Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Immanuel - A Beautiful Name (Matthew 1:223-23)

Dear Fellow-Redeemed in Christ:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Immanuel. What a beautiful-sounding name.
Immanuel. We stick this title on the cover of Christmas cards and include it in our Christmas songs. It forms the title of the quintessential Advent hymn. We do not sing "O Come, O Come, Great Encourager from God" or "O Come, O Come, Great Moral Example from God," but "O Come, O Come, Immanuel." This has been the song of the Christian Church in these days before Christmas for countless generations.
We Lutherans even use this title when giving a name to a new congregation — even though no one can decide whether this name begins with an "e" or an "i." For example, there are at least three congregations in our area named Immanuel Lutheran Church; in Orange, LaHabra and Long Beach. And each of the three congregations spell the word differently.
But regardless of how you spell it. There it is.
Immanuel. What a beautiful-sounding name. Over the last 25 years it has consistently ranked in the top 200 baby names in the United States.
Immanuel. A beautiful-sounding name, but, as we have been trained to ask since our first days of studying the Catechism, "What does this mean?" What does this name actually signify? And, most importantly, what does it mean that the center of these days of Advent: this coming Son of Mary, this Son of David, this Son of God — is given by heaven the name "Immanuel"?
What do you confess when you say, "I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is Immanuel."? How would you respond if someone were to ask you, "What does this name actually mean? Why is this baby in a Bethlehem manger (who's birth we are patiently — or maybe not so patiently — waiting for) given the name "Immanuel"? What kind of answer would we give? Hopefully something more substantive than: "Good question. Let me google that and get back to you."
In these days before Christmas, Christ would bring us to his Word and feed us with the promises that all the faithful before that Christmas night lived clinging to, died hoping in, and now sing about in eternity.
May God in his grace prepare each of us for his coming through the Word of Christ, through the Spirit of Christ, that we would have an everlasting joy and an unshakable hope. Amen

Immanuel. What do we know about Jesus being given the name "Immanuel"? Well, the simplest, clearest place to go is the words given to us by the Holy Spirit through the inspired pen of the evangelist Saint Matthew. Carried along by the same Holy Spirit that inspired Isaiah and overshadowed Mary, Saint Matthew leaves no room for misunderstanding when he tells us in the 22nd and 23rd verses of the first chapter of his Gospel account:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:22-23 ESV)

Oh. Now we get it. Immanuel means "God-with-us." In the coming infant Jesus, God is with us.

But, we ask, how is it that the birth of a virgin's son, the birth of God in human flesh and blood, the birth of Immanuel, is, for each of us and for the world, Good News? Really Good News. Good News that lasts not a week or a month, but an entire lifetime and into eternity.
That, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is the million dollar question in this season of waiting and hoping and repenting and rejoicing and reflecting on what it actually means for the world and for each of us that our Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man, made human flesh and bone, took upon himself our very nature, yet without sin.
What is the connection between eternal peace and "God-with-us"?
Imagine being given the task of consoling the unconsolable, giving comfort to someone who can find no spiritual comfort, giving genuine, eternal Good News to someone racked with a true awareness of their weakness and failures and sin. "There is no hope for me," they cry out. "I cannot make satisfaction for my many sins. I have given up trying to make myself holy. It is impossible for me to stand before the almighty Lord of heaven and earth, the Lord who hates sin and sends wrath and judgment upon the unrighteous. It all makes me want to ask God to stay away from me."
In that kind of situation, how is "God-with-us" any comfort at all?
Just ask Isaiah about "God-with-us." In the 6th chapter of the book of Isaiah the prophet, the great Isaiah is as good-as-dead when brought into the holy presence of the Lord. Unbridled, out-in-the-open "God-with-us" spells judgment and eternal death for Isaiah, as it spells judgment and eternal death for all fallen and sinful children of our first parents.
God-with-us in his glory and holiness? That may be great for the designers of the world's holiday cards and winter television specials. But it is a death sentence for anyone who acknowledges sin as real sin. Because if the almighty Lord just showed up next to any of us in all his power and glory and might and majesty, we would be forced to confess, as Isaiah confessed, "Woe is me. I am as good as dead. For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips. And — I have seen the Lord. I have been brought face-to-face with almighty God.
This same frightening situation fell upon Peter right after the miraculous catch of fish — right after he realized that Jesus was indeed the almighty Lord of heaven and earth. Bowing his trembling face to the ground he cried out, "Depart from me Lord. For I am a sinful man."
No wonder why there are too many people — even a week before Christmas — who want God to stay away — to stay out of their lives and the decisions they have made. Their own lifestyle of convenience. Their playing fast and loose with God's revealed will and commands.
So "Immanuel" can bring terror and fear and eternal death just as easily as it can bring comfort and hope. "Immanuel" — God-with-us — can be God-with-us in wrath and judgment. We see this in the poor, miserable conditions surrounding Jesus' birth and especially our Lord's innocent suffering and death upon the Cross. God-with-us, to punish all sin and rebellion and disbelief. The disbelief of unbelieving Ahaz. The disbelief of a world that does not believe, will not believe that the Christ child has come from heaven to be born in the world's own poor and miserable manger, to take upon himself the world's own weakness and sin, to take upon himself the judgment Eve and Adam, Isaiah and Mary, Joseph and Peter and each of us rightly deserved.
Immanuel. God-with-us. Something we should dread if it is not in a way that hides the Lord's glory and covers his wrath.

But what else do we know about Jesus being given the name "Immanuel"? What is also revealed in that name "Immanuel" that makes it a comfort and joy for transgressors of God's holy will and law?

Well, we heard it clearly enough from the Old Testament and Gospel readings just a few minutes ago. From the mouth of God's holy prophet it is announced to believers and unbelievers alike:
… the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:10-14 ESV)
To doubting, unbelieving King Ahaz the Lord gives a sign as deep as Sheol and high as heaven. A sign that is so indescribably great angels bow the knee in silent awe. An announcement so unbelievable only God-given faith can receive it. A prophecy that trumpets the fulfillment of all salvation history in a way we could have never imagined: "The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
And, if you will believe it, this Word of the Lord spoken out of the mouth of Isaiah the prophet is fulfilled as another heaven-sent messenger comes to confused, anxious, fearful Joseph and says:

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20b-21 ESV)

The reason for the name to be given is made clear for Joseph and Mary and for you and me and your yet-to-believe neighbor down the street. "For this son, this son of David, this son of Mary has been sent — not to judge or condemn or terrorize but — to save his people from their sins."
Jesus; Divine Savior. Jesus; Divine Savior from sin. Jesus; Divine Savior of all — of every tribe and language and nation and people. Jesus; the second person of the Godhead come to rescue us from our inability to save ourselves, come to to redeem the Advent and Christmas season, come to to atone for our own transgressions against God and against our neighbor-in-need.
For, by faith, we believe what the world and our own worldly nature will never believe: Mary's son is David's Son is God's only-begotten Son. Come to save from sin. God in human flesh and blood. Here. For you and for your salvation. Here. As once-for-all sacrifice. As our all-righteous substitute.
Only by faith can we really sing: "O come, O come, Immanuel. God-with-us. God-for-us and for our salvation.
Immanuel. What a beautiful name. Amen

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Is that Opportunity Knocking? (Matthew 21:1-11)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Dear beloved in Christ:
"Opportunity knocks." That's the tag line on an annual car commercial on television. "It's opportunity knocking!"
The message? You only have a limited amount of time to take advantage of something really special. If you wait, it will be too late. Too late for the joy of knowing you seized the day and grabbed that one special thing before it walked on down the hall to knock on someone else's door.
And so we take that saying about opportunity knocking to heart and begin all our preparations for Christmas Day. Just try to list everything you are doing or have done or need to do so that December 25th will come in the way you want. Just think of all the things on your "to do" list.
If we're honest, it is a list that part of us believes will lead to a perfect Christmas.
But, when we sit down and think about it, it's a burdensome list and an unending list. The shopping for just the right things. The preparations around the house. The decorations. The special plates and silverware and scented candles and the train set. And the other decorations and the lights. And the invitations and the Christmas cards and letters and photographs. And the cleaning. And what ever happened to that little Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer sculpture that plays the Chipmunk's Christmas songs whenever it detects someone has come into the room? That needs to be found and put in its proper place as well.
"Opportunity is knocking," we tell ourselves as we begin the frenzied Christmas dance that will not end until we realize that it is Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and the door finally shuts and opportunity leaves for good — until it begins again next year.
Well, maybe this year you have everything under control. You've made you lists and checked them — not once or twice — but six times. You've had your Christmas letters ready to go since June. You know just the right gift for everyone — family and friends, and even the mailman and hairdresser — and you got them all at 30% off.
There's where the true joy of Christmas is to be found — isn't it? In seizing the day and accomplishing everything that we've decided needs to be done in order to make Christmas Day Christmas Day. The true joy of Christmas: knowing in your heart that you've made it the best Christmas ever.
But then there's that knock on the door. And it isn't Mr. Opportunity. It isn't anyone on your invitation list. It isn't anyone you expected or planned for.
It's some ordinary-looking Jewish guy with a donkey who you just know will come in and ruin everything.
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew, the 21st chapter:
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold! [Rejoice!], your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” (Matthew 21:1-10 ESV)
The religious leaders in Jesus' day believed that the Passover holiday in Jerusalem was unfolding very nicely without Jesus showing up and spoiling everything. They had things quite under control. The ATM machines were all set up around the temple, the money-changers were ready to do their work. Thousands of holiday merry-makers were traveling to Jerusalem to do their holiday things and spend their holiday money. Despite the presence of the Roman soldiers, these religious leaders truly believed they had everything in hand. They had seized the day and all their preparations would now bear abundant fruit.
And then this guy from Nazareth with a donkey shows up. And they know now everything they had put their trust in is in danger of being eclipsed by the coming of this man who claims to be the Word of heaven itself. With the unexpected coming of this lowly servant king, all their planning and preparations could now very well go down the drain.
All that they had invested. All that they had done. All that they had accomplished. All they had sacrificed to make this the most special day of the entire year — and now this Jesus shows up believing he is the center and fulfillment of the day. Believing he is the source of true joy and peace for all who would celebrate that "day of arrival" just around the corner.
And so the religious leaders seized the day by grabbing a hold of Jesus. This was the opportunity they had really been looking for. With the dissatisfaction of Judas, they had found their one opportunity to silence this uninvited troublemaker and do away with him once and for all.
Jesus just shows up, seemingly unannounced. And he shows up in the most unspectacular way, among lambs and goats and cattle and donkeys and the rude furnishings of a cold and lowly manger.
So much for the world's excitement about the coming king. No media attention. No 30% off salvation, today only sale.
Jesus' gift in these days before Christmas? A season of simple promise — for every one of us. A word of promise that the world will never put its trust in. The promise announced by the prophets of old until Christ comes on that last day. A promise that says that trusting in Christ's Word, this life is a life of waiting, but waiting in expectant joy for our Lord to redeem the day.
The Savior will come and save us — from our weakness and sin and misplaced worry about attempting to make Christmas a big success.
The Savior will come and save us — from even our own inability to create true, lasting joy on our own.
In this peculiar season of Advent, rejoice! For the Savior comes to give the gifts of salvation: the gift of sins forgiven, the gift of contentment and peace — and even a little joy — as we wait — patiently, trustingly — for our coming king.
Joy for you and me and for all who are waiting to hear of a Christ and a Cross that gives true peace — that peace that surpasses all human understanding.
And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matthew 21:1-11 ESV)
In expectant joy, may we join the voice of all the faithful as we wait for the coming of our king, waiting to shout, "Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest."
God in his mercy and grace grant each of us a blessed — a joyful — advent of our king.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Living in the Last Days." (Luke 21:5-28)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Dear Redeemed in Christ:
Someone was reading the National Enquirer next to me in the grocery store check-out line. The cover story was about the birth of a cat with one eye and two tails. "We are living in the last days." she said to herself out loud.
But we don't need the National Enquirer or Trinity Broadcasting Network or Hal Lindsay or Pat Robertson to reveal to us some secret knowledge that we are now in the last days.
Because, believe it or not, it is the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh that is all wrapped up in predictions and date-setting when it comes to the last day. The great and terrible day of the Lord of the heavenly armies. The final day. The final end of this poor and miserable, falling apart world, plagued with sin and death and the effects of sin and death: earthquakes and storms. Violence and wars. The killing of the innocent. The persecution of the one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church. Famine — especially famine of the Word of God.
What will mark the last days? The prophet Amos has already told us and anyone else who will listen:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12 ESV)
A famine of the Word of the Lord. Do we see this today, even among church bodies that grew out of the re-discovery of the Gospel of grace through Martin Luther 500 years ago? Do we see a famine of God's saving Word today —when more and more pastors and priests have no understanding of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel, no skill in telling the difference between command and promise, between Moses and Christ, between the sacrifice of salvation and the sacrifice of thanksgiving?
"We are living in the last days."

Jesus himself said as much as he says to all who would follow him in faith: "Beware. Be aware of what will come."
“See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” (Luke 21:8b-9 ESV)

What marks the last days? A famine of God's redeeming Word. A continuous parade of false Messiahs who lead many astray. And increasing numbers of Christians who trade in their hunger and thirst for the Word of Christ in Scripture, the Word of Christ at the font and altar for something completely different: an insatiable appetite for the daily details by those who promise they have been given by God's spirit the ability to prophecy the specifics on when the last day will come.
Jesus' warning is the same for the Twelve as it is for us today. "Stay awake and do not go after those who announce they have an inside track on the all the juicy details of when the last day will come."

The last day will surely come. We pray that it will come soon. But woe to the one who neglects the saving object of true faith while running around in fear and excitement mesmerized by the dead-end desire to figure out if the last day will be next Tuesday or a month from last Wednesday.
Think of the time wasted. Think of all the energy diverted into a never-ending death spiral of numbers and nations, secret meanings and signs, disasters and conspiracy theories that attempt to convince you and everyone else that the last day is just around the corner — and only those who are smart enough and spiritual enough will be able to discern the secret writing on the wall. Think of the damage done to true faith.

Folks, let me tell you a secret. The Christian Church has been in the last days since Herod sent his soldiers to kill the baby Jesus. Since John the Baptist was thrown into prison and executed. Since Stephen was stoned and Saint Jude flayed alive. Since Jan Hus was burned at the stake.
Because ever since the advent of our Lord upon the earth, the body of Christ, the Church has been marked by rejection and betrayal, marked by imprisonment and false witnesses and kangaroo courts, marked with innocent suffering and death. All in anticipation of that great and terrible day of the Lord about which no one knows the hour or the day — except God the Father alone.

Do you find yourself all wrapped up in the latest predictions of how the headlines in the morning paper and the top story on the six o'clock news are secret signs that the last day is just around the corner?
Do not be deceived. Christ calls us to take our eyes and our worries off the latest rumors and prophecies and get them back where they should have been in the first place: on the Christ of Scripture, on the Christ of the Baptismal Font, on the Christ of the Holy Supper.
That's where our eyes and ears and attention should be in these last days. That's where our eyes and ears and attention must be in these last days.
Remember what Martin Luther is supposed to have said when asked what he would do if he knew tomorrow was the last day? Sell all his possessions? Climb up the tallest mountain and wait for the Lord there? Luther said, "I would simply plant an apple tree."
What would we do if we knew tomorrow was the last day? Simply do whatever God has called us to do every day, at school, in the garden, at work, in our homes, at our church.
Give the loudest and clearest witness to each other and to the world around us — by gathering around our Lord each and every day in this time of extended grace before the end finally comes.
And if tomorrow is our last day, then let us live today under God's Word and forgiveness and grace and strength. Receiving courage for the hours that lie ahead by remembering the eternal promise made by Christ at our Baptism. By coming to the altar rail with repentant and contrite hearts. By listening to Christ as he comes in the readings of Scripture, in the sermon, in Sunday School and Confirmation class. And by caring for one another as we have been called to do.

This morning God in Christ through the Holy Spirit has given us a new day, that we might freely confess our sins, receive forgiveness and the assurance that Christ is Lord of the Last Day just as he is Lord of his Church and the redemption of each of us. Everything in heaven and on earth and under the earth is destined to bow the knee before him.
And nothing — not even the Last Day — will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Not even our unhealthy fascination and secret fears about how this dark and dying world will end.
And for the Christian faithful — for you and me — the promise that Christ is our gracious Lord is enough for today, and every day that God graciously gives us.
We live in the last days. But we live under God's mercy and the gracious Word of Christ.
Let us rejoice and be glad in that revelation. As we daily honor those in authority over us. As daily we live as responsible citizens of this land. As we freely serve our neighbor-in-need. As we sing the praises of Christ and his Cross to anyone who will listen.
In these last days, let us commend ourselves to our Lord's loving care as we daily put our trust in his suffering and death and resurrection.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Unappreciative Redeemed (Luke 17:11-19)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Last week we heard that it is the grace of Christ alone that can create and sustain a spirit of servanthood in our Christian life. A servanthood that freely responds to God's gift of salvation by serving God and neighbor without thought of reward or personal merit. As we heard our Lord say last Sunday morning, true, Christ-like service responds with the words, "We have only done what was our duty."
But today's readings from Holy Scripture somehow remind me of the golden rule each of us were taught as little kids: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Use your common sense about what behavior you would desire from others when dealing with your neighbor. Everyone likes to be recognized and appreciated and listened to. Everyone likes to be treated with fairness and honesty. Everyone likes relationships that benefit themselves as well as others.
And so we go through life trying to be nice to others — at least in public — at least some of the time. We hold the door open at the store for old men with canes. We are polite with the person in front of us at the post office. We wait our turn at the DMV. We even try to be friendly with people we don't know much about as we wait to get out of the sanctuary after Sunday morning service. Because we've all been told: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Christians remind themselves of the Golden Rule. They put these words on stickers and toys and Christian story books for children.
Others who follow Confucius remind themselves of the Silver Rule (it's kind of the Golden Rule in reverse): "Don't do to others what you would not want them to do to you."
That means, if you don't want to be kicked in the shins - don't kick anyone in the shins. If you don't want to be beaten up on the playground, don't beat anyone up on the playground. If you don't want to be cut off on the freeway don't cut off people on the freeway. If you want your pencil back without teeth marks on it, don't start chewing on a pencil you borrowed from a friend.
These are great and indispensable rules to live by. They help keep everything from getting out of hand. They keep the speed of our cars in check. They help keep arguments from becoming fist-fights. They keep our outward behavior in check - in our homes and at our school and in the workplace and in our apartment building. They keep order when we find ourselves stuck between floors in a crowded elevator or in the middle of a 50% off sale at Target or around the family dinner table after having a personally long or difficult day at work or school.
But there's another kind of rule we often find ourselves living by. It sometimes seems to be quite reasonable. One of those "common sense" kinds of dictums that even Ben Franklin would follow: "Show kindness and grace to those who will acknowledge it. Show love and mercy and forgiveness to those who appreciate it. Be kind and loving to those who will return the favor."
But this proverb comes from the wisdom of a fallen world and the world's religions and our own worldly nature. "Give it out only when there's some guarantee that you'll get at least some of it back. Why give of yourself when it's not appreciated and returned?"
You probably know someone who uses this approach as their secret guideline in making decisions about who they will allow into their life and who they won't allow into their life. What they will do for one person, and what they just won't do for another.
The world tells us: "Invest where you can get the greatest return." And there's a part of each of us that takes this kind of wisdom to heart — when we're dealing with the stock market — when we're shopping for a personal savings account — when we're evaluating our friendships and family.
Too often this is our approach when it comes to showing concern and mercy and grace and forgiveness and care to others. "Where am I going to get the biggest bang for my buck?" we secretly ask ourselves. "Who's going to appreciate me the most? Who's going to give me the nicest thank you card? Who's going to tell everyone else what a great and glorious person I am? Where am I going to get the loudest applause?" Because a part of each of us wants to live a life of guaranteed returns on our investment — guaranteed returns on our investment in the lives of others.
For example, take the self-help section of your neighborhood Barnes and Noble. Dollars to donuts you'll see more than one paperback that will walk you through the logic and rewards and strategies of avoiding or eliminating all of those hard-to-get-along-with people in your life that drain you of energy or make your life so frustrating. You'll find books with titles like: "Twelve Steps to End Letting Others Take Advantage of You." "Your Right to Enjoy Your Life Your Way." and "How to Make Everyone in Your Life Appreciate You."
Yes, each of us have become a little defensive in our old age. We've reached out with love and concern for others and have been quickly disappointed or hurt.
And that's where God in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit begins to show us that there are no guarantees in this world of sin. There are no secret formulas when it comes to others appreciating the good we think we have said and done.
Because we too have been less than appreciative. We also have found ourselves unable or unwilling to give back — sometimes even a little in response to the good God has given us through others.
The Holy Scriptures shines the spotlight on the chilling reality that when it comes to a lack of proper appreciation — when it comes to a lack of responding to kindness with kindness and grace with grace and forgiveness with forgiveness and sacrifice with sacrifice, all fallen children of our first parents are caught red-handed.
We decide to un-invite Uncle Fred to our Thanksgiving Day dinner because he never stops complaining about his health conditions. We only go out to lunch with those who never criticize us or always laugh at our jokes. We neglect opportunities to cultivate a relationship with our neighbor down the street who once complained about our dog barking or the time we left the garbage cans out on Friday.
And then we hear the words of our Lord. Not only the words about the golden rule, but the words from the lectern this morning:

On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19 ESV)

Christ does the unexpected, unreasonable, illogical thing as he journeys to Jerusalem: he heals diseased people who had lost the ability to properly appreciate the Messiah or his healing work as a foretaste of the great healing he was to accomplish when he finally reached Jerusalem.
Christ comes and speaks a word of healing and restoration — independent of any thought about which among the ten would give back a goodly amount of praise and thanksgiving.
Why couldn't Jesus just have stuck with the playbook the fallen world and our old, fallen nature follows? Why couldn't Jesus just come and announce: I have come to give you a bit of forgiveness, a sprinkle of grace, and piece of salvation — to see what you will do with it. How much you will make of it. And then, if you appreciate me enough, I might give you a little more.
What does Christ give to unappreciative people? A trial size dose of salvation?
Thanks be to God that, as we hear in the Epistle this morning, even when we are unfaithful, Christ is faithful — to his heavenly Father, to his mission to redeem the world, and to his eternal promises.
Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem to give all. To give all he was and all he had not simply for those who might pay it all back.
Jesus laid down his very life for all. For all ten lepers. For you and me and every other unappreciative person who couldn't even begin to save themselves from the disease of not thanking God enough, not serving their neighbor enough, not trusting in our will-do-whatever-it-takes-to-redeem-us Lord.
Christ died for the sins of the whole world. Christ died for the sin of an unthankful heart, that he would resurrect proper appreciation in the hearts and minds of all who would believe.
Do you find a song in your heart for all the gifts given to you by Christ Jesus through his cross and tomb? Do you find yourself praising God for the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism? Do you find yourself hungering for his Supper from his altar?
Then give thanks for even that gift. Because it is Christ who gets credit for your ability to honor and bless and praise him.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Saturday, August 07, 2010

"Pray and let Christ worry." Luke 12:22-28

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Dear Children of the Heavenly Father:

Psalm 27: "The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?"

There's something inevitable in our lives in addition to death and taxes: fear. One minute we confess that worry and fear plague us, and the next minute we have convinced ourselves that those things that keep us up at night are best handled by joining Bobby McFerrin as he sings, "Don't worry. Be happy."
A life of fear, an anxious heart, and endless days of worry about everything and nothing. This is our lot since our first parents took that first big bite into knowledge of good and evil and the unending heartache that came along as a special added bonus.
Life in a world of thistles and thorns where food is provided by the sweat of our brow and the knowledge that clothes and shoes and house and car and all the other stuff of this world unexpectedly breaks or slowly but inevitably wears out. Including our health and the ability to be independent masters of our own fate. Our position at the company is suddenly eliminated. Someone in our family no longer will talk to us. The bank sends a registered letter to announce that they are foreclosing on the house. The kids need braces and we haven't even started to think about a savings plan for college or our own retirement. And what we could do with our bodies ten years ago takes four ibuprofen to do today.
And we worry and pop another antacid or try to loose ourselves in a worry-free life of listening to music in the car or watching a movie in the den or preoccupying ourselves with our sports teams or creating a life free from fear somewhere on the internet.
We are children of fallen and sinful parents who perpetually bounced between denial of fear and fear that overtook them and overwhelmed them and threatened to suffocate them. With their son murdered and their other son on the lamb, with paradise lost and death and decay set in motion as the fruit of doubt and disobedience, for Adam and Eve everything, it seemed, was out of their control.
The history of mankind, the history of fallen men and women, our entire history — is one of fear and anxiety and our feeble little attempts to contain and subdue and control it and — if none of that worked — pretend that it simply didn't exist.
Sin's fruit? The consequences of doubt in God's grace and goodness as our heavenly Father who always has our best interests in mind. The dread of coming face-to-face with everything that is out of our hands. Things that are the consequence of our own foolishness and rebellion. Things that are the consequence of simply living in a fallen world ultimately helpless in its attempts to reverse the forces of death and decay and re-create the security of that Paradise lost.
And so, even for us as Christians, fear desires to rule our minds and hearts and lives. The constant drumbeat of anxiety more often than not gets the best of us as it drowns out the quiet whisper of God's promise — the pledge made to Eve and Adam and all their children.
It's really an eye-opening exercise to mark the entire history of salvation by noting the hundreds of places in the Holy Scriptures where we come upon the word "fear." Worry and anxiety is all over the place when we hear about the lives of the faithful who have gone before us. People like Abraham and Daniel and Jacob and David and Joseph. The people of Judah. The people of Israel. Zechariah and Mary and Peter. Fallen and sinful people — just like you and me — plagued by fear and haunted by anxiety over the things of this life.
It is to these preoccupied, burdened, sleep-deprived people that Jesus speaks as he journeys to Jerusalem and the Cross.
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke, the twelfth chapter:
And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!" (Luke 12:22-28 ESV)

A simple and direct command by the Lord come in human flesh: "Do not be anxious about your life."
Yes, we are to be responsible in using the good talents and energies and opportunities our Lord gives us to provide for the needs of this life and our neighbor-in-need. Jesus is not commanding his own to live a life free of responsibility to ourselves, our family, our church family, and our community.
We cannot misuse Jesus' command here to announce to the world: "O.K. No more worries!" and then sell everything we have, quit our job, walk away from our school, abandon our family and let the church or the government take care of all our needs while we sit back and do nothing.
It is in the context of our labor — the hard work of providing for our needs and the needs of our neighbor that we hear Jesus say to us, "Don't be anxious about your life."
Jesus would have us acknowledge our sin and weakness and worry as we — at the same time — remember his Word — his Word that freely gives anxious people peace — his Word that freely gives fearful people strength and courage. His Word that has the last word over all the stuff of our lives we cannot control.
It is to the voice of our Lord we flee when we are at our wits end. The voice of our Lord through the apostle Paul who proclaims to worry-sick souls: "He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not with him also give us everything else [we need]?" (Romans 8:32)
Our Lord Christ knows that we are anxious, nail-biting people. And only he comes to help us see our fears as they really are, that he might embrace them and take them into himself and make them his own.
Where do we go? Where do we run to find help with our stressed-out minds and anxious hearts?
We follow Abraham who answered the worries of his only-begotten son Isaac as they journeyed up the mountain:
And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham,“My father!” And he said,“Here am I, my son.” He said,“Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide …, my son.” (Genesis 22:6-8a ESV)

By the gift of God's grace, we place the brokenness and decay and uncertainties of life into the hands of our Creator and Redeemer and Sustainer and trustingly say, as Martin Luther use to say, "Pray and let God worry."
Looking to our crucified and risen Lord, we pray:

O most loving Father, you want us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing except losing you, and to lay all our cares upon you, knowing that you care for us. Strengthen us in our faith in you and your Word of promise. Grant that the fears and anxieties of this mortal life may not separate us from your love that is in Christ Jesus, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Preoccupied with the Word. (Luke 10:38-42)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Dear Redeemed in Christ:
Imagine you are in line in a store with someone who replies to the question, "What do you do for a living?" with the answer, "I'm an investor."
Do you give this person a hug or a punch in the stomach? What thoughts and images run through your mind?
Is this an investor in pork futures or the stock market?
Is this an investor in gold bullion or junk bonds?
Some of us have been badly burned by investors. We are still trying to recover from the investments they proclaimed. We have become weary of anyone telling us to place all our eggs in their basket of opportunity for guaranteed returns.
But even if we turn and run when we are solicited to invent in a company or a product or a commodity or a financial derivative, we are all investors — even if we still hide 20 dollar bills in our mattress.
We are creatures who were created — wired — to invest in something — in someone.
The almighty maker of heaven and earth made us — to trust, to serve, to follow, to invest not only in the NASDAQ, but in the Almighty himself and the work of his hands (this world given to us to manage as responsible, thankful stewards).
And so we see ourselves and all those around us as investors who put their stock in some things that are "good, right and salutary" and some things that are deceptive, dangerous, and even deadly.
Look around. Some in our lives have invested themselves in saving the planet. Others have invested themselves in supporting the crown of creation by advancing medicines for smallpox and AIDS and malaria around the world.
But what about you? What do you find yourself investing in? Take a look at your calendar. Take a look at your checkbook. Take a look at how you spend your time and energy. Take stock of what would be the most devastating thing to loose.
What do you find yourself invested in?
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke, the 10th chapter:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42 ESV)
Martha had given in to investing in the things we are also tempted to give in to: the promise that if we are busy enough with our family, if we are busy enough with our kids, if we are busy enough with our friends or work — then we will earn for ourselves God's unending praise and a bigger crown in heaven than our neighbor down the street.
"But Martha was distracted with much serving."
Maybe it's happened to you recently as you extended an invitation to a family member, an across-the-street neighbor, a co-worker, a friend to join you for a Bible study here at Redeemer. "Oh, I would love to come." is the response. "But I'm so busy. I have to …" and then the un-ending list of this world's demands.
That's where Martha had ended up. The "have to's" of her life. The "have to's" of being the perfect host for Jesus and his salvation.
Maybe this morning you find yourself caught up in the un-ending "have to's" of life. The list that never gets shorter. The demands that never stop telling you it's all about your serving and your doing and your investing in your friends and work, in your family and your church family — and in your Savior and Lord.
Yes, we are called to serve our families. Yes, we are called to serve our community and friends. Yes, we are called to serve Christ and our neighbor-in-need. But as Martha learned the hard way, investing — serving others — must take its proper place.
Because God in Christ calls us first to be preoccupied at the feet of Jesus. To hear and receive in a quiet and strong confidence his Word.
And that's something our old, fallen, all-about-me nature can't do, and will never do, and will always fight against.
What's the difference between the true, gracious, saving Gospel of Jesus Christ and the empty, imitation gospels of the world and all the world's religions?
That life-changing difference is to be seen in Mary's God-given understanding that when it comes to salvation's investment, the true Gospel, the real Messiah — redemption revealed by God in his Holy Word — it's all about — will always be about — God's own, from the heart, investment in you.
God invested all that he had in you, despite your fallen, rebellious, have-to-have-it-my-way nature. Despite your lack of understanding when it comes to how salvation actually works. Despite your daily transgressions against him and your neighbor.
Christ — his perfect life and sacrificial death in you place — is God's great and gracious investment in you, and the person sitting next to you and the person down the street from your home that is sleeping in this morning.
God gave up. God gave over. God handed over his precious, only-begotten Son into the hands of evil men — for you and your salvation. No pre-salvation negotiations or deal-making. God invests in you - simply because that is the kind of gracious, merciful, "always more willing to forgive than we are to ask for forgiveness" God he is.
With the eyes of faith, Mary sees that. She is content with that. She is quietly confident in believing that in Jesus and his redeeming Word, she is, right there and now, God's dear child and an heir of heaven — even when it comes to her response to his healing Word. That's why she keeps her eyes on her Lord and her ears open to his Word.
This morning Christ and his holy Word calls us to turn the table on the devil, the world and our old, sinful flesh and see Christ as God's saving investment, and his Cross, his sacrifice for us, his Word as our only comfort, our only certainty, our only solid rock and defense.
As weak and sinful people, we confess finding ourselves too often believing it's all about our service and our work and our investing that makes heaven smile upon us.
But Christ calls us to daily remember our Baptism and continue to sit at his feet.
Because without his abiding presence, without his life-changing Word, our homes are mere houses, our congregation is just a social club, and the Bible is just another handbook for moral living.
Without Christ and his Word, water at the font is only water. Bread and wine from the altar is just bread and wine. And Sunday morning is nothing but a parade of our great works.
Only when we respond in faith to the Word of Christ as he comes in the Scriptures, as he comes in Baptism, as he comes in his holy Supper, can we get a glimpse into heaven's take on being truly free to invest in, to serve our neighbor selflessly, for the sake of our neighbor.
Do you want to give something to Christ? Do you want to invest in his salvation? Then come and give him — your many sins. Because Christ and his Word is the only redemption that can never be taken from us.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Parade or Procession? Luke 7:11-17

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Dearly beloved in Christ:

Processions. We've witnessed a lot of them in the last several weeks. Processions around the United States during Memorial Day observances. Processions here at Redeemer for the last two Sundays - to mark Pentecost and Holy Trinity Sunday. And this Tuesday there will be a procession to the polling places to commemorate election day here in California.
But processions are, by their very definition, different than mere parades. Processions are more somber, more intentional, more revealing about life in this world and the things we really believe in, especially when things aren't going the way we might want.
"Everyone loves a parade." We who live in and around Huntington Beach should understand that — in a community that prides itself on having the biggest parade in the United States. "Everyone loves a parade." Just take a look at the excitement during Mardi Gras.
But not everyone loves a procession. Because a procession forces us to face the reality of what we have become as fallen, weak, helpless, poor and miserable children of our first parents — our first parent who lost it all in their power grab for glory and prestige and the limelight of being the ones in charge and calling the shots.
Precisely because of humanity's fall into sin — our fall into sin — we now not only have parades, we have processions. Processions that give witness to a fallen and dying world. Processions that proclaim who we have become under the tyrants of sin, death and the devil. Processions that confess our inability to fix the mess we have gotten ourselves into.
For the last several weeks there has been a procession of those who's livelihood depended on the beaches and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. A procession of trading in fishing nets for oil containment boom and chemical dispersant sprays. A constant witness to the feeble abilities of industry and government and society to provide a quick fix to the threatening forces in the world — the overwhelming forces in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
You see, processions in a world twisted and infected with sin are as old as our first parents. Take a look at the generations of God's people before the advent of Christ. Processions that wandered in the wilderness. Processions of chained captives being lead into Babylon. And processions of sacrifices to the Tabernacle and Temple to give witness to the need for a once-for-all redemption from the spiritual Pharaoh and his eternal grip on each of us.
Processions define us. Who we have become. And before Christ, what defined us was an endless procession of failure to love God, the maker of heaven and earth. Before Christ, what defined us was an endless procession of despair. A hopeless procession that trumpeted the seemingly unstoppable chorus of, "Dust you are, and to dust you shall return."
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke, the Seventh Chapter:

Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. (Luke 7:11-17 ESV)

We can't imagine a darker, more hopeless situation. The untimely death of the only-begotten son — of a woman who had already lost her husband, and with it her ability to adequately provide for her needs and the needs of her son. She has now lost her precious son. Her only means of support. Her last comfort and joy. She is left alone and grieving.
We can't imagine a more pitiful and heart-breaking situation. And neither could the townspeople of the little village of Nain. Their hearts went out to this woman lost in the poverty of her miserable situation. They process with her in silence — out of the town, out of the place of the living to the place of the lost, to the place of those taken by sin and the consequences of sin.
Yet, in the midst of hopelessness, in the midst of complete despair, in the midst of the seemingly unchangeable effects of death and disease, the most unlikely of men comes to put his hand on the situation and call all to follow him as he begins a procession only he can lead.
The procession our Lord Christ leads was what the patriarchs of old had put their trust in, what they, in faith, had always looked forward to. This is why Joseph had left instructions concerning his remains, that they would be prepared for the day Christ would lead his people out of Egypt to the Promised Land.
The coming of the procession of our Lord Christ is what Abraham and Isaac and Jacob held on to — in life and in death. This is the revelation announced by Elijah to the widow in Zarephath.
The advent of the Messiah's procession. This was the song of angels before prophets and shepherds outside Bethlehem.
Jesus begins a new procession. He said as much at the beginning of his public ministry before the people of Nazareth when read from the pulpit:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind;
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV)

Jesus stops a funeral procession in its tracks, and with his touch, with his "gives-everything-it-promises" Word, begins a new procession that leads dead and dying people back, into the land of liberty, the land of the Gospel, the land of God's eternal grace and favor.
This is the witness of the Christian Church until Christ comes again in all power and glory: everything has changed as our Lord Jesus turns around our procession — the march of fallen, sinful, dying people — and makes it his procession.
Jesus' calls out to all who will listen with the ears of faith: follow me. Follow my lead. Follow my way: from Bethlehem to the Jordan, from Nazareth to Nain, to the place of your redemption: to Jerusalem. To the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives. To Calvary.
That day Jesus confronted sin and the deadly consequences of sin. In touching the dead, Jesus proclaimed what we and all believers give witness to: Jesus was sent to lay aside the glories of heaven as he took upon himself our weakness and despair and grief over what we have done and what we have failed to do.
What is our witness as a Christian congregation? Get God to notice you by doing great things for him? Make a difference in the world and then God will bless your efforts? Surrender all and then God will give you everything you want?
Our witness continues to be simply a finger point to God's gift of grace, God's gift of faith, God's saving gift of his Word: his Word made manifest through prophets and apostles, and finally in the person of his very Son.
Who walked our road, who took upon himself our march to the grave, that we would be lead on a procession of life eternal.
Do you believe this morning that you are beyond God's grace and forgiveness? That because of your sin there might be forgiveness and restoration for other but not for you? Do you find yourself dead when it comes to turning your life around and living a holy and acceptable life under the Word of God?
Then look to Christ's procession.
A procession to the his Cross. A procession to the his Font. A procession to his Table. A procession to his unexpected way of salvation. In God-given trust, let Christ lead.
May Christ in his mercy continue his saving work in the places and times he has promised. And may Christ in his grace continue to give us as Christians — and as a Christian congregation — the ability to witness to the reality of the world's dead-end parades, and in the way of the Cross — Jesus' procession of Life. Amen

Thursday, April 01, 2010

A Sermon for Good Friday (Isaiah 53:3-9)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

We confess in the Creed the following: "He suffered, died and was buried." And in the Old Testament, Isaiah the prophet confesses these words: "By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgressions of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth." (Isaiah 53:8-9 ESV)
Some people just can't get themselves through the automatic glass doors of a hospital. They have no problem sending a card or a handful of flowers, but when given the opportunity to spend a few hours at the bedside of a seriously ill friend or relative, they'd rather have a root canal or their pinky chopped off. They just can't bring themselves to make a visit to the bed of those seriously ill. "I just wouldn't know what to say or do." they confess.
Good Friday is a lot like that. There's something in each of us that turns away and walks when we receive the invitation to come near our Savior and Redeemer as he hangs from a tree. A part of us asks, "Can't I just send a card or flowers?"
This evening there are plenty of people outside these walls who considered coming to services tonight. They told themselves, "I know it's Good Friday, and I should attend services to hear God's Word and give thanks for the gift of salvation won upon the cross of Calvary. But who wants to go visit someone on deathwatch? What would I say or do as I again hear about Jesus' agony — his shameful suffering and disgraceful death?
This day the sanctuary, the Scripture readings, the hymns, the pieces of cloth on the altar, everything — right down to the color of the candles — says, "Behold this one sinless, righteous man dying in the most shameful of ways for the sin of the world." And, in response, a part of us can't help but wait and watch, yet another part of us would much rather close our eyes and turn away.
Not only are two-thirds of the world's people today either completely ignorant or completely uninterested in "Good Friday," this day in the church year is observed by fewer and fewer Christians. "I only attend uplifting services." one person remarked, while another once told me in private, "I would come to services Friday but I just don't feel comfortable in asking my boss for time off to celebrate Jesus' death."
Well, obviously Christians and the Christian Church don't "celebrate" Jesus' suffering and death. We "commemorate" Jesus pouring out his life-blood upon the altar of the cross, we "observe" Good Friday, even if we haven't done as much as we could have to receive this day as a holy day — as Holy Friday. Even if we find ourselves unprepared to receive the gifts of this unique day of the Church Year. Even if we find ourselves like the three disciples in the garden:

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?" (Mark 14:32-37 ESV)

Nevertheless, the hour comes. The sacrifice has been chosen. The offering is willing. He has been washed and anointed for his one-of-a-kind mission. All is ready. He now stands at the entrance to heaven's sanctuary as he lays down his life for rebel sheep who love to stray — for rebel sheep who love to sleep — who love to stay away.
For Good Friday is good and holy and blessed, not because of our great attendance and our soul-stirring prayers or hymns during services. Good Friday is good, Holy Friday is holy, this blessed day is blessed on account of our Lord and his faithfulness to redeem a sinful world from its sin by the laying down of his very life. He brings his righteous, perfect life to God's heavenly altar — and we bring our sin, all we have done against God's will and law, all we have failed to do for the glory of God and our neighbor-in-need.
On this day our Lord Jesus completes the work he began at the manger, at the Jordan, in the garden — the work of securing for us the cup of salvation, the cup of forgiveness, the cup of redemption by taking to his lips the cup that had our names upon it — the cup of God's wrath and punishment.
Often we don't know what to do — what to say — when placed before the dying. And often we don't really know how to behave when it comes to Good Friday. Do we follow the world and simply deny it or ignore it or re-interpret it?
God in Christ through the Holy Spirit would sanctify this day as we are brought near the cross of Christ to watch and pray.
To watch and pray as our Lord does it all for us, on our behalf, in our place, just as Isaiah foretold:

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)

Today is Good Friday, the darkest day of the church year — and yet, the most illuminating day of the church year — as we see the greatest revelation of God's wrath for sin — and, at the same time, as we see the greatest revelation of God's grace for an undeserving world.
In the hymn, "Were you there?" we are asked if we were there at Jesus' suffering and death upon the cross. And although we are separated from that pivotal event of salvation history by two thousand years ago and another continent, we can, in faith, believe that we were there — our sins were there as Jesus took his last breath to proclaim, "It is finished; it is complete; the debt of an entire rebel world is paid in full — for good."

A blessed Good Friday to each of you.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit