Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1:1-38

 This is the second installment of our Facebook Live study of the Gospel of Luke. The first was an introduction to the Gospel. Here, we tackle the first part of the lengthy first chapter.

Remembering Those Killed by COVID-19

The Anglican cathedral in Norwich, England has a simple, moving memorial to all in Norfolk County who have lost their lives to COVID-19. This video includes a poem by Malcolm Guite in memory of those felled by this disease.

Continue to pray for the comfort of Jesus' resurrection for the many thousands mourning the loss of loved ones to the disease; for the healing of those afflicted with it and its after-effects; for protection for healthcare workers and their families; for elected officials and public health officials as they lead us in combatting COVID-19; and for each of us that we will not grow weary in doing those things we can do and need to do to stem the spread of the virus and its variants.

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Gospel of Luke, Part 1

 We began a Facebook Live study of the Gospel of Luke tonight with a bit of an introduction to the book.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Most Powerful Word

Below is the video of today's online worship from Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Further down the page, you'll find the text of the message shared today. Have a blessed week!

Words are powerful. 

They can build up. They can tear down. 

They can soothe bitterness and antagonism. They can create feuds that last lifetimes. 

Words can tell stories. 

Words from the right people can build cities, feed millions, heal thousands.

But if the words of mere human beings have power, the Word of God has infinitely more

By His Word, God created the universe. 

God’s Word, the Gospel of John tells us, is not just with God, the Word of God is God, God the Son, Jesus. 

By His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus the Word speaks the message of God’s truth, love, and redemption to you and me. 

Merely calling on the name of Jesus in faith covers us with God’s Word of everlasting salvation. God’s Word tells us, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32) 

The Word of God--whether in the crucified and risen Jesus, in the words of the Bible: taught, preached, shared, sung, read, memorized, or recited, in love and service rendered in Jesus’ name, or in the sacraments of Holy Baptism or Holy Communion--comes to us with three messages. Only three. And all three are seen in today’s gospel lesson, Mark 1:14-20.

Mark begins by telling us: “After John [the Baptizer] was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near.’” (Mark 1:14-15a)

Here we see the first way God’s Word speaks to us. He speaks Gospel or good news to us. When Jesus begins His ministry here, the first Word He speaks breaks through the darkness and hopelessness many must have felt on hearing that John had been arrested. Jesus’ message is that God and His kingdom aren’t removed from us. In Jesus, God immerses Himself in our pain and grief, bringing God’s eternal reign of love that will only be finally fulfilled beyond the gates of death into our world. Through His death on the cross for our sin, Jesus brings God’s love, forgiveness, grace, and new life even here and now.

And what did we have to do to receive all of these blessings? Nothing! Romans 5:8 reminds us, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him!” (Romans 5:8-9) Jesus comes into our lives, then bears the appropriate punishment for our sin--death, damnation, and separation from God--so that, by God’s grace through our faith in Jesus, we don’t have to bear those consequences. We give Jesus our sin and death; He gives us His righteousness and life with God. This the powerful Gospel Word that Jesus speaks to us, although none of us deserve it.

At the end of verse 15, Jesus tells us how this Gospel Word is activated in our lives, how it becomes good news for us: “Repent and believe the good news!” This is the second way God’s Word speaks to us; it tells us to repent and believe in the Good News, the gospel, that Jesus is for us. To repent, of course, is to turn to Jesus with the honest understanding that, without Him, we are defeated by sin, death, and darkness, powerless to overcome them.

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God told His ancient people Israel: “Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?'” (Ezekiel 33:11) In Jesus Christ, God the Son, God makes the same plea now to all people: Turn from sin, death, and darkness! Don’t delude yourself that you’re good enough for God without surrender to Jesus.

We mustn’t delude ourselves that just because God claimed us in our Baptisms and we have had some tingly religious feelings at some point in our lives that we’ve had enough of God. You’ve heard me ask you to consider the scenario of a couple who get married with the understanding that they will only see each other for one hour a week if they feel like it. You wouldn’t expect that relationship to work. Our faith relationship with Jesus--and the confidence, peace, and hope that go with it even in life’s hard times--is nurtured when we come back in repentance and faith in Jesus every day. Our call as sinners prone to go our own ways and forget the good Gospel Word is to daily repent and daily believe in Jesus. “I need to hear the Gospel every day,” Martin Luther said, “because I forget it every day.” The call to repentance and belief in the gift and the Giver. This is the second main way God’s Word speaks to us.

In verses 16-20, we see the third main way God’s Word speaks to us. There, Jesus calls two sets of brothers--Andrew and Simon (later nicknamed Peter) and John and James--to leave their family businesses, communities, circle of friends, and traditions to follow Him. “Come, follow me,” Jesus tells Andrew and Simon, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Mark 1:17) The third way God’s Word speaks to us is in calling us to follow Jesus. This is the call to obedience, the call of discipleship. There are many things in this world that promise us great benefits if we’ll follow them. They include our egos, our countries, our families, money, sex, power, status, success, the acceptance of others. Each of these things can exert powerful influences over our lives. But, here’s the deal. None of them will survive the death of this universe. Only the God we know in Jesus and the Kingdom He graciously gives to those who turn to Him as He empowers us to repent and believe His good news will survive. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus tells us. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Does following Jesus sound daunting to you? If it doesn’t, it should. I often feel like the man who, as many of you will remember, asked Jesus to heal his son, “if you can.” Jesus upbraided the man, basically asking him, “Whaddya mean, if?,” telling the man that with faith in Him--in Jesus--anything was possible. I imagine that Jesus’ heart exploded with love when he told Jesus: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)

People who seek to follow Jesus, to be His disciples, pray some version of that prayer a lot. I know I do. “I will follow You, Jesus, if You will give me the faith, the strength, the desire to do it.” If You help me, I will follow You, Lord...though life gets painful...though I don’t understand the plan...though I’m grieving...though I think I have a better idea...though I can’t see how this will turn out.

And guess what? The God Who speaks a Gospel Word though we don’t deserve it, Who speaks a Law Word that tells us to repent, Who speaks an assuring Word that we simply need to turn to Jesus and the Gospel is ours, will also speak His powerful love to us day-in and day-out as we follow where He leads. He assures those who follow Jesus, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). And “the one who stands firm [in faith] to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). And, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

God’s Word speaks to us in three ways. 

It gives us a Gospel so good that no human mind could imagine it. 

It gives us a call to repent and believe so gracious no human being could ever offer it. 

It gives us a way of life that, in freeing us from the imprisonment of a fallen world, frees us to live with Christ forever. 

There is no other word so powerful and no other word we need so much. 

May we listen to it each day. Amen