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God In Three Persons

June 16, 2019

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2Co 13:11-14
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When the apostle Paul wrote the Epistle he did not do it personally. Rather, he had scribes to whom he dictated, although this last paragraph he wrote himself. In the past it was very common to write the last paragraph; it was considered to be the signature of the author.
In his second letter to the congregation of the Corinthians, Paul greets them with wonderful words of blessing in the name of the God in three persons: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”.

What is this really? Is that a blessing? Everything depends on which context we use this word: Are we talking about a blessing from God or a person’s blessing, or a desire for blessings? If we talk about God being the one who blesses, then we understand that God has something good to give. Many times we speak of monetary blessings or blessings for a good harvest or blessings of children. We talked a lot about God’s material blessings. When people bless in the name of and on behalf of God, they are promising and wishing for a divine gift. It is something like a person that becomes a messenger of God who delivers divine blessings. The recipient can open the package right there or later.

But a mere desire for blessings is, on the contrary, a simple desire that God will give you the best. There is no previous divine order, or commission from God. Such wishes for blessing are written, for example, in letters or greeting cards, for birthdays or anniversaries or other celebrations. There is a well-known and appreciated Irish blessing that lists human desires for God to bless, as an example:

“May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
May God be with you and bless you;
May you see your children’s children.
May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home
And may the hand of a friend always be near”.

Nice words! But these are just beautiful human wishes.
Paul’s word of blessing at the end of the second Epistle to the Corinthians is no wish for blessing like the words of the Irish blessing. Rather, it is a blessing of the second kind, that is, the authorized fulfillment of a gift from God. Paul had written the letter through the power of the Holy Spirit, and he gives us testimony that it is God himself who wants to give what is promised there. This epistle, like the whole Bible, is inspired by the Holy Spirit, which makes it different from any book that is merely human.
This blessing from God also has three parts, it is the blessing of the New Testament, the successor of the Aaronic blessing, which also contains the three parts that God asked Moses and Aaron to deliver representing all the priests of the old covenant and with the one that ends each one of our Sunday services: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favour and give you peace”. We see that already in the Old Testament the blessing of God is heard in three persons: the blessing of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In Paul this is given in a well put way: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all “.

When I am pronouncing and explaining this blessing to you, I become a kind of messenger of God, of the gifts that God has in store for you. Here it is not just about the gifts of earthly blessings, such as blessings of money or blessings of a good harvest or blessings of fruitful offspring, but also the greatest gift of the Trinitarian God, that is, our eternal salvation. Let us pause to reflect on this gift that God offers us; let us deepen in the gift of God that is being promised here.

The one who gives the gift is the God who manifests himself in three persons in the Bible. It is named in three ways in the Bible: The Son of God Jesus Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Since they are not separable but together make up one God, they are often compared to the angles of a triangle: we only have a triangle when we have the three angles; if one of the angles is missing, then we don’t have a triangle anymore.
Like in a triangle, it is the same regardless of in which order the angles are mentioned. Perhaps it is even striking that Paul, in the words of his blessing, does not name the Father in the first place, but the Son. This has to do with the blessings of the God in three persons that is ordered according to each divine person in particular and with a chronological order. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is his work of grace, his salvific work in the past. Grace takes place when the punishment deserved for a condemned person is forgiven. Grace is the gift of the Son of God Jesus Christ who got on the cross for us. There he carried in his person all our sins and our punishment. He did it because the Father in heaven sent him for that purpose; only for love of us. Thus we find the second gift, the gift of God the Father. He manifests with his love in our world, he is eternal. The third gift is the gift of the Holy Spirit that is taking place in our world and our time: it is the “communion” that Luther has translated or fellowship with God. We could also translate it as “reconciliation” or “a taking part”. Here it is not that we simply support each other as Christians or as people in general. In any case, it is not about this in the first place. More than anything, it is about our fellowship with God. It is about our reconciliation with God, that which Jesus Christ was able to obtain through that gift he offered. It is about us having part in the work of redemption of Christ on the cross. The “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” therefore means: The Holy Spirit makes the Gospel cleanse us of our sins here and now and reconciles us to God; He makes it possible for God’s eternal love to find us here and now.

And how does this happen? It happens when we hear the word of God, the word of forgiveness, the word of the promise of eternal life. When the gospel is preached here in the church and you decide to come to church, then the Holy Spirit is working and giving fellowship with God. And this also takes place in the sacraments: baptism performed with faith adds to the body of Christ, the church. Holy Communion is the fellowship of the body and blood of the Lord under the forms of bread and wine. Holy Communion joins us in the first place with our Lord, and in the second place unites us with other brothers and sisters so that we all place ourselves at the same level of being able to receive equally the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ through that meal. When you confess your sins, you approach that promised power of the Holy Spirit, the one that Jesus got for you on the cross only by grace: “Your sins are forgiven”. It is all clear. And in these words of blessing it happens that the package that God sends you as a gift is the sending of a redeeming gift made in the name of God in three persons.

That is why, every Sunday we celebrate a worship service to God. And that is why the Word and the sacrament are the symbols of the church, since through them we can recognize that God loves us and that Jesus has saved us. That is the foundation for a good life, for an eternal life. This does not mean that we are going to reject the good wishes expressed by people, as for example in the Irish blessing or even prayers asking for God’s blessing for our life, because we also need them. But we know that these will always be temporary things and that God can dispose of our lives at any time. The blessing of the gifts of the Trinitarian God that Paul wrote about and that repeat today in the name of God, is valid for all times and for all the people who believe in Jesus Christ: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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The Work of The Holy Spirit Then And Now

June 16, 2019
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If you love me, keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

“All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:15-27

——

A bishop told of the experience that his congregation had with the Holy Spirit: “We begin, as it says in the Bible, to ask for the Holy Spirit, to ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We prayed something like a year for the Holy Spirit and when He came we got scared. We were frightened not by fear but by the magnitude of the presence and reality of the Holy Spirit that we have never experienced before”. Another pastor affirmed: “The Holy Spirit is always here and works constantly in the church”. It is not necessary to debate these two statements. Well, both are true. The Holy Spirit always works in the church, He has never abandoned it. And the Holy Spirit comes again and again in a renewed way. When we sing “Come, O quickening Spirit,” those people who already know the work of the Spirit sing it and want to sing and pray for the Spirit in the name of the Lord Jesus. These two positions are also part of the work of the Holy Spirit.
In the New Testament church we also see it. When Peter got out of prison and returned to the congregation, they were also praying: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly”. (Acts 4:31) This is told of people who experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. And Paul exhorts the congregation: “Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Ro 12:11) or also: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). The Holy Spirit is already here and at the same time we ask for Him again and again and we wait for Him.

This is how it should be in a church of believers. That is, for people who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who have accepted Him as their Lord and have decided to change their lives by starting to live out His Word, the Bible, as the true Word of God and authority for their lives.

The Gospel for today also brings us the straight Word of Jesus Christ about the Holy Spirit. It agrees totally with what I just explained. But at the same time it states that not all those who call themselves Christians or all churches will necessarily also receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
First let’s review what the Holy Spirit is and what are the signs of a person or church that has the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is a gift of God from heaven: the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father (Jn 15:26); Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven. Acts 2: 2)
The Holy Spirit is the power of God: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses Acts 1:8; For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power. 2 Ti 1: 7
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father: For it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you (Mt 10:20) and the Spirit of the Son: Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father”. (Gal 4: 6)
The Spirit is the very essence of God: God is Spirit (Jn 4:24) and He is named after the Father and the Son: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19). May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Co 13:13).

The Holy Spirit is a gift from God, from heaven, the same essence as God, divine power and at the same time a divine person. He shows us our sin and gives us certainty of salvation. Through Him we experience the closeness of God and receive the strength to live a life according to God’s commands. In short, we can say that the Holy Spirit is the same Spirit of God the Father. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God, He is the reality of God, He is the existence of God, He is the power of God, the creative power of the universe or of everything that exists.

What are the signs that a person has the Holy Spirit?
The Spirit produces the recognition of sin: When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin (Jn 16:8).
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Ro 8: 15-16).
The Spirit dwells in believers; God is very close to us through the Holy Spirit: Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. And: Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us (2 Ti 1:14).
He helps us to live according to God’s commands: those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God (Ro 8:14), the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness (Gal 5:22).
Therefore, if we already know what the Spirit is and we know the signs that follow those who possess the Holy Spirit, we can also encourage ourselves to ask: who are the people who really are believers that have and / or receive the Holy Spirit?

Anyone who obeys the word of God and receives the Lord Jesus Christ in their life receives the gift of the Holy Spirit: Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (Jn 1:12; Rev 3:20) We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him (Acts 5:32). Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus himself comes to us.

But we also know about the serious words of the apostle James:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (Jam 2: 14.17.26)
The signs that follow those who believe in God and obey His word are also works, actions, and deeds.
Firstly is the love of God. The love of God is given when we decide to believe in Him. A religious education does not necessarily include a personal decision to believe in God. Are we aware of why we believe in God? Are we aware of when we have decided to start believing in God, so that we can please him by obeying his Word, according to the Bible?
The love of God begins in our heart; it starts with a decision. It is like the love between man and woman. When do we know that we love the other? When our heart shows it and when we think that the other is the one who gives meaning to our life and we want to please them. The love of God is the same, but of course, on a completely spiritual level.

When we are believers we have the urgent need to pray and that need is as powerful as is the surrender we have to God. Praying is like eating, like breathing – we cannot stop doing it; we need it. If prayer does not exist in your life or is only the reflection of a religious education or something done out of custom, then there is no true faith there.
And then comes the need to please God through worship. That is, the need to have fellowship with others who also follow Jesus and worship him every Sunday. If that need does not exist, there is no true faith there either. A person, who has turned to God, who believes in God, shows it in their life through love, which must correspond to their actions before God and with people.

The love of God through Jesus Christ is seen in works, in obedience to the Word of God, and obedience to the Bible. It is the guarantee of the presence of the Holy Spirit or of the forthcoming renewed outpouring of the Spirit: If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.

Works and/or obedience to the Word of God, shows if we really have love for Jesus Christ; and that love guarantees the presence of the Holy Spirit of God in our lives and in our church: Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.

Whoever cannot love God and Jesus Christ does not obey the Word of God: Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
The Holy Spirit comforts, that is, gives us those things that fill and brighten our life and our spirit. The Holy Spirit fills “that spiritual emptiness.” Have you heard about that? How many people are there out there that are “empty” inside. The Holy Spirit gives us the calm and peace that is nothing other than happiness, here now already on earth: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

We are invited to truly believe in Christ in the way I explained it. Every Sunday, through every message, God gives us the opportunity to be saved or to renew our relationship with God. He also tells believers: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13)

We are invited to accept Christ as our Lord and Savior and to begin to live a true life of faith for salvation. We are also invited to ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has already been poured out on the face of the earth. Let us not lose the opportunity. Let us ask God with faith and with devotion for our salvation and the fullness and completeness of the Holy Spirit, so that He changes our lives and our church. Amen.

E.P.

The Beginning of A New World

April 23, 2019

~Easter Sunday of Resurrection~

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
John 20:1-18 (NIV)

The wonderful message that Mary takes to the disciples and on which the Good News of the Gospel is based comes to us today, again and again, not only for Easter but every Sunday: Through Jesus we have direct access to the Father; thanks to Him we can call each other brothers and sisters in the faith. This message nevertheless needs witnesses, and it is worth noting that the first witness was a woman.

With most of the great personalities in the history of humanity everything ends when their life and work. But with Jesus everything begins with his death and his wonderful resurrection. That is a big difference!

The first Christian Easter was a turbulent time. Early in the morning, women anguished, reached the empty tomb and saw that the stone that covered the tomb had been removed and that Jesus had disappeared; then they left. After that two disciples came running, they also looked into the cave of the tomb and did not understand what was going on. Then, as the Gospel of John reports, Mary Magdalene once again looked into the entrance of the tomb.

Everything was so turbulent that even today, two millennia later, we are still tidying up the different reports of the four evangelists. After all, they weren’t objective historians, but were personally affected by the events, yes; they were upset to the core. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised if the reports reflect some of the turbulence and confusion of that first Easter day. There must have been a great back and forth at the grave, a coming and going, as well as tears, sadness, fear, lack of understanding, hope and doubt.

The story of the encounter of Mary Magdalene with the Risen One is a small part of these events of Easter. In this story and with this woman, we can see three reactions that were prompted by Jesus’ resurrection: first, sadness for the missing body of Jesus; secondly, joy for the encounter with Jesus; third, the spreading of the resurrection news. The same thing happened with the other followers of Jesus during the resurrection; let’s examine each one of them using the example of Mary Magdalene.

1. For Mary, the happiest celebration of Christianity began with tears. She wept for her Jesus, whom she had loved. And now, after this terrible death, she couldn’t even show him a final service of love that people used to do to their deceased loved ones: she couldn’t even embalm him. The body of Jesus had disappeared, and no one knew where he was. Once again she looked towards the grave with watery eyes: No, the body of Jesus wasn’t there. Mary was so worried that she didn’t even notice the two men dressed in white who were sitting in the grave, and for their question: “Woman, why are you crying?”
Only one thing was that Mary could think now: Jesus was not there, she replied:” “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Outside the grave, she saw through her tear-stained eyes a figure that she believed was someone who looked after the garden. She begged him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Mary was before the risen Lord and she didn’t realize it! She cried and lamented and looked for a dead Jesus who no longer existed.

Sometimes one gets the impression that some Christians haven’t yet realized that Jesus has risen. Like Mary, they are sad and mourn for life. The philosopher Nietzsche once based his disbelief on the fact that Christians didn’t show themselves as truly redeemed! There is some truth in that. How many everyday things worry us! How we mourn for the death of people! As if there was no resurrection! Or how dark we often see the future of the church! One might think that Jesus is dead. However, behind us and the Church is always the risen Christ, powerful and alive: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. (Mt 28:20)

What problem can’t be solved with Jesus? What can make us angry, frightened or despair when we know that we belong to the living Jesus Christ? Jesus was able to eliminate our main problem, sin. He defeated hell, death and the devil. He has bought us heaven. He lives forever and we with him. This gift is for all those who give their lives to him. How should the world frighten us with its passing worries? We can only laugh at the smallness and imperfection of our Christian life, the failures and misunderstandings in the Church, when we remember: who is the Lord of the Church and who the owner of the church is! He was not the founder of a religion of yesteryear that we want to maintain with archaic dusty rituals and without the Spirit of God. He is not an embalmed idol, or a statue, but a living person who speaks to us and with whom we can talk.

Even a man like Martin Luther had to be spurred again and again. On one occasion he was completely depressed, his wife Käthe drew him in mourning clothes, so that he would realize his miserable state and lack of faith. Martin asked her who had died. And she replied: “He must have died, our dear God, because our Martin is very sad.” Martin Luther learned that lesson. Yes, our Lord lives forever, and we should always be aware of that. And that trust must be reflected in our own lives, in our faith, trust, and hope, and also in our words and deeds and logically in our church. Jesus wants us to be a living community, not a dead one, for he lives and overcame death.

2. Mary Magdalene didn’t realize that Jesus had risen. The Risen one himself made it clear to her. A single word was enough to turn Mary’s pain into joy: “Mary!” What her eyes blinded by tears hadn’t noticed, she now noticed with her ears: It was the familiar voice of Jesus! He was the one she had confused with a gardener. What must have happened in Mary at this moment is too big for us to imagine or put it into words. Mary could utter only one word at this time. She said: “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Then she would have liked to hug him and never let him go.

Blessed are those who can rejoice and lead a life as happy as Mary! Blessed are those who rejoice in their risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ every day of their life!
When Jesus tells us that we have to have faith like a mustard seed and which is able to move mountains, he is talking about the happiness we have to have in Christ as a proof of our faith and trust in him. Faith comes when we begin to live happily, believing that Christ is alive and wants to be alive in us. Miracles begin to happen when we begin to believe that He lives in spite of all of the devil’s deceit and all death that surrounds us in our world. That is called faith and trust.

When we consider that the Lord once healed Mary from a demonic possession, we can perhaps imagine her joy. But we also have a great reason to be happy; at the same time we are simply not aware of that. Every one of us who believes in Jesus Christ was once caught by the devil. We, too, were without doubt entangled in this web of guilt, suffering and death that keeps humanity captive to the delight of Satan, who would like to see us taken away from God forever. But then Jesus called us through the new birth and baptism, and he called us by our own name, like he said “Mary” on that Easter Sunday.

He makes himself known in us through his Word; you can recognize it when you read his Word. When you read his word you can find him there through his miracles, preaching, suffering, dying and finally rising as the Savior, who wants to live with you and in you. If you really believe in Christ, and you have accepted him as God and Savior, then your faith is not dead. It is a faith that lives and can grow much more. All of us who have believed in him cannot but trust him and depend on him. When we really begin to believe in Him, there is nothing and no one who forces us to stop praying, praising and thanking. When we believe in Christ we do not count the hours of taking part in the community and enjoying his sacrament as many times as possible, because we do not receive the sacrament by tradition but by necessity. We receive the sacrament in order for Him to strengthen us, cleanse us from sin and give us His Holy Spirit. No sermon that preaches the pure Word of God is too long, when you believe in Christ. No service is boring when you have really begun to believe in Christ. No activity in the world will be more important when you have really given your life to Christ. Some people who really feel touched by the Holy Spirit even decide to devote their whole life to God through mission work or to live in a monastery and be in seclusion with Jesus for all their life. Would you like to feel this kind of energy for Jesus in your life? Would you like to feel the need for his embrace? Just give your life to Christ and he will resurrect yours, through his resurrection power and he will give you the joy that the world and material things can never bestow.

3. When Mary wanted to touch Jesus, he answered: “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father”. Since then, much has been said about this, why Tomas was allowed to touch him and not Mary? It was because she kept seeing him as the teacher, and he was no longer the earthly teacher. Jesus wanted to show a distance so that Mary could realize that he was now the risen Christ and a new era began for him and for those who believed in him.

Jesus was the only one who kept a clear mind in those turbulent days of Easter. That which he had often announced before, now had to be fulfilled: the resurrection after death and the ascension after the resurrection. The resurrected appearance of Jesus before those who loved him was only temporary. And he wanted Mary to do something else in that early morning. Jesus repeated to them the mission that the angel at the tomb had previously given to them all: Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Then she obeyed her Lord and proclaimed to his disciples: “I have seen the Lord!” ‘”. And we, have we also have seen the Lord in our own lives?

Mary was not the only one who received the order to pass on this news. Later, the disciples also received it; they should carry the message of the risen Lord throughout the world. This command is still valid for us believers. But only those who are qualified, that is, those who saw the Lord, can speak about Jesus; those who have given their lives to the Lord; those who have believed in his word. And they believe that He is alive. Otherwise it will not be possible.

And, therefore, we should not forget with all the joy of Easter that the church is not a society or a club where Sunday services or special services such as Good Friday or Easter have to be celebrated, and where the religious traditions of certain cultures are preserved. But we are the ‘communion of saints,’ a fellowship of believers who must carry the message of faith of Easter and the joy of Easter to the world and announce that Christ lives, will come again and will save those who believe in Him. That is the mission of the church and everything must point to that sole mission. As much as we feel good in the services of the church and in the loving community of the church, we shouldn’t keep Jesus to ourselves. The word of the risen Lord must be trumpeted: worldwide but also here in Canada and in our city. Those who do not have the gift of eloquence will be able to show their faith to their fellow human beings with a happy heart and face, with faith, with confidence and with words of hope and positivity in Christ; as well as with an attitude of gratitude and help, that our Lord has risen and is alive.

Yes, our God lives! That’s what Jesus showed at Easter, 2000 years ago. Despite the hustle and bustle of today, the road and the message of the Risen Lord is clear: He lives and is with the Father. From there He sends the Spirit, for all those who believe in Him, to be strengthened in faith and ready for service. They must carry the message of the resurrection to the whole world. Let us not waste time crying, lamenting and complaining, because there is no faith in such a life. Rather, let’s live from the power of this Spirit in the true joy of Easter, which must be present every day and be put on display to others. Amen.

Rev. E. Pellini

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.

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