1 September 2019 - Pentecost 12 - Hebrews 13:1-17

Over the years I have had several occasions to interact with elderly people who had lost some or all of their memory. This kind of thing is always sad. Our memory plays a more important role in our lives than we may realize.

It gives us a sense of continuity in our lives, and a sense of purposeful direction. Our memory of who we have been is a chief component of our perception of who we are now. When we lose our memory, we lose a large part of ourselves.

The Christian church also has a memory - a collective memory. Or at least it is supposed to have such a memory. The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks to this in today’s lesson:

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace...”

“Remembering” is not an option for Christians. A church that has lost its spiritual memory has suffered a great tragedy. It has lost a large part of itself.

And a church that intentionally tries not to remember what God’s Word tells it to remember, is actually sinning against its Lord. The sacred text says, “Remember.” And that is what we are to do.

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.” When the text says “who spoke to you,” it employs a verb tense that indicates a past action that is now completed.

So, this passage is not talking about the current leaders or pastors of the church. It is referring to leaders, pastors, and teachers of the past, who have already laid down the mantle of their ministry, and departed from this valley of sorrow into the rest of heaven.

But in an important sense the ministry of these men continues. As we remember what they taught, they are, in a way, teaching it to us again.

This is especially the case with the apostles, who continue to teach us through the pages of the New Testament. But it is not limited to the apostles.

According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, our memory of the faithful pastors and teachers of the past is to be focused specifically on a recollection, and a re-appropriation, of their teaching of God’s Word.

We are told to remember the Christian leaders of the past insofar as they were faithful expounders and defenders of Christian doctrine, and insofar as they also taught by example, in “their way of life.”

St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Ephesians that Christ himself “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God...”

The apostles and prophets clearly have a special status in the history of the church. Their teaching was supernaturally guided and preserved from error by the Holy Spirit in a unique way.

Through the Holy Scriptures, which they penned by divine inspiration, they continue to carry out their unique calling as the foundational teachers in the Christian church. Every time we read or hear the Scriptures - and believe what we read and hear - we are properly “remembering” these men.

But the “pastors and teachers” whom Christ also gave to the church, during and after the time of the apostles, are likewise to be “remembered.” This is especially so when the pastors and teachers in question were men who distinguished themselves during their lifetime as faithful confessors of God’s truth.

At pivotal times in church history, when a particularly dangerous heresy was attacking the faith of God’s people, the Lord always raised up gifted ministers to oppose and refute the heresy, and to instruct and encourage the believers.

In the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, heretics were attacking the Biblical doctrines of God and of Christ’s person. In response, the bishops and pastors whom God had called to be the teachers of the church composed the three Ecumenical Creeds that we still recite in our worship services.

These creeds are faithful summaries and explanations of the unchanging teaching of Holy Scripture, concerning the Trinity, and concerning the union of the divine and human natures in Christ.

They also include summaries of the saving work that Christ accomplished during his time in this world, to make it possible for us to be with him forever in the next world.

Because of the importance of preserving and clarifying God’s changeless saving truth among men - concerning who he is, what he does, and what he gives - it matters that these creeds were written.

And it matters that we still use them. When we do so, we are properly “remembering” the men who prepared these creeds, and who passed them down to us.

There are some, however, who think that it is wrong to honor these men in this way, and to adhere to the creeds that they wrote for the church. Their slogan is: “no creed but Christ” - as if that platitude is not itself also a creed, albeit a pretty poor one.

Others don’t reject the concept of creeds in general, but they are bored with the historic creeds of the church. So, they make up new “contemporary” creeds that they think are more cleverly-written than the ones that were hammered out by the ancient church councils; and they inflict these concoctions onto God’s people.

Any church that arrogantly thinks and acts in these ways has sadly lost its memory. And thereby it has lost a large part of itself.

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace...”

Another way in which we are able to comply with this directive, is to make use of the great hymns of the past; and to pay careful attention to what those hymns are teaching us, as we sing them and hear them sung.

You’ll notice that a large number of the hymns that are used in a traditional Lutheran service are really more like sermons. We sing such hymns to each other, and we thereby proclaim to each other the message of Christ that is contained in the hymn.

Other hymns that have been passed down to us are directed toward God. They teach us how to pray, by guiding us in our prayer, and by giving us the Biblically-based words we need to address God properly and according to his will.

Jesus says in St. John’s Gospel that those who would worship God rightly, “must worship him in spirit and truth.” This doesn’t just mean that we are to be sincere in our worship. People can be sincerely mistaken in what they think God wants to hear from them.

Rather, worship “in spirit and truth” is worship that is shaped and molded by the Holy Spirit, on the basis of the unchanging Biblical truth that God has revealed to us: about himself, about us and our true needs, and about how he meets those needs in Christ.

That’s why St. Paul tells the Colossians: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

Whenever we sing these hymns - and pay devout attention to what these hymns are saying - we are “remembering” the great theological poets of the past who wrote them. And any new hymns that are written by today’s Christian poets, are to be written with a humble desire to build on this legacy, and not to supplant it.

There are some, however, who think that this centuries-old repertoire of dignified and instructive hymns should be replaced with simplistic and repetitious “contemporary” choruses, set to foot-tapping tunes, that are designed to appeal to the emotions and to manipulate the will, and not to teach the content of the faith.

A congregation that does this has lost its memory. And thereby it has lost a large part of itself.

In a misguided desire to become youthful and vital, such a congregation has actually begun to suffer from spiritual dementia, and from a tragic kind of self-induced amnesia. It is no longer able to realize how much of its identity as a Christian church, rooted in God’s timeless truth, it has lost.

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace...”

“It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” That’s ultimately what this divinely-commanded “remembering” is really all about, and why it is so important.

We are not to look to the past just because it is the past, with a sentimental yearning for “the good old days.” Instead, we are told to look to the past, and to remember the past, for the sake of the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ - who is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy, he does not change. And because he does not change, the faith of his true church - anchored in him, and focused on him - does not change.

The gospel of God’s gracious forgiveness of all our sins, through the death of his Son; and of God’s gift of eternal life to all who believe, through the resurrection of his Son, is the gospel that has been preached to us, for our salvation and comfort. And this is the gospel to which the Holy Scriptures have always born witness, and in which true believers have always found their hope.

Those who have tragically fallen away from the Christian faith may no longer remember this gospel. But this gospel remains objectively true. It hasn’t changed through all the years and centuries of Christian history.

And it hasn’t changed through the years of your personal history. For you, too, as an individual, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

When you were baptized, God claimed you as his own child: justifying you with the righteousness of Jesus, and filling you with the Spirit of Jesus. By the power of his Word, connected to the washing of water in this sacrament, God brought his gracious gospel to you, and God invited you to put your trust in his gospel.

The salvation that God offered to you then, is the salvation that God offers to you now, and will always offer to you, for as long as you remain in this world. The call to faith that God issued to you then, is the call to faith that God issues to you now, and will always issue to you, for as long as you live on earth.

St. Paul writes in his Second Epistle to Timothy: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful - for he cannot deny himself.”

If you have been faithless, and if the allurements of this ever-changing world have changed you, know with certainty that God’s love for you, and his desire to be at peace with you and to be the Lord of your life, have not changed.

As quoted in the Book of Revelation, Jesus gave this rebuke to the church in Ephesus: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen.”

If Jesus needs to say this also to you; if you have abandoned your first love, and have lost your memory of the goodness of God that you once knew: you can remember again.

God’s message of reconciliation and pardon in Christ can restore that memory. The cleansing power of God’s absolution in Christ can rekindle that memory.

And if you are a communicant, when you partake of the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar today, you will do this in remembrance of him - or for the remembrance of him. The remembrance of Jesus is not what we bring to this Supper, but it is what we take away from this Supper, and from the joyous and faith-building encounter that we have with Jesus in this Supper.

Because God is faithful, the pathway of repentance and faith that leads back to his embrace is always open before you. Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever, the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won and accomplished for you, is always available to you.

The exhortation and the promise that St. James speaks in his Epistle, though written almost 2,000 years ago, is an exhortation and a promise that the church of Jesus Christ has never forgotten.

It is an exhortation and a promise that James speaks to you today, whoever you are, whatever regrets you may have, and however far from your Savior you may have wandered:

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace...” Amen.

8 September 2019 - Pentecost 13 - Luke 14:25-35

Holy Scripture contains no errors or contradictions. But Holy Scripture does contain mysteries, paradoxes, and challenging teachings that are not always easy to understand. There is something like that in today’s text from St. Luke’s Gospel, which teaches us a lot about Christ, about ourselves, and about our faith in Christ. Jesus says:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”

“Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

Note especially this phrase: “count the cost.” What will it cost you to be a follower of Christ?

From one perspective - a perspective with which we are probably very familiar - it costs absolutely nothing. We have often heard these familiar lines from the Prophet Isaiah, and have derived great comfort from them:

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

“Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.”

The salvation from sin that God offers, he offers as a gift of his grace. We do not pay for it, with any resources of this world that we may have, but we receive it by faith, as we hear and believe the words of promise that God speaks to us.

We partake of the blessings of Christ - we eat and drink the gifts of Christ, the heir of David’s throne, that are bestowed upon us in the means of grace - without paying any price for them. This is because those blessings have already been paid for by Christ himself, who has redeemed us from the forces of death and darkness, that had captivated us, with the price of his own blood.

In the New Testament, St. Paul concurs in this comforting thought when he writes to the Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

And so, according to these passages of Scripture, how much does it cost to be a Christian, and to obtain the hope of eternal life? It costs us nothing. When we count the cost, from this perspective, there is no cost.

But in today’s text, Jesus speaks in a different way. Today he tells us, in effect, that being his disciple will cost us everything.

Now, he doesn’t mean that there is a price tag on salvation, and that we have to pay for it in the way we pay for something at the store. The “cost” of discipleship that he is describing here is about something else.

But it involves a real cost - a real sacrifice, and a real giving up of things that otherwise would be very valuable to us. He says: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

He’s not just talking about valuable objects. He’s also talking about the valuable relationships, with valuable people, that we enjoy in this life. And he’s talking about life itself. Again, he says:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

What is this about? How can any of this be true? Doesn’t God tell us explicitly in the Fourth Commandment to honor our father and our mother?

Doesn’t the apostle Paul, by divine inspiration, tell husbands to love their wives? And doesn’t he tell wives to respect their husbands? How can Jesus now say that we must hate these people? Isn’t he contradicting what the Bible says elsewhere?

Well, no, he is not. The frame of reference here is different, and the point of comparison is different.

What is going on in today’s text is similar to the contrast between what St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans about obedience to the civil authorities, and what St. Peter says in the Book of Acts about that same subject.

St. Paul writes:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

The context, of course, is a context where the civil authorities are fulfilling their duty under God to punish evil-doers and protect the innocent. So Paul goes on to say:

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

Paul then concludes his teaching on this matter with these words: “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience.”

As a matter of conscience - that is, because God has commanded it, and not just because there is a practical benefit - we are to respect and obey the duly-constituted rulers who have been set over us in civil affairs.

But what about a situation in which such rulers overstep their God-given authority, and presume to position themselves over God, by forbidding what God commands, or by commanding what God forbids? What then?

The Book of Acts addresses that kind of scenario in a story it tells about Peter and the other apostles, and their interactions with the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. The apostles had been forbidden to preach and teach about Jesus, about his death and resurrection, and about the forgiveness of sins that God offers in his name.

They had refused to comply. And so they were hauled before the Sanhedrin to answer for their disobedience:

“The captain with the officers went and brought them... And...they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’”

“But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.’”

It should not be necessary to make a choice between obeying God, and obeying the authorities whom God has established for the fulfilling of his righteous purposes in the civil realm. But when those authorities, because of their sin, require us to make such a choice, we would be sinning if we did not make the correct choice: against those rebellious civil authorities, and for God.

And the same principle applies with respect to the relatives with whom we share our life in the realm of home and family, as Jesus talks about this in today’s text. It should not be necessary to make a choice between loving and serving God, and loving and serving the parents, spouse, children, and siblings whom God has given to us.

But when those family members reject the claims of Christ - and demand that we also reject his claims, and renounce him and his grace and forgiveness, in order for our relationship with them to continue - we must instead renounce those family members and what they have chosen to stand for.

When Jesus tells us that we must “hate” them, in this context, this is not mean in an absolute sense, but in a relative and comparative sense. If the choice that is forced upon us is either to renounce or hate Jesus, or to renounce or hate our relatives, we know what choice we must make, painful though it may be.

That’s the price we must pay. That’s the cost.

If we are members of a family in which such a choice has not been forced upon us, we can be very grateful for that. But we must still remember that the reason why we continue to love our relatives, is because we now recognize that God has given them to us, and has put them into our lives for his purposes; and because we now recognize that God has given us to them, and has put us into their lives for his purposes.

If my relatives share my faith in Christ, I must accept the fact that I will never be the most important person to those family members. Jesus is and must always be first - first, before them, as far as I and my faith are concerned; and first, before me, as far as they and their faith are concerned.

We love the people God has given us to love, in the way in which he has called us to love them, because this is how we live out our love for God.

The Fourth Commandment, which requires a love for parents - together with all the other commandments of the second table of the law, that show us how to love our neighbors as ourselves - are not in competition with the First Commandment. They are applications and fulfillments of the First Commandment, which holds the ultimate authority over heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Our love for God is and must always be our first and greatest love, so that if the people and things that he has given to us in this world are taken from us, our response would be the response of Job, when he was informed that all of his property had been stolen or destroyed, and that all of his children had been killed:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

We are also told that “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”

If our circumstances in life do not require us to renounce our relatives, but instead allow us to continue to love and serve them, even if that might be with much difficulty, we do nevertheless renounce the notion that our relatives would in principle have the right to demand of us a higher loyalty than God demands, or to claim from us a higher love than God claims.

Indeed, in our baptism - in which Christ embraces us, and in which we embrace him for eternal salvation - we thereby renounce any and all absolute demands or claims that anyone or anything, in this world or in the next, would impose upon our conscience, except for the singularly legitimate demand and claim that Jesus makes, and that Jesus alone has the right to make.

Paul writes to the Corinthians - and to each one of us: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” And Jesus says to the crowds in today’s text - and to each one of us: “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

To be a follower of Christ is not to have negotiated a compromise with him, or to have sealed a deal with him. To be a follower of Christ is to have submitted and surrendered to him, unconditionally and on his terms.

Every day - as we face up to our lack of fortitude in this commitment, and admit our halfheartedness in the renunciation of all competitors - we die to self in daily repentance; and are raised up daily in God’s forgiveness and renewal through Christ. The prayer of Psalm 86 becomes our daily prayer:

“You are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”

On another occasion, as reported in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus was talking about the cost of discipleship with reference to other things of this world, and the hold that those things have on us. The final point he makes in that dialogue applies also to today’s discussion.

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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.’”

“When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’”

When we, with the courage and faith that God gives us, do renounce the temporary things of this world, and become willing to live without them if we have to, we receive from the hand of God eternal things that will be enjoyed forever.

When we, with the new nature and the new desires that God’s Spirit creates within us, exchange our earthly loves for a higher divine love, we are not impoverished, but are enriched. We do not lose our identity, but we find our true identity, and in Christ become everything we were meant to be according to God’s plan and design.

I don’t think that any words I could compose to describe this, would be an improvement on what St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans, concerning what it means - in time and in eternity - to be a disciple of Christ: a disciple who has taken up his cross and followed Christ; a disciple who has counted the cost, and has sacrificed everything, in order to obtain more than everything.

“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee;
Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my All shalt be.
Perish every fond ambition, All I’ve sought or hoped or known;
Yet how rich is my condition! God and heaven are still my own.


15 September 2019 - Pentecost 19 - Luke 15:1-10

In today’s text from St. Luke, Jesus tells a parable to the self-righteous and judgmental Pharisees and scribes who had been muttering among themselves over the fact that Jesus was willing to spend time with notorious sinners.

He asks, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”

Jesus paints a verbal picture of a shepherd, who owns a flock of 100 sheep. Sheep are of value to a shepherd.

Therefore, when one wanders off, or is frightened away by a storm or an attack of predators, a shepherd would be willing to expend a lot of time and effort in looking for it. He won’t give up until he finds it.

Now, if a shepherd - or anyone else - were to lose something of little value, he would not use up a lot of time in a search. I can’t tell you how many pens I’ve lost over the years. But when I lose one, I don’t spend a lot of time or energy looking for it. I just get another one.

The way that Jesus thinks about you, as a redeemed and baptized member of his church, is the way a responsible shepherd thinks about his sheep. Jesus does not think about you in the way that an absent-minded person thinks about his pens.

You are of great value to God. Your spiritual safety, under his protection, is important to him. And when you wander off from the flock, or are drawn away from the fellowship of the church by some deceptive allurement, it is of great concern to him.

If you become lost because of sin, and are separated from the shepherd and the other sheep because you have become ensnared in some transgression, Jesus does not just write you off and go on without you - thinking that he can easily replace you with a new convert.

He notices that you’re gone, and he searches for you. He searches for you, in order to call you to repentance, and then to forgive you, to cleanse you, and to restore you: to restore and renew your faith and spiritual life, within your mind and heart; and to restore you to the loving and safe embrace of the fellowship of his church.

If you are going through a time of struggle in your faith, and if that is what has caused you to withdraw from Christ and his people, with the feeling that your shepherd has perhaps forgotten about you and abandoned you, you need to know that such a feeling is a deception. That is not what is really going on.

As confused and scared as you may become, because of a crisis of faith or an onslaught of doubt, you can still know as a matter of objective certainty - even if, for a time, you don’t feel it to be so - that Jesus has not forgotten about you, and has not abandoned you.

Your Savior - your true shepherd - is coming for you, to find you and restore you, no matter what dark place you may have wandered into in your mind.

You are not like a pen, easy to replace and of no significant value. You are a sheep. You are one of his sheep.

The context of the story Jesus told about a shepherd looking for his lost sheep, was the context of Jesus’ spending time with tax collectors and sinners, and even eating with them.

He associated with these people in this way, and, as it were, “rubbed up” against them: not to condone their sin, or to join them in it; but, in a mystical sense, to take their sin upon himself - that is, to let it “rub off” onto him by imputation - so that he could carry that sin to the cross, and atone for it at the cross.

Jesus spent time with these outcasts, so that he could teach them about repentance and faith; so that he could forgive their sins; and so that he could create in them a clean heart, for a new beginning with God.

Many people, even if they don’t seem to be very outwardly religious, are nevertheless thinking about eternal questions; and are wondering if there is a God - and if so, what he is like, and what he expects of them.

Some of the overt “sinners” with whom Jesus was associating in today’s text may have been wondering about such things. Such inner questions may have contributed to their initial curiosity regarding Jesus, this interesting young rabbi with a new-sounding message; and may have helped to stimulate their initial interest in hearing what Jesus had to say.

They may have perceived themselves to have been searching for a better life. They may have been troubled in their consciences by how they were living, and were looking for a way to change - yet not quite imagining how they could change.

And, when Jesus made his appearance, they may have wondered if they had found, in him, someone who might help them. You never know what is going on in the troubled and confused consciences of other people.

No one else knows what is going on in your conscience, as you may be looking for a way to overcome a besetting temptation, a inconsolable grief, or an unspoken doubt. You may have the feeling that you are looking for God, or for a solution from God, as you feel lost, and alone, in ways that you don’t share with anyone else.

That’s what may seem to be happening, as you try to sort out your own private thoughts and personal feelings. That’s what may have seemed to be happing inside the people who sat down at the table with Jesus, as they were thinking about what the words of this man could mean for them.

But what was really happening, was that in Christ, God was searching for them, coming to them, and finding them. And God is searching for you, and in the gospel of his Son, he is coming to you.

There are places in Scripture where we are invited to come to Christ. This is true. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says.

But before you can come to him - in faith, and not just in superstition - he must first come to you. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul reminds you that, in your original fallen human condition, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked,” and that we were all “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

“Dead men tell no tales,” they say. And dead men do not come to God.

But Paul then also reminds you and me, that “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

I’ve been acquainted with lots of people over the years, who were on what they might have described as a “spiritual quest.” They were looking for something to believe in, that would bring meaning and purpose to their lives.

At a certain point, many of these people found their way into a Christian church, and, as they might say, discovered there what they had been looking for.

There used to be a popular bumper sticker that a lot of evangelical Christians would put on their cars, which said, “I found it!” And maybe it seemed to the people who ornamented their cars in this way that they had “found” Jesus, and salvation in Jesus.

But if their religious pilgrimage, such as it was, had actually been resolved by a saving faith in Christ, at the deepest level they had not really found him. He had found them. And, he has found you.

As Christ’s Word and sacrament have come to you, to reawaken and renew your faith, Christ himself has thereby come to you - just as he came to the tax collectors and sinners with whom he interacted during his earthly ministry: people who previously had been separated from God and even hostile to God, and in their captivity to sin had been cut off from the knowledge of God’s grace.

Jesus came to them, and found them. And he comes to you, and finds you.

In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul invites you to remember that you were once “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

And so you can sing:

I am Jesus’ little lamb, Ever glad at heart I am;
For my Shepherd gently guides me,
Knows my need, and well provides me,
Loves me, every day, the same; Even calls me by my name.

And listen now to more of the parable that Jesus tells in today’s text: “And when [the shepherd] has found [the sheep], he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”

When Jesus finds the lost sheep, he doesn’t just beckon it to come - under its own power - to where he is standing; and then beckon it to follow him back to the rest of the flock, running along at his side in its own strength. He picks up the lost sheep, and bears the lost sheep on his own shoulders.

When a sheep wanders away from the flock, it does so under its own power. So, too, are you responsible for the bad decisions you make in your life, that involve your stepping away from the Lord’s Word and will, and from the Lord’s flock.

It’s nobody’s fault but your own, when you stop believing what Jesus tells you, and when you get yourself in trouble because you have ceased to follow his voice.

But when Jesus then seeks you out and finds you, so that you can once again be brought back to where you belong, he picks you up and carries you there.

Jesus does not merely coax you back to the flock, or lure you, or bait you. By the working of his divine grace, in his Word and absolution, he reaches down to you, lifts you, changes you on the inside, and carries you back into the fellowship of his church. We can thereby join with the Psalmist in Psalm 68, and say:

“Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation, and to God the Lord belong deliverances from death.”

And what the Book of Deuteronomy says regarding the Lord’s gracious care and protection of Israel in Egypt and in the desert of Sinai, can be said also regarding the Lord’s gracious care and protection of the New Israel - the Holy Christian Church - in the midst of the slavery of sin and the desert of death that surround and threaten the church in this world:

“The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes; and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went...”

Your renewed faith is not something that you make to happen, or that you create within yourself. Your faith is his gift to you. We read again in the Epistle to the Ephesians that “by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Today’s parable from the Lord then concludes:

“And when [the shepherd] comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

It’s a happy day when a lost and wandering sheep is delivered from danger, and when it is carried back to the fold and restored to its proper place. The hosts of heaven rejoice with the Triune God, when they see that the devil has not prevailed in his deceptions; and that a troubled soul has found its peace in Christ, and has come home to the family of Christ.

Notice the phrase, “I have found my sheep that was lost.” Even when you’ve wandered off into spiritual danger, Jesus has not given up his claim on you. He still says, “my sheep.”

The devil may tell you that you are a hopeless case, and that God has given up on you. But he has not.

Through your baptism he pursues you. And when your heart has been turned, he invites you to join in the heavenly celebration that is bursting out, over your return to the fold.

We read in the Prophet Jeremiah, and join in the prayer of Ephraim:

“There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country. I have heard Ephraim grieving, ‘You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the Lord my God.”

The Lord’s Supper will be celebrated in our midst in a few minutes. In this sacrament the heavenly rejoicing of which Jesus speaks miraculously “breaks into” our earthly experience, and into our earthly rejoicing, here and now.

This supper is not a dreary, mournful ritual. By the power of his Word, the living Shepherd of his flock - in his victory over death and the grave - is present among us with his body and blood.

He brings to us, from heaven, the joy of forgiveness, and the gladness of reconciliation: as he comes to us, to find us again, and to take us to himself again.

The Lord’s Supper is not a “reward” for the spiritual achievements of exemplary communicants, who have always stayed at home and remained in the flock. The Lord’s Supper is not a “coronation” of the perfectly pious who have never faltered or failed, or wandered from their Shepherd.

It is, instead, a meal of sustenance for penitent sinners, who have been carried home by their Lord on his shoulders. It is a meal of refreshment for famished sheep, who have been rescued by the Shepherd, and who now know that they are always in need of the nourishment and protection that only Christ can give.

And it is a meal of hope and rejoicing. Jesus is willing to “receive sinners and eat with them”; to share this sacred meal with us; and to give himself to us in this sacred meal: not because he condones or ignores our sin, but because he removes the judgment of our sin with his pardon, and covers over the stain of our sin with his justification.

And just as we laud and magnify the glorious name of God with angels and archangels, in conjunction with this Supper; so too do the angels and archangels rejoice in our repentance, and in our reconciliation with Christ, in conjunction with this Supper.

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”

“And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Amen.

22 September 2019 - Pentecost 15 - 1 Timothy 2:1-15

According to the philosophy of Postmodernism, there is no universal truth that everyone can be expected to agree to and embrace: about the meaning of life, about the fundamental purpose of human existence, or about why things are the way they are in this world and universe.

The platitudes that arise from this philosophy are often heard from the lips of Hollywood geniuses, and are often read on bumper stickers and social media memes:

“Truth is relative.” “What’s true for you is not what’s true for me.” “Everyone needs to find his or her own truth.”

It’s easy for us to repeat these slogans, if we want to avoid an argument or a uncomfortable disagreement. But in reality, saying this sort of thing to someone, is just another way of saying to that person, “I don’t care what you believe.”

And saying “I don’t care what you believe,” is just another way of saying “I don’t care about you.”

Postmodernism is a reaction to Modernism, which reigned in the intellectual circles of western civilization, approximately from the time of the French Revolution in 1789, to the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Modernists believed that there is a universal truth, which explains everything, and which everyone should accept.

Of course, different modernists had different ideas of what this all-encompassing truth actually is. The most assertive and strident version of Modernism was Marxist, atheist, materialist Communism.

Communism was, supposedly, the ultimate explanation of everything. Those who embraced Communist ideas, back in the 20th century, were supremely confident that these ideas would eventually be embraced by all people in the world, and that the whole world would eventually become communist.

Postmodernism rejects this kind of confidence as arrogant and hypocritical, and sees such claims to truth simply as a cloak for a desire to gain power over others.

And Postmodernism also ostensibly rejects the coercion that is implicit in Modernism, when Modernists who think they have a universal truth, feel it to be their duty to force that truth on those who do not yet have it - for their own good, of course.

But Postmodernism so easily slips into a coercion of its own, when it seeks to enforce its ideology of “tolerance” on those who are perceived to be intolerant.

In a fanatically “tolerant” Postmodern world, don’t expect your beliefs to be tolerated, if those beliefs are perceived to be “intolerant” by the power brokers of Postmodern tolerance!

The Christian faith actually has a lot in common with Modernism. We believe that there is one truth, which is intended for all people.

But Christians also respect that aspect of theoretical Postmodernism which would reject any and all coercive methods of spreading this universal truth to all people.

We do not think that Christian beliefs can be forced on anyone, or that a true inner conviction that the claims of Christ are true, can ever be brought about through external compulsion.

Today’s text from St. Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy teaches us that it is indeed the will of God that the truth of Christ be believed by all people. But today’s text also teaches us that God alone can bring his truth into the minds and hearts of the people for whom that truth is intended.

We therefore pray to him for the conversion of the world, and for the conversion of each individual in it. We pray to our Father in heaven that his kingdom would come, and that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. St. Paul writes:

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

The church may not operate any totalitarian “reeducation camps” as it fulfills its calling in this world. The church may not use any psychological “brainwashing” methods as it carries out its unique divine commission.

The way that God supernaturally draws people into his universal truth is very up-front and honest. He arranges for his universal truth to be proclaimed to people: out loud; out in the open.

St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans that

“The same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”

“As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ ... So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

When you are sharing the message of Christ with an unbelieving friend, that friend may very well say, in anger or annoyance, “Are you trying to convert me?” You can respond, in all honesty, that you are not.

You are simply testifying to those things that God had impressed upon your heart and mind as true and real. Only God can convert someone - just as it was only God who converted you.

St. Paul writes in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians:

“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”

Indeed, God impresses his truth on human hearts and minds - his universal, all-encompassing truth - through means. St. Paul speaks of this when he writes in today’s text: “For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle..., a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”

That divine message that you share with your unbelieving friend, is not a tool or mechanism through which you are asserting your will over against his will - to overpower him with the force of your will. You are not a Communist, or any other kind of Modernist.

Rather, that message - that Christ-centered and Christ-filled message - is the tool or mechanism through which God is working.

Our speaking of the gospel can therefore be a very gentle and unassuming kind of speaking. In fact, it probably should be gentle and unassuming, most of the time.

The power of what we say is not in the method and manner of our speaking. This power is in the content of what is said - when what is said is what God has said.

Sadly, though, what God offers to all, is not received by all. Those who do place their faith in the testimony of God, however, are transformed by that faith, and by the Holy Spirit who works that faith.

Today’s text explains why the Christian message is uniquely true, in a world of competing messages - all of which do claim likewise to be true. St. Paul says:

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”

“There is one God.” This is the first and most basic point of the Christian message. If there were more than one god, it would be reasonable to expect that each of these gods would determine, and reveal, the pathway that his particular devotees need to follow as they worship and serve him.

This is exactly what we see in Hinduism. The followers of Krishna - believed to be an avatar of the Hindu supreme being Vishnu - have their own happy and peaceful way of serving him, which they believe is Krishna’s way.

And if you have ever seen the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” you know that the followers of Kali - the Hindu goddess of destruction - likewise have their own dark way of serving their favored deity, which they believe is Kali’s way.

But what if there is actually only one God? Wouldn’t that God get to determine how he is worshiped and served? Wouldn’t that God have the right to teach all humanity how to know him, and how to follow him?

The idea that there are many pathways to God would make sense in Hinduism, where the term “God” is a “fill-in-the-blank” concept. But it doesn’t make any sense at all in a context where the one and only true God is being talked about.

And we are indeed talking about the one God who created all people. We are talking about the one God, whose only-begotten Son became a man, to redeem all people by the shedding of his blood.

We are talking about the one God, whose Spirit is working even now, through the gospel, to call all people to a saving faith.

And there is indeed “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” This naturally follows from the recognition that there is only one God.

If there were some people for whom Jesus did not die, and if there were some people whom Jesus does not love even now - with a saving and redeeming love - then there might conceivably be another way to God the Father, apart from Jesus.

But there actually is no other way, because there is no need for another way. The way of Christ is open to all.

And the way of Christ is the only way that would work anyway. That’s because of human sin, which erects a barrier and a wall between us and God that cannot be breached, or broken down, from our side of the wall.

Only God can break through that wall, from his side of it, to create an opening through which we may pass, to have fellowship with him. The sinless righteousness of the man Christ Jesus, the innocent death of the man Christ Jesus, and the glorious resurrection of the man Christ Jesus, is that opening.

As the Son of God in human flesh - God and man in one person - the Lord Jesus is the mediator between God and men. No one else could be such a mediator. Because no one else has ever risen from the dead.

Muhammad did not rise from the dead. Joseph Smith did not rise from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead.

And he did not rise simply to teach us the Way. He rose in order to be - for us an for all people - the Way, the Truth, and the Life, through whom alone fallen humanity comes to the Father.

Jesus was seen alive - in real history, by real historical people - on the third day after his death, and for 40 days thereafter. In particular, he was seen alive by twelve men who were willing to die for the sake of proclaiming to all nations what they had seen.

In the Old Testament, it is taught that something is to be accepted as legally and judicially true on the basis of the reliable testimony of two or three witnesses. For the resurrection of Jesus, that requirement is quadrupled, so that there will be no doubt.

In the Book of Acts, St. Peter speaks for all the apostles when he declares:

“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.”

“They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

“And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Jesus’ resurrection proves that he was who he said he was. And what he had said, is that he was and is the Son of the only God who really exists. Jesus’ resurrection proves that what he did for the salvation of all people really does count, and really is offered to all people.

The one God who exists has put the forgiveness won by his Son into the gospel, which in word and sacrament - according to the Lord’s great commission - is now being disseminated to the whole world. The gospel is being disseminated to all nations in the world.

The gospel has been disseminated to you: for you to believe, for your reconciliation with the God who made you; for you to believe, for your eternal salvation from sin and death; and for you to believe, for your eternal fellowship with God and all his saints.

Because God our Savior “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” you can know that he desires you to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth: not just my truth, or your truth, but his truth. The truth.

This truth - this universal truth - does not coerce. It transforms, from the inside. This truth - this truth that is for all to believe - does not oppress. It liberates.

This truth does not push people away. It draws people near: near to the mercy of God; near to the love of God; near to God.

And the truth of God - the one God - is intended for all people, and invites the attention and the faith of all people. Every time you tell a friend - any friend - that Jesus died for him, and wants him to be saved from his sins, what you are saying is true.

Every time you share with your neighbor - any neighbor - the reasons why you go to church, you are thereby sharing with her the reasons why she, too, may and should go to church: to receive what God offers, and then to abide in what has been received.

We close with this prayer to the Lord, from Psalm 119, and from today’s Introit:

“Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it. Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true. Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding, that I may live.” Amen.

29 September 2019 - St. Michael and All Angels - Daniel 12:1-3

The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan describe themselves as “the invisible empire.” What they mean by this, is that they carry out their activities behind the scenes, in hidden ways, and in disguise.

As Christians, we do not believe in this “hidden empire,” and we do not agree with its purposes. But there is a true and genuine “hidden empire” in which we do believe. This is the “hidden empire” of the angels of God.

Since the so-called “Enlightenment,” it has become increasing popular for people to believe that invisible things are not real things. If something cannot be experienced on the basis of our physical senses, then it doesn’t exist.

The general cultural influence of this kind of thinking may help to explain why St. Michael’s Day has become an almost unnoticed festival in the church year, for most Lutheran churches. I myself never really gave much thought to the importance of it until recent years.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, St. Michael’s Day was a major annual event in the religious life of a Lutheran congregation. There are two reasons for this.

First, the Lutherans of that era were quite convinced that the devil is real. And they were vividly aware of the fact that the demons who are in league with the devil are real.

Even though these evil beings usually operated in a realm that was beyond the perception of humanity’s physical senses, our fathers in the faith could see many of the effects of Satan’s efforts to destroy and undermine the church, and to silence the gospel - so that he could steal away from Christ as many souls as possible.

This is why references to the devil appear so prominently in the hymns of that era:

The old evil Foe Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight;
On Earth is not his equal.

Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill, They shall not overpower us.

O little flock, fear not the Foe
Who madly seeks your overthrow; Dread not his rage and power.

As true as God’s own Word is true,
Not earth nor hell with all their crew Against us shall prevail.

A sober awareness of the malevolent machinations of these dark and evil beings did not fill the Christians of the past with fear or despair, however, because they knew that God sends St. Michael the archangel, and all his other holy angels, to protect his church, and to defend and protect his children from demonic attacks.

Luther’s much beloved evening and morning prayers reflect the confidence that God’s people are able to have with respect to these things, when they each conclude with these words: “Let Your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me.”

And the second reason why St. Michael’s Day was such a prominent observance in the church of that time, was as a corrective to many of the superstitions and misunderstandings that had prevailed up until then: regarding the saints in heaven; and regarding the notion that these deceased Christians now serve as special guardians and patrons for various people and places on earth.

The Scriptures tell us that those Christians who have departed in the Lord now rest from their labors. But the Scriptures also tell us that the angels of God do serve as special guardians and protectors of the Lord’s people, collectively and individually.

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, in regard to little children who believe in him: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

And in today’s Old Testament lesson from the Book of Daniel, we are told that Michael in particular has charge of the people of God as a whole. Michael was the special protector of the nation of Israel, even when it was in exile in Babylon. And he is now the special protector of the new Israel - the one holy catholic and apostolic church, as drawn from all nations.

And God’s angels are not only our companions in life. They are also our companions in death. In his story of Lazarus and the rich man, as recorded in St. Luke, Jesus says that when poor Lazarus died, he “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side,” in Paradise.

Even if we someday may die alone, as far as human companionship is concerned - without friends or relatives there with us at our bedside - we will not actually die alone. Jesus, of course, will be with us. But his angels will also be with us, and will escort us to our heavenly home.

As we speak of such guardian angels, and the role they play for the people of God on earth, let’s not forget Jesus, and the role the angels played in his life on earth.

During our Lord’s time in this world, when he had assumed “the form of a servant,” he too - according to his humanity - was protected and helped by angels. Angels guarded and encouraged him on various occasions when something pivotal and necessary for our salvation was taking place.

The angel Gabriel announced to Mary the miraculous conception of the one who was God’s Son and her son; and his entrance into the human race. An angel announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds.

An angel warned Joseph to take Jesus to a place of safety, when King Herod was seeking to kill him. Angels ministered to Jesus when he had fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, and when he had successfully resisted the devil’s temptations.

And an angel strengthened Jesus when he was undergoing his great agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, in preparation for the much greater agony that was to come. Let’s pause for a minute, and consider the larger significance of this.

The physical suffering that Jesus knew he would face - in being nailed to a cross - would have been bad enough. But he knew that according to the Father’s will - which must be fulfilled - he would also experience, in sinful humanity’s place, the pain of hell itself.

As he prayed in Gethsemane, he knew that, on the cross, he was going to feel the spiritual suffering of being forsaken by God. But he also knew that he needed to endure this, in order to redeem us from ever having to undergo such a damnation ourselves, on account of our damnable sins.

It was not possible that this cup could pass from him. As the substitute and Savior of us all, he must drink into himself the cup of divine wrath, to the very bottom.

But before all this happened, in that lonely hour in Gethsemane, Jesus - according to his humbled humanity - needed the encouragement and companionship of an angel. Through the loving provision of his Father in heaven, he was granted that encouragement and companionship. Luke’s account tells us that an angel came, and strengthened him.

And who could ever forget that the resurrection of Jesus was announced by an angel, to the women who visited the tomb. “He is not here,” the angel said. “He is risen!”

All that was necessary for our salvation from the guilt and power of sin, had been accomplished. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus had been accepted.

The living Christ would now build a living church by his Word and Sacraments - a church of redeemed and forgiven saints that will endure for eternity - beginning in Jerusalem, and extending to the ends of the earth. It was an angel who first announced this.

The ongoing announcement and proclamation of this message - and the invitation to all men to repent of their sins, and to believe in this message for the forgiveness of sins - is, however, generally no longer carried out by angels. This task has now been entrusted to the church, and especially to the preachers and ministers of the church.

But as we bring the gospel to our fellow men - and as we, through the gospel, bring our fellow men to Christ, and to his righteousness - we do so under the protection of angels.

The demons do not want this message of salvation and victory in Christ to get out. This message of victory for fallen humanity - won for us by our Substitute and Savior - is a message of defeat for them.

So, with diabolical cleverness, in many and various ways, the demons work to silence that message. But the angels of God do not let them silence it.

The angels stand between us and them, keeping them at bay, so that the mission and message of God can go forward to all nations, and to all individuals in all nations.

Based on what the Bible does tell us, it is easy to imagine than when a baptism is performed, there may very well be a host of unseen angels with interlocked arms, circling the font - and the baby at the font - keeping Satan out and away.

It is easy to imagine ranks of unseen angels bowing down and kneeling with great reverence, when their Lord Christ - in the Sacrament of the Altar - comes to us, in his body and blood. This is a unique gift and blessing for the human brethren of Jesus, which the angels only witness, and do not receive themselves. But with great awe they do witness it.

As we ponder this mystery, we are reminded of the words of St. Peter in his First Epistle:

“It was revealed to [the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours] that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven - things into which angels long to look.”

Today’s text from Daniel doesn’t only tell us that Michael protects the people of God. It also describes the goal and purpose of that protection - a goal and purpose that will be fully manifest at the end of this world, on the day of the general resurrection. We read:

“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered - everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.”

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

For those who do now belong to the Lord’s church - and who in this life patiently await the life of the world to come - our struggle against all evil and unbelief is not a human struggle. It is a supernatural struggle.

And the source of our strength in this struggle, is a supernatural source - the living and powerful Word of God: which has taken hold of our conscience, and in which we have placed our trust.

St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Ephesians that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.”

In this wrestling of faith, the angels of the Lord are our allies. They are our comrades in this battle. Indeed, when we are feeble and weak in this struggle, they are still strong.

They are strong, in the might of the Lord whom they serve. They are strong for us, whom they also serve in the Lord’s name, and at his command.

Angels, however, do not force and compel us to serve God, and to believe in God. There are times when the world, the flesh, and the devil, lure us away from God, and from the protection of God’s angels, so that we make very bad and very dangerous decisions.

St. James therefore gives us this necessary admonition:

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. ... Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

And St. Peter, in his First Epistle, accordingly gives us this necessary warning and encouragement:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith... And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

As all of this is going on - as we in repentance die daily to sin; and as we rise daily in the power and life of Christ’s resurrection - the angels of God take an active interest in what is happening, and actively assist us. The Epistle to the Hebrews teaches us that the Lord’s angels are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.”

To be sure, we do not believe in angels for our salvation; and angels do not forgive our sins. But in a sense they do help us to believe in Christ, by pushing back the forces of evil that would seek to rob us of our faith by their deceptions.

And in a sense they do help us to receive the forgiveness of sins from Christ, by making it possible for the church to have a place where - unhindered by the devil - our pastors may administer the means of grace to us in Christ’s name.

These angels, with all that they do for us in hidden yet very real ways, truly are an “invisible empire.” Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. As our divine-human Master and “Emperor” - the Son of God and the son of David - he reigns over the universe.

Behind the scenes - at least as far as what we can see, hear, and touch is concerned - St. Michael and all the angels serve this king, fight for him, and do his will.

And because we are citizens of this king’s holy nation, and are members of his holy priesthood, St. Michael and all the angels - as God directs them - likewise serve us, and fight for us, as they fulfill God’s gracious, saving will for us.

Everlasting God, You have ordained and constituted the service of angels and men in a wonderful order. Mercifully grant that, as Your holy angels always serve and worship You in heaven, so by Your appointment they may also help and defend us here on earth; through Your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.