3 June 2007 - The Holy Trinity

In the Church Year that we follow, today is the festival of the Holy Trinity. This comes at the end of what is sometimes called the “festival portion” of the calendar - that is, after the observance of Christmas, Epiphany, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.

This chronology might suggest that the subject matter of today’s festival was not yet in effect until all of the events commemorated in the preceding festivals had transpired. With those other festivals there is that kind of historical sequence. They do build on each other.

For example, the Epiphany visitation of the Wise Men to the Holy Child required that he first be born into the world on Christmas. Jesus could not have been raised from the dead on Easter, unless the sacrifice of the cross had first occurred on Good Friday. But the festival of the Holy Trinity is not a part of this pattern.

Trinity Sunday does occur after Pentecost - when we remember the fulfillment of the promise of Christ that he would send forth from the Father the gift of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost the Trinitarian character of God was indeed made fully manifest in the life of the early church.

But God’s Trinitarian character did not come into existence or begin only on the day of Pentecost. We do not worship a God who started out as a generic deity, and who then, over time, evolved into the Trinity. Rather, the mystery of the Holy Trinity is the eternal mystery of who and what God has always been.

From before all time, God the Father has existed as the First Person of the Trinity. From before all time, God the Father has begotten the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. From before all time, God the Father, with the Son, has emitted the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity.

These are not “events” that “happened.” They are eternal relationships, and timeless realities, within the Godhead.

The Son and the Spirit have their eternal source in the Person of the Father. They share fully in the Father’s one divine essence. With the Father they are divine: uncreated, always existing, and never changing. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are the one God.

The Athanasian Creed, which we confessed together a short time ago, makes a valiant attempt to explain the unexplainable. But even the best attempts to explain the Holy Trinity fall short. The human understanding - with its many limitations - is simply incapable of comprehending these things. Our eyes can easily glaze over, and our minds can easily wander, as we read and recite the precise formulations of this ancient statement.

And yet, the mystery of the Holy Trinity is unfolded and revealed in Scripture, with the expectation that people can and will accept it and believe it. In the Old Testament we read in Isaiah the prophet: “the Lord...said, ‘Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.’ And he became their Savior. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit...”

When we understand that the angel of the Lord’s presence is, in the Hebrew context, a reference to the Second Person of the Godhead in his pre-incarnate state, we can see here a testimony to the Holy Trinity. The Lord their Savior, the angel of the Lord’s presence - who also saved them - and the Holy Spirit were all acting in their divine unity for the benefit of the people of Israel.

And in the New Testament, in reference to Christian Baptism - which is administered explicitly in the name of the Triune God - St. Paul says this: “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, ...according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior...”

The festival of the Holy Trinity does indeed come at the end of the cycle of Christian festivals. But the mystery of the Holy Trinity is very much a part of the other festivals. This mystery fully permeates and colors all of the events in Christ’s life and ministry that these other festivals recall.

At Christmas we celebrate the Lord’s sending of his Son into the womb of the Virgin Mary, where he was incarnated by the Holy Spirit - who is himself also “the Lord,” and the giver of life.

On Good Friday we reflect on the atoning sacrifice of Christ for our sins. With the Lord’s help we also ponder, and apply to our lives, the teaching of the epistle to the Hebrews, that “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, [will] purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

On Ascension Day, we rejoice that Christ in his humanity entered into the full use of his divine powers, and that from the right hand of the Father’s majesty he then prepared to send to his church the promised Holy Spirit.

The Festival of the Holy Trinity is not, therefore, just one festival among many. It is a festival that commemorates the God whose saving acts in Christ are at the heart and center of every other festival. Every Christian festival is a Trinitarian festival. The God whom Jesus reveals to us in his conception and birth, in his life and death, and in his resurrection and ascension, is the Triune God.

This Triune God is the only God there is. Hence it is not really possible to believe in God without believing in the Trinity. It is not really possible to pray to the Father who created us, without also praying to the Son who redeemed us and to the Spirit who regenerates us. The worship of any hypothetical god or gods - be they one or a million - apart from the revelation of Christ and his faith-creating Spirit, is a false and idolatrous worship.

The author of a useful little book entitled “Why I am a Lutheran: Jesus at the Center,” expands on these thoughts as he addresses the kind of undefined belief in a “generic” and malleable God that is increasingly common today - even among those who still identify themselves with the Christian religion.

He writes: “The First Commandment has been abandoned, even by a large portion of the so-called Christian community. A growing majority undoubtedly would take the view that it would be intolerant and bigoted to say that only Christians worship the true God. In today’s society, all gods are the same and all religions have an equal claim on the truth.”

“Thus the First Commandment - ‘You shall have no other gods before Me’ - has become irrelevant, and if the First Commandment is irrelevant, so is the Holy Trinity. If the Holy Trinity is irrelevant, then so is the Lord’s Prayer. All that remains is a generic god who, at best, maintains order but cannot save anyone. If this generic god is accepted in the church, then the Christian faith is no longer focused on Jesus. At best we can say that people are striving for some sort of spirituality, but there seems to be no substance to that spirituality.”

The idea or concept of a God or of a Supreme Being can, of course, be acknowledged by any human being with a functioning conscience, by the use of his or her reason. But the only way in which this idea or concept can be legitimately fleshed out into a divine reality is through an acknowledgment of the saving work that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have actually accomplished for the human race.

The religious opponents of Jesus were monotheists. They believed - ethically and philosophically - that there is only one God. But sadly, they did not in faith know the one God whose existence they postulated, because they refused to know his Son, who had been sent to be their Savior; and because they hardened themselves against the work of his Spirit, who would have opened their hearts to the testimony of Christ’s Word.

St. John reports this frank exchange in his Gospel: “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing what your father did.’”

“They said to him, ‘We...have one Father - even God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.”

“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. ... Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.’”

God’s merciful reconciliation with fallen humanity was promised and foreshadowed among the people of the Old Testament. The prophetic faith of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and other Old Testament believers was, therefore, a Trinitarian faith. And the people from all nations who have now been embraced by the message of the New Testament are privileged to know by faith the fulfillment of the divine-human salvation from sin that only a divine-human Savior can provide.

The mystery hidden for ages in God has been brought to light among us, as the light of Christ has been shed abroad in our hearts. St. Paul assures you: “because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” We are able to know God as our loving and forgiving Father, and to be perfectly at peace with him, only in Christ. We are able to know Christ only by the miracle of faith that his Spirit engenders in us.

You have been baptized in the name of the only God that there is: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As a baptized Christian you can be certain that the Triune God has entered your life; that he has enveloped you with his saving and transforming grace; and that you now belong to him and not to the devil.

When you do fall into sin and disobey God’s holy law, he does not abandon you, but he sends his Spirit to convict your heart, and to lead you in repentance to the wounds of his Son for pardon and restoration. The Triune God then absolves you through the pastor whom he has called and authorized to speak in his name - “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

And when the Words of Institution of the Lord’s Supper are uttered in your midst, there too the Holy Trinity is at work. The body and blood which are bestowed upon the communicants are the same body and blood that were offered on Calvary by the Son of God to his own Father, as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. That’s why this body and this blood have the power to bring forgiveness to those who partake of them in faith.

And by the power of the Word, through which the Holy Spirit works, this sacrament of redemption and reconciliation is mystically transported from the Upper Room where Jesus instituted it to us - to our altar; to our lips; to our souls and bodies.

In this sacramental faith; in this Christ-centered faith; in this Trinitarian faith, we bow in deep reverence to the one true God, and acclaim him alone as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. To him alone be all glory, honor, and worship - to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit - now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

10 June 2007 - Pentecost 2 - Luke 7:11-17

The Lutheran theologian Charles Porterfield Krauth once said: “Contact imparts disease, but does not impart health. We catch smallpox by contact with one who has it, but we do not catch recovery from one who is free from it. The process which tends to the pollution of the unpolluted will not tend to the purification of the evil.”

This general principle was reflected in various aspects of the ceremonial law of the Old Testament. Many of the behavioral regulations handed down through Moses had some obvious hygienic benefits.

Among these was the teaching that a person who touched a dead body was to be considered as “unclean” for a prescribed period of time. Someone who was in the same room or tent where a dead body was discovered would also be considered as “unclean,” even if direct physical contact had not occurred. Those who were judged to be “unclean” would be isolated for a time from the larger community.

Even apart from any symbolic significance that might be attached to this law, this was a sensible practice. The person who died might have been suffering from a dangerous and contagious disease. And regardless of the cause of death, a decomposing body quickly becomes a harbinger of all kinds of unhealthy microbes. It is good, from a public health standpoint, to minimize physical contact between the living and the dead, and to minimize physical contact between those who have touched a corpse and those who have not.

But this regulation did also have a deeper symbolic significance. Physical death was a constant reminder to the people of Israel - and to us - of the inescapable reality of human sin. We die because we are sinful. The wages of sin is death.

The human situation into which we are all born is a situation of spiritual death and separation from God. The body that we inherit from our first parents is likewise a dying body. Death remains for us all as the chief enemy, the most fearful enemy, and the most unavoidable enemy. It comes as the result of our race’s inborn alienation from God, and therefore it serves as a constant sign of our race’s inborn alienation from God.

We are never to accept death as normal, just because it is frequent, because it is not normal. The human race, as God created it in his image and likeness, was supposed to remain in moral and spiritual harmony with God, and thereby to be immortal.

Because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, bodily death is now the universal experience of all men. But this does not mean that death has become natural. It is still unnatural. It is abnormal. It is not supposed to dominate our earthly existence in the way it does.

God therefore didn’t want the people of Israel to get used to it, or to accommodate death as an ordinary part of their life. The Old Testament regulations were set up in such a way that death would always be a jarring and disruptive experience in the community. Anyone who was closely exposed to death was, at least temporarily, treated as a social outcast. The stench and sting of death was understood to cling to him.

And a person who was made to be temporarily unclean by his exposure to a corpse learned a very vivid lesson about death from that experience. The community restrictions and purification obligations that were placed upon him taught him that bodily death is not a good thing. It is something that we should want to avoid at all costs.

But the cruel side of this is that bodily death cannot be avoided. God does not want us to get used to it, because God does not want us to get used to the sin that caused it and to which it points. But we can’t get away from it. We can run, as it were, but we can’t hide.

The “grim reaper” will catch up with each one of us, sooner or later. In this sense our human existence in this fallen world is like watching a horror movie - or rather like being in a horror movie - in which we know from the very beginning of the film that everyone will die by the end. Everyone.

In this world there is a constant, unending parade - a mournful parade of the dying, marching toward death and the grave. This parade has been underway since the Garden Eden. And each of us is a part of it.

A very specific example of this inevitable march toward death is described in today’s Gospel from St. Luke. At a town called Nain, Jesus and his disciples, with many other followers, came upon another large group of people heading in the opposite direction. This other group was not following a living rabbi, but the body of a widow’s dead son. It was a Jewish funeral procession.

All such funerals were sad occasions, but this one was sadder than most. The widowed mother was burying her only son. She would now be all alone in the world - no husband, no children, and no potential now for grandchildren either. Jesus saw her and her situation, and he had compassion on her.

He then did something very strange for a pious Jewish man to do. He walked up to the bier on which the dead body was lying and touched it. He was not one of the pall-bearers. There was no apparent reason why he would need to contaminate himself with the uncleanness of death on this occasion. But he did so nevertheless.

He touched death, and allowed death to touch him. The corruption of death would now mark him, and stain him, and make him unclean.

As everyone stood there, no doubt wondering why Jesus would deliberately do this, Jesus then did something even more strange. He spoke to the dead man. Let’s listen again to how St. Luke describes it: “And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak...”

Jesus was and is the Lord of life. He is the creator of all things, and he renews and restores his creation by his divine Word, according to his good and gracious will. Up until now the pattern had been that death continually touches the living, and imparts death. But now this process is reversed. Life touches the dead, and imparts life!

At this touch, and at this word, Jesus was not physically polluted by the death of the widow’s son. The widow’s son was physically purified by the life of Jesus! Jesus, who arrived at this encounter supremely clean, was not made to be unclean. Instead, the widow’s son, who arrived at this encounter supremely unclean, was made to be clean!

In Christ God reversed the direction of death. He gave the son back to his mother alive and well. The curse of physical death was lifted, at least temporarily, for this small family.

But the widow’s son did eventually die again - as an old man no doubt, and full of years - but he did later die. The Lord had extended his bodily life for a time, but this man is not still alive in this world. He passed away a long, long time ago.

But the imagery of what Jesus did for him, and the deeper meaning of the Lord’s compassionate act of restoring his life, are still with us. They are with us as a testimony to a more profound kind of touch that all the baptized and believing children of God have experienced from the hand of their Savior.

As sons and daughters of Adam, we came into the world afflicted not only with a physically dying body, but also in a state of spiritual death. We were each brought into this world in this unnatural state, separated from God and innately antagonistic to his holiness. As members of the fallen human race, we were conceived and born under the curse of God’s law because of our unbelief and unrighteousness.

But God did not take pleasure in the fact that the human race, which he had created for fellowship with him, had instead placed itself under his curse. He wanted to deliver us from that curse. Therefore he became a man - a living, breathing human being - and in the person of Christ he placed himself under his own curse, as the substitute for all others.

In Christ God took onto himself the sting and stench of human death. On his cross he covered himself with it, for our sakes and on our behalf, so that we in his name could receive forgiveness and life.

And now, in his resurrected victory over death and sin, he is alive forevermore. And he is with us now - cloaked under the means of grace that he has appointed for our salvation - coming to us, interrupting the spiritual funeral processions of our existence, touching us, and speaking to us.

In your baptism he touched you. In his infinite compassion he transformed your death into life, and changed your alienation from God into reconciliation and peace. He put a living faith into your previously unbelieving heart, and a new hope into your previously antagonistic mind.

At this touch, and at this word, Jesus was not physically polluted by your spiritual death. You were spiritually purified by the divine life of Jesus! Jesus, who arrived at this encounter supremely clean, was not made to be unclean. Instead, you, who arrived at this encounter supremely unclean, were made to be clean!

And as you live in your baptism by daily repentance and faith, and by daily growth into the life and love of Christ, you are at the same time strengthened in your resurrection hope. You shall die in the flesh, as the widow’s son died and later died again. But as you die, you shall continue to live. And on the last day you will live again in your body, glorified by the power of your Savior’s victory over the grave for you.

While you wait for this day, the Lord continually comes to you, to touch you and to speak to you again and again. In his Holy Supper he touches you, in your weak and frail humanity, at the point of his own humanity - that is, in and through his own body and blood, given into death and shed for your redemption. As you die to self in repentance, the residual effects of your old sinful nature - your deathly nature - are forgiven. And the life of Christ - the life of faith within you - is renewed.

Outside of the fellowship of God’s church, where his Word and Sacraments are not at work, the pattern still is that death continually touches the living, and imparts death. But here, in the mystical fellowship of his body, this whole process is mystically reversed. Where Jesus dwells with his people in his Gospel, keeping his promise to be with them always to the very end of the age, life touches the dead, and imparts life!

Here, where your baptism is recalled in Holy Absolution, the Lord of life touches you in his forgiving mercy. Here, where the living body and blood of your Savior come to you, and where he speaks his invitation to you, your death is undone, and God’s life is bestowed on you in its place. The community of faith in which the Gospel is preached to you is your Nain, where Jesus raises you up from your bier, and fills you with the power of his resurrection!

“As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow... And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak...” Amen.

24 June 2007 - Pentecost 4 - Luke 8:26-39

The famous African-American spiritual asks these questions: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Of course, the literal answer to all these questions would be No. We were not there, in Jerusalem, 2000 years ago, to experience these events with our physical senses.

And yet, the questions posed in this song do reflect a feeling that Christians throughout the centuries have often had in their devotion to Christ, and in their yearning to be as close to him as possible. We do often wonder what it would have been like to have been there when these things happened. We also wonder what it would have been like to have been present when the other important events of Jesus’ earthly ministry happened.

We want to believe in these things with all our hearts. We want to be certain in our faith that they did really happen - that Jesus really is the Son of God; that he really does have authority over the power of sin, death, and the devil; that he really does forgive our sins. In the face of temptations and doubts, we want to be sure that these things are true.

Sometimes, with all of the skepticism and cynicism that surround us, it is not easy to continue in our faith. Our belief in the miracles of the Bible is not reenforced very often by the kind of things that we see and hear today.

Rationalists and unbelievers tell us that those miracles never happened. And maybe, sometimes, when our faith is weak, or when we are distracted from worship and participation in church by the concerns of this life, we might wonder if they are right.

And so, we might wish, at such times, that we were there when they crucified our Lord; when they nailed him to the tree; when they laid him in the tomb. We might wish that we were there when Jesus healed the sick and the lame, when he fed thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes, or when he raised the dead.

We imagine that if such a thing were possible, it would no doubt help us to remain strong in our faith when our faith is attacked. We imagine that if such a thing were possible, it would no doubt help us to stay true to Christ.

But, unfortunately, we are far, far removed from these events. We are, it would seem, at a great disadvantage compared to the people who knew Jesus, and who saw and heard the things that he did during his earthly ministry. We envy them, and we envy the certainty of faith that they had.

But should we be so sure that the people who were with Jesus during those days really did have a stronger faith than we do - because of the fact that they were there to see and hear these things first-hand? Should we be so sure that if we had been there, to experience his miracles for ourselves, that our faith would necessarily be stronger than it is now?

Let’s take a few moments to consider the events described in today’s Gospel. St. Luke tells us the story of a man in the region of the Gerasenes who was possessed by several demons.

This was not a Jewish area. There were not very many believers in the true God in this region. But they certainly did believe in the power of the devil. They saw the kind of misery that those demons were putting that man through on a daily basis.

And there was nothing they could do about it. If there were some shamans or pagan priests who had tried to get the demons to leave, they had failed. But they probably didn’t even try. There were supernatural forces at work - evil and dark supernatural forces - that no mortal man could withstand.

But when Jesus came to this place, the evil spirits in the possessed man knew immediately who he was. And they knew that they were in trouble. They didn’t want to be sent to the abyss, as they called it. And so Jesus gave them permission to enter into a herd of pigs.

The fact that there were pigs there demonstrates, by the way, that Jesus was definitely in pagan territory, and not among his own countrymen. In an instant the demons had left the man whom they had possessed, and he was free of their torments.

Imagine what it would be like to have been one of the people of that region who had witnessed these events. You would have seen with your own eyes a man who was filled with a supernatural and heavenly power that was stronger that the hellish power of the demons. You would have heard with your own ears the conversation between this man, with his powerful yet kindly voice, and the evil spirits, with their gravelly and sinister voices.

Do you think that seeing and hearing these things would have caused you to believe in Jesus? Do you think that your faith in him and in his divine mission would have been strengthened considerably through this experience? Think again!

For the people who did see and hear these things, they were not drawn to Jesus in faith, but they were repelled in fear. They asked him to leave their region. They didn’t want to put their trust in him or to learn God’s Word from him. They wanted him to go as far away from them as possible! Why is this?

Well, for the simple reason that being an eyewitness to a miracle does not create or strengthen a true, saving faith. God does not use miracles to cause people to believe in Jesus. Such faith comes only through the Word of Christ.

The miracles of Jesus did get people’s attention. But the evidence of the New Testament indicates that those who witnessed a miracle of Jesus were more likely than not to misconstrue its meaning, or to project their own preconceived interpretations onto it, or to accuse Jesus of sorcery because of it, or, as with the Gerasenes, to become afraid of Jesus, so that they just didn’t want to deal with him at all.

St. Paul tells us in his epistle to the Romans that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” In today’s lesson from his epistle to the Galatians, he points out that the promise of the Gospel, with its power to save and forgive, has also been placed by God in the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

He writes: “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

Quite simply, we should not think that the people who were around Jesus in the first century, and who saw and heard in person the things he did and said, had any advantage over us in regard to the strength of their faith. The sinful human nature never wants to believe in God, regardless of how many physical miracles may take place.

These miracles can always be explained away, or ignored, by the unbelieving heart. St. Paul says in his epistle to the Colossians that, in regard to the true God, unbelievers are by nature “alienated and hostile in mind.” An outward miracle, even a spectacular one, will not change that.

But the inborn alienation and hostility with which we all come into the world can be changed by the Word and Sacraments of Christ! The message of God’s grace in Christ has within it the power to save those who hear it. Christian Baptism, which is the washing of water with the word, is likewise a supernatural work of God, for the purpose of converting unbelievers and bestowing on them the gift of faith.

When your faith is challenged by the distractions and deceptions of the twenty-first century world in which we live, you are not lacking in access to the means that God has always used to help and comfort his people in their struggles.

The people who lived during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry had access to his Word, and so do you. The preaching of Jesus rings forth from the pages of Holy Scripture with just as much power as it had when it was first uttered by his lips.

He himself still speaks through his ministers, when they proclaim his Gospel and administer his sacraments. We have everything we need for our salvation, and for the strengthening of our faith, in the ministry of Word and Sacrament that is carried out in our midst by the Lord’s command.

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession instructs and comforts us is this respect when it teaches that those who hold office in the church “represent the person of Christ on account of the call of the church and do not represent their own persons, as Christ himself testifies, ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me.’ When they offer the Word of Christ or the sacraments, they offer them in the stead and place of Christ.”

Were you there when they crucified your Lord? No, you were not. Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? No, you were not. Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? No, you were not. Were you there when Jesus cast a legion of demons out of the Gerasene man? No, you were not.

But as far as the certainty of your faith is concerned, it doesn’t matter that you were not there. Those who were there have no advantage over you.

The people of the first century who did believe in Jesus, and who faced life and death with the confidence of an unswerving faith, did not get that confidence from the extraordinary events that they saw. They got it from the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.

And that’s where Jesus wants to give you the same confidence. That’s where he wants to work a hidden miracle for you, whenever you are afflicted by doubt or temptation; whenever your faith becomes weak and uncertain.

In the message of his forgiving grace, and in the promise of Baptism - which remains as an enduring power in your life - God takes care of you and preserves you. He assures you that Jesus is who he says he is; that he did die for your sins; and that when you cling to his promise, and abide in his Word, you can and will face the challenges of life and death with a confidence that only he can give.

Sometimes it’s not easy to believe. Sometimes we stumble in our faith. Sometimes we might wonder if all these things are really true. When such times come upon us, listen attentively to the Lord’s message. In humility remember your Baptism. In repentance and hope receive his Holy Supper. Read and meditate on the Scriptures.

And as you do, you will know by the grace of God that you belong to Christ, in life and in death. God’s Spirit will bear witness with your spirit that you are his child. You will be sure that Jesus rose from the dead for you, and that you will live forever with him. Amen.