind as well, that they may find God, for there is in them hope for repentance. Therefore allow them to be instructed by you, at least by your deeds. In response to their anger, be gentle; in response to their boasts, be humble; in response to their slander, offer prayers; in response to their errors, be ‘steadfast in the faith’; in response to their cruelty, be gentle; do not be eager to retaliate against them. Let us show ourselves their brothers by our forbearance, and let us be eager to be imitators of the Lord, to see who can be the more wronged, who the more cheated, who the more rejected, in order that no weed of the devil might be found among you, but that with complete purity and self-control you may abide in Christ Jesus physically and spiritually.”[3]

          Imitators of the Lord Jesus, walking in His footsteps, bearing the cross of suffering and abuse for His name’s sake, even as He is with us with His power and grace as our Shepherd and Keeper. That is who we are as Christians as we make our way through this world toward the life of the world to come. In all our weakness, we pray that we would reflect Christ’s servant life and follow in His footsteps, enduring cross and strife, as our Lord gives to us by grace the ability to reach out to our enemies with the power of the Gospel, which works faith and saves eternally. God grant us this steadfastness of faith and life as we live under the care of Christ in a life shaped by the cross. Amen.

     [1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 416.

     [2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 30 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1999), 85.

     [3] The Apostolic Fathers, Second Edition, trans. by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 89-90.