7 October 2012 - Pentecost 19 - Genesis 2:18-25

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’” With these words, the Lord himself tells us the reason for his creation of Eve, to be the wife and companion of the first man, Adam.

The section of today’s text from Genesis chapter two, from which these words are taken, is an expanded account of the climax of God’s creative activity of the sixth day of creation - namely, the creation of man and woman. This had been summarized more briefly in Genesis chapter one.

After Adam had been created, but before Eve had been created, the creation of humanity was not yet a fully “good” thing. It was “not good” that Adam was still alone, without his wife.

But after Eve was brought forth from Adam’s side, by the special working of God, then the culminating creation of the sixth day was finally “good.” Indeed, as Genesis chapter one says, it was “very good.”

This was also the divine institution of marriage - the union of one man and one woman, for a life of mutual love and companionship - according to God’s good and loving design.

It was not good that the man was alone. But now he was not alone. As he and Eve would begin their life together, and heed the Lord’s directive to them to be fruitful and multiply, the first human family would also come into existence.

It was God’s good and gracious will, revealed in the perfection of Eden, that no human being would ever be alone. Marriage, and family, were institutions that were not just for Adam and Eve.

These institutions were intended to be blessings that would be enjoyed by their descendants in all generations. In the world as God originally made it - a good and righteous world - all people would know the companionship and joyous fulfillment of being a part of a family, as husband or wife, as parent or child, as brother or sister.

There was no sin and no death in this perfect world.

But the aloneness that God did not intend people to experience, they did begin to experience, when Adam and Eve rebelled against God and disobeyed him. They thereby brought sin - and the harmful consequences of sin - into the human race.

Their sin did not affect only them. This corruption and alienation, and the bodily and spiritual death that sin brings, would infect all their descendants.

Today we are often alone, because of the sinfulness of the world, and because of our own individual sins. This aloneness brings with it varying levels of internal pain and anguish, and varying levels of hostility and resentment toward others.

In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, Jesus speaks of divorce; of the destructiveness of sin that precedes a divorce, and of the burden of sin that often comes in the aftermath of a divorce.

Divorce brings to those who are its victims, the tragic aloneness that God, according to his original plan for us, does not want people to experience. Divorce brings to those who are its perpetrators, in addition, the just condemnation of God, and a spiritual exile from God’s fellowship - in addition to the ending of their marriages because of their betrayal of their spouses.

Two years ago this past June, on one of the happiest occasions of my life personally, I officiated at the wedding of my son and his beloved young bride. One of the appointed readings for the ceremony was today’s text from Genesis chapter 2.

“It is not good that the man should be alone,” I read. And through the mutual exchanging of vows that then took place - as Paul and Ruth pledged to each other their love and faithfulness, in sickness and in health, until death parts them - that particular young man, and that young woman too, ceased to be alone.

But their brief marriage was characterized by more love and loyalty in sickness, rather than in health, than anyone expected. And last week, a very un-good thing happened. My son once again became “alone.”

It is not good that the man should be alone. And God, in his loving creation, made provision for the man - for all men - not to be alone.

But the power of sin and death, which was unleashed in this world at that tree in the midst of the garden so long ago, has caused much that is not good to settle over fallen humanity, like a dark pall. It has caused much that is not good to infiltrate into fallen humanity, like poison.

The power of sin and death has caused much that is downright evil, and wicked, to separate us from each other, and to separate us from God.

But King David, in Psalm 68, leads us now in a new song:

“Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity.”

Who is this Lord, riding through the parched desert of human sin and death, coming to us to restore among us that which is good - that which is very good? Who is the Savior, who reverses and undoes the aloneness that Adam’s transgression had brought upon his progeny, and who settles the solitary in a home?

It is Jesus Christ: the Son of God, and the second Adam - the founder and head of a new humanity. St. Paul told the Corinthians: “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”

As he suffered on the cross for our sins, in our place, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was the deepest kind of aloneness imaginable.

But because Jesus experienced it for us - even if just for a few moments - you and I, in him, will never experience this hellish aloneness ourselves. Instead, we know by faith the forgiveness that God bestows on those who look to his Son in repentance; and we know by faith the great peace that comes through the indwelling of his Spirit.

In his resurrection from the dead - also for us - Jesus is now the heavenly bridegroom. And his church - the spiritual assembly of his saints - is his beloved bride.

In the Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul explains that the Godly union of a man and a woman in this world, which they struggle in their weakness to maintain according to God’s Word, is a faint picture of the perfect marriage - the higher and eternal marriage - of Jesus and his elect bride.

As he quotes, and comments on, an important line from today’s text, the apostle tells us that these Biblical words regarding marriage refer ultimately to Christ and the church, and not only to Adam and Eve and their many descendants on earth. Paul writes:

“‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

In this world, which will remain corrupted by sin and death until Christ’s visible return, all human marriages are temporary. Even the best and longest of marriages is only a temporary companionship.

Except for those rare occurrences when a husband and wife die together in an accident, the bodily death of one spouse will separate even the most devoted of married couples. No earthly marriage lasts forever.

Aloneness will eventually come. Aloneness comes also to other members of a family, when death comes to that family.

But according to God’s eternal plan for the creation and preservation of the church - as called forth from all nations - Jesus, the heavenly bridegroom, will never be alone. Jesus, the true man for all men, will always know and enjoy the companionship of his bride, purchased with the price of his own blood.

And that means that we - who are baptized into his church, and who are sustained in our intimate union with Christ by means of his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper - will likewise never be alone.

Earthly relationships may and do come to an end. Your relationships in this life - with siblings, with parents, with children, or with a spouse - will come to an end.

But your relationship with your Savior - who covers you with his righteousness, who fills you with his love, and who preserves your faith by his Word and Sacrament - will endure forever. And through him, your relationship with all of your brothers and sisters in Christ - all fellow members of his church - will likewise endure forever.

It would not be good for Jesus, the second Adam, to be alone. And he is not alone. He is with us, and always will be. We are with him, and always will be.

Even the grave will not separate us from him. Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. And he is ours forever. Amen.

14 October 2012 - Pentecost 20 - Hebrews 3:12-19

Past, present, and future. A person’s relationship with God is viewed and understood in all those ways, from all those perspectives.

Today’s text from the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us that the children of Israel, during the time of their wandering in the wilderness, thought of their relationship with God in these ways. These were the ones who in the past had “left Egypt, led by Moses.”

They had seen with their own eyes the miracles that the Lord had performed for them in the past - the seven plagues, the parting of the sea, and many other things - by which God had supernaturally liberated them from their slavery in Egypt.

And Moses reminded them of the promise that the Lord had made to their forefathers, that in the future, the people of Israel - the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - would have their own homeland. That was the whole point of their Exodus from Egypt - so that they could travel to that new land, and live there to the glory of God, serving him and enjoying his favor.

But what about the present? As they were wandering in the desert of Sinai, they were aware of what God had done for them in the past, by which God had earned their trust. And they were aware of the future that God had promised for those who do trust in him.

But did they - in the in-between time; in the present time - actually trust in God? Did they, in faith, have a heartfelt remembrance of the Lord’s grace in their past? Did they, in faith, look forward to the blessings that God had promised for their future - a time of rest from their sojourning, in their own country?

Sadly, in regard to most of them, they did not. The author of the Epistle tells us:

“Who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt, led by Moses?”

“And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?”

“And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”

As a matter of rational, historical memory, the children of Israel, during their wandering in the wilderness, did still recall that God had engineered their deliverance from Egypt. But in their hearts, they had, in effect, lost their memory of this deliverance.

They had lost their faith and confidence in the God who had delivered them. This faith and confidence had been replaced by a poisonous cocktail of indifference, presumption, arrogance, and rebellion.

And so the generation that left Egypt was not allowed by God to enter the Holy Land. That generation had forgotten their past with God. And so that generation had no future with God either.

Past, present, and future. Your relationship with God is also to be viewed and understood in all those ways, from all those perspectives.

What has God done for you in the past? In your baptism, he, as it were, “parted the sea” for you, and by the power of the gospel of his Son, he set you free from captivity to the power of sin and death.

Jesus’ victory over the devil, in his death and resurrection, was given to you in baptism, to be your victory in Christ. A new life of faith, in the Spirit of Christ, was also given to you.

And God pledges wonderful things for the future of his people too. Through the Prophet Jeremiah, he says: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

That’s what God has done in the past. That’s what God promises for his church in the future.

But what about the present? What about your present, right now, today?

As you are wandering through the “desert” of life in this world - where God’s people walk by faith, and not by sight - are you walking by faith?

Do you daily recall your baptism in repentance and faith? Or do you think about it only as a quaint ritual of your personal religious history that has no deep and abiding impact on you now?

Do you live in a godly hope of the things that are to come? Or do you live only for the earthly pleasures of the moment, with little regard for what God has done, or will do?

In view of the temptations to doubt and indifference that surround you and all church members - and that come at you from all angles - today’s text gives you this charge:

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”

In the Reformed or Calvinist tradition of Christianity, “once saved, always saved” is a popular slogan that is often used to summarize the Calvinist doctrine that everyone who at some point in his life did have a saving faith, will inevitably make it to heaven, and cannot be lost.

There is a sincere desire here to give honor to God, and to emphasize that our salvation is by God’s grace alone. But it is difficult to harmonize this Reformed slogan with the warnings of today’s text:

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”

It is a baseless superstition to think that because you were baptized in the past, you will have a place in heaven in the future, even if you have no genuine faith in the present. If you do not know Christ now, it is of no saving benefit to you that you once did know him, but know him no longer.

According to the Scriptures, it is indeed possible for a Christian to hurl himself out of the hands of God, and to embrace the lies of the devil instead of the truth of God, and thereby to cease to be a Christian. The warnings of today’s text are not for nothing.

If you set your heart on the things of this world once again, and harden your heart against the things of God, then you will perish, just as this world will perish under the judgment of God.

As you consider your wavering commitment to Christ, and as you may even be wondering right now if you still do truly believe in him, your conscience can find no true comfort today in the abstract slogan, “once saved, always saved.” But your conscience can find comfort today in the living word of God - as that word comes to you today, and renews the promises of Christ to you today.

We read in Hebrews: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Today, if you hear his voice, believe that voice.

Cling to Christ now, in the present, when Christ tells you now that he has taken away your sins, and has bought you to be his very own, with the price of his blood. Trust in Christ now, in the present, when Christ tells you now that your sins are forgiven, and that in him you are an heir of eternal life.

Believe Christ now, in the present, and receive his gifts, when he bestows his Spirit upon you, and comes to live within you. Receive Christ himself now, in the present, when he seals to you - in the sacrament of his body and blood - the reality of your baptism into his death, and the pledge of your own rising from the dead on the last day, in the power of his resurrection.

From this perspective, then, you can and will see your relationship with God in the past, as evidence of God’s unvarying grace toward you. God is faithful, even when we are not.

And from this perspective, you can and will look forward to your future heavenly rest, and to an enjoyment of the fulfillment of all God’s promises - to the eternal homeland that will be the dwelling place of his saints - with a true, God-given confidence.

As your faith is in these ways renewed and built up by the Word of God, consider as well your weak brothers and sisters in Christ, whose faith may still be tottering on the edge.

Think about the people you know - among your relatives, or among your friends - who seem to be forgetting what God has been to them in the past; who seem to be ignoring God’s promises to them for the future; and who seem to be shutting their hearts off to God in the present.

Think about them, pray for them, and remember what today’s text tells you about the role that you and other Christians are to play in their lives:

“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ.”

Jesus Christ lived for us all, he died for us all, and he rose from the grave for us all. As St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, God the Father

“raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet, and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Indeed, Jesus does fill all in all, in the past, in the present, and in the future. He is the alpha and the omega - the beginning and the end - of the universe. He is the alpha and the omega - the beginning and the end - of your life.

And so you pray:

Let me be Thine forever, Thou faithful God and Lord;
Let me forsake Thee never, Nor wander from Thy Word.
Lord, do not let me waver, But give me steadfastness,
And for such grace forever Thy holy name I’ll bless. Amen.

21 Oct 2012 - Pentecost 21 - Mark 10:23-31

Materialism, greed, and a love for money, are generally not considered to be virtuous attitudes in our society. In response to situations where people seem to be living for the accumulation of material wealth, we would likely say, perhaps with a bit of a moralistic tone, that true wealth is to be found in non-material things - in things like loving relationships with our family members.

With sentimental sincerity, we would look at a picture of a man surrounded by piles of money, as a picture of a man who is not really wealthy. But we would look at a picture of an elderly couple celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary, surrounded by a multitude of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, as a picture of truly wealthy people.

In today’s text from St. Mark, Jesus does confirm our cultural suspicion that material wealth is not the kind of thing that someone should consider to be most important in his life. When money becomes our idol, we become blind to the non-material wealth that God actually wants us to value, and enjoy. Jesus says:

“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! ... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Why would this be? Because money is power - an intoxicating power.

Wealth serves as a very effective idol in this world, because as far as the affairs of the world are concerned, it can make things happen for you more quickly and more easily than anything else - more quickly than your personal charm, your personal cleverness, or your personal intelligence.

In this world, people will do what you want them to do if you pay them, regardless of whether they like you, or respect you, or agree with you. Money talks. And because money talks, money works.

And it’s not just people who are rich in this world’s goods who are easily tempted to be captivated by this kind of idolatry. Poor people as well, who have persuaded themselves that getting rich would mean getting powerful and happy, also bow down at this altar.

Some worship money by worshiping the money they have. Others worship money by worshiping the money they desire. No one in this world - whether rich or poor, or somewhere in between - is fully immune from such temptations.

Wealth is an effective idol. But wealth is also a demanding idol. As we read in today’s lesson from the Book of Ecclesiastes: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; vanity.”

When money is what you crave, you can never get enough of it. It will never fill you or satisfy you. As you spend and consume your earthly wealth, your earthly wealth will spend and consume you.

After Jesus had made his disciples think through all these matters, they asked him: “Then who can be saved?” And then Jesus replied: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

It does take a miracle of God - the miracle of a new spiritual birth; the miracle of repentance and faith as wrought by his Spirit - for someone who loves and trusts in riches above all things, to become instead someone who now loves and trusts in God above all things. We are talking about the God who has the right to our exclusive worship, since he is the God who created us, and who has redeemed us by the blood of his Son.

But monetary wealth is not the only idolatrous alternative to true faith in the true God, that Jesus discusses in today’s text. It is not the only misdirected love in the sinful heart of man, that requires a supernatural deliverance and re-orientation. Jesus goes on to say:

“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Now, I can understand why I must be willing to give up my love for my money, and perhaps even give up my money itself, in order to be a Christian. But must I also give up my home, my brothers and sisters, my parents, and even my children, for the sake of God’s kingdom?

Is my love for my family members - people whom God himself has given me, and brought into my life - an idolatrous love? Well, it can be.

If you love these people with the understanding that God has given them to you to love, that will ordinarily help you to remain faithful and focused in your love for them. You are actually honoring God, when you honor them in his name.

But that understanding will also help you to see that if the time ever came when you would have to choose between these relationships, and your relationship with God, then there would be only one choice that would comply with the supreme demands of the First Commandment.

Many unmarried people over the centuries have joined monasteries and convents, and have taken vows of lifelong celibacy, with the belief that foregoing family life in this way, and remaining single, would be a good and God-pleasing work - which would help them in becoming more spiritual and more worthy of heaven.

But there have also been cases, especially in the Middle Ages, when married men, who already had wives and children, decided to abandon their families, and join a monastery, for these reasons. At that time in history, this was allowed by church authorities.

Those who did or condoned this, defended the practice by quoting today’s text. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession responded to these claims.

And as it did so, it also explained - for our instruction - what these words of the Lord actually mean. We read:

“Christ does not mean that leaving parents, wife, and siblings is a work that must be done because it merits the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Indeed, such leaving is cursed. Anyone who leaves parents or wife to merit the forgiveness of sins or eternal life by this work, dishonors Christ.”

“There are two kinds of leaving. One happens without a call, without God’s command, which Christ does not approve. ... We know that God’s commandment forbids leaving wife and children.”

“God’s command to leave is different, that is, when power or tyranny pushes us either to leave or to deny the Gospel. Here we are commanded to bear injury, and should rather allow not only wealth, wife, and children, but life [itself], to be taken from us.”

“Christ approves of this kind of leaving, and so He adds [that it is] for the Gospel’s ‘sake.’ He does so to illustrate that He is speaking, not of those who injure wife and children, but who bear injury because of the confession of the Gospel.” So far the Apology.

We would hope and pray that such a trial would never come upon us in this life. We would hope and pray as well, that those whom we love in this world would never abandon us, or turn away from us, because of our embracing of Christ.

But sometimes these things do happen. In the Islamic world, these things are happening with ever greater frequency, as people are converted to faith in Jesus as their Savior from sin and death, and as their family members then shun them at best, or murder them at worst.

When such things do happen, and when it is demanded of us that we must choose between Christ or our family members, the faith that God has given us through the Gospel, is a faith that will choose Christ.

Parents and children, spouses and siblings, are indeed great treasures. And it is God’s will that we value these treasures, and treat these people in our lives with great love and deep respect, for as long as he allows them to be in our lives. Even when they are gone, we are still to treasure our memories of them.

But Jesus is our only priceless treasure, for whom we must be willing to surrender everything else, and everyone else, if it ever comes to that. What he has done for us, in bearing our sin, restoring our fellowship with God, and saving us from eternal damnation, is unmeasurably more valuable than any earthly benefit from any earthly relationship.

It can be a very heart-breaking experience to be parted from loved ones because of Christ, or to have them turn against us because of Christ. But as today’s Introit from Psalm 34 comforts us: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.”

And remember, too, what Jesus himself says to comfort us. He encourages his disciples to know that if they are forced to give up their home and family for the sake of Christ, by circumstances beyond their control, they will “receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands.”

The fellowship of the Christian church that you enjoy here below - even if you are the only member of your earthly family who enjoys it - compensates you for the relationships of this world that you may have lost because of the kingdom of God. In the body of Christ, as we grow ever closer to Jesus by faith, we grow ever closer to each other in love.

And in this God-given mutual consideration and mutual compassion, we lift one another up in Christ: in good times and in bad, in times of prosperity and in times of want, in times of celebration and in times of grief and pain.

To be sure, life in this world can be - and often will be - punctuated by persecutions, as Jesus warns. But the love that we know as members of the family of God, and as children who have a permanent place in our heavenly Father’s house, is only a foretaste of the love - and of the enjoyment of God - that we will know forever in his kingdom, when we fully enter into that house in the resurrection.

Jesus promises his disciples that “in the age to come,” eternal life will be given to them. Jesus promises you - even if you are despised and forsaken, exiled and alone in this world - that in the age to come eternal life will be given to you.

Truly, he makes such a personal promise to you especially if your faith in him, and your faithfulness in confessing him and following him, have brought you injury.

If money is your true treasure, and your god, which you currently think you could never give up for anything, then you will not be able to understand what Jesus is talking about. If family members, and family relationships, are your true treasure, and your god, which you currently think you could never give up for anything, you likewise cannot really grasp the significance of what Jesus teaches us in today’s text.

But what he also teaches us is that with God, all things are possible. God can change you, and he can give you a new heart, which looks to him alone for everything, all the time.

By human strength, you can never muster up this kind of faith. By human strength, you can never turn your own heart away from your idolatries, and open your own heart to God’s sovereign love.

But God can do these things. “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” God will do these things, through his Word and Sacrament, for you, today.

With fear of what the answer might have been, the disciples had asked Jesus: “Then who can be saved?” It’s possible that you are asking him the same question - with the same kind of fear of what the answer might be.

But the answer is not frightening. The answer is life-giving. You can be saved. In Christ, you are saved. Amen.

28 October 2012 - Reformation Sunday - Psalm 119:46

“I will also speak of your testimonies before kings, O Lord, and shall not be put to shame.”

We sang these prayerful words from Psalm 119 in today’s Introit. This is what that Psalm says in the larger context, surrounding this particular verse:

“Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word. And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your precepts.”

“I will keep your law continually, forever and ever, and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts. I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.”

This prayer is a good summary of what it is about the Reformation of the sixteenth century that we celebrate. And this prayer is a good summary of what it is about the Reformation of the sixteenth century that continues to speak to us today, and to guide and instruct us today.

“Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word.”

Christians are saved from the guilt and power of sin, and they are restored to fellowship with God, by God’s grace alone, and not by their own spiritual efforts or religious works. God’s steadfast love comes to us, before we do anything to earn that love, or to make ourselves worthy of it.

And God’s salvation in Christ comes to us from outside of ourselves, to give us a spiritual life that must be received from God as his gift, if it is to be had at all. We are by nature sinful and unclean. A new nature, in the image of Christ our Savior, is birthed by God’s Spirit within his penitent and believing people.

The promise of salvation is made to us, and we are invited to believe that promise - and personally to receive all its benefits - not because of who we are, but because of who God is. And that promise comes to us, so that we can know it and grasp it, in God’s Word.

We trust in God, when we trust in the Word of God. In his Word God tells us what he is really like. The wishful thinking of fallen humanity would probably assume otherwise, but God’s Word tells us that he is holy, and does not wink at sin or at the pain and human destruction that it causes.

And in his Word, God tells us what we are really like, so that we will admit our true need before him, and so that we will recognize God’s gracious way of satisfying that need in the Gospel of his Son. God’s Word is true and reliable.

The Scriptures in particular are a special gift of God to his church, so that his voice among us will never be silenced. In the Scriptures, the church has an accurate, objective standard by which God’s genuine voice can be recognized - in the midst of a cacophony of contradictory human and demonic voices that would seek to confuse us and distract us.

We do not trust in those voices, even when they flatter us. We do not trust in those voices, when they lie to us about God, about his grace, and about our need for God’s grace.

Instead, we join our hearts to the prayer of the Psalmist, when he declares in humble gratitude to the Lord: “I trust in your word.”

The prayer of the Psalmist, and our prayer, continues with these words:

“And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your precepts. I will keep your law continually, forever and ever, and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts. I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame.”

The divine Word that we have heard, has produced some major changes - changes in our relationship with a loving God, and godly changes within us. One of the things that God’s Word has instilled in our hearts and minds, is a desire to speak that Word now to others.

This touches on what Luther and the Reformers were talking about when they spoke of the common priesthood of all baptized Christians. This doesn’t mean that every Christian can be his own pastor. But it does mean that every Christian is a child of God, who can pray to God, and speak of God to others.

Jesus, of course, was the true and ultimate priest sent from God. As the divine-human Savior, and as our substitute, he made satisfaction for our sins, and offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross - to redeem us, and to break down the barrier between us and God that our sins had erected.

And now, as we trust in that sacrifice, and receive the benefits of it by faith, we, as God’s holy priesthood, offer our own sacrifices. The sacrifices we offer are not the same as the sacrifice of Christ.

We do not appease God. God has already been fully and completely appeased by the atonement accomplished by Jesus.

But as a response to this sacrifice, we offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God. Here in church, and out in the world, this takes the form of the testimony that we give before others, in thanksgiving, of what God has done for us.

We invite fellow Christians to rejoice with us in the mercy of Christ. And we invite those who do not yet know him, to receive what we have received, and then to join us as well, in praising God for his goodness.

In the prayer of today’s text, we do not ask God only to preserve his Word in our hearts. Instead we say: “take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your precepts.”

And then, in the verse that was included in the Introit, we declare to the Lord: “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame.”

Lutherans often apply this verse to what happened when the Augsburg Confession was publicly read in 1530, in the presence of Emperor Charles and the princes of the Empire. But this is not the only time in history when God’s people have had opportunities to speak the message of Christ before individuals of high earthly authority.

And even if you don’t know any kings or rulers, or have a chance to speak with such people, you can speak with those whom you do know - inviting them to think about what God says, and to believe what God says. And there is no embarrassment on your part in speaking of these things.

If the adherents of deadly and deceptive religions are not ashamed to proclaim their false beliefs around the globe, why should we be ashamed to proclaim to all nations the loving message of a loving God - who created all men; who was reconciled to all men through the death of Christ; and who desires all men to be at peace with him, and with each other, through faith in Christ?

Indeed, as witnesses of the Lord, and of his good and gracious will for all men, we “shall not be put to shame.”

And finally, today’s prayer from Psalm 119 goes on to say this: “I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.”

As far as the law of God is concerned, we recognize that the Ten Commandments convict us, when they impress upon us what God’s law actually demands of us, and when they impress upon us our failure to fulfill these demands. God’s commandments in this sense show us our need for Christ, and drive us to repentance.

But for those who do repent of their sins, and who rejoice in the forgiveness that Christ has won for them, the Ten Commandments become a guide, and not just a threat. The Christian’s new nature is a nature that loves God and his law, and that wants to serve God by serving the neighbor in God’s name.

According to this new nature, we eagerly seek to grow in our understanding of what God’s law teaches us for the fulfilling of our vocations in this world - regarding the value of all human life, both born and unborn; regarding the integrity and purpose of marriage and family; regarding the respect that is to be shown toward the reputation and property of the neighbor; and regarding our need in general to be a friend to the friendless, and a helper to the helpless. In this respect, we do “delight” in God’s commandments.

But the concept of a “commandment” from God can also be seen as a Gospel concept. Sometimes we speak of the “mandatum Dei,” or of the commandment or mandate of God, in conjunction with our Lord’s institution of the sacraments.

Jesus told the apostles: “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them.” He also told them: “Do this in remembrance of me.” “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

And with the faith that Christ has given us, and that he continually strengthens through the means of grace, we deeply love these commandments of Jesus - because we deeply love the sacraments that these commandments of Jesus established and set in motion for us. With a conviction that God himself has wrought within us, we refuse to give up these sacraments.

This is probably the most obvious focal point of what it means to be a Confessional Lutheran today. This conviction is often what sets us apart as unusual and uncompromising, in the eyes of the rest of Christendom.

Lutherans are often accused of being unloving toward other Christians, because we refuse to bend in our sacramental beliefs. But the reason why we refuse to bend, is not because we don’t love other Christians. It’s because we do love the commandments of God!

The Sacrament of the Font that Christ told his church to administer and receive is a miraculous “washing of regeneration.” We will not belittle it, but accept it for what it is - in thanksgiving to the Savior who blesses us through it, throughout our lifetime.

The Sacrament of the Altar that Christ told his church to administer and receive is a miraculous bestowing of his true body and blood, for the remission of sins. We will not denigrate it, but accept it for what it is - in thanksgiving to the Savior who blesses us through it, throughout our lifetime.

In word and deed, we will testify before princes and paupers - and everyone else - that we will not give up this divinely-revealed faith. In word and deed, we will testify before princes and paupers - and everyone else - that we would be utterly delighted if they, too, would receive and embrace this faith.

We believe that what Jesus and his apostles say is true. As a matter of conscience, we therefore cannot join ourselves to, or commune in, any church that denies, ignores, or twists what Jesus and his apostles say.

With a reverent remembrance of Baptism, when the Trinitarian words of Baptism are recalled; and with a reverent celebration of the Lord’s Supper, when the institution of our Lord is faithfully followed in our midst, we will receive these gifts of divine love, and will be renewed in our love for these saving gifts.

While we await the eternal fulfillment of God’s saving promises in Christ - for as long as we have life and breath - we will hear and heed what Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

God’s Word and sacraments bring God’s grace to us, in accordance with the truth of Holy Scripture. In faith we receive what God gives, and are set free from the guilt and power of sin by his forgiveness. And by God’s grace we will abide in this hope, and in the word of our Savior, until the end.

“I will also speak of your testimonies before kings, O Lord, and shall not be put to shame.” Amen.