Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Best Christmas Ever

The Nativity of Our + Lord, Christmas Day
December 25th, Year of Our + Lord 2011

     Do you have a favorite Christmas, one that stands out as particularly wonderful?  Maybe a Christmas when you had all of your favorite people with you, or when you were able to be home for the first time in a long time?  Maybe a Christmas morning when you were not only completely surprised by the gift you received, but even more, the gift was so perfect, so above and beyond your expectations, that you were filled with wonder and awe? 

     Today is that  special Christmas for Emma and Tristan, because on this Christmas Day, Christ tabernacled with them.  Today, on this December 25th, as the world once again celebrates His birthday, Jesus came and joined Himself to Emma and Tristan, giving them rebirth through the washing of the Holy Spirit.  Outwardly, the Baptisms here today happened because Dennis and Amanda asked for them to happen, but in truth, God has moved all the players to this place, and God has done the eternal work, the divine work of salvation, the delivery of Christ to sinners.  Based on what God has said in His Word, we confess that Tristan and Emma have truly been born of God today.  Merry Christmas indeed! 

     To celebrate this very Merry Christmas, the Church has picked out some very Baptismal readings, to help us all grasp what has happened here today. 

     From Exodus, we hear about Moses erecting the Tabernacle, the tent which the LORD had directed Israel to construct as their mobile house of worship, the place where the LORD Himself would come to dwell with them, sanctifying them with His glorious presence, accepting their offerings and absolving them of their sins.  Hidden in cloud by day and fire by night, the LORD tabernacled, or dwelled in the tent, with His people, providing them with mercy, and protection, as they lived out their lives in the wilderness, waiting and wandering until they could enter into the promised land.  Despite the elaborate rules and the requirement for so many different sacrifices, the Tabernacle was in the end truly the LORD’s grace place, the location of salvation.  

     And so we begin to gain a better understanding of John’s Gospel this morning.  For the Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us, the new and eternal location of salvation, in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  Tabernacled is the literal translation of what is typically translated ‘dwelt among us.’  The Word, who is God, tabernacled, or tented, if you prefer, dwelling among us, in the man Jesus Christ.  He is Immanuel, God with us, whose birth we celebrate this morning.  Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s dwelling with Israel in the Tabernacle of Moses.  Jesus is the Word, both distinct from God and at the same time one with God, the true God from eternity, the only begotten eternal Son of the Father, come to tabernacle with us.  Revealed to the world as a little baby, born into the humblest surroundings, Christ came to bring light and life to us, sons and daughters of Adam, dying in the darkness, to bring truth and grace to us, who have been fooled by the lies of Satan, to provide mercy and protection to us flesh and blood sinners.

     But must we really bring up sin, death and Satan, on Christmas?  Baptism is such a lovely thing, and Christmas is such a nice day; why even mention sin and death and the sadness and suffering Satan has inflicted on humanity through them?  Why bring up evil on this happy morning?    

     Why bring up evil on this happy morning?  First, because evil and suffering do not go away, just because it’s December 25th. Evil and suffering do not go away, just because we ignore them.  Second, we can fearlessly speak of evil, because today of all days, we have the means in front of us to truly defeat evil.         

     And we do need evil to be defeated, no doubt.  We were created for good.  We were created for close, everlasting fellowship with the Source of all good, the LORD God.  But our goodness did not last.  There are far too many different ways to prove this, but for today, let’s just remember that this happiest of holiday seasons is also a peak time for depression, substance abuse, and violence, like holiday shoppers fist-fighting over basketball shoes.  Today’s Christmases are all too much like the first Christmas, when the source of all light and life came to His own, but His own received Him not.  The Creator came into His Creation, but the vast majority of people did not notice, did not care, other concerns filling their time; life is so busy, you know. 

     I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Christmas has spread far and wide, but for too many Christmas is just a midwinter excuse for buying toys, for decorating and for parties.  Or worse, for many Christmas ends up being a season of deep sadness. 

     And it’s not just evil in the world that needs to be defeated.  As Paul wrote to Titus, we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.  Paul says we were all like this once, and an honest survey of our thoughts, words and deeds reveals how we still struggle to overcome evil, continually rising up from within us. 
    But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, not by good things we have done.  No, rather according to his own mercy, God saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.  That’s Holy Baptism.  Washed in the Water  and the Word, we are justified by his grace, that is, we have been declared right with God, freely, apart from any requirement for us to earn anything, good news indeed to those who realize we cannot free ourselves from sin.  All this God has done, so that we can inherit eternal life.

     He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  The Son of God came into this world to be a human being, in order to save us human beings, but even the vast majority of His own Jewish people refused Him.  Love came down that first Christmas, but the world said, ‘No thanks.’  But to all who did receive him, that is to all who heard His Good News and believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  And so all who are baptized and believe shall be saved. 

     This is a truly special Christmas, for today God declared Emma and Tristan to be His children.  By His Word and Baptism, Christ has given new birth to Tristan and Emma, right before our eyes.  He has loved them all along, of course.  He has been working through the months and years, moving us all toward this day, the day of God publicly claiming these children, of God declaring the cross and resurrection of Jesus are forever credited to them. 

     Today is also that day for  you.  Even if you’ve forgotten your Baptism, God still holds Himself to His sacred pledge and promise.  Even if you’ve wandered away from Christ, even if you’ve never properly learned the faith into which you were baptized, still God seeks you, seeking you in this wilderness of sin, in order to bring you into His eternal Promised Land.  Repent, and believe the Good News.  Rejoice in the gift God has for you. 

     God does not stop saving you once you are baptized.  Which is a good thing, since the baptized, to our great shame, do not stop sinning in this life.  So the Spirit poured out on you in your baptism continues to speak, to teach, to correct, and to forgive you.  Christ’s desire is to tabernacle with you forever, so throughout this earthly life He is at your side, ready to pick you up when you fall, removing your shame, drying your tears, and even loving your neighbors through you.  Living as the baptized is a daily reality, a life fed by the Bread from Heaven, given to you in Word and Sacrament.

     Christ is tabernacled with you, right here, this morning.  Merry Christmas, indeed. 

     I’ll tell you a little secret: we don’t actually know for sure what day of the year is really Jesus’ birthday.  It could be December 25th, but more likely not.  But no matter, because for Baptized and believing sinners, every day is truly Christmas, truly the day that Christ comes, to forgive, restore and strengthen you, for life today, and forever and ever, Amen.  Merry Christmas Tristan.  Merry Christmas Emma.  Merry Christmas, Christians.  Christ is born for you, and you are reborn in Christ, Amen. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Dwelling Place for the LORD

Fourth Sunday in Advent, Dec. 18th, Year of Our + Lord 2011
A Dwelling Place for the Lord - 2nd Samuel 7:1-16 and Luke 1:26-38

The LORD is coming to visit His people.  But where will He stay?  What could be a proper dwelling place for the LORD God?   How could any of us possibly build a good enough house that the Creator should deign to dwell in it? 

Speaking of preparing a place for an important guest, we’re finishing a project at our house.  The furniture is covered, spackle is up, paint is purchased.  Tomorrow evening and Tuesday, primero Dios, we sand, prime and paint, so that Wednesday we can put the room together.  You see, our son Jeremy is coming home for Christmas, and he is bringing a friend.  So we need to prepare a room, to make a proper space for our guest.  Domestic life and it’s twists and turns being what they are, the available room was in rough shape, lots of nail holes in the walls, no bed, just four dinged up walls and a dresser, not good enough for our guest.  And so a fancy, queen sized extra tall air mattress was purchased at Costco; we hope it’s comfortable, because it lets us use the room for multiple purposes.  A paint color has been picked to fit with Shelee’s ideas for decorating.  Now it’s time, the deadline is fast approaching, Jeremy and his friend are scheduled to arrive on Thursday.  I don’t know about you, but deadlines are the only reason projects ever get done at our house.  And it looks like we’ll make it, we will prepare a proper dwelling place for our special guest, just in time. 

How much more did King David want to prepare a proper dwelling place for the LORD.  David had known a great variety of accommodations.  David had slept out under the stars with the sheep, probably hollowing out a depression in the ground for his hip, laying his head on a rock and covering up with a wool blanket.  David had hidden in caves from the mad hatred of King Saul.  Now, King David was living in a spacious cedar palace, the King over a united Israel.  David has lived in humble surroundings, and in the very richest.  Now, at the height of his fame and comfort, David realizes that while his surroundings had improved dramatically, the dwelling place of the LORD God Almighty was still a tent, the tabernacle, the tent-temple Moses had built centuries earlier.  David feels guilty.  How can this be, that I live in luxury, while the LORD lives in a tent?  So King David resolves to fix the problem.  He decides he will build a house, a proper dwelling place for the LORD. 

Not so fast, David.  The LORD says “No, I will make my own arrangements, thank you very much.”  You see, King David is a man of war, the slayer of Goliath, and many others, a man called to violence.  David’s warring wasn’t wrong, he was called to it by God, chosen to fight for and rule God’s people.  David’s warring ways were not pleasant, but they were necessary, for the sake of Israel, for the sake of God’s salvation plan. 

But the House of the LORD is a house of peace, a house of prayer for all nations, and so was to be built by David’s son, a man of peace.  David is disappointed, unable to fulfill his desire to serve the LORD in this unique way, a disappointment for David which is very good news for us sinners.  This God of Israel, stern and threatening, a God of war in many ways, is, in the end, truly the God of peace, the God who is love.  The LORD only fights His battles and sends His people into war for one reason, to destroy the powers of evil and bring about peace in the end, for Israel, and for all who trust in the LORD.  In fact, it is the LORD’s dwelling among us which makes our peace. 

No David, you will not build a house for me, says the LORD.  Instead, I will make a house for you!  I will establish your kingdom forever.  I will establish your house through a Son of yours, and He will prepare a house for my Name. 

And the house the LORD prepares for His dwelling is different than the houses we build.  We build houses for comfort, and for protection, because we must.  As some of our newer residents are learning the hard way, even though our winter has been pretty mild so far, living in a tent isn’t much of an option in the MonDak.  Living in harsh country calls for building a suitable house.  We build houses to protect ourselves and our families from the cold, the wind, from rain and snow. and from bugs and vermin and thieves.  We need protection, and we try to find it in the dwelling places we build for ourselves. 

Not so with God.  The LORD’s dwelling place is not for the LORD’s comfort or protection; it’s for ours.  The LORD has no need to be protected, He lacks no comfortable thing.  He is the creator and ruler of heaven and earth, every good thing comes from Him.  He doesn’t need a safe, secure place to live, He is life itself, the source of all life.  The first two dwelling places the LORD instructed His people to make for Him, the Tabernacle built by Moses, and the Temple built by Solomon, David’s son, were built to protect Israel from the presence of God.  The Tabernacle and the Temple were the locations chosen by the LORD and built at His direction, where He would dwell with His people, in order to serve them with His Holiness, in order to accept their sacrifices and cleanse them of their sins. 

In the Tabernacle and Temple the LORD’s room was the Holy of Holies, a room completely separated, to and from which no light passed, a room where the High Priest entered only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to remove the sins of the people and restore their relationship with God.  The Holy of Holies had to be totally apart, totally separate, so that the Holiness of God would not destroy the sinners who gathered there. 

The Tabernacle and Temple served to foreshadow the final dwelling place of the LORD with mankind, which is revealed in our Gospel this morning, the final dwelling place of God with Man, in the flesh of the Virgin’s Son.  The angel Gabriel from heaven came, to announce to Mary that she would tabernacle the LORD for nine months, that in her womb would be conceived the Son of the Most High, the LORD Himself, the only begotten Son of the Father, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, conceived completely apart from the will of man.  Not by the desire of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but conceived and born of God, the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

David’s son Solomon, his immediate successor on the earthly throne of Israel, was a man of peace, relative to his father, at least.  Solomon, whose name means peace, was chosen by God to build the House of the LORD, the Temple in Jerusalem that David wanted to build.  But the true man of peace is not Solomon, but rather Jesus, for He is the Son of David who reigns on the throne of the New Israel, forever, the Son of David who came to bring the peace which passes all understanding, making peace between God and man, by the blood of His Cross. 

The Son of God came and dwelt in human flesh in order to provide eternal protection and comfort to sinners, not so much protection and comfort from the cold and wind and thieves, although these and every other bad thing will be forever removed in heaven.  First and foremost, however, Christ came to dwell in human flesh in order to provide us protection from the root of our problems, which is our sin.  The Babe of Bethlehem came and swallowed up all our sin in His own body, bearing it all, paying the full price, receiving all our just punishment, so that His sacrifice on the Cross has broken the power of sin to threaten anyone who is in Christ. 

That is the Good News of Christmas, that the dwelling place of God with men is in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  Because of His sacrifice, we now have a dwelling place with God, a room in His heavenly house, a seat in His banquet hall, by the forgiveness of all our sins. 

Jesus is still God in the flesh.  His incarnation, His brotherhood with us humans continues, forever.  In His flesh He died, to take away your sins.  In His flesh, He rose, to show you the new life He has for you.  And, even though He has ascended on high to prepare a place for you, He has not left you.  His Spirit has been yours since your Baptism.  His Word connects you to Him by creating faith in your heart.  He even comes to feed you, to dwell within you by His Body and Blood, given and shed, yours to take and eat, take and drink, for the forgiveness of all your sins.   

We are really looking forward to hosting the guest at our house over Christmas.  Rejoice, highly favored ones, that is how God thinks of you, as guests He loves to welcome, through Jesus Christ. 

God rejoices to welcome all who trust  in His Son and give thanks for His dwelling among us. 

God looks forward to every opportunity to come to you with blessings in Word, and in Sacrament.

The LORD looks forward to declaring to you again that your sins are forgiven, for Jesus’ sake. 

And the LORD God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, looks forward to the day when He will welcome you into His glorious presence, free from sin, free from sorrow, full of life and light, forever and ever, Amen. 

May the dwelling of the Lord fill your Christmas with peace and joy, Amen.   

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mission Sunday – Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries and Hymnals for Kenya

Double back for your sins and double sermons for your meditation!  Both of the following sermons, which start out the same, were preached on Mission Sundays on 12-11-2011.  You can find more information about the two causes at      and, respectively.

Third Sunday of Advent  (Readings from Adv 2B)       December 11th, A+D 2011
Mission Sunday – Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries, Rev. Joshua Gale
Isaiah 40:1-11 and 2nd Peter 3:8-14
Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

And so we have reason enough to involve ourselves in outreach, because the Lord wills that all should reach repentance, that all should know and turn in fear from their sin, to behold the grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  This is the Lord’s will, and so we who belong to the Lord share this desire.  The fact that the Lord has made possible the salvation of all, and wills repentance for all, and has given us the message of repentance, this these are reasons enough for every Christian to be mindful and deliberate about the tasks of outreach the Lord puts in front of us all. 

But there is more reason than the will of God, which is the law for us, the law we sinners struggle to fulfill.  There is God’s will, and also there is the promise of joy.  Oh the joy to be  involved, even by observing, as the Lord draws another sinner to Himself, through the Savior’s forgiving blood, to see an act of earthly kindness open up a conversation about heavenly things, to be present, and involved, as the Word  of Christ creates a new, believing heart in yet another sinner, to hear the confession of faith and hope in Jesus from someone who formerly had no hope for eternity, maybe no hope for today.  These are incredible gifts from the Father above, gifts that belong to those He calls into the support of His mission outreach. 

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. This, in a nutshell, describes the work of Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries, a new mission, organized and primarily supported by a coalition of Missouri Synod Churches in the Philadelphia area, a mission to take the love of Christ into the meanest streets of the City of Brotherly Love, a city that despite her name knows hard times, a city whose heart and center has become a wilderness of poverty, both physical and spiritual. 
Comfort.  The poor and the homeless in Philadelphia, like the poor and homeless in any American city, are not so due to a lack of resources.  Caring for them in their physical needs takes some money, but throwing money at the problem and expecting it to go away is foolish.  There are issues and roadblocks in the lives of the poor, in the communities they live, in the society we have crafted for ourselves, issues that will suck in mere cash support and spit out more suffering people.  No, for material and financial support to impact lives, for real and lasting improvements, such support must, among other things, be carried to those in need by people committed to the long term, by people who know the people they are helping, who are a part of their lives and can be on the ground, seeing up close what works, what is really needed, and what should not be done. 

And so, Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries is seeking to be in the community, permanently, working to develop centers that become permanent fortresses of hope, new and lasting resources in the community, centers from which to reach out, to do the daily, repetitive work, the long term, enduring work, that has a chance to make a permanent impact in people’s lives.  Real comfort, for real people. 

Comfort, and pardon.  Committing to the long term support of earthly needs also sets up the proper conditions for truly and evangelically addressing the eternal needs of these same people.  Churches have a tendency to abandon inner city areas, for real and legitimate reasons.  Churches also have a tendency to abandon inner city areas for false and sinful reasons.  Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries seeks to take the Church back into the heart of the inner city wilderness, and the comfort work, the mercy work that they are pursuing, creates the opportunity.  For the poor and needy are also sinners, sinners very often ready for a Savior.  The down and out are often obvious, big time sinners, visibly suffering from their sins, and the sins of others, hating the sin that entangles them, but unable to free themselves. 

They are, in many ways, not like us.  Oh, we are real, big time sinners too, just as much in need of God’s salvation.  But our relative riches give us the means to hide our sin, to appear to have things under control.  Which of the various groups described in the Gospels would we appear most like?  Relatively wealthy, outwardly religious, maintaining an façade of righteousness?  The Pharisees come to mind.  But the sinners, the sick and lame, the prostitutes, the demon possessed, the tax collectors despised by all?  These seem more like the poor and homeless of our big cities, and even of some not so big booming oil towns, too.  And of course, it was not the Pharisees, but these poor and lowly who were most receptive to Christ when He came with comfort, and the word of pardon. 
We all need pardon for our sins, but the needy people that Pastor Joshua Gale and company at Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries are seeking to serve are in many ways a bigger opportunity, more receptive to listening to the word of pardon, because they cannot pretend to not be sinners.  And so, leading with a work of comfort, generating opportunities for conversation by meeting real human needs, Pastor Gale then is in an excellent position to speak of God’s pardon, to declare the wholly unexpected way God in Christ has addressed the great need of sinners, by putting all human sin onto the Sinless One, and having Him bear it to a Roman cross, there to suffer and die, in order that sin and the eternal death it brings are swallowed up and washed away in the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. 

In many ways, the Lutheran Church in America began in Philadelphia, almost 300 years ago.  In parts of Philadelphia today, the pure preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments is ancient history, long forgotten.  Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries is striving to change this sad reality.  Just as Paul encouraged outlying congregations in the early Church to support the suffering saints in Jerusalem, it is good for us to take an offering to support the Church in the American mother city of Philadelphia, for there are people there in need of comfort, sinners in need of pardon. 

I pray also that we learn from Philadelphia.  For situations, challenges and opportunities vary from place to place and time to time, but the truth is every community, large or small, is filled with people in need of some kind of comfort, and even more surely is filled with sinners in need of the only true pardon, the “double back for your sins” pardon of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, the only Savior. 

I pray that we learn from Philadelphia for the sake of the people coming to our community, and for ourselves.  For in truth, we are them.  We are sinners, suffering in ways that perhaps seem petty compared to the inner-city homeless, but suffering none the less with problems we cannot overcome, like fighting and anger in our families, as those closest to us pull away and reject each other, problems like depression, and cancer, and chronic pain, problems like substance abuse, and hidden sinful habits that ought not be spoken of, but must, for the sake of salvation.  We are not so open to being helped with our earthly needs, pride and reputation being precious to us.  God grant that we learn to recognize and seize opportunities to help people, to help each other, and to accept needed help.  And even more, God grant us ears to hear, and hearts to believe the Good News, the life-giving news of free forgiveness for sinners, in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. Comfort and joy are yours, through the bountiful mercy and grace of God.  For your many earthly blessings, give thanks to God.  For the opportunity to share, body and soul, in the work God has given Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries, and also to share in the work God has given Trinity Lutheran Church of Sidney, give thanks to God.  And most of all give thanks to God, for He has ended your warfare, He has purchased your pardon, and He is here today, to deliver His joy to you, in Christ Jesus our Lord, the One who came, and will come again, the one who is present to save by the power of His Holy Word, Amen.   

Third Sunday of Advent                          December 11th, A+D 2011
Mission Sunday – Kenya Lutheran Hymnal Project
Isaiah 40:1-11 and 2nd Peter 3:8-14
Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. And so we have reason enough to involve ourselves in outreach, because the Lord wills that all should reach repentance, that all should know and turn in fear from their sin, to behold the grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  This is the Lord’s will, and so we who belong to the Lord share this desire.  The fact that the Lord has made possible the salvation of all, and wills repentance for all, and has given us the message of repentance, these are reasons enough for every Christian to be mindful and deliberate about the tasks of outreach the Lord puts in front of us all. 

But there is more reason than the will of God, which is the law for us, the law we sinners struggle to fulfill.  There is God’s will, and also there is the promise of joy.  Oh the joy to be  involved, even by observing, as the Lord draws another sinner to Himself, through the Savior’s forgiving blood.  To be able to sing out at a baptism, “Dearest Jesus we are here, gladly Thy command obeying, with this child we now draw near, in response to your own saying, that to you it shall be given, as a child, and heir of heaven.”  To see a procession of confirmands, approaching the altar, singing “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”  To send a saint on to heaven, singing “I know that my Redeemer lives,” joy even through tears at a Christian funeral.  

Through Isaiah God gives a wonderful command and promise:  A voice says, "Cry!"And I said, "What shall I cry?"  All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.
      The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!"

Yes the Word of our God will stand forever, accomplishing that for which the Lord sends it out, the implanted Word which is able to save your souls, the sword of the Holy Spirit, sharper than any earthly sword, able to divide joint from marrow, even able to divide a sinner from his sins.  Yes, the Lord has spoken peace to His enemies, through the Cross of Christ.  The Church’s only real task in mission is to repeat this good Word, for the assurance and strengthening of the faithful, and to bring unbelievers to repentance, to sorrow for their sin and faith in Christ, faith worked by the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of His Word. 

To repeat the Good News of Christ is the calling of the Church, and of each Christian in whatever station of life God has placed you.  But here we find a problem, don’t we, for we struggle very much with this simple task, far too often failing to try, let alone reach completion. 

Our struggle to repeat the Good News takes numerous forms.  We lack memory.  The Catechism lays out the faith in pretty straightforward terms, and most of us have memorized much or all of it at some point, but we do not keep the Catechism in our memory,  and so we are unsure of the Word of Christ, and fail to speak it for fear of saying it incorrectly. 

We lack memory, moreover, because we lack dedication.  Maybe you really aren’t good at memorizing, although most of could keep the whole Catechism memorized if  we reviewed one chief part every day.  But we do not dedicate the three or four minutes a day this would require. 

But even without ‘learn by heart’ memorization, a little dedication could easily keep the teachings of Christ clear in our minds, clear enough for us to express in our own words, at least.  But we don’t.  We don’t because we’re lazy, and because we don’t want to take the risk of confessing the faith in our daily life. 

And sometimes, to our even greater shame, we don’t want to speak of Christ because we don’t want to agree with Him.  Our sinful flesh takes pride in being pretty good, in doing good things, in being a good person, and so we resist living in daily repentance.  We resist acknowledging the truth about Christ, because the truth about Christ says that we are shot through with sin and cannot save ourselves.  We don’t want to admit that  any day of the week, except maybe Sunday, and then only once, in the morning, along with everyone else.  Without confession of sin, forgiveness makes little sense, to us, or to our neighbor. 

What should God do with people like us, so lacking in dedication, so lacking in willingness, that we rarely do even the simplest things to confess Christ to a neighbor, that they might hear and believe?   The Lord has sent His Word to us.  We have no excuse.  He would be more than justified to leave us in silence, to stop speaking His Word, to let our faith die with our memory. 

But He hasn’t.  That is not who God is.  Despite our all too frequent failures to take advantage of the availability of His Word, for ourselves and for our neighbors, the Lord still speaks.  The Lord still sends, preachers and teachers and parents to teach and proclaim His mercy.  And, in keeping with our mission emphasis today, He still sends tools, books, Bibles, and music, and hymnals. 

Precious books, these hymnals, full of God’s redeeming Word, made more accessible to us, because His Word is set to music, set in forms and melodies that help us hear, and understand, and remember.  The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord, who abides with me, and you, singing to us the remarkable good news that God loved the world, so that He Gave, His only Son the lost to save.  And so my hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, for by grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless.  What wondrous love is this, oh my soul, when I survey the wondrous Cross, on which the Prince of Glory died.  O Sacred head now wounded, Lord Jesus, think on me, and keep us steadfast in Thy Word.  For you are the way, through you alone, of the Father’s love begotten, crown Him with many crowns.  Yes, we praise you O God, our redeemer, creator, for indeed, a mighty fortress is our God, since Jesus Christ is risen today!  Alleluia, hearts to heaven, praise to the Lord, the Almighty.  O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise, by singing Thy strong word, cast like seed upon the ground.  Savior again to Thy dear name we raise, Hosanna, loud Hosanna.  Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will to men.    

It is most fitting, for the Word of Christ to be set to song, songs for His people to sing, faithful songs that speak the truth about our sin and His grace, songs old and new that preach law and gospel.  For Jesus’ life and ministry were filled with singing, as when Mary carried God, no bigger than the end of my thumb, God in her womb who gave her voice and faith to sing: “My soul now magnifies the Lord.”  Or Zechariah singing of his son, John the Baptist, and his forerunning ministry: “Sing praise to the God of Israel, sing praise for His visitation.”  Or Simeon, holding the Christ child and chanting: “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace.” 

From angels serenading shepherds with “Glory to God in the highest,” to Jesus and the Eleven, singing a hymn just after the Supper, in the Upper Room, just before they went out to the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before He was betrayed, right down to Jesus beginning the 22nd Psalm as He hung, crucified for the life of the world, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  We don’t sing our Psalms here at St. John, but the Jews did, Jesus did.  Do you suppose He sang His question from the Cross? 

Maybe, maybe not.  It’s no doubt hard to sound a clear note when you’re bearing the sins of the world.  But we do know that the song of Christ goes on, in heaven, the new song of blood washed robes sung by a multitude from every tribe and nation and tongue, a multitude too great to count, singing glory to God, and to the Lamb, who reigns, the concert master of heaven, for to be in His presence leads all His faithful to sing, in joy, in gratitude, in wonder and awe. 

Our song on earth is not so awesome, and yet it is part of the same song, the song of the Lamb.  For us to give a bit from our bounty to help Lutheran Christians in Kenya have hymnals of their own, with faithful liturgies and hymns in their own language, bound hymnals to replace scraps of paper, hymnals that will last, and bless, this is a beautiful thing to be a part of.  The Lord will not abandon His Church to silence.  He has caused His song to go on through the Church, through many centuries, and it will continue.  Oh the joy we have to sing, even if off key, to sing, and to help share the new song of Christ with our brothers and sisters in Kenya. 

So get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news;  lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, St. John, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, and of Kenya, and of the MonDak, "Behold your God!"  Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Savior, like a Shepherd lead us, that we may sing praise to your name, today and forever, Amen.