Sunday 8:30 AM service, Pastor McClean officiating
“… upon Jesus’ death and resurrection, God put away His wrath and anger.”
The songs we sang were these: “Rejoice, My Heart, Be Glad and Sing”; “Sing Praise to the God of Israel”; “Create in Me”; “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness”; “The Advent of Our King”; and “In Thee is Gladness”. Jean and Caitlyn played an instrumental, “An Antiphonal Christmas”. Thank you, Jean, Caitlyn and Carol.
Pastor began with the invocation. What is that, you ask? The LCMS website is going to clarify certain words and terms through this view.
“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” How many times have we heard those words? And yet, they testify with renewed freshness to our identity as children of God who’ve been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Wouldn’t it be something if God’s faithful would remember that every time they heard the words of the Invocation, perhaps tracing the sign of the cross as a visible reminder?
St. Paul beautifully captures the eternal significance of our baptism into Christ when he writes to the Galatians that “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).
We are clothed with his righteousness. Unlike the man in the parable of the wedding feast who had no wedding garment, when we stand before our Judge on the Last Day, we will be clothed and covered, robed in the purity of Christ.
“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Already now, in this heaven on earth we call worship, we stand with boldness before the Triune God who has claimed us and named us.
Pastor lit three candles of the advent wreath. These three (of four) represent hope, peace and joy. Can you guess what next week’s will be?
We prayed. And a lot. We could pray for the hour and it could never be enough. We prayed for churches around the world, for our sick, for those who serve and protect us. If you sat and listed those you know you could pray for the list would be at least a couple pages. Each person you know, don’t know or will know needs prayer in their life. If you need prayer, I need prayer. If nothing else at least recite The Lord’s Prayer.
We confessed our sins and, by God’s grace, we were forgiven. For further explanation we can rely on the LCMS.
Confession and Absolution
We can indeed approach God with confidence. And yet, because we stand on this side of our Lord’s final return, we still have with us the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. We have not yet faced the final judgment.
And so, with sin still working in us, the condemnation of God’s Law must still confront us, lest we have any delusions that we might have something to boast of before our mighty Judge.
Above all else, Confession and Absolution keep us honest — honest with ourselves and honest before God. The act of confession is not some work that we lay before the Father’s throne; rather, it is the simple acknowledgment that God’s Word is true and right and that when we measure ourselves against its demands, we come up short.
God’s Word says “you shall not give false testimony,” but in truth we have lied and gossiped and slandered. And so, the Christian confesses: “Lord, Your Word is true; I have sinned.”
There are three basic ways to handle sin and guilt. One is to ignore or minimize them. We’ve all been tempted in that direction more than a few times. Isn’t that, after all, what our sinful human nature is all about?
Another way is to institutionalize them, especially the guilt part. After all, if you can keep people feeling just guilty enough, you will keep them coming back for more.
The third way is to give sin and guilt their proper due, and then to silence them. That is the way of God’s absolution. With his forgiveness, our sin is removed from us as far as the east is from the west.
Christians know that, but they also need to hear it often. We need to be reminded that those familiar words, “I forgive you all your sins,” are not just some impersonal announcement. They say what they mean and accomplish what they promise. Jesus himself said to his disciples that the sins they forgive are forgiven (John 20:23).
The last and greatest absolution that will ever be spoken to us will be at the last judgment. In the final pages of the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis provides a marvelous description of this event.
As each individual comes before Aslan — the lion who is Lewis’ figure for Christ — one of two things happens: either the person gazes directly into Aslan’s face and recognizes his forgiving countenance, or, upon seeing the lion’s stern demeanor, passes into his long shadow, forever to be separated from Christ.
In the Confession and Absolution we are being readied for our appearance before Christ on the Last Day. And hidden behind those comforting words that our sins are forgiven is the invitation, “Come, you who are blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).
When our Lord speaks those words to us at the Last Day, Confession and Absolution as we know it will cease, for we will then bask in the eternal absolution of the Lamb.
We recited The Nicene Creed before Holy Communion. Why do we do this? Again, LCMS jumps in to save the day.
In the course of his earthly ministry, Jesus put this hard question to his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” He wasn’t asking for the opinions of the crowds. He wanted a confession of faith.
In reality, this confession is no different than the confession of sins. In both, we acknowledge that what God has said is true. When we confess our sins, we acknowledge the truth that God speaks about us — that we are sinners. When we confess the faith of the church in the creed, our confession speaks about God — who he is and what he has done.
In every age, the same question is put to the church: who do you say that I am? As we open our mouths and begin, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty …,” we confess a profound truth that has passed over the lips of Christians in every generation.
This confession of the Triune God is the property of no single individual, but of the whole church, including the whole company of heaven. There are more than a few saints and martyrs who put their lives on the line as they defended the truths that we confess in the creeds.
Think of Athanasius, that faithful fourth-century pastor and confessor, who was exiled numerous times for his defense of the truth against the false teachers of his day. Or Luther, who stood firm against the combined might of the Roman Church and the Holy Roman Empire.
In our own day, there are faithful Christians who risk their lives — and sometimes die — to confess these truths.
In the Revelation to St. John, we find confession going on in heaven. Just listen to the snippets of the grand confession that swirls around God’s throne:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come! (4:8b)
Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created (4:11).
Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth (5:9-10).
In the same way, as we stand on holy ground where Jesus comes in his Word and Sacraments, we join that noble company of saints and martyrs, confessing these holy truths concerning the Triune God.
We went to the altar to receive Holy Communion and stepped back in time nearly 2,000 years when Jesus offered and the disciples accepted His bread and His wine, His body and His blood. How can we imagine how Communion will be held in Heaven? LCMS explains.
Try for a moment to picture the heavenly throng standing before the throne of God on the Last Day. The numbers will be staggering.
And yet, united as we all are to Christ, the Bridegroom, we will be one — his elect Bride. As the faithful make their way to the altar to feast on the Bread of Life in the distribution, they are given a glimpse of that holy Bride.
Oh yes, we see all of her warts and blemishes: the petty bickering over trivial matters, the deep disagreements on more weighty issues, and the painful ways in which we sometimes treat one another.
Yet, by our common confession of the truth, we are one in Christ. As Christ gives himself to us in this holy meal, he strengthens that unity and bids us love one another with a deep and abiding love. How can it be any other way, as we are sent from the table with the blessing to depart in peace?
Pastor read Scripture. These were Zephaniah 3:14-18b; Hebrews 10:5-10 and Luke 1:67-79. Here they are.
14 Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
18 “I will remove from you
all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, my God.’”[a]
8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law.9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn[a] of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
Sermon: “Looking for a Chance To Start Over”
We live in a nation of ‘second chances’. We often hail the actor or athlete, just to name a few high profile industries, who has had a bad time of it perhaps through addiction or injury but returned to artistic fame or athletic glory. They tell a story of admitting their faults but through ‘hard work’ they were able to make it back to the top. As a society we appreciate people who have worked hard to reach the top of their field.
It can also be said when we appreciate their ability to make a comeback we really mean ‘a lot of money‘. For athletes, large contracts tend to be the yardstick we judge them by not just performance on the field. Actors can draw huge amounts of money even if most of their films bomb at the box office. The media and other outlets, including ourselves salute them.
“Way to guys! We were cheering for you all along!”
Others are not so lucky. An actor might get caught up with drug addictions. Athletes might injure themselves in off the field activities. Pro sports contracts frquently include clauses stating athletes, if they want to get paid, must refrain from dangerous activities in their spare time. These might include riding motorbikes without helmets, mountain climbing with or without helmets and proper gear. You get the idea. Even others might say something really stupid on social media and be kicked off the team. Sports talk shows, the guys at the water cooler or people at the bar will deride them, not necessarily for what they’ve done in and of itself. We’ve all done dumb things leading to injury or castigation online due to foolish comments. The anger is at the loss of revenue they suffer. Even though we’ll never see their kinds of paychecks we usually respond with,
“What a bum. You deserve nothing.”
Another type of disaster which doesn’t get a lot of airplay is ‘spiritual catastrophes’. The Bible is filled with names and nations which have ‘thrown it all away’ but made a comeback or fail in the long run. King David had a child out wedlock and had the woman’s husband killed in battle. He repented and served faithfully afterward. King Saul was a chosen one to lead the Kingdom of Israel but he went a little nuts and wanted and tried to kill the future king, David. He ended dying in disgrace. The entire nation of Israel was in the habit of going from total devotion to God to repudiation of His love and back into His arms and back to Baal and back to God and so on. In any event, returning back to God is always met with His arms spread wide and the chorus of angels in eternal harmony pronouncing the wonderful news.
But there is a group of people who don’t or won’t see the advantage of a life with Christ. They are known as ‘one and dones’. They’ve been members of the church and for whatever reason have left and are not coming back. Up until recently many kids who left the church would make their ways back after marriage, sometimes, but certainly after starting a family. They see the wisdom of ‘community’ with family other like-people, ‘strength in numbers’ we might say. These ‘one and dones’ are mostly younger people raised in the church but during college or after moving out of the house have abandoned their faith altogether. Others can be people who joined a church later in life but found it wanting but mostly it is younger persons. Either way, they don’t want a second chance. They do not want to be approached about it. They do not want to talk about it. They want nothing to do with church, God, pews, communion, prayer. Nothing.
I don’t know what is causing people to not return to the church. Maybe they’ve watched how mom and dad and other church members behave raucously at parties or other social gatherings. They’ve seen how kids in school cheat to get ahead or watch criminals drive fine cars. Maybe it’s how they are taught about God. The Old Testament has no shortage of God being wrathful against the enemies of Israel and even letting Israel get their just desserts for turning away from Him. Some churches delight in being old-time ‘fire and brimstone’ teaching churches. Others sway too far the other way and ignore the dangers of sin, that Satan is not a viable force in our world. Either way, kids get a skewed view of what Jesus is all about. The prophet, John, before he baptized Jesus with The Spirit speaks about the Messiah using ‘His winnowing fork’ to separate the evil from the good and, thus, the need for repentance. It’s not that John was wrong but Jesus came to show the world how His love works. The winnowing will come at ‘the end’ … when He separates the evil from the good. Still, until all aspects of God are taught it’s easy to see how people can fall away from the spiritual life. A difficult aspect can be if it is your own child. You want to talk to them about their faith but fear driving them further away from you.*
In our homes, punishments of one kind or another are used by parents to discipline the kids. Fathers, especially, are looked upon as the god-like figure in the home and kids might see him as a parallel to our Creator. Society tends to poo-poo God merely because He has rules which don’t fit in with an ‘everything is alright to do’ attitude.
Why does God want to save us? So we won’t be afraid of Him. It’s our sin which demands we stay away from Him. We see punishment in Him. He sees us as His very own – the father we all need in a family we all deserve in a home we all desire. It’s not until He fills us with The Spirit do we understand how we were wrong to turn away from Him.
Here are the lyrics to Great is Thy Faithfulness, the only hymn I’m familiar with based on The Book of Lamentations. God sings to me in this hymn.
O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not
Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been
Thou forever will be
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me
And a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer
And to guide
Strength for today
and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord every morning new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hands hath
Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me
So faithful too me