Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

Many in the world think that they must make themselves right with God, or whatever their idea of “god” is. As Christians, we know there is nothing that we can bring to God or do for him that would make him love us anymore than he already does. He has sacrificed, for us! He has shown mercy, to us!

Micah 6:6-8 New International Version

6 With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

Arise, Shine – Your Light Has Come!

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The Epiphany of Our Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6

The Church, you know how she is described in Scripture?  “A royal priest hood, A holy nation!”  The church is described as radiant, dressed in white – a beautiful bride walking down the aisle on her wedding day.  She is described as Zion, the Lord’s Holy Hill, shining brightly, illuminating the world around her.

Does the church look like that to you?  Does she appear radiant, holy, beautiful, to you and me?  Or when we think of “The Church” does a different image arise in our minds.  One of an oppressed and beaten down woman.  One that is sapped of her strength from constant internal strife, mourning, and suffering – face in the dirt, in the depths of a cold dark night of sin.


It was into such a cold dark shameful night of sin that the Prophet Isaiah was calling.  He was calling to Jerusalem, to Zion, to God’s People the OT Church.  Before he gets to the verses of the text for today, in chapter 60 – Isaiah reminds Zion that it is indeed night and it’s been a night of shame.

God’s people are shamed for the way they fast, they are shamed for their halfhearted sacrifices and ceremonies – there was no sincerity in it, it was just a show.  There was no real joy or strength or enthusiasm.  They were certainly not glowing with a light from within!  Isaiah says, the inhabitance of Zion are all like useless watchmen, all drunk, unprepared for the attack of the enemy.  And so, when he attacks, they put up no fight!  Rather they go back to idolatry the worship of the false god Baal or Moloch

It’s interesting that earlier Isaiah ridicules the pagan Canaanites.  He basically calls them stupid, for they worship wood and stone.  The works of their own hands.  How foolish when the wood rots, the metal rusts and the stone chips.  These gods that can’t get from point A to B on their own, rather they wobble back and forth on a cart, as they are towed along with a guard to protect them.   Isaiah tells them, “You had no reason to fear those gods and you had every reason to find your strength in the LORD. The true and living God who created heaven, earth, sea and light… but Israel goes back to Moloch or Baal?  The Canaanite gods?  Incredible…”

This is the level of darkness to which the Holy city on the hill has fallen?  Because she was weak, because her strength was sapped because of the constant threat of her enemy she grew weary, and complacent.  Zion forgot her Lord.  She didn’t turn to him in time of trouble.  She sought what was expedient or comfortable or seemingly the easy way for her.


Just as it was for God’s people, for ancient Jerusalem, for Zion.  Still, it is the realities of the dark night of sin that most affect our senses and our perception.  They are indeed wearying. We see Christianity demeaned in this country, attacked from the outside by her enemies.  Around the world every day Christians die for their faith even though we hear little of it.

We see the “CHURCH” capital C – fragmented in our world.  There are false teachers, there are hundreds of different denominations.  From our perspective the Church is fragmented and breaking apart more all the time.  Often she looks less like a dignified beacon burning bright, and more like a dumpster fire.

Even in our own little church we have differing opinions, different preferences which sometimes cause unnecessary divisions.  We too are susceptible to internal struggle and strife.  We are a church that is familiar with mourning. Our church has known suffering.  There are broken hearts here.  There is weariness here.  The night of sin, brings us to the ground, makes us want to faint with sleep and intoxicating complacency – to lose our enthusiasm and watchfulness.

And so don’t the titles ZION, a royal priest hood, a holy nation, sit a bit awkwardly or uncomfortably on us? It will continue to be uncomfortable so long as we look for light to come out of ourselves.  Remember, we are a people that hope, against hope for hope.



Were Isaiah standing here today.  He would tell us the same thing that he told ancient Zion.  Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.

Those words ARISE, SHINE – those are not words of admonition or harsh rebuke!  This cry that echoes down through the centuries “RISE SHINE,” those are words of Power that put new life into the limbs of the church.  So that Zion can get up from ground upon which she has lain. When Isaiah says “Your Light” he’s not talking about an internal light.  He’s talking about a light that shines on us, you and I, the church. The night of sin that brought her to the ground and threatened to crush her with sorrow, and mourning and sadness – is at an end.


This light that has broken upon us, which we were reminded of at Christmas, is the Light of Salvation!  That light is a reminder that the Holy one of Heaven, the one who created light itself, loves you, Zion.  The sun of God’s Grace has dawned upon the church in Christ Jesus.  From him shines a light that cracks the black night of sin.  His light is the gospel of forgiveness of sins.  For all the times when we looked inward for strength and not to him, for when we sought some light within ourselves.  For all the times we grew complacent, or wearied unenthusiastic because of our own sorrow, mourning.  When we are unfaithful, our God is ever faithful.  When we are weak he is our strength and emboldens us.  When I look in and see a heart darkened with sin – he dispels the gloom.  So, ARISE, SHINE OUR LIGHT HAS COME!


And so, being enlightened with the Gospel message there is a mission for us implied here in the words of Isaiah.  Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.  The church rises and shines because the Light of the Lord Shines upon her.  It is the church’s mission to reveal the light to all people.  This is what Israel was supposed to do.  She was supposed to enlighten the gentiles to the nature of the true God and the promise of a Savior that he’d given them.

The church reflects the love God has for her, she reflects the forgiveness the Lord had for her.  And we wave that torch in a dark world.  Isaiah says, “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy.”

Perhaps some of you have experienced a bit of that joy already.  When a person that you’d been praying for wants to talk to you about who Jesus is and what he’s done.  Or when you make a call to someone on the evangelism list and they’re in church the next week. When we reach out to a person who’s not been in church for a long time, and they suddenly come back.  Perhaps we experienced a bit of that joy at Christmas, when a loved one came to church with you and heard that Gospel message.


We are indeed radiant as Isaiah says.  And not because we shine with some glorious internal light.  But because we shine with the Glory of our savior.  No matter our perception, this is the truth – because we shine with the Light of Jesus, the Lord has charged us to reveal his grace, mercy, and peace.  To share the light of a real hope – against hope – in a darkened world.  So rise, shine, your light has come!  God grant this all for Jesus sake. Amen.


3rd Sunday of Advent
2 Chronicles 32;1-9, 16-21

Come, oh come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

Imagine that you were diagnosed with a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine – a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No! It would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. What about prayer? How important is prayer to your daily routine? Is it something that you do once in a while? Is it what you do when you happen to find the time? Is it something that you turn to only when you’re desperate and hopeless – like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life when he’s about to end his life by jumping over the bridge? Is prayer that thing you do that is like children sitting on Santa Claus’s lap spelling out their wish list of all the things they want? What is prayer? How do you view prayer?

We are continuing our advent preparation by preparing with a king, the Old Testament king Hezekiah, for The King, King Jesus. Today we’re learning with Hezekiah how to “supplicate.” In other words, how to pray. And we’re going to specifically focus on three things: The balance of prayer, the basis and objective of prayer, and the power of prayer.

First, the balance of prayer. You notice the context of this event. “After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib, king of Assyria came and invaded Judah.” Remember how faithful Hezekiah was? He returned the people back to worshipping the true God, reopened the temple of the Lord and rededicated it, last week we looked at how he faithfully celebrated the great Passover of the Lord. After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, now he faced the powerful and ruthless king of Assyria. Sennacherib’s father Sargon was the Assyrian king who finished off the northern kingdom of Israel. Apparently after Sargon died and Sennacherib took over many of the nations around Judah chose to rebel to gain their freedom so Sennacherib came with his vast army to put them in their place. In fact, the Hebrew word for Assyrian could be translated “horde.”

Just the word of the Assyrians coming was enough to frighten any king. The Assyrians were known for their inhumane cruelty and bloodshed. And now they were capturing city after city and heading straight for Jerusalem. Where is God in all of this? Why is He permitting this? After all Hezekiah had so faithfully done doesn’t he deserve something from God? Perhaps you’ve had those same kinds of questions when one thing after another just piles up on you in life. Luther says that it’s precisely when God seems hidden that people have the greatest opportunity to exercise their faith in His promises.

So, what does Hezekiah do? He knows he is no match for the Assyrian horde, so he prepares by strengthening his defenses. He stopped up all the springs outside the city so the Assyrians would have trouble getting water, he also dug a channel underneath Jerusalem so they would have water from the Gihon spring, he repaired the wall, built another wall, and had a bunch of weapons and shields made as well as appointed military officers.

So, what’s the proper response to trouble or challenge? Prayer or work? When you’re facing a crisis- what should you do? Should you sit on your hands, pray, and trust that God is going to deliver you? Or do you get busy and do everything you can to fix the problem? Some people are more pragmatist and some are more idealist. The pragmatist insists on getting busy and doing something in the face of a challenge. The idealist insists on simply trusting God and praying. The idealist will look at the pragmatist and say, “You have no faith! Just trust in God!” And the pragmatist will look at the idealist and say, “You’re tempting God!” The pragmatist can easily think that it’s his actions that save him and the idealist can easily become carelessly confident and become lazy.

Hezekiah demonstrates the balance of prayer. Both prayer and work go together. Trust in God and using the means, resources, and abilities He’s given me, go together. Hezekiah both prays and gets to work, but all the while he depends on the Lord’s mighty power to deliver him. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”

That leads to our second point: the basis and objective of prayer. Over the years there have been many military commanders or leaders who have tried to fire up and encourage their troops. Maybe they’ll direct their troops to the glories they will win or to their nationality, like, ‘We’re Americans!’ or to their noble cause, like freedom and liberty. But the basis for Hezekiah’s trust and prayer is the might and strength of the Lord. And his objective is not personal glory, is not a larger kingdom, is not fame, his objective is that “all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.” His objective is God’s glory and His honor.

Sennacherib had sent his messengers to mock, ridicule, and insult the Lord, claiming that the Lord would not be able to help the people of Judah. He meant to crush their spirits, to frighten and terrify them so they would just give up. But Hezekiah bases his prayer and his trust on the Lord’s power and for the Lord’s glory. For no matter how bloodthirsty and terrifying the Assyrians were all they had was the arm of flesh, “but with us is the lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”

I think we all want to pray more and to go deeper in our prayers. We know that a natural outgrowth of reading, studying, learning, meditating on the Lord’s Word and receive the sacraments is a desire to pray. But someone once said that nothing really helps us go deeper in our prayers than simply being hopeless and desperate on our own. The Assyrians had over run every city and were now about to take Jerusalem. Hezekiah probably felt like he was in a pool with the water up to the neck- only the Lord could rescue him from this situation.

We too face many things in life. What Assyrian army is laying siege to your life? What is it that is leading you to be hopeless and desperate on your own? What is it that is stealing away your joy and gladness this Advent season? Is a fear for an uncertain future? Is it some kind of sickness or illness or simply growing old? Is it the terror of loneliness or thinking about spending the holidays with a loved one not present who has passed away?  Is it the threat of Satan’s continuing onslaughts of temptations or your own sinful flesh? What Assyrian army is laying siege to your life and sapping your joy in life, your strength, and making you feel desperate?

With Hezekiah prepare for battle by first turning to the Lord. Why so? With them is only the arm of flesh, but with you is the Lord your God to help you and to fight your battles. Your true King, King Jesus, has come. He has taken everything that condemns you, everything that threatens your eternal life, all your sin upon Himself and won the victory with his death on the cross and His resurrection! He has trampled every enemy underfoot and depending on his strength you win the battle over everything that threatens you. So pray, based on the Lord’s unlimited strength and for His glory.

And how do you know? As you face fears, concerns, worries, troubles this Christmas season, how do you know that the Lord is with you? How do you know that He cares that much about you? How do you know He will deliver you? The Lord has given you the sign: The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – God with us. God Himself became a human being in order to rescue you. So, you live in the city of God and even though the entire world is exploding in chaos around you, you can always enjoy perfect peace- for the Lord is with you, He has rescued you and He will rescue you.

And finally, the power of prayer. Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, trusted in Him and you know what the Lord did? The Lord sent an angel and annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king – 185,000 soldiers died. Sennacherib withdrew in disgrace. Judah was delivered and could live in peace. What is the Lord able to do? Anything. The Lord, the ruler of the universe, takes our prayers into account, chooses to work through our prayers in His master governing of the universe to accomplish His will. That’s power! Luther commented that God’s command and the prayers of His people are the two pillars which support the world. God uses your prayers. If it wasn’t for Christians and their prayers the world would have ceased to exist long ago. Prayers are powerful and God always answers prayers in the best way, he will always answer your prayers in the way that you would have asked if you knew everything He knew. And how do you know that? We look to a different battle, a battle fought in a garden, a battle that involved sweat like drops of blood where God’s own Son pleaded to not drink the cup of God’s wrath for all sins, but only as God wills it and God said no. Since Jesus willingly faced the worst battle ever for you and me, we know God loves us dearly, we know that God will use His power to help us, we know that the prayers of God’s people are powerful and effective.

So this Advent season- supplicate. Pray- balancing trust in God with faithful work, basing your prayer on the incredible strength of God and that he might answer your prayer in a way that gives God glory, and trust in the incredible power of prayer.

Build God’s House!

St Mark House of the Lord12th Sunday after Pentecost
Haggai 1:2-14

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! The Word of God to which we’ll direct our attention this morning is from the book of Haggai chapter 1 (read text).

What’s your dream home? If you could live anywhere, in any home, in any place what would you pick? What would it look like? I’m going to guess that out of all of us here we’d come up with a pretty diverse list of what we would call our dream home. But did any of you immediately think of this? (picture of the church) I’m guessing this probably wasn’t the first picture that came to your mind.

Well, it wasn’t much different back in Haggai’s day either. Haggai is one of the shortest books of the OT and I’m going to guess that most of you here probably haven’t spent a whole lot of time studying the book of Haggai. Well, Haggai was a prophet of God and we can date the time of this book almost exactly. The first part of this book takes place in late August of 520 BC. So what’s happened in Israelite history? Back in 722 BC the Assyrian empire had completely destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. About 100 years later the Babylonians had taken over and they conquered the southern kingdom, destroyed Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and took a majority of the Israelites back to Babylon in captivity. Then, the Persian empire conquered the Babylonians and in 538 BC the Persian king Cyrus declared that the Jews could return to their homeland in Judah and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. So under a man named Zerubabel a remnant of Israelites returned – about 50,000 of them. They immediately rebuilt the altar of the temple and began worshipping again and two years later they laid the foundation of the temple. But, what happened next? They stopped. They hit a few obstacles and hindrances and stopped rebuilding the temple. 16 years later and little or nothing had happened with the rebuilding of the temple.

The question is, why? Why didn’t they finish rebuilding the temple? The problem wasn’t outward circumstances, or obstacles or hindrances, the problem was themselves. The problem was sin. They claimed that it wasn’t the right time to build God’s house. But what time did they have? The people had time to build their own homes, to build nice homes, paneled homes, dream homes. No time to build God’s house. What was their problem? Their priorities were all messed up. God took the back seat. They focused on themselves, on their own comforts and conveniences, on the things of this world.

But are we much different? How easy it is for us to focus our attention on ourselves, on our wants, our dreams, our comforts, on the things of this world. When you think about your “dream home” where does your mind immediately go? I’m guessing that none of us would immediately think about the house of the Lord. Why not? Because it’s so easy for us to get our priorities confused, like those Israelites, to focus on ourselves and the things of this world.

And what a tragedy that is! Because anything in this world can simply be “blown away.” “What you brought home, I blew away.” God says. Anything in this world is temporary, passing, and falling apart. I read a book in college and all I remember is the title- but it’s so true – it was called, “Things fall apart.” Notice what God allowed to happen to the Israelites because of their wrong priorities: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” Notice what God says. It’s not that they were desperate and suffering hardship, but they were unfulfilled. They had seed to sow, they had food to eat, liquid to drink, they earned money. But it didn’t satisfy. They didn’t have enough, didn’t have their fill, they wore clothes but weren’t comfortable, they had money but it disappeared. What they lacked was satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment, peace.

God was calling them to repentance with their unfulfilled life and yet they continued to work on their dream homes. God does the same today, doesn’t he? When we confuse our priorities, when we get focused on this life and on the things of this life and on our creature comforts, they never satisfy, never fulfill. You see, when you’re dissatisfied in life or unfulfilled, the problem is not with your job, the economy, your financial situation, your marriage, the problem is with you.

Just like in Haggai’s day, dissatisfaction and un-fulfillment are calls by God to repentance. Remember, God has an entirely different agenda for our lives than we often have. Our agenda tends to prioritize our own desires, goals, and dreams. We want happiness, wealth, stuff. But God’s agenda, by contrast, is to get us to heaven no matter the cost. If our happiness and wealth will get in the way of us getting to heaven, God will bless us by taking away our happiness, wealth or stuff, by giving us dissatisfaction, discontentment, un-fulfillment. We might not think that to be much of a blessing at first, but if by doing so our focus and attention is taken off of ourselves and redirected toward God, then it’s an awesome blessing. As He did in this text, God will take our attention off our earthly “dream home” and put it onto our spiritual home. That’s what God did for the Israelites in our text.

Why was building the temple so important? Notice the word God uses, notice that he doesn’t refer to it as His temple, but as His “house.” Why? A house is a place where someone lives, where they spend most of their time. It’s a place where family gathers together and enjoys each other’s company. A house is a safe place where you can rest and be at peace. And that’s what God wanted to do with His “home.” He wanted the people to have a place where they could go to enjoy God’s presence, to meet with Him, to hear His Word, and finally to point them to the coming Savior. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” In Jesus, God came to make His home with us forever.

God does the same today. As you gather in God’s house He wants to remind you that you are His dear child and He is your dear Father. He wants to remind you that you are safe, secure, and at peace with His love. He reminds you that you that in Jesus He has forgiven your sins fully and completely. He reminds you that He loves to spend time with you, loves to talk to you through His Word, loves to guide and direct you in the way that’s best for you.

That’s why THIS place, our church, is so important for us believers! It’s the physical place where we can in an official way come into God’s home, come into God’s presence. It’s also the place where we can bring our children into our God’s presence so He can teach them through His Word. God wants us to build His house. We’re doing that as we’re expanding our ministry adding a 2nd classroom and full-time teacher to continue to build God’s house so that God might take pleasure in it and be honored by it.

Yes, of course, God has promised to be with us always and He will be. God promises to speak to us every time we read and study His Word. But most of us need a place where we can think of as “God’s house”; most of us need a place we can call “home.” That’s why this place is more of a dream home than any other building could ever be. Not because it’s so fancy or ornate or the location is so wonderful, but because of what we hear and learn here, because of what our children hear and learn here. When we’re here, we’re reminded that we’re at home with God.

And one more thing. When we’re here, home with God, God reminds us that we have an even better “home” to which we’re going, our home in heaven. So while our earthly homes will always have trouble – leaks, damage, problems, broken things – our eternal home will be awesome and will continue to be forever! And that will finally be our ultimate dream home. And not just a dream home- a real home. Amen.

Worthy is the Lamb!

3rd Sunday of Easter
Revelation 5:11-14

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Grace and peace to you from Him who is and who was and who is to come, our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in His name, dear friends in Christ,

What’s the purpose of a movie trailer? Why do movie producers and promoters make movie trailers? What’s the point of them? Perhaps there’s a number of reasons. First, it whets your appetite for what is coming, it also gives you a glimpse of what the movie is going to be like, perhaps it shows that you might get a little scared along the way, perhaps there’s going to be some fun stuff ahead, overall it prepares you for the movie and anticipates the adventure you’re going to have. It puts these images in your head and it supposed to make you really want to see it and enjoy the movie.

Well, our text this morning is kind of like one of those movie trailers. But it’s far more. It not only whets our appetite for something that lies in the future, but it changes the way that we approach life in general right now. And all of this is because of the lasting effects of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Revelation is a very interesting book – it’s confusing only if you don’t spend the time and work to study it deeply. It begins with an introduction where the apostle John is in exile on the island of Patmos and he receives this vision of the Lord. It’s such a spectacular vision, He sees Jesus in all his holiness- robe down to his feet, head and hair white, eyes like blazing fire, feet like bronze glowing in a furnace, voice like the sound of rushing waters, double edged sword coming out of his mouth, face shining like the sun in all its brilliance. Spectacular! But John faints in terror because he knows he’s a sinner. But then Jesus says, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever.” In other words, Jesus rising from the dead is proof positive that your sins are forgiven and you have no reason to be afraid of God any more.

Then in chapters 2 and 3 we get 7 letters written to 7 different churches of John’s day and they have applications to all churches. Then in chapter 4 in his vision John is invited to get a glimpse of what’s happening heaven. He saw the throne in heaven, circled by a rainbow like an emerald, then there were 24 thrones with elders on them – which represent all believers, there are these living creatures which are probably angels, they are singing in chorus, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” Then John sees this scrolls that is sealed with 7 seals. It is the scroll that contains the future. No one is found who is able to open the scroll so John begins to cry and cry. But then one of the elders says, “Don’t cry, look the Lion of the Tribe of Judah has triumphed, he’s able to take the scroll and open it.” Then Jesus comes forward takes the scroll everyone worships him saying, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

And then we get to our text. There’s many angels, thousands upon thousands, ten thousand times ten thousand, an innumerable number of angels encircling the throne and they sang in a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Wow! Can you imagine this scene? Can you imagine seeing what John saw? It must have been absolutely breathtaking and spectacular! Perhaps you’ve had one of those experiences- maybe here at church in worship, maybe at a choir concert, maybe at some other venue gathered with a bunch of people where you get goosebumps down your arms, your breathing gets heavy, your heart is vibrating in your chest, perhaps even a few tears of joy in your eyes.

But that’s not it. We’re told here that then every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and on the sea sing together, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever! Amen!” Incredible!

So what’s the point? Why does God give us this movie trailer of what’s going on in heaven? It shows us worship. Our English word “worship” really comes from the old English word “worthscrip” and it means to “ascribe worth to someone or something.” That’s what worship is all about. Every human being from the beginning has been designed for worship. Every person is worshipping something. What are you worshipping? To what are you singing your song of praise? Everyone is looking to something for their deepest joy in life, their deepest longings in life, to give their life fulfillment and meaning. What are you worshipping? What are you ascribing ultimate worth to?

You see this longing to worship something higher and greater than ourselves has happened throughout history. The Greeks and the Romans had a whole pantheon of these different gods. There was Aphrodite the goddess of beauty, sex, and pleasure. There was Apollo the god of music and art. There was Athena the goddess of intelligence, wisdom and skill. Dionysus or Bacchus was the god of alcohol, drugs, parties. Hermes was the god of travel and communication. We live in a world full of those same gods and idols today, don’t we? America is full of idolatry. People still worship sex, alcohol, beauty, money, wisdom, technology.

And it isn’t without effect on us, is it? What do you worship? To what do you ascribe worth? If someone would chart out how you spent every minute of your last week, would that give a pretty good clue about what you worship? If someone examined all your finances for the past month or year, would they get a pretty good idea about what you ascribe worth and value to? If someone could track how you used your words this past week, what you looked at with your eyes, what you filled your mind with this past week, would they get a pretty good idea of who or what you worship? What is it in your life that if you were to lose it, it would make living unbearable? That’s what you’re worshipping. It’s amazing that people who have little or no time for God here would expect to enjoy God’s presence forever in heaven. Even heaven would be hell for someone who doesn’t want to spend eternity with God. That’s what our polytheistic hearts, so captivated by the unfulfilling and unsatisfying things of this earthly life finally deserves.

All those Greek and Roman gods, where are they? Perhaps you can find a remnant of a statue somewhere, but that’s it. They had no real power, they were nothing. The same is today. Where is money, sex, beauty, intelligence, technology, when you’re looking for meaning, significance, purpose in life? Where are they when death comes fast approaching?

There is only one worthy of our worship, hear what the angels sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” First, who is the Lamb? The Lamb of course is the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Why was He slain? Why was He killed? John the Baptist said it best, “Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus died, was crucified, slain on the cross for all your and my idolatries and worship of created things instead of the Creator. He was slain for all sin. But He didn’t stay dead, He rose and now not only lives but has all power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and praise. He has rescued you and through His Spirit in Word and Sacrament has used His power to work faith in your heart to believe in Him. And He has all power, riches, wisdom, strength and honor to lead us and guide us until we join this eternal song of saints and angels.

And the result? Worship. Praise. Honor. Glory. Power to him forever and ever. We were made not for our glory, but for His glory. He has brought us back into relationship with Him so that we reign with him as kings and queens, so that we find the deepest joy in life in the free access that we have to God all the time, that we find the deepest celebration in our hearts in the worship that we can offer God, the greatest honor of knowing that we will reign with our King forever and ever. We were made to have our entire lives be a song to His glory and praise.

A pastor once told a story about a jeweler and it went something like this: Imagine a woman inherited a piece of jewelry from her mother, who inherited it from her mother, and it’s just one of those things in a drawer somewhere and she doesn’t really think about it and then she stumbles upon it, and she thinks, “I should really get it appraised once.” So, the jeweler, gets out his little eye glass and he starts to look at it, he notices the way the facets reflect light, colors, texture, after he thinks about this for a little while all of a sudden his eye thing pops out, this is an absolutely unique jewel, it is priceless, it can’t be made again, he has labored breathing, his heart pounds, he realizes that what he has in his hand is more valuable than all the jewels in his entire shop and all the jewels he has had in his shop for 30 years. Then when she finds out about the value, her entire life is changed, she now has a completely different life because she didn’t appreciate the value of the thing that she had all along, the beauty of it. Worship values the beauty of what you have.

Jesus died, He didn’t stay dead, He rose. And because He did I’m rescued, what we see here is just a preview, just a movie trailer. Just wait until you’re there. And it’s yours, right now. Every song you sing, really first starts in your heart, it’s to be more than your voice that sings a hymn, it’s to come from your heart. This is way more than a movie trailer, knowing what you know here means you can start singing this song today. The way that you live your life is to be a hymn of glory to the Lamb, the way you approach and use your finances is to be a hymn of glory to the Lamb, the way you use the physical possessions that you have is to be a hymn of glory to the Lamb, the way husbands are to treat their wives is to be a hymn of glory to the Lamb, the way wives respect their husbands, parents parent their children, students do their homework, workers work at their job. All of it a hymn of glory to the Lamb. He is worthy of praise in your thougths, in your words, in your actions.

If I belong to this Savior, who is such a God of power, might, strength, glory, love, and beauty. I know that He will safely and successfully carry me through whatever lies ahead. And if He is with me no matter what, I don’t know what lies ahead, I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but it doesn’t matter, because seeing this, any evil, trouble, hardship, won’t even be a blip on our radar screen when we join this awesome choir. Anything bad we face in life is like a little pin prick. Worship Him. Look at this song, hear this song, sing this song, rest in this song, enjoy this song today: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! Amen.

He wanted to see Jesus


4th Wednesday of Lent
Luke 23:6-12

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you know what the second largest U.S. export is? Now it kind of depends on your source, but it could be argued that the 2nd largest export of our nation is entertainment: movies, music, sports. You could go to any part of the world and you’ll probably find some kind of US entertainment there. Isn’t that interesting? In our nation we are arguably at a time throughout history of unprecedented freedom and wealth like no other civilization before us. And yet, who would ever have imagined that a people with as much freedom and money as we have would spend so much time watching TV, watching sports, surfing the internet. It’s ironic how important entertainment has become to us. But that’s really nothing new. People with power and money have always struggled to fill their time. Tonight we’re looking at Herod Antipas, a man of great power and wealth and a great desire to be entertained.

We’re told that when Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean, he thought he could get rid of this problem he had on his hands easily. The Roman law permitted someone to be tried in any of three places: his birthplace, his hometown, or the place where the crime was committed. But just before this Pilate had said, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” By sending him then to Herod, Pilate disregarded his verdict, nullified it, and ended up throwing the whole case wide open again. He sent Jesus to Herod, who happened to be in Jerusalem at that time, Herod had no jurisdiction in Jerusalem, so he was probably there to celebrate the Passover as a nominal Jew that he was.

Who was this Herod? This was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who had all the Bethlehem baby boys murdered around the time of Jesus’ birth. But after Herod the Great died, Herod Antipas was given a part of his kingdom to rule, that part included Galilee, which was a place where a great amount of Jesus’ ministry had taken place- healed sick, taught large amounts of people, led sinners to repent, etc. He would have known about Jesus, but he certainly wasn’t a nice guy. He committed adultery with his brother’s wife, was publicly rebuked by John the Baptist, and then not only imprisoned John the Baptist but also had him beheaded.

Now he wanted to see Jesus. But why? It wasn’t because he wanted forgiveness, it wasn’t because he wanted to find out if Jesus was really the Messiah, it wasn’t because he wanted to listen to what Jesus had to say, rather, he had been waiting a long time to see Jesus and hoped that Jesus would perform some miracle for him. In other words, he wanted to see Jesus do some magic trick for him. What an incredible waste!! The one person who could have made an eternity of difference in this power-hungry, blood-thirsty man actually came to him and all Herod wanted to see was a magic trick.

That shouldn’t really surprise us. People with freedom and money get bored very easily. Why do you think TV and sports and video games and internet sites are billion-dollar industries? How much do they really add to life? But it’s the nature of us sinful people to be restless and discontent. Here, the newest and best thing that would ever come into the world was standing before Herod. Never before in all the history of the world had God come in human flesh. God was standing before Herod veiled in human flesh, veiled in humility, veiled in blood and bruises and Herod completely missed it.

Entertainment blinded Herod to the reality that stood before him. Now we don’t know for sure, but it’s quite likely Herod died an unbeliever. Part of his eternal suffering is knowing that the greatest person ever stood before him and he totally missed it because his sinful heart was focused on entertainment. He put entertainment before the gift God gave the world.

Do we do that? Now entertainment in and of itself isn’t bad, but do we let entertainment drown out the important things of life? Do we spend more time with our TV or with our computer or with our smart phone than we do with the most important things of life? I just heard today that the average working person in America spends on average less than 2 ½ minutes per day in meaningful conversation with their spouse and that the average working person spends less than 30 seconds per day with their children. Is that you? Is that me? Do we let entertainment crowd out the most meaningful relationships that we have in life? But even more important than our relationship with our spouse or our relationship with our children is our relationship with God. Does entertainment rate higher on your priority list than God? Do you spend more time watching TV, surfing the internet, checking Facebook, than listening to your God in His Word, than spending intimate time praying to your heavenly Father?

Are we like Herod? Are we like spoiled children who want to be wowed and awed by entertainment? It takes discipline to be a disciple of Jesus. It takes commitment and work to maintain relationships. It takes determination to grow and study and understand God’s Word. We live in a culture saturated with wealth, free time, and entertainment, a culture that prizes entertainment above all else. Does that have an effect on us? Are we becoming like Herod? Missing the most important things in life?

Herod plied Jesus with questions, but like a lamb before the slaughter is silent, so Jesus did not open his mouth. They dressed Jesus in an elegant robe, they ridiculed and mocked him, and sent him back to Pilate. What irony! This petty little king thought he had power over Jesus, thought he could be entertained by Jesus, but in reality Jesus had all the power of the Son of God and could have stopped this at any moment, but he didn’t. Why not? Jesus let all this happen because Jesus came for a purpose – not entertainment – but he came to ascend a cross to die for Herod’s sins, to die for your sins and my sins. He remained silent so he could be nailed to the cross for all our wrong priorities, for all our love of entertainment more than him, for all our sins.

The answer to our misplaced priorities isn’t rearranging our priorities, it isn’t trying harder and working harder at our relationships. The answer lies in looking at who is standing before us. The only way our priorities are really changed is seeing our God for who He is, seeing Jesus for what He’s done for us. It’s only when we really see Jesus – our Savior- who made us and our salvation his first priority that our hearts are changed. Jesus stood before Herod for you. Don’t you want to grow closer to this Savior? Don’t you want to treasure the relationships with others He has given you?

We Americans have more freedom, more wealth than any nation in history. But there’s a greater freedom than political freedom, there’s greater wealth than money. We’re free from the power of sin and the devil, we’re rich with the promise of eternal life, we have the forgiveness of sins, meaning and purpose for life, and it comes through Jesus. Don’t let entertainment distract you from what is most important in all of life and eternity: your relationship with Jesus through His Word and Sacraments. Don’t let entertainment get in the way of your second most important relationships: with your spouse and your children. Treasure these true gifts of God’s grace. Amen.

Devil, You Lie!

Devil, you lie!

1st Sunday in Lent
Luke 4:1-13

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, how many lies do you tell a day? I’m going to guess that most of us would like to actually lie about the answer to that question. There’s all kinds of statistics that have been created to understand lying. Just a quick look on the internet about lying can reveal all kinds of different studies and statistics about lying. On average children begin to lie between the ages of 2 and 3 (isn’t that about the time that children start to talk?) When meeting someone new a person will lie 2-3 times in the first 10 minutes. On average everyone lies at least 4 times per day. We lie to make ourselves look good, we lie to get out of trouble, we lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Not only do we lie, but we’re also lied to. Apparently on average a person is lied to their face 10 times a day. A person is indirectly lied to – through advertisements or media – 200 times a day.  Now, you can take those statistics however you’d like because I’m not sure how accurate a study you could make of this. But it does show that we lie a lot and we’re lied to a lot.

Why? Finally, all lies began with one lie. Jesus tells us that the devil is a liar and has been telling us lies from the beginning, “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). It all started with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. There in the midst of tons of food, the devil came to them and said, “You will not surely die! For God knows that when you eat of it- when you eat the fruit from the tree that God told you not to eat from – you will really see, you’ll be like God!” God longs for us to be in communion and fellowship with Him, He alone wants to be the center of our lives, the one around whom we orbit our lives and our very existence. But what happened? Adam and Eve replaced God with something else, God – His love and His Word – were no longer the center of their existence, instead of God, they placed themselves there, they wanted wisdom, they wanted power, they wanted to be god of their lives. But they soon found out the sad truth. It was all a lie. What the devil promised was a lie. They fell, they believed the lie and we’ve been feeling the effects ever since.

Now before we start pointing fingers at Adam and Eve, we need to understand that we’re just as much guilty as they were. In more numerous times than we can count, we’ve bought Satan’s lies. But finally, the reason we lie and the reason we sin is because of what’s deep within us, what’s at the center of our existence, what’s at the center of our lives. Apparently the two most popular places to lie are on resumes and on dating websites. Why? God is truth, He wants us to tell the truth. In fact, He wants our “yes” to be “yes” and our “no” to be “no”; in other words, that we’re just so used to always telling the truth that no one would disbelieve our words. Why would someone lie on a resume? Because they want the job. So, the desire for the money, or the status, or the pleasure of a certain job has replaced God at the center of their life, getting that job is more important than God. Why would someone lie on a dating website? Because they want someone. They want a relationship so bad that they’re willing to cover up those things that might not be appealing about them. Having a relationship has become more important than God, the center of their lives is romance or a relationship, but not God.

There are lies all around us every day. But worse than all those lies, are the lies the devil tells. Here we get a sampling of the temptations that the devil lodged against Jesus. Notice that Jesus was “led by the Spirit in the desert.” This wasn’t an accident, this wasn’t a situation where Jesus backed himself into a corner, he didn’t put Himself in the way of temptation- God led Him there! Half the time we’re faced with temptation is because we foolishly put ourselves in temptations way. We treat Satan not like the roaring lion that he is looking for someone to devour, but like the nice little pet kitty! But that’s not here. Here Jesus was led into the desert and for 40 days he was tempted by Satan and for 40 days he had nothing to eat and so at the end of them he was hungry. Remember, Jesus is fully human so He knows exactly what hunger feels like. And that’s when the devil lodges this temptation. Now, Adam and Eve, were in a totally opposite situation- they were surrounded by food and they fell. Here Jesus is physically empty, but, full of the Spirit. How often aren’t we physically full, but running on empty spiritually?

The devil’s temptation? “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” It’s a physical temptation. But notice what Satan insinuates. Are you really sure about God’s love for you? I mean, if you really are the beloved Son of God, well, the Son of God shouldn’t be hungry! Remember, God the Holy Spirit had led Him to where He is, God wanted Him to be where He was, suffering as He was. Satan wants him to take the easy track to get rid of the pangs of hunger. But Jesus came to do the will of God, to suffer, not to avoid it. What Satan was really trying to get Jesus to do was to place Himself and His own interests at the center and cast out God and the Spirit from the center of His life. “Think about yourself for a change!” Have you bought that lie of Satan? Think of all the physical gratification that he lures in front of you and me. “Go ahead, indulge yourself, think about yourself for a bit, you deserve a break, have another drink even though you know you shouldn’t, feast your eyes on something provocative even though you know it’s a sin to lust, spend that extra money on yourself, don’t think of someone else.” How easy it is for us to fall into such lies of the devil.

But notice how Jesus answered: “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’” In other words, “Devil, you lie!” Man doesn’t live on bread alone. You see, bread would have no sustaining power, no power to satisfy hunger, if it wasn’t for God’s will and power behind that bread to do that, so God and His will are more important than bread. God will sustain His life.

Then the devil comes again.  “So, you want to live by your Father’s Word? Will you also die by it? Doesn’t this God point you to suffering and a cross, to unimaginable agony for an ungrateful world of whom most will ignore you? Where’s the love in that? Here, see all this power and authority and glory of the world? It’s mine, but it can all be yours, and I don’t demand a painful cross for it, just bow down your weary bones for a moment and all will be yours!” He does the similar thing to you and me, right? “Have an easy life! Just lie here, cheat there, make a little compromise to your faith, it’ll all be worth it, to get ahead in life, so much easier than the hard way!”

But how did Jesus respond? “Devil, you lie!” “It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.”

But Satan wasn’t out of lies yet, he took Jesus to the highest point of the temple and hissed, “So, you’re going to trust and worship this Father, but if he’s truly worthy of such trust and worship, then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with putting him to a little test. He promises to protect you- see the Bible even says so – time to see that, don’t you think? Throw yourself down and let’s see him and his angels get to work for you rather than allow you to suffer!”

Resting in God’s Word, Jesus says, “Devil, you lie!” It is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

Is that your response to Satan’s temptations? “Devil, you lie!” Sadly, it isn’t, is it? We’ve given in, we’ve failed. But why? Why do we even go through temptations? Why does God allow us to face them? Isn’t God more powerful than Satan? Yes, He is. But think about it. God already knows everything about you, he knows you through and through, He knows you even better than you know yourself. But our God is so amazing that He uses temptations to reveal to us the thoughts and intents of our hearts. That’s what trials do, that’s what temptations do – they reveal where our heart really is, they show where our true devotion lies, to whom our real dedication is. But you’ve listened to his lies, you’ve given in to temptation. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to have a clean record, a clean slate, one not so muddied by giving in to Satan’s lies? The truth is, you have it. But not because of you, but because of Jesus.

Why didn’t Jesus fall into temptation? As true God He couldn’t sin because God can’t go against His nature- if He did then God couldn’t be God. But as true man Jesus felt every temptation to its fullest. But what does Jesus’ reaction to each temptation reveal to us? God was at the center of Jesus’ life. That means that every action was based on love for God. He didn’t sin, He couldn’t sin because He had a perfect love for God all the time. Jesus’ temptations would culminate in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus would pray, “If it be possible may this cup be taken from me, but not as I will but as you will.” Even at the height of all temptation, love for God never moved from the center of His being. Because this is what’s at the very heart of Jesus and at the very heart of God Himself – a love that wouldn’t stop at anything in order to win you back to Him. So Jesus came to this earth fought Satan’s temptations perfectly so He could offer His perfect life on a cross in your place paying the punishment for your life and mine that’s so full of centering it on something other than God. He died for that. So that, His record, His life of perfect centering on God could be given to you. You have it!

The only way we can fight temptation is not by our strength, but by God’s. How did Jesus withstand? God was at the center of everything for Him. How did Jesus know the Scripture that He did? You saw that right? Every time Jesus defeated the devil with God’s Word. He was immersed in Scripture. The truths of Scripture wasn’t just a head thing or a feeling thing, it was at his very core. How do we fight temptation? It’s having God and His Word at the very core of our life. The reason we lie, the reason we sin, the reason we give in to Satan’s temptation is because something other than God has become our core, something else is more important to us than Him. But the opposite is also true. God is truth. And if we plant that truth deep in us, not only does that mean that we know that God is truth and everything He says is true, it means emotionally we love it, we find God’s truth to be beautiful and wonderful, and it affects our very will. We wouldn’t want to do anything that was against God’s truth.

You kids sometimes wonder why you have to memorize so much in school. This is why. It is the sword of the Spirit, breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation.  Be immersed in Scripture. It’s knowing Scripture that plants our God and His grace to the very deepest core of our existence, Scripture enlightens our eyes to the truth, enables us to clearly see temptation coming and be able to say to Satan, “Devil, you lie!” It’s Scripture that when Satan says, “God couldn’t possibly love, you couldn’t possibly be forgiven” to say to him, “Devil, you lie!”

God’s given you an eternal purpose!

16th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:46-48, John 20:19-23, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who has given us our mission in life, dear friends in Christ,

You’re driving down the road and you look down and you see this (show pic of a gas gauge on empty). You’re in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone reception. What are your thoughts? What’s your reaction? How do you feel? What’s it like to run your car on empty? Anxious? Nervous? Scared? On the verge of a breakdown? Without fuel your car won’t go anywhere and you can be left stranded.  Well, not only do our vehicles need fuel to keep going, our bodies also need fuel to keep going. What happens when you don’t eat? What happens when you miss a meal? What happens when you don’t eat for a day? Generally, if I miss a meal or two, not only do I get hungry, I also get somewhat irritable, cranky, tired, often I’ll develop some sort of a headache. Our bodies need food. Our cars need fuel. Well, in a way, our souls need food and fuel too. The food and fuel for our soul is God’s life giving Word and Sacraments. If our souls are not fed and fueled, they will die.

You and I were born into this world dead in sin and doomed to death in the dungeon of hell. But God did something about that. God sent Jesus to rescue us with His life, death, and resurrection. Then in further grace, God sent the Holy Spirit to bring us to spiritual life, to convince us that what Jesus did is the truth. And when God worked the miracle of faith in your heart, when God convinced you that what Jesus did on the cross, He did for you, when God led you to trust in Jesus as your Savior – maybe at your baptism, maybe sometime later – God could have simply taken you from this life and into life eternal. Being brought to faith in Jesus is what is most important. So, in one sense God’s purpose for you is complete: you’ve been brought to faith, you’ve been made an heir of eternal life. But you’re still here! I’m still here! God hasn’t taken you or me from this life yet! That means God still has a purpose for us.

And it’s a twofold purpose. The first part is summed up in 2 Peter 3, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” That’s part of the purpose for which God has left you in this world: to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. To continue to be fed and fueled by God’s Word and Sacraments. There is no plateauing or coasting as a Christian, either our faith is growing or it’s dying, it’s either getting stronger or getting weaker.

And really, that’s why we exist as a congregation. We exist to assist people in growing up in their salvation, we exist to help you hold firmly to everything that Jesus has instructed us, we exist to continue to provide opportunities for you to mature in your Christian faith.

You see, there’s a big difference between an infant and a mature adult. Perhaps we all know people who’ve never “grown up.” What they often like? They’re needy people, they’re insecure, they’re immature, they do things that are silly and foolish, they’re a rollercoaster of emotions, they’re selfish, they’re childish, etc. This is same when it comes to being a Christian. You can be a Christian baby or you can be a Christian adult.

If you remain a Christian infant, what happens in life? What happens when the waves and storms of life come? There’s a big difference between a small toddler standing in a river and an adult when a large wave comes splashing down the river. Who is going to be better able to stand firm? The mature adult! There’s all kinds of things that happen in life – troubles, hardships, difficulties, medical problems, sicknesses, deaths, tragedies, financial burdens, problems, difficult people – they’re kind of like waves. A Christian adult is much more prepared to weather the storms of life. I once had a call from someone – not a member here – but she was frantic, distraught, scared, because she had found out that her mother was just diagnosed with cancer. At the very same time I knew someone else who was actively in her Bible, actively engaged in her church, who’s close family member was also diagnosed with cancer. The difference between the two was like the difference between an adult and a child. God wants us to continue to grow in our Christian maturity.

And maturity isn’t just about what you know, it also about how you apply what you know in what you do and how you act. God doesn’t just want His truths to be firmly in our minds, He also wants them to be in our hearts. Christian maturity isn’t just about being able to quote the Bible, it’s about knowing God’s Word and applying it in how I act and treat other people. That means, not just knowing that God loves me and God wants me to love others, it means applying that on a day to day basis with the way that I treat my spouse, my children, my parents, my coworkers, my friends, the person in front of me at the grocery store. It means, not just knowing that God wants me to pray to Him, but actively setting aside time to engage God in prayer. It means, not just knowing that God promises to be with me always and work all things out for my good, but actually applying that and looking for the blessings of God in every circumstance.

And that’s why St. Marks is here! We’re here to facilitate the continual growth of faith in Jesus. Conversion happens in an instant and in a moment when God the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel to convince us that Jesus is our Savior. But at the same time the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart and begins a life-long process of sanctification. Through the Word and Sacraments God works in each of us a greater and greater desire to hear God’s Word, read it, learn it, take it to heart. Then the Holy Spirit leads us to make changes to our priorities. We begin to see the importance of God and His Word- indeed, the number one importance.

God didn’t have to, but God has chosen to work on us through very specific means. Growing in faith doesn’t really happen from gazing at a sunset, or staring at the clouds, or looking at a beautiful landscape. Those are all nice things, they might lead us to appreciate God’s creation.  But, God has chosen to come to us through very specific means- the means of grace, the tools He has chosen to use to work on our hearts: the Gospel that comes to us both in the Word of God and in the Sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

So, if we want to grow in our faith, to what will we direct our attention? To the Word and the Sacraments! That’s why St. Mark’s exists. We exist to share the gospel by teaching God’s Word and administering the sacraments.

That’s part of your purpose in life: Grow in your faith. And how do you do that? By hearing, reading, studying, learning God’s Word. By recalling your baptism daily. By receiving the Lord’s Supper over and over again. And as you do so, what happens? You learn and appreciate more and more the fact and the reality that you have a God who loves you so much that He sent His own Son to be your Savior, to live a life free from sin in your place, to die on a cross as a full payment for each and every sin that you’ve committed. And the more you know about God’s love, His power, His faithfulness, the more you’ll be able to apply it to your life. When the tragedies and difficulties of life come (and they will) being rooted in God’s Word you’ll have an eternal focus and be able to put things in their proper perspective. You’ll see more and more how God does indeed work all things out for the good of His people. You’ll find more and more ways to give glory to God in every circumstance. You’ll be able to remain firm in your trust in God’s grace and power through thick and through thin, through weal and woe.

In fact, so dear does God want His Word to be to us that we actually crave His Word like newborn babies. If you’ve been to St. Mark’s you’ve heard a baby cry because we have tons of babies here. What a cool thought every time you hear a baby cry because he or she is hungry – that’s how God wants you and me to be about His Word- He wants us to crave His Word. He wants us to fix His words in our minds and hearts, the more we know God’s Word it just becomes part of us. And the blessing? God tells us that as we are into His Word He gives us those fruits of the Spirit – more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. Try it. God doesn’t lie! He will give you more of those things as you dig deeply into His Word.

That’s why we’re a church. So that we ALL can continue to grow up in our salvation, grow in our faith, stand firm in our faith and not be carried away by error or temptation.  And then something else happens. As we grow in the Word, as we learn more about God and what God has done for us. As we learn more about the love of Christ that has reconciled us to God, we’re compelled. “Christ’s love compels us.” Compels to do what? To be God’s ambassadors in the world. To blab all over the place the message of reconciliation with God through Christ. What did Jesus direct us to do? “Go and make disciples of all nations.” “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

As Christians God has given us the privilege and honor of being His partners in taking the good news of Jesus to more and more people. You do that by inviting people to church or bible study, you do that by communicating your faith to people, by crediting God with the blessings in your life and in others, by giving someone a message about Jesus when they are down, afraid, lonely, or confused. God has entrusted you with the message of life eternal through the forgiveness of sins in Jesus!

Many years ago a Lutheran pastor once commented something like this, “If you discovered a way to prolong human life for a few more years, oh how people would adore you, respect you, cherish you.” Just think if you discovered a simple universal cure for all forms of cancer or some other disease. How would people react? Wouldn’t people absolutely love you? But think about what message we bring! We bring to people a message not just of prolonging this earthly life a little longer, but a message that affects a person for all eternity!! Can you imagine meeting someone in heaven and that person telling you, “God used you to comfort me when I was done, God used you to bring the message of Jesus to me, God used the church that you supported with your prayers and offerings to lead me to my Savior.” Could anything in life possibly be better than that?

That’s why you’re here! God’s given you incredible purpose for life. God’s given incredible purpose for us as a congregation. As long as you’re still in this life, as long as we’re still a congregation, God wants us to focus on the purpose and mission He’s given us: To continue to grow in our salvation and continue to go with God’s good news taking it to more and more people. And that’s an eternal purpose! Amen.