Acts 2:1-11 Pentecost—C


Spirit-Filled People

Acts 2:1-11

If suddenly this morning the weather were to change, dark clouds filled the sky, thunder lightning, hailstones, and storm appeared, our reaction would probably be “What’s going on? The weatherman said we were gong to have a perfect day today.” We might be taken aback more if at the same time a large ball of fire appeared in the chancel, broke apart into small tongues of fire, and each landed on someone’s head.

Luke’s description makes it clear that something tremendous happened in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost. There are some dimensions that are not ordinary, ever day occurrences. They are strange, different, unusual.

Our trouble, however, is that we today view this story as a kind of quaint museum piece—an exhibit of things that happened long ago. Certainly strange and unusual, but somehow we fail to see the connection between that event and our lives today.

Yet the early Christians were very much in tune with these events and understood their meaning. God had used these means and methods before. Throughout the Scriptures a storm or great wind is a sign of the presence of God. One of the signs of God’s presence on Mount Sinai was the thunder and lightning in the storm. The same is true of fire. We all recall the pillar of fire that went with Israel from one place to another. When these phenomena occurred in the Scriptures, instead of thinking of weathermen or fire extinguishers, the early Christians immediately thought of God. These were two signs by which God was assuring them of His presence.

As Luke records it: These early Christians were all together in one place says our text. They were gathered for worship and God appeared; He made His presence known. This first Pentecost was an experience of elemental force. Like a cloudburst that overwhelms a parched land, so the Spirit of God came to the first disciples. So while it was a wondrous experience for these early Christians, it may not have been as foreign and strange as it is to us today. Then we here “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Christian church was born.

God’s Presence Today

When we remember this, we can say that this morning, Pentecost 2013, here at Faith Lutheran, and every Sunday morning, is a similar experience for God’s people. But He doesn’t use fire and wind; He has other sign of His presence here, other means that He uses to assure us that He is here. He says, for example, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” He declares that He is present in the Word spoken in our worship. He is here in our worship service as He speaks to you in Scripture readings, the sermon, and the Absolution, He is here in and with the bread and wine to give us the body and blood of Christ, personally and individually.

It is the same kind of day. Although it is likely you will not see tongues of fire or hear the wind, He is here. Not in some sort of spooky sense, but God Himself is present because He has promised to be. Therefore when the church gathers, it is more than just a social group getting together. It’s more than just putting in an hour for some good cause, or even some good work. It is God Himself gathering you together, so that He can work on you and accomplish His good purpose in your lives. That’s what Pentecost is all about—the power of God’s Spirit at work in the lives of Spirit-filled people, building the Church of God here on Earth.

God’s Presence In Faith’s History

25 years ago a group of Spirit-filled people came together in a fledgling congregation and began to dig a basement out of a hillside on Bieker Road. Some of you are sitting here this morning; others were your fathers, your husbands, and your brothers in Christ. The foundational work they did, and all the subsequent planning and labor, stands as a demonstration of the power of God’s people on Earth. But it is not, and was not, the structure that caused the church to be and to grow. It was the power of the Holy Spirit working through believers. Before there was a building there was a Church. Before there was a building there was right teaching and preaching of God’s Word; there were the sacraments and the forgiveness of sins.

There was all that was necessary to be Faith Lutheran, a Church of the true God. But the Holy Spirit gave the congregation abundant gifts. He gave Faith Lutheran the skill and resources to build a structure dedicated to the glory of God. But like that first Pentecost, the birth, establishment and growth of Faith Lutheran, is not only a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit working through believers, but it is a promise of even greater things in a world to come.

So this morning, on this “anniversary of the Church” while we take a deserved “time out” to reminisce about the times past, we must maintain the true course and goal of the true Church of God, we must take with glad hearts the command of our Lord to go out into the world and bring all nations to the foot of the cross. There to hear and see what God has done for all men. There to feel the healing power of God’s grace on a soul infected with sin.

Just outside the tiny town of Exira, Iowa, is a famous landmark. There is a legend that young farmer was out plowing his field when a group of Union soldiers passed by. Overwhelmed by patriotism, the young man leaned his plow against a young oak tree and left to join the Civil War—and never returned. Today, passersby stop at Plow-in-the-Oak Park to picnic by the once-young tree that grew and swallowed up the farmer’s once useful plow.

Goals are like that. If we set them aside for a time, we’re apt to find them swallowed up in the changing scene and rapidly growing world. Good goals should never be put aside, but pursued until, with the grace of God, they are achieved. We must continue to be about the building of the Church of God here on Earth and here in Washington, Missouri.

God’s Presence In Spirit-Filled People

That Pentecost recorded by Luke was a one-time event. But the world today still needs Spirit-filled people, swift as the wind, to take the word of God to people in languages that they can understand.  The world today still needs Spirit-filled people, strong as the wind, to run up and down the streets and lanes of Washington, Missouri proclaiming the Good News to a world incredibly depressed and grim, lonely and gloomy—the Good News of a Savior crucified and risen again. The Good News of a Savior who cares.

Brothers and sisters, members of Faith Lutheran Church, I contend that you have been and are still God’s Spirit-filled people.

Spirit-Filled People Care And Show It In Their Lives. They control their fears and overcome their flaws. They keep their sharp tongues and flaming tempers in check, They say with the apostle Paul: In the midst of life’s hardships and cruelties, we have found more than victory through Him who loved us. They triumph even over the final enemy, which is Death. They see their resurrected Lord come out of that dismal garden at the crack of the first Easter dawn, and they know the power of the Spirit He promised. They have no reason to go around any longer hanging sad and sorrowful. Instead, they go forth laughing and leaping, shouting and singing.

Spirit-Filled People Are Changed. Change is not all bad. If nobody could be changed were would we be? People are often rigidly inflexible, stubbornly bullheaded, and arrogantly right about everything. In almost every case, people like that are dead wrong. Spirit-filled people have to be ready for change, prepared to accept change—even change in themselves.

Spirit-Filled People See God At Work. Jesus Christ himself said that the Spirit is like the wind. you can see the results, even though you can’t see the wind. The Spirit is like the wind. It blows were it chooses He said. That’s the way the Spirit is. None of us can tell the Spirit what to do. We have to accept Him and His work. We have to recognize His power. We have to admit the changes He produces in ourselves and in others.

Spirit-Filled People Are “On The Go.” They are not the most consistent people in the world. The only thing consistent about them is that the Spirit moves them. Otherwise, you can never predict exactly what they are going to do. They will love when others are hateful. They will forgive when others are intent on getting even. They are ready to move when others are standing still. They are where the action is, not looking for the safe comfortable seats.

Spirit-Filled People Are Fiery. When God’s Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost, split tongues of fire sat on their heads. What happened? They were aglow with the Spirit and ablaze with God. They were fervent and fired up, “enthusiastic” in the first meaning of that word—filled with God. Spirit-filled people today are energetic and passionately committed to Jesus Christ. They spend their lives doing things for other people in the name of Jesus.

You might think that in a world of hate, strife, violence and war, who needs fiery and aggressive people who are angry and hot-tempered, making life a constant battle? Certainly, nobody needs them. But the world does need Spirit-filled people on fire for God, given to love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, patience and self-control. Those are gifts of the Spirit. The lives of Spirit-filled people embody them.

The world needs people on fire with faith graciously given them as a gift from God—on fire with love, on fire with the power of the Spirit, The world needs people who have left behind those former days of apathy and lukewarm commitment. It needs people who are revved up for Christ, turned on for God, fiery and fervent followers of Christ: dreaming impossible dreams, bearing impossible loads, fighting unbeatable foes, and “marching into hell itself,” with a heavenly cause.

The fire of the Spirit crackles with life. That’s the way it is with Spirit-filled people. They are alive. They are energetic. They are active. They are vibrant. They are on the move and on the go for God. They are not out to hurt people, but to help them. They know the task is monumental and the time is short. The Spirit moves them to be God’s people with confidence and a zest to touch the lives of others with the Good News.

Spirit-Filled People Are Alive. They don’t go around with long faces and set lips. They are not always shaking their heads and saying “no.” Their greatest word is “yes.”

Spirit-Filled People Have A New Language. There are fewer foul, filthy, sharp, profane, vicious, wounding words. Spirit-filled people are empowered and moved to speak words that heal and gladden and soothe and reconcile; building people up instead of tearing them down. People are attracted to them because they have compassion and love.

The Spirit of the Lord fills the world. He is here and He is busy. He is doing exactly what Christ said He would do.  When the counselor comes…the Spirit of Truth, …He will bear witness to me. That’s what the Spirit is doing: Telling people the Good News of God as you have it in Jesus Christ.

Like most Christians, we sit like rocket ships on the launching pad, ready for orbit but never used. We are like Christmas trees never sold, or beautiful paintings never hung; or a CD unplayed. We spend a lifetime seemingly studying God’s Word, listening to His commands, and fellowshipping in His Church; but seldom do we do what God has called each and every one of us to—to take His Word to all people, to witness to the atoning work of Christ Jesus. But Spirit-filled people are different. They hear God speaking and they respond.

God’s Presence In Us As Spirit-Filled People

There is forgiveness from God for you. Jesus Christ died for you. That’s the Spirit talking to you today. If it were not for the Spirit of God, the message would have long since died. There is new life from God for you in Jesus Christ.  It comes by faith, and it acts by love. That mission would long since have died if the Spirit of God were not active. The message and the mission are yours to take with you each day, and, as true believers, the Spirit of God seeks to talk through you, to further the message and mission thorough you, each day.

There have always been people like those at the first Pentecost who have asked, “what does this mean?” It is a good question. This means exactly what the rest of the book of Acts tells us: repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ happen all the time through the power of God’s Spirit. The wind is blowing and the fire is burning. Jesus has gone to the place of His lordship, and His Spirit has taken His place here on Earth. It is just as Jesus said, If I do not go away the Spirit cannot come.

Jesus went to His cross, to His grave, and then to His glory—to His Father. Returning to Heaven and picked up the mantel of power and authority which was His before time, and which He had set aside to humble himself to become man.  By going to Calvary, by lying in that garden grave, and then triumphantly rising from the dead, and by returning to His seat of power in Heaven, God’s Spirit comes, richly and fully, to enliven the lives of ordinary people, people like you and like me, and to bring us to Jesus. As people redeemed by God have just got to be filled with His Spirit. Otherwise, you would not be trusting in God, hoping in God. You are alive. You are forgiven and forgiving. You are loved and loving. You are Spirit-filled.

The Spirit of the Lord speaks Word of God. Listen to Him and renew your belief in Jesus your Savior every day. The Spirit of God lights your fire today and fans the flames with the wind of His power. Use the gifts He has given you to build and strengthen the Church on Earth and bring souls to the family of God. Believe, hope and trust in God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

My prayer for you is that the grace of our Father Almighty, the love of the Son who redeemed you, the power of the Spirit who brought you to the one true faith, and the peace of God which passes all understanding, be and abide with you. Amen.

Acknowledgement and thanks to Rev. Oswald Hoffman for the inspiration of Spirit-filled people from a sermon heard in 1990 by a young impressionable seminarian.



Luke 4:1-13 First Sunday in Lent—C


Battle in the Desert

Luke 4:1-13

Not too long ago, a friend jokingly said that if it were not for the War many conversations and preachers would fall silent. He may be right. Iraq, to Afghanistan, Desert Storm, the War on Terror, Somali War, Libyan War, Egyptian Civil War—IT IS TRUE that we are seemingly bombarded with information about war, and it has become the background of our lives. One online source documents at least 36 different wars, civil wars, and armed conflicts around the world since 2001

I would like to give you one image of war that I recently encountered. A young woman, stands sobbing, her shoulders slumped, her head bowed. Everything about her speaks of fear and sadness. She is a living victim of the war that is going on around her every day. She speaks haltingly, and the sense of helplessness fills her words. “I am afraid to walk outside, I am afraid to sleep at night. As soon as one attack ends and I put myself back together, there starts another, and another, and another. They come and threaten my life—or maybe worse, destroy everything, everyone I find important. I don’t feel that I can go on. Help me.”

These are not the words of a young person in Benghazi experiencing the bombs of the Gaddafi forces day after day, night after night, but they could be. They are not the tears of a fearful woman in Somalia suffering under ethnic and civil conflict, continually fearing the next attack, the one that might come to her neighborhood or target her family, but they could be. However, these are the words of a young American teen, a Christian since baptism, she has recently gone to college away from home. A young woman who is so assaulted by the pressures of the world on one hand, and the perceived demands of her faith to lead a “good” life on the other, with the result that every day is a war for her. She knows the world holds no eternal reward for her, yet everything sees and hears and is being taught directs here to trust in reason and what she can learn and know and do. She knows too, the verses learned in Catechism, and the 10 Commandments. In a world that holds that there are no absolutes of right or wrong, hey too have become demands she feels powerless to meet. She sees no way to win her war. So often this is exactly how we loose our young people—casualties of the war being waged against them, against us.

Over the past months and years, the scenes and pictures of war and armed uprisings have become very familiar to us. Attack and counter-attack are recounted in vivid detail through the reports on the TV, in the magazines and on the news feeds on our computers and smart phones. As Christians, we have always been keenly aware of the terminology of war. We proudly call ourselves Christian Soldiers. Our Scriptures are full of the recounting of battles and confrontations. We read Paul and the Evangelists who tell how our Heavenly King vanquished the forces of darkness and death, and the glory that such victory has won. We sing of Jesus Christ as our Fortress, our shield and weapon. We cannot ignore these images of war, for as Christians we are truly in a constant battle for our very lives. The Devil is always looking for the way to separate us from God. In todays Gospel, Luke tells us of one such battle—a battle in the desert between Christ Jesus and the Prince of Darkness. A battle the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded for us, so that we see how we too can do battle with the Devil, and win.

The Attack—The Tricks of the Devil

Luke takes us from the banks of the Jordan and Jesus’ baptism, to the inhospitable wilderness. In the waters of the Jordan, God the Father had announced to the world that Jesus was the Christ, the Holy One of God—The beloved Son of God. And Jesus was given the power of the Holy Spirit, the power to effect and complete the plan of God to save mankind. The plan of God that would have Him give up his life in a painful death. Then, in the Judean wilderness, in that deserted region, the Devil comes to Jesus after a fast of forty days, after a period in which the “mantel of Messiah’“ so recently placed upon him, must have hung heavy and close, and the Devil begins his attack on Jesus. He takes the proclamation of the Father and uses it like a surgical knife and cuts to the soul, the very human soul of Jesus. “Since you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” You can almost hear the acrimony drip from his words: “After all that’s what He said isn’t it? If you believe that you are the Son of God, why not use your majestic powers and take care of your hunger.” “Son of God—hungry? isn’t there something just a little odd about this picture?” “Come on Jesus, if you are who you believe you are.”

1.              Sowing seeds of Doubt – using God’s blessings for evil (v. 3)

The Devil was sowing seeds of doubt, asking Jesus to distrust the Father, to doubt the love of God. “Go ahead,” said Satan, “you got the power. You better handle it yourself.”

The Devil sows those same seeds today, and you and I are fertile ground. How often do we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” yet anguish over how the bills will get paid or how you can fit some overtime into your schedule to ‘beef up’ the paycheck. We pray, “God is gracious, God is good, let us thank Him for our food—although it isn’t very much; it’s all I can afford. Tomorrow I’ll have to work too long for too little, and not do much better.” We look at the promises of God and say, “if God loves me so much, why do I feel so bad?” “Why don’t I ever get the lucky break?” “Why don’t things happen for me like they do for other people?” Doubt. It burdens our heart and robs us of our peace.

And Jesus said, “It is written, ‘man shall not live by bread alone’.”

2.              The use of lies. (vv. 6,7)

Then the Devil, in a display of his power, takes Jesus to a high place and shows him all the treasures of all the kingdoms of the world. Power. Glory. Wealth. These could all be His, if He would but bow before the power of Satan. “Forget dying on the cross. Forget suffering and pain. You can have it all—NOW.”  After all, these were Satan’s, and he could give them to whomever he chose! Jesus knew that the Devil was lying. Satan has no kingdom but the eternal darkness to which God has consigned him. He seeks to pervert the creation of God. He occupies it, and plunders it, and reaps from it an evil harvest, a harvest of those forever damned with him—but it is not his.

The Devil displays for us his empty promises of paper wealth, and the hope for reward in this world. Every day we are exposed to all those things that are necessary for the ‘good life’. Wealth. Power. Respect. The new car, the best grade, the trendiest wardrobe—the good life, or at least an easy place to sit when you are weary ‘because you earned it’. Satan displays them all around us every day. The standards of the world we live in. The standards of a world under siege and controlled by Satan, the propaganda of his war against God and all God-followers. As we accept the standards set up by Satan and make them our goal and security, we take hold of an inheritance in this world—a world condemned to eventual and complete destruction.

And Jesus said, “It is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve’.”

temptation close_crop3.              Perversion of Scripture (vv. 10,11)

Then, lead by the Devil, Jesus stands at the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Devil challenges Jesus to prove that he is who he says he is. “Go ahead and jump Jesus. Since you are the beloved Son of God, He will surely allow no harm to come to you, right?? After all, that’s what your Scriptures say.” This double attack is meant to be the final triumphant assault on the enemy. “Okay, you’ve made your point,” says Satan, “but are you willing to bet your life on it?” “If the Scriptures you like so well are true, jump. The heavenly rescue squad will surely save you from harm.”

We too fall victim to this subtle attack. Like a precisely guided smart bomb, this weapon is saved for the Christian. The Christian who is confident in his faith, trusts in God’s word. A Christian, like you and like me. The devil starts pulling from us those things in which we find the most comfort—health, security, loved ones. “After all,’” says Satan, “you are the one who says that all you need is Jesus.” And who among us, when challenged to prove a point he has made, does not feel compelled to comply? We, who have the power of God through faith, surely posses the power to overcome the challenges of the world and its ways. But so often it is a hollow confidence. We unnecessarily expose ourselves to danger and risk, saying “but I’m a Christian, I’m saved.” We pray for the well being of our children, but neglect put in their hands and hearts the Catechism and the Scriptures; we neglect to give them a model for Godly living. You pray to God to save your soul, but you absent yourself from the very means of grace provided for that purpose. Church attendance, study of the Word of God, and partaking of the Sacraments are neglected.

And Jesus says, ‘It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’.’

The Defense—The Word of our God and the power of the Spirit

“And when the Devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him, and awaited an opportune time.’

1.              Our comfort—Christ

We often loose our battles with the devil. Our human nature is powerless before the lies, deceptions, and temptations of Satan. Sin spoiled the wonderful creation of God. Satan has taken hold of the world and exploits it. Satan has a hold on us. In his hands we become reluctant warriors against God.

Christ overcomes our foe on our behalf. At the brink of Lenten season, a time when we are brought face to face with the details of God’s plan of salvation, we look back, briefly, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John writes that ‘The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the Devil.’ In every instance when Satan has confronted Jesus, he has lost. Jesus has the power. Jesus Christ is the Divine and Holy Son of God. And His plan of salvation is so designed that all he does, all his victories, are ours as well. Satan has not only lost the battle, he has lost the war. He stands judged and condemned. Jesus, our Lord and God, out of love humbled himself and took on the flesh of man. He lived as a man and died as a man. But he lived and died very differently then you or I or any man. Jesus would not sin, yet he would die on account of sin, he would die as the most sinful man ever to live. But the Sin he took to his death on the cross was your sin, and my sin. All the sins of the entire world were his at his death. And he paid the debt for sin—he paid our debt for sin. The victory over the Devil is complete. Everyone who believes that Jesus is Lord, the Son of the Living God receives this new inheritance. That which we could never obtain for ourselves becomes our crown of glory. We become victorious and heirs of the salvation Christ won for us.

2.              Our defense—Scripture and the Power of the Spirit

Christ’s victory over the Devil was perfect and complete. But God loved us and deemed to do more. Just as the Devil will remain as a reality in the World to the Last Day, so God will also remain to give us power and strength. (Picking up the Bible) He gave us His Words, recorded in Scripture. The same powerful words used by Jesus against the Devil in the Wilderness are here. The powerful words of creation are here, as well as the words of love and history of the Chosen People of God are here. The most important words for us are here also. The Word of God’s love for you and me are here. The plan of God to effect our salvation and the promise of eternal life are here. Here, in the Word of God, we are shown the loving face of our Lord and Savior.

We have also been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that anointed Christ at His baptism, and empowered Christ to complete the work of salvation, was freely given to you and me at our Baptism. Through the power of the Spirit we were brought to faith. Through the power of the Spirit, the Word of God reveals to us the love of God. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can face the devil and all his ways, and the victory of the desert is ours again.


The powers of God in the Spirit, and the reality of the love of God in the Scripture, are the gift of God to preserve us in this world until eternal life. These are your weapons against the attacks of the Devil. He is leading the assault against us. He is the one who mounts the war against us through his generals: The World, Our Flesh, and Death. Through study of the Word, the Spirit strengthens us. Through the sacraments the Spirit empowers us. The Word of God gives us great power; it gives us, as our own, the power of Christ over death and the Devil. It gives us the assurance of Eternal Life. It gives us the way, the only way, to win the war we fight every day

Luke 1:57–80 Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Sermon for The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Luke 1:57–80
Preached at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Hamel, IL
June 24, 2012

Hannibal Smith, leader of TV’s often bumbling A-Team, was known to say, “I love it when a plan comes together.” The irony is that often the team was way off-plan, or had just benefited from a quirky unplanned series of events.

In my work at Concordia Publishing House, when a plan comes together, it means that I have a new issue of Portals of Prayer to send out to our customers, or a new book has been printed, or a new Sunday School or Vacation Bible School has been completed and is ready to teach our children about their Savior. I don’t live in the fiction of TV, so for me, when a plan comes together it means a lot of smaller plans had to be made and finished along the way. Some of those plans are budgets. Others are how I will work with authors to get completed manuscripts from them; how we will get designers to add art and make the words look great on a page; how copy editors will make sure that great words have been used and the message is understood; and the plan includes those special people called proof readers who read everything we publish to ensure the ‘t’s are crossed, the ‘i’s dotted, and the commas are in just the right places. Unlike the Col. Smith and the A-Team, it would seem that little is left to chance.

“I love it when a plan comes together.” And yet, as carefully as I plan, and as closely as I work the plan, things don’t always happen according to plan. Budgets can be blown when suppliers raise the price of printing or paper. Sometimes authors don’t understand what it really takes to write something to be published, and they can’t keep to the deadlines. Sometimes authors take calls to be Chaplain at the International Center and their new plan trumps my plan*, and something new has to be figured out. Sometimes the planning wasn’t as good as we thought and things pile up together, and choices need to be made and priorities set that weren’t part of the plan to begin with. As much as we try there is no perfect plan, because there are no perfect people.

The Bible shows us that the God of love, wisdom, knowledge, and power is also the perfect planner. How wonderful it is to have someone who never lies, forgets, or bungles a job, be in charge of the universe, human history, and human destiny. In our text for this festival of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, we have a wonderful example of this. We get to see and hear God’s plan coming together.


We all know plans don’t always work out. Even good plans fail. Sometimes our plans fail because we have good plans that we simply don’t carry out. We procrastinate, allow ourselves to get side-tracked. We lose our focus or we lose our resolve. How often do we make resolutions to eat better, quit smoking, loose some weight–all good plans–but how many of us actually complete the plan, finish the good we had resolved to do? This can be what Paul was talking about when he said,

“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom 7:19).

Paul might also be speaking of a second reason our plans don’t always work out as we hope. That is the failure to determine what is really good. We work our plan. We achieve our objectives. But then we arrive at our intended destination and discover it wasn’t what we really wanted, needed, or envisioned it to be. Sometimes our plans are foiled because we forget what a messed-up, fallen, sinful world this is; we expect our plans to sail through. Then when things blow up in our faces, rather than taking setbacks as part of life in this fallen world, it can leave us cynical, and Murphy’s Law becomes our mantra: “If anything can possibly go wrong, it will!” This negativity discourages others around us and often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sometimes our plans fail because the people we rely on let us down. The leaders we campaign for, vote for, and pray for fail for the same reasons we do. But they are not the only ones that let us down. Employees or bosses don’t follow through. Spouses get involved in their own plans and don’t finish a job that was started. Parents, brothers, sisters, and friends can all be source of frustration when promises are not kept, plans fall through, and we seem to be left with pieces to pick up.

All of us have seen our best-laid plans fail. Our dreams can go unrealized and our hopes can be dashed for so many reasons. Ultimately, all these failures can be traced back to sin, both our own sin and the sin of others.


Master of the Life of Saint John the Baptist (Italian)
Scenes from the Life of Saint John the Baptist, probably 1330/1340
Samuel H. Kress Collection

In our text, Zechariah had experienced this sort of thing too, so when God let him in on a major development in his plans, Zechariah was quite sure God’s plan, the promise of a Savior made to Adam and Eve all those years before, wouldn’t work out.

You remember the grand news. The angel Gabriel came to Zechariah and announced that he and Elizabeth, his wife, would have a son, John, the one who came to be called the Baptist. But even more, that meant the Messiah, promised for thousands of years, was coming right now too,  because John’s job would be to prepare the way for him. All according to God’s glorious plan witnessed throughout the Old Testament.

Of course, Zechariah’s life experiences told him this plan was a long shot at best. He and Elizabeth were way too old! God must have been distracted and missed the window of opportunity to give them the child they had undoubtedly prayed for. What’s more, the world was just too corrupt. The pagan rulers of Rome and the even the religious rulers in Jerusalem were surely too great an obstacle for God to overcome in Zechariah’s lifetime. Maybe in time. the plan could might work. Maybe God could catch a few lucky breaks and get a far-off future opportunity for the Messiah to come and establish a better kingdom and a better era. Maybe God could whittle away at evil and slowly establish another time of milk and honey flowing through the Promised Land.

So Zechariah didn’t believe this plan of God revealed to him by the angle Gabriel. It was happening, not now, not with him. For all of his trouble to believe in God, Zechariah was struck speechless. The Lord gave Zechariah ‘a time out,’ nine months of imposed “quiet time” to watch before his very eyes the beginnings of what he had counted as impossible.


John’s birth signaled that all God’s plans were coming together. During the pregnancy, Zechariah had time to ponder with a new appreciation his relationship to the Lord and all the plans God had put in writing in the Old Testament (vv 57–64). Zechariah undoubtedly contemplated the meaning of the name given his son. Why John? It means “The Lord has shown favor.” He and Elizabeth knew they were highly favored by the Lord to have this child in their old age. See, they’d been in his plans all along! Zechariah may also have thought about the name his parents had given him. Zechariah means “The Lord remembers.” What does the Lord remember? Thankfully, not the sins and failings of his people. No, He remembers his gracious covenant plans, and He fulfills them.

Zechariah was a changed man. When he wrote: “His name is John,” on that tablet, Zechariah confessed that now his will was aligned with God’s will–with God’s plan. Now God let Zechariah speak again, but this time with more insight and respect for his Lord (vv 67–79). The words the Spirit brought to Zechariah’s lips is the second of four songs recorded by St. Luke in his Gospel. Zechariah’s song has been sung as part of the liturgy of the Church since at least the ninth century. In our liturgy this canticle, or biblical song, is called the Benedictus and it gets its name from the first word of the canticle “Blessed be,” as it was translated into Latin. Today we see the Benedictus in our Hymnal appointed as part of the prayer service of Matins.

And how did the words of this beautiful song pop into Zechariah’s head? God caused him to remember over a dozen Old Testament passages filled with promises that were now being fulfilled. The Benedictus affirms that indeed God’s plan had come together. But more than just recalling the plan of God, Zechariah sang a prophesy that God’s plan to send the Messiah was being fulfilled in his little son, John, the forerunner.

God had Isaiah speak concerning the Messiah’s forerunner over seven hundred years earlier “A voice of one calling in the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”(Isaiah 40:3–5) and He had not forgotten His plan. Then some four hundred years before John’s coming God sends Malachi  to speak again of the forerunner, saying, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.”  (Mal 3:1; also 4:5–6). He hadn’t forgotten the plan. John’s birth meant that God’s grand plan was now coming to completion: Jesus, the Messiah of God. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, was coming at just the right time. Jesus lived the perfect life that mankind had failed to live. Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind, mankind—you and me—who failed to keep God’s perfect Law all our sins atoned for, set aside, when He died on the cross. Jesus rose from the grave to demonstrate his victory on our behalf. Jesus, who will come again at just the right time, and according to His plan, to usher in the kingdom of heaven in all of its fullness.


Jesus has come and demonstrated God’s resolve and ability to deliver on all of his promises. John the Baptizer was commissioned by God to prepare the world for Jesus’ first coming. Today, the Church, made up of people like you and me, has been commissioned to prepare the world for Jesus’ final coming—also very much according to God’s plan. Do we doubt that this plan will ever really come to pass? Will we be speechless to those who need to hear the Gospel to be prepared for that day? Do we live our daily lives in a way that fails to remember and honor our God who is faithful and perfectly keeps His promises?

Let us instead praise God as Zechariah did, in full confidence of our faith and in testimony to our God who is perfectly faithful. We sing Zechariahs’ song because of what the promised Savior does for us, just as He did for Zechariah and Elizabeth and John and all of our ancestors in the faith. “The oath sworn to our father Abraham;” the plan of God to take care of our salvation has been fulfilled in the birth of Mary’s Son Jesus and in His life’s work for us. He has “delivered us from the hands of our enemies;” God’s plan to rescue us from sin, death, and Satan has been completed in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The work of John was to make known the identity of the Savior. With that completed, his task, his purpose was fulfilled. As John himself would say: “Behold, there is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John’s work is completed. But the Work of the Church continues—the work of pointing to Jesus continues.

And the announcement still happens today. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Today the man appointed by God to make known to you Jesus Christ will stand before you and place in your mouth your Lord’s true body and true blood in and under the bread and the wine. THERE in those humble and holy means, is the Lamb of God. And as we take and eat, and take and drink, we receive the forgiveness of sins, we testify that His death was sufficient, and we are witnesses that the plan of God for us is complete.

And then, being prepared by Jesus Himself through Word and Sacrament,  we go out from this place to “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all of our days.”


* A “shout out” to friend, and St. Paul’s dear and former pastor, William Weedon.

This sermon is drawn in large part from the outline and sermon of Rev. Robert Dargatz, published in the preaching journal, Concordia Pulpit Resources, for June 24, 2012 (CPR 22:4). © 2012 Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission.

How Lutherans Worship -13: The Hymns & The Sermon

Colossians 3:16
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Hymns and The Hymn of the Day

God’s people have been encouraged to sing their prayers, praise, and thanksgiving to God. Why do we sing? Psalm 98 gives us the reason.

Psalm 98:1
Oh sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.

The Word of God not only creates faith but teaches us, His children, His gracious will toward us. God has freely given us His own righteousness. In our hymns we respond to this Good News with singing, reciting back to Him the great acts of our salvation in thanksgiving and praise.

University Lutheran Chapel, University of Minnesota

Taking cues from Scripture’s own songbook, the Psalms, the Church’s hymns give us a variety of ways to thank, praise, and proclaim the God who has done all good things for us. In the Divine Service, our singing is related to the readings from Scripture. Hymns enable everyone to join together in proclaiming the scriptural truths read at the lecturn, preached from the pulpit, and spoken before the altar.

Within the Divine Service, congregational hymnody relates to the Scripture appointed for each Sunday. The Hymn of the Day is the principle hymn of the Divine Sercice and relates to, and reflects on the theme of the day, most often set by the Holy Gospel.

The Sermon

Our Lord sent His apostles into the world to preach that forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are found through Him. In the preaching of the Sermon, that apostolic Word is proclaimed among us today.

sermon: The pastor’s proclamation, usually based on the Scripture readings for the day.

Scriptural and Christ-centered

The Sermon is dependent on all that has gone before it in the Divine Service—the liturgy, the hymns, and the readings. Therefore the message of the Sermon is the fullest expression of the theme of the day. The Sermon is the pinnacle of the Service of the Word. It is the Word studied, explained, and expounded through the pastor, the one called by the congregation to preach.

In the Sermon the pastor speaks God’s words of judgment and grace to the current situation. In this way, the Sermon also prepares the hearer for the celebration of the Service of the Sacrament. Like the Absolution, the Sermon delivers the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ on the cross. The Divine Service, then, becomes for us grace upon grace (John 1:16).

1 Corinthians 1:18
For the word of the cross is . . . the power of God.

Lutherans believe and confess that preaching from the Word of God is a means of grace. That is, that the power of God to forgive sins is available and received through the Word of God proclaimed by the preacher. The sermon is placed in the service of the cross, and as in the Absolution and the Sacraments, the hearer is engaged in a person encounter with the living God who is strong to save.

means of grace: The means by which God gives us the forgiveness life, and salvation won by the death and resurrection of Christ: God’s Word, Absolution, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.

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Treasury of Daily Prayer–Wednesday after Pentecost

Meditation on Old Testament Reading

Numbers 23:4-28

What If God Was One of Us?

God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?  (Numbers 23:19)

Joan Osborn wrote a rather well-known song that was entitled, “What If God Was One Of Us.” This song was not a grammatical treasure nor can its lyrics be considered anything close to theological insight. But when I contemplated today’s reading from Numbers 23, verse 19 brought to mind the idea of Osborn’s song.

Here’s Osborn’s chorus to the song :

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin’ to make His way home

Listen again to verse 19:

God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?  (Numbers 23:19)

What if God was one us? Just on the two comparisons made in Osborn’s chorus, to think of God in terms of being just one of the guys, to be just another stranger on the bus with us, is disturbing. That He might lie, or maybe even worse, change His mind, that thought is  frightening.

My meditation meandered around and I began to really think about how much different we are from God. Although created in the image of God, we are so far from God’s image that it sometimes seems impossible that we could  ever be spiritually connected to Him.

From the inception of sin into the world through Adam and Eve, man has continually expanded the great spiritual divide by choosing worldliness over and holiness. Yet God—despite all of our faults, —God still loved us—loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus, so that whoever believes in Him, would not perish on account of their sin, but have everlasting life. Despite all of our mistakes, God still cares about us. Despite all of our poor choices, God still would not condemn us to eternal death. And yet even after two thousand years since Christ laid down His life for us, mankind  still makes choices, time and time again, that are directly opposite the will of God, to the direction that God has for our lives. Continue reading

Titus 2:11-14 Christmas Eve

Christmas Is for Giving

Titus 2:11-14

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the ads for high-end Christmas gifts this year and shook your head in disbelief—the custom made guitar for $12,000, his and hers sport aircrafts for $250,000, the special edition Jaguar XJL for $105,000, or the handbag with matching boots for just under $3,900 (Neiman Marcus 2009 Christmas Book).

And you have certainly heard the reports of our troubled economy: unemployment rate of 9.4%, mortgage foreclosures rose by 23% over the 2008 rate, homelessness and use of food pantries has nearly doubled in some areas.

It may have occurred to you that we live in a world that has gone completely mad in its values; that in over 2,000 Christmases we still have not caught on that name of the game of life, as God wants it lived, is self-giving in love.

So we have come here to this quiet church this cold and rainy evening to sing and say and hear and do all those things, that especially on this Holy Eve, bring us as close to the mind and heart of God as we can hope to get on this side of heaven; and try to see clearly just what God, our Father, wants us, His children in Christ, to know and do.

As is often the case with the Scripture readings for the great feasts of the Church Year, the Gospel for Christmas tells the story, the narrative of the event, and the Epistle concerns itself more with the meaning, the significance, of the Christ event. The traditional Epistle for the late service of Christmas Eve is Titus 2:11-14. In his letter to young pastor Titus, the Apostle Paul sets down in one sentence the central meaning of the Holy Nativity that we celebrate this evening—the truth that Christmas is for giving. St. Paul writes:

11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 Continue reading