Thanksgiving is the traditional time to remember the Lord’s blessings and give thanks for His many benefits. It is always time to give thanks, but the festival of Thanksgiving focuses especially on the blessings God gives from the harvest of the earth. In Psalm 104 the psalmist sang, “You cause grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.” God’s kindness in the harvest of the earth extends to all creation. In Psalm 145 the psalmist sang, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all and His mercy is over all that He has made…The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” The Lord provides for human needs and for the needs of every living creature.
The most important blessing the Lord provides is His steadfast love that endures forever and meets our most important need; to be nourished in our spirits. In the wilderness the Lord fed Israel with bread that fell from heaven. In a desert area, Jesus fed a crowd of five thousand and later a crowd of four thousand, with a few loaves of bread and some small fish. The Lord satisfied their physical wants, but humans have a greater need for nourishment of the spirit. Jesus said, “Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you.” Jesus is the food that endures to eternal life. He gives Himself for the life of the world.
He said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.” What a blessing it is to feel our need to be nourished by God’s righteousness! Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger for God and slakes our thirst with His righteousness. He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever.” Jesus nourishes us to eternal life through the forgiveness of sin; and so whether the harvest of the earth is plentiful or lean; whether life is served us turkey or liver for Thanksgiving Dinner, in Jesus we always have reason to give thanks!
The Importance of Prayer
Do you pray? Prayer is urged upon believers throughout the Bible. The temple Solomon built in Jerusalem was to be a house of prayer for all nations. Jesus taught His disciples to pray saying, “Our Father who art in heaven.” Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, in the faith that our Father in heaven loves us and wants to give us good things in body and in spirit. Paul urges believers to pray in all situations and in every circumstance of life. God wants us to pray for all people. In his first letter to his disciple Timothy, Paul writes, “First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions.”
Paul especially urges us to pray for leaders and people in authority, so that we may live in peace. One reason the gospel spread rapidly throughout the Roman world in the first century was because it was a time of peace. The Roman authority maintained peace. People could travel without fear and assemble without threat of violence. We pray for our leaders that they would work for peace in our community and nation, so we may continue to gather to offer prayers for all people, especially that they would know the love of God that is in Jesus the Saviour. The best prayer we can offer for the leaders of our world, nation and community, is that they too would come to know God our Saviour, receive and believe in Christ Jesus as their Saviour.
Believers need to be diligent in prayer. Prayer is pleasing to God in itself. He wants to hear our voices. He wants us to talk with him, as we would chat with a dearly loved friend. Do you ever call or visit someone, just because you want to talk? God wants us to talk to him in prayer. Prayer focuses our minds on God our Saviour and the redemption He accomplished through Christ Jesus. God is always mindful of us, but when we pray we are mindful of God. When we pray, we remember that He who is for us is greater than all that is against us. When we pray, we remember that His grace is sufficient to meet all our needs. Prayer centers our attention on the great commission that Christ gave to the Church to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When we pray we remember God loves all people and seeks the salvation of every human soul.
The Shepherd of the Flock
Jesus asks what seems to be a rhetorical question saying, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” The question presumes that everyone would go after the lost sheep, but that is not always the case. A shepherd would go and search for a lost sheep only if he loved it, or if it had some value that made the risk to the other sheep and the effort to search, worthwhile. Businesses generally factor in a 10% loss due to theft, spoilage or damage. One sheep missing out of a hundred was only 1%. Many owners and most shepherds would be happy to loose only one percent and probably wouldn’t look too hard for one lost sheep.
But the Lord loves His sheep. One lost sheep is one too many. The Lord is the Good Shepherd, He sent His Son to seek the lost sheep in all the places we have wandered. Jesus came into the world and shared our humanity, in order to seek and to save the lost. Jesus came to save both the lost sheep of the tribes of Israel and people from every nation and tribe under heaven. In the gospel of John, Jesus said, “I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock and one shepherd.” Jesus lay down His life to redeem the souls of every human being.
Jesus lay down His life and took it up again that He might speak a message of redemption throughout the world. Jesus speaks by the voice of His church, calling the lost to hear His voice, turn from their sins and follow His call. He leads and guides His flock with rod and staff. When we wander from His presence, He calls to us through the law, shows us our sin and warns us of the danger. He draws us close to His heart through the gospel and speaks comforting words of forgiveness, peace with God and eternal life. The image of the shepherd runs through the scriptures. The bible ends with the comforting image of the Good Shepherd, leading His flock to springs of living water, where God wipes every tear from their eyes. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We hear His voice. We follow His call. In Jesus’ Name.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
The Sunday of the Holy Trinity provides us the opportunity to reflect on the nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one God in three persons. It’s amazing that one being could express Himself in three persons and remain one being. But God is pretty amazing. Consider the vastness of the universe He created and sustains by the power of His word. The size of the universe is almost beyond our comprehension. Consider then that God is greater than the universe, which He fills with His Spirit and surrounds with His majesty. God is so big, but He can make Himself small enough to be present to each one of us individually, and as a gathering of believers. The psalmist asked, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there! If I make my bed in the depths of the earth, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” If God can be all that, He can also be three persons and remain one divine being.
But there is something more amazing about God than His vastness, or the triune nature of His being and that is His love! From the most ancient times people have sensed the presence of the divine Spirit and perceived His power in the natural world. Paul wrote in the letter to the Romans, “His invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” People have envisioned God in many different ways in the course of time, through the forces of nature, but none of the ancients perceived God fully according to His love. God revealed Himself to ancient Israel in love, expressed in forgiveness. Again and again the psalmists proclaimed God as love singing, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” God reveals Himself as love most clearly in Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, to be our Saviour from sin and death.
Dry Bones Made Alive
“I will put my Spirit within you and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.
Then you will know that I am the Lord.”
Ezekiel’s vision of the bones coming together must have been a sight to see! Imagine the noise of their rattling! Imagine the special effects, if a major movie was made about Ezekiel’s vision. They could call it “The Valley of Dry Bones,” and bill it an epic tale of struggle, survival and national resurrection. Maybe Mel Gibson could play Ezekiel. If you can imagine Ezekiel with an Aussie voice! Ezekiel’s vision must have been a sight to see, and the effects certainly would be special if Hollywood took an interest in it, but the greatest and most special effect was the power of God’s Spirit to make this vision a reality, by returning the remnant of the children of Israel to live again in their own land. You see, such a national resurrection was unheard of in the ancient world. Conquered nations were dispersed throughout the territory of great empires, so that they would be destroyed as ethnic groups. There was no hope of return! God did a mighty work when He gave life to His people and placed them in their own land. He raised them up as a nation. He put His Spirit within them so they would live as His people, so they and all nations would know that He is the Lord!
What the Lord did for ancient Israel, was a sign of what He would do for all people, by giving Jesus to die for our sins and rise for our salvation. What the Spirit of the Lord did for the multitudes in Ezekiel’s vision, He has done for multitudes more through the hearing of the gospel. Through the gospel the Lord has raised men, women and children from every nation under heaven, from spiritual death, to a living relationship with Him through faith in Christ the Saviour. The first resurrection is of the human spirit in relationship with God through faith in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit gives us this spiritual resurrection by blessing us with faith in Jesus through the word and washing of baptism. What Ezekiel saw the Holy Spirit do for the house of Israel, raising their bodies and giving them life, the Holy Spirit will one day do for all believers in Christ. God will send forth His Spirit, call us from our graves, and give us a share in Jesus’ resurrection to a new and everlasting life, in bodies fashioned unto Christ’s resurrection body, perfect and imperishable. On that and great and glorious day, He will put His Spirit within us, we will live eternally and we will know the Lord is God.
“And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw Him go into heaven.’”
The ascension of Jesus marks the close of His earthly mission, which began with His conception by the Holy Spirit within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In Isaiah the Lord said, “The word that goes forth from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Jesus is the eternal word clothed in human flesh. He accomplished what God desired, by atoning for the sin of the world through His sinless life and sacrificial death. He achieved the purpose for which He was sent, by rising to life and proclaiming the gospel of repentance and forgiveness through faith in His name and baptism into His death and resurrection.
Jesus’ mission in His flesh was coming to a close, but the mission of the disciples and of all who would follow them in faith, was just beginning. Jesus trained the disciples, so that they would continue to fulfill the purpose for which God first sent Him; proclaiming the kingdom of God by calling people to repentance through faith in His name. During His earthly ministry Jesus was one man teaching and preaching. Now there would be twelve apostles. Soon there would be thousands and millions of disciples from all nations.
Jesus withdrew His physical presence from the world, but He did not withdraw His presence from the church or the world. He is with the church through His Holy Spirit. He is in the world through the church. Jesus continues to accomplish the purpose for which the Father sent Him through the church. Jesus proclaims peace with God through the blood of His cross by the voice of believers everywhere. Through millions of voices (including ours) Jesus proclaims the gospel of forgiveness for all to receive and promises eternal life through His resurrection for all who believe.
The Lord bless us to believe and to share our faith with others, until Jesus makes Himself visible as King and Lord of all. In His Name. Amen
Bearing Fruit in Jesus
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
How can you tell an apple tree from an orange tree? For those practiced in the study of trees there are many ways of distinguishing one type of tree from another. For the less experienced, the most certain way of differentiating between trees is by the type of fruit the tree produces. Apple trees produce apples, orange trees produce oranges, a vine produce grapes. You can determine the health of a tree by the fruit it produces. A sickly tree is not likely to produce an abundance of healthy fruit. A tree that produces no fruit is probably on the brink of death, if it has not already crossed that threshold. A healthy living tree produces good fruit in abundance. Fruit is a sign not only of the type of tree, but that it is a healthy living plant. The fruit of faith testifies to our life in Christ. The fruit of faith in Christ are works that give glory to God. The fruit of faith is to help others in their need and call other people to faith in Jesus as Saviour.
In Psalm 86 the psalmist sang, “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; for you have delivered my soul from the depths of hell.” We thank God for the salvation He has given us in Christ Jesus, that He has delivered us from the depths of hell! We share God’s love with others in acts of kindness. St. James in his letter wrote of the fruit of faith saying, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The fruit of faith is to tell other people about God’s love in Christ Jesus, so they too would be delivered from the depths of hell and would know God as their Father through faith in Jesus as their Saviour. The fruit of faith gives glory to God and blessings to others.
Dearest Jesus bless us that we may bear fruit in you and for you. Amen
Actions Speak louder than words
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Have you ever had an experience that changed you for the better? Jesus’ resurrection changed His disciples! Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told the disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” The disciples witnessed to Jesus’ resurrection with their words and also by becoming completely different men. Not different in the sense of having no sin and being perfected in their living. Like us they continued to struggle against the desires of the sinful nature all their lives. They continued to need God’s grace in forgiveness and the Holy Spirit to empower them to faith and faithfulness. Jesus’ resurrection changed the focus of their lives and empowered them to fearlessly and faithfully proclaim Him as the Saviour and to call people to faith in His Name.
What an amazing change in their actions! Just days earlier they were hidden behind locked doors, fearful the religious authorities would identify them as followers of Jesus, arrest and imprison them. Now they publicly and boldly declare Jesus to be the Saviour, without fear and even under the threat of punishment and death. Men who previously cowered behind locked doors, now boldly tell the authorities, “This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the head of the corner. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Their actions speak as loud as their words and tell us in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ has truly risen from the dead and that through Him we have forgiveness from God and life with Him in eternity. Praise His Holy Name. Amen
Breakfast on the Beach
“Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast’.”
In his gospel John tells how Jesus revealed Himself to His disciples by making them breakfast. This was not the first time Jesus revealed Himself by preparing a meal. Jesus had previously fed groups of five and four thousand. God provides for all our needs of body and spirit. The Psalmist said, “The eyes of all look to you and you give them their food in due season.” In the wilderness Moses told the children of Israel, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus fed His disciples breakfast on the beach, to show that He really had risen from the dead. He revealed Himself in this way, so that whenever they took a meal they would remember Him and His words, especially, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever.”
Christians have the custom of giving thanks before meals. One table blessing says, “Come Lord Jesus be our guest.” But as this gospel shows, it is really Jesus who is the host and we who are His guests. In his Small Catechism Doctor Martin Luther writes, “He gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land and animals, and all I have. He daily and richly provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” Jesus feeds our spirits through His word in Scripture, Baptism and Communion. He has the words of eternal life. He satisfies our thirst for righteousness in the water of baptism. He nourishes, strengthens and preserves our faith through the feast of His body and blood in Holy Communion. He does this that we would be kept in the one true faith, share in His resurrection to life everlasting and take our place in the great feast of life at His return.
Dear Lord keep us to that day. In Jesus’ Name.
Why are You Weeping
“Woman, why are you weeping?”
Jesus’ question to Mary Magdalene in the garden Easter morning, is more than polite discourse, or a conversation starter. It goes even deeper than Jesus’ sympathy with us in our sorrows. Jesus is not simply sympathizing with Mary. His question speaks to the fundamental change in the life of the world that occurred with His death and became obvious with His resurrection. On the cross Jesus had taken away the power of the devil and lifted the condemnation of death from the heads of believers, by bearing the sin of the world. His resurrection was the first-fruits of His victory.
His resurrection was the beginning of a new creation in which sin, death and the devil are no more. Death came into the world with the sin of the first Adam and with it weeping, mourning, crying and pain. The righteous death of Jesus (the second Adam) took away the guilt of sin, from which death receives its power. Sunday was the first day of creation. On the first Sunday God said, “Let there be light!” Sunday is now the first day of the recreation. On this day, God raised Jesus and began the work of making all things new through the proclamation of the gospel of forgiveness, received by faith in His name.
The work of recreation will be fulfilled when Jesus returns, calls believers to rise from death and God makes His dwelling with us. As it says in Revelation 21, “Now the dwelling place of God is with humans. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” This is what we remember Easter morning! This is what we celebrate at Jesus’ resurrection and remember every Sunday at worship: The death of mourning, crying and pain and the beginning of a new creation in which righteousness dwells.
God in His mercy bring us to that great day!
A Blessed Easter Season
Holy Week / Holy Communion
“For this is my blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
The great feast of the Old Testament was Passover. At Passover the faithful in Israel remembered how God rescued their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, afflicting the Egyptians with a series of plagues, the last being the plague of death. God made war on the Egyptians and their gods for two purposes. First, to show that He alone is God. Second, that He might make their slaves into a mighty nation through which He would make His name known to all the world and bring the blessing of salvation to every nation. At midnight the angel of the Lord passed through land of the Egypt and took the firstborn male of every household, including the house of Pharaoh. The only homes spared were those marked on the doorposts and lentil with the blood of the Passover lamb. When the angel saw the blood of the lamb, it passed over.
The great feast of the New Testament is The Lord’s Supper. In the Lord’s Supper Christians remember Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of our sins and His resurrection for our eternal life. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus shares with us the benefits of His cross in the forgiveness of sins. In the Lord’s Supper we are given strength for daily living. Through this sacred meal, the Holy Spirit nourishes our faith and gives us spiritual growth. In this Holy Supper, we receive a foretaste of the great feast that will come at the return of Jesus, when the old order of sin and death passes away and the Father makes all things true. Then will come to pass the salvation God promised through Isaiah, saying, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine...He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.”
God keep us in His grace so that we may celebrate with Jesus and all the faithful the feast of eternal life when He returns as our King and Saviour. In Jesus’ Name. Amen
The Treasure of Greatest Value
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
What is most valuable in your life? What could you not live without? Doubtless, there are many things we wouldn’t want to live without. If we suddenly lost all our wealth and possessions, our faith would be put to the test. There are many precious people that we can’t imagine living without and whose departure would leave a lasting hole in our lives. But as St. Paul discovered from experience, there is nothing more valuable than having Christ in our lives as our Saviour and Lord.
Christ in our lives, gives us courage to bear the loss of wealth and possessions. Christ in our lives, gives us the strength to deal with the changes that come with the years. Christ in our lives, gives us comfort and hope when we are bereaved of those we love. Christ in our lives, gives us a real and living hope when we face the reality of our own mortality and the end of our lives on earth. Christ in our lives, gives us forgiveness of our wrongs and the peace of knowing that our relationship with God is not based on our actions, but on the action of God’s love in Christ.
When Christ is in our lives, we have the peace of knowing that something of greater worth is waiting for us after our lives pass away and the world as we know it comes to an end. Christ will give us a share in His resurrection and a new and eternal life. God will make all things new and in Christ will give us richer blessings than anything the world can offer and our minds can imagine. We receive every blessing in time as a sign of Christ’s presence in our lives and as a foretaste of greater blessings to come. We remember that nothing compares with the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord. In Jesus’ Name. Amen
Lord Jesus bless us that we treasure knowing you as our blessing of greatest worth. Amen
2 Corinthians 5:20-21
“Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Lent begins with ashes. When Abraham interceded with God for Sodom and Gomorrah, he confessed the limits of his humanity saying, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” It was a sign of humility by which he recognized the vast difference between himself, a mortal, sinful creature and the Immortal Holy Creator. Ashes remind us of our sinful humanity with all its weaknesses and limitations. During Lent, we remember that God is the Creator who dwells in unapproachable light, and that though we were created in His image, we are but dust and ashes in comparison to Him. We cannot attain to the glory of God. God must reach down to us, which He does most beautifully in the incarnation of Jesus our Saviour and Lord. We remember the love of our Saviour Jesus, who as St. Paul said in the letter to the Philippians, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” This is how much our Lord and Saviour loves us that He took on flesh and blood through the Blessed Virgin Mary and shared in our humanity.
In the ancient world ashes were used to show sorrow and repentance over sin. When Jonah proclaimed God’s judgement against the city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, known far and wide for their extreme violence and heartless cruelty, the king responded by covering himself with sackcloth and sitting in ashes. He issued a decree: “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything....but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent.” God relented and spared Nineveh from destruction. As the prophet Joel said, “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” During Lent we remember that our sins have separated us from God and that only God can make atonement for the wrongs that we have done. Most of all we remember He has done this by giving His sinless Son into death on the cross. As St. John said, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.” He takes our ashes upon Himself that in Him we would receive the righteousness of God in forgiveness and share in His resurrection to everlasting life. In Jesus’ Name.
“This is My Son whom I love. Listen to Him!”
Epiphany is a season in which the Holy Spirit reveals the glory of the Lord in the person of Jesus. When people saw Jesus they did not see or even sense the glory of the Lord. Beginning from the moment of His conception within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus humbled Himself and set aside the full use and display of His divine glory. As Paul said in the letter to the Philippians, “though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” The Shepherds in Bethlehem, the Magi from the east, the villagers of Nazareth saw no more than a human baby, a young child and the son of the Carpenter. It was as Isaiah said centuries before His birth, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” Yet, from time to time as the Spirit directed, Jesus revealed glimpses of His glory through the words He spoke and the powerful signs that He gave. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, Peter and the eleven came to believe that more than a man, more than a prophet of God, Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and that rather than the words of man, He had “the words of eternal life.”
Jesus gave the fullest visual expression of His glory on a mountain where in the company of Moses and Elijah and in the presence of the disciples Peter, James and John, His glory shone forth with the brilliance of the sun. It only took a moment and as quickly as it came, the moment was gone. But in that moment the disciples saw beyond the shadow of a doubt that more than a prophet or even an angel of God, that Jesus is the Son of the living God, equal to the Father and the Spirit in all things in terms of His divinity. Paul wrote in the letter to the Colossians “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…by Him all things were created…” From that moment Peter, James and John knew that when they saw Jesus they were seeing the human face of God. They never forgot that moment. Later in life Peter reflected on it and wrote, “We were eye witnesses of his majesty.” The glory of the Lord is expressed most kindly and lovingly in the face of Jesus. In His face we see our Saviour. We listen to Him, because He expresses the glory of the Lord most powerfully in words of forgiveness and eternal life.
Holy Spirit open our ears to hear our Saviour speak, open our hearts to believe and give us a holy desire to live according to His words. In Jesus’ Name.
1 Corinthians 9:24
“Run in such a way as to get the prize.”
In the ancient world the winners of races such as the Marathon received a wreath of laurel as a crown to mark their victory. As beautiful as it may have been at that moment, such a crown would soon wither and decay. In contrast St. Peter writes, “When the Chief Shepherd appears you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” The crown that Christ will bestow upon us was forged in the fire of His holy, innocent bitter suffering and death on the cross. It gleams with the gold of Jesus’ righteousness that covers our sins in forgiveness. It is bejeweled with the love of God and sparkles a light brighter than a thousand stars. There is no prize on earth that can compare with the crown of glory, which the Lord the righteous judge will bestow upon us and all who have believed in Jesus’ Holy Name.
The vision of this prize and its splendor gave Paul his second wind and impelled him to the finish line. As he neared the completion of his life he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” We run by means of the same grace of God, as we press on receive the prize for which God calls us heavenward in Jesus Christ. Like Paul and the countless multitude that has gone before us, we fix our eyes on Jesus. Looking to Him, we run to receive the greatest prize, the crown of life He has won for each one of us through His sinless life and sacrificial death.
May God who has called us to faith in Christ Jesus, keep us in His grace until our course is complete and we receive the crown of eternal life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen
1 Corinthians 13:7
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Most marriages in our society begin with romance. On their wedding day many couples chose the words of 1 Corinthians 13 for their ceremony. They sound so fitting, “love is patient and kind...love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” They hope this will be their love, or at least this will be the way their partner will love them. But these are not words of romantic love. They are not even words of human love. No human being could love so fully and perfectly as these words describe. These words describe God’s love. God loves His people Israel and because of His love, He does not abandon them when they abandon Him through their worship of idols. God loves the world and because of His love He does not destroy the world and start over when the world uses His name as a curse, mocks and ignores Him and treats the creation as a god unto itself.
Instead, God so loves the world that He gives his only begotten Son to share in our humanity and live among us as one of us. St. Paul writes to the Philippians saying, “Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” That’s God’s love! Christ Jesus loves the Father and because of His love for the Father and for the world, He becomes obedient even unto death on the cross. He does this so that we would receive God’s love in pardon, forgiveness and healing. The perfect love of 1 Corinthians 13 is God’s love for you, for me and every human being. God reaches out to us in Christ that we might know His love, the greatest love, the love that is patient and kind, the love bears all things, the love that never ends.
God bless you with His love!
We Know God Loves Us!
1 John 4:9
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.”
How can we know God loves us? God made His love known by sending His Son to be born at Bethlehem. God makes His love known by sending His Son to be born into our hearts through faith, by the word and working of the Holy Spirit; that we would know Him as Saviour and be known to God as children dearly loved. John speaks of the effect of Jesus’ birth in the hearts of those who are born again through faith and the washing of Holy Baptism saying, “To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the power to become the children of God.” When Jesus is born in our hearts through faith we become children of God! That’s how we know God loves us!
I don’t think people love anyone more than their children. Our celebration of Christmas is built around children. We buy gifts for our children. We plan outings at Christmas for our children. We save for our children’s education. We hope and plan for their future. We forgive our children far more readily than we forgive any other person. There is no love greater than the love of parents for their children. How do we know God loves us? We know God loves us, because He makes us His children through the gift of faith and the adoption of the Holy Spirit in Baptism. We know God loves us, because He gave His Son, made us alive in Him and calls us children. St. John writes, “This is love…that He loved us and sent His Son to be the sacrifice of atonement for our sins.” More than anything else, that’s how we know God loves us! May we always know and believe the love God has for us in Christ Jesus. A Blessed Christmas! In Jesus’ Name. Amen
What Child is This?
What child is this? What will this child be? Parents naturally wonder what kind of person their new born child will be. People hope their children will be good and successful in life. People hope their child will be a scientific genius like Albert Einstein; a musical prodigy like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, or a sports super star like Connor McDavid. A thousand fathers have tried to follow in the footsteps of Walter Gretzky, in the hopes of producing another Wayne. We all have hopes and expectations for our children and grandchildren. We all wonder “What will this child be? What will this child accomplish? None had more reason to wonder than Mary.
Truly there never has been a child like this! Conceived by the Holy Spirit by the incomprehensible power of God, He is at one and the same time God from eternity and a human being in time. In Him and in Him alone, dwell both the divine and the human nature. Jesus is the most precious, special child. Through His humanity, He shares our humanity. This means He knows our struggles and feels our sorrows. He is ready and able to help us in all our needs. We can come to Him for strength when we are tempted to sin, doubt and despair. He was tempted just as we are yet without sin. He passed the test so that when we fall and fail, we can come to Him to receive the grace of forgiveness.
What child is this? Scripture says that after Jesus’ birth, Mary pondered these things in her heart. We too should ponder in our hearts the meaning of Jesus’ birth and consider its significance in our lives. In this child the God who flung the stars throughout the vast reaches of space, reaches down to bless you and I with His love in forgiveness, mercy and peace. In this child, God joins us in our humanity, so that He might atone for our sins through His blood. In this child God blesses us with forgiveness and the promise of sharing in His resurrection to a new and eternal life. A special child born to embody and express the special love God has for us. In Jesus’ Name. Amen
The Christmas Story
The story of Jesus’ birth is an old story, heard by a countless number, told and retold through the ages. It’s a story we have heard throughout our lives. Most of us, if not all of us, have had a part in telling it ourselves, in a Christmas pageant in our childhood. But, no matter how often we hear it and despite its age, it is a story that never grows old. It remains new and fresh, because it speaks to us of God’s deep love. It’s the story of a baby and we can all relate to babies, if for no other reason than the fact that we were all babies at one time. All babies need to be loved. Love is as essential to an infant’s well-being as food, clothing and shelter. I didn’t have much to do with babies until my daughter was born. I felt awkward when someone asked if I wanted to hold their baby. She was the first baby I really held and I didn’t want to get it wrong! Before we brought her home, I asked one of the nurses how often I should hold her. I remembered reading somewhere that you can spoil babies, if you hold them too much. The nurse looked at me and said, “Hold her as often as possible, for as long as she wants. You can never love a baby too much.” Really, you can’t love anyone too much. No one was ever hurt by being over loved. I don’t think any of the monsters of human history became monsters because they were loved too much when they were infants. Probably it was because they weren’t loved enough, if at all. There is no one and none of us, who wasn’t made a better human being by being loved! God made us to love and be loved! And really that’s why the story of Jesus’ birth never grows old, always remains fresh and new, despite the passage of time. It is the story of love. It’s the story of a baby being loved by His mother and earthly father. It’s a story of God loving the world by giving His Son to become one of us and live with us. It is a story of God loving us so much that He gave His only begotten Son to bear our sins on the cross so that through Him we also would become His daughters and Sons, born again by the Spirit through faith in Him. As we hear again the story of Jesus’ birth, remember that this is not the story of someone else, or about other people. It’s not a story from the past. It’s a story about the present. It is a story about you and me. It is a story of God’s great love for each one of us and for all humanity. God loves us and wants to be close to us. He wants to hold us close to His heart, even as we would hold a little baby close to our hearts. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of Mary, not for Himself. He was born for us, so that through Him, we would be reborn as children of the heavenly Father through faith and by the wondrous working of the Holy Spirit. This Advent as we remember His birth, we remember the words of the Christmas hymn, “O little child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today.” The Lord open our hearts to receive His love in Jesus today and to the day of eternity. In His Name. Amen
A Month of Remembrance
“He is our peace.”
During November we remember those who served and died for our nation in the terrible wars of the twentieth century; as well as in more recent conflicts of the 21st century. The words of Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae are part of our collective memory, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow beneath the crosses row on row.” The poppies that grew on the graves of recently buried Canadian Soldiers is a symbol of their sacrifice and a sign of our continued appreciation of those who served, suffered and died for our nation. We remember those who served in the past and those who continue to serve, so we may appreciate the heritage bequeathed upon us by the sacrifice of their service. We honour their sacrifice by serving ourselves as citizens of our nation and community.
The graves upon which poppies grew were also marked by crosses. The cross reminds us that we and every human soul need healing in relationship with God. Sin is never so obvious than during war. We see the effects of sin in continued conflict and in the tears of those who grieve for loved ones lost in war. The saddest words in the bible are in Genesis, where it says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth...And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Sin is not an imaginary concept. It is real. We remember it has destroyed our relationship with God, brought war and death into the world.
As Christians we remember most of all the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross and the forgiveness God offers for all to receive through faith in Him as Saviour. The cross that marks the graves of thousands of dead soldiers in Belgium and France is the most powerful symbol of hope in the face of death and forgiveness in the presence of sin. The cross tells us that God so loved the world, full of hate, murder and war, “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” As we remember the wars of the past and present, we pray for peace and consolation to those who suffer and grieve. We pray for peace in our land and among all the nations of the earth. We remember Jesus. He is our peace.
The God of the Living
“Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all are alive to Him.”
God’s grace, mercy and peace be with you in Christ Jesus. How many of you want to go to heaven? How many of you want to die? Former Prime Minister John Chretien once observed, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.” We all want good things, but we don’t want to suffer to get them. I’ve met countless people who want to go to heaven, but I could count on one hand the number that wanted to die. And the only reason those who preferred death wanted to die was, because their present suffering was so great it seemed worse than death. We want to go to heaven, but we don’t want to die, because we are afraid of death. We fear what is unknown and there is nothing more unknown than death. Nothing better illustrates the human fear of death than the annual observance of Halloween as a day to caricaturize death and make fun of the fears associated with it. Halloween is a parody of death, by which the world deals with its fear of death by dressing up like ghosts and monsters.
All Saints Day offers a different perspective on death. It gives us a glimpse of heaven, so we see we don’t need to fear death. It shows us Jesus, who as the letter to the Hebrews says, “came to destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil and to deliver those who were subject to lifelong slavery through the fear of death.” Most importantly, All Saints Day shows us how we get to heaven. Some people think we get to heaven by dying. Nothing could be further from the truth. In Revelation, John sees an innumerable crowd of people standing in heaven, before the throne of God and in the presence of the Lamb. How did they get to heaven? Not by dying. They got to heaven, because they were washed clean of their sins by the blood of the Lamb and given the garments of Jesus’ righteousness as their glorious dress. They got to heaven, because the Holy Spirit opened their eyes to their sins through the law and then opened their hearts to receive Jesus as Saviour through the gospel.
We don’t have to wait for death to get to heaven. We entered into heaven when we were baptized and believed. Heaven begins in our hearts the moment the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to receive Jesus as Saviour. Heaven is to know God as Father through faith in Christ as Saviour. Heaven is to be known by Him as dearly loved children for the sake of Christ Jesus. It’s called All Saints Day not for the sake of the dead, but for the sake of the living. As Jesus said to the Sadducees the Lord is not God of the dead but of the living, for all are alive to Him. All who receive Jesus as
Savior and follow him as Lord are alive to God, whether we live in the body, or our bodies sleep in the grave. All who believe in Him are saints. Those who believe in Him have nothing to fear in death for He is Lord of the dead and of the living and those who live in Him can never truly die.
Scripture Grace and Faith
Each October we remember the Lutheran and Protestant reformations that began October 31, 1517. We observe the Sunday of the Reformation each year so that we remember to treasure above all else the grace of God spoken in the gospel, received through faith in Christ Jesus. God’s grace is so unknown in the life of the world that it is very hard to believe. It seems too good to be true! And so people are always tempted to augment God’s grace with human works in some form.
God’s grace is like nothing else in the world. In the world we are rewarded or condemned on the basis of our actions, either good or bad. But in the realm of faith, God rewards believers with the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ’s righteousness, expressed in His perfect obedience even unto death on the cross.
In the world we naturally love those who love us and hate those who hate us. But God loves those who are by nature His enemies. He expressed this love by giving Christ into death for the sin of the world. St. John writes of Jesus saying, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the world.”
In the world people may lay down their lives for those for whom they have positive regard; be that a nation, a cause, a family member, or a friend. This is understandable, but who would think of making the supreme sacrifice for someone who was their enemy; hostile in action and in attitude? Yet this is exactly what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. How do we know this? The Bible tells us it is so. St. Paul writes, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
We remember scripture, grace and faith, not just on October 31st, but every day, Each day we treasure the gift of God’s love in Christ, spoken in scripture, received as a gift of grace through faith in Christ Jesus. A blessed Halloween!
The Lord is Gracious and Compassionate
“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love...The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
Autumn is a traditional time to reflect on our lives, the presence of God and the many gifts of kindness He gives to us every day, to people everywhere and to all things living. Thanksgiving celebrations around the world and in every culture are often associated with harvest. People have gathered in the produce of their gardens and the grain from their fields and now it is time to give thanks. In a very real sense, harvest is time to count our blessings. What can we give thanks to God for at our Autumn Harvest Festival? We usually think first to give thanks for material things, such as food and clothing, houses and all the accessories of modern life. We give thanks for the blessing of our families and friends, the community in which we live and the interests that occupy our time. The physical is more immediate to us than the spiritual and so often we only think to give thanks to God for blessings of the spirit after we have listed off the blessings that can be touched with our hands and seen with our eyes.
The first thing our Psalmist gives thanks for is the grace, compassion and loving kindness of God. He writes the Lord is “slow to anger and rich in love.” We thank the Lord that He is slow to anger. There are lots of things in the life of the world that must make him angry, possibly even a few things in our lives. Yet He restrains His anger and deals with us in love. I’m sure we have all had occasion to warn someone that we are running out patience, possibly we ourselves heard such a warning. But God seems to have a never ending supply of patience. Even when punishment is deserved and retribution is required by the law the Lord seeks ways to forgive. The Psalmist knew God is rich in love, because He always finds ways to forgive. He did not deal with His people according to their sins, but according to His love in forgiveness. God gave the greatest display of the riches of His love by giving Jesus to bear the guilt of the sin of the world. In Him we are treated not as our sins deserve, but according to the kindness of His love. We give thanks for every blessing of body and of spirit. We give our greatest thanks for the riches of God’s love expressed in Christ Jesus.
Joseph and His Brothers
“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…”
Has God ever taken some evil that affected your life and used it for good? The story of Joseph and his brothers is one of the longest narratives in the bible. Their story is told in detail, blemishes and all, because they were the people from which the twelve tribes of Israel traced their ancestry. They were the first fruits from which God began to fulfill the promise He spoke to their great grandfather Abraham when he said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars if you are able to number them…So shall your offspring be.” They were the holy seed from which Jesus would be born, when in the fullness of time God’s eternal Son would take on human flesh and make His dwelling among us. They were the holy seed, but there was nothing holy about them, which you will quickly realize as you read chapters 34 to 50 of Genesis. They fought, they cheated, they took revenge and murdered. Their greatest evil was conspiring against the life of Joseph their brother, casting him into a pit in the wilderness and selling him into slavery in Egypt, where he would most certainly have died.
Do you have family problems? This family had major problems. The father Jacob had two wives, one that he loved and one that didn’t like very much. The two wives were sisters and the one that was disliked had all the children. The wife that was loved was jealous and got her servant to marry Jacob, so she would have surrogate children through her. The unloved wife did the same so that she would continue to have more children than her sister. Finally, the favourite wife had a son. Joseph was the first born son of Jacob’s favourite wife and so he loved him the most and favoured him above all the others. The brothers resented Joseph’s favoured position and they hated him. It didn’t help that Joseph, the second youngest, was proud as a peacock to be his father’s favourite and made no attempt to hide his pride. When he came to his brothers in a deserted place they saw their opportunity to get rid of him and they took it. They sold him to passing slaving traders, took the coloured cloak his father gave him, dipped it in goat’s blood, presented it to their father and let him draw his own conclusion. He was heart-broken, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.”
Friends in Christ, if God could work His grace in this family in forgiveness and reconciliation, there is no family that He cannot heal. If God could bring forgiveness and healing to this family, so that in the end they wept and embraced each other in love, He can do the same for all our families. Truly, this is what He was done for the entire human family in giving Jesus to share in our humanity and to take our place in death on the cross. Joseph’s brothers meant evil and tried to kill him, but God meant it for good, raising Joseph to leadership in Egypt, where he saved the Egyptians and his brothers from a famine. The men who condemned and nailed Jesus to the cross meant evil and wanted only to kill Him, but God meant it for good, raising Jesus from death and saving all who believe in Him from eternal death by reconciling us to Himself in forgiveness. God works for good. God works for our greatest good in giving Christ to be our Saviour.
Heavenly Father work you healing in our relationships with others. In Jesus’ Name.
The Wonder of His Love
“Baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”
The Sunday of the Holy Trinity provides an opportunity to reflect on the nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one God in three persons. It’s amazing that one being could express Himself in three persons and remain one being. But God is pretty amazing. Consider the vastness of the universe He created, which He sustains by the power of His word. The size of the universe is beyond our comprehension. Consider then that God is greater than the universe, which He fills with His Spirit and surrounds with His majesty. God is so big, but He can make Himself small enough to be present to each one of us individually and as a gathering of believers. The psalmist asked, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there! If I make my bed in the depths of the earth, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” If God can be all that, He can also be three persons and remain one divine being.
But there is something more amazing about God than His vastness, or the triune nature of His being and that is His love! From the most ancient times people have sensed the presence of the divine Spirit and perceived His power in the natural world. Paul wrote in the letter to the Romans, “His invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” People have envisioned God in many different ways in the course of time through the forces of nature, but none of the ancients perceived God fully according to His love. God revealed Himself to ancient Israel in love, expressed in forgiveness.
Again and again the psalmists proclaimed God as love singing, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” The ancients feared the wrath of the gods, but Israel knew “with you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared.” God reveals Himself as love most clearly in Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, to be our Saviour from sin and death. The most wondrous thing about God is His love expressed in Jesus who lived for our salvation, died for our sins and rose
again, so that we would experience the fullness of God’s love in our share of His resurrection to life everlasting.
Holy God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit open our hearts to receive and our minds to perceive, the wonder of your love. Amen