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The Day of Pentecost – Series B

Text: Acts 2:1-21

Title: “The Holy Spirit Has Not Stopped Working”

Date: Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

 “Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest, and make our hearts your place of rest, come with your grace and heavenly aid, and fill the hearts which you have made.” Hundreds of times, the Bible refers to the Holy Spirit or Spirit of God or the “Spirit of truth”…but in our day, you don’t hear much about Him in Christian churches. When you do, He seems to “get a bad rap.” For instance, sometimes you’ll hear about people speaking in tongues, muttering sounds and gibberish. And the explanation is: “I was overcome by the Holy Spirit.” Sometimes you’ll hear about people who suddenly fall down in the aisles at church, roll around on the floor. One might conclude: “Well, they have been overcome by the Holy Spirit.” You’ll hear about people breaking down and crying or laughing uncontrollably. People are dancing and running up and down the aisles of the church. What in the world is happening? The explanation is “They have been overcome by the Holy Spirit.” But is that what’s really happening? Is it the Holy Spirit’s job to cause these people to do these strange things? The answer is…NO! It seems that a lot of people get caught up in emotionalism…in the music, the swaying, and the crying. And they attribute that to the Holy Spirit. Many churches don’t even want to talk about the Spirit of God because they don’t want to be associated with these groups of people who look like they’re going off the deep end.
         Today, you are going to hear about God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity. But first, let me say a few words about Pentecost…the day when God the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in a miraculous way. Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims for Pentecost. Estimates put the crowds at over 150,000 people that don’t sound like much to us, but it was huge number for that time. On one of the most crowded days of the year, Jesus brings His church out into the public for the first time. Because of this, some people maintain that Pentecost is the church’s birthday, but this isn’t quite accurate. Actually, it can be said that the church was born 53 days earlier on Good Friday, when Jesus suffered and then died in the darkness for our sins. In addition to this, there was already a church of 120 believers on the eve of Pentecost.

         This morning, you are going to come to understand that the Holy Spirit’s main job isn’t to cause people to fall down in the aisles or cry or laugh uncontrollably. It’s something else. We’re going to see Him in action among the disciples on Pentecost. And we’re going to talk about how He is still at work today.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus describes the work of the Holy Spirit and calls Him “Paracletos,” which is Greek for “Counselor.” Just imagine one day, waking up, and finding out that you are being sued by someone. It’s a very complicated lawsuit – you don’t even understand it yourself. Who do you call? You call a lawyer…your legal counselor. He or she sits at your side…and explains all the complicated things about the law to you. Your legal counselor helps you to understand what’s going on, and what you need to do about the situation. Without your legal counselor, you’d be lost. In a similar way, without the Paracletos…the Counselor…the Holy Spirit, Christ’s disciples would be spiritually lost. Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to send them the Counselor and says: “[H]e will testify about me.” The Holy Spirit will come to them and cause them to understand and to believe everything that the Scriptures say about Jesus. That is the Holy Spirit’s job…to cause Jesus’ disciples to mature in their faith…to counsel or guide them in the truths of God’s Word…so that they can go out and testify about the Lord Jesus Christ to others.
         We see that happen on Pentecost in our Second Reading for today. The disciples are gathered together, celebrating the spring harvest festival of Pentecost. Perhaps they are in the temple courts, where they always gathered together. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit descends on them in a special way. There is the sound of a rushing wind. Something like tongues of fire rest on their heads. Suddenly the disciples are able to speak in foreign languages, even though they have never gone to school to learn these languages. Then the Apostle Peter stands up, and for the first time in his life, gives a sermon to a group of unbelievers…those spiritually dead in sin. The result is another miraculous thing happens…3,000 people are raised to spiritual life by the Holy Spirit and come to faith on that one day.
         Here, God the Holy Spirit does His job and works in a visible way and in a fast way. But today, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Nothing visible…no signs, no rushing wind, no tongues of fire…and nothing fast. Maybe converts to Christianity here and there over a longer period of time, but not 3,000 in one day. And sometimes this frustrates us! Why doesn’t God the Holy Spirit work more quickly and more visibly in our day? We might be tempted to think: “Maybe God the Holy Spirit isn’t working anymore. Maybe the Bible and the Sacraments aren’t the way to go anymore.” “Maybe it’s all up to us now…to make God’s church grow…to convince people to believe in Jesus. It’s all up to us!” Indeed, groups of Christians sometimes get desperate. They throw out the Word of God and the Sacraments and try all different kinds of things, especially the emotional kinds of things…hoping to see the Holy Spirit work in a fast way and visible way.
         Thankfully, Jesus forgives us for those times when we have fallen into that way of thinking. Keep in mind that the Holy Spirit’s main job isn’t to “wow” you with signs. His job isn’t to shock you with spectacular religious moments. His main job, as Jesus says, is to testify about the Savior. His job is to cause people to understand and to believe all the things that Jesus the Messiah has done for them. And just how does the Holy Spirit do this? He does this through the plain Word of God. But as you know, that message is anything but plain. God’s Word tells you that you’re a sinner whose sins have been taken away by the blood of Jesus Christ. God’s Word tells you that Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. God’s Word tells you that someday Jesus will return, and until He does, He promises to be with you and bless you.

Every time you hear or read the Word of God…that’s where you find the Holy Spirit. And He’s working! You most likely can’t see or feel His work. Certainly there’s no rushing wind or flames of fire resting on your head. But as you spend time in God’s Word, the Holy Spirit is working on you. He’s causing you to grow in your faith. He’s causing you to mature in your Christianity. The Holy Spirit is equipping you to be able to share the Gospel of Jesus with others. He does this in a very slow and a very quiet way. That’s how He works, and yet, His work is very powerful, and very life-changing.
         Years ago, engineers building a new bridge over the East River in New York discovered a wrecked hull of a ship, sunken many years before, lying right where the center piers were supposed to be built. Powerful machinery was brought in to remove the ship, but it wouldn’t budge. Then, one of the engineers had an unusual idea. Why not have the tide raise the ship. So strong cables were attached to the hull when the tide was low. The other ends were fastened to the barge above. As the tide came in, the barge gradually lifted the sunken ship up. It was then towed out into the ocean and sunk at a spot that would not cause future problems. God the Holy Spirit is like the tide. He comes very quietly, very slowly. But He comes to you with a great deal of power. He lifts you up from unbelief to faith…and from weak faith to strong faith. He comes slowly and quietly. But never, ever underestimate His power. When you see someone baptized, you’re seeing the Holy Spirit working. When you take the Lord’s Supper, or when you see someone take the Lord’s Supper, you’re seeing the Holy Spirit working. It’s nothing flashy. It will not make a highlight film.

But the Holy Spirit is still working…still lifting people up…still changing and transforming people…still today. As you hear or read and study His Word and make use of His Sacraments, be assured that God the Holy Spirit will keep working. He will never stop until the day our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ returns on the Last Day. Amen.


The Ascension of Our Lord (observed) – Series A, B, C

Text: Acts 1:1-11 & Luke 24:44-53

Title: “Where to Find Your Purpose and Joy”

Date: Sunday, May 13, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

         In our country and all over the world, sports are a big thing It’s no secret that those who play sports have winning as one of their goals. That is simply because winning is fun while losing not so much. In fact, as your team heads for the championship, you feel a sense of purpose. And if you achieve that goal and win, you also feel a sense of joy. However, after everything is over, there is a letdown. Not only is the celebrating over, the season is over too. That sense of purpose and joy you had before is gone. Now you are going to have to find another group or something else like a project or hobby to give you a sense of purpose and joy.

Today, I want to show you where you can find a sense of purpose and joy in your life that can last a long, long time. We start with The Ascension of Our Lord that we are observing and celebrating this morning. Ascension Day was actually this past Thursday…40 days after the celebration of Easter when the resurrected Jesus walked the earth forty days before He ascended into heaven. This morning, we are going to look at Jesus’ words and actions, and how our Lord spoke one last time to His disciples before ascending into heaven. In doing so, you are going to discover that if you really want to have a sense of purpose in your life, you do not need to look to this world for it. Instead, you can look to our ascended Lord. In Him, you will find a permanent sense of purpose and a deeper and longer lasting joy.
         To affirm this, let’s go to our Gospel reading from Luke 24, where we find Jesus and His disciples together…just a little over five and a half weeks after His resurrection. The Lord leads them out to Bethany, (Lk 24:50) which is just outside Jerusalem on the southeastern part of the Mount of Olives…the same general area where Jesus had been arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. According to Acts 1, the resurrected Jesus gathers His disciples together because He has a few more things He wants to say to them before He ascends into heaven. As you observe these disciples, you see that they are still confused about why Jesus has come. Still holding on to the idea of Jesus restoring Israel as a Davidic superpower, they ask Him if He is now going to do that. (cf. Acts 1:6) Jesus responds by telling them not to be concerned about these sorts of things. (cf. Acts 1:7)

What the Lord really wants them to focus on is their purpose in life now that He is about to leave them. Over the past three years, their purpose has been to follow Him and to watch Him fulfill every single Old Testament messianic prophecy that was ever written about Him. Now that He has…He opens “their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Lk 24:45) Their purpose has been to watch Him suffer and die and rise from the dead. They will come to understand very soon…with the Holy Spirit’s help…what all these things mean. But for now, they are done following and learning. Now, Jesus is going to give them a new vocation…a new purpose for their lives. Listen to Jesus’ words and what He tells them: “You are witnesses of these things.” (Lk. 24:48) In Acts 1:8, the Lord declares: “…[Y]ou will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This is what Jesus wants His disciples to do. This is their new purpose in life…to witness to other people the things they have seen, heard, and learned relating to Christ.
         As a Christian in today’s world, this is your purpose too. Through God’s Word, you watched Jesus as He suffered and died, but then rise again from the dead. Even though you did not see those things with your eyes, you heard about it from witnesses and believed it with your heart of faith. God the Holy Spirit has led you to understand that Christ died as the sacrifice for your sins and is the reason your sins are forgiven.  God the Holy Spirit has also led you to understand that Christ overcame sin, death, and the devil by rising from the dead, thereby assuring you the certainty of eternal life.

And because of His death and resurrection, your Lord is the One who directs you to be a witness of these things to others…to “[g]o therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Mt 28:19-20 ESV) Listen to God! Hear Him loud and clear! He has put you on this earth to come here to His Church and worship services in order to feed on His Word and Sacraments, so that you are fortified and capable to do this “good, right, and salutary” or beneficial work of making disciples!
         Sometimes, though, you get mixed-up about the purpose of your life. It is true that you have temporary, earthly purposes. In this life, you are suppose to earn a living…to look for ways to help other people and make this world a better place. You are supposed to be a good and obedient son or daughter…to be a loving mother or father or spouse. That is why on this Mother’s Day, you and I are reminded to thank and praise God for giving us our imperfect mom and thank her for her love…whether you are able to express this to her or if she has gone ahead of you into heaven. In honoring your God-fearing mom, you recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in her as she models God’s love to her family and teaches that Jesus loves them.

To honor moms, I want to read a summary describing the God-fearing Proverbs 31 woman: · Bring your husband good, not harm · Work with eager hands · Get up while it is still dark · Provide food for your family · Set about your work vigorously · Open your arms to the poor · Cause your husband to be respected · Be clothed with strength and dignity · Laugh at the days to come · Speak with wisdom, and faithful instruction · Watch over the affairs of your household · Do not eat the bread of idleness. As a result, the writer of Proverbs 31:28 says, "Her children will arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her."

 Indeed, Christian mothers are to show God’s love daily as they do the 101 things it takes to see to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of their children. Moms show their love as they embrace, teach, listen to, and encourage their children. If by chance your mother has not loved you this way, forgive her because God chose her to be your mother and He loves her and has already forgiven her. And no matter how old you are…appreciate, respect, and obey your mom, for your mother is truly a blessing from God.

         As for each and every one of us and our earthly purposes in life, there is something deeper…something more spiritual. If you want to know what it is, do not look to this world. Look to the ascended Son of God who will someday come back in the same way the disciples saw Him go into heaven. (cf. Acts 1:10-11) His purpose will be “to judge the living and the dead.”  Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension leaves no doubt anymore that Jesus is the God of the universe…the King of heaven and earth. Witness these things about God to others…not only to those who are spiritually weak or lost, but also to those who are spiritually dead in unbelief. Witnessing Christ is having conversations with your enemies and those you despise and cannot stand…witnessing about the spiritual things of God and what Jesus has done and will do in the future.

         Today in the Scriptures, you watched Jesus ascend but He is not locked up in heaven! His ascension means that He is present in a new way for you and even now is giving you a foretaste of the promised feast to come. The Lord’s ascension means He comes to you here and now…in His Holy Word, in Holy Baptism, and in Holy Communion…giving you His gracious gifts of forgiveness, life, salvation, and His Spirit. In coming to you this way, Jesus reminds you of your deeper purpose in life and gives you a kind of joy that you cannot find anywhere else. “You are witnesses of these things” and that means never hesitate to witness God’s love, hope, and joy to a spiritually lost sinner. Amen.

The Sixth Sunday of Easter – Series B

Text: John 15:9-17

Title: “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”

Date: Sunday, May 6, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Joseph Scriven, the man who wrote the hymn we just sang “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”, was born in 1819 in Ireland. Things seemed to go well in his life until he became engaged. The evening before the wedding, his bride drowned. Scriven eventually moved to Port Hope, Ontario where he became engaged again. But tragedy struck once more when his bride became ill and died just before the wedding. In 1855 when his mother in Ireland became sick, Scriven wrote the words of “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” Why would Scriven write such a hymn when his life as an adult had been wrecked with tragedy? Had Jesus really been a friend to him? Has Jesus been a friend to you? It might not always feel like it but through the words of our text, you’ll see the many ways in which Jesus is a friend to you.

         The Lord speaks the words of our Gospel reading the night before He is crucified for our sins. The crucifixion alone shows what a friend we have in Jesus, as Christ Himself says in our text: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15:13) Anytime someone sacrifices his life for a friend, that act makes front-page news. What makes Jesus’ sacrifice so much more amazing is that He willingly gave up His life to save people who, by nature, were not His friends.

A Greek story tells of the devotion and loyalty of Damon and Pythias. Dionysius of Syracuse had condemned Pythias to death. Pythias begged and pleaded to be set free for a short time so that he could get his affairs in order. Damon pledged His own life for the return of his friend. And Pythias faithfully returned before the appointed time of his execution, as he had promised. The tyrant Dionysius was amazed at the devotion and loyalty of these two and begged to be included in their friendship. Damon and Pythias were each ready to lay down their life for the other. But seldom is a person willing to identify with, and die for someone who is ungodly and tyrannical.

Yes, what a friend we have in Jesus that He would give up His life to pay for our sins we commit against Him. Jesus’ friendship doesn’t stop with His saving us. He went on to tell His disciples: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (Jn. 15:15) When Jesus says that He has made known to us everything the Father made known to Him, He’s saying that we have inside knowledge of the kind of things that affect not only everyday life, but also eternal life. For example, we have knowledge of how the Father has planned to work everything, even sadness and pain, for the good of believers. We also know what He has planned for the end of the world. Yes, you might not know when the end will come but you and I do know how we can be ready for the end…by being friends with Jesus.

         Those who have friends in high places not only know what’s going on, they have access to power and influence. With Jesus as our friend we have that blessing. Jesus says: “…the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (Jn. 15:16c) What exactly does it mean that the Father will do whatever we ask “in Jesus’ name”? It doesn’t mean that the Father will do whatever we demand of Him. What we can be certain of is that our heavenly Father will only give us that which is good for us no matter what we demand from Him. Our heavenly Father will give us these blessings for Jesus’ sake. What a friend we have in Jesus that He causes the heavenly Father to listen to and answer our prayers! We can be certain, however, that when we ask for spiritual blessings like forgiveness or a stronger faith, our heavenly Father will give us these blessings for Jesus’ sake. 

We’ve seen how Jesus is a friend to us but now let’s find out why he is such a friend. Jesus explains in our text: “…I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” (Jn. 15:16b) Jesus became your friend, not only to save you but to make you productive in God’s eyes. So what kind of lasting fruit does Jesus want from you and me? The Lord says: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (Jn. 15:10-12)

Years ago, national television showed twin brothers about eight or nine years old. One was considerably smaller than the other because of kidney disease. Once he had been weak and sickly, but now before the cameras he played and chattered away. Why the improvement?  Because his brother had given him his kidney and saved his life. His brother was asked which kidney he gave. He replied: “My right one…because I am right-handed and I figured that my right kidney was my best kidney.” What an example of godly love! His parents said it was his own idea to give his twin brother his kidney and that his love was free and generous toward his brother.

         What Jesus wants from you and me is for us to love one another as He has loved us, in that “while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son.” (Rom. 5:10) God sent His only-begotten child to love us…to befriend us…to die for us…so that you and I would be His friends. In return, you and I are to love Him and each other. We shouldn’t think of this as a burden that He imposes on us. This love is clearly the focus of the readings today. The word love is used five times in the Epistle reading and nine times in the Gospel text. So if you’re going to take one thing away from today’s readings, remember that [Jesus said:] “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn. 15:12) The reason He wants us to love one another is so that our “joy may be complete.” (Jn. 15:11b) Jesus knows what He’s talking about, doesn’t He? There is joy in speaking to your spouse with tenderness and affection. There is joy in empathizing with those who are in pain. There is joy in being patient with your children and grandchildren. When you don’t do these things, you feel guilt and shame instead of joy.

         But showing love to each other is easier said than done isn’t it? It’s hard to love those who aren’t appreciative of what we do for them. It’s hard to love a teacher, a spouse, or a boss who nitpicks our work. How can we love people like that? Jesus tells us how. In our Gospel reading from last week, Jesus said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) As long as we continue to remain in Jesus, that is, as long as we continue to hear and believe his Word, we will bear much fruit, we will love each other.

So yes! “What a friend we have in Jesus!” Joseph Scriven hit the nail right on the head when he wrote that hymn, didn’t he? Jesus became your friend when He died for you. He solidified the friendship by sharing with you everything the heavenly Father shared with Him and by opening the Father’s ears to your prayers. The Son of God maintains the friendship through His promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Continue to remain in Him in His Word and the Sacraments. And continue to love one another as He wants each of us to do. Amen.


Saint John the Baptist Lutheran


John 15:1-8

“Remain in Me”

In 2005, the commencement speaker at the Stanford University graduation service took the podium and talked about how to live before you die.  He said, “You’ve got to find what you love… Your work is going to fill a large part of your life.  And the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.  If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle.  As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.  And like any great relationship, it gets better and better as the years roll on.  So keep looking.  Don’t settle for anything less.  That speaker was Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple.  In that same speech about doing what you love to do in life, Steve shared the question he asked himself each day to make sure he was living life to its fullest.  “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?”

How would you answer the question? Are you satisfied with today’s activities? Do you have “great work” to do today? Would you change anything on your schedule if this were the last day of your life?  Don’t answer yet.  Listen to what Jesus says about what it means to live life to its fullest. 

Jesus has a vision for your life.  He has a vision for your happiness.  He shares with us today his vision with this story of the vine and the branches.  Steve Jobs advised that until you find great work that you love to do, you should keep looking.  That is the only way to true happiness. Today, Jesus says the opposite which shouldn’t surprise us, for his way to happiness is not humanities way to happiness.  Jesus says, “Stop looking. I am the only Vine to a life that bears great fruit.  In other words, look no further than me if you want to find true happiness.

One reason why Jesus calls us to remain in him is that, as he says,apart from him you can do nothing.”  This is easy for us to understand when it comes to a branch.  We’ve all seen how a branch that is cut off slowly withers, dries up, and dies.  We use it for firewood.  None of us has ever seen a branch lying on the ground alive and well, bearing fruit.  No, fruit only comes from a branch connected to the vine.

But what’s not so easy to understand or to accept, is that Jesus is talking about us.  Without Jesus, all people are unfruitful, dead branches.  It’s not easy to agree with Jesus because we see lots of good people out there, doing “good things.  We see ourselves doing “good things.” We see charity and kindness, even in people who don’t believe God exists.All you have to be is a decent human being.  Look at all that Steve Jobs did to help us improve our lives.  You’d be in the minority if you did not agree with that. But Jesus says everything done apart from him is like nothing done.  As another verse says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”  (Hebrews 11:6)

That verse changes how we think about what it means to be great and fruitful in this life.  It brings to the surface all sorts of questions. What fruit does God recognize and value?  What does Jesus’ Father, the Gardener, work in us to will and do?  What does he cultivate to get more and more, constantly pruning away the suckers so that he can get bigger and better fruit?

Two things make good works good works in God’s eyes.  One is that it’s something done that agrees with God’s will. It’s something we know he commands us and wants us to do.  And secondly, it is a good work because of its connection to Jesus, the true Vine.

Compare being connected to the true vine to a computer.  It does many wonderful things.  It has its own power button.  But it won’t do anything unless … what?  unless it’s plugged into a power source.  Without power, it is, as they say today, usually phones who quit functioning a brick.  

That is why we are here this morning celebrating a powerful Jesus, the source of our power; he stands before us alive after he died, perfect and glorious after taking upon himself all the imperfections, guilt and shame of the world upon himself.  Sin paid for.  Death conquered.  And now he calls to the ends of the earth, “Believe and be saved.  Receive my victory as your own that you might not die.  Take my death to sin and live for righteousness.”  (1 Peter 2:24)  He is the only power for fruitful living.  He is the true Vine from which comes the vital sap branches need to produce and bear fruit.  The source for all good fruit is the connection to the Vine!!!

He tells us that, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…  If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

Jesus warns Christians about being disconnected from him, the Vine.  You’ve seen branches that have not remained in Jesus, haven’t you?  Maybe you have  even experienced being disconnected from him yourself in some way

This being disconnected shows when some Christians quit attending worship services for a time.  Life goes on, as usual, maybe it even gets better, and they think less and less of the importance of being attached to Jesus the Vine. They forget that Jesus said in his holy Word, “Remain in me.  Let my words remain in you.”  My Father so loved you that he gave me up for your benefit, so that no one who believes in me would perish, but that all who believe would be saved!  Don’t forget that your nourishment, your ability to do good works comes from me.  Simply give thanks for the gift that has been given!  I myself have risen and give you eternal life in my name. I have done that for you. 

We, faithful church members start to disconnect ourselves from the Vine when we seek credit for what we do.  Or perhaps we get disappointed or frustrated, and even become unloving, if we offer a kind word or act of service but are not thanked for being nice or helpful.   Or when we treat this life as our world, made up of our time, our strength, our accomplishments, our reputation we lose sight of Jesus the Word – “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.”(Psalm 24:1) But such thinking must die in us, or it will ruin any connection to Jesus.

Jesus says to us: I am the Vine.  In my great mercy and love, I supply you with every good and perfect gift for your body and soul.  It is I who works in you to will and to act according to my purpose.  It is I who have redeemed you with my blood so that you would be purified and be eager to do what is good.   (Titus 2:13-14)

Do you see how precious a picture it is that Jesus says he is the vine, you, the branches?  Do you hear how great a promise is made that whoever remains in him, he will remain in you?  Do you see Jesus’ vision for you, toward which his Father, the Gardener, works and prunes away for your benefit?

All Jesus wants is for you to grow as his disciple.  All he wants is for you to be cultivated and pruned, corrected and trained by his Word, encouraged by his washing in Baptism, and sharing the blessings of his death with you in his Supper.  “Remain in me; he says” for in me you, as he told the disciples “you are clean.”

Talk about a message that not only “applies to your life” – it is your life, just as it is my life.  So, I ask you again the same questions I asked at the beginning of the sermon.  “Are you satisfied with today’s activities? Do you have “great work” to do today? Would you change anything on your schedule if this were the last day of your life?”  It doesn’t matter what’s on your schedule, how great it is or how small.  For whatever you are doing (vacuuming the floor, washing the dishes, pouring a glass of water, talking over a coffee break) whatever you are saying, the attitude you have, the words you speak and how you say them, the things you do are all opportunities to bear not just good fruit, but great fruit.  For Jesus has promised that those that remain in him will bear much fruit.  More fruitful words have never been spoken!  Amen

The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Series B

Text: 1 John 3:16-24

Title: “Walking the Walk of Love in Truth”

Date: Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

One morning, little Julie wanted to surprise her mother with breakfast in bed. After Julie got out the breakfast tray, she put orange juice in a glass, then cereal with milk in a bowl, and finally bread in the toaster. When it was time for the toast to pop-up…nothing happen. Julie then got her Dad to look at the toaster and find out what was wrong. Dad found the problem right away. Julie had forgotten to plug the toaster into the outlet. No toast from a lifeless, unplugged toaster.

         In a similar way, when we are “unplugged” from Jesus, we are disconnected from our source of life. Being disconnected from Christ leaves us to our cold and loveless nature. It leaves us lifeless. “…[A]part from Me,” says Jesus in John 15, “you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) No connection to Christ means no nourishment for faith! Your good works…your gifts of money…even your daily conduct will be worthless in the eyes of the Lord!

         However, there is Good News. The resurrected Savior, the Good Shepherd, has “plugged” you into Himself. In your Baptism, Jesus grafted you into Himself and thus He lives in you! In Baptism, the Holy Spirit calls you and enlightens you with His gifts, including the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23, which includes love. The result of God’s work in keeping you in the true faith is that you are to bear fruit of active love for others. God expects you and me to do more than just talk the talk…more than just pay lip service to love. Talking the talk without walking the walk doesn't fool too many people and it certainly doesn’t fool God! John emphasizes this when he says in our sermon text: "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth." (1 Jn. 3:18)

         A woman was given a tour of a corn mill powered by a river that ran close to the wall. But all the wheels were silent and still. “Where is the power,” she asked. She was then shown a handle and told to press it. She did and the mighty force was instantly turned on…the wheels moved…and the place was alive with activity. Likewise, God powers you and me in His love through faith and His Word, so that you and I will be active in good works. God expects you and me to respond to His love by truly loving others and helping them. Carrying out these acts of love proves that love really does dwell in your heart and in your mind. This love in action is what James 2 is getting at when James writes: "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" (James 2:15-16) The apostle John puts it another way when he says: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" (1 Jn. 3:17)

How, indeed! How can the love of God be in you and me when we don’t help people who need our help? How can the love of God be in you and me when we consistently tell our children or grandchildren what they are doing wrong and not what they're doing right? How can the love of God be in you and me when we expect people to help us…but resent it when they ask us to help them?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, when you consider the loving actions that God demands,

you realize that you have fallen far short. You realize that what you deserve is nothing but God's wrath and condemnation. Not a day goes by where you and I are not the loving people God wants us to be. I want to be more loving and caring throughout each day and I am certain you do too. The question is: "What can we do about it? How can we fix our loveless hearts that torment us?” The answer is…only Jesus can fix our loveless hearts.

In Aesop’s Fables, the wind and the sun prepare to make a man shed his coat. The wind used its violence and force to tear off the coat, but the man just held on to it tighter around him. As for the sun, it gradually used its warmth on the man and he voluntarily took off the coat himself. The gentle and gradual warmth of Christ’s love brings about change much more effectively than intimidation or force. God has given you and me the perfect model of love. You want to know what it means to truly love someone? Look at Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He is love in the flesh who willingly suffered and died for people like you and me who do not deserve His love. Lutheran Pastor Larry A. Peters puts it this way: “The one who has this Good Shepherd lacks nothing and has all things…including the lush green grass of an oasis and the still, deep waters that refresh. The one who has this Good Shepherd has his or her soul restored. Even more, this Shepherd shields against all fears of death and evil by His everlasting presence and power. His staff speaks fear to the enemies of the sheep…but comfort to those who welcome His protection and even His discipline. This Shepherd provides more than enough. His lavish grace anoints the head and overflows the cup.” (cf. Ps. 23:1-5)

         Since the Good Shepherd loves us poor miserable sinners unconditionally and has forgiven all our trespasses, we are humbly moved and inspired to show our gratitude to the Lord. We do this by sharing that same kind of love to others…by forgiving the sins that others have committed against us. At a particular time in his life, one of the greatest Afro-American leaders wrestled with the extreme difficulty of forgiveness. But finding the path to victory, Booker T. Washington said: “When I saw the injuries and insults hurled against my people, I grew to hate white men. I hated them until my soul dried up. Then I took my hatred to Jesus Christ. He took the hatred out of my heart. He showed me how to forgive and how to love white men.”

Christ's love for you and me is the model and motivation for our Christian love. In fact, John speaks about that very thing in our sermon text when he says: "This then is how we…set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything." (1 Jn. 3:19-20) God can see the big picture. Our heavenly Father takes into account the sacrifice that the Lamb of God made on the cross and His resurrection to make you holy. Jesus affirms this in today’s Gospel reading, saying: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (Jn. 10:11, 17-18)

What does that incredible love of God shown to you in the death and resurrection of Jesus mean for your daily life? St. John sheds light on the answer saying: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." (1 Jn 3:16) Isn't that one of the marks of true Christian discipleship? It is a willingness to make sacrifices for one another…to give ourselves to each other…to truly love one another as God has loved us. If you believe in the name of Jesus Christ and love one another, you are obeying God’s commands and doing what pleases Him. (cf. 1 Jn. 3:21-23) When you obey His commands, it’s because He lives in you and you live in Him. You and I know this because God loves us and dwells in us by the Holy Spirit He gave us. (cf. 1 Jn. 3:24)

So, when you are “not plugged” into, or apart from, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior…you will be lifeless and not love the way God wants you to love. Thankfully, God keeps you graciously connected to Him through the way He dwells in you and loves you…that is, His Word and Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Respond to God’s awesome love for you by loving Him and loving others because as Jesus declares in John 13: "All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another." (Jn. 13:35) Amen.

Second Sunday of Easter - Series B

Text: John 20:19-31

Title: “The Cure for Doubt and Unbelief”

Date: Sunday, April 8, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

         Many people in our world today are skeptical about the existence of God. Yet they question Him and attack Him whenever they get the chance. Not only that but just as many people or more don’t believe in Christ’s bodily resurrection…including some who call themselves Christians.

This is nothing new. In fact, it happens on that first Easter night many centuries ago. Jesus disciples are huddled together in a house behind locked doors. They are hiding out from the Pharisees and Sadducees…the Jewish leaders…because these disciples are scared! They have to be asking themselves: “What are the Jewish leaders going to do to us? Will they arrest us? Will we be accused of stealing the body?”

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, Jesus is standing in the middle of them. He says to them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus always says the right thing at the right time. They can feel peace in their hearts because there is nothing to worry about. The Lord is right there with them …alive! Showing them His hands and side, He proves to them that He is not a ghost but the same person they have known. He is the same Jesus they witnessed being crucified just two days earlier. They are glad to see Him and now believe that He is risen from the dead.

         But a disciple is missing. Thomas misses the big event. Where is he on Easter? Why isn’t Thomas with the rest of the disciples in that Upper Room on that first Easter evening? Is he with his twin brother? Is he in hiding somewhere? When Thomas finally returns, the other disciples are excited and tell him that Jesus had been there. But Thomas doesn’t just doubt it. He does not believe it! “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side,” declares Thomas, “I will never believe.” (v 25) In other words, ‘I will not believe, unless I see visible proof‘. We call him “doubting Thomas,” but he’s really “unbelieving Thomas.” He doesn’t believe the message of the eye witnesses. He must see it for himself. Remember that famous line in the movie Jerry McGuire? “Show me the money.” Don’t just talk about it…don’t just make a bunch of empty promises. Show me! That’s the unofficial state slogan for Missouri…the “show me state.” Seeing is believing. Talk is cheap. Show me!

After all, Thomas is a practical man who lives in a practical world. He’s not about to succumb to some kind of fantasy or fairy tale. Dead is dead. No one in their right mind would hesitate to believe the Roman soldiers when they said a prisoner was dead. They were experts at killing! And it is not that Thomas doesn’t want to believe that Jesus is still alive. But he knows how the world works. Dead is dead and that is it…end of story!
         Our world today sees Jesus’ resurrection the same way. It’s a fairy tale…a fantasy. It didn’t really happen. In fact, a number of people have been determined to prove that the resurrection of Jesus was only a spiritual resurrection. They believe that Jesus rose from the dead, only in the sense that His spirit goes marching on. It is sort of like the way the spirit of Abraham Lincoln continues to influence America. Dr. Paul L. Maier…professor emeritus of ancient history at Western Michigan University dismisses such a theory. He points out that it would have been a contradiction in terms for an early Jew to say that someone was raised from the dead, but his body was left in the tomb. That was not how people talked back then. Furthermore, Dr. Maier points out that many of Jesus’ disciples were executed because they would not deny the resurrection. No person in his or her right mind would die for something that didn’t happen or was a fraud. Of all the events that took place in the first century, no historical event has more widespread documentation than the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
         On the Sunday after Easter, the disciples are huddled together again in lockdown but this time Thomas is with them. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Jesus is standing in the middle of them. He says to them: “Peace be with you.” Then the Lord focuses on Thomas and invites him to touch the wounds He had sustained on the cross. “Do not disbelieve,” Jesus tells Thomas, “but believe.” (v 27b) This is what cures Thomas of his unbelief. Thomas responds by saying, “My Lord and my God!” (v 28) Thomas becomes a man of faith…a man who believes in Jesus, even though the world will tell him otherwise.
         The scars of Jesus’ crucifixion remain in the resurrection, convincing the skeptical disciple that the Easter news is true. Jesus has risen! Of course, you and I can’t see those scars. But the disciples, including Thomas, did see them, and were convinced. Over 500 people saw those scars after the Lord resurrected and testified about it to the world. Peter preached the resurrection to thousands in Jerusalem. James, the half-brother of the Lord, saw those scars and believed. People gave their lives rather than deny they had seen Jesus risen from the dead.

         “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” That’s you. You get a blessing from Jesus. You are not given the opportunity to see or touch. Instead, you are given the chance to hear the testimony of these witnesses…including Thomas. John, who was there, recorded these things for you, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing, would have life in His name. It’s not simply believing the bare fact that Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead. Even the devil and his minions know this…and they shudder at the thought of their undoing.  It’s believing and trusting that Christ’s death on the cross atones for your sin. That this life lovingly laid down for you is a sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away your sin and the sin of the world. That Jesus is not simply a good man who died an awful death. He is the Son of God in the flesh who died in your place. Christ became your sin and conquered your death so that you would have life forever in Him.

         Believe Jesus lives…and you also will live! Because His grave is empty, your grave will be empty on the Last Day, and people will say the same thing about you that they said about Jesus: He is not here, he is risen! Or she is not here, she is risen! It’s believing that our greatest enemy, Death, has been dealt with once and for all by Jesus. It’s believing that His words are true…that they are Spirit and life. With those words the crucified and risen One forgives you, and gives you His Body and Blood as surely as Thomas saw those wounds on that Sunday after Easter.

         A.N. Wilson, a writer and biographer, grew up as a Christian. In his forties, he lost his faith and became a passionate atheist, keeping company with some of the famous atheists of our day. Several years ago, he wrote of his reconversion to Christianity in a wonderfully written essay entitled “Why I Believe Again.” He recalls an incident of a young minister who feared that he had lost his faith. He had gone to the late archbishop Michael Ramsey for advice as to what to do. All the archbishop said to the distressed young minister was: “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.” He told him to continue worshipping Jesus in the Sacraments and faith would return. Wilson then writes: “For a few years, I resisted the admission that my atheist-conversion experience had been a bit of middle-aged madness. I do not find it easy to articulate thoughts about religion. I remain the sort of person who turns off ‘Thought for the Day’ when it comes on the radio. I am shy to admit that I have followed the advice given all those years ago by a wise archbishop to a bewildered young man: that moments of unbelief “don’t matter”, that if you return to a practice of the faith, faith will return.”

         So stay close to God by reading His Word in the Bible each day and meditating on it. Eat and drink the Lord’s Supper as often as it is given to strengthen your faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Make the sign of the cross daily upon your forehead and upon your heart to remind you that you are a baptized, forgiven child of God! And through His Means of Grace…His Word and Sacraments…the Lord gives you a heart that can confess along with Thomas: “My Lord and my God.” In Jesus name, Amen.

Easter Day Celebration – Series “Return From Exile: A Lenten Journey”

Text:  Mark 16:1-8

Title: “Welcome Home!”

Date: Sunday, April 1, 2018…11:00a.m.

Pastor Steve Bocklage

So, why have you come here today? What are you looking for? Why this place, this day? What are you looking for? You must be seeking something in particular on a day like today because, as any pastor can tell you, we do not get these kinds of crowds every Sunday! I suppose some of you are here because it is the traditional, expected thing to do on Easter Sunday: “My parents always made sure we were in church on Easter, and I am carrying on the tradition.” Maybe your family has a rule, a mandate: no church, no ham! Some of you are here because you are always here, every Sunday. So, today is no different, except for the breakfast. But, why are you really here? What are you really looking for? I strongly suspect that you are looking for the end of the journey…you are looking for home. Perhaps you are here because you are home for the holiday and your family always goes to church together on Easter. Possibly you are here because you are unable to be home, and church on Easter Sunday reminds you of your home and family. Maybe church and the people here are your home and family.

There is something about this day and this place that reminds you and me of home—and rightly so! The unfortunate truth remains, however, that we spend most of our days looking for home somewhere else. I am not talking about church attendance, even though it is related. I am referring to our focus upon the things of the world as if they are what truly matter. We look to this world as if it truly is our home. And while that may seem like a small matter on the surface, in reality it means that we are like the women in our Easter text from the Gospel of St. Mark. The first place we “go” to seek Jesus is a tomb. We look for Him among the dead. We focus upon the tangibles, the perishable, and the mortal. We seek Jesus among the dead! We treat the pit of the tomb as if it were home.

Why do the women go to the graveyard to see Jesus? We always talk about how they are doing their duty by going out to anoint the body—to properly prepare His body for burial. We speak of their bravery while the rest of the crew hide behind locked doors in fear and terror. We talk of their devotion to the Son of God. But this truth remains the same…they believed Jesus is dead! They go to the tomb to see Jesus because the tomb is the home for dead people.

Why do they seek Jesus among the dead? It’s because death is the land of exile for mankind. Sin has made it that way. Death is the reality all of us face. Yes, it’s true that we fight it and we deny it. We do all we can to put it off. But the reality of our sin is death! Death is our land of exile…the grave is our wilderness home. You can eat healthily, workout, see the best doctors, eliminate stress, and be in touch with your inner self.  Yet, in spite of all this…you will still die. As a surgeon told some seminarian students in a lecture on the progress of medical science, “Do not forget…that with all this advancement, the mortality rate remains 100%.”

Such is the devastation brought about by sin in our world and in ourselves. In the Garden of Eden, man willingly brought sin into our world. But who knew that sin would bring its partner we know as death? I’m not talking about the sanitized death of our American culture. No, I’m talking about the brutal, agonizing, weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth kind of death that is the result of being separated from God. It is death that is everlasting condemnation…death that is suffering beyond comparison…death that is the great enemy that no person can overcome. Your sin has sent you to this land of exile…this land of death. You are in an exile that is a death both physical and spiritual. You are in exile with no ability to escape and no hope of return. Small wonder that you and I live as if the tomb is our home.

For this reason, God sent His beloved Son into this world to rescue you from your land of wandering…from your deadly exile in sin…from the reality of death itself. Jesus came to accomplish what you had no hope of accomplishing. By the cross, He has redeemed, restored, and renewed you. Jesus hung on the cross to bear your sin and mine—suffering, bleeding holy blood, and dying as the all-availing sacrifice. The Son of Man overcame the twin forces of sin and death. The Son of God conquered Satan as He provided the sacrifice required and cleansed you from all guilt and shame. For all this, God sent His Son Jesus, who faced death in your place and finished the work God promised He would do. And for this, He was laid in a tomb as a lifeless corpse—but a lifeless corpse with a promise!

Yet, the women who go to the tomb that first Easter morning are not focused on the promise. They are focused on the corpse. They go to see Jesus among the dead. They are living as if the grave is their home—the end of their journey. But the angel tells them: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here.” (Mark 16:6) Why do you seek the living among the dead? Why do you seek Jesus in a tomb? He is not here. He is risen! The tomb is empty! It’s not Christ’s home. The grave holds Him for only three short days. The grave—the pit—is not and will not be His dwelling place. The land of the exile with sin and death…Satan’s wilderness…could not contain Him. He is not there. He is risen!

An English advertising agent and freelance writer named Frank Morison was a non-Christian and quite proud of it. He went to Palestine with the sole purpose of researching the resurrection story in order to disprove it. In doing so, the whole structure of Christianity would come toppling down. He searched for the chunk of evidence that would refute all the claims of Easter Sunday morning. But the more he examined the evidence of Christ’s resurrection, the more interesting and impressive he found it…and the more tired he grew of his own naturalistic, humanism explanations. Finally, he shed his agnostic views and converted to Christianity, finding the resurrection account too difficult to disprove. He gave a briefing on the entire experience, which he titled: “Who Moved the Stone?”

THE TOMB IS EMPTY!  Jesus is not there! He is risen! Do you realize what this means? If the tomb is not Christ’s home, then the tomb is not your home either! Christ has been victorious over sin, death, and the devil…and He has shared His victory with you and me. As Isaiah prophesied in our OT reading: “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”  Christ paid the price and overcame the Ancient Foe, so you are rescued from the wilderness…you are restored to your God…you are returned from the land of your exile…from sin and eternal death. Welcome home!

         THE TOMB IS EMPTY!  Folks, THE TOMB IS EMPTY! Say it with me: “THE TOMB IS EMPTY!” (they repeat) Do not seek Jesus among the dead…do not live your life like those who have no hope. The tomb is empty! He is risen, and you and I will also rise from the dead! That is God’s promise for all who believe and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. 20th Century American theologian and Presbyterian minister Wilbur M. Smith, noted in his book Therefore Stand that “of the four great religions of the world resting directly upon personalities rather than upon some philosophical system, the Christian religion is the only one that even talks about an empty tomb in relation to its founder.”

Since this world is NOT your home, don’t be distracted by the glamour and the glitter. Since this world is NOT your home, you not be overcome by the pain and the darkness. We walk with eyes focused…not on the tomb…but on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. (cf. Heb. 12:1–3) We live with eyes focused on the One who has returned us to a right relationship with our Father in heaven. We walk with eyes focused…not on the land of death…but on forgiveness and the open gates of everlasting life.

Welcome home! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Easter Sunday Dawn / Sunrise – Series B

Text: Isaiah 12:1-6

Title:  The LORD Has Done Glorious Things!”

Date: Sunday, April 1, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Today, we are going to be reminded that we cannot, and we dare not ever, underestimate the power of Jesus’ resurrection. No matter how often we celebrate Easter…no matter how often we hear that death has been swallowed up in victory…it should never be enough. We need to hear that message over and over again to remind us, as Isaiah says, that there is reason to rejoice. There is reason to celebrate…not just this Sunday but also every Sunday…not just every Sunday, but every day of our lives. This reason to celebrate and rejoice is especially important in our day and age because of the doom and gloom that is around us. Every day you and I hear that we are on the edge of disaster, economic ruin, wars, and terrors. People sometimes grow depressed and are filled with despair. They just don’t know what the future holds.
         Today, we celebrate the fact that the future is certain…that indeed Christ is risen! The Lord Jesus Christ has come back to life so that no matter what happens between now and eternity…you and I have heaven as our home. Heaven is the place where Jesus has gone ahead to prepare a place for each and every one of His believers. No wonder Isaiah is so filled with joy in our sermon text from chapter 12.

When you turn back and look at chapter 11 in Isaiah, you find that the prophet tells God’s people that from the family of Jesse, a branch will spring up from that root. Now, of course, from Jesse’s line comes David…and from David’s line comes the Savior. Isaiah describes how the children of Israel are going to be delivered and how the world is going to be delivered from its enemies. Then he says as chapter 12 begins: "In that day you will say: ’I will praise you, O LORD.’" The children of Israel would find reason to praise the Lord. Isaiah states that reason for rejoicing: "Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me."

Understand that Isaiah lived only a few generations after the children of Israel came out of Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for forty years. The Israelites had to endure God’s wrath and punishment because of their rebellious, wicked, and sinful nature. But God forgave their sins. He wasn’t angry with them forever. They would have reason to rejoice because the Lord has done glorious things. "Surely God is my salvation;” declares Isaiah, “I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation." (v. 2) "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." (v. 3) Time and again, when the children of Israel grumble and complain, they endure God’s punishment. Time and again the Lord God forgives them and delivers them. When they come to the Promised Land…after God had protected them for forty years…He drives out their enemies. The Lord delivers them…reminding us that He also delivers you and me in Christ’s death and resurrection.
         Indeed, our Lord has done glorious things by His resurrection from the dead. From the Book of Revelation, we read these words as John is given the vision of what is in heaven: "For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Rev. 7:17) God says to you today, as does Isaiah, that the Lord has become your salvation. After all, you cannot save yourself. The fact is…you and I don’t deserve to be saved. But God in His goodness, grace, love, and mercy…sent His beloved Son to take our place. Christ was torturously crucified…laid in the tomb supplied by Joseph of Arimathea, so that Jesus might taste death for you and me. Then He rose again from the dead so that you and I will rise again. St. Paul declares in Romans 8 that "The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you." (Rom. 8:11) You have a mortal body that someday will put on immortality. When your mortal body perishes, you will have an imperishable body as God’s gift to you when Christ returns.
         Our Lord has done glorious things. He has become your salvation, and knows each one of your needs and provides for them. He becomes, as Isaiah says, our strength, our song, our joy, and our reason…actually our only real reason for living. In John 10, Jesus speaks about Himself as the Good Shepherd and He makes this point when He says: "I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full." (Jn. 10:10b) The Lord gives you life to the full…a full life in heaven when the Jesus returns.
         God also says that the simple true story of Christ’s resurrection needs to be made known to all the world, as difficult as that might be to do. (cf. v. 5) A recent poll done at the end of February asked people if they believed in a physical resurrection. Sadly, among the 1,007 people that they asked, 36% said, "Yes." So, about a third of the people believed that there is life after death. Even sadder is that only a little over 50% of Christians believe there is a physical resurrection. This poll is very, very, eye opening. Christ’s resurrection and our own physical resurrection is something that we have grown up with…something that is a basic foundation of the Christian church because it’s in God’s Word of absolute truth. Yet, many people are not certain on this Easter Sunday that Christ came back to life or if they are going to be in heaven.

That’s why St. Paul affirms: "We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence." (2 Cor. 4:13b-14) Paul says you and I know this fact. This resurrection fact is guaranteed by God in His Word and by the glorious things He has done. Let us not forget how glorious the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is…that He overcame sin, death, and Satan for us by coming back to life.

So, "Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you." (v. 6) The Lord has given you the gift of eternal life. The Lord has become your salvation, so that with joy and thanksgiving and a song of praise, you can let this resurrection truth be known to all the world.   Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Let’s shout all of it out together…ready? Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! AMEN

Palm Sunday/Passion of the Lord - Series B

Text: John 12:20-43

Title: “Truly Seeing Jesus”

Date: Sunday, March 25, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

We live in dark and dangerous times. The stability we crave in life seems shaken every time we turn around. Our country goes deeper and deeper into debt…more than 21 trillion dollars according to US Debt Clock.org. Men and women continue to be downsized from their jobs and have a difficult time finding full-time employment. The joining together of one man and one woman in holy marriage that God Himself instituted and blessed continues to be challenged by the gay and transgender communities. From sociopaths to ISIS and radical Islam…all of them continue to wreak havoc and devastation in our country and throughout the world. We need relief…we need hope…we need someone to save us from all this madness.
         Today marks the beginning of Holy Week, where faithful followers of Jesus Christ remember His suffering and death to save us from the madness of sin, death, and Satan. This coming week, we Christians will once again sit in the upper room with Christ to hear His final words and prayers, and then receive His true body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine. We will go with Christ to the Garden of Gethsemane to hear His anguished prayers and witness the betrayal of Judas. You and I will once again be present at the trial of Jesus before Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, where Christ is mocked and condemned. Then we will come before the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, and see the “King of the Jews” tortured first and then sentenced to death prior to His journey to the cross.

         Today also recognizes the way Jewish people welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. This morning, the events recorded in our sermon text take place two days after the first Palm Sunday. Jesus spends much of that Tuesday in the Temple courts where the leaders of the Jews question His teaching authority. (cf. Mk 11:27-33) And this day will be the last that the Lord Jesus teaches publicly before He suffers and dies.

         Also in Jerusalem at this time is a multitude of pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire to worship and celebrate the Feast of the Passover. Among those present are a group of Gentiles who had converted to the Jewish religion. These Greek proselytes likely heard about Jesus’ reputation of healing the sick…restoring sight to the blind…making the lame walk…and casting out demons. This group comes to Philip with a request…”Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (v 21b) Perhaps they think Jesus is the one who can give hope and meaning to their lives.

         When Jesus hears this request, it reminds him of the work He is about to do. He makes it clear that “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (v 23) The time has arrived for the message of the One who has come to save all people to be spoken for all to hear. Jesus points out that if you want to see Him, then you must die just like the seed that dies so “it bears much fruit.” (v 24) Jesus must now be the seed that dies in order that the abundance of fruit of forgiveness, life, and salvation can be harvested. He has fulfilled the Father’s will with a few final important acts remaining. If you truly want to see Jesus….be repulsed by your comfortable, self-serving lifestyle. (cf. v 25) If you truly want to see Jesus…follow Him in a self-denial lifestyle and serve Him and your neighbor. (v 26; cf. Mt 16:24-25)
         What Jesus is inferring here is that life in Him on this side of heaven is a risky life. Those of you here this morning who are farmers or gardeners know about risk. Every year you put seeds in the ground, not knowing what the weather conditions will be. Will there be enough rain? Will there be rain at the right time? Will the wind and the sun of summer whither the crops? All these questions are asked once the farmer has risked the seed and is willing to let it die so that it might germinate and create life. To not risk the seed but keep it in the bin for safe-keeping is to receive nothing.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what are you willing to do so others might see Jesus? The Lord says that those of you who love your life and see your life as all-important…will ultimately lose it. Do not be like the Pharisees who “loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (v. 43) Only those who hate their life in this world can have a new life in Christ and be “sons of light.” (v. 36b) Only those who hate their life in this world can have a harvest of self-denial service to the Lord of hope and love.

         This is quite a challenge since you and I live in very risky and perilous times. Many people in our culture are desperate for hope and meaning in their lives. And it seems that is what technologies of the 21st century are suppose to provide. I-pads and I-phones store and send digital photos, emails, or text messages. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other similar media are ways to express yourself to the world with the risk of exposing too much of your personal information. And never forget these media are also portals for evil people to use for their own twisted and demented purposes.

         Yet, given all this so-called advancement and progress…there is a bit of irony. As our society continues leaping into new worlds of biotechnology, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology…it also continues crawling backwards into the caves of old world philosophies and spiritual “paganism” and the worship of Mother Earth…all of which does not want to see Jesus!

As a disciple of Jesus, you may be tempted to shield yourself from these issues or think that they are not very important. As a disciple of Christ, you may also be tempted to keep Jesus to yourself. After all, one of the critiques of mainline churches today is that we are not well equipped to lead the unchurched to truly “seeing” Jesus. Too often, congregations are only concerned about themselves and their own members. What does following and serving Jesus look like for you in this community of Emporia and Greensville County? As God’s son or daughter, are you willing to take a risk of sharing Jesus for the possibility of a harvest of new believers and also renewed believers…those who had moved away from the Lord?
         In our sermon text, Jesus addresses all this by telling us what will happen to Him. His soul is troubled because the reality of being the sin-bearer is closing in on Him. The Son of Man will be lifted up on a cross on account of all peoples’ sin and for all peoples’ salvation. (cf. vv 27-32) Christ will be crucified and killed. He will be planted and then the harvest of this planting will be eternal life as God intended life for you. The harvest will be an absence of fear in the midst of whatever will seek to overcome you. The harvest will be hope in a world desperate for hope and victory over evil, which seeks to destroy you.

As a resurrected seed of God, you become a bearer of the Good News of salvation. This is the Good News celebrated as you hear God’s Word. This is the Good News of God’s love and mercy that came to you hidden in the waters of your Baptism and in the eating of bread and the drinking of wine…Christ’s true body and blood. The Good News is…because Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, darkness cannot overtake you and nothing can take hope from you. Through the darkest and most evil times, the Light of the world walks with you and will give you strength to stare down the most powerful evil that can confront you. When you have died to all that would hold you back…you will be seen as a servant of the One who invites you to die in Him and live in Him. For in Revelation 2:10 God says; “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
         So even though you and I live in dark and dangerous times and the stability we crave in life seems shaken every time we turn around…there is hope, love, and mercy. Truly see the Son of God, who promises to be with you always even unto the end of the age. (cf. Mt 28:20)  Truly see the Savior of the world as He dies, so that you might receive the great harvest of sins forgiven and eternal life. Truly see the resurrected Jesus Christ, who brings you to the triumphal entry into His kingdom, in everlasting joy and blessed righteousness. Amen.

Fifth Sunday in Lent – Series B

Text:  Jeremiah 31:31-34

Title “New and Improved”

Date: Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

A Twentieth Century Christian author and theologian named Lewis Smedes wrote an article titled, "The Power of Promises." Within that article, Dr. Smedes writes, “Yes, somewhere people still make and keep promises. They choose not to quit when the going gets rough because they promised once to see it through. They stick to lost causes. They hold on to a love grown cold. They stay with people who have become pains in the neck. They still dare to make promises and care enough to keep the promises they make. I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert…if you have people you will not forsake…if you have causes you will not abandon…then you are like God.” Notice that at the end of this excerpt from "The Power of Promises," Dr. Smedes makes a very subtle but important point about God. He implies that God always keeps His promise through thick and thin…no matter what.

Indeed, you may recall that throughout the Old Testament, God always kept His promise to His people. Remember God’s three-part promise to Abraham? The promise of descendents who would become a great nation…the promise of a land to call their own…and the promise of a mission to be God’s source of blessing for the world. The LORD promised to make the Israelites His holy people by setting them apart from the nations who worshipped many pagan gods. He would protect them from the pagan nations and provide for all their needs. The LORD graciously led several thousand Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. (c.1280 BC) He led them to the foot of Mount Sinai and said, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." (Ex 20:2)
         But when the Israelites were delivered from bondage and set free in the wilderness, they had no idea how to conduct themselves in their new life. So at Mt. Sinai, God freely set-up Israel’s life as a covenant community…a covenant people who promise to worship and serve only the Lord. God will be their God and they will be and act like His people. This covenant is a two-sided agreement…much like a contract made between two people. (e.g. Gn. 15:7–21; Ps. 50:5) For instance, a contractual agreement is made when you buy a new car. The auto dealer enters into an agreement with you for a certain price and promises to repair whatever breaks on the car for a fixed period of time. When you buy a home, you sign a plethora of legal documents that detail the price of the home and the terms for the sale. There are also contractual relationships that are life changing. When a man and woman get married, they obtain a marriage license from a local court official that stipulates these two people have now entered into a marriage relationship.

Many centuries after the Mt. Sinai covenant was made, what kind of people did God’s prophet Jeremiah find? (627 B.C. to 570 B.C.) He finds the kings of the Southern Kingdom of Judah weak and corrupt. The priests are cheats and drunkards who lie to the people and lead them to disbelieve God’s Word. (Jer 5:12; 6:13; 23:1; 28:1ff) God’s people are still worshipping false gods and following sleazy fertility cults of the nations around them. They have temple prostitutes. They practice black magic and even sacrifice their own babies to these idols. It is because of this unfaithfulness to God that the Lord directed Jeremiah to beg, plead, warn, and threaten God’s people to turn away from their sinful ways. God wants them to abandon their idolatry and wickedness. If they don’t, they will be exiled like the Northern Kingdom of Israel was over a hundred years earlier.

Like His people in ancient times, God warns all of us today to daily repent of our sinful ways and confess our sins to Him. He wants you and me to act like and live like He is our God. The problem is…we don’t. We are, in fact, sinful in thought, word, deed, and desire. You and I break God’s commandments every single day because we hate God’s laws and we want to be in charge of our lives! We think…as the Israelites did…that we can somehow fix ourselves and our broken relationship with God all on our own! The truth is…you and I can’t! You cannot do anything to fix your broken relationship with Him. You cannot do anything to earn God’s love and favor. You cannot pay for God’s forgiveness. You cannot even come to believe in God on your own.

That is why God wants you to turn away from your greedy, selfish, adulterous hearts and minds, and turn towards Him and His Word…His promise…and His ways. That is why God directs His people in our sermon text to a new and improved covenant of grace through the promised Messiah. The two-sided old covenant is now complete and fulfilled in the new and improved one-sided covenant of God’s grace. St. Paul points this out in Colossians 2 where he writes: "Christ forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross." (Col 2:14) This new and improved covenant is God’s promise that is not only one-sided, but also unconditional and completely dependent on God’s life-saving grace rather than on our worthiness.

Imagine the joy of sinful hearts hearing the Lord, in verse 33 of our sermon text, proclaim: “…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God and they shall be my people.” (v. 33) This is His promise…to the Israelite people in Jeremiah’s day and also to us today. In the midst of all our broken promises…failed intentions…and botched efforts…our Lord says, “I still love you because I chose you.”

In his book titled “A Gentle Thunder,” Max Lucado…the best-selling Christian author, writer, and preacher…writes that“…one of the sweetest reasons God saved you is because He is fond of you. He likes having you around. He thinks you are the best thing to come down the pike in quite a while…. If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every Spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, [God will] listen.”

Because Jesus loves you and me, “[He] gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:14; cf. 1 Pet 2:9) Centuries earlier, Jeremiah records these surprising and loving words of the LORD: “For I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.” (v. 34) In the new and improved covenant, God fully forgives all our sins daily and also forgets them. In this new and improved covenant, all God’s people have assurance, comfort, and hope in the saving grace of Christ. His death on the cross sets us free from sin, death, and the devil. In God’s Word and the Sacraments, the Lord gives us His good gifts of faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation.

         This new and improved covenant will not let you down. God will always keep His covenant promise, which was fulfilled when God became man in Jesus Christ and died for you. As His baptized child…God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will remind you of His unfailing love, forgiveness and mercy. His love is a never-ending love that forgives you for your disobedience and grants you life with Him in Heaven throughout eternity.

Just “know the Lord” is with you whenever you look into the mirror and see a hopeless, weak sinner.  “Know the Lord” is with you and loves you and “…came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:45) Believe in Him as your God and Savior and High Priest (cf. Jer 9:24; Gal 4:8-9; Heb. 5:10) and faithfully serve Him and your neighbor. Amen.

The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Series B

Text: Numbers 21:4-9 & John 3:14-17

Title: “Of Snakes and Crosses”

Date: Sunday, March 11, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

         Criticism and complaints. Words from angry and upset people soon create a heated argument. Angry words are like painful, sharp darts intended to hurt and wound. When angry words are spoken, trust and respect for others diminish.

         This scenario could easily be a personal interaction you have had with a family member, friend, coworker, or even a brother or sister in Christ. This scenario is also what is happening in our Old Testament reading. Forty years of wandering in the wilderness or desert is coming to an end for the Israelites. Or so it seems. They are in sight of the Promised Land and fully expect to enter and take possession of it. But for no apparent reason, the king of Edom refuses to let Israel travel through his country. So what are they to do now? They have to turn back and return to the wilderness to make their way around Edom. Their journey was almost over and now it will be much longer. They become testy. The patience of the people grows short. Israel wants deliverance and wants God to fulfill His promise…now! Instead of thanking God for all He has done for them, they begin to complain and rage about their situation.

         In the book titled, “Becoming Strong Again,” (1998) author Gregory Jantz tells about a group of pioneers on the Oregon Trail who suffered for weeks from a scarcity of water and grass for their animals. Most of the wagons had broken down, causing endless delays in the stifling heat. A feeling of futility and frustration prevailed. Optimism and joy were gone. Courage was in limited supply.

         One night, the leaders called a meeting to air out their complaints. When they gathered around the campfire, one man stood up and said, "Before we begin, don't you think we should at least first thank God. He has brought us this far with no loss of life, with no serious trouble from the Indians, and we have enough strength left to finish our journey."

         The other settlers agreed. After the brief prayer, all that could be heard was stone silence around the campfire, because no one had any grievances they felt were important enough to voice. They suddenly realized if they could not be satisfied with what they had received, they could at least be thankful for what they had escaped. Thankfulness allowed them to see the mercies of God they had been overlooking.

Griping and complaining are symptoms of refusing to trust God’s love, mercy, and care. Grumbling and whining never honors God. His chosen people focus on themselves and on what they want. Long forgotten by the Israelites are the numerous miracles by God, including their exodus from slavery in Egypt. It is bad enough to hurl ungrateful words to another person…but these desert wanderers hurl their ungrateful words directly against God. (v.4-5) And their sinful actions have consequences. The Lord’s discipline is drastic and swift. “…[T]he Lord [sends poisonous, fiery] snakes among [the people]” and many wind-up dying. (v. 6) Clearly, the Lord sends a message to His people that their rebellion is causing them to suffer. Many of them are going to their graves because of their transgressions.

Are you and I much different than these ungrateful children of Israel? Who among us does not think from time-to-time that we deserve more things and better opportunities out of this life? After all, the world preaches that the only way to be happy is to be found in materialism and have lots of stuff. That is why the world offers all kinds of get-rich schemes like lotteries and casinos. That is why you look around and grumble and complain about those who seem better off than you. In his letter, St. James writes: "You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." (James 4:4)
         Recall the way sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden. God put a warning label on sin that read, "Do not eat from this tree for you shall surely die." But our enemy, the serpent, switched labels. The label Satan attached to sin read, "Looks good. Tastes great. Is desirable to make one wise." That first sin was a sin of rebellion…a disobedience of God. That first sin brought death…ushered into the world by Satan in the form of a serpent. That is why the rebellious, God criticizing, desert wandering people are again being sent to early graves through the work of other serpents.
         So in their agony, God’s people finally own up to their sin. They cry out to God through Moses, saying, “We sinned… take the snakes from among us.” (v. 7) Moses prays for them. God, in His mercy, hears Moses prayer and provides a way for them to be saved from death. God’s answer to the snake problem is somewhat unconventional. He instructs Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole (v. 8) so that anyone snake-bitten “can look at it and live.” (v. 9)

Sure enough, those having faith to trust in God’s words and promise look at the bronze snake on the pole and live. How is this possible? What God says is powerful and His words make things happen. Do not underestimate the Word of God. God’s promise and assurance to the Israelites reminds you and me of the power of God’s Word in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Martin Luther states in the Small Catechism: “For without the Word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the Word of God it is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of life.” Likewise, Luther says, “[The words] “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” when accompanied by the physical eating and drinking, are the essential thing in the sacrament, and whoever believes these very words has what they declare and state, namely, “forgiveness of sins.””

While the Word of God provides healing and wholeness to the Israelites, notice that God does not remove the snakes from the camp. The consequences of sin remain with them. They are bitten and feel the fiery poison. What God does provide is salvation from death. He allows the Israelites who trust Him to avoid perishing as a result of their sin. God’s cure or solution is a reminder that He is awesome and does awesome things. He says “look at it and live.” God does not provide sophisticated snake serum. He does not enable the healers to develop an amazing cure. The LORD does not create a special liturgy or ceremony that the priests can use to save those who are bitten. God’s cure is to obey His commands…faithfully listen to and trust in the Word of God.

That is why St. Paul writes in our Epistle reading: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8) That is why in our Gospel reading Jesus makes this point saying: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:14-15) The Israelites are saved from the poison of the snakes when they look, in faith, toward the bronze snake. For you and me, we look in faith to the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, who saved us from the spiritual poison of sin. Jesus promises eternal life to those who trust in God’s living Word. (cf. Jn. 3:17) In God’s pure loving nature, He loves a world that is filled with sinners. (cf. 1 Jn. 4:16; Rom. 5:8) He wants you to lift up your sinful, rebellious heart to Him. He wants you to be up-front and forthright with Him by confessing your sins. Then as you face your sins, God wants you to repent. He will then turn you away from your sins and turn you back toward Him and His love, mercy, and forgiveness.

         So just as the bronze snake reminded the griping, grumbling desert wanderers of the profound depth of their depravity and of God’s mercy and love…the cross of Christ does the same for you. In the LORD’s love for you, only almighty God has the power to cure you of your rebellion against Him. Never withdraw from the cross of Christ. Your sins are carried to it by Jesus and buried with Him in the grave. And never forget as God’s child, Christ’s resurrection victory assures you of your eternal destiny in heaven. Amen.

Third Sunday in Lent - Series B

Text: John 2:13-25

Title: “Shock and Wonderment”

Date: Sunday, March 4, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Who is that man? Who does he think he is? Is he possessed, or what? Did you see his eyes? They were on fire! Today's Gospel reading shows Jesus creating a scene and grossly offending people. He is almost like an action-packed “Rambo Jesus,” With whip in hand, He is overturning tables and driving out of the Temple “sheep and oxen” and all the business people. Shopkeepers are being herded out with the livestock they are selling. The noise…the mess…the smell! Jesus is cleaning house and it is “shocking and amazing” to the people who witness it, even though this is not an isolated incident. At another time in His ministry, Christ went on a rant against the scribes and Pharisees. Among other things, He called them…children of hell…blind fools…white-washed tombs full of dead men's bones…serpents, vipers, and murderers. (cf. Matthew 23)

         We don’t often think of the Son of God this way or the way our text describes Him today. We can get really confused about Jesus, His teachings, and His work…if we are not careful to understand what is happening here. Since it is the time of the Passover celebration, there are a lot of people in town. In fact, it’s the most crowded time of the year in Jerusalem. From a purely practical point of view, it’s also the busiest time of the year. The time when most animals will be sold for sacrificing and eating…when the most money will change hands…when the most taxes will be paid. It is kind of what the Christmas shopping season is for retailers…the time when many businesses are at their peak and making their profits for the year. 

However, from a religious point of view, it is Passover, which means it is the holiest time of the year for God’s chosen people. It’s the time to remember their deliverance from slavery in Egypt due to God’s power and authority…the time to come to the Temple to hear the preaching of the God’s Word…to worship…and to pray.

The problem is…in coming to the Temple, Jesus doesn’t find preaching, worship, and prayers. Instead, He comes across what is literally a market place or bazaar in the Temple instead of a place dedicated to God and separate from the ways of the world. The Temple…God’s house…becomes a place where business transactions are done. The religious aspects of Passover is taking a back seat to the practical aspects of Passover…the buying and selling…the bartering and weighing of merchandise.

Like those hawking their products in the temple courts…we too can easily use God’s Church for our own ends, even to justify the means. We seek glory and the praise of others. Pastors and leaders of congregations could use their positions to manipulate their people. Worshipers could seek a person-centered service of good feelings and emotional highs rather than a God-centered one. We might be tempted to worship God with tainted motives instead of a tithing heart. We could treat God’s Sacraments casually, as if they were another chore we have to do.

God’s House can also become a place where spiritual business transactions are done. Take for instance the person who weighs their sins on a scale in comparison to their good deeds. As long as their good deeds outweigh their sins, they falsely think they will find favor with God. There are others who see religion as a bartering process…seeing what God will accept from them and what they can do for Him with things like prayers and good works and service, so that He will not hold their sin against them. You fall into the trap whenever you say things like, “God, if you’ll get me out of this, then I’ll . . .” You fall into the trap whenever you compare yourself to other people. You fall into the trap whenever you think God is not being fair to you. Let’s face it…that is how we think and how the world is.

         However, the truth is…God doesn’t make deals with us. He doesn’t make business transactions with us. Out of love for God’s truth and disgust over the world of business claiming a place in God’s house, Jesus is compelled to action. Having divine righteousness and holiness, the Son of God doesn’t lose control or explode in anger. In a straight forward way, the Lord expresses the righteous wrath of God against people who dare to abuse God’s holy place. When Jesus enters the Temple and sees all of this stuff going on, He is highly offended! Personally offended! God established the Tabernacle and the Temple and the Church so that He could be with His people and give them His forgiveness and holiness. God is a giving God…a God of gifts and graciousness! God is a one-sided God. He gives…and you receive. God came in the person of Jesus Christ so that He could give His life for His people and redeem you from your slavery and bondage to sin, death, and the devil. God does not make a deal in any of this. It is all one-sided…all God’s doing. “Take these things away;” commands Jesus, “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” (v 16)

         How did things get so bad? How did God and the things of God get to be so misunderstood…not only then but also now? Well, it is from our misunderstanding of a previous “shocking and amazing” demonstration by God. It is the one that took place at Mt. Sinai. When God gave the 10 Commandments and the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle, it was a “shocking and awesome” display. God covered Mt. Sinai with smoke and fire for 40 days.

But instead of taking the commandments as God intended His people to understand them, we tend to think of them as ‘transactional.’ “OK, we gotta do these 10 things. That’s not too bad. Do these, and God will be pleased with us and He will accept us and save us.” With such a view…religion is not only reduced to a business transaction between God and us. It is also reduced to a system of morality and ethics.

         The thing is…God never intended these commandments to be viewed that way! God chose the Israelites and rescued them from slavery and destined them for the Promised Land long before the commandments were given. In our Baptism, you and I were chosen and rescued from our slavery to sin. Our Triune God destined you and me for eternal life long before we ever had the chance to keep or break the commandments. God saved you and gave you life because of His grace and mercy. Be mindful of all that the Lord has done for you. Pay attention to God. Live His commandments under His grace, knowing that obeying the commandments does not count toward your salvation. Realize that the Lord of love has the wisdom and authority to correct you and discipline you, and to change things and do things as He chooses.

         Now, all this is not always easy to understand and do because it goes against our sinful nature and the way things are in our world. That is why it is no surprise the way the Jewish authorities and others in our text respond to Jesus’ Rambo-like action. Instead of them being ecstatic and thankful to Jesus for setting things right by clearing out the merchants and the money-changers, and the livestock from God’s house, they chastise Him by asking a question: “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (v. 18) They request from Jesus a sign about Him and His authority…a sign of God’s power and love…not because they have faith in Him…but because of their unbelief.

So the Lord gives His opponents a sign about themselves and their unbelief. “Destroy this Temple,” declares Jesus, “and in three days I will raise it up.” (v. 19) With these words, the Lord is saying: "I am the Christ, the Son of God." “I am the ultimate Temple… God in the flesh…the place where God makes Himself known to His people.” That God would come down from heaven and allow Himself to be ridiculed… mocked…despised…rejected…and crucified is shocking. But that shock would be followed by the wonderment of the resurrection…the sign of Jesus’ authority…when you and I see the power of death and the grave finally broken!

So remember these words: “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Because they are God’s real “shock and wonderment,” remember, believe, and live those words of Jesus. Receive His gifts…depart in His peace…and live in that freedom and forgiveness He won for you! Amen.

Second Sunday in Lent – Series B

Text: Mark 8:27-38

Title: “The Great Exchange”

Date: Sunday, February 25, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

This morning, I want you to place yourself in the following situation. You are a prisoner in a concentration camp. Last night, two people from your barracks attempted to escape but they were caught and killed. The next day, a decision is made to severely punish such behavior. So the guards select five additional people in your group. Their intention is to lock these five in a room and starve them to death. Unfortunately, you are one of the five chosen.

         As you are about to be led away, another prisoner steps forward. You know him to be a kind and giving person. He says to the guards, “I would like you to take me instead.” The guards have a conversation for a moment and agree to his request. Eight days later, you learn that this prisoner was the last of the chosen group to suffer and die.

         What great love and sacrifice exemplified by this prisoner. Some might argue that he was going to die anyway because of the horrible living conditions. Even if that is true, what matters the most was his selfless, loving action. He was thinking of someone else above and beyond himself. 

         Our Lenten journey continues as we follow our Lord to the cross, where He must suffer many things, be rejected, and be killed…but then rise from the dead on the third day. (cf. v 31) As you know, Lent is a time when we Christians focus on repentance and the depth of Christ’s agony and sacrifice on our behalf. St. Paul brings the reality of Lent home to us in our Epistle reading when he writes: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)

         In the Gospel reading, the disciples are all excited about Jesus because He gives every indication of being the Messiah. They are happy to be on His team. Even admiring crowds gather around Jesus much to the delight of the disciples. The miracles He does are thrilling. Now, the disciples are eager and ready to hear what Jesus is about to teach…or so they think.

         In our sermon text, Jesus begins to teach the disciples about the cross, which, by the way, they are not excited about. St. Mark writes, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.” (vv31-32a) This kind of talk from Jesus…that He must suffer…be rejected and killed…did not sit too well with them. (v. 31) In fact, Peter takes Jesus aside and tries to set Him straight (v. 32) by saying in Matthew 16: “’Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’ (Mt 16:22) Peter wants to let his Lord know that this is not how you get ahead in the world. “Lord, You will achieve absolutely nothing through suffering. You do not succeed in life by being rejected. And if you are killed, then who will lead us and be there for us?”

         The disciples are no longer shielded from the painful realities of the sacrifice that Jesus has to make. Peter strongly disagrees as to what Jesus has to do, but Christ rebukes him and says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (v. 33) The cross Jesus faced was a real cross…a cross on which He shouldered all the sins of the world.  It was a cross on which He bore the whole dirty mess of our guilt and shame. Brothers and sisters in Christ, make no mistake…Christ died a real death on the cross…for you and for me! The God-man’s death was real and it meant…once and for all…the end of the power of sin to condemn us. Without Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we

would still be in our sins and lost and condemned forever.

That’s why our Lord Jesus gets up close and personal with Peter…and with you and me too. You see, Peter thinks he has it right…but he actually has it all wrong. Jesus didn’t come as an earthly king to wield power over Israel’s enemies. Instead, He demonstrates His dedication to the mission for which God the Father has sent Him. Jesus makes it clear that there is a cross in store for anyone who belongs to Him by faith. The Savior of the world tells it straight…detailing the involvement of all who call themselves His disciples. He says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (vv. 34-35)

         St. Mark’s first readers had already experienced suffering and shame in their lives and were going to experience it even more. In postmodern times, Christians are not spared either, as proven by the Islamic terrorist group ISIS.  They have done beheadings of Coptic Christians.  In Iraq, Christians have been killed by ISIS and Syrian Christians have been kidnapped and murdered by them. Christians seeking sanctuary at a Central African Republic refugee camp church were killed in a Muslim raid. Christians suffering and being murdered throughout the world…not only by ISIS but by other groups as well…continues day after day.

         Christ makes the point in our Gospel reading that losing one’s earthly life for Christ and the Gospel means having eternal life. But whoever denies Him will lose their life and end up eternally damned! That’s why the Lord commands each and every one of us to deny our-self…take up our cross…and follow Him! Be ready to suffer shame and death in order to remain faithful to Him. Stand up for Jesus and His Word of absolute Truth by speaking out for the right-to-life of every unborn child in the womb, who is created by God and redeemed through the life and death of Jesus. Stand up for Jesus and His Word of absolute Truth by speaking out for the union of one man and one woman in holy matrimony, as instituted by God prior to humanity’s fall into sin.

Remember, following Christ means refusing to make yourself the sole object in your life and making God and His will the center of your life. That will always involve sacrifices and avoiding anything that might come between you and your Savior. (cf. Mk 7:20-23) Jesus invites you to do it His way. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. He wants you to lose your life in Him in exchange for finding your life in Him. (cf. v. 35)  Fourteen years ago, (2004) the movie The Passion of the Christ was the talk of the town. Many were asking, “Have you seen it? What did you think of it?” Critics were saying it was overly violent and graphic. People were shocked at the brutality. The scourging and crucifixion scenes were too long and gory. It was deemed inappropriate for children and even for many adults. Jesus did what for us? The world was generally stunned even to suggest such a price had to be paid for saving people from sin, death, and the devil. For many, this Great Exchange was very offensive and just too much to take in and believe! The only way out from under the eternal death sentence for you and me was for God Himself to die. In His death, the Lamb of God took away your sin and in exchange, He clothed you with His righteousness. The Great Exchange had to happen…and what a miracle it is!

In Christ, God has given you a passion for denying yourself, picking up your cross, and following Him. You don’t have to live for yourself anymore. Yearn to live for Jesus, who died and resurrected from the dead for you! Daily share the Gospel message of what Christ has done for sinners with others who do not know it. Remember your Baptism. Feast on God’s Word and on the true body and blood of Christ. He is the One who made the Great Exchange for your sins and wrapped you in the robe of His righteousness. His work makes the Great Exchange complete. His gracious love entirely covers you.

So, “…rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom [you] have now received reconciliation.” (Rom. 5:11) Amen. 

First Sunday in Lent – Series B

Text: Mark 1:9-15

Title: God's Son Under Pressure”

Date: Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Do you ever feel that facing the realities of life is like being in a pressure cooker? There is plenty of evidence that the pressures of life squeezes in on people. The voice of a college student is filled with exasperation as she cries out: "I wish that I could escape the pressure of life for just one long weekend!" A bumper sticker on a passing car invites motorists to "Honk, if you can cope." A book written expressly for Christians poses the troubling question: Why Do Christians Break Down?

         The pressures of life are real and they do crowd in on people who live in a broken world where sin wreaks its persistent havoc. Life, even for Christians, is not lived on some easy street, far from pressure. In the face of this reality, St. Mark says something that you and I must hear. He offers help, hope, and direction as we make our way through life because he ushers us into the presence of God's Son, who is under pressure, and where the struggle of life takes on different dimensions. Doesn’t it seem strange to suggest that Christ lived under pressure? Doesn’t it seem odd to you that Jesus, who is sinless, faced the harsh realities of life?

         Listen to these words from the Gospel reading: "The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts." (vv. 12-13) St. Mark had just reported the baptism of our Lord: “And when [Jesus] came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (vv.10-11) Our Lord is holy, absolutely perfect, the possessor of all power and authority, "very God of very God." But He is, as the Scriptures make plain, also a real man, "born in the likeness of men," (Phil. 2:7) flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He is bound up in the fabric of life as a man, enduring what you and I endure…tempted as we are tempted…and under the real pressures of life in a real world.

         In describing the temptation of our Lord, St. Mark is not rehearsing some staged drama, nor is he talking about a fictitious, horned and hooved, Satan. This is real drama and pressure for the God-man. Here is the excruciating battle of a Savior who, in body and soul, is struggling for His life! All the harsh realities of life close in on Him during the 40 long days and nights in the wilderness or desert. This is a hostile environment where no person can stay and have a home. This is the place of the curse where loneliness is a burden…where thirst and hunger are constant companions…and where animals once called into being by the Lord’s voice seek to make Him their prey. Vivid details are provided by both St. Matthew and St. Luke of Satan's cunning attempts to entrap our Savior. There’s the taunt to turn stones into bread…the challenge to leap from the temple wall to test God's ability to care for His own…and the offer of the world's power and glory in return for fleeting moments of worship.

         The wilderness experience was not the only test and pressure He faced. Our Lord's whole life and ministry were burdened by the pressures of loneliness, heartache, disappointment, and temptation. "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests," He said, "but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." (Mt.8:20) Forty days in the wilderness are only the prelude to a struggle with Satan that dogged Jesus Christ every step of the way, and finally ended nailed on a rough cross with the cry: "It is finished." (Jn. 19:30)

         First-century Christians knew something about life under pressure. For them, it sometimes involved martyrdom. They remembered well the brutal beheading of John the Baptist because he called people to faith in Christ, the Lamb of God, who had come to rescue and save the lost. The pressure was truly on those early Christians. Heavy taxation was the rule. They faced the boiling hatred of others because they stood up for what they believed and refused to participate in pagan feasts where idolatry and immorality were practiced.

         Then there’s 64 A.D. when fire swept throughout Rome. The historian Tacitus records that many people believed that Emperor Nero was responsible for the blaze that caused widespread destruction and loss of life. To divert their attention away from himself, Nero blamed the Christians for the fire. They were the ones who felt the pressure. Many were arrested, unjustly judged, and condemned to death. Some were clothed in the skins of wild animals and then tom to pieces by enraged dogs. Others were covered with pitch, ignited, and used as torches to provide light for Nero's darkened courtyards and gardens.

         Now you might be thinking to yourself: "What does all this have to do with me?" Just this: We Christians don’t escape the tough battle with Satan and the harsh realities of life. Jesus never offered life without pain or suffering. He never encouraged a rose-colored-glasses approach to living. His theology is a theology of the cross and He held up His life as the reflection of our own.

         What about your life? Are the pressures pushing you beyond the limits of your endurance? Are temptations getting the upper hand? Are you convinced that you cannot go another day or another step? Is the cry of your heart: "O God, where are You when I need You most?" Do you identify with the Psalmist who cries out: "Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to Thee, when my heart is faint." (Ps. 61:1-2)

         We all need help and strength for life's daily struggles so that we can face the pressure and keep going. What we desperately need only Jesus, the risen Lord, can and does provide. Look to Him since He withstood the pressure. Our Savior sets the pattern that makes it possible to overcome and prevail, whatever the pressure. He didn’t crumble or wilt when the going got tough. The Lord Jesus Christ refused to compromise with temptation and fought the devil with firm resolve and all His strength. He prevailed as He used the power that is also available to each of us…the power of the Word of God. The battle in the wilderness was not the entire campaign, but it was a sweeping victory in behalf of you and me. And at the conclusion of this fierce struggle, St. Mark reports: "The angels ministered to Him." (v. 13)

         Our Lord Jesus never compromised with evil. He stood strong before it and prevailed even when the struggle was fierce, painful, and long. The Son of God moved forward because there was work to be done…work that only He could do. Work like forgiving those who have been tricked by Satan and picking up those who had crumbled under the heavy load of their sins. Work like encouraging those who doubt His word and promises and lifting those who are weary and desperate for help.

         Whatever your circumstances may be, His assurance rings out in the words of Paul that "in everything God works for good with those who love Him." (Rom. 8:28) Take heart from the fact that Christ is the "Seed of the woman," who crushed Satan's power. Boldly proclaim with St Paul: "We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:37, 39)

That’s because the Son of God doesn’t simply speak from a distance to people facing the real pressures of life. Because He loves you so very much, the Lord comes down into this sinful world to be with you in Word and Sacrament. Where you are trapped, He reaches out to hold you tightly in His everlasting, loving arms. St. James declares: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (v. 12)

So have faith in God like Abraham did. Believe and trust that in the ordeal of life's most severe pressures, Jesus makes it possible for you to keep going because, through His death and resurrection, Christ won the battle with Satan on your behalf! Amen

Ash Wednesday – Series “Return From Exile: A Lenten Journey”

Text:  Joel 2:12-19 & Revelation 7:9-14

Title: “Heart to Heart: Sackcloth and Ashes to Robes of Righteousness”

Date: Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

We do love our clothes, don’t we? It is no accident that there is one clothing store after another in the malls and the shopping centers…shop after shop that offers more than one style of garment. These stores and shops are scattered throughout our towns and cities. Can you imagine if there was only one clothing store selling only one style of clothing intended for all people? Such a thing would cause a rebellion. How would we express our individuality? How would we strut-our-stuff?

         Yet, the bigger questions are: What lurks beneath the coverings, garments, and clothing? What are we covering up? The easy answer is that we are covering our nakedness because we are modest and proper. However, there is more to it than that. In the Scriptures, coverings, garments, and clothing that cover nakedness are in reality covering our shame. Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden, and then they realize their nakedness. Suddenly, they know their sin, and because of that knowledge, they are ashamed. So, they sew together fig leaves for fear that the Lord God will see their shame…for fear that He will discover their sin when He walks through the garden. It doesn’t work...because it’s the wrong kind of garment.

         You and I wear our nice, comfortable clothes to hide our nakedness. Our sinful nature believes we can deceive God and He will not notice our shame. Yet, our man-made garments are but filthy rags and what they attempt to cover is even worse. Your heart and my heart are filled with sin and shame. If the desires of your heart were laid bare for all to see, you would indeed be ashamed. Evil thoughts, improper sexual desires, selfish wants, impure motives, jealousy, anger, envy, drunkenness, strife, idolatry…need I go on? This is the condition of our heart…of our inner being. We human beings are not capable of hiding the truth from God. You may fool those around you…and you may be fooled by those around you…but the Lord God sees the condition of all hearts.

         As you well know, you and I are born into this world as sinners, and our journey is back to the ground…back to dust. “From dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” All of your attempts to cover up your sin, every effort to pay up always results in the same destination: dust. Born to die, you and I are dust…and to dust we shall return. It’s into such a sorry spiritual state of affairs that God’s prophet Joel speaks. The people of Israel have wandered away from their God. They have been unfaithful in what they say and do. They have sought other gods and played the harlot…the adulteress. So the Lord will turn them over to disaster. They will be oppressed and downtrodden…and they will suffer want, and will weep in their distress.

         Therefore, Joel calls out: “Rend your hearts and not your garments.” The ancient tradition was to express terrible anxiety and distress by tearing your garments, thereby revealing your state of sorrow. But Joel knows that the rending of garments will only reveal the problem of a corrupt and sinful heart. A torn garment shows the problem…a torn heart begins to heal the problem. Rend your hearts and not your garments! Put on sackcloth and ashes. Repent! Return to the Lord! In Psalm 51, King David tells us: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Repent! Return to the Lord. Yes, it is a journey, a Lenten journey, a return from exile. Our sin has separated us from our God. Sin is the dividing wall of hostility that destroys the relationship between God and humans. He has seen our sin and shame…and that sin and shame have exiled us from the presence of God.

         Return to the Lord with repentant hearts. You and I have gathered here tonight and put on ashes to repent of our sin. You know your sin, and it is always before you. You know the sorry condition of your blackened heart. You know that you, of your own strength and power, cannot return from your sin-stained exile. You know you cannot return to the presence of our God. The ashes remind you and me of our sin and the condition of our hearts. But ashes in the sign of the cross remind us of a gracious and merciful God.

         You and I, who are helpless and hopeless sinners, are told: “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” (Joel 2:13) You have a God who has willingly done everything. Ashes show your sin…and ashes in the sign of the cross show you and me the true nature of our God. The cross is an instrument of torture and death, and the means by which God cleansed our hearts and exchanged our garments. The cross is the place where Jesus is raised up in our place, stripped of His robe, and all of our sins are revealed as He hangs naked. For He who knew no sin became sin for you and me. You and I attempt to cover our sin, but Jesus reveals it so that it might be washed away by His blood. Yes, He bears our griefs and carries our sorrow.

         A gracious and merciful God has offered up His only-begotten Son so that the sin that has exiled you and me from His presence might be washed away and we might be restored to His presence…which is a return from exile, a Lenten journey. And where does this journey end? Not at the cross, not even at the empty tomb. The journey ends in the courts of heaven! Listen to the words of St. John in Revelation 7 as he describes those who are gathered around the throne of the Lamb in His kingdom: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”” (vv. 9-12)

         See the great multitude who wave palm branches as they worship their Savior! Note that they are clothed in white robes and not wearing fig leaves. They are not adorned in filthy rags. They are clothed in robes that have been cleansed…robes washed in the blood of the Lamb of God. (cf. Rev. 7:14b) Their garments of sackcloth have been exchanged for robes of righteousness. The sackcloth and ashes have been exchanged for Christ’s journey to the cross to wash away our sin and cleanse you and me from all unrighteousness. In doing so, you and I are redeemed and returned to the presence of our God.

So, the exile is over. The journey is finished. Our hearts are restored and our sackcloth and ashes are exchanged for garments of salvation and robes of righteousness. Truly, “salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:10b) Amen.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord – Series B

Text: Mark 9:2-9

Title: “An Explosion of Glory”

Date: Sunday, February 11, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

In the mountains of my home state of Maryland, you will find some of the most serene and beautiful scenery you ever encountered. On a clear day from the Lutheran youth camp mountaintop location, you can see a luscious valley down below near the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. For me, this summer youth camp was an oasis from the hot, humid, and often stagnant weather of Baltimore City. Swimming, hiking, campfires, playing volleyball and basketball were just a few of my favorite activities. Singing camp songs and hymns was always fun. Sharing thoughts and experiences during Bible study with new friends initiated meaningful discussions. Just kicking back and meditating in the A-framed chapel overlooking the valley below…while watching the spectacular sunset through the huge front windows…was something marvelous to behold. I always wanted that mountaintop experience to continue and never end.

         Today, we look at the ultimate mountaintop experience that Jesus shares with His three closest followers. Christ’s glory and majesty is an explosion of glory for His three followers to see and experience. Christians call this event “The Transfiguration of Our Lord.” That’s because to "transfigure" something is to "change" its appearance. In full view of Peter, James, and John…Christ’s appearance is radically altered. St. Mark gives a descriptive picture: “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone could bleach them.” (v. 3) St. Matthew describes it this way: “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” (Mt. 17:2) Luke reports: “the appearance of His face was changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening.” (Lk. 9:29)

Although Christ’s glory finally broke through, for most of His life on this earth His glory was hidden from view. Why would the Son of God want to hide His shining splendor…His bright majesty of greatness…in the first place? Isn’t this the complete opposite of what we sinful human beings do? When we have a measure of glory, we let it shine for everyone to see. When an actor or actress is nominated for an Academy Award, he or she goes to the Academy Awards in a limo, arriving with pomp and circumstance, and wearing expensive clothing. Many people have practically no problem letting their own glory and greatness shine on Facebook, YouTube, or some other media…sometimes making it appear brighter and better than it really is.
         Why then would God do the opposite and hide His glory? The answer is found in God’s decision to take on human form and become a sinless human being. When God made the decision to enter into our world and add a human nature to His already divine nature, He made the decision to empty Himself of the use of that divine glory. (cf. Phil. 2:6-8) God did this so He could experience the frailties and weakness of being a human being. He did it because He loves you and is passionate about you…wanting you to know Him in a way that would have been otherwise impossible.
         But now at this brief moment on a mountain…an explosion of glory that had been veiled or hidden in Jesus’ life is now unveiled for the three disciples to experience. His divine nature is no longer masked or hidden behind His human nature. What had been inside of Him all His life finally comes bursting out.

And that’s not all. Two very important people from thousands of years earlier in Hebrew history appear with Jesus on the mountaintop. Both Moses and Elijah were leaders familiar with mountaintop experiences. On Mt. Sinai, Moses encountered the presence of God in a special way when he received God’s instructional Law, including the Ten Commandments. On Mt. Carmel, Elijah had a showdown with the pagan prophets of Baal…a showdown where God sent fire from heaven. In an age of widespread unbelief in Israel, Elijah was zealous in defending God’s Law.

         It had to be overwhelming for Peter, James and John to see these two great men of God standing beside Jesus in His divine glory! Most artistic renditions of the Transfiguration picture the disciples as cowering on the ground and covering their faces in panic or fear. They must have been totally overwhelmed by the divine majesty and glory of the event. Apparently, Peter is so awestruck that he blurts out about building three tents or shelters to preserve this glorious moment!

         But just as quickly as it came, the event is over. The cloud is gone. The shining brilliance within Jesus has faded. Moses and Elijah are nowhere to be found. The one now declared greater than Moses or Elijah is the only one left. Peter, James, and John must be very disappointed and sad that this glorious event is over. The problem with mountaintop experiences is that they will come to an end. I remember sinking into a brief depression for a few days after leaving Mar-Lu-Ridge and returning to my neighborhood. After the intensity of my mountaintop experience, I would go back to my normal, seemingly mundane routine. Descending the mountain to the valley below, Jesus commands His disciples to keep the experience to themselves for awhile. The Lord says that people will not understand their experience until after He has risen from the dead. So they keep it to themselves…but they wonder what Jesus means by "…risen from the dead." (v 9)

         God orchestrates this whole event of the Transfiguration to demonstrate not only to Peter, James and John…but to you and me too that Christ is holy and unique. Years after this mountaintop event, St. Peter insisted that what happened on that mountain was not an illusion or a myth. He says in his second letter: ”…We were eyewitnesses of His majesty…. We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Pet. 1:16, 18) St. John also writes: “We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father.” (Jn. 1:14) Indeed, God’s glory was brilliant that day on that mountaintop. And glory came to Christ later through His suffering and death on the cross. The Lord Jesus paid the ultimate price and took upon Himself all your sins and mine too! The Son of God forever redefined glory when He willingly endured the shame of the cross for you and me.
         As God’s son or daughter…the path to your own glory is the path of suffering. That’s why Jesus says to take up your cross and follow Him. Follow Jesus and love Him…listen to Him and obey Him…especially at those times of agony in your life. Some of you have suffered the loss of a loved one or friend due to disease or a tragic accident or some other misfortune. Others of you have faced the suffering of sickness…the heartache of a failed marriage…the disappointment of children or grandchildren who take the wrong path in life. Life can be painful at times…very painful. Only as you walk along the painful and sometimes fearful path of life…with its disappointments and heartache…where you feel alone and feel like giving up at times…will you ultimately find your finest hour with the Lord. Persevere on this path because if you share in Christ’s sufferings, you will also share in His glory. (cf. Rom 8:17b) That is His promise, as St. Paul reminds us that "our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" one day. (Rom. 8:18)

Yes, mountaintop experiences can be wonderful. On the mountain of the Transfiguration, Christ’s glory and majesty exploded in a “a sneak preview.” “This is my Son, whom I love,” said God the Father. “Listen to Him!” (v 7b) When Christ died on the cross then resurrected on Easter morning, Christ’s glory exploded again…but this time, it was fully revealed! The Lord continues to reveal His glory to you and me and to all the world through His Word and the Sacraments, which sustain and strengthen our faith. Live with the comfort, hope, and courage in Christ as you face the challenges in your life each day. Know that Jesus is with you now and will come again on Judgement Day in all His splendor and glory to take you to be with Him forever and ever! Amen.

5th Sunday after the Epiphany - Series B

Text: Mark 1:29-39

Title: “The Reason Why”

Date: Sunday, February 4, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

How do you see Jesus? What kind of picture do you have of Him? It occurs to me that while He lived, no one ever got a good picture of Jesus…of who He was and why He had come. I mean, think about it. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the wise men went to Jerusalem because they saw Him as a mortal monarch whose place would be in a palace. King Herod had a bad picture of Jesus. Herod thought that Jesus was heaven-sent to eventually seize His throne. The Pharisees had a bad picture of Jesus. They thought He was a devil, a deceiver, a fraud, and a fake.

         When Jesus ministered on earth, just about the only ones who could clearly see Him were His hellish enemies. In Last Sunday’s Gospel reading, while Jesus was speaking in Capernaum's synagogue, He was interrupted by a man possessed by the devil. The Gospel of Mark tells us the man cried out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God!" (Mk. 1:24) That demon, like many after him, had a good, clear picture that Jesus was God's Son, our Redeemer from sin, Satan, and death. Yes, 2,000 years ago, the demons saw Jesus correctly and very clearly. But they were about the only ones to do so.
         Have you noticed in the 21st century that Christ's enemies also seem to see Jesus very clearly? Isn't that why they're doing all they can to diminish His divinity and show the world only His humanity? Have you noticed that entire nations and other religions of the world are working non-stop to minimize the Savior's sacrifice and promote a picture of Him as being a faded and flawed philosopher…a teacher of truisms…a preacher of platitudes? Haven’t you noticed that Jesus' enemies are trying to legislate our Lord out of history and ban His name from their cities, communities, country-sides, and universities? Haven’t you heard that some of the nations of the world will go so far as to throw into jail any person who owns a Bible and pronounce a death sentence upon any citizen who says: "Jesus is my Savior and Lord."
         I think they see the Lord far more clearly than the people of Capernaum do. Those who witnessed Jesus' miracle of silencing the demon and sending Him back to hell where he belonged were amazed and the news of what had happened started to quickly get around. The speed at which the story about Jesus was traveling got a boost when later that day, He heals the mother-in-law of one of His disciples. Jesus heals her so well, that without any period of rest, she gets up and starts to practice hospitality.
         That is two healings in one day. And what did people get out of these two healings? When they looked at Jesus, what did they see? Did they get a clear picture that He is God's Son? Did they hear Jesus' call to repentance from sin? Did they listen to His message of salvation? What was their picture of Jesus? What they heard was this: “Jesus is performing miracles in Capernaum. No appointment needed.” Word gets around that Jesus is doing miracles, so people come…the lame, the blind, the crippled, the possessed. It’s an unusual parade. They hop, hobble, limp, and are carried. Like a tidal wave, the sick arrive. The whole curious town comes, as well. Jesus heals enough of them that the news about His miracle working spreads even further. And when these people hear the news, they go to see for themselves. Do they go to see Jesus the Savior from sin? Do they go to see Jesus the giver of eternal life? Nope...they wrap up their sick, put them on stretchers, and head out to see the doctor. Mark tells us when they arrived, Jesus is not there. Loudly, they wonder: "Where has the miracle worker gone?"
         Truth is, early that morning Jesus…knowing that people are getting an incomplete picture of Him…goes out to a private place to pray. You see, Jesus had been born to be the Savior of souls, not just the healer of bodies. Jesus' miracles had been designed to show He was God's Son doing God's work of buying us back from those who had stolen us away from our heavenly Father. Jesus' physical miracles were designed to point people to a greater, a spiritual miracle: the blood-bought forgiveness which Christ’s death would offer to all who believe. However, those in Capernaum miss the point. They see only a healer.

         But the Lord is not just only, and merely, a heaven-sent healer. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. If you see Him only as a healer or only as a teacher or a preacher or a philosopher…if you see Him only as a good man or a wise man…then you have a poor picture of who He is. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and your Savior. That’s why He was born and why He lived. It’s why He suffered, died, and rose from the dead. And that is the picture of Him that the Holy Spirit wants to share with the world.

         When the disciples finally find Him in His place of prayer, they try to convince Him to go back for some more healings. But Jesus does what no doctor, politician, or pastor would have done. He leaves the crowds, leaves the popularity, and leaves Capernaum. It’s an unbelievable decision. He goes out and preaches to anyone who will listen. He preaches a message that has changed the world: “Through the sacrifice of His Son, God has called the world to repentance, forgiveness, and salvation.” He will always tell people why He has come.

         Now, I could try and tell you why Jesus entered this world, why He did what He did. But the picture I would give you would be a poor one. It’s far better to let Jesus tell you Himself. Within the four Gospels, Jesus said why He had come. His words will give you a clear picture of His purpose.

         Why did Jesus come? He said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5: 17) With these words, Jesus lets you and me know that He came to fulfill the laws that you and I have broken and to keep the commandments that we have disobeyed.

         Why did Jesus come? Jesus said: "I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him who sent Me.” (Jn. 6:38) Jesus' entire life is dedicated to doing His Father's will... fulfilling God's plan to save you from all that is wrong in your life.

         Why did Jesus come? He said: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jn. 10:10) Jesus wants you to know, to believe, that He is giving a gift that you cannot get anywhere else. He wants to bestow upon you, free of charge, a life of peace. When you are given faith in Him as your Savior, your Redeemer, your Friend, you are given a peace of mind, heart, and soul which the world promises but can never deliver.

         Why did Jesus come? The Lord tells us: "I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness.” (Jn. 12:46) The world is pressing in on you. The pains, the problems, the hurts, the horrors, the loneliness, and the darkness surround you. In Jesus, there is light. No, that's wrong. Jesus is the Light! The Light that illumines your path…the Light that brightens your outlook…the Light that is hope, happiness, and heaven.
         Why did Jesus come? He tells us: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28) That's the picture of Jesus that the demons fear. That's the picture the world does not want you to see. The world doesn’t want you to see a sacrificing Savior, who gave His all so you might have all. The world doesn’t want you to see the Lord of life, who gave His life so you might be ransomed from sin, death, and devil. It is this perfect picture of the Savior that you need to see.

Hear these words spoken by Jesus…believe them and trust them more than anything else you will ever hear. Look at the Savior. See Him clearly as the Savior of souls, including yours.  Amen.

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Series B

Text:  Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Title: “Listen to the Prophet”

Date: Sunday, January 28, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

In our country and throughout the rational, scientific world…prophecy is dismissed by many as naïve and being backwards. Despite this characterization, there is indeed something in each one of us that yearns for prophecy and its fulfillment. Some try to satisfy this longing for prophecy in the promises of technology and human advancement. Others try to satisfy this longing for prophecy in science fiction like Star Wars,® which talks about the prophecy of the one who would restore balance to the force. Some people turn to charismatic leaders, no matter how off the wall they may be.

         Still, some people attempt to fill this longing for prophecy by dabbling in secret, magical, and demonic arts. They mess around with Ouija boards, tarot cards, palm readings, seances, horoscopes, casting spells, and other similar devices or practices. These things try to see the future…to control what will happen in their lives, or to communicate with the dead. According to God, these devices and practices are detestable and dangerous. (Deut. 18:10-12) Anyone engaging in any of these things is not being completely and entirely faithful to the LORD (Deut. 18:13) as God commands you and me to be.

         Serving as our sermon text is the Old Testament reading in Deuteronomy 18:15-20, where we find Moses delivering a message to the people of Israel. Nearly forty years earlier, Moses spoke these words to the Israelites, who had camped at the foot of Mt. Horeb, better known as Mt. Sinai. Do you remember from Scripture what the Lord God did there? Moses wrote in Exodus 20 that the LORD came down on the mountain in fire. Smoke, thunder, lightening, and a cloud covered the mountain. Everything trembled violently; the trumpet blast grew louder, and the voice of God spoke: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:1-3) and continued speaking His Law, known as the Ten Commandments. (Ex. 20:1-17)
         In our sermon text, Moses says that on that day of assembly at Mt. Horeb, when the people hear the voice of God, they cry out: “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.” (v. 16) The terror of God’s Law pierces them to the core. Pride and human goodness are burnt to ashes, knowing that even the best they can do will not hide their sin. They stand before the holy Judge in their sinfulness, realizing that death and hell are all that they deserve.

         So in His grace and mercy, the Lord God promises the Israelites the Prophet, who is the Mediator, or Go-between. As God’s children, they are to listen to Him. The Lord God puts it this way to Moses in our sermon text: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in His mouth, and He will tell them everything I command Him.” (vv. 17-18)

         God promises you and me this Mediator also, since we are no better off than the Israelites were at the foot of Mt. Sinai. It may be easier for you to choose to ignore God’s Law, since the ground underneath you is not physically shaking. You can try to dull your conscience by telling yourself not to take Christianity and Lutheran theology too seriously. You attempt to dress up your sins with excuses: “I tried my best.” “Other people do it.” “I couldn’t help myself.” “It’s not my fault.” You can try to focus on your so-called good points. However, this is just denial of the truth that you and I are lawbreakers. In the book of James, chapter 2, God says: “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10) No excuse can cover that up. The holy Judge knows you and me are lawbreakers and sinners. That is why God sent this Prophet, the One who goes between the holy God and the sinner – who goes between the consuming fire of God’s Law and us. Jesus took the full blast of God’s anger against you and me when He suffered and died in our place on the cross. His goodness is real. Through Holy Spirit faith in Him, your sinfulness is covered with His holy, perfect life…so that the holy Judge declares you not guilty. Listen to Him for He is your God and your Mediator. Listen to the Prophet.
         Now how can God the Son cover us with His perfect life? How can He take our place under God’s wrath to suffer and die? The answer lies in the fact that God the Son became our Brother. Moses makes this clear to the Israelites and to you and me when he says: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers” (v. 15) Jesus Christ came from the people of Israel. He was born from the Virgin Mary of the house of David from the tribe of Judah. He has a closer relationship with the heavenly Father than any other prophet, including Moses. The God-man came from the Father, full of grace and truth. He is God…the One who is at the Father’s side, who is one with the Father, who has made the Father known to us, (Jn. 1:14,18) and who kept the Law perfectly in our place. Listen to Him for He is our God and our Brother. Listen to the Prophet.

Listen to His Word with the utmost conviction and sincerity. For God makes it clear that this Prophet speaks only what God wants, when He says: “I will put My words in His mouth.” (v. 18) This is why Jesus spoke with so much authority.  His Words are God’s Words. God the Father placed into Jesus’ mouth the exact words He wanted His beloved Son to speak to sinners.       However, many in our world today fail to recognize the authority of Jesus Christ and His Word because it is hidden…hidden in a humble book we know as the Bible and in the humble preaching and teaching of pastors and Christians. God sends out a warning that “anyone [who] does not listen to His Words that the prophet speaks in His name” will be called to account for it by God Himself. (v. 19) What God is talking about here is punishment - eternal punishment and damnation in hell.

         This doesn’t seem to register with millions of people in our world today who talk about Christ in a disrespectful way and ignore or push away the Bible…saying it is just a book full of stories and nothing more. When the rest of the world says, “It’s just a book,” we may very well be tempted to say to ourselves: “Maybe it is just a book.” When the rest of the world makes fun of God’s people who speak the authoritative Word of God, you might be tempted to stop listening to God’s Word and say: “It has no authority over my life either.”

Our world today even goes so far as to replace the Bible and God’s representatives with their own false teachings and teachers. God speaks about this in our text, saying: “But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” (v. 20) This is such a serious offense in the Old Testament that it calls for capital punishment. Today, not recognizing the authority of Jesus Christ and His Word, our world commits this same offense by replacing it with man-made ideas and words, over and above the Triune God’s Words and Truth. Our culture can disorient you and me with the winds of relative truth and the darkness of unbelief. Many people are unaware that they sleep on the edge of disaster. The light of the Good News in Jesus Christ reveals your position and points the way to safety and to the Truth.

Oh, how fortunate we are to be able to repeat with conviction and gratitude the words of the apostle Philip in John 1:45 where he says, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Don’t settle for imitations. Don’t try to satisfy your longing for prophecy in all the various ways the world offers. Listen to the Prophet and know that the Prophet, Priest, and King…Jesus Christ, the Son of God…is your Lord and Savior, who loves you very much. He has the authority to be your Mediator, your Brother, and “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (Jn. 14:6) Listen to Him. Trust and believe His promises. Amen.

Third Sunday after the Epiphany – Series B

Text:  Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Title: “Repent and Believe”

Date: January 21, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

         Sodom and Gomorrah. When you hear the words…Sodom and Gomorrah…what kind of picture forms in your mind? Is it one pertaining to decadence, immorality, or wickedness? Does the word arrogance come to mind? Whatever description you come up with, it probably is not strong enough to depict the abhorrent, despicable condition of these two places. Things got so bad in Sodom and Gomorrah that God destroyed these cities and all who were present in them. Genesis 19 tells us that the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from out of the heavens. Nothing short of total destruction!

         In our Old Testament reading for today, we are introduced to another city…a pagan, Gentile city. It is the great city of Nineveh…the important, capital city of the Assyrian Empire. With a population of over 1/2 million people, this city was considered huge for that time period. Nineveh was a wealthy city…but it was also a city like Sodom and Gomorrah…full of wickedness, ungodliness, idolatry, and immorality. God’s prophet Nahum states that Nineveh’s sin and evil ways included plotting evil against God, (1:11) cruelty and plundering in war, (2:12-13; 3:1, 19) prostitution and witchcraft, (3:4) and business exploitation. (3:16)

         And wouldn't it be just like God to send a prophet to this pagan place and proclaim His warning of impending judgment and message of repentance. It’s just like God to do this…and His choice is Jonah. God calls on Jonah in Chapter 1 to go to Nineveh and preach against its wickedness. And Jonah obediently and cheerfully goes to Nineveh. Right? No way!  He disobeys God’s command and runs away on a ship to Tarshish, which is in a totally opposite direction…way over on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. Jonah gets as far away from God and Nineveh as is humanly possible. He wants Nineveh to fall. There was no way he is going to play a part in Nineveh’s repentance and aid them in escaping God’s judgement. He hates and resents these ungodly people because they are bitter enemies of the Israelites.

Like Jonah, we too are prideful and arrogant. There’s an old fable about 2 ducks and a frog living in a farmer’s pond. The ducks and the frog are the best of friends. They play together all day long. But when the hot summer days come, the pond begins to dry up. The ducks realize that they will have to move. They could easily fly away to another place, but what about their friend, the frog?

Finally, the ducks decide to put a stick between them. Each holds one end in its bill while the frog hangs on to the stick by its mouth. So the three friends set out for another pond. As they are flying, the farmer sees them and says: “How clever! I wonder who thought of it.” The frog says: “I did”…and that was the end of the frog.

Pride and arrogance! These get in our way and we hurt ourselves because of them. Sometimes, you and I knowingly disobey God so we serve our own wants and desires. You and I rebel against His authority! At times, don’t you become so self-centered that you become unwilling to share God’s great mercy with irreligious people? Aren’t there times when you run away from your discipleship duty…your mission work…of sharing the Savior’s powerful and positive message of compassion and love, and life in Him with contemporary Ninevites? A mixture of fear, apathy, and envy has turned many of us into not-so-bold witnesses for the Lord. We find a million and one excuses, don’t we? “It’s so hard to witness to those people.” Or how about this one: “How can a person like me evangelize others?” At other times, you and I ignore doing the good works God has given you and me to do in our sanctified life. We give reasons like: “There are just too many other things that I have to get done.” Or “I don’t have the time right now…maybe later.” Or “I rather be doing something else that is more interesting and more fun.”

         The truth is…God’s wrath and judgement is real…just like His compassion for repentant hearts. God is concerned and He wants you to be concerned for others too since “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk. 1:15)

And it’s just plain futile to try to run away or hide from God. Part of Psalm 139 (7, 9-10) says: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

As for Jonah, a violent storm hits while in route to Tarshish. The sailors toss Jonah overboard into the sea to appease Jonah’s God to stop the storm and the sea calms down. Then God miraculously provides a great fish to swallow Jonah for three days and three nights, and then miraculously spits him out onto dry land. Through this mighty act of deliverance, God moves Jonah to recognize that “salvation comes from the LORD.” (Jonah 2:9) With this, God also moves Jonah to accept His renewed call to go to the city of Nineveh and proclaim to the Ninevites the God given message: “40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” (Jonah 3:4)

Martin Luther had an opportunity to comment about Jonah. Luther indicated that the will of God will be done either by us or on us. He says: “How well Jonah avoids obeying God on the sea! He may have wished instead to die on land 3 times. He does not want to go Nineveh; so he must go into the midst of the sea, into the mouth of the great fish. All this was written for our warning. Therefore, we learn first that whoever does not want to be obedient to God with a good will must finally be obedient to Him, after all, with a bad will. God’s will is done. And here we see that whoever refuses to suffer a little for God’s sake will have to suffer much more instead. Accordingly, nothing is better for us than to obey promptly and say: Thy will be done in heaven and on earth.”

Happily for you and me, “One greater than Jonah” has come. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-32) Jesus’ death on the cross and His glorious resurrection were accomplished for the salvation of all people…all people…you and me and those other guys! Christ is the truth and the payment made on behalf of all sinners…past, present, and future. Those who repent and faithfully believe that Christ’s death atoned for their sins will have their sins forgiven and receive eternal life. In 1 Peter 3, Peter says that God “is not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (v. 9) Paul writes to Timothy in 1Timothy 2 that God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (v. 4)

         When you recognize the LORD’s authority and the power of His Word in your life, you are greatly comforted, strengthened, and assured. God would have us live in repentance now, which is brought about by the Word of God, that leads to living a holy and godly life now before Christ’s second coming. During this New Testament age in which we live, our lives have a particular urgency. We don’t have “all the time in the world.” Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson that “the appointed time has grown very short.” (1 Cor. 7:29) Therefore, we must make the best use of the limited time that we have in our life.

And turning to our beloved Ninevites, it seems that they understood this very notion. “[For] the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah,” Jesus says in Matthew 12.  Jonah’s proclamation statement…”40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned”…is short and to the point. And apparently it had quite an impact on the Ninevites…they believed God and His Word! They repented of their sins by fasting and putting on sackcloth then sitting in ashes. (cf. Jonah 3:5) They turned from their evil ways and their repentance turns out to be pleasing to God. So, the LORD doesn’t carry out the promised punishment and destruction.

         Yes, in the book of Jonah, we have one of the clearest indications of God’s kingly majesty, power, and dominion along with His grace and mercy…grace and mercy meant for all people who repent of their sins against God and believe His Word. That’s why Jesus says that the time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent by turning from your evil ways, and believe in the good newsmessage of forgiveness and salvation! Amen.

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany - Series B

Text: John 1:43-51

Title: "Come and See”

Date: Sunday, January 14, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

         As you well know, you and I live in an age of political correctness. When seeking to minimize or eliminate what is considered socially offensive, political correctness becomes a negative thing. When excessively prohibiting freedom of speech and ideas in order to control behavior, political correctness becomes a dangerous thing. Yet, I suppose it’s possible that political correctness could be helpful in terms of protecting an individual from discrimination, bigotry, injustice, prejudice, and being stereotyped. The irony is…most people seen as politically incorrect would want individuals protected from those things too.

         Even though you and I live in a politically correct age, it hasn’t always been that way. Scripture records examples of what would be called today politically incorrect.  At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the Lord shows up at the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptizer. By today’s standards, John the Baptizer would be branded politically incorrect for calling the elite Pharisees and Sadducees “Brood of vipers!” (Mt. 3:7) and pointing to Jesus as being God's Son, the sacrificial “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (Jn. 1:29) Having heard John's unique endorsement of Jesus, two of John's followers…one of which being Andrew, Peter’s brother…decide to find out more about Jesus. They follow Him…question Him…and spend some time with the Lord. They become convinced that Jesus is, indeed, someone very special.
         In our Gospel reading, the feeling that Jesus is someone special is shared by another man that Jesus calls to follow Him. Now, we don’t know how or where or when Jesus first impressed Philip. But we do know that Philip is absolutely overwhelmed with excitement at being asked to follow the Savior. So great is his exhilaration and enthusiasm at Jesus' invitation that he can’t stop himself from sharing the good news with one of his friends from the small town of Cana. You can almost hear a breathless Philip…a barely-able-to-contain-himself Philip…make the announcement to his pal Nathanael: "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote…Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." (v. 45 NIV) Philip is excited and likely expects his friend to react with excitement when he shares the electrifying news that he has met the long-promised Messiah. While none of us can be exactly certain what Philip expected as a reaction from his friend, I am fairly certain that he didn’t expect Nathanael to respond with: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (v. 46a)
         Talk about giving a politically incorrect answer! Nathanael's scathing reply, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (v. 46a) makes it look like Nathanael has some serious issues. Back in the ancient world, the region of Galilee had the reputation of being a bit behind the times…of being culturally and linguistically challenged, to be politically correct. Even though the people of Galilee were looked down upon, most of them like Nathanael got some comfort from the fact that they were not from the town of Nazareth. That’s because Nazareth was the pits…even for the Galileans. Nazareth was not the place where you took your family on vacation or where you bought a time-share. It was hidden away in the hills…way off the beaten path. Nazareth would never have been listed as one of the top ten places for senior citizens to go to live in retirement.

         So, having had cold water thrown on his announcement about the Savior, what does Philip do? He does what God's people have done in every age. Philip says, "Come and see.”

(v. 46b) Come and see for yourself what I am talking about. You may be surprised, very surprised, at what you find. Come and check it out. And Nathanael does exactly what his friend asks him to do. He goes and sees Jesus for himself. In less than a minute of face-to-face time with the Savior, Nathanael finds out a number of things. He finds out that Jesus knows him...I mean really knows him. As Nathanael approaches Jesus, the Savior comments, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (v. 47) Acknowledging the truth of Jesus' insight, Nathanael asks the Savior, “How do you know me?” (v. 48a) Where have we met before? How do I know You? Jesus replies, Nathanael, you ask how I know you. OK, here is your answer. Do you remember, some time ago, when you were under the fig tree, before Philip invited you to come here? I saw you there. (cf. v. 48b) For some reason, Jesus' bit of information sends a signal to Nathanael. Whatever it is…in that instant…Nathanael is transformed. Nathanael now acknowledges that his first impression about Jesus was wrong. Having seen Jesus for himself, he confesses: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (v. 49) Nathanael now sees Jesus as God's own beloved Son.
         But this is not the end of Nathanael's observations. During the next three years, he watched Jesus…and what wonderful things he saw. Lepers healed, the dead raised, demons casted out, and storms calmed. He saw the Son of God sacrifice Himself to give humanity the heaven-sent hope of heaven. Nathanael saw Jesus' empty resurrection tomb and stood face-to-face with his living Lord. Having seen all this, Nathanael spent the rest of his life sharing the Savior. The rest of his days were occupied by inviting others to “come and see” their Lord. According to early church tradition, Nathanael preached in Armenia and India. One ancient report says that after years of ministry, he was beheaded. Another says the apostle was skinned alive. Either way, even in dying, Nathanael showed the intensity of the joy that he had found in Jesus. Rather than denying his Lord and becoming politically correct, Nathanael stayed politically incorrect by remaining faithful to His Savior, the Son of God.
         Since Nathanael was so impressed by what he found in the Savior, I would encourage you to spend some time thinking about Nathanel's words: "Teacher, you are the Son of God…." In many places around our country today, these words about Jesus are strongly condemned. Anyone who speaks these words will be chastised and harassed! Very, very few Christian politicians have the courage to say publicly: Jesus Christ is God and the Savior of the world! Society considers these words so politically incorrect and inflammatory that it is practically political suicide for any public servant to utter them. In many of our nation’s universities professors and students who say, Jesus is the Son of God and the Redeemer of humanity, are branded as politically incorrect and shunned for being narrow-minded and a bigot.
Not a week goes by without God's believers stereotyped as being biased, unfair, unjust, unreasonable, and underhanded.

         As for primetime television programs, they pride themselves on tackling controversial subjects. But what major show, sponsored by a national network, will ever say: Jesus Christ died to give us forgiveness and salvation? In wide-screen and with high-definition clarity, people sit and watch satellite or cable programs or movies where adultery is accepted…sex is for sale…profanity is prominent…and murder is mainstream. But nowhere will you ever hear or see any upstanding, honorable Christian character say the politically incorrect words: "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who has shed His blood so those who believe can be saved."
         Even though it is politically incorrect to say these things about Jesus, they are nevertheless absolutely true. Like Nathanael, “come and see.” Put away your old impressions and get a new, correct impression of the Lord. Read for yourself in God's holy, inspired Word who Jesus is. See for yourself the great love that God reveals in the person of His sinless Son. See how Jesus loves those whom society has found to be unlovable. Look how He cares for those who are incurable. Hear the words of forgiveness and hope said by Jesus to those who are disheartened and dejected, and lacking peace and comfort. And as a result of Christ’s priestly sacrifice on the cross, heaven is open to all who believe and are baptized into Him…including you and me. Amen.

The Baptism of Our Lord – The First Sunday after the Epiphany - Series B

Text: Mark 1:4-11

Title: “Anointed Children of God”

Date: Sunday, January 7, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Do you remember the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson? To start the show, Johnny’s sidekick, Ed McMahon, would always bring Johnny out with this great announcement: "and heeere’s Johnny."        

         Many, many years before Ed McMahon became an announcer, there lived an announcer like no other, including Ed McMahon himself. This announcer is the one and only John the Baptizer…the one who appears in the desert wilderness wearing a fashionable camel’s hair outfit and a leather belt, and eating delectable locusts, topped off with wild honey. John is out in the dirty, dry desert “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (v. 4) He announces the coming of “…the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29) and prepares the way for the One who is “more powerful than [John]” (v. 7) to come into people’s lives.

Daily in our lives, you and I are to hear John’s proclamation. You are to prepare yourself daily for Jesus by confessing your sins. Prepare yourself daily for Jesus by turning away from your sins and turning toward God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and His truth and love. In repentance, accept and acknowledge that you are a sinner, who needs the forgiveness of almighty God. Humbly declare that you will surrender yourself to God and rely on Him to help you live your life and no longer rely on yourself.

         Years ago, newspapers carried the story of Al Johnson…a Kansas man who came to faith in Jesus Christ. What made his story remarkable was not his conversion, but the fact that as a result of his newfound faith in Christ, he confessed to a bank robbery he had participated in when he was nineteen years old. Because the statute of limitations on the case had run out, Johnson could not be prosecuted for the offense. Still, he believed his relationship with Christ demanded a confession and he even voluntarily repaid his share of the stolen money!
         Yesterday, January 6th, was a day in the Church year known as “The Epiphany of Our Lord,” which is the second oldest Church festival behind Easter. Epiphany celebrates the Magi or the Wise Men visiting Jesus, (cf. Matt 2:1-11) who was by then somewhere between one to two-years old. These wealthy Gentile men were from a far away land, guided only by the biggest and brightest star in the sky. They went to worship “this newborn King.” This embodies the entire Epiphany season in the Church, which emphasizes Jesus’ manifestation or revelation as both God and man…as Savior of the world…not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles.

This Jesus…this God-man…is the One John the Baptizer says has come into this world to bring forgiveness to sinners and to take away our guilt and shame. Christ comes to forgive you and me as we repent and turn away from our sins and turn towards His loving and forgiving arms. But first, even though Jesus has no sins to confess, He needs to be baptized by John. Even though the Baptizer protests, according to the other Gospels…it is good, right, and salutary for Jesus to do this. In Matthew 3, Jesus responds to John saying: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” (Mt. 3:15) In allowing Himself to be baptized in this ordinary way in the Jordan River, Jesus is showing His solidarity with sinners. Even though He is sinless, Jesus identifies Himself with sinners by giving Himself to the necessary but very unpleasant task of bearing our sins upon Himself. Martin Luther points out that Jesus being baptized was the beginning of being the Christ…the anointed One, the Messiah…and was therefore “inaugurated into His entire Messianic office as our Prophet, Priest, and King.” (Lenski, Matthew, p. 133)

         As Jesus of Nazareth rises up from the waters of the Jordan, the extraordinary occurs. In the washing of this One man, all heaven breaks loose! It is as though the heavens can no longer contain themselves, and spills forth upon the earth. Heavenly sights and sounds that are extraordinary and wonderful are seen and heard upon the earth. The Holy Spirit descends as a dove upon Jesus, and the heavenly Father assures Him, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (v 11) The heavenly Father anoints His beloved Son with the Holy Spirit. St. Mark paints a bright and vivid picture for us of our God…the Triune God. The heavenly Father who first spoke at creation (Genesis 1) speaks again. The Holy Spirit who initially hovered above the waters of creation now descends upon the waters of the Jordan. At the very center of it all…stands Jesus. He is the Son of God. His heavenly Father anoints Him with the Holy Spirit.

         This is an event of epic proportions. In the midst of what appears to be quite common and ordinary, the one true God reveals Himself to a people who would not otherwise know Him. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…the Holy Trinity. The heavenly realities are such that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and is is now made known to all of humanity. This is Jesus’ identity…100% God and simultaneously 100% man! This is who Jesus Christ is. This is His identity!

         So in light of Jesus’ identity, what is your identity? At one time or another throughout our life, each one of us asks questions like: "Who am I? Who do I belong to? Where do I belong? Where have I come from? Where am I going? What, exactly, "makes me tick?" What makes me…me?" To help us answer these identity questions is our society, who is more than ready and willing to help out…even to the point where we can become obsessed with our identity.

Take the advertising industry. It’s rather cruel in its narrow, rigid definitions of who is "in" and who is "out." Advertising constantly bombards you and me with images of who we are based on what we have or should want and how you should look. Television commercials are forever telling you that you are not ‘in with the in-crowd’ if we are not buying and using their product. Magazines insinuate that you are too much like that…and not enough like this.

No wonder so many human beings today struggle with an "identity crisis" in their lives. No wonder millions of people are lost and confused about who they really are and what their real purpose is in life. No wonder many believe they just need to read the latest self-help bestseller or listen to the newest self-help CDs or MP3s, and all of their identity problems will be solved.

         Hogwash! Baloney! Notta! When your heavenly Father anointed you with the Holy Spirit in the glorious moment of your baptism, it was precisely at that moment that all doubts about your identity were removed. When the pastor sprinkled water on your head and said these divine words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the heavens were “torn open.” Your sin against God and against others was forgiven. It was precisely when you were baptized that you became a precious child of God and a brother or sister of Jesus. At that moment…you were brought into one heavenly family! As St. Paul writes in Ephesians 4: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:4–6) As an anointed child of God, you are fully reconciled to God through the death of Jesus on the cross. Because of Christ’s resurrection on that first Easter, you are assured of His gift of eternal salvation. Because of the Lord’s ascension into heaven forty days after Easter, Jesus promises He will come again to fully restore you and me unto Himself and make all things new!

 “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29) With the Baptism of Jesus, Satan’s power and dominion are doomed. The world’s redemption, including yours and mine, is at hand through the love of the one true God…the Triune God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


Saint John Lutheran Church Emporia  (Guest Pastor Dennis Rhoads)

First Sunday in Christmas

Text: Isaiah 61:10-62-3

Title: What is in a Name? 

This morning before I share with you God’s Word and its meaning for us today, I want to tell you a story that I read earlier in the week.  There was a little child who was, as many children are afraid of the dark, for in the dark the monsters come out of the closet or under the bed.  His mother asked him, as she was cleaning up the kitchen after supper to go out on the back porch to get the broom she needed to clean up.  The light bulb was burned out, so it was dark on the back porch and the little boy really did not want to go out, for who knows what monster might be waiting for him.  His mother tries to reassure him told him, “It is alright to get the broom in the dark because Jesus is not just in our home, but outside too.  The little boy thought about it and since he trusted his mother, he went to the back door and opening it just a little called out, “Jesus can you please give me the broom.

I told you this little story because on this last Sunday of the year, I wonder how many of us, even while hoping for all the good things of life next year, fear at least a little bit, the unknown, those what I will call monsters of life, the things that might harm or cause us distress in the New Year. 

We know what life on this earth can bring us, for I doubt there is not one of us that have not experienced at least some heartbreak this year. So what I want to do this morning is talk to you about who you really are, so you can be prepared for whatever the New Year brings, all 365 days of it. 

I want to start with verse two of chapter 62 of our Old Testament reading for today. It is where we hear God speaking through the prophet Isaiah to the nation of Israel who were in captivity some wonderful news, 2 The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.”

I picked that verse because the people of Isreal were in desperate need of some good news.  They needed to hear from God, “You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.”  A name is a marvelous thing, for it identifies who the person, or in this case, who a nation is. 

For all of history, not only does a person’s name describe who they are but also determines who they are. One’s name and one’s self are inseparable.  They are your identity.  Like all of you, my surname, Rhoads, the name I was born into, is much more than just a name.  It brought family identity and tradition and relationship.  Sometimes, depending on one’s age, or circumstances, one’s surname might be viewed with pride, embarrassment, or resentment.  It is our identity.

Like all of you, I also have a given name, Dennis.  I am not just a Rhoads, just as each one of you are not just whatever your surname is.  Each one of us in our given name is unique within our family.  So, I, as each of you are, am both names together.  It is not just a username or a password; my name, both surname and given name, as yours is, is me, inseparable from me.

A name is a marvelous, mysterious thing. It is indeed a life-changing, revolutionary step to change one’s name.  I do not think us men appreciate the commitment it takes for a woman to set aside her surname which is her identity, to take on our surname when they marry.  It is as if her previous identity did not matter, which of course it does. 

Guys, what would it be like, if we had to take on our wife’s name when we married?  What would happen to our old identity?

What would our new identity mean?  What life changes would it make to our lives?  While men taking on their wife’s name is fairly uncommon even today, men have throughout history, at least in biblical history, have had their surnames changed sometimes willingly other times not so willingly.

I can’t even imagine the indignity and shame it must have been for the kings of Judah when the superpowers of Egypt and Babylon renamed the kings whose kingdom they had taken over.  Eliakim (God sets up) became Jehoiakim (established by God); Mattaniah (gift or hope of God) became Zedekiah (justice of the Lord) just to name a couple name changes.  Those name changes were not meant to honor but degrade the kings. 

On the other hand, when God redeemed Israel from slavery and exile, from being ridiculed, outcast, alien, and hopeless, one of the signs of joy and salvation that he gives them are new names.  Gone are the old names, names like Forsaken and Desolate.  Israel’s new name is not just a name for the futue, but a name with a future, indeed a name with a present, not a name forced on Isreal, not a name of ridicule, but a name given in love and promise as we read in Isaiah 62:4, ”You shall no more be named Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married to me.”  Those names are meant to be heard; Israel’s joy and God’s love are to be seen by all nations. 

Yes indeed, a name is a marvelous, mysterious thing in the hands of the Lord.  Abram (father) became Abraham (father of a great multitude) Sari (my princess) became Sarah (princess of the multitude) Jacob (holder of the heel) to Isreal (one who prevails) Simon (one who obeys) to Peter (rock) (Saul (asked for) became Paul (little). While we don’t know if Joseph was planning on naming Mary’s baby a different name, he was told to give Mary’s baby the name Jesus (deliverer)

He is the Messiah of which Simeon speaks in our Gospel reading for this morning, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

The one he spoke of is the greatest of gifts; the name that is above all names, the name at which all knees will bow, the name given to all people by which we must be saved.  He who gave his life for us gives us a new name, his name. He invites us to be baptized into his name, so we can share in his death and resurrection.  In addition, in his name, we live our lives in a sure hope and joy we could never find on our own. 

Simeon’s words spoken so long ago are our words, as we leave the table of the Lord, for we too have beheld him in the bread and wine of His Supper.  He is our salvation that has been prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to all people.  Jesus in the flesh with us, a light to drive out the darkness of our lives, overcoming the monsters we fear.  This is his promise to you in your baptism for you each have a new name, “Sons and daughters of Christ.”

I want to close with another promise of God.  Revelation 3:5 “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot their name out of the book of life. I will confess their name before my Father and before his angels.”  That my dear brothers and sisters in Christ is God’s promise for not just next year but the rest of your life.  You are his and nothing will ever separate you from him. Amen 

The Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Day

Text: John 1:1-18

Title: “The Word Made Flesh”

Date: Monday, December 25, 2017

Pastor Steve Bocklage

One of the most popular Christmas songs of all time has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus. The song is “White Christmas,” written by Irving Berlin in 1942 during WWII. He wrote it for a musical titled “Holiday Inn.” As you may know, “White Christmas” was recorded by Bing Crosby and became an instant hit with the troops overseas. It turned-on all the nostalgia buttons that make us feel good at times of trouble. Nostalgia buttons like Grandma’s apple pie and Mom’s homemade cookies. But “White Christmas” does not have a hint of Jesus. In fact, Irving Berlin deliberately set out to write a Christmas song that had nothing to do with Christ. With a life filled with tragedy, Irving Berlin actually hated Christmas.  So he intentionally wrote “White Christmas” as a Christmas song for the secular world.

         Sadly, if you take Christ out of Christmas, there really isn’t much left to celebrate, is it? Our culture seems to have discovered this for itself. When you leave out the Child born of a virgin in Bethlehem…there really isn’t much to celebrate. Without Christ, there is no point to Christmas. Without Christ, Christmas means absolutely nothing. Yet, this one little sentence: “And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us” (v. 14a) is why Christians from the 3rd century on made this day a holy day, even as their culture partied its way through it. The followers of Christ celebrated the glorious fact that on a magnificent night in Bethlehem when the fullness of time came, God delivered on His promise to save the world through His Son. (cf. Gal 4:4-5)
         It taxes our brain to think about “the Word became Flesh” and made His dwelling among us. This is bigger than E=MC2 that rocked the scientific world when Albert Einstein conceived it. From that time on, matter and energy were never looked at the same way again. Likewise, when “The Word became Flesh,” it meant that we could never look at God and humanity the same way again. God became man in Christ. The Creator became the creature. The Infinite dwells in the finite. Jesus the Christ is simultaneously 100% God and 100% man.
         Here again, Christianity stands alone and parts ways with all other religions. All other religions have man reaching up to its god. Some religions even have man becoming a god. But the Christmas Gospel declares the opposite…God became man. “The Word became Flesh” and in the flesh, God dwells among us full of grace and truth. Humanity is honored by God because God tabernacles here. He dwells among us in the flesh. Christ is sinless humanity who forgives you and me and who commands us to forgive one another. He is the image of the invisible God, and He restores the image of God to fallen humanity. This little Child…sleeping in a manger…cooing in His Virgin mother’s lap and being nursed by her…is perfected humanity who came to save sinful humanity.

         This Good News of Christmas goes so much deeper than holiday sentiments. The Good News of Christmas is wonderfully spoken by Linus in Charles M. Schulz’s animated TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Having been exposed to the commercialism of Christmas over and over again, Charlie Brown finally shouts out, “Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” “Sure, Charlie Brown,” says Linus, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” Linus confidently says, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were so afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.’” (Lk 2:8-14) Then Linus says, “That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”

         The babe born in Bethlehem is your Lord, your Redeemer, and your Reconciler. Trust Him. Trust this humble little Child. Trust Him with all your heart and soul and strength. He is your Life, your Light, and your Salvation. And just because you cannot see Him…still believe and trust that Christ dwells among us now. Our Lord has not stopped dwelling among us. Every Sunday and every time we gather to hear the Word of God…“The Word made Flesh” full of grace and truth…and to eat and drink His true Body and Blood…He makes known to you and me that He is dwelling among us.
         “The Word made Flesh” dwells among us full of mercy and full of undeserved love and kindness toward sinners. So do not be afraid to come to Him. Do not think you need to be pure before you stand before Him. And by all means do not think you have to bargain your way into His favor. This Bethlehem-born Child came to save you. He has the name “Jesus” because “He is the One who will save His people from their sins.”        

“The Word made Flesh” dwells among us full of truth…the truth of your sin and the truth of your forgiveness. He is the Truth of God in human flesh. He is the only Way to the Father in heaven. He is the only Life the world has or needs. And to those who receive Christ through Holy Spirit given faith…to those who believe on His Name and trust in His work of salvation…God gives permission for us to be called “children of God.” (v 12)
         “The Word made Flesh” dwells among us and was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger, so that you might be reborn in Him through Holy Baptism. He was “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary” so that you might be born of water and the Spirit of God…with God as your Father, and His Son Jesus as your Redeemer and Brother, and the Holy Spirit as your Helper and Comforter. Jesus was born so that you might receive His sacrificial body and blood as your food and drink to keep you strong and steadfast in faith until your death. The God-man Jesus the Christthe Anointed One…was born to die, so that in His death you might die to sin and live forever in Him.
         Yes, without question, the culture in our society has had one big Irving Berlin moment…where Christmas means absolutely nothing without Christ in it. When the Christ child was born in Bethlehem, He dwelt or tabernacled in the manger. And now…the Son of God dwells or tabernacles in the Word of God…in the waters of Holy Baptism…and in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. “The Word made Flesh” is the essence of Christmas and you receive all that He died to win for you…“grace upon grace.” (Jn 1:18b) This is the Christmas you have when you have Christ. Amen.

Christmas Eve

Text: Luke 2:1-20

Title: Look Into the Face of Emmanuel and See the Heart of God

Sunday Evening, December 24, 2017

Pastor Steve Bocklage

Of all the holidays during the calendar year…both secular and religious…I would describe Christmas as a high-effort holiday. We have lots of low-effort holidays, like Memorial Day or Labor Day. How much effort do those holidays require? Hardly any...maybe having a cookout. We have middle-effort holidays, like the Fourth of July. There’s some decorating – maybe you display the American flag or go to a parade, or take your kids to see the fireworks. Then there’s Christmas, a high-effort holiday that requires the most decorations…the most shopping and gift exchanging…Christmas parties and school Christmas programs.
         But Christmas isn’t all about decorations and gifts and parties and school Christmas programs…and most people know that. Most people know that Christmas is about something deeper…something more meaningful. But what’s it all about? You hear the same things every year…it’s all about family…it’s all about kindness and charity…it’s all about loving and giving to others. And you and I both know that there’s something wrong with that kind of thinking because those are year-round things…to love your family and to be kind and charitable and generous to others. That’s not just for Christmas…that’s something we do all year-round. So there must be something more.
         Christmas is that one time in the year when people make an extra effort to find real meaning…to find real joy in their lives. This is when many people make an effort to look into the heart of God. “Maybe this is the year,” people think, “when I will be able to finally see God, finally understand God, and find real joy and meaning in my life. Maybe this is the year, when I will be able to get a glimpse of who God really is, and how that affects my life.” Consciously or subconsciously, most people this time of the year are trying to catch a glimpse of God.
         Imagine the world at the time Jesus is born. Imagine what Mary sees. The world is very busy. Most people are traveling to their hometowns to register to be taxed by the Roman Emperor…Caesar. So much hustle and bustle…everyone is busy. There are so many travelers, that Mary and Joseph have to spend the night in a stable, where Mary gives birth to Jesus. But no one really notices. No one really cares. It’s not that people are uninterested in God. It’s just that, to most people, a poor couple in a stable having a baby has nothing to do with God.
         The world hasn’t changed much, has it? It’s still a hustle and bustle place. Everyone is busy. Does that mean that people aren’t interested in God? Of course not. No matter how busy you are, deep down, there is a desire to look into the heart of God. That’s why there are so many religions today. People are speculating, trying to guess what’s in the heart of God.

         As you may well know, there’s a growing interest in spirituality. Millions of spiritual books will be under the Christmas trees this year. No matter how busy you are, you long to be touched by an angel…to look into the heart of God. But for most, the search is unsuccessful. The spiritual book was interesting, but not the answer. The latest religion was OK at first, but confusing after a while. Some shows on TV are nice and heart-warming, but still haven’t caught a glimpse of God. Many people leave the holidays a little down, a little disappointed, and they don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because they were looking for God, but never found Him in the places they were looking.
         This evening, I want you to walk into the stable, and stand next to Mary, and see what she sees. What does Mary see? Yes, she sees a baby, but more than a baby. She remembers the promises God made about this baby. And as she recalls those promises and stares into the face of this baby…she realizes that she is staring into the heart of God.
         And then the shepherds arrive, and they tell her what the angels had said to them. They crowd around the manger, and gaze into the face of this baby. As they do, the shepherds realize that they are gazing into the heart and soul of God. And then the shepherds leave, and Mary ponders all these things in her heart. Everything her world needs is right in front of her! Everything that Mary’s hustling and busting neighbors and friends could ever ask for is lying in the manger! Right there, lying in the manger…is the key to understanding God and the meaning of life…the key to everything.
         And then Mary lifts the baby out of the manger and gives Him to you. And there you stand, awkwardly holding the Son of God in your arms. And you look down into His face, you realize that you are looking into the heart of God. In your arms, you have what everyone in America…what everyone in the world is looking for. While the rest of the world hustles and bustles, running from one spiritual guru to the next, channel surfing from one Christmas special to the next…while the rest of the world reads spiritual book after book and sings about chestnuts and snowflakes, looking for meaning and joy and God…there you are, in the quiet of the night. You’re away from the hustle and the bustle, looking into the face of this child…looking into the heart of God Himself and understanding that someday, this child will suffer and die on a cross. You cannot help but feel a little sad as you look into the face of this child, knowing how He will die someday. But you also cannot help feeling glad, because you know that after this child dies on the cross, He rises from the dead. You realize that the baby you are holding will someday set the world free from sin. You cannot help but smile, since you know that it’s because of this baby that all your mistakes in life have been taken away. It’s because of this baby that God loves you, and offers to you eternal life.
         And so you give the baby back to Mary. But before you walk away from that stable, you take one last look. You see God’s love for you…His mercy…His forgiveness…His wisdom. This evening, God has touched you with something even better than an angel. And you rejoice, because you know that God is not a God who is far away, but a God who is very near. You don’t have to drift and wander down endless paths, looking for God…looking for meaning in your life. God has come looking for you, and He has found you in that stable.
         As you walk away from the stable this evening, ponder these things in your heart. Go ahead and enjoy the holidays. Enjoy the hustle and bustle. The gifts and the gatherings are simply blessings that God has given to you to enjoy. And so you enjoy these things, but you also rejoice because apart from these things, you have found God and meaning and purpose and joy. You have held the baby Jesus in your arms this evening. You have looked into the face of Emmanuel, and you have seen the heart of God. Amen.

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