Verse of the Week

Verse of the Week:
"God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." (Acts 5:31 ESV)

Friday, April 28, 2017

April 28, 2017

Scripture: Luke 24:13–35

Having had this reading earlier in the week, please resist the temptation to skim it over (although if you have time for nothing more, please skim!) and take your devotion time to re-read the Gospel lesson slowly.

Pray for the Holy Spirit to teach you as you read the Scripture lesson, and ask him to teach you to pray, opening your heart and mind to pray according to God’s will.

Prayer

On Fridays you will be encouraged to pray for a variety of prayer requests. The hope is that through these prayer requests we will, obviously, intercede for those need prayer, and that we will learn to think more broadly in our prayers. If time is short, you could simply pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Pray about our hearts – three of the readings speak about different aspects of our hearts – that our hearts may not be slow to believe, that when we sin we might be cut to the heart and rush to receive God’s grace, that our hearts might be pure from sin as we live in Jesus’ forgiveness, and that our hearts would burn with joy and excitement when we hear God’s Word.
Pray for our neighbors – that we might love them as we should, that God would draw or hold them close to him in faith, that they be blessed physically and spiritually, and that they may know the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Pray that fear and love of God might work rightly in our lives – that fear would help us cling all the more tightly to God’s love, and that our love for God would help us desire to do his will and obey his Word all the more diligently.
Pray for the nations – that God’s Word would be abundantly active in them, that those who do not believe would be moved to repentance and baptism, and that God’s justice would prevail in the relationships of nations.
Pray for those who are in need – the sick, the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, and the persecuted.
Pray for those who grieve – that Jesus’ resurrection would comfort them and fill them with hope.
Pray for the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to receive God’s Word, believe it, understand it, and share it.
Pray the Lord’s Prayer. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

April 27, 2017

Scripture: 1 Peter 1:17–25

During this Easter Season the Epistle Readings come from 1 Peter, the author of which was a witness of the resurrection and one of the first disciples to see the empty tomb. The readings may or may not directly relate to the other readings of the week, but they do continue the witness to Jesus’ resurrection. This reading exhorts the reader to examine his or her life in light of God’s salvation – Jesus’ death and resurrection – so that he or she might live a life of obedience to God and love for the neighbors. This is, for us, an encouragement to live as people who are formed by the resurrection, filled with faith, forgiven in Christ, obedient to God’s truth, and loving others.

Teaching

The opening words of this reading are, perhaps, uncomfortable for us. Sometimes people try to explain away fear when it comes to our relationship with God. They say that this fear isn’t fear in the normal sense of the word but instead it is awe or respect. That doesn’t really fit, however, with other statements in Scripture, like Matthew 10:28 when Jesus says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” As long as we are in exile – this time in which we live on earth – we sin, sin always deserves God’s wrath, and God’s wrath is always fearful.

Instead of rejecting this fear we should see it as one part of our relationship with God. As Luther says in his explanations to the Commandments, “We should fear and love God so that,” we might do what God says. Our sin puts us in fear of God, but his love moved him to give Jesus to die and rise for us, so we are also moved by love – which is better by far!

Life

Perhaps you remember a time when your parents asked you to clean your room and you did not. Later with voices raised they may have told you to clean your room, at which point you jumped to the task. What motivated you to jump when told (with loud voice) over when you were asked? It is fear – fear of punishment. Often we are motivated by fear to do what is right. While that realization might be disappointing, it is reality. As long as our hearts are tainted by sin, our motives to obey God will always be mixed with fear and love. We must embrace that and live by God’s grace.

When Jesus returns and we experience our own resurrection, our hearts will be pure. Then we will do everything out of love – for God and for others. Until then, we trust in God’s forgiveness and seek to love others from the purified heart we have by faith in Jesus, knowing that our deeds will wither and perish with time, but God’s promise stands forever.

Prayer

Father in Heaven, you gave Jesus as a lamb without blemish to ransom us with his precious blood and after he died you raised him from the dead and gave him glory filling us with faith and hope in you. We thank you for giving us new birth though your living and abiding Word. Forgive us for not fearing or loving you as we ought and for forgetting that you have ransomed us; as though we could do whatever we desire. Give us your Spirit so that we might fear and love you with hearts that are purified by Jesus’ blood, and love our neighbors as you call us to do. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

April 26, 2017

Scripture: Psalm 116:1–14

While Psalm 116 is not one of the Hallelujah Psalms (Psalms 146-150), it ends with a strong Hallelujah as the last word saying, “Praise the Lord!” This psalm praises the Lord for salvation and rescue from death. These themes work very well reinforcing our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and the salvation he has won defeating death and promising everlasting life to all who believe.

Teaching

At the heart of our praise for God is his salvation. He acted in mercy and love to redeem his people from sin and death. This psalm flows from that heart of praise as it speaks of God hearing prayer, delivering the soul from death, eyes from tears, and feet from stumbling.

The psalm also shows that praise is a response to what God has done as it asks, “What shall I render to the Lord?” In other words, “How should I repay the Lord for all the good that he has done?” The psalmist directs us to praise and service. We should note that in v. 16 it speaks of serving the Lord because he as loosed the psalmists bonds or chains. We are freed from sin in Christ so that we may, “serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”[1]

Life

Praise the Lord. Love the Lord. Serve the Lord. These are all things that we do because of his salvation. Perhaps today we would do well to consider how we do these things, along with when and where these are present in our lives. We could then give thanks to God for these blessings as well.

What if you, in considering your praise, love, and service to the Lord, feel that these things are insignificant or your soul feels guilty in your evaluation? Your answer is in v. 7 which says, “Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Return to God’s grace and mercy and live in his forgiveness. Then, as a forgiven Christian, you can pray for God to make your praise more profound, your love more deep, and your service more meaningful.

Prayer

Use Psalm 116 to guide your prayer today. Pray that the Holy Spirit would move you to love the Lord because of his grace and mercy. Pray that he would teach you how to praise and serve the Lord while resting securely in the forgiveness Jesus won for you.  



[1] Small Catechism, Apostles’ Creed, Second Article

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

April 25, 2017

Scripture: Luke 24:13–35

As with Easter Sunday and last Sunday, this Sunday’s Gospel Lesson records events that took place the day Jesus rose from the dead. In this account we read of Jesus, who was unrecognized, joining in a conversation with two of his disciples (these are not part of the Twelve Disciples, but part of the large group that followed him). In that conversation he explained the necessity of his suffering, and while we don’t have that recorded for us, it says that he did so from the Scriptures. He was finally recognized when he broke bread at supper, at which point he disappeared. The two disciples then ran back to Jerusalem to tell the Twelve in joy and excitement that they had seen Jesus. While this passage records another appearance of Jesus after the resurrection, it also adds that all of the events around his death and resurrection were foretold in the same Scriptures which we read today.

Teaching

In some ways these disciples are like us. They had heard that Jesus was raised from the dead and the only way they could believe that is by the testimony of Jesus’ witness – the women. Today the only way we can believe that Jesus was raised from the dead is by the testimony of Jesus’ witnesses. Jesus pointed the disciples to the Scriptures to show that he was supposed to die and rise again, the Scriptures are also where we come to know and believe that Jesus has died and risen to save us from sin and death. And like the disciples recognized Jesus as he broke the bread, we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread of the Lord’s Supper.

God has chosen to work in people’s lives through His Word. This is a wonder when we think about how communication can break down between people. Yet it was God’s will for the women to tell the disciples that Jesus had risen, for Jesus to tell the disciples about the Scriptures that refer to him, for these disciples to tell the Twelve they had seen Jesus, and for Luke to tell us that Jesus rose. To what end? That we, too, might believe Jesus is risen!

Life

Are we ever like these disciples who were slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken? It is sometimes hard having to trust God’s Word when we would like to see evidence. But we should remember Jesus’ words to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We are blessed to have faith!

Our faith hears God’s Word and it receives his promises, and sometimes our hearts burn within us with joy, awe, amazement, or wonder at the good news of our redemption in Christ. Those are wonderful moments to cherish, as we are struck by God’s love and salvation. Even so, our faith is not rooted in feelings and feelings cannot be held on to. Faith is rooted in God’s Word because it is there that he has chosen to come to us.

Prayer

O God, how wondrous it is that you choose to come to us through words; that you have encapsulated your love, forgiveness, and salvation into words which are spoken by people, but then used by your Spirit to create faith in people. We thank you for your Word which tells us that Jesus had died and risen for us. Forgive us for times when we doubt your Word, or when we don’t cherish it as we ought. Help us to see that in the Scriptures you have given us the very words of eternal life so that we may believe and be saved for Jesus’ sake. Amen. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

April 24, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter

Scripture: Acts 2:14a, 36–41

While we are still celebrating Easter, this reading is part of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in a special way that day, and they were enabled to speak so that they were understood in different languages. They used that gift to proclaim Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord. This reading is the conclusion of the message in which Peter convicts his hearers of crucifying Jesus, the promised Christ/Messiah. The people responded by asking what they should do. Peter tells them to repent and be baptized. This reading shows us that the early church proclaimed the risen Jesus as the Savior. They also fulfilled Jesus’ commission as his witnesses by baptizing and teaching, just as we are called to do today.

Teaching

Salvation is the heart of the matter in God’s Word. While some think that the idea of needing God to save us is ridiculous, Peter and the Apostles present it as no laughing matter. They told the people to repent and exhorted them to save themselves from this crooked generation. Sin is no joking matter, and our guilt must be dealt with. The means of our salvation is God’s promise of forgiveness for Jesus’ sake which is delivered to us by the Holy Spirit in Baptism.

The Holy Spirit’s work is to create and sustain faith in us. He does that work through the proclamation of Jesus the crucified and risen Lord, and by delivering Jesus’ salvation through the Word and Sacraments. In essence he takes the forgiveness and salvation Jesus won and gives it to us. We receive those gifts through faith, which is also a gift of the Holy Spirit. Our faith receives the salvation and forgiveness Jesus won by his death and resurrection.

Life

The call to repent and be baptized is just as relevant to us today as it was to Peter’s hearers then. To repent is to turn away from sin. It is to change the way we think and act in response to the forgiveness of sins we have received from Jesus.[1] Repentance does not cause God to forgive us, he does that freely out of his mercy and grace. Instead repentance is an act of faith and gratitude responding to the incredible forgiveness Jesus gave us. Try to think of it that way as you seek to repent of your sins.

The second part, be baptized, applies as well. If you have not been baptized, and you believe in Jesus, you should get baptized. Talk to your pastor and he will be glad to help you.[2] If you have been baptized – even as an infant years ago – the saying still stands. Be baptized. This does not mean be re-baptized, but live in the gifts the Spirit gives in baptism. Be forgiven. Be alive in Christ. Be faithful. Be God’s child. Because you are all these things through baptism.

Prayer

Father, you call us to repent and be baptized, and you give your Holy Spirit to create and sustain faith in people. Thank you for the testimony of the Apostles who preached that Jesus was crucified and raised, and that he is the promised Savior. Please forgive us for our sins, and fill us with your Spirit so we may rightly repent and be your baptized children. Amen.



[1] I am indebted to Eugene Peterson for this way of talking about repentance.
[2] If you need help with this please contact me, and I will assist you. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

April 23, 2017 - 2nd Sunday of Easter

For Repentance and Forgiveness

Listen here.

This is a scene of high drama … and if you didn’t notice, no one could blame you because, once again, our reading begins in the middle of the story! Acts 5 shows the Apostles standing trial before the Sanhedrin - the same court that convicted Jesus and manipulated Pilot to have him crucified.
Peter and John have been here before – in Acts 4, after healing a paralyzed man in the temple. This time they’ve been arrested with the other ten for preaching the Gospel – telling everyone that Jesus had risen from the dead and saved them from sin and death. Actually, they had been arrested the day before our reading takes place, and they were put in prison (remember there was no due process at the time!). But God had sent an angel to release them – so when the court summoned the Apostles they expected to find them in prison. Instead, they found them in the Temple telling everyone about Jesus – the very thing they had been imprisoned for!
The Apostles were brought to the court, and there the court confronted them, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
And this is where our reading enters the narrative, as Peter, ever the spokesman of the group says, “We must obey God rather than men.”
Brothers and sisters, there will always be those who would stop the spread of the Gospel, who would silence everyone who speaks of Jesus. It is no different today, as the Huffington Post – and a slew of other media outlets – reported: Christianity was, once again, the most persecuted religion in the world in 2016. Around the world, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer for the name of Jesus.
Why is that?
It is because our message around the world is the same as the Apostles’ message to the court. “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
The world today rejects that message – even as it did then. Many will say, “There is no God.” We will be reminded that the dead don’t come back to life. Some will complain, “Don’t blame me for Jesus’ death!” Others will balk at the idea of Jesus as their leader, “There is no one over me! I am accountable to no one!” Again others will balk at the need for a savior. And yet others see things like repentance and forgiveness as useless religious babble.
Yet for us, this is the story of our salvation. This is the living hope we have been born again into. This is our source of hope and the heart of our joy: Christ crucified and raised to free us from sin and death.
I have read many articles over the years predicting the death of Christianity. Some speak of the need for the church to become relevant to its time. And there are those who lament the lack of growth of the church and see it as a sign of things to come. What is often missed in those articles, however, is that:
1.      Jesus warned us that there would be opposition and persecution. We shouldn’t expect this to be easy.
2.      He promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail and the he would preserve his people. His power will prevail.
3.      We are not called to grow numerically, but to grow in faith and in God’s Word and in obedience to Him. Sometimes those things cause us to shrink numerically. Yet such growth and maturity often leads to numerical growth as well.
4.      This message of repentance and forgiveness is highly relevant – even today – even if some don’t think so.
Let me ask you. If I stopped believing in gravity, would I then be able to fly?
Ridiculous! Right?
So, just because some look down on repentance and forgiveness does not make them irrelevant. Our relationship with God is rooted in these things. Repentance is an act of faith that turns away from sin and seeks to live in God’s ways. It is the fruit that comes from being forgiven and being reconciled to God. It is a sign that faith is real and living in us. That is no trivial matter!
This is actually a description of the whole Christian life. Christ has died and risen. You have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed. Our sins have been atoned for by Jesus’ sacrifice. How now shall we live?
We should turn away from sin – and all that separates us from Jesus. We should shun every form of wickedness. We should change and become more and more like Jesus. Why? To earn a place in heaven? NO! We turn away from sin in repentance because Jesus loved us so much and he gave his life to save us! The change that takes place in our lives when we turn from sin and turn to Jesus is repentance. My favorite definition for repentance is to change the way we think and act because of what Jesus has done for us.
And when we fall short? When we sin despite our best efforts to do God’s will… what then? We live in forgiveness.
This is the heart of how people become “right with God.” He forgives us. His blood is on us to cleanse us of all our sins.
What does it look like when we live lives of repentance and forgiveness? What does it look like when we shun our sin for the sake and the power of the risen Jesus? What is different in your life because of Jesus? What still needs to change in you? Where do you need the power of Jesus’ forgiveness in your life?
I urge you to take this very seriously. Examine yourself. Be clear eyed, and see your sin. Measure yourself according to God’s Law in the Ten Commandments. But also remember whose you are: Christ has redeemed you, purchased and won you by his innocent suffering and death. You are His, and you are forgiven. Live in Jesus’ forgiveness and let his forgiveness move you to turn away from sinful attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that you cherish in your hearts! Repent! Live in forgiveness!
The Word of God is intent upon putting Jesus blood on all people – both in the sense of making us and our sin the cause of Jesus’ death and also as the mark of forgiveness. Wear that mark humbly and joyfully! Remember that Jesus has risen from the dead. He has saved us! Now repentance and forgiveness are our way of life. And repentance and forgiveness are our message to the people in our lives – whether they hate to hear it or rejoice at the hope Jesus gives. Jesus died and rose to save them from their sins, too. They can change through Jesus’ forgiveness, even as we change in repentance and forgiveness. Amen.


Friday, April 21, 2017

April 21, 2017

Scripture: John 20:19–31

Having had this reading earlier in the week, please resist the temptation to skim it over (although if you have time for nothing more, please skim!) and take your devotion time to re-read the Gospel lesson slowly – maybe even out loud.

Pray for the Holy Spirit to teach you as you read the Scripture lesson, and ask him to teach you to pray, opening your heart and mind to pray according to God’s will.

Prayer

On Fridays you will be encouraged to pray for a variety of prayer requests. The hope is that through these prayer requests we will, obviously, intercede for those need prayer, and that we will learn to think more broadly in our prayers. If time is short, you could simply pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Pray that the Holy Spirit fill us with faith and hope in the Risen Christ as we await the salvation of our souls.
Pray for joy in God’s salvation.
Pray for the Spirit to sustain our faith and to purify us when we a grieved by various trials.
Pray a prayer of thanks that we are blessed to believe even though we have not yet seen the Risen Jesus with our earthly eyes.
Pray for those who are unbelieving, as Thomas was, asking the Spirit to open their hearts with faith to receive the hope of his resurrection.
Pray that the glorious salvation of the cross and empty tomb move us to praise God for all things; for creation, redemption, the work of the Spirit, daily blessings, and more.
Pray for faith to rejoice when we suffer any kind of mistreatment for Jesus’ sake, that we were counted worthy to suffer for his name’s sake.
Pray that we would obey God rather than men, and that God would guide us as we deal with the politics of our day to not be faithful to parties or policies but to follow him as he leads us in his way through his Word.
Pray for those who suffer various trials: sickness, sorrow, persecution, loneliness, insecurity, lack of material goods, a bad conscience, difficult temptations, etc.
Pray for the political leaders of our day that their work would bring peace and harmony to the world, and that they in no way would hinder the work of the Gospel.

Pray the Lord’s Prayer. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

April 20, 2017

Scripture: 1 Peter 1:3–9

This letter was likely written some 35 years after Jesus’ resurrection to Christians who lived in regions that make up modern-day Turkey. As such it is written to people who weren’t there on the first Easter. These are people who believed because of the testimony of God’s Word through God’s people. In that sense they are very like us. Peter begins this reading by praising God and then talks about the impact of the Gospel on his readers. He also speaks of the trials faced by believers, and the value of faith. This reading wraps together themes from other readings this week, and helps us to focus on praising God for Jesus’ resurrection.

Teaching

The first sentence of this reading leads the reader into praise. The word translated “blessed” can also be translated “praised.” Either way, this is a worshipful statement that glorifies God. What, then, is the cause of praising the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? It is his salvation. Peter writes of it as a living hope and an undying inheritance. The hope we have in Jesus’ salvation is very precious as is the faith that receives Jesus’ salvation.

Faith, however, gets tested. Peter states that the various trials his readers faced tested their faith to prove its genuineness. Luther compares this testing to the fire that tests gold, not to destroy it but to purify it. He says, “Thus God has imposed the cross on all Christians to cleanse and to purge them well, in order that faith may remain pure, just as the Word is, so that one adheres to the Word alone and relies on nothing else. For we really need such purging and affliction every day because of the coarse old Adam. … [W]hen faith is tested in this way, all alloy and everything false must disappear.”[1]

Life

The old saying goes, “Seeing is believing.” Yet this is not the case when it comes to the Christian faith. Our daily lives often reflect the belief that seeing is believing, but as God’s people we deal with the Bible as God’s Word which, by its own authority, has reality-defining power. Look around; where do you see empirical proof of God’s mercy, the power of the cross, the forgiveness of sins, the hope of the resurrection, and the like? All these things are only seen – and only seen rightly – through the eyes of faith. That precious faith takes hold of God’s salvation for us in Christ.

Treasure your faith. Feed it with the Scriptures and God’s Sacraments. Go to church to hear and receive God’s gifts. Look forward to the day when you will see Jesus with your eyes, knowing that he will be as you have seen him by faith through the testimony of God’s Word and that he will deliver all he has promised to you.

Prayer

Father in Heaven, we praise and bless you for the glorious salvation Jesus won for us and for the precious faith your Spirit has created in us. Thank you, Lord, for the inheritance of forgiveness and everlasting life which you protect for us amid the trials of this life. Forgive us for our fears and doubts when we suffer trials of various kinds. Grant that as our faith is tested we will be refined from our sin as we wait for the salvation of our souls. Amen.


[1] Luther, Martin, Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 30, p. 17

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

April 19, 2017

Scripture: Psalm 148

One of the traditions of Lent is to avoid using the word, “Hallelujah!” Our Easter services, then, are full of the word, or its Greek equivalent, “Alleluia!” The last five psalms of the Psalter begin and end with the word, which sometimes escapes us because it is translated for us as, “Praise the Lord!” But it is there in the Hebrew “Hallelujah!” In this psalm all aspects of creation are urged to praise the Lord because he is the creator and he reigns over all things. Not only that, however, he also saves his people. In this Easter season, in which we are already inclined to praise the Lord for our salvation, we are here urged to praise him for all that he has done for us.

Teaching

To praise God is to proclaim his goodness. It is to speak of his blessings, benefits, salvation, mercy, justice, provision, protection, and more. It is to remember and declare all of his benefits. It is to respond to all the good that God has done in, through, and for his creation and to shine the spot-light back on him. It is the recognition and glorification of his every act.

There is so much to praise God for. There are the great and cosmic things like creation, forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There are also smaller, more personal, items our talents, our family, little blessings and joy, and, of course, the greater blessing of faith and everlasting life. As Luther says, “Rightfully, all of creation should be nothing but a tongue, always praise this great goodness of God.”[1]

Life

Luther suggests an interesting exercise to consider what is good in the world that we might praise God for it. He says, “If you want to know how good a thing is, then take whatever you will and say: ‘if there were no fire…’ or ‘If there were not sun…’; ‘If there were no [law enforcement]…’; ‘If there were no woman…’; and so on. Then you will see why one should thank God.”[2]

Spend some time thinking about all that you have for which you could praise God. Think through earthly blessings, certainly, and then remember the spiritual blessings. Of course, we should always praise God for giving his Son to die and to rise for us, for without that we could not properly say, “Hallelujah!”; “Praise the Lord!”

Prayer

Use Psalm 148 to guide your prayer today. Pray that the Holy Spirit would teach you to praise the Lord rightly and for all of God’s goodness. 




[1] Luther, Martin, Reading the Psalms with Luther, CPH, 2007, p. 148
[2] Ibid

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

April 18, 2017

Scripture: John 20:19–31

As we celebrate Easter we read of the events that unfolded after Jesus rose. This reading begins the same day Jesus rose, comes to its point a week later, and then steps out of time to give a timeless message. This is the account of Jesus appearing to the disciples the evening he rose. He gave them peace, the Holy Spirit, and authority to forgive and retain sins. But Thomas was absent and would not believe Jesus had risen, until Jesus appeared again a week later. John informs us that the point of the whole account of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection is that we would believe in Jesus and have life in him. We believe in Jesus through the sharing of this message, and, because we believe, we live forgiven.

Teaching

Peace. Sending. The Holy Spirit. Forgiveness. These are what Jesus focused on with his disciples after he won the victory over sin and death. These remain forefront in the ministry of God’s people. We are people of God’s peace. We proclaim eternal peace and reconciliation with God that overflows to peace and reconciliation with our neighbors. We are sent. We remember that as we go through this world we are ambassadors of God’s kingdom, and messengers who proclaim God’s peace through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are people of the Holy Spirit. It is he who, calls, gathers, comforts, encourages, and teaches us God’s Word and God’s ways. He dwells within us – individually and collectively – to give us faith and keep that faith alive. We are, lastly, people of forgiveness. We are forgiven and forgiving. One who is forgiven forgives others. In Jesus’ death on the cross the sins of all people were atoned and we received forgiveness. Our mission now is to share that forgiveness when and where we can by sharing Jesus with others.

Life

Often I have heard people speak of Thomas with a sense of outrage that he did not believe Jesus had been raised from the dead, despite the testimony of the other ten disciples. Because we believe in Jesus, it is hard for us to understand why someone else would not believe. Instead of outrage, however, we should try to be more sympathetic. It is a miracle whenever someone cries out to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” – even for us! Humility, gratitude, patience, and joy come to the forefront as we share the hope that we have in the Risen Christ.

John makes it clear that he wrote so that we might, “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” That purpose also flows into our lives as Christians. We are here so others may believe in Jesus and, by believing, have life in him. In our jobs, our lives, and our conduct we live as examples of what it looks like to be forgiven, and we pray that we have opportunity to share that forgiveness with others.

Prayer


Lord Jesus, on that Easter evening you appeared to your disciples and gave them peace. You breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit, sending them to do the work of proclaiming forgiveness of sins through faith in you. Your Spirit is also in us through the reading of your Word and receiving your Sacraments. Thank you for the forgiveness you have given us. Forgive us for being slow to forgive and slow to share the good news of your death and resurrection. Breathe on us anew and use our lives to extend your forgiveness to others. Amen. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

April 17, 2017

2nd Sunday of Easter

Scripture: Acts 5:29–42

Easter is too important to celebrate in one Sunday. Indeed, every Sunday is a little Easter and a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. However, Easter Sunday and the six Sundays which follow it make up the Sundays of Easter. During this season, the Old Testament lesson is replaced with a reading from the Acts of the Apostles (more commonly known as simply Acts). These readings focus on the Early Church’s proclamation of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  Today’s reading finds the Apostles on trial before the same court that convicted Jesus. Peter speaks for the Apostles and convicts the court of killing Jesus and proclaims Jesus’ exaltation. While there was a desire to kill the Apostles, cooler heads prevailed. They were beaten, and rejoiced at the privilege of suffering for Jesus’ sake. This reading reminds us of the importance of sharing the message of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection; even to hostile listeners. It also encourages us to remain focused on Jesus’ approval over the powers and authorities of the world’s approval.

Teaching

It would have to be a frightening experience to stand before the court that convicted Jesus and to hear it demand that you stop talking about him. This is exactly what happened to the Apostles, though. Wonderfully, the same men who ran when Jesus was arrested now stand courageously, refusing to turn away from the message that Jesus had died and risen to redeem his people. This courage is rooted in the work of the Holy Spirit in the Apostles lives; the same Spirit that works in and through us to testify in our time.

The Pharisee, Gamaliel, gave the court wise counsel, which may have saved the Apostles’ lives. He speaks almost prophetically reminding the court that if the Apostles were not from God, they would come to a bad end. However, if they were from God, the court would only be fighting against God and they would not prevail against him! Remember, God is with us!

Life

These days it seems that if people look at us with hostility when we talk about Jesus we feel persecuted. There seems to be a lot of fear that we are entering a new time of hostility against God’s people. Compare that to the Apostles’ reaction to being directly confronted by the powers of their time. They were not intimidated, nor did they fret at the consequences of disobeying them. They put their hope in God’s salvation, and so should we.

Notice, too, the message of the Apostles compared to how many Christians speak of the benefits of faith in Jesus today. We hear sometimes how people talk about how their faith has benefited them: giving them peace, helping them get their lives in order, empowering them to overcome addictions, or the like; all of which may be true! The Apostles, however, simply testify about what Jesus has done. When we witness, we do well to think about how we can talk about Jesus’ death and resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, and God’s gift of repentance.

Prayer

Lord, the Apostles bore a beating for their faith in Jesus. Thank you for their courage and example. Forgive us for our times of timidity. Give us your Spirit and teach us to courageously share the hope we have in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Amen. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

April 16, 2017 - Easter Sunday

Forgiveness Through the Risen One

Listen here

I love coming to church on Easter Sunday! The smell of the flowers is always the first thing that grabs me. It smells a bit like … well, if you will excuse me … it smells a bit like a funeral. And that’s appropriate – because just a couple days ago we gathered in this same room and remembered how Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, and now, today, we read that Mary and Mary were going to see Jesus’ tomb. One of the other gospels lets us know why they were going to the tomb – they were going to take care of Jesus body. They were going to clean him and anoint his body to cover the smell of decay for as long as possible.

These days funeral directors clean our dead loved ones’ bodies for us, but we still gather at graves and place sweet smelling flowers in places of death. And make no mistake – this place we are in has everything to do with death! Here we deal with the business of why we die … and when we go about our business we take the message of this day – the day of resurrection – and pour it into our grief and find hope and joy in Jesus’ resurrection.

And just as the earth shook when the angel of the Lord rolled back the stone at the mouth of Jesus tomb, aftershocks of Jesus’ resurrection still shake our world – filling some with fear and dread, like the guards at the tomb – and others with fear and great joy – for Jesus truly died on the cross to pay for our sins, and he has paid the price for us so that by faith in him we stand forgiven before God and he has really risen from the dead and promises that all who believe in him will also rise like he did to live forever in glory.

Yes, this place has everything to do with death because our message and our hope is that Jesus died for us that our sins might be forgiven and has defeated death for us by rising from the tomb – proving his authority to give us forgiveness. ----

So the message we hear today from the angel and from Jesus himself is, “Do not be afraid.” To be certain, the angel and Jesus said, “Do not be afraid,” because the women were startled by their presence. But the message rings true for us, too. “Do not be afraid.” … of death. Do not be afraid of this world where our brothers and sisters in Christ die for the faith, where missiles and bombs fall from the sky, where war lingers on and on. Do not be afraid of what others will think of you for believing in Jesus and for following God’s ways of truth, justice, and love. Do not be afraid of your sin, your guilt, your mistakes, and the terrible choices you’ve made in your past. Do not be afraid.

Why? Well, it’s not because these things aren’t frightful in their own ways. There is much that we might find fearful in each of those things. Yet, I worry a little that when I say why we need not be afraid you might roll your eyes, or yawn, or shrug thinking, I’ve hear that before.

There is a story – a joke that circulates from time to time around Easter of a man who did not come to church very often, but he came every Easter Sunday with his family. He came up to the pastor after the service and said, “Pastor, I’ve been coming to your Easter services here for more than ten years, and I can’t believe that every year you talk about the exact same thing.” ----

The reason we need not be afraid is this good news that we celebrate every Easter – every Sunday even! – that there is forgiveness of sins through the risen one! And that’s the exact same thing we talk about all the time. Even Peter in our first Scripture reading said to the people he was speaking to, “…you yourselves know what happened…” You know that sin offensive to God and is rebellion against him. You know that the wages of sin is death – that the death, the violence, the oppression, the injustice, the illness and pain of this life are cause by sin. And you know that, God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son to die as the sacrifice that atones for our sin. He willingly died on the cross to redeem us and he rose from the dead proving that the sacrifice was accepted and our sins are forgiven. Peter speaks of this when he says, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Sin. Forgiveness. Sacrifices. Atonement. These are words that don’t get a lot of use in our day. Yet we still lament the state of things in our world. We still see the bad things that happen and recoil from them. And we still gather in churches and grave yards perfumed and decorated with flowers at the time of death. In other words, we still deal with the consequences of sin in this world.

This morning, though, we see what God has done in response to sin. He gave Jesus to be the sacrifice to atone for our sins – and in him we have forgiveness so that God no longer sees our sin, but instead he sees his beloved children when he looks at us. We have been raised from the death of sin because Jesus took our place, and in his resurrection we have a new life. We have a new spiritual life that fills us with hope in Christ as we live in this world. And we have a new physical life – promised to us, that when we die we will rise like Jesus did – and we will appear in glory with him. And for us there is hope and life – because Jesus entered death for us and came out alive.


So we gather week upon week – and week upon week we are reminded that we have forgiveness in the Risen One … and in the end, death does not have the last world, but we will rise for Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

April 15, 2017 - Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

Scripture: Matthew 27:57-66

This week’s devotions follow a different pattern. They will focus on Gospel accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life. I encourage you to read each of the readings slowly, perhaps out loud, and to meditate on Jesus’ love in his actions. The prayers offered are from the early twentieth century and variations on them are still used in worship.

Teaching

This short reading finds Jesus being buried by men who were not his disciples. It also displays the cunning of the chief priests and Pharisees, as they seek to thwart the disciples, who were too fearful to claim Jesus’ body, in case they worked up the courage to steal the body and claim Jesus had risen. In all, it all seems rather anticlimactic. A gasp and a sigh at the end of days of turmoil and fear. But today Jesus rests in the tomb. The clock is ticking, though. He won’t be there long.

Life

Holy Saturday is sometimes a strange day in the observation of Holy Week. Good Friday is done, but Easter is not quite here yet. How do we approach this day? Perhaps we should live it like every day, for every day we wait with hope knowing that Jesus will return, even as the disciples (unknowingly and without hope) waited for Easter morning. Rest and prepare to celebrate in worship and with food and festivities. Tomorrow is a great and holy day!

Prayer

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we give Thee most humble and hearty thanks that Thou has given Thine onlybegotten Son to bear our sins and to make atonement for us on the cross; and we pray Thee, give us grace to put our whole trust in the Thy redeeming love, and grant that our faith in Thee may be strengthened, our souls comforted, and we be enabled to resist all the assaults of sin. Protect us against the devices of the Evil One; and in all temptations keep us by Thy Holy Spirit, and help us to walk according to Thy Word, that, being guarded and defended by Thy mighty power, we may never depart from Thy ways, and in the end be saved by Thy grace. Amen.[1]






[1] Liturgy and Agenda, Concordia Publishing House, 1917, p.174