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About Fasting and The Lenten Season

March 13, 2019
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Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Matthew 4:1-11 (NIV)
——

We could preach more than a few sermons on this text, because there are so many things in today’s reading!
Here the Son of God is in the middle of the story, being tempted in many ways, like us, but He was without sin (Heb 4:15). Because he was also a human being, he was also tempted and humiliated by the devil. And His work of salvation also consists, in part, of resisting the devil and doing justice for our sake. We also learn a lot about the devil’s approach here: he takes advantage of the body’s needs such as eating and drinking (our material needs). He is very deceitful and uses words from the Bible, like the words which referred to protective angels, but twists its true meaning. He offers power and wealth and lies in this, because ultimately everything belongs to God. He also hides and doesn’t say the truth of what would be the price of putting oneself at the service of him: it would cost us the salvation of the soul for eternity. Today’s Gospel can teach us something about fasting, from the example of our Lord Jesus Christ; we want to talk about this today.

As we are now at the beginning of the Lenten season, let us take a closer look at the subject of fasting. What does it really mean to fast? Outwardly, we all know that it is to avoid from eating and sometimes drinking, at least to a degree, or to abstain from special foods such as meat. But why fasting, what is the reason? There may be very different reasons; we want to compare them now with the fasting of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Previously, during the Middle Ages and before the Reformation, people fasted because it was the law of the church. Anyone who consumed meat or butter during the forty days of Lent before Easter was considered a sinner. Martin Luther and the reformers condemned this as an unnecessary burden on the conscience. Ultimately, it was an obfuscation of the gospel, i.e. something which made the Gospel more confusing, since those commandments were made up by people who then claimed that salvation was dependent on their fulfillment. Carnival arose from this terrible interpretation: people wanted to celebrate eating and drinking wildly before being forced into fulfillment of Lent. The fast of our Lord Jesus Christ has nothing to do with those imposed fasts.

Second, many people also willingly fasted in the Middle Ages because they felt that they were doing God a favor; this way of thinking still emerges from time to time. Yes, more than that, it was thought of as doing God a favor, even when people felt pain, damaged their body or put themselves in danger. Around 1000 AD there were the so-called flagellant pilgrimages where people practiced hitting themselves with a whip as a religious punishment because they thought it would please God. However, this is truly something deeply pagan when someone wants to serve God through fasting and self-torture. Jesus himself rejected this as a diabolical temptation. When Satan tested him and told him to come down from the temple, Jesus responded with the scripture: “You shall not test the Lord your God.” Why should I be so reckless? There was a comfortable staircase that descended from the pinnacle of the temple! Then, we should not unduly endanger our bodies or weaken them unnecessarily with fasting, but we should instead give our healthy and ready bodies as living sacrifices so that we can do God’s will with them, that’s what truly pleases God! Of course, we should not do it to earn the favor of God, but in gratitude for Him having given us his approval through Jesus without any merit on our part.

Third, there is a fast that is done to satisfy the hungry or needy. I’ve heard of some families who do a fast once a week and spend a seventh of the family’s income for the hungry. Dear brothers and sisters, it is very important that in our abundance we do not forget the hungry! However, I am sure that if we live in moderation we can give much to the poor of the world without the need for fasting; God gives us more than enough for that!

Fourth, you can also fast to take advantage of the fast itself. This is very popular nowadays. We think on diets for losing weight through fasting, or to renounce certain things that are not very beneficial or restricting their use such as: alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, etc. Such fasting is certainly something external or mundane; this has nothing to do with faith in Christ. There is a well known campaign in Germany during Lent called “Seven weeks without”, where Christians are advised to willingly give up their free time, their hobbies or different things that have become a habit: chocolates, sweet things, alcohol, cigarettes, television, etc. In the advertising of this campaign, it is always expressed that in this way something good can be done during the 7 weeks of Lent. That is also good, and we Christians know that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and we must consciously make an effort to stay slim and fit and be healthy. But I would like people to take more care of their soul than of their body, at least half of the effort they put into caring for their bodies. I wish that they would be at least as eager to read the word of God and the sacrament of the altar as the formulas to lose weight and all the remedies, diets, physical activity, natural therapies, and alternative natural medicine to improve health. Then many, only for that reason, could be simply healed and would feel better.

Fifth, fasting is also used to pressure other people and force or induce them to do something; that happens for example during a hunger strike. I think that is completely wrong.

Sixth, fasting may help us focus on the Word of God and prayer. This is something that we also find in the Bible: In this way for a time, the distraction of caring for the body is removed, and spiritual life can be highlighted and there can be a deepening of spiritual things. In this regard, we can mention fasting as a preparation for Holy Communion, which Martin Luther saw as a “fine external discipline” in the Small Catechism. The practice of maintaining during Lent moments of tranquility and renouncing boisterous pleasures is also part of all this. This fasting has more to do with the fast of our Lord Jesus Christ: we can imagine that in the forty days after his baptism, he was preparing for his coming ministry in conversation with his Heavenly Father. In the same way, during the forty days Moses fasted on Mount Sinai.

And yet, the fast of Jesus has another dimension.
Seventh, there is the fast truly led by God. Jesus did not abandon food or his humanity of his own free will, but the Holy Spirit led him to the desert, the Gospel says. Yes, that is really the most correct and delicious fast: the fast that is ordained by God, because that’s where we learn to trust our Heavenly Father. The devil tried to convince Jesus to make bread from stones because there was nothing edible in the desert. Jesus resisted him and answered him: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus knew that the Word and the will of his Heavenly Father were ultimately what mattered. When the right time arrives, He would fast and suffer, and he would also end it at the right time, He does not have to worry about that. And the Father gave his son the best, his word, but also his bread. At the end of the forty days, the angels came and served Jesus, and we can probably assume with Martin Luther that they brought him food and drink. Likewise, God provided his messenger to Elijah in the wilderness. So also in the wilderness he had provided all his people Israel with manna from heaven and water from the rock. Of course, the Father then asked his son for the cross, but after death he took him back and gave him what the devil intended to give him: the genuine rule over the whole world. Yes, that is the best fasting: the fasting ordered by God, to be able to see then how wonderfully God aligns and guides everything.

The kind of fasting we want to practice during this Lenten season should be a spiritual fasting. If God wants us to lead a corporal fast, so be it; each one of us will be able to feel if this is the case. But there is a good fasting that we could practice at this time. We can fast, in the time we spend on other more superfluous things and give our time to start reading the Bible every day, an Old Testament chapter and a New Testament chapter. Let’s begin this Lent returning to the habit of reading the Word of God, in order to allow God to speak to us through His Word and to be protected through it. Let’s return again to the habit of praying daily and interceding for others. If we achieve that kind of fasting during this Lent and we get to have the spiritual life that every believer should have, we will feel that we are doing the true fast that God asks and our lives will be transformed miraculously.

In that way when the devil lurks, he will no longer have any power over us, or any kind of influence, because we will be protected by the spiritual armor that God asks us to wear, like in Ephesians 6, and what I have also written in the meditation for our bulletin. We really want to see changes in our lives, in our church, in our community, perhaps that is the fast that God is expecting from us for this Lent. That is a good way to re-affirm when we say “I renounce the devil and all his works and ways, and I surrender to you, Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to be faithful and obedient to the end. Amen.

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Joy Is Here and Now

December 23, 2018

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
Luke 1:39-56
—-

The topic that highlights the fourth Sunday of Advent is “Joy is approaching”. What kind of joy are we talking about? It is about the joy of the imminent Second Coming in glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the meaning and reason of Advent. The question is whether we can feel that joy or not? Can we truly feel the joy of the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ? Can we feel the Joy of God in our lives? Many might be thinking, when we talk about joy is because it is related to the season’s joy. Isn’t it about the special season that we are journeying at this time of the year, that is, the holidays of the year’s end?
No, we are not talking about the joy that can produce parties, holidays, family reunions, holiday’s trips, or material gifts. We are talking about the true joy that only God can grant that should be in the hearts of all believers. Are you happy today? What I mean, are you a person filled with the constant joy that comes from God? If not, why are you not happy? What is your problem for which you cannot be joyful? Jesus Christ came to earth to bring us joy. That joy is infinite and wants to dwell in our hearts. Don’t look for it in material things or in things that you can see with your eyes or touch with your hands. The real joy that cause to affect your mood or feelings for good doesn’t depend on external things. That joy is beyond the material and is true joy. That joy is the presence of God who, by the way, and unfortunately, not all Christians possess, although every believer should have it.

That joy is already among us, and it is available at all times. It is at hand. You don’t need to run after joy all your life and eat way and destroy yourself to get it. God’s joy is for free, it’s real, and it’s in our midst.

Let’s see what people usually think about what joy and tranquility can mean in life:

“It was just any normal day. A poor farmer hears a noise under the wheel of the plough rake; he looks puzzled discovering that he has unearthed a chest filled with gold coins, an incalculable fortune for him! Our man drags the treasure chest to the front of his farmhouse and buries it deep in his yard.

For days, he thinks and rethinks: What to do with all that? Imagine everything you could buy, but decided to leave it buried … With that treasure, anything can be solved. This trunk full of gold coins will be his safety before any unforeseen event, a calamity, or a hard season.

Having the safeness of his buried treasure changes significantly the character of our man: from cautious, he becomes a relaxed person; from grumpy and taciturn, he becomes a sparkling and pleasant man. So he eliminates his fear and intolerance and changes it for trust, faith and compassion. In fact, now he conceives life as a beautiful and happy experience, knowing that, even if hard things come, he will be able to face them.

The whole life of this person takes a radical turn for his own good. Even His family, friends and relatives were affected, even going so far as to transform the situation of the region, as he becomes a strong, positive and influential man, and even his framework of action enlarges significantly. Abundance without limits in all aspects now characterizes his life. He thrives in all aspects of life.

But after many years of good living, the last hours of this remarkable and well-loved man come to an end. Before expiring, our friend gathers his children and reveals to them his incredible and well-kept secret. Then, calmly, die in peace.

The next day, very early, their children dig eagerly in the right spot, and find the chest. But to everyone’s surprise, it is empty.

The coins had been stolen by adventurers for more than 10 years.

What was the true treasure that this man actually possessed? Observe that it was not the fact of being rich, or possessing wealth that gave safekeeping and happiness to our hero, but rather, the IDEA, or the conviction that such wealth and happiness existed. The interpretation and attitude that, that treasure woke up in this man’s mind.

This story gives us a point of view on the power of our thoughts, which reveals, of course, the condition of our spirit.

When we have the feeling that we are: unhappy, displaced, forgotten, unworthy of something, or decidedly evil, let’s think if it’s not that we are not granting a special power to our thoughts. Let’s think if we are not conditioning the joy that God offers us and making our spirits sad. Let’s hurry to mentally turn around the situation and dig up our real treasure!

For us Christians, believers, that treasure, or rather the idea that we have about the existence of that treasure, is not based only on the safeness of our thoughts, or on the mere positive mindset, or on a tangible material treasure. The idea about the treasure is based and guaranteed in a God that is much greater than all material treasure or any abundant amount of money that we can have in any secure bank for a quiet life. Joy is based on a real God that intervenes in our lives, spiritually and materially, meeting our concrete needs. Caring for us and giving us the things we need for life.

A good question this morning would be: How would your life change today if you knew that, everything will be fine in your life? If someone could effectively guarantee you that in that aspect that worries you this morning, everything would go well and therefore you would not have more to worry about, because you will have a healthy and happy life. How would you feel after knowing that in spite of all the ugly and sad things that you get through live you will get ahead and you will even have in the years to come a happy future? How would you feel knowing that in spite of every moment of economic shortage you will overcome it and you will prosper, and possibly you will be able to live a long and blessed life? How would you feel now if you knew that? Would you still worry? A person, mentally healthy, with common sense, and all the willpower to improve, would stop worrying.

Surely, you would feel confident, cheerful, happy and calm. Well, today I want to tell you that all this is true and real, if you decide to trust in Jesus Christ!
He is our treasure. He assures us all this, but everything depends on you. Everything depends on us really starting to believe in him, because that treasure is already among us. It’s here. He lives among those who confess him, who wants to obey him and who call upon him when we gather in His name.
The question is if you have noticed all this. Jesus is not only in the material and fleeting things of life, as for example during every holiday at the end of the year. Jesus is every day. And he wants you to have joy every day. Something like what Mary experienced:
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.
He is every day by our side waiting for us to decide to believe in him. Jesus is among us. Do not wait any longer.
There are many, however, who still do not know him, in the sense that they have not yet found him as he wants them to be found: through faith and trust. There are many who still do not realize it. There are many who still have not really given his life to Christ so that they can begin to experience the presence of his Holy Spirit in their lives. This requires conversion, and conversion is nothing more than accepting with true faith that the promises of God are real and that what we read in the Bible is a guarantee, because faith means trust.

One of God’s guarantees is expressed in the song of Mary:
“His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation”. Mercy can also be translated as compassion, forgiveness, a new opportunity to remake your life with God. And from that new agreement with God will arise a special care of God for your life, because you have begun to fear God.
We talked many times about what it means to fear God. Fearing God means first believing in Him, believing that His Word is truth and wanting to obey His Word. Fearing God means to worship Him and to keep for Him the greatest respect. Fearing God means that God will permeate all areas of our lives. Fearing God means that our center is our relationship with God in this life. In this sense, we fear God. It is not about being afraid of him, but about showing submission to God, through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Joy is already among us. If we cannot see or enjoy it, it is not a problem of God; in any case it will be our problem. God wants to fill us with his joy, but for that we must first be willing to believe and obey the Word of God. Joy it’s here from the moment you have decided to believe in him. It is, however, here even from the moment you were born. Have you noticed it? What do you expect to trust him and let him take care of giving you the joy and everything you need? Amen.

Only God Gives Us Our Daily Bread

October 7, 2018

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Mt 6:19-21

God causes beautiful things to grow, to please the eyes, the tongue and the heart. At Thanksgiving we have such beautiful things in view in the church and we thank God for them: fruits, vegetables, cereals and much more. Fungi are also part of our harvest. Among the mushrooms there is a very special variety, the white truffle, which is the most expensive food in the world. A few years ago, a giant specimen was auctioned for more than $ 60,000. CAD! A former owner of a restaurant in the United States had acquired this edible treasure. It was exhibited in the restaurant for a few days, and then the most expensive fungus became mouldy! Nobody could eat it anymore. Well, rightly so, we do not share grief with the old man. We could use the words of Jesus and say: ‘You must not store up treasures where they get rotten.’ Not even where they are eaten by moths; neither where they rust. Nor where they are eaten by bugs, which is how Martin Luther translated “rust” for the first time. The treasures of the world are never safe, and are subject to expiration. Thieves can break in and steal them. And for modern times, we can add: currency devaluation, tax burdens and unforeseen financial burdens that can quickly eliminate savings. Therefore, the good advice of our Lord: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy”.

But what does Jesus mean exactly with that? Does it mean that we must radically give up earthly possessions? That we should liquidate all our bank accounts, sell our belongings and give the proceeds to the poor? Do we have to be monks, who wear nothing but their habit on their body, or vagrants who can carry all their belongings in a plastic bag? No, this is not what Jesus meant. That would be living outside the world; it would be unrealistic. And what would humanity be like if everyone wanted to live like this…

No, Jesus did not mean it that way. But what did he mean? Consider this in light of other statements from the Word of God.

Jesus did not mean that we should live without economic provisions. Joseph of the Old Testament had collected in Egypt the surplus harvest of seven fat years in new and extra large barns, so that in the seven years of shortage there would be enough grain available. That was wise, that was good and that was godly. With this plan of provisions, Joseph did a great service to his fellows and, ultimately, to his own family. Management and reasonable planning is good and necessary; those who do not administer their money act irresponsibly. And also in our congregations: We have to get along well with foresight and common sense in our finances— but still give generously. Then we will not be ashamed in case of unforeseen expenses. Reasonable planning and preparation are good; therefore, the words of Jesus do not refer to these situations.

Jesus rather meant that we should not boast that our future will depend on our own foresight effort. That was the error of the rich farmer we hear of every year in the Gospel for Thanksgiving. Watching him from the outside, he did nothing different from what Joseph did: He put his excellent harvest into new, extra-large barns. But he boasted that his life would be safe for years to come. He had forgotten that only God gives us our daily bread and that He wants to be asked for that bread every day, and that He is to be thanked for that bread every day. He acted in the same way as someone today that made thorough preparations to receive a good retirement pension in old age and be proud that, now that it is already assured, there is nothing else to worry about. But it’s not like that. What happens if that person gets sick and needs care? You will have sorrows and things to worry about, although maybe not financially. What happens if a great economic crisis devours all the accumulated capital? What happens if he dies young? Jesus said: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Whoever transforms his material provision into a treasure in itself and makes his happiness depend on it, that person is a fool, in terms of the Bible. That are not rich for God, that is, their life will decay, as well as their treasures.

Jesus also did not mean that we should despise money and material things, but that we should use them. For some people it is considered pious to say that money is something dirty, something morally questionable. This quickly leads to a mental or spiritual pride, as if only non-material values are justified. On the other hand, we have to recognize that God himself has blessed a number of godly people with wealth: Abraham, for example, or King Solomon. And the seventh commandment says “you shall not steal”; it places our material possessions under the protection of God. The money we have in a wallet or bank account is not dirty in itself or nasty, but a good gift from God, for which we can be grateful. The money is as clean or valuable as the Schnitzel on our plate at our dinners or the pumpkin at our Thanksgiving services. This is precisely the message of Thanksgiving: We must also consider material things as part of our daily bread and as good gifts from God.

Jesus rather meant that we should not cling stingily to the material gifts that God gives us. Stinginess is not something “cool” or “smart”; rather, it is a sin. Jesus once said to a rich young man, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mk10:21) He did not say that wealth in itself is something bad, but that for that young man wealth was blocking the road to the kingdom of God. The young man had his heart in this wealth; therefore, he was not free to love God above all things. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. It does not matter how many possessions you have; whether you think you are rich or someone who simply thinks that you are digging in, as far as money is concerned, but never be stingy! Do not cling to what you have, but spend it with joy, especially when you can help others. The person who can free the heart of material things to the benefit others, will make an amazing discovery: He will realize how his heart is free and happy and that God blesses him. And the money he has given to help others will not be lacking.
Jesus also did not mean that enjoying the things of our world was forbidden. There was this misunderstanding in the nineteenth century, and even earlier among Christians who wanted to be especially godly people. Every time they rejoiced over something mundane, they immediately felt guilty because they ‘should not have any treasure in this world’. This is an incorrect view, a misinterpretation of the text. Jesus gives us a sincere pleasure to be able to rejoice in the beautiful things of this world. He himself provided a large amount of wine at the wedding in Cana, in large quantities, so that people could continue to celebrate happily. And today we can also enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner. For the Old Testament Thanksgiving, God expressly ordered that people enjoy the feast. The same is true of other good gifts from God. Jesus wants us to rejoice fully in both physical things and spiritual things.

Rather, Jesus thought that joy in God and in his Kingdom should spread joy to others. “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” Jesus said. God in heaven must be our greatest treasure; we should put our hearts solely in Him. Luther expressed it well in his interpretation of the first commandment: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (as we have learned from the Catechism). (And in the Large Catechism, Luther goes on to say): “I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god”. Whoever covets the goods of this world more than God and his Kingdom is not following the will of God and is worshiping idols. Once, Jesus compared the kingdom of God with a precious treasure that is worth selling all possessions to acquire it; and in the Sermon on the Mount he taught — shortly after the words of our sermon text: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v.33). Is this how you live? And we can put ourselves to the test, for example, with our contribution to our church. Calculate what you spend for yourself monthly on beautiful things that are not really necessary, for example, going to restaurants or movies, or trips and excursions or even your hobbies. Then compare that amount with your monthly contribution to your church, and then consider: What does this comparison tell me? What is more valuable to you; is your treasure in heaven or on earth?

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Jesus tells us. The best things in life are not reprehensible or bad, but compared to God and his kingdom they are not really a treasure because they are fleeting and therefore not that valuable. And therefore it is logical that we should gather the imperishable treasures of heaven, not the “treasures” of the earth that do not last. The good news of the Gospel of Jesus states: For those imperishable treasures in heaven you do not need to work or strain yourself; you cannot, neither are you good enough to get them. God gives you these eternal treasures through his son Jesus Christ. Through holy baptism he has already granted you that heavenly inheritance. Through his Holy Word, through his Holy Communion and through the promise of the forgiveness of sins he makes you rich again. You can realize that here, in your church, where you can store up heavenly treasures. Here God gives them to you and to all believers. And then the crops with which we decorate the church will go beyond themselves. We are not only grateful for our daily bread and the material things with which God pleases us. In addition to pumpkins and apples, we also have bread and wine; but these are in the Lord’s Supper, representing the body and blood of our Lord, and these give us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven. Yes, our own church is a treasure barn, much more crowded than the largest barn or the largest vault in a bank. And you are invited to be served here for free and to be rich in eternity. Thank you, dear Heavenly Father, for being so good to us! Amen.

It’s all about the heart attitude

August 26, 2018

cain y abel13th Sunday of the Holy Trinity

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.”  Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.  In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.  And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

But the Lord said to him, “Not so anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.  So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Gn 4:1-16

Cain and Abel: at first glance, a well-known story; second, a strangely dark story; third, a story with a clear message: The attitude of our heart is very important! God is testing our hearts with this story, whether we consider it good or bad. In the same way that is said in the psalm used for our confession: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139: 23)
Adam and Eve had been expelled from paradise for their sins. However, God remained faithful to his blessing of creation, which he had pronounced: “Be fruitful and increase in number…” (Genesis 1:28). Adam and Eve had children: Cain, Abel and daughters, who will be reported in the next chapter of the Bible. Children grew up. Cain and Abel shared the farming work: Cain cultivated the field, and Abel took care of the cattle. We must also assume that both chose women from among their sisters and had children. Then the event with the offering took place. Cain took part of his harvest and put it on an altar for God. Abel chose sacrificial animals from his flock, the best firstborn animals. The Bible says, “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” Abel also places his gifts on the altar. And then he says: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” How God made them know to both, it does not appear there, we can only guess. Luther, in his interpretation, said that God kindled Abel’s offerings with fire from heaven, as he did many times in the past, but he did not ignite Cain’s sacrifice. Anyway, he let Abel know that he accepted his sacrifice, but not Cain’s. Why did God do that? Because Abel offered his sacrifice with a believer’s heart, but Cain did not do so. In Hebrews we read, “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings” (Hebrews 11: 4). Abel really wanted to please God and thank him for everything. He also hoped that God would be merciful despite his many sins. Cain, on the other hand, did not offer with a pure heart. Luther said that Cain was not humble and was proud of his preference as firstborn; maybe he looked disdainfully at his brother. It is also worth noting that Cain did not bring the first fruits of his crops, while Abel lovingly chose the best for God. In any case, God did not look with grace at Cain’s offering because of the impurity of his heart.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we offer, we have to offer with believing hearts! What can we offer? For example, our time and our money. Let us allow offer time for God to praise him from the heart. Let us allow time for the Word of God, so that God can increase our faith through his good news. If we offer time with a believing heart, let us offer the “first fruits” of our time to the Lord, the “fattest”: let’s start each day with a morning devotional and start the week by worshiping God in the church every Sunday. But if the heart is not pure, or when joys or sorrows of this life are more important and our faith is ignored, then we will only have little time for God, perhaps a few minutes before falling asleep, or an occasional attendance at the church. Such sacrifice of Cain is not pleasing to God, because of impurity of heart. And the same thing happens with money: “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9: 7) – the one who gives out of gratitude and joy; is the one that really offers: for the congregation, the mission and the needy. He will also want to give an important part of his money, since Abel gave the best of his animals from his flock. But who does not care much for the Lord and the building of his kingdom, will have no more than a tip for Him. It is rather better to keep these offerings directly; for there is no blessing in those. God looks at the heart. Perhaps you are asking yourself alarmed now: how can I make an offering like Abel’s? The answer is: Look carefully at the sacrifice of the Son of God Jesus Christ, who has been delivered by you. Look how he did everything for you and how he became poor to make you rich. Then, with the right attitude of heart, you will gladly give of your wealth and use your life for God.

But let’s see how it happened with the story of Cain and Abel. “So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” it says. He became jealous of his brother and angry with God. He frowned, revealing what his heart was like. Then God questioned him. We do not know how God spoke to Cain, either by a voice from heaven or by the voice of his conscience. Luther said that his father Adam had spoken with Cain in the name of God. Whatever it has been, God questioned Cain. God meant well with him. He wanted to prevent Cain from being destroyed by a bad attitude of his heart, and therefore warned him not to do it. He said, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Cain, however, did not give himself up to reason, but let himself be carried away by his anger. His evil heart took him even more to sin. Finally, Cain killed his innocent brother. What a human being is capable of doing, to the point of killing for not wanting to humble himself before God!

Dear brothers and sisters, we are shocked by such an act. We are impacted when we experience in our days, when we hear for instance of: children who kill their parents, brothers who kill each other in wars, yes, even parents who lay hands on their children. Maybe we think: they are not normal, they are not human anymore. And yet, unfortunately, everything we see through sensationalistic media is too normal and too human. It appears a bad heart, a bad heart that can live in any human being. “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” says God (Genesis 8:21). We all know the hatred and jealousy against our brothers, be they biological brothers, or the Christian brothers or simply the human being. In the eyes of God, we can become murderers, because God sees the heart. “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer” wrote the apostle John in his first letter with reference to Cain (1 John 3:15). And Jesus made it clear in the Sermon on the Mount that he who is angry with his brother is not better before God than he who kills. Yes, this is also in our hearts and can arise frequently. Although we do not crush anyone’s skull, because we have too much education and we also fear the consequences, but we let others feel our hatred in other ways: with sharp comments, with gossip maybe, or out of contempt, or a two-faced politeness. “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” God told Cain, and he also tells us. Oh, that our bad heart does not determine our speech and our actions! But we cannot do it alone. We must have our hearts clean through God, through His Son, Jesus Christ. Purified by what we ask of the heavenly Father: “Lead us not into temptation” Let us not let wickedness control us, but let us ask God to deliver us!

Let’s see now how the story ends. It’s pretty dark, of course. God asked Cain about the evil fratricide. Cain at first gave a shameless response: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And God was clear: “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground” and after the punishment, God told Cain: “Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” Then a freezing horror seized Cain: now he was aware of what he had done. “My punishment is more than I can bear,” he moaned. It could also be translated: “My sin is too heavy”. In Hebrew, there is one and the same word for action and consequence, sin and punishment. The knowledge of sin always happens in connection with the judgment of God. We do not know if Cain truly repented. Repentance goes one step further and includes the confidence that God will forgive guilt. Luther and many Bible commentators say that Cain could not find reparation; the lack of repentance would have led him only to despair and finally to condemnation, as was the case, for example, with Judas Iscariot. I have some hope that perhaps Cain has finally found penance and his soul has been saved despite his grave guilt. However, God released a little of that heavy curse. Cain was afraid of the bloody vengeance of the descendants of Abel, but God protected him with a sign. That is also obscure, what kind of sign was that, we do not know. What is clear is that God in his great mercy could also forgive a great sinner like Cain.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is our great comfort and our certain hope: Even though we have fallen into temptation, even if sin had overcome us, we can repent through penance and confession with the hope of God’s forgiveness. No sin is so heavy that it cannot be forgiven. Only the stubborn heart, which cannot find the return to God who recognizes the depths of guilt and punishment, cannot believe in the mercy of God. When you are in danger, when your faith threatens to become extinct and there is only darkness and despair in you, remember the sign of mercy that God has made you: your faith in him, in the first place, and your holy baptism. This is God’s sign that death and sin should not prevail over you, by high merit of the blood of Jesus Christ, which also flowed through you. Think of this sign; keep in mind the love of God! Keep your heart clean and renewed and full of faith! Because the attitude of the heart does matter; God is looking at your heart. Amen. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Blind faith or spiritual blindness?

June 3, 2018

lazarus

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores  and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family,  for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Luke 16:19-31

What do you think about hell? Surely you will answer me that if heaven exists, which is our goal in this life on earth, hell must also exist because that is also stated in the word of God.

Have you heard about those investigations about experiences that are supposed to happen beyond life? They are called near death experiences (NDE)? These are perceptions of the environment narrated by people who have been about to die or who have gone through a clinical death and have survived.
Such experiences may consist of a variety of feelings including disconnection from the body, feelings of levitation, total calmness, security, warmth, the experience of absolute dissolution, and the presence of a light.

Generally, everything starts with a blinding light. They leave their bodies, stand up and look at their lying corpse in a hospital bed or on the stretcher of an ambulance. Then, they cross a long, bright tunnel at breakneck speed, and on the other side a fascinating place awaits them. Embarrassed by the beauty, they claim to meet a person who radiates light: God, Jesus, the Father, a Guide … it depends. “Your time has not come yet, you have a mission to fulfill on Earth,” the shining entity tells them.
After this encounter, they perceive how their soul returns to Earth, abandoning the warmth and security of light to return to their lifeless bodies. People who have lived a near-death experience (NDE) claim that there is something beyond and, with a few exceptions, all agree that they have been able to see the same heavens.

There are, however, some who claim to have seen the dark side of the beyond, a dark place populated by creatures of the satanic imagination: demons, harpies and similar monsters. In 1975, the book “Life after Life” was published by Raymond Moody, the first book to collect the stories of people whose hearts stopped beating for a few seconds and who were then revived. The American pastor John W. Price has been studying near-death experiences since 1969 and published: “Revealing Heavens: The Christian Case for Near Death Experiences”. Almost all stories follow a similar pattern: separation from the body, tunnel, and luminous entity, peaceful place in which there is a division of some kind-a fence, a stream or a low wall-that symbolizes the irreversible transition to the beyond that the people never get to cross.

However, few researchers in this field deal with the “negative”, “opposite” or “infernal” types of NDE in their books. The people in the first category are those who go through the usual process, although in this case there is a component of suffering or resistance to leaving the body. In the second type, the person is trapped in a vacuum, in a dark space of absolute calm, sometimes full of geometric figures, seized by the feeling that everything is absurd, that nothing makes sense. In the third case, the person is in the true hell, surrounded by flames and demons, locked in a sordid space and with no possibility of escape. Around 5-10% of people with NDE experiences saw this.
Here is the testimony of a negative experience:
“I started to go down, everything was dark and there were people screaming, fire, everybody wanted to drink (…) It was more than a tunnel, it was a gigantic passage, I was floating down … I saw a lot of people screaming .. I would say that there were at least a million, they were miserable people and with a lot of hatred inside them that kept saying they wanted to drink, there was not a drop of water … Suddenly I saw it, in front of me, with little horns, and I recognized it immediately: it was the Devil himself! ”

Is this all really true? We do not know yet. What we do know is that the lives of all these people changed dramatically after these experiences.
Our reading for today tells this kind of story: “‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’”

If we analyze these contemporary stories with Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus, there seems to be no contradictions. Surely Jesus composed his parables with facts of reality, reality that living people don’t know about.
I am convinced that there is a heaven and a hell because the Bible affirms it. And that there is a place reserved for believers and another place for those who do not want to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of the one God. Although today’s sermon topic is not concretely about the reality of hell, our subject is about a reality even sadder than hell itself. It is the reality of those who are spiritually blind. Those who are not able to believe, those who are not able to entrust their lives to Christ, those who make fun of the word of God and who do not have the spiritual capacity to believe in this as God’s Word.
We always say in the church that Christ invites us to believe in his word, nobody is forced to be part of the church. Jesus says:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”(Rev 3:20)

Christ invites us through his call. Every time we read his word he calls us. At this precise moment when we hear this message, Christ is also calling us, inviting us. It is our decision to accept believing, confide and put God first in our lives, (which is called trusting him) and regard his word as the true Word of God and not merely the words of men. When we are able to take that ‘leap of faith’, or to open the door to Christ, then our life begins to change radically and surely, like it does for those who have returned from a supposed encounter with death.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:31) There we have the certainty of salvation. That personal decision does not transform us into perfect people overnight. Rather, it is a process of change of our essence that is been built with the goal of daily obedience to the word of God. That decision does not make us perfect, but it does save us.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) That’s Jesus’ invitation and that is the guarantee for everyone who decides to start believing in Jesus Christ: heaven, eternal life, and paradise await them, but not hell.

What was the sin of the rich? Being wealthy? No, the sin of the rich man was to not believe in God. The sin of the rich man was to not put God in the first place of his life. He made riches his priority, in such a way that he even forgot his neighbour at the front door of his very same house. The sin of the rich man was to worship the material with indifference to the will of God. The sin of the rich man was indifference to the church, the communion of saints. The sin of the rich man was the lack of respect for the things of God. The sin of the rich man was not taking God seriously. The sin of the rich man was, as the language of the Bible states, the lack of fear of God, and also godliness.

As I said earlier, this is sadder than hell itself. Being able to choose heaven or hell and because of a spiritual blindness not choosing knowingly. Not being able to choose for the good is already a curse and it is something very sad. When we speak of believing, we are not referring to merely believing with the lips, as many people used to say that they do “believe in God”. Truly believing in Christ means having a fear of God. As Martin Luther once said, there is a great difference in being able to say ‘Jesus is the Lord’ to saying ‘Jesus is my Lord’. The second can only be said by a true believer, one who fears God. And when we use the word “Lord”, we refer to someone we choose to obey.

The saddest thing is spiritual blindness. Jesus says: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”(Jn 9:39)
And so the parable continues: “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Being able to believe in God, as Christ, Lord and Saviour, and to fear God is a blessing that not everyone can show. It is the same thing we read last Sunday when Jesus tells Nicodemus: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again”. (Jn 3:3) Today, God invites us again. Like every Sunday, He invites us to believe or to reinforce our faith. Not everyone can believe; it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says:
“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” (2 Cor 3:16)

People who choose to work in the church for God, as is the case today with the installation of the new church council, should be very aware of all this. The task they assume is of great importance. If we really do it with fear of God, it will be a great blessing for this church and an abundance of blessings for every one of you. When we begin to work and give our talent to God with true faith, even if we can only do little, that little will be miraculously multiplied and magnified because we will be doing it for God. This is so for it involves the action of a faith that is addressed in the first place to God.

God does not look for people who can do great things; God only seeks for us to surrender to Him. He is the one who performs miracles not us, but for His miracles to take place we must be His instruments, we must remain in true faith, in surrender and in the fear of God. I read a great phrase of the well-known missionary to China, Hudson Taylor: “God uses people who are weak and feeble enough to lean on Him.”

Let’s show God that the faith we confess is not a mere tradition but a living faith, instilled with fear of God. Let us show Him that we want to give him the first place of importance. That way God will not only intervene in the believers’ life, but He will also give us eternal life.
Amen.

E. P.

The Day of Rest

April 14, 2018

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Genesis 2:1-4
—–
Every time an artist or an artisan finishes his (or her) work, after many final touches, the moment comes where he washes his hands, and even takes off his work clothes and dedicates himself—including his collaborators or close friends, to contemplating the work in silence. He looks at it and admires it and possibly, if the work has been done with perfection, it is very likely that both the artist and the other people contemplate it in silence. After that silence, there follow the words, the comments and even praises and exclamations for having done a good job. The same happens with music, for example, concluding a concert. Everyone remains silent for a while until the music is extinguished and then they begin to applaud.
The silent pause at the end of a wonderful work of art or music is like the end point at the end of a sentence and is part of the perfect enjoyment of what has been achieved.

God’s creation can be compared to a wonderful piece of art or music. God himself realized that what he had created in six days was very good. Now, the only thing that was missing was the silent rest at the end, the seventh day, the day of rest. The account of Creation says:
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”
Rest at the end brings the work of creation to perfection. It is not that God has been inactive since. His creative work continues, with each flower, each butterfly and each baby. However, the Creator after the day of rest remains as active as before the day of rest: Before the day of rest that created the world from nothing, and with it created the natural laws by which all things must work together. After the day of rest, His creation continues through these natural laws or within the framework of these natural laws (unless He performs a miracle, as an exception).
God’s day of rest represents a break in his work; the “work of art” of the first Creation has faded. Of course, this general pause is still part of the rhythm of the work of creation; it is counted as the seventh day. Of course, God could have made the world slower, or faster, with a snap of his fingers. But He has created a great rhythm for our world and especially for us humans with these seven days: the rhythm of the week.

This rhythm is not only wonderful in itself as a great work of art, but it is also good and useful for us humans. When it is said that God “rested” on the seventh day after the six days of creation, the Hebrew word “Shabbat” means “rest” in its original text. Or in English, “Sabbath” means nothing other than “day of rest” – a day of rest; a “celebration” in the original sense of the word. By the way, this type of celebration is also expressed in the English word “Holidays” (Holy Day); God has also created this: with the rhythm of day and night, he created half a day to work and another to rest; In connection with this, he has also created our human need to sleep. Just as a person should stop working and rest at night, after six working days, we are supposed to have a day of rest.

This order in creation was later confirmed in the third commandment of God and Martin Luther summed it up in the following way in the Small Catechism:
“We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
The original text was presented to Moses by God on Mount Sinai and it is longer:
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20: 8-11).

We see that even in the third commandment, the Sabbath is not spoken as such, but rather as part of the rhythm of the week: Six days of work, one day for rest. God gave us an example for establishing this day as a day of rest, the seventh day of creation. And the two words “bless” and “sanctify” are not missing: “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it (or made it holy).” “To bless” means “Give away, or grant.” The day of rest after six work days is a gift from God; we are happy and grateful that we do not have to behave like machines all the time, but that we can enjoy the tranquility of the seventh day.
We are grateful for this heavenly and wise schedule, for the daily rest and the night of sleep.
If God had not given us the blessing of rest, many hard-working people would feel compelled to work for seven days, and employers would not see why they should release their employees over the weekend. But from God’s gift also come from God’s command: He not only blessed the seventh day for us, but also sanctified it, that is, set it apart. He has done it with the purpose of remembering his ingenious and wise weekly rhythm and, on our part, to sanctify the seventh day, to separate it, and to spend it in a different way than the working days. By the way, God’s blessing and sanctification apply to all the commandments: because God’s instructions are beneficial to us, he expects us to abide by them. The same applies to prayer and participation in Holy Communion. These are also gifts from God that we should not despise and disrespect; rather, we must remember them and use them advantageously and properly.

Back to the subject of the Sabbath: What does it mean in practice, to sanctify the day of rest? Should we lie in bed all day? Or are we allowed to go on trips and play sports? Or do we have to go to church? Is it possible to do light work if it is not a way to make a living, but rather a hobby? What did God Himself do when He finished creation? Or did he really do nothing? Please, do not expect from me for a concrete answer!
We would misunderstand God and his day of rest if we thought that it was about observing certain exact rules of the Sabbath. Jesus explained what it is all about and summarized it. He said:
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27).
We should not ask: what is allowed and what is not allowed? But we should ask: What would be good for us, what would be best for us and our fellow people for the improvement of body and soul on that day?
It has been clear to believers of all times that communion with the Word of God, prayer and worship is an excellent means of rest for the soul or the spirit; therefore, Sunday service should not be neglected without a serious reason; not simply to please God or the pastor, but above all, as a favour to oneself. God blessed the day of rest and sanctified it, and we sanctify it (make it holy) by following God’s example and resting from daily work and giving our soul the greatest blessing that exists: the Word of God and Holy Communion.

Jews and Seventh-day Adventists always celebrate their weekly day of rest on Saturdays. There is nothing wrong with that, because that is what corresponds to the ancient Jewish tradition. Traditionally, our days of the week were also counted in the same way: Sunday was the first day of the week. Saturday was the seventh or last day of the week, and therefore served as a day of rest according to the example set by God in creation. But because the week is a cycle, you can start counting on any day. We could agree and say: let’s always start the week on Tuesday; then Monday would be our seventh day or day of rest or Sabbath; for God it would be just as right. The Colossians clearly say:
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (Col. 2:16).
Modern society allows the week to start on Monday with the first business day, then Sunday is the seventh day, our Christian day of rest.

However, our Sunday tradition is much older than the modern working week. Nor is it a coincidence or an arbitrary decision that Sunday has become popular in Christianity as a sacred day. As early as the fourth century, the Roman emperor Constantine declared Sunday as a national holy-day in his empire, and in New Testament times, Christians gathered for worship services on Sunday, the first day of the week according to traditional Jewish customs. The reason for the change: Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week — since then Christians celebrate this great event every Sunday: Jesus, the light of the world, has overcome the power of death and enlightens us with the eternal light of God. Exactly a week later he appeared to the Apostle Thomas, also on a Sunday; we heard it in today’s Gospel. And exactly seven weeks, or fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, at Pentecost; that also happened on a Sunday. Isn’t this a reason to celebrate, the weekly celebration of the new covenant that Christ has given us!

We Christians no longer celebrate the seventh day like Judaism, the Sabbath (for us Saturday now), but the first day of the week, Sunday. On this day we think of the resurrection of our Lord; because according to the Gospel report the women came to the tomb of Jesus on the first day of the week and found it empty (Mk 16: 2) That is why the ancient church named this day “The Lord’s Day” (Dominus Dei). Each Sunday is a small festival of Easter. Some see in this change a great meaning: in the Resurrection of Christ a new creation begins and we do not celebrate the conclusion of the old creation but of the new one. Like for the people of Israel the rest from work and confession to God shaped the Sabbath, these two main points still remain on our Sunday: “Rest from work and Worship to God”. During the worship service the congregation thinks of God’s great works. If for the Old Testament the Sabbath was the liberation from bondage of slavery in Egypt, in the New Testament it is liberation from sin and death. That is why we announce in every service to Christ and His Church as a reason for joy, hope and new life. Amen

The Lord makes alive

April 3, 2018

Resurrection Sunday

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.

“There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
“The Lord brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap.

1Sa 2:1-2.6-8a

For sure, some of us will have already gone up some of those high buildings. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit the city of New York, and I went to the top of the Empire State Building with its 102 floors. When going up with the elevator people do not realize the acceleration and the great vertical speed that these elevators reach. It is an impressive movement: it is perceived a little in the stomach, or it is felt in the ears and when the elevator brakes, the body seems to be a little lighter than normal. The person who is interested in technical characteristics will realize that there is a very powerful electric motor hidden there.

If you allow me the comparison, this elevator can be compared to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite the “force of gravity” of death, Jesus returns to life and rises from the grave on the third day. Today, we can say that we are celebrating it in real time. The day before yesterday, Good Friday, had a sober service with less happy melodies, as well as our custom of putting black paraments and not placing flowers on the altar. And today, everything is white and the songs and lyrics are happy; we had a festive Easter breakfast and today a service where spirits are more encouraged. The saddest day and the happiest day of the church year are very close to each other. If we observe the mood difference that they evoke in us, we can compare it with a mood that rises, like the speed of one of those elevators: from the underground of sadness to the viewpoint of joy. Our Lord has risen, alleluia! He is no longer dead; he is no longer in the grave, but lives! What a great upwards movement!

“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up” reads our preaching text. This word of the Old Testament has been confirmed and fulfilled with the Easter miracle. In this way, we can realize what the above and below would be: the deceased are deposited in the ground; his world is therefore ‘below’, there one can say there is the kingdom of the dead; there is where the darkness is, there is night. Above, on the contrary, it is day, there is the light, above is the life, and above is God. The Passover is, so to speak, the miraculous elevator of Jesus that goes up, towards the light. We call the “resurrection” the mightiest powerful miracle that pulls up.

But the Bible does not speak only of the resurrection by itself, but also that Jesus was raised. Not only is it that “Jesus is risen”, but also: “God raised him up”. This is how it is formulated in our text, of the Paschal promise of the Old Testament: “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.
There we are, so to speak, with that huge and powerful elevator engine. It is the Father in the heavens who has taken his Son from the grave and death, he with his great power of life, with his creative power, with his all-powerfulness. Easter allows us to be amazed at what God is capable of doing.

That is why, and we should take note, His power acts in both directions. In other words, it not only goes up but also down. And the same goes for the elevator engine: it pulls up and it drives down. And our preaching text does not omit it:
“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.
Some do not realize this. The resurrection is a miracle of God, but death, is it not something natural? To go up, you need strength, but to go down, doesn’t the law of gravity take car of that? But let’s think about the death of Jesus: Who allowed Jesus to die? The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus? or Pontius Pilate who condemned Jesus? or the Pharisees who, filled with hatred, planned to kill him? or Judas who betrayed him? or he himself who, despite the danger, nevertheless preferred to enter Jerusalem? Behind all those earthly reasons is the ultimate reason and this is God Himself. The Heavenly Father had determined that his Son should die, that is why he sent him into the world. That is to say: “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.

And to this day it is like that. The last cause of a person’s death is not senile weakness, or terminal illness, or the incompetence of doctors, or the miscalculation when passing a car, or the deadly bullet of the murderer – the last cause is always God who has determined death as a consequence of sin in our world. Again: “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.

But he also brings life back; he causes us to rise from the dead. He did this with Jesus and in this way he showed that he will also do it with all of believing humanity. Whoever belongs to Jesus must once “descend into hell” (as our Apostle’s Creed states), that is, to the place of the dead, but God will raise them up to have them in his celestial glory. That is the precious Easter message for us today. Just like that wonderful event that happened two thousand years ago, it is the Gospel message of life for today. And it does not wait for our death to begin acting. No. If we believe in Jesus, the resurrection force of God begins to work in our lives right now. That is very clear, when we are aware of the words of the Old Testament that we are sharing today:
“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.
There was once a woman who had not fared so well in life. Certainly, she had a good husband, but they could not have children. This made her get sick every so often. She also had an enemy who, thoughtlessly, mocked her infertility. The woman prayed to God, and finally God answered her and granted her a son. She was so happy that she composed a psalm of praise. The psalm speaks of how God, through his power, can change the things that we consider to be ‘impossible’ to change. ‘The barren women have children, the rich become poor, the poor become rich, the dispossessed take on power, the princes or rulers are overthrown’. And it is precisely in this context that the word of the prophet is applicable to what we are reflecting on today, the resurrection of Christ:
“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”.
By the way, the woman who had prayed was called Hannah and her son was called Samuel. Our reading comes from the book that was named after him. So, this relates in a very personal way to us, to our life. Maybe we have similarities with Hannah’s life, in terms of waiting for an answer to our prayer. Perhaps more than one of us today has the spirit of Good Friday rather than of Easter Sunday. You may find yourself very down, in terms of spirit, you are beaten, depressed, lying on the floor. You hear the word from deep down, from down there. But, today is Easter and our Lord has been raised for two thousand years. And God is almighty, like a powerful engine that wants to lift you up, carry you up. That’s what he wants to do with you today. That is what the Lord wants to do with us as a Christian congregation, as a Pilgrim church. This is what Hannah’s testimony shows, and what she wants to show most of all is the resurrection of Christ. God wants you back up; he wants to raise you, to put you on high so that you have another spirit, to put your sight on the horizon again. Ask him, trust him and be patient. And do not forget that Easter means that your Lord has already risen!
It is true that we have to cross the valley of darkness. No matter how much encouragement God has given you in this life, the day will come when he will take you down to the place of the dead; but not because he wants to leave you there. No, it’s for another reason. For the same reason that it took place on Good Friday and Jesus had to die on a cross: because that belongs to God’s plan. And after Easter we realize it. It is only for that reason that you will have to go downwards once so that God can then lift you definitively upwards, upwards, to heaven where the risen Lord will also be waiting for you. “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up”. Amen.

Rev. E. Pellini