Praying for Healing

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on James 5:13-20

Dear people who pray: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We should pray to God because He has commanded us to pray and because He has promised to hear us. But sometimes we are a little sheepish with our prayers. We are timid with our requests to God.

Is it because we are not sure that we’re praying for the right thing? Perhaps. We heard last week that if we ask wrongly, to spend it on our passions, God will not give us what we ask (Jas 4:3). This should actually comfort us in the sense that if we are asking God for something that is not good for us; something that would lead us into sin; something that would lead us away from Him – He will not give it to us. So we don’t have to be afraid of praying for the wrong thing. If it is the wrong thing, God will not give it to us.

Perhaps we are timid to pray because we are worried that God won’t give us what we are praying for. We are worried it might crush us not to have our request granted. This should not be a worry either. Because God only gives us what is good for us, if He doesn’t grant our request, we should not be crushed, but rather understand our request was not for the best. If God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we would like, it is because He is answering our prayers in the way He would like – He who knows better than we what is best.

Perhaps we are timid to pray because our conscience is bothering us over our sin. If that is the case, James writes, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Then we are given the example of Elijah. He prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three and a half years it didn’t rain. Is it because Elijah was a great prophet with a special connection to God that such a prayer was answered? Our lesson makes a point of saying that Elijah was a man with a nature like ours – a nature that is human; a nature that is weak; a nature that is sinful. Yet, the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Was Elijah righteous in himself? No, Scripture tells us no one is in himself righteous in God’s sight; none is righteous, no, not one (Rom. 3:10,20).

This is why James writes of confession. “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Certainly confession and absolution is always available from your pastor. Confess your sins and “receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” (SC V)

When we have sinned against our neighbour, we should also confess that sin to them. That’s why James says, “Confess your sins to one another.” It is reciprocal. Sins should be reconciled and forgiven so that they will not hinder our prayers being answered. This is why we also pray in the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.” (SC III)

Absolution makes you righteous before God, because Absolution covers a multitude of sins. Absolution forgives transgressions and covers sin. Absolution declares you righteous so that the Lord will count no iniquity against you. Because your sins are covered by the blood of Jesus who gave His body to death and shed His blood for your sin, Absolution declares you righteous.

As righteous, your prayers will be heard by God. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Especially in this context, our lesson is talking about prayers for healing from sickness. “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” Do not be timid to pray for healing from sickness. Declared righteous, your prayer has great power as it is working. It is not your power at work in prayer, but the power of God almighty who can heal the sick and raise the dead. Pray for healing. You have the command from God to pray and you have His promise that He will hear you. God can heal where doctors fail.

Tell me though, what healing is best? Healing in this life where God saves you from sickness and raises you out of your sick bed? Or healing in the next life where God saves you from your sins eternally and raises you from the dead? Healing in this life where you will get sick again, or healing in the next life where you will be healed and never again get sick?

“The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” Confess your sins and receive forgiveness and you will be saved and the Lord will raise you up on the Last Day.

Since God answers our prayers in the way He knows is best, we may be praying for healing in this life, but He is going to give us something far better. He is going to give us eternal healing in the life to come. He is going to give us eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth that Jesus ascended to prepare for us.

After accomplishing our salvation through His innocent suffering and death, He ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us. After taking the guilt of our sins so that the multitude of our sins is covered, He ascended to prepare a place for us without sickness, sorrow, or sin. After dying our death on the cross, He ascended to prepare a place of life for us – eternal life.

Pray boldly for healing, and know that God will answer your prayer and save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. Because your sins are covered, your righteous prayer will be heard. Your prayer has great power when it is working. You will be saved, and God will raise you from the dead to eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: starting in Advent, we will be following the one-year lectionary.]

The Untameable Tongue

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost based on James 3:1-12

Dear people with tongues: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The tongue can set the entire course of life on fire, by the fires of hell, says our Epistle lesson. Not just our own lives, but the lives of others as well. The tongue, though a small member, is compared to a bit in a horse’s mouth and the rudder of a ship. A large horse is controlled by the bit in his mouth, and a great ship is controlled by the rudder even in strong winds and big waves. So our tongue affects our course of life, as insignificant as it may seem.

We are often blind to this truth. We even have a saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We tend to think of words as weak and powerless. We tend to think of words as empty and meaningless.

We also tend to think that we can say what we want, when we want. Freedom of speech right? If someone is offended by it, that’s their problem.

If you have ever been betrayed by someone close to you, you know how much words can hurt. If you’ve ever had your secrets revealed by someone you trusted, then you know the power of words. If you’ve ever had lies and slander spread about you, then you know how the tongue can set the entire course of life on fire; you know how the tongue can be a restless evil, full of deadly poison – poisoning the speaker, the hearers, and those who are the subject of the evil spoken.

It was with words that Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph and got him thrown into prison. It was with words that Delilah convinced Samson to tell her the secret of his strength, and with words that she betrayed him so that his hair was cut off, his eyes gouged, and he was forced to grind at the mill in prison. It was with words that Jezebel got worthless men to falsely accuse Naboth of blaspheming God and the king, and with her words that she got him stoned to death. It was with words that Judas betrayed Jesus to the chief priests and officers for thirty pieces of silver, and it was with words that Pilate condemned the innocent Jesus to death by crucifixion.

What we say matters. All of the Commandments can be broken with our words, and two out of the Ten Commandments directly have to do with what we say. The Eighth Commandment commands us not to tell lies about our neighbour, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation in any way. We are rather to defend him if someone speaks ill of him. We are to speak well of him even if others don’t, and we are to explain everything in the kindest way.

The Second Commandment commands us not to misuse God’s name by cursing, swearing, using satanic arts, lying, or deceiving by His name. This Second Commandment is broken by false teachers who preach false doctrine.

This is why our epistle lesson starts out with saying, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” We all stumble in many ways. We all sin in what we say. But one who teaches will be judged with greater strictness. Why? Because false doctrine is deadly. Not just deadly in that it separates soul from body, but deadly in that it delivers both body and soul to eternal punishment. False teaching sends those hearers who believe it to hell. This is beyond the tongue setting on fire the entire course of life by the fires of hell. False teaching delivers to the eternal fires of hell those who are captured by it.

To keep the course of our lives from being set on fire by false teachers, God has given us His Word. We may be few within His fold, and by the world forsaken in these dark times that have us overtaken, but we have the Word of God that is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). False teachers confound the truth with fraud which they themselves invent, but we have the Word of God which is truth. False teachers’ hearts are not grounded in God’s pure doctrine as they parade with outward show, but our hearts are grounded in God’s pure doctrine, so we follow God’s Word rather than outward show (some phrasing borrowed from TLH 260, our opening hymn).

The Word of God protects us from the entire course of our lives being set on hell fire by the tongues of false teachers because we won’t listen to their lies. We know better than to watch and listen to every television and radio preacher. We know better than to read every so-called “Christian” book and devotional from every so-called “Christian” bookstore.

We sang in our opening hymn that God’s saving Word for us shall fight. This is not just a matter of the tongue of God casting false teachers and their followers into hell. It is also a matter of Him declaring us forgiven through the tongues of the ministers He sends. When God’s Word fights for us against evil, it fights against all evil, including ours. God’s Word fights against our evil by saying, “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven you.”

Absolution is God’s Word which casts out our evil. If the words we speak can have tremendous effects, how much more the Word of God which is all-powerful! God’s powerful Word even forgives our sins of the tongue; the restless evil and poison we have spoken; the cursing we have done with our mouths against those made in the likeness of God; the lies and slanders wherewith we have caused the course of our lives and the lives of others to be set on fire by the fires of hell.

When Isaiah had a vision of God, he exclaimed, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” A seraphim flew and took a burning coal with tongs from the altar and touched Isaiah’s lips and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Is. 6:1-7)

For you, the Lord’s Supper touches your unclean lips and your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. Your unclean tongue is cleansed.

Do not say, “How can my unclean lips receive the true body and blood of Jesus? I need to first cleanse my tongue and lips before I can receive Jesus.” Do not say this, because you can never cleanse your tongue and lips. That thinking is futile and in vain. The body and blood of Jesus are what cleanse your tongue and lips. His body and blood are the medicine that give you eternal life. His body and blood take your guilt away, and your sins are atoned for.

That your sins are atoned for means that you have been redeemed. An innocent life was offered as a substitute for your guilty life. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, died for the guilt of your sins, and He gives you His body and blood to eat and drink, in which you receive forgiveness and your guilt is taken away. His body and blood cleanse your tongue of all uncleanness so that you can with a pure tongue sing praise and thanksgiving to God, and speak well of your neighbour.

The true body and blood of Jesus forgive you all your sins and strengthen you to not say words that later need recalling. His body and blood have atoned for your sins and guard you from idle speech. His body and blood bring you to everlasting life, and give your words grace lest you offend the weak. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: beginning in Advent, we will start using the One-Year Lectionary.]

Fed by Jesus

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 6:30-44

Dear people fed by Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

God gave manna to the children of Israel as they wandered through the wilderness for forty years to physically nourish and strengthen them. Just as God’s people were set free from slavery through the waters of the Red Sea, so we are set free from the slavery of sin through the waters of Holy Baptism. Just as God fed those whom He freed from slavery with manna from heaven, so we are fed by the bread of life, who is Jesus Christ himself. Just as the children of Israel couldn’t “stock up” on manna for another day but needed to gather it every day as their daily food, so we need Jesus every single day. We need his precious Gospel. We need the words of life He alone can give. We need to take His flesh and blood into us by faith, as well as by eating and drinking the sacramental bread and wine, which are, as Jesus plainly teaches, His real body and blood.

We see in His miraculous feeding of the five thousand that Jesus is the Creator. He worked a miracle that only the Creator could do. He created. Where there had been only five loaves and two fish, He created enough food to feed five thousand men, not counting women and children, and with twelve baskets of food left over. Consider who this man really is. He is God. He is the Creator of the universe. He is the one who sustains all things by His mighty power. He is the one who made us in His image, male and female. He is the one who rained manna from heaven, and now has come down from heaven to be with us, never to leave us.

Jesus is our Creator. We tend to think of God the Father as our Creator. This is of course true, but God is not divided. Saint John writes in the beginning of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (Jn 1:1-3) God the Son was also creating, as was the Spirit of God who Genesis tells us was in the beginning hovering over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together, one God.

Jesus created us, and He still sustains us. He gives us what we need for this body and life. Even more, He gives us eternal life. He has joined us in our own flesh and blood, that He might bring us back to Him as pure, holy, and perfect saints. He came to do what we could not do. He came to restore God’s lost and fallen creatures. He came to redeem us body and soul. See Him do what only the Creator can do. It is our Creator who has joined us in our human flesh and blood by becoming a human being while remaining the Creator God. Jesus is true man. He is a man in every single respect. He is like we are in all things except that He never sinned because He could not sin since He is eternally pure and holy.

Jesus provides us with what we need for this body and life, but the time will come when this earthly life will end. We will all die. This is for what Jesus prepares us most of all. He prepares us for death, because He has died the death we deserve. The eternal death we deserve for our sins was swallowed up by Jesus’ death. We have eternal life waiting for us as our promised inheritance because we are baptized into Christ. We have eternal life waiting for us because Jesus Himself forgives sin in Absolution.

And Jesus gives us His true body and blood to spiritually feed us. There are two kinds of eating and drinking that take place in the Lord’s Supper: physical and spiritual. The physical eating and drinking is done bodily with the mouth. The spiritual eating and drinking is through faith. Just as the mouth receives the body and blood of Jesus – because that’s what the sacramental bread and wine are – faith receives the benefits of Christ’s body and blood: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Our Creator God who has taken on our flesh gives us His body and blood to recreate us through the forgiveness of sins. He feeds us hungry souls who are burdened by sin. He nourishes us and strengthens us by forgiving our sins, and He thus nourishes us and strengthens us to eternal life.

Jesus provided physical food to the five thousand, but it wasn’t really about the bread and the fish. Jesus’ miracle showed that He is God; that He loves those whom He has created; that He is the provider of everything they need. He wanted the people to realize that He is their Creator, and they should go to Him for everything they need.

Jesus provides physical food for our bodies, but He also wants us to realize that He is God; that He loves us; that He provides everything we need, and so we should pray to Him for our every need.

Our greatest need is the forgiveness of sins. With our sins forgiven, there is nothing to keep us from eternal life. With our sins forgiven, we will inherit Paradise.

Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, as He did to little Roslyn this morning. Baptism is not just some empty tradition. It has God’s command and His promise.

Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins in Absolution, as He did to you this morning. Absolution is not the pastor’s forgiveness, but God’s. It has God’s command and His promise.

Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper, as He will give to you this morning. The Lord’s Supper is not just some superstitious gimmick. It has God’s command and His promise.

The reason you know that Jesus gives you forgiveness of sins in these ways is because He is the one who created you. He can and does give you everything you need. He died on the cross to pay for your sins and take your punishment in your place. He gives you the benefits of His death in Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.

The God who created you will also raise you from the dead. It is His promise to you, because you are baptized into Christ and strengthened and nourished by His Word and Sacrament. As surely as Jesus rose from the dead, so you too will rise, and our loving Saviour will give eternal life to you and to everyone who trusts in Him. Amen

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

(This sermon borrows much from two of Rev. Rolf Preus’s sermons on John 6.)

Absolution is from Christ

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter based on John 20:19-31

Dear absolved believers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Many people find Absolution offensive. Only God can forgive sin, they say. How then can you have a pastor saying, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”?

It is true that only God can forgive sin, but in what way has He promised to forgive sin? He sends His ministers to forgive on His behalf, saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Christ has the authority to forgive sin. He earned it by paying for every sin ever committed through His suffering and death. And Christ gives that authority to His Church on earth. When a pastor speaks the forgiveness Christ has sent Him to speak, it is Christ Himself who forgives sin. Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, so it is He who decides how He wants to forgive sin. Christ has chosen to give forgiveness of sins through the mouths of sinful men sent to His people for that purpose.

Forgiveness doesn’t do you any good if it is somewhere out there for you to find. Forgiveness doesn’t do you any good if it’s sitting in heaven. Forgiveness of sins needs to come to sinners, where sinners are. That is why Christ instituted the church. The church is the place for sinners to gather and receive forgiveness. Forgiveness belongs to the church.

Since forgiveness belongs to the church, no man can assume the office of pastor without a call from the church. The church, to whom forgiveness belongs, must call a pastor to give this forgiveness to them. No one can appoint himself to be a pastor. This is what it means in Romans 10 where Saint Paul asks, “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” They cannot preach unless they are sent. They must be called by God through the church.

Christ instituted the office of the ministry, or the office of pastor, for the purpose of preaching His Word and giving His forgiveness. It is the office or the position that is special, not the man who occupies the office or position. There is nothing special about the man John Nieminen. He has nothing to say to you. He has no special wisdom, insight, or knowledge to impart to you. Yet when your pastor speaks Christ’s Word to you, it is Christ Himself who speaks to you. When your pastor forgives you your sins, it is Christ Himself who forgives you your sins through the Word He has given your pastor to speak.

This is why pastors wear albs or robes. They cover up the man and remind you and me that it is only according to his office as pastor that he has the right to say one word from God. This is also why pastors are called by their title. It’s not a matter of pride or conceit, but rather a reminder to you and to me that I’m not here of my own doing. I didn’t decide one day that I think I’ve done enough studies, look on a map and say, “I’m going to move to the prairies and serve these two congregations in Neudorf and Melville as their pastor.” No, God called me here to be your pastor. He called me through you, the church. You called me to come and speak God’s Word to you and forgive you your sins in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m not here as John to do what I want or speak what I want. I’m here as a pastor, doing what God has commanded me to do, and saying what He has commanded me to say.

There are some things I’m tempted to not preach or teach. I’m tempted to avoid saying things that get people upset. I’m tempted to not touch sensitive topics with a ten-foot pole. But I don’t have a choice in the matter, unless I am going to be faithless to the One who has called me to teach and preach to you.

I must preach God’s Law to you. I must tell you what God commands you to do in every aspect of your life. It is necessary, not because you can fulfil the Law of God, but so that you will recognize your failures to do what God commands and repent of your sins. It is necessary for me to preach the Law so that you realize that you need forgiveness and that you would desire to receive that forgiveness.

I must preach the Gospel to you. I must tell you that Jesus died on the cross for all your sins, so that every single sin is forgiven: big sins, little sins, public sins, secret sins. Jesus took the punishment of every single one of your sins so that you have the promise of eternal life instead of eternal punishment in hell.

I must forgive the sins of repentant sinners. I must also retain the sins of the unrepentant.

Those who are offended by a man forgiving sins are even more offended at a man retaining sins. “Who are you to judge?” they say. Once again, we have to go back to the Word of Christ Jesus Himself, who says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Withholding forgiveness is not done arbitrarily or based on the whims of the pastor. Here too, a pastor must follow the Word of Christ. It is only the impenitent sinners who have their sins retained and are not forgiven; those sinners who refuse to turn away from their sin; those who have no desire to do better.

Every sinner who is repentant is forgiven. The weak sinner who struggles with his sins is forgiven. The repentant sinner who has again fallen and thought, said, or done something which breaks God’s holy Law is forgiven.

This is where Absolution comes in. Absolution gives forgiveness to the weak and doubting heart. It strengthens faith. It is Christ’s Word spoken to you in His stead and by His command.

When you hear the words of Absolution, it may be the voice of your pastor you hear, but you are hearing the words of Jesus. Jesus instituted the office of the ministry for the benefit of His Church, so that through the ministers who faithfully proclaim His Word, Jesus Himself is speaking. When Jesus commands it to be spoken, so it is.

You can thus be confident in the Absolution you receive from your pastor. The forgiveness he speaks is not his own forgiveness, but the forgiveness of God. He is the messenger of Christ, speaking that which he has been commanded to speak; forgiving what he has been commanded to forgive.

Your faith is thus in Christ and His promises, nothing else. Christ cannot deceive or lie, so you can confidently trust His word of forgiveness which He speaks to you through the mouths of His ministers. Ministers come and go, but Christ’s promises to you are eternal. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Church: Built on Confession

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 16:13-20

Dear absolved believers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The jokes get Saint Peter all wrong. I’m sure you’ve heard many of them. Saint Peter stands at the pearly gates giving an entrance examination which must be answered correctly to get into heaven. There are many varieties of these jokes, but the funniest ones seem to involve lawyers, politicians, and celebrities. Saint Peter supposedly gives a last chance to outwit or outsmart him or get his question correct to get into heaven.

Of course, we don’t get our theology from jokes, but these jokes do stem from bad theology – the idea that Jesus made Peter the first pope and that the pope has the authority to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. It is the misunderstanding of our text where Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter, as if that gives Peter the authority over who gets into heaven.

First of all, Jesus did not give the keys to the kingdom of heaven to Peter alone. Two chapters later in Matthew, Jesus tells the same things to all His disciples. He tells all of them, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you (plural) bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you (plural) loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 18:18) Also, in John 20, Jesus also speaks in the plural to the disciples, saying, “If you (plural) forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you (plural) withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (v. 23)

This did not, however, give the disciples the authority to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. It did not give them the authority to decide on a whim whose sins they would forgive and whose sins they would retain. So based on what did the disciples absolve and retain sin? Based on confession.

Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” is the rock on which Christ builds His Church. Christ does not build His Church on Peter himself, but on the truth that Peter confessed.

Jesus did not give Peter the authority to decide who gets asked the hard questions and who gets asked the easy questions at the pearly gates. In fact, no one will be asking any questions at the gates of heaven. By the time you are dead, your sins have already been loosed or retained. No amount of correctly answering easy or even difficult questions will change that fact.

Christ builds His Church on the confession of who He is and what he has done. These are what the church confesses.

Christ sees the hearts of all, but we cannot see hearts. We cannot see faith. But we can hear faith being confessed. Thus, the decision of whose sins are forgiven and whose sins are retained is based on confession. This is as true today as it was in the time of Saint Peter and the other apostles.

The Church teaches the faith. Those who learn and believe the faith as taught by the Church, confess the faith. They confess, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” All Christians of all time confess the faith as outlined in the three creeds of the Church – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

When someone wants to join the church, since we cannot see their hearts, we simply ask them their confession. Do you believe what Scripture teaches as it is summarized in the Small Catechism? Do intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?

If they confess these things affirmatively, the church takes them at their word, and they are brought into the church. We cannot see faith, but we can hear it confessed.

In addition to what Christians confess about God, we also confess something about ourselves. We confess that we are poor, miserable sinners who deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment. We confess that we are sinful by nature and have sinned in thought, word, and deed.

Again, we cannot see hearts. The pastor cannot see the hearts of those who speak the words of Confession. He does not know if they mean what they say. However, based on the confession he hears from their mouths, He absolves them in God’s name – remember, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” and “Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

The pastor does this, because whether or not someone believes the words they confess – that they there are sinners deserving hell, it is true. Whether or not someone believes the words of Absolution – that their sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, it is true. These are just as true as the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Whether or not someone believes that it is true does not change the reality of it.

Speaking the words of Absolution is nothing other than speaking the Gospel. Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. If someone does not believe it, they get no benefit of it being true, but it still remains true.

Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. This remains true even for those who do not believe it. Everyone’s every sin was paid by Jesus. If you reject His forgiveness then you do not have it and will go to hell, but His offer for forgiveness remains. His death in your place remains true.

So who then has their sins retained? Those who confess that they are not sinful. Those who confess that their sin requires no forgiveness. Those who refuse to turn away from their sin and want to stubbornly remain in sin. Those have their sins retained who do not confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Even for such people, however, there is hope. There is hope that they will still come to realize their sin and turn away from it. There is hope that they will hear God’s Law which condemns their sin so that they would fear God’s righteous punishment and repent. There is hope that they will hear the sweet words of the Gospel that Jesus has paid the price of their sins and believe.

For those who struggle to believe that some sin from their past is forgiven, private Confession and Absolution is offered. Private Confession and Absolution is offered so that the burden of sin can be unloaded on Jesus who has already carried that sin on the cross. Private Confession and Absolution is offered so that those who struggle with sin can be strengthened in their fight with sin by hearing it specifically absolved from the mouth of the pastor as from Christ Himself, since He is the one who sends His minsters saying, “He who hears you, hears me.” (Luke 10:16)

Absolution heard in private is the exact same Absolution heard in public in the Divine Service. It is not because of the length or detail of Confession that sins are absolved. The Absolution is the same, whether you spend an hour tormenting yourself to confess every detail of every sin to God that you can remember, or if you merely say as we did this morning, “Almighty God, have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins, and lead us to everlasting life.”

Absolution is the same, because Absolution is the Gospel. Absolution is the good news that because of Jesus’ death for your sins, you are forgiven. Absolution is the good news that because of Jesus’ death for you, you have eternal life. Absolution is the word of Christ Himself which forgives your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Heavenly Courtroom

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter based on John 14:15-21

Dear defendants in the heavenly courtroom: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you are charged with a crime, the best thing you can do to escape punishment is to hire a team of lawyers to represent you. They know the ins and outs of the law. They know when to speak and when to be quiet. They know the best way to get you off the hook for what you’ve done.

On your own, without a team of legal counsellors, you would probably have the tendency to respond to the accusations of the law by saying, “It’s not my fault,” and trying to shift blame, thus perjuring yourself. You might also try to excuse what you’ve done wrong, seeking to justify it, thus incriminating yourself.

It’s best to have the counsellors do the talking for you. It’s best to have the counsellors deal with the prosecution’s discovery evidence and witness testimony that incriminates you.

Jesus promised that God the Father will send us another Helper or Counsellor. One way of looking at it when picturing the heavenly courtroom, is to think of the Holy Spirit as our legal counsellor representing us. And He’s not the only one. Jesus says “another” counsellor, indicating that there is more than one. And indeed, Jesus Himself is also in the heavenly courtroom representing us as our mediator and advocate. We have a team of lawyers defending us in the heavenly courtroom.

Without our counsellors, we would have the tendency to respond to the accusations of the law by saying, “It’s not my fault,” and trying to shift blame, thus perjuring ourselves. We would also try to excuse what we’ve done wrong, seeking to justify it, thus incriminating ourselves. On our own we would only make matters worse and dig ourselves into a bigger hole.

God’s Law accuses us. Jesus Himself says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If you love God, you will keep His Commandments. Every single one. The Law thus tells us that we do not love God. We do not love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. Responding with “It’s not my fault” won’t cut it. Making excuses won’t get us off the hook.

It’s not just some prosecution investigators trying to find dirt on us or human eyewitness testimony that is presented for evidence. It is God Himself who accuses us and presents His evidence. He who sees the actions of all, hears the words of all, and knows the thoughts and hearts of all gives testimony against us. Every sin of thought, word, and deed is known to Him, including those sins of which even we are not aware.

This too, is where our counsellors come in. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin (John 16:8). This means He convicts you of sin. He opens your eyes to how you have not kept God’s Commandments. He convicts you of the fact that you have not loved God with all your heart, soul, and mind, or your neighbour as yourself. Even though He is your counsellor and representing you, He’s telling you to fess up. Confess what you’ve done. Confess your sins.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t tell you to do this so that you will be found guilty in the heavenly courtroom. In fact, that is how you get off in the heavenly courtroom. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-9)

The way to be found guilty in the heavenly courtroom is to deny your sin; to make excuses for your sin. Saying that you love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself is deceiving yourself. It’s being blind to the times you have had your priorities skewed, your own selfish interests at heart, and ignored the needs of your neighbour.

But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That’s how the heavenly courtroom works. It’s not about having your counsellors argue what a good member of society you are or listing the good that you have done. It’s not making excuses or pointing fingers at others. It’s about confessing your sins. Confessing what you have done wrong, without excuse. It’s about admitting guilt.

Then you are pronounced innocent, as Jesus, your mediator and advocate stands up for you because His blood has covered your sins and transgressions. He has already paid the price of your sins. He has already been found guilty of your sins and been punished for them. There’s no more punishment to come from the Judge. The legal demands of the Law have been met on your behalf by Jesus, and your punishment has been taken and paid by Jesus. You will be declared innocent.

You know that on Judgment Day you will be declared innocent, because you have a preview of Judgment Day every Sunday. Every Sunday in Divine Service you hear God’s Word, through which the Holy Spirit convicts you of your sin. Every Sunday in Divine Service you confess your sin and admit your guilt. Every Sunday in Divine Service you are declared innocent and free from sin, as you are absolved in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This absolution is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with you Himself, because it is He who has commanded your pastor to absolve you in His name. The Judge Himself has declared you forgiven and pardoned through His representative, thus you have already been judged.

Legally, you cannot be charged for an offence a second time. In American and Canadian law, this is called double jeopardy. No person shall be subject for the same offence to be twice put into jeopardy of life or limb. You cannot be again tried for something of which you have been acquitted. Since you have been declared forgiven and pardoned, you cannot be tried for them again. You cannot be charged with them again.

Jesus was charged with all your sins and found guilty. You walk away scot free because you have confessed your sins, and your counsellors have spoken on your behalf. You’ve been declared forgiven. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Marks of the Church: The Use of the Office of the Keys

Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Dear members of the Christian church: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

How do you know that you have found a Christian church? There are all kinds of places around that call themselves Christian, and there are all kinds of places around that call themselves church. The question is that if you walk into any given church, how do you know if that place is a Christian church?

There are all kinds of reasons why people are in any given church. Perhaps your parents attended there so you grew up attending there. Maybe you married someone who is a member there. Sometimes, simply the location of the building or the worship times are what make it convenient and that is why some people attend. Sometimes, people look for a church with lots of children or youth, skilled musicians, or a charismatic preacher. None of these things, however, really tell us whether the church is a Christian church or not.

So what does? That is the topic of our midweek Lenten services this year. It is not a new question, and our seven-part sermon series is based on Martin Luther’s answer to this question. Luther identifies seven marks of the Christian church based on Scripture and points us to look for these identifiers in answering this question.

The first mark of the Christian church that we will examine is the use of the Office of the Keys. As we know from the Small Catechism, “The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.”

The Office of the Keys has two sides to it, or two keys: forgiveness for the repentant sinner and the withholding of forgiveness from the unrepentant sinner.

The need for the forgiveness of sins is perhaps the more understandable of the two. The Christian church is Christ’s holy people. How are people made holy? By the Holy Spirit giving the forgiveness of sins which Christ has purchased for us. Without the forgiveness of sins, we cannot be holy. Thus, if a church is not forgiving sins, it is not and cannot be a Christian church. Therefore, it is a sure and certain mark of the Christian church that the forgiveness of sins is there given.

Christ says to His Church, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:19) Christ tells the ministers of His Church, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23), and “He who hears you, hears me.” (Luke 10:16)

Christ sends ministers of His Word to speak on His behalf. The Absolution spoken by a pastor is not his own. As a man, a pastor cannot forgive sin. However, in his Office, having been called by the congregation to exercise the Office of the Keys – and thus being called by Christ Himself – his absolution is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.

If a king sends a messenger to announce to a colony that has rebelled that they are forgiven their rebellion, the pardon announced is valid not because of the messenger, but because of the king who sent the messenger. So also, the called ministers of God speak God’s message of forgiveness, and this Absolution is valid and certain because the message is from God.

We know also from the passages we heard earlier from Matthew 16 and John 20, that Christ commands that unrepentant sinners have forgiveness withheld from them. This is the second key. Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” and “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.”

We tend to view discipline in a negative light. However, we should not. Discipline is not a bad thing, but rather a good thing. After all, we believe disciplining children is good for them. Scripture tells us that when God disciplines us, He is treating us as His sons, and if we are left without discipline, we are illegitimate children and not sons. The Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives (Heb. 12:5-11). God disciplines His sons to keep them from falling away from the faith, and that is also why God calls on the church to discipline those who are wandering – so that they will return to God from their wandering ways. The Christian church is also to discipline those who have fallen away from the faith so that they would realize their fall, repent, and return to the faith.

Thus, it is a mark of the church that sin is rebuked and not tolerated. Open sinners are disciplined so that they would turn away from their sin and receive Absolution. Those who harden their hearts and refuse to turn away from sin are to have their sins bound so long as they do not repent. Nevertheless, should they at any time repent, they will never be refused forgiveness and the loosing of their sins.

Luther concludes, “Wherever you see that sin is forgiven or rebuked in many people, be it publicly or privately, know that God’s people is there. For where God’s Christian holy people is not, there the keys are not. And where the keys are not, there God’s Christian holy people is not.”

Christ has given to His church the Office of the Keys, by which the Holy Spirit makes fallen sinners holy. Those who fall into sin are to be restored again through repentance.

The Christian church thus also offers private absolution to everyone who desires to make use of it. Public Absolution in the Divine Service gives forgiveness of sins to everyone who hears it. However, for those who struggle with particular sins for which they want to receive Absolution, or for those who want to hear a personal word of comfort, private Absolution is offered to give that comfort in the forgiveness of sins.

It is important that you do not mistake struggling with sin as unrepentance. Struggling with sin is not the same as being unrepentant. Struggling with sin is a sign that the Holy Spirit is working in you. Struggling with sin shows that you do not want to do the sins that your sinful flesh craves. Struggling with sin shows that God is working repentance in your heart to turn you away from sin.

Our struggle with sin will not cease in this life. Our struggle with sin ends when we give in and let sin rule over us, in which case we have fallen away from the faith, or our struggle ends when we die from this life and God takes us to be with Him in eternity where there is no more sin, so there is not more struggle with sin.

To help us in our struggle with sin, Christ has given to His church the Office of the Keys. Unrepentant sinners are urged to struggle against sin and receive forgiveness, and repentant sinners who are struggling with their sins are absolved and given Christ’s true body and blood which strengthens them in their fight against sin and gives them the forgiveness of sin.

Where the Office of the Keys is found, there the Christian church is found because there God leads sinners to repentance and gives the forgiveness of sins. Where the Office of the Keys is used, there the Holy Spirit is working to make people holy. Where the Office of the Keys is, there you should be, because there is a Christian church. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

*Our midweek Lenten series is based on Martin Luther’s On the Councils and the Church, as found in the primer A Christian Holy People, which is available from Lutheran Press both affordably in print and free electronically (lutheranpress.com).

Already Forgiven

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 7:36-8:3

Dear debtors with cancelled debts: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The entire city knew her sin. Of whatever shameful and disgraceful sin she was guilty, everyone knew it. The entire city looked down on her and she would have liked to do nothing more than crawl under a rock and disappear rather than face the disgusted expressions on the faces of those who saw her.

Whatever her sin was, society in general was agreed that it was horrible; something upsetting the very fabric of life in their city. Maybe something more common in some pagan city far away, but not there in a Jewish city. Maybe something they’d heard someone doing somewhere else, but not there in their midst. Yet there she was, guilty of this sin, right there in the house of Simon the Pharisee, a leader of the church of that time.

Despite what the city thought of her, the sinful woman of the city didn’t crawl under a rock and disappear. Despite what Simon the Pharisee thought of her, the sinful woman of the city entered uninvited into his house. Despite the disgusted expressions on the faces of those who saw her, the sinful woman of the city washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with expensive ointment.

The woman just had to do it out of love for Jesus. Jesus had forgiven her all of her sins, including the sin that everyone else knew about and talked about. In God’s eyes, her open shame was covered and her sins had been washed away. Jesus had rescued her from her life of sin and she now hated her sin as much as everyone else in the room. Her sin which had started small and then spiralled out of control; her sin which had grown larger and larger and enslaved her; her sin from which she was not able to escape had been taken away by Jesus and forgiven. She just had to show her love and devotion to her Saviour despite what other people thought about her and her actions. She loved much, because she was forgiven much.

We, on the other hand, tend to be more like Simon the Pharisee. We see the sins of others very easily, but we think that we ourselves are pretty good. We think forgiveness is for people like this woman of the city, but not so much for us. Oh, sure, we need forgiveness for this little thing or that little thing, but it’s really no big deal. We’re so blind to our own sins that we don’t think we even need all that much forgiveness.

God commands us to love Him with our whole heart (Luke 10:27). We think we’ve done it even though we cling to the things of this world and don’t want to lose them or even give them back to God, thus we break the First Commandment. We think we love God with our whole heart even though we’re more likely to misuse His name as an exclamation than call upon it in prayer, thus we break the Second Commandment. We think we love God with our whole heart but anything that comes up on Sunday morning is guaranteed to be more important than the Divine Service, and every family activity is more important that reading God’s Word together, thus we break the Third Commandment. No, we do not love God with our whole heart.

God commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves (Luke 10:27). We think we’ve done it if we haven’t physically murdered, committed adultery, or stolen. Yet we despise our authorities and speak evil of them, breaking the Fourth Commandment. We get angry at our neighbour who does evil against us and we don’t help our neighbour in need, breaking the Fifth Commandment. We do not love and honour our spouses as God commands or hold marriage to be God’s gift to us, breaking the Sixth Commandment. We do not give to everyone who begs of us, and we demand our goods to be returned to us if someone has taken them away, breaking the Seventh Commandment (Cf. Luke 6:30). We gossip about the sins of others and hurt their reputations instead of putting the best construction on everything, breaking the Eight Commandment. We are not content with what God has given us, but we want what our neighbour has, whether it’s his house or his wife, breaking the Ninth and Tenth Commandments. No, we do not love God with our whole heart, nor do we love our neighbours as ourselves.

To top it all off, even if we did all these things perfectly, Jesus says “When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:10) Even if we loved God with all our heart and our neighbours as ourselves, we still wouldn’t be doing anything great or grand, but only what we are supposed to do and have been commanded to do, and we would still be unworthy. If we are unworthy when we obey, how much more unworthy are we when we disobey?

Our sins are really the same as those of this sinful woman of the city. Maybe we hide them better so that the whole city doesn’t know them, but our sins are just as filthy in God’s eyes and require the same forgiveness that Jesus gives.

Just like this woman of the city, our sins are already forgiven. Jesus said that she was showing this love towards Him because she has already been forgiven so much. Even so, Jesus once again told her, “Your sins are forgiven,” and “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Jesus once again absolved her of her sin.

She came to Jesus because she was forgiven. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair because she was forgiven. She poured expensive ointment on Jesus’ feet and kissed them despite the thoughts of those in the house because her sin was forgiven. Yet Jesus once again absolved her of her sin.

So also we continuously need our sins forgiven. Even though our sins are already forgiven, we continuously need to hear God’s absolution. Even though your sins are already forgiven, if you need to hear it personally, confess your sins to your pastor and in the stead and by the command of Christ, he will give you Christ’s absolution. Even though your sins are already forgiven, continuously come to the Lord’s Altar and receive the true body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of all your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

There is no sin for which Jesus did not die. Regardless of what some self-righteous Pharisee thinks; regardless of what the town thinks; regardless of what onlookers think, Jesus died for your sins and they are forgiven through absolution and through receiving Jesus’ true body and blood. That is where you get the benefits of Jesus death on the cross in your place. That is where you receive forgiveness of sins whether or not society agrees that what you’ve done is horrible, and whether or not the whole town knows what you’ve done.

He who is forgiven much, loves much. The more we recognize our sin, the more we realize how much we have been forgiven, and the more our hearts are filled with love for Jesus and the salvation He has won for us. The more we realize that we are forgiven, the more we want to receive that forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper, and the more we want to hear, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Peace Be With You

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter based on John 20:19-31

Dear disciples who have peace: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Peace be with you.” These are Jesus’ first words to His disciples after His resurrection. The disciples had abandoned Him. They had fled when the going got tough. One of them had denied Him verbally, but they all denied Him by their actions. They did not believe the women’s words that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas gets a bad rap and we call him “doubting Thomas,” but all the disciples doubted. They had all lost their faith in Jesus and were hiding behind locked doors out of fear. And Jesus showed up in their locked room and said, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus did not come to them to berate them. He didn’t come in anger and demand explanations from the disciples for their lack of faith. Jesus came to the disciples to give them peace. He came to calm the turmoil going on in their hearts. He came to them to comfort them in their fear and sorrow. He came to show Himself truly to be alive.

Jesus showed them His wounds – the wounds by which He earned them peace. He proved to them that He is bodily, physically risen from the dead. Jesus showed them His wounds by which they are healed and have peace with God.

The disciples have peace with God because Jesus faced the wrath of God for them. Jesus drank the cup of the wrath of God in their place. The anger of God was all directed at Jesus, not the disciples, so the disciples have peace.

If you are still looking at God as an angry judge, you’re still looking at Him wrong. If you expect God’s wrath to be poured out on you after you have fallen into sin, you still have the wrong picture of God in your mind. Jesus came to His disciples who had miserably failed, and He did not come to them in anger or wrath. He came with peace. “Peace be with you.”

This is not to say that God does not discipline His children. In fact, Scripture tells us the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives (Prov. 3:11-12; also cited Heb. 12:5-6). Scripture tells us that those who are left without discipline are illegitimate children and not sons (Heb. 12:8).

God’s discipline of His children is not to punish us, but is to correct us and is for our good. God’s discipline quenches our sinful desires and kills the flesh. His discipline yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness as it turns us away from our sins and gives us peace through the forgiveness of our sins (Heb. 12:11). His discipline is not the same as pouring out His anger and wrath on us even though it is painful rather than pleasant. His discipline is an act of love, just as an earthly father disciplines his child out of love for the good of his dear child. God the Father’s anger was poured out on Jesus, so we will never face the anger of God over our sin.

Jesus’ first order of business after giving the disciples peace was to send them to give that peace to others. Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Jesus sent the disciples to forgive sins, thus giving peace, because there is peace in every heart that has received the forgiveness of sins.

And do not misunderstand withholding forgiveness to be out of anger or wrath. This too is done out of love. Withholding forgiveness from someone living in sin is for the purpose of turning them away from their sin. Jesus commands forgiveness to be withheld, not because He is angry or wants to send sinners to hell, but because He wants sinners to turn from their sin and receive forgiveness. Jesus wants sinners to have peace.

The disciples understood the need for peace – they themselves had been in desperate need. They were in hiding behind locked doors out of fear right at the moment Jesus made them apostles by sending them to forgive sins. They were cowering without faith one minute, and being sent by Jesus to forgive sins the next minute.

The comfort of this is that absolving sins isn’t effective because the minister has great, strong faith. Absolving sin is effective because Jesus sends His ministers to forgive sins. Jesus tells His ministers to absolve repentant sinners and to retain the sins of the impenitent. It has nothing to do with the person of the minister himself – it is the command of Christ, that is why it is just as valid and certain even in heaven as if our dear Lord dealt with us Himself (SC V). Jesus commands it, and so it is, even if your minister just came from cowering in fear and doubt behind locked doors.

Of course the peace that Jesus gave to His apostles meant that they did not stay in hiding behind locked doors. The peace Jesus gave them meant that they were no longer in fear for their lives. In fact, the apostles went into the Temple to preach the resurrection of Jesus to exactly those Jews from whom they had been hiding.

The book of Acts (4:1-22) tells us that because Peter and John preached in Jesus the resurrection of the dead, the exact same council which had condemned Jesus for blasphemy and brought Him to Pilate for crucifixion had Peter and John arrested. Annas and Caiaphas and the council threatened them and told them to stop speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus. The apostles were thrown into jail since they refused to stop (Acts 5:17-18), but an angel of the Lord released them from prison during the night, and they went right back into the Temple to teach.In response to the threats of the council they simply responded, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

The disciples were no longer afraid. In the face of threats and opposition, they only prayed for more boldness to keep preaching the peace of God because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Because of the peace that Jesus had given them, they were not afraid of death. Jesus had proved to them and to all of us that He is stronger than death. He has defeated death by His resurrection. We do not have to fear death. Death is but a slumber from which Christ will awaken us.

You have peace. You have peace in spite of illness and death. You have peace in spite of the endless wars the world wages. You have peace in spite of your sin and you have peace in spite of the war waging within your heart. You even have peace in spite of receiving God’s discipline.

You have peace because Jesus was wounded for your transgressions. You have peace because Jesus rose from the dead and has promised you that you too will rise. You have peace because Jesus still sends His ministers in His stead and by His command to forgive you your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.