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)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

May 24, 2017

Scripture: Psalm 68:1–10

This Sunday is the last Sunday of the Easter Season, one more Sunday to celebrate the acts of salvation. Psalm 68 records the salvation story of Israel for worship, much as our liturgical seasons record and retell the story of our salvation in Jesus. The impact of this psalm is such that it causes us to consider God’s work of salvation and to worship him for it.

Teaching

Psalm 68 has an interesting characteristic in that it acts as a sort of liturgy for the worship of the Israelites. A note in the Lutheran Study Bible states, “Psalm [68] seems to be an ‘order of service’ for a procession at the Jerusalem temple (or the tabernacle). Parts of the psalm use imagery similar to that used by the Canaanites when describing their god Baal, which is ironic because the psalm describes the defeat of Canaanite kings [in verses 11-14].’”[1]

Part of the work of God’s people is to retell his deeds; to recount the works of his salvation. Just as this psalm recounts the salvation of Israel, the church recounts Christ’s work of salvation in the first half of the church year, retelling his story from his incarnation and birth, through his ministry, to his death, resurrection, and ascension back to heaven. The purpose of this constant retelling is twofold: for believers the message (which is the Word of God) strengthens our faith and holds us in God’s forgiveness, for those who do not believe this message is an invitation to believe and bears within it the power to create faith in people.

Life

In Acts 1:12-26 we read of the Apostles assuring that the ministry of proclaiming God’s Word continued. In John 17:1-11 Jesus spoke of delivering his Father’s Word to his disciples. Here again we find that the priority of God’s people is to speak God’s Word and to tell of all he has done to save us. This is our priority and privilege. God includes us in the great chain of his servants who share the hope of our God who saves.

Retelling and rereading God’s Word is important for us. When we remember all that God has done to save us it helps us be confident of God’s forgiveness and salvation for us. It also helps us resist temptation and live faithfully, because the very salvation we remember is the power of God at work in our lives.

Prayer

Use Psalm 68:1-11 to guide your prayer today. Pray that the Holy Spirit would help you rejoice in God’s salvation. Pray that you would grow in your knowledge and understanding of God’s Word making you bold to recall and retell the story of Jesus’ salvation as he gives you opportunity.



[1] Lutheran Study Bible, p. 910

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

May 22, 2017

Scripture: John 17:1–11
This reading takes place during the Last Supper and is called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer because he prayed for his followers as he prepared to leave them, save them, and make them one in himself. If we read the rest of the prayer we would find that Jesus prayed for all people who would believe in him, including us and those who believe through our witness. We are again confronted with Jesus’ purpose to save all people and the necessity of faith in Christ to be saved, and then to be unified as his people.

Teaching

I was sitting with a politician and he was giving me his critique of the Church. He stated that we were far too divided and that we watered down our impact by our own infighting between denominations. And he said, “Jesus prayed for his people to be united, and you are about as far from unity as you can be.” What the politician didn’t acknowledge in that conversation was the essential nature of Jesus’ Word for Christian unity. Jesus himself emphasizes that keeping his Word is central in making us one. And the sad fact is that when churches do not keep God’s Word there will be disunity.

It is, of course, no small thing that Jesus prayed for his people – prayed for us – to be one. He even prays that God would guard his people. This is part of the work of the Holy Spirit, whose special presence is celebrated after this coming Sunday on Pentecost. God’s people are never alone. God answers Jesus’ prayers and does indeed guard his people through the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Life

As we deal with our brothers and sisters in Christ – regardless of their denomination – there should be a sense of unity with them. They are, after all, saved by the same Lord Jesus who shed his blood to redeem us! Yet, where there are differences of doctrine – varying understandings of what the Scriptures teach, and not merely human traditions – we should acknowledge there is division there. We should speak to one another and call one another back to the Word of God and Jesus himself as the source of our one-ness, and we should pray for all of our brothers and sisters in Christ as we do whenever we pray, “Our Father….”

Don’t let people bully you on the point that Jesus prays for his followers to be one; as though that overrules knowing the One True God in Jesus and keeping his Word. Remember that when disunity arises from misunderstanding and misrepresentations of God’s Word, we are to prefer the Word of God, while praying for unity that comes when we all trust and keep God’s Word.  

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you prayed for your people to be one, unified in your salvation and in your Word. Thank you for the true unity that we have with all of our brothers and sisters in faith even if we don’t always see it clearly. Forgive us for times that we have disobeyed your Word and broke the oneness we have in you. Grant that all your people would love your Word, gladly hear and learn it, and keep it as a treasure above all treasures. Make us see there our source of unity, for it is only your Word that delivers you, your forgiveness, your commands, and your love to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, May 22, 2017

May 22, 2017

7th Sunday of Easter

Scripture: Acts 1:12–26

This Thursday is Ascension Day, the day Jesus ascended into heaven, leaving his Apostles as his witnesses. The readings for Sunday follow immediately after the events of the Ascension. As with the last two weeks we find an emphasis on the Holy Spirit here, and the desire of God’s people to engage in the ministry of proclaiming the message of Jesus’ resurrection. The reading itself records the choosing of Matthias to replace Judas as one of the Apostles. We see here the continuation of the ministry of Jesus through the Apostles reminding us that we are those who follow after the Apostles proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection today.

Teaching

One of the questions that is often asked when this reading is read is if Judas could have chosen other than to betray Jesus. John Calvin answered this concern succinctly when he wrote, “Judas may not be excused on the ground that what befell him was prophesied, since he fell away not through compulsion of the prophecy but through the wickedness of his own heart.”[1] In other words God did not force Judas to betray Jesus, but he knew the evil choices Judas would make and used them to his glory to redeem humanity through Jesus’ blood.

There is an elegant pattern in the selection of Matthias. First the believers came together in prayer, unified in mind and heart through their faith in Jesus and following his teaching. Next they listened to God’s Word, recognizing that the prophecies applied to their situation. After that they used their God-given common sense, setting criteria rooted in Scripture for what kind of person should fill the office and finding men that fit. Finally they prayed and made their selection – in this case by casting lots. From first to last they acted in faith and by faith.

Life

The pattern above is still useful to us as we seek to call pastors, teachers, and others with spiritual authority to do the work of the Church. We begin from the unity of our faith as redeemed people of God, recognizing that God has appointed people to preach, teach, and otherwise exercise spiritual authority among us. Scriptural guidance and a bit of common sense to apply the guidance leads us as we select candidates. Then, in prayer, a selection must be made. That selection can be by lot, as it was with Matthias, or even by vote or consensus of the body calling the leader.

It is important to note why Judas had to be replaced: the ministry needed to continue. We join in that great work today as the Church, calling pastors and teachers, but also joining and supporting ministry by volunteering, leading, and donating to support the Church’s work.

Prayer

O God, the work of the church needed to go on so you chose Matthias to join the ministry. Thank you for giving us pastors and teachers who proclaim and teach the Word among us. Forgive us for times that we have disregarded your ministry, and guide us to join in and support the ministry of the proclamation of your Word with our skills and resources. Amen.



[1] Stott, John, The Message of Acts, IVP, 1990, p. 55

Sunday, May 21, 2017

May 21, 2017 - 6th Sunday of Easter

The Unknown God Does Not Forget

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            When I was in college one of the things that we would do when we were bored was to go to Meijer at night. Meijer Thrifty Acres – for those who are unfamiliar – is a big store chain that sells everything! You can get groceries, toys, tires, pet fish, and clothes all under one roof. Meijer stores are usually open 24 hours, and we’d go late at night and walk around looking at the people there. We might not buy anything, we were just people watching. And since we were in Ann Arbor – the home of the University of Michigan – there were all kinds of interesting people to watch! Ann Arbor is an artsy town, so there were people with strange hair, and interesting clothes. There were often foreigners there, some of which tried to dress in American fashions but didn’t get it quite right. There were goths and punks in black clothes and too much dark make-up. It really was an amazing mix of humanity. And, thinking back, we were probably the most out of place people in the store!
            Maybe you’ve sat and done some people watching, too. And if you haven’t you should! People can be fascinating, weird, beautiful, and sometimes very entertaining.
            I have to confess, though, that never once that I can recall was my spirit provoked at the possible spiritual state of those people that I was seeing. And maybe you can relate to that, too.
            In our first reading from the Book of Acts we read about Paul in Athens and it says that the city was so full of idols that that his spirit was provoked within him. He was provoked because he knew these people were worshiping false gods which could not give them hope, forgiveness, or salvation! There were places to worship Zeus, Apollo, and many other gods – Greek and otherwise. The whole place was named after the goddess of wisdom, Athena. And the place in the city Paul was speaking was the Areopagus, also known as Mars Hill, named after the god of war – Ares, or Mars if you prefer Latin.
            It’s not that people today don’t have idols to provoke our spirits, is it? We might not be like the Athenians with all kinds of statues and altars but our day and age has plenty of false gods nonetheless!
We could mention mammon – our material wealth and comfort. While we might not bow down to it, people will do all kinds of things to get it, won’t they? And we’re not immune to mammon’s call. I was reading recently about church attendance. When I started in the ministry about 19 years ago the definition of a regular church attender was a person who was in worship 4 weeks a month – probably 50 weeks a year. These days the definition for regular church attendance is more like twice a month. So the author asked what has changed. And he argues the affluence is a big part of why people attend worship less than they used to. Affluence affords options – comfortable, fun options.
A good argument could be made that sexuality has an idolatrous status in our generation. These days abstinence and chastity are ridiculed. Most of the couples that I perform marriage ceremonies for are already living together and sexually active. Yet as we worship Jesus we worship the God/man who died a virgin because he lived according to God’s will. He sought God’s pleasure and God’s will over his own.
And ultimately, couldn’t we point to self as a major idol of our age?
Paul found himself in the midst of idolatry in Athens, and God used him to speak to them about an unknown god. He was preaching about Jesus and the resurrection, and he took advantage of an altar that was dedicated to an unknown god to introduce them to Jesus.
It seems strange to say, but the God we worship is once again an unknown God to far too many of our neighbors. For most of our lives Christianity has been a dominant influence on our culture. Not anymore! There are lots of people who have heard of Jesus, they sometimes have a rough idea of what Christianity is, but all too often they really don’t know. They believe a stereotype. And even in the Church we sometimes form God in our own image and import ideas of our age into Jesus’ teaching. And here we are gathered around the God’s Word and Promises, living in a world similarly to Paul. And we have become witnesses to make the unknown God known today.
You see, we know something that the world does not know; something they need to know! There is this impression out there that being a Christian is about being good, as though God were are celestial referee and we’re just trying to stay out of his eternal penalty box. But in reality being a Christian is about being a sinner who is forgiven in Jesus’ death and resurrection. And this is what the world doesn’t know about God: they don’t know how offensive and hurtful our sin is to him, and they don’t know how incredible it is that God was willing to give Jesus to suffer and dies to reconcile us to himself.
Peter summarizes our hope in Jesus this way: “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God….”
We have a natural understanding of justice. When a person does wrong they should get punished for it. Sometimes that’s called karma. We say, “You get what you deserve,” and, “What comes around goes around.” But with Jesus the righteous one suffers for the unrighteous ones. He gets what we deserved. He suffered for our sins, so that, as it says in Romans, he could be both just and justifier. That he could bring real justice to the wrong that we’ve done, while making us right with God.
Why did he do that? He did it to bring us to God. He did it so we could know God. So he speaks God’s Word to us, and has arranged for his Word to be delivered to us down through the generations. He did it so we could know God’s love – his agape, selfless love. He did so we could live with him – perfect, sinless, and forever.
And knowing God in Jesus impacts our lives, it changes our priorities and our actions, it changes us! Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” When we love Jesus we listen to him as we hear him through the Word, we follow him, and we believe him. And as we live in this relationship with him he changes us. Sometimes we can even see of feel the changes he is making in us because he brought us to God. In Acts, Paul comments that God, “commands all people everywhere to repent.” Repentance is changing our thinking and our action to align them with God’s will.
And here is something that is truly amazing. It is God’s mercy – not his wrath – it is his mercy that moves us to repent. It is his love that urges us to change so that we become more and more like Jesus.
Perhaps there is a sense that this God is unknown to you … or maybe you sort of know him but you could know him better. You believe Jesus died and rose to forgive you – and that’s great! – but there’s more about Jesus that we could know. Read a gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Meet Jesus is the pages of Scripture. Know Jesus through the Word. Really this is the only way we can know Jesus – by reading what his apostles taught about him. In fact, that’s what he appointed the apostles to do – to teach us about him. And as you get to know Jesus, you will come to know God. As Jesus said, “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I in you.” We are connected to God and to one another in Christ!
Or perhaps you are sitting here thinking, “It’s all well and good for Paul to witness in Athens, but I can’t witness about Jesus in America. I’ll be ridiculed and labeled as intolerant!” Remember, that our relationship with God is not rooted in our performance. Jesus suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. This pretty much means that you are forgiven sinner. And, yes indeed, the church is full of hypocrites, and there is always room for one more. Witnessing isn’t about our perfection either. It’s about Jesus. And Jesus has given us a helper in this work. The Holy Spirit works with you and in you. You are not alone. When you go out into your homes, your work, and all the things you do you are not forgotten or abandoned. God is with you.

The unknown God does not forget the people who have forgotten him. He has left us here to see them, so our hearts will be provoked, so we will tell of the righteous one who suffered, died, and rose again for the unrighteous ones. We’re here to make the unknown God known as we tell people about our Lord Jesus. Amen. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

May 19, 2017

Scripture: John 14:15–21

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 who 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 for compassion for those who are deceived by the gods of this age and for courage to share the unknown – but only true – God by proclaiming Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Pray for those who love considering all kinds of ideas and philosophies to have discernment and to know the truth through Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit.
Pray that God’s people will be filled with Christ like “agape” love which is selfless, sacrificial, and concerned for others’ well-being – including spiritual well-being.
Pray that we would keep Jesus’ commandments; that the Word of God would be held as sacred in our hearts and lives, that we would live according to it, and that we would not seek to change it to fit our thoughts or feelings.
Pray that all people would come to bless the Lord and that we would speak humbly but boldly of all his benefits to us and, especially, or his salvation.
Pray for confidence that God does indeed hear our prayers and answer them.
Pray that God’s love and salvation would motivate us to faithfully do good to others in our lives and that our lives would testify of Jesus’ forgiveness.
Pray that all Christians would recognize the work God does in Baptism and that they would rejoice in this blessed gift.
Pray for those who are sick, for the grieving, for the unemployed and under-employed, for victims of violence, for the abused and their abusers, and for all who need God’s mercy and intervention.
Pray that God would provide for the daily needs of all people.
Pray the Lord’s Prayer. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

May 18, 2017

Scripture: 1 Peter 3:13–22

Today’s reading continues the semi-continuous reading of 1 Peter through the Easter Season. As the last reading taught God’s people to endure unjust suffering as Christ also endured it for our salvation, this reading focuses on the same theme while encouraging the reader to share the hope they have in Christ. This reading also specifically states that the result of Jesus’s suffering was to bring us to God. This is encouragement for us to be faithful in our witness as well as in good works trusting in Jesus to bring us through suffering to eternal life.

Teaching

Twice in this reading Peter mentions having a good conscience. A person gets a good conscience through faith in Jesus, when he forgives them for their sins or washes their sins away in baptism. One of the ways the devil works against God’s people is by attacking their consciences. He is the accuser who keeps reminding people of sins they’ve committed that Jesus has forgiven. Clinging to Jesus’ forgiveness is the key to having a good conscience.

We should also note the strong statement in verse 21 that Baptisms saves. Too often Baptism is viewed as a past event with little impact on one’s daily life. Worse yet, some see it as a mere act of obedience, which in no way actually saves us. Yet here Peter points to Baptism as God’s salvation, similar to God saving Noah and his family through the ark. God’s judgement is coming upon the world, and it is only through faith in the crucified and risen Christ that anyone can be saved, and Baptism delivers forgiveness and the faith to receive it.

Life

Here we are encouraged to do good. We sometimes want to balk at statements that remind us that we are called to good things with our lives, noting that it is only by Jesus’ death and resurrection that we can be right with God. But the statements are not mutually exclusive. Jesus did die and rise to save us. He is the only source of forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Yet, because we are forgiven and reconciled to God, we are called to do good for others. It is an expression of our love for God that we would love those that he, himself, loves eternally; even as he loves us.

Our focus is rightly always on what Jesus has done to rescue us; to bring us to God. Yet as those who have been brought to God, those who have been baptized into Christ, those who have been blessed with a good conscience, our lives are now lived imitating our Savior. And when we live such holy lives those who speak against us are put to shame.

Prayer

Father in Heaven, Jesus has brought us to you. He suffered, died, and rose to bring us to you, and therefore when we suffer we can do so with hope seeing how you used Jesus’ suffering to save us from our sins. Thank you for bringing us through the waters of Baptism and giving us a good conscience in Jesus’ forgiveness. Yet our behavior does not always match our Savior’s. We bicker and fuss about the role of good works in our lives, and fail to do them. Work in us to help us be more and more like Jesus, so that, even if we suffer, we will cling to his salvation and suffer gladly for his sake. Amen. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

May 17, 2017

Scripture: Psalm 66:8–20

This psalm seems to have been written as a word of encouragement while going through difficult times. It reminds the reader that God uses the sufferings of life and leads his people through them for their blessing. It is God’s faithfulness during difficulty and his drawing his people through it that leads the psalmist to praise and worship God. It urges his people to remember God’s past faithfulness and encourages them to trust him in their current distress. We too can use this psalm to call out to God in our times of trouble and be reminded that God is faithful and answers our prayers.

Teaching

The portion of the psalm which is appointed begins with a call to bless God, but then reminds the reader that God tested his people. He speaks of silver, reminding of the fire that tests the purity of precious metals. It speaks of the net, burdens on backs, and men riding, which imagines God’s people as animals being trained for domestic uses. None of this sounds pleasant. Indeed, it sounds very frustrating, painful, and even frightening. But we note that God brought his people out to a place of abundance. God brings his people through suffering to a place where we see that he has kept his promises – either in this life or in heaven.

Verse 16 of the psalm is a picture of God’s people sharing their hope with one another. “Come and hear, all you who fear God….” And what does the psalmist speak of? Remembering his trials he recalls prayers, and God’s answer. We trust that God answers our prayers and that he never removes his love from us, and we remind one another of that in this psalm.

Life

We all face troubles in life. Life is full of pains and sorrows. Yet we should not see these are useless or wholly evil. God can and does use the difficult times of our lives to bring us to a better place than we were before. That could mean that he deepens our faith or understanding. It might mean that we actually move from one place to another. I could even mean bringing us home to Glory having faithfully guided us through this life. Whatever your circumstances remember that God is in the midst of the bad times as well as the good to shape you, form you, and bring you someplace better than you were before.

Prayer is also a common part of our lives. We should not neglect this gift. God has blessed so that we are permitted to speak to him and pour out our cares and needs before his throne. What a privilege! What is more, he answers our prayers and acts for our benefit. Does that not lead you to bless our God?

Prayer

Use Psalm 66:8-20 to guide your prayer today. Pray that the Holy Spirit would help you rejoice in the gift of prayer. Pour out your troubles to God and ask him to lead you through them to a better place which you might experience physically or spiritually.



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

May 16, 2017

Scripture: John 14:15–21

Last week’s Gospel Lesson was from John 14:1-14. This reading picks up where that one left off. These are words that Jesus spoke to his disciples at the Last Supper. In this reading Jesus speaks of loving him and doing as he commands. He also speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit and his own second coming. We are reminded here that love for Jesus is shown keeping his commandments, and that we are not alone as we seek to love Jesus, but the Holy Spirit dwells with and in us.

Teaching

When Jesus says, “If you love me…,” we need to know that Greek has many specific words for what we vaguely call love. This word is agape and it means a self-giving, sacrificial concern for others. While this feeling does not exclude friendship, familial love, or even romantic love, it is not the same thing. Jesus is calling us to the kind of love that he himself has for all people.

Our love for Jesus is ultimately shown in keeping his commandments. Commandments are more than just ethical statements, or guidelines for living. They include all of God’s Word. We are to observe, guard, and be mindful of God’s Word to show our love for Jesus. He shows his love for us by dying and rising for us, and by giving his Holy Spirit to be both with and in us. He makes sure we are not abandoned by continually protected, comforted, and guided by the Spirit.

Life

Sometimes people say that they love Jesus, but they live in ways that are opposite to his teaching. Now, it is true that we will always have sin as a regular part of our lives as long as we are in this world, but we are not to act as though our sin is acceptable or to tolerate behavior within ourselves that contradicts Scripture. Just as Jesus comes to us in the Word, we show our love for him by cherishing his Word and obeying what it says.

Have you ever felt alone or abandoned? Jesus’ promise to not leave us as orphans is comforting. The Spirit is always with us. Sometimes the Spirit is called the Paraclete, which means the helper, comforter, and/or advocate. In any case part of the Spirit’s work is to assure us that God is for us. And if God is for us, who can stand against us? (Rom. 8:31)

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you teach us that to love you is to hold tightly to your Word and that you will not forsake us. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to be with and in us, and for his constant presence, help, comfort, and aid. Forgive us for not keeping your commandments and for not guarding and cherishing your Word. Let your Spirit’s work in us guard our hearts and minds in true faith so that we might love you all the more sincerely and keep you commandments in our daily lives. Amen. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

May 15, 2017

6th Sunday of Easter

Scripture: Acts 17:16–31

The reading begins with the phrase, “while Paul was waiting for them at Athens….” We might ask why Paul was in Athens. He had been run out of Thessalonica and Berea for proclaiming the Gospel and had to get away to a safe place. Athens was that place. However, we read today that, even in Athens, Paul continued to look for opportunities to talk about Jesus. We are reminded in this reading of Paul’s zeal in sharing the Gospel and encouraged to look for connections to share the resurrection of Jesus with others as he did.

Teaching

Paul preached in Athens in a thoroughly pagan context. The Areopagus is also known as Mars Hill. It was named after Ares, the Greed god of war, who was often referred to by his Roman name, Mars. There were many idols to a wide variety of gods in Athens, which provoked Paul. He was saddened and angry on behalf of the people who had been deceived by such false deities. He longed to share with them the one true God so that they might know their Savior, Jesus Christ, and find freedom for idolatry and salvation from sin and death through his death and resurrection.

We should take note of the way the Athenians loved ideas. This was a very tolerant society. They loved hearing all kinds of ideas about how one should live and about the gods. However, we should note that when the Creator was introduced to them through the resurrected Jesus many merely sneered at Paul. It is still true today that people will tolerate all kinds of false and foolish ideas while rejecting and being offended by the truth. We should also, however, take heart. Some heard about Jesus, and wanted to hear more!

Life

Are there still false gods in the world today? Absolutely! Not only are there the false gods of other religions, but there is also the idolatry of ideas, comfort, novelty, and tolerance even today. Please don’t get me wrong! Tolerant courtesy can be a fine thing indeed! But tolerance as it is manifested today is more like acceptance and celebration of every idea that comes down the pike. Some of those ideas are false and deserve to be rejected and exposed in the clear light of Jesus’ resurrection.

This does not mean, however, that we should ridicule others for their beliefs. Notice how Paul quoted Greek philosophers and poets to reach the people of Athens. He respected their literature and used it to reach the people he spoke with. We too can learn to use the verbage and stories of the culture to share the love of Jesus with others.

Prayer

Father, we thank you for bringing Paul to Athens and for stirring him to be provoked by their gods. Instead of merely tolerating their idolatry, he reached out to them to share the Gospel. We thank you for the many people who, through the ages, cared enough to share the Gospel until it came down to us! Forgive us for our willingness to allow others to remain in their idolatry and to tolerate their doctrines which lead to death. At the same time forgive us for our rudeness that has turned people away from you without a hearing of the Gospel. Give us your Spirit to guide us to share the hope we have in Jesus joyfully and winsomely. Amen. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

May 14, 2017 - 5th Sunday of Easter

The Way for Widows and Infants

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The title for this message is The Way for Widows and …Infants. That’s the title I chose over a month ago when I was planning out the sermons across the Easter season. But when I was typing it into the worship service I typed The Way for Widows and … Orphans. The reason I did that was because I am highly skilled, which also explains why I didn’t catch my goof when I edited the worship service. So, please excuse my goof and stick with Widows and Infants. Because, those two groups of people are brought to our attention in our readings today.

Two of our texts mention some of the most fragile people that you might think of: Widows and Infants.

Now these days, widows can be some tough ladies. Beyond capable of taking care of themselves they do so much. They give generously. They serve others. They help at church and they help their families, too. So, it might seem strange or even offensive to think of widows as fragile. But in the days of the early church, they were! They were socially and economically fragile because, generally, women had no income in those days. There was no social security, and women who were not married were often in a precarious position. They often had no property, and they had to rely on their children and extended family to provide for them. But if they had no children, or if their children were too young to work, there was no system to help them other than begging.

And that was what was at the heart of the problem in our first reading from Acts 6. The church had taken responsibility for the widows in their fellowship and through the generosity of the body they provided for them through a daily distribution of either food or money, or maybe it varied. But it seems that some of the widows were better taken care of than others. It seems that there was preferential treatment based on the ethnic background of the widow, leaving those of a not strictly Hebrew background without the care they needed. The widows were fragile.

Seeing infants as fragile is easy for us even today. It’s obvious that they cannot take care of themselves. Even after they are born they are still completely reliant on their mother, their parents, or at least someone to take care of them.

What is perhaps not so obvious in what we’re talking about here is that in many ways the position of widows and infants is also our position in relationship to God. Spiritually we are completely dependent on Jesus and the daily regular provision of faith and forgiveness he gives to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and through the Word and Sacraments.

In Acts the church felt compassion for the widows and decided to help them; a loving thing to do. When it went wrong and they brought it to the apostles they gave the task of solving the problem to others. They said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” And they instructed them to choose others to do that work. It was not because the apostles didn’t care for the widows. They were focused on another need. They knew that for people to have eternal life they needed to proclaim the word of God – to tell people about Jesus, his sacrificial death and his victorious resurrection. They knew that this was the Gospel – the good news of forgiveness and hope in Jesus. They couldn’t turn away from that work. They saw how fragile they themselves were apart from Jesus – and they saw how important it was go distribute this life giving Word as their main work.

And friends, this is what got Stephen in trouble, too. He wasn’t stoned to death because he was out there feeding widows. Nor was he stoned because he was making sure different ethnic groups were treated fairly. Those are good and important things to do, but notice that Stephen was stoned for proclaiming Jesus.

This message of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection is so important that it is even worth dying for. Why? Because no one can come to God apart from Jesus.

That is an unpopular idea these days. It seems that more and more people want to believe – and this includes Christians – that all roads lead to God. That all that matters is that you believe something to guide your life and it will all be okay. But Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And in Acts 4 the apostles testified, “There is no other name given under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved,” than the name of Jesus.

Today we are being urged to be completely depended on Jesus. Peter writes, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk.” That milk is the gospel truth of Jesus the Son of God crucified and raised for you! He’s saying, “Look! Here is your salvation! Don’t you want more and more of it?”

And through His salvation, God works something wonderful in us. He builds us into a spiritual house – a place that welcomes people, welcomes sinners, cares for their needs – physical and spiritual. He makes us into a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices. This is our service to God by serving others, it is acts of mercy in the world, but it is also sharing the hope we have in Jesus! Declaring the deeds of our savior who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. And notice that all of this is acceptable – not because we were able to do them, but they are acceptable through Jesus. Even in our good works we must rely on Jesus.

Friends, like the widows in Acts, we are those who have received mercy. Not once. Not twice but continually! We received God’s mercy and forgiveness when we first believed in Jesus. We received it in our baptism. We received it today in absolution when we confessed our sins. We will receive it again in the Lord’s Supper.


Sometimes people will ask, “If I’m already forgiven, why do I need things like baptism or the Lord’s Supper?” It is because we never get enough of God’s mercy. He always wants to give us more! More love! More forgiveness! He pours it into our lives that it might overflow from us … to our children, to our neighbors, to our enemies. Receive his daily distribution of mercy, forgiveness, and salvation, and share it with others. Everyone needs Jesus who is the way for widows and infants … and for us. Amen. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

May 12, 2017

Scripture: John 14:1–14

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 who 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 for those who are persecuted for the faith: that they would courageously share the gospel, lovingly forgive their persecutors, and be comforted by the hope of everlasting life in their sorrow.
Pray for those who persecute Christians: that the witness of our brothers and sisters would be heard and seen, that the Spirit would work in their lives to make faith in them, and that they would become our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Pray for those who grieve that they would be comforted by Jesus’ promise that he has gone to prepare a place for us and that he will take us to be with him.
Pray that God’s people would be firm in their belief that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father apart from him so that we will have greater urgency in sharing the hope we have in the one who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light.
Pray that we would do Jesus’ works, and greater works as well since Jesus has returned to the Father, and that God would be glorified.
Pray for those who are struggling financially, who need assistance, and who need mercy that they might find comfort, care, and assistance among God’s people.
Pray for eyes that see God’s creation with awe, hearts that trust his salvation fully, and lips that praise him for all God has done for us.
Pray for the Spirit to create or strengthen your craving for God’s Word and ask him to satisfy that craving.
Pray the Lord’s Prayer. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

May 11, 2017

Scripture: 1 Peter 2:2–10

As the Easter Season continues we also press forward through a semi-continuous reading of 1 Peter. Peter has been testifying about the power of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. He urges his readers to long for God’s Word as the most essential form of nourishment because they have received a new identity and way of life in Christ. This passage speaks to modern readers as well and urges them to see themselves in light of the impact Jesus’ death and resurrection has had on them and the new relationship they have with God through faith in Jesus.

Teaching

Luther explains this passage beautifully: Here the apostle employs an analogy. … Through the Word of God you are now born anew. Therefore conduct yourselves like newborn babes, who seek nothing else than milk. … [S]o you, too, should yearn for the Word, strive for it, and have a liking for it, in order that you may imbibe the pure spiritual milk.

These, too, are figurative words. … [H]e is speaking of … spiritual milk which is taken with the soul and which the heart must imbibe. … [T]his milk is nothing but the Gospel, which is also the very seed by which we were conceived and born…. This is also the food that nourishes us when we grow up; it is the armor which we put on and with which we equip ourselves.[1]

Life

Just like babies are intended to grow, Christians, too, should grow. We want to grow in faith, in knowledge of God, in understanding of his Word, and in obedience. Interestingly, what we are doing right now helps us grow. Hearing/reading the Word grows us. The Word causes us to grow. This is why regular worship attendance to hear the Word and to receive the Sacraments (which is the Word of God delivered through physical means) is so important.

The Gospel also changes our identity. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like a nobody, an outsider, or someone of little to no significance. At one time that might have been correct, but now God has made us his chosen people, a holy and royal priesthood. We have an important identity and essential work to do as we intercede for people in prayer and as we represent Jesus to the world.

Prayer

O God, you feed us with the purest spiritual milk in the Word and Sacraments and you have made us your holy people whom you have charged to grow in faith and to serve you in this world. Thank you for changing our identity from “not a people” to being your people. Forgive us for not living up to that identity as we often crave the pleasures of this world more than we do you or your Word. Forgive us for behaving in ways that are clearly not holy or worthy of a royal priest in service to you. Fill us with your Spirit. Feed us with your Word. Stir our hearts to desire your Word more and more. Work in our lives that we might represent you, proclaiming your excellencies as you have called us out of darkness and into your marvelous light in Jesus. Amen.


[1] Luther’s Works, vol. 30, Concordia Publishing House, p. 48-49

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

May 10, 2017

Scripture: Psalm 146

It is, of course, still the Easter Season, and our focus is on the risen Christ whom we praise. Psalm 146 is one of the “Hallelujah Psalms” – both beginning and ending with that word that means, “Praise the Lord.” This psalm was also used in Advent urging us to not put our trust in princes – instead we look to the Prince of Peace. In the Easter season we see the way that it urges us to praise the God who not only created us, but also saved us. We are reminded that a human’s breath departs and their plans perish, but Jesus, who was both human and God, helps and saves those who trust in him. We too trust the God who both made and saved us.

Teaching

This psalm can be outlined in four parts: an exhortation to praise the Lord, a warning against trusting the wrong things, a description of the Lord’s deeds in the past, and a word of confidence in what the Lord does now and will do in the future. There is a sense of past, present, and future in this psalm that reminds us of God’s faithfulness at all times. The psalmist praises God for deeds that are done, being done, and that will be done.

The psalms often display the Lord as the Creator and the one who acts on behalf of his people. This places us in a relationship with him where we are his created beings whom he cares for, and we are those that he saves. Jesus carries this work to fulfillment. He is the eternal one, becomes one of us (although he was begotten, not made) in order to redeem those he made, and frees us from sin and death.

Life

As the psalm speaks of the Lord setting prisoners free, giving sight to the blind, and lifting up those who are bowed low, we recognize that he is speaking of setting us free from the prison of sin, opening our eyes so that we might know him rightly through his Word, and lifting us up from our humiliation of sin to being reconciled with him in Christ. The words of this psalm are for us to praise the Lord and to give words to our worship.

Note the line in v. 8 that says, “the Lord loves the righteous.” Remember, that is you. Through faith in Jesus you are righteous, forgiven, and holy. We will strive to live a righteous life, but our righteousness before God is always Jesus’ righteousness which has been given to us through faith in his death and resurrection. So read those words again and hear, “The Lord loves me!”

Prayer


Use Psalm 146 to guide your prayer today. Pray that the Holy Spirit would help you see what the Lord has done, continues to do, and will do because of his love for you. Praise the Lord for his creation, salvation, faithfulness, and his help. Pray that he teach you to not trust overly in the things of this earth which pass away, and ask that he help us put our trust fully in the one who both died and rose, and in his Word.