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Easter 5 2021

Easter 5 2021 Cantate

Psalm 98

May 2, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


“Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.”  So begins Psalm 98 which served as our introit this morning.  If you remember the Introit is the Entrance hymn of the Divine Service proper, a hymn that is taken from the Psalms.  The purpose is to announce the theme of the day with the particular emphasis on the antiphon, the opening and closing verse.  Every Sunday has its own Introit, its own unique theme, and many Sundays are named after the Introit. And so today is called Cantate Sunday, or “Sing” Sunday.  On this the 5th Sunday of Easter, this Introit from Psalm 98 puts us in harmony with the whole Easter message that the Lord has done marvelous things. He has made known His victory over sin and death and revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. 

And so as God’s people, we are called to sing, to make a joyful noise to the Lord!  Because God loves singing! Singing is part of who we are. There is a quote sometimes attributed to St. Augustine, “He who sings prays twice.”  This is why the book of Psalms is often called the prayer book of the Bible, or sometimes even the hymn book of the Bible. 

And so we sing a “new song.”  We join our voices with the Church of God throughout the world and even throughout time.  Even just the songs we sing today range from 500 years old to about 50 years old. Some were composed in German, in Latin, in English, one even in Swahili. Our song joins with the song of every saint from every age, the new song of Christ’s holy people, joining the Word of God to melody. The Gospel is a new song, a radically different voice from all other human cries.  That’s why in church we don’t just sing any kind of songs or in any kind of way. This is the main thing that separates the church’s song with the world’s. The Church’s song is based on God’s Word, it is a prayer of praise, of thanksgiving, of supplication, of proclamation repeating back to God what is most true and sure. With psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs we joyfully confess all that God has done for us, declaring the praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.  As we join our voices to the new song to the Lord, we sing of His revealed righteousness that comes when He works by His right hand and bares His arm, of Him working salvation upon the cross and by the power of His resurrection. 

What wonderful and picturesque language we have in this song – God’s right hand and His holy arm.  This is language found throughout Scripture.  Consider the latter part of Isaiah carries the dominant theme of the return of God’s people after the Babylonian captivity, of rescue and delivery to God’s kingdom.  Several times in Isaiah there is reference to God’s “arm,” a metaphor often used for salvation and in connection to God’s holiness.  The image of God’s arm, which is first used in Scripture in the context of God delivering His people in the Exodus, was in this way being applied to their return from their exile in Babylon.  In each case, the salvation of God’s people is brought about by the flexing of God’s muscles, as it were, in the public sight of the nations of the world.

But ultimately, the revelation of God’s righteous rescue in Exodus and from the Babylonian captivity is setting the scene for something greater.  Psalm 98, and thus our continuous song, find its ultimate fulfillment in the literal hands and arms of God Himself pierced by nails and laid bare upon the cross.  This salvation is very specific in respect to time and place. God has become incarnate only once. Only in Jesus Christ has God become man.  Only once has the price for our sin been paid.  God saves us by the forceful intrusion of His holiness into history, His right hand and His holy arm that works salvation for Him.  It’s the revelation of God’s arm taking charge of a fallen creation and yanking you ought of the grip of sin and from the power of the devil. 

The substance of the Gospel and our great need for rescue out of our sinfulness is not some theory about God or even some set of standards by which we are to live.  The Holy Spirit takes what is Christ’s and declares it to you. God’s salvation is not something that is simply announced but a produced reality.  The Word actually works, the implanted Word which is able to save your souls.  In saving, God truly does certain things, “marvelous” things, and He reveals His righteousness to the nations by His right hand and His holy arm He works salvation.

Notice that – to the nations!  This good news isn’t just for you but for the world. God wishes the whole world to join in singing the new song of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.  The Psalmist first directs our singing to God and then has us sing to others.  The Psalmist even calls creation to join in the praise, for as Romans 8:19 says that creations itself waits the final day or redemption. When that day comes and the Lord returns on the Last Day, all effects of sin will be gone and the created realm will enjoy the new heavens and the new earth. 

Consider this today in the rest of the songs that we sing both in why we sing and what we are singing and what your singing confesses to the world.  If you come to church and you dredge through a song and act bored and keep looking at your watch waiting for it to be over, why would anyone ever want to be a Christian.  But when you take the Word of God upon your lips with the faith that great in our midst is the Holy One of Israel, that the Lord Himself is your strength and your song, the music stirs heart as the Word stirs the soul. Music that carries along the Word which speak God’s Law and Gospel and express our faith’s response to the salvation God has worked in Christ Jesus. He remembers His love and His promises to His people and He acts upon it! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

St. Mark, Evangelist 2021

St. Mark, Evangelist 2021

Isaiah 52:7-10; 2 Timothy 5:5-18; Mark 16:14-20

April 25, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


Today we commemorate the festival day of St. Mark the Evangelist.  John Mark, who served as a missionary along with Paul and Barnabas, also served so with Peter.  Very early on in Christian history it was the near unanimous tradition that Mark’s account of the Gospel is what he learned from Peter before the apostle’s martyrdom in Rome.  It was said that Mark finished his earthly services to Christ by serving as a bishop in the great city of Alexandria, Egypt, where he ultimately died a martyr’s death.

Special days like this are not observed for the glorification of any person but as occasions for thanking and praising God who did wonderous things through men to build and preserve His Church. Our thanksgiving is directed to God for the work of this saint, especially for recording God’s Word and the good news of salvation through Christ by means of his Gospel account.  The Gospel is not simply a message of individual salvation for you and me, but first and foremost the story of Jesus Christ and His disciples.  Mark is the shortest of the four Gospel accounts and the fastest paced.  It provides a beautiful picture of Christ as the conquering King, who battles and drives out the enemies of the God’s people, culminating on the cross.  A good portion of the account takes up the Lord’s suffering, death, and resurrection. It has been called a Passion narrative with a preface. It tells us how the Lord went about doing good, how He attracted to Himself some disciples.  It tells us of the work He did, the words He spoke, His miracles and parables.  The point is the reign and rule of God in Jesus Christ has come in power, but also in hiddenness in humility and lowliness.  The goal of Jesus’ ministry was to serve, not to be served, and to give His life as a ransom of many.  The true revelation of the Son of God was at the cross, where He gave His life, and in His bodily resurrection.

The Gospel with its wonderful account of the Passion and the glorious Easter message speaks about the source of the continuous life of the Church.  Today we heard from what is sometimes called the long ending of Mark. It speaks of the Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and then to the Eleven Disciples.  We heard of Jesus instructed His disciples to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation and then of His ascension to the right hand of God. 

Just as the disciples did not immediately see Him clearly and had only His promise, so we all and all Christians do not see Him and His kingdom fully now.  It’s through hearing the Word of God that the Holy Spirit calls a person to faith, so that they believe and are baptized and saved.  It is difficult to be faithful on the basis of the word alone. The disciples are testimony to that fact. 

We want to be confessors of the faith. We want to be faithful, to stand firm on the Word of God, to be faithful followers of Christ, not ashamed of the Gospel.  But it sure would be easier to endure if we could see some proof or sign. If only we had been there when Jesus walked the earth.  If only we had wonderous miraculous signs.  If only we had been there on Easter.  It would be so much easier! 

But Mark reminds us that if you had been there, it would not be have been any easier than today.  What you have is what the disciples and the woman at the tomb had, also on that Easter morning: you have the promise of God’s Word, the Word that endures.   Yet His promise is always sure.  There will be a full revelation of the glorious, risen Christ, but for now we can only believe the witness of the Word.  It’s through hearing the Word of God that the Holy Spirit calls a person to faith, so that they believe and are baptized and saved.

So we give thanks to God for St. Mark, for driving home the point again and again that this is no dead story nor a mere record of past events.  This Good News is the source of the present life of the Church, the body of Christ. The best way for us to commemorate St. Mark is to ask ourselves whether, as the body of Christ in this place, we are experiencing the living truth of what St. Mark describes. Are we true disciples? Do we love Him, follow Him?  Do we hang upon His every word eager to hear more?  Have we read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested what God has caused to be written concerning His Son Jesus Christ?  Do we live in the realization that by our Baptism we were admitted into the body of Christ?  Do we rejoice that as Jesus appeared to His disciples in His resurrection glory that He still reveals Himself to us through His Word and Sacrament and makes Himself known? 

Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God, but He is not absent from His Church. Though we cannot see the Lord in the same way as those first disciples, we are still His disciples as truly as those of whom the Gospel account tells.  Learn to love the Lord and follow Him, to pray, to seek Him where He promises to be.  The kingdom of God is still in our midst.  The essence of the teaching and preaching of Christ for Mark as well as for us is the inbreaking of the kingdom of God by the King Himself!  The Son of God is still going about doing good. Baptisms are still being done wherein a person is washed clean, snatched from the hands of the devil, and welcomed into the Kingdom. The Word is still being proclaimed which rebukes unbelief and hardness of hearts, and offers the free forgiveness of sins.  The Holy Supper is again and again realized among us every Sunday.  The Lord still works with and through His people. For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Easter 3 2021 - John 10:11-16

Easter 3 2021 Misericordias Domini

John 10:11-16

“Here I Stand” Commemoration Sunday

April 18, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


It could have all ended the evening of Thursday, April 18, 1521. The sun was beginning to set on the city of Worms. The heat was stifling in the packed room of the bishop’s palace where emperor, electors and German princes all waited with anticipation to hear the answer Martin Luther would bring. Would Luther recant? Would he take back what he had written and said against abuses in the church and against papal tyranny?

It was asked of him, “Do you or do you not recant your books and the errors in them?” If Luther were to recant and admit that he was wrong, all would be well before the emperor and the Roman Catholic Church. On the other hand, if he did not recant, his own life would be at risk. He could be burned as a heretic.

This was it: recant or stand firm.

And so Luther responded: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen” (LW 32:112–13).

At this bold confession, the room erupted in noise. Some rejoiced; some demanded fire! Yet, in the midst of such commotion, the truth of Jesus Christ rang forth. The gates of Hades had not prevailed over the confession of the Gospel. The proclamation of justification by grace through faith on account of Christ’s work alone did not bend to spiritual tyranny.

On this third Sunday of Easter, sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday, the same week of the Church Year in which Luther took his stand at Worms, it stands to reason that the same Epistle and Gospel readings we heard today were fresh in the mind of the reformer. The passage from John where Jesus says that He is the Good Shepherd no doubt granted comfort and strength as he took his stand on the Word of God as the foundation of the Christian faith and life. 

At Worms, Luther held fast the confession of his hope without wavering. He refused to be moved from his teaching except by the Holy Scriptures’ correction.  He was happy to let his sharper or exaggerated statements fall away.  But he could not discredit those writings that had rested on the Word of God because in the Scriptures we hear the voice and promise of the Good Shepherd, of Christ Himself — He who promised, who alone is trustworthy. 

Does this have some practical application for us today?  You bet it does!  The Gospel is under attack in our day and age as it was 500 years ago, and maybe even more. Where do we take our stand?  Where do you take your stand in your daily life?  Who do you listen to?  Do you conform to the words of the world?  Do you cave to the daily pressure to simply accept the sinful lies of transgenderism and homosexuality; of the cold-blooded murder that is called abortion; of the evil and the antichristian ideology of socialism; of evolution as the rejection of God’s creative will; and the list could go on and on. 

Repent.  Recant of your sin. Remember your confirmation vows, “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?  I do, by the grace of God.”  Remember the words of Hebrews 10:23–25: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  And when you find this too hard for you to do, too tiring, too complicated, too much, know that it is only by the grace of God, by the grace of the Good Shepherd who laid His life for you, has brought you into His flock and calls you by name and who keeps you faithful.

On Good Shepherd Sunday we are reminded what the Church stands for and what it stands on: Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the certainty of peace with God and eternal life in His name. Whatever political power struggles, social and ethical debates, or humanitarian disasters we must engage, our mission and existence does not begin or end there. We preach Jesus Christ crucified and raised for eternal salvation, by whom God justifies through faith alone by grace alone. That is the center and focus of the Holy Scriptures, to which every other scriptural truth in its own place also leads.  The Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep and relentlessly pursues them, calling them into the one flock under the One Shepherd. In them we hear the voice of our Good Shepherd, who gathers us together as His flock, the Church. As Luther would later famously state in the Smalcald Articles, the Church is simply “Holy sheep and believers who hear the voice of their Good Shepherd.”  For it is only through the Word of God that sheep can hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, that they may know Him and be brought and kept into the flock of Christ. They hear, listen and discern His voice with faith. 

We stand in the footsteps of Martin Luther 500 years later to the very day. We do not stand on Luther, but we will gladly stand with him, firm on the testimony of the Holy Scriptures to confess the saving Gospel of Christ, our Good Shepherd, who died and rose, in whose name is forgiveness of sins for all people. Our Church’s purpose today is the very same as it has always been: to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, to hold fast to the confession of Christ, to stand firm on this Word of God because it is the only comfort our consciences can find that profits eternally.  We stand boldly, proclaiming the One who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. We stand boldly, renouncing the devil and all his works and all his ways. We stand, by the grace of God, steadfast and ready to suffer all rather than fall away. We stand boldly on the sure testimony of the Holy Scriptures alone as the source and norm of faith and life, to repent of sin and pride, and to trust in our Good Shepherd for the forgiveness of sins. In today’s cancel culture, the Gospel of Christ cannot be cancelled, not even the gates of hell can overcome Christ, and Christians need to stand firm before God Himself but also before the world, “Here I stand! I can do no other, may God help me. Amen.”

Easter 2 2021 - 1 John 5:4-10

Easter 2 2021 Quasimodo Geniti

1 John 5:4-10

April 11, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


What a joy to have a baptism today just a week after Easter.  What a fitting time as well. A week after we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we have a child of the congregation united to Jesus’ death and resurrection in the waters of holy baptism.  St. Paul says in Romans 6, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:3-5). On this Second Sunday of Easter we are reminded that life proceeds from Life, the risen Christ leads to the risen Christian born of water and the Spirit nourished by the life-blood of God Himself, who in turn testifies to risen Christ.

Think back to the events we commemorated just a week ago, of Good Friday and Easter.  Jesus had been crucified, He had given up His Spirit and hung dead upon the cross.  The Jewish leaders, intensely concerned about the scriptural law, at least where the Passover was concerned, asked Pilate to break the legs of Jesus and the two criminals. They wanted to speed along the process of death and avoid the negativity of having the bodies still hanging on the cross during the Sabbath. The soldiers discovered that Jesus was already dead, so they didn’t break His legs. Instead, a soldier jabbed a spear into His side confirming that He was dead. 

On that day, a wound was opened in Jesus’ side, and blood and water poured forth from it. A fountain was opened for us. A fountain of blood and water that didn’t mean death, but life. A fountain of holy blood and holy water that would give birth to the very Bride of Christ. A fountain that would provide everything needed to “wash [your] robes and [make] them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). A fountain that would finally, eternally, crush the head of Satan and reconcile the whole world to God.

When God created Adam, He determined early on that “it [was] not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), so He set out to make a helper fit for man. He had created all manner of animals, and He brought them to Adam to see what he would name them. But none of them was a suitable helpmate. So God put Adam into a deep sleep and did a little surgery, taking a rib from Adam’s side from which He created a woman, Eve. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23).

From a wound in Adam’s side, the bride of Adam was made for him: a suitable partner; someone he could be with for his whole life; someone for whom he could give of himself; someone he could love and cherish; someone with whom he could share joy and companionship.

Because of a wound in Jesus’ side, the Bride of Christ has been made for Him: a suitable partner; someone who will be with Him forever; someone for whom He had already given of Himself; someone He loves and cherishes; someone with whom He shares joy and companionship.

You are that Bride. God has called you into the Church, into a community of believers who make up the very Bride of Christ by means of your baptism. God has enlivened you out of the wounds of Christ. St John writes in 1 John 5:6, “This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.” This refers to the testimony of Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion, which revealed the love of God and accomplished His will for your salvation.  And so from His pierced side from which flows water and blood, the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper take their beginning – the means by which God enlivens and maintains the life of Christ in the Christian. 

By baptism for the remission of sins you are relieved of guilt.  Every remission of sin after Baptism is only the renewal of the grace given in those blessed waters.  It’s the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit since by Baptism we are incorporated into the living body of Christ. Christ comes to the Christian not only by the water, but by the blood.  “The water of baptism is sanctified through the blood of Christ. Therefore it is not plain water; it is water stained with blood because of this blood of Christ which is given to us through the Word, which brings with it the blood of Christ.  And here we are said to be baptized through the blood of Christ, and thus we are cleansed from sins” (Luther, AE 30:314).

But there’s even more.  To maintain that life, Christ feeds us as newborn infants who crave the pure spiritual milk with his own blood. Life is in the blood.  The offering of blood through sacrifices in the Old Testament was intended to symbolize the offering not of death, but of life.  We need not only the new birth of water, but also the need life. This is what Jesus expresses in John 6 when He says that to eat His body and drink His blood is the appropriation of life.  The blood is the life, the life of the risen Lord, and receiving the blood we abide in the living Christ and He in us.

So you see, water and blood, baptism then the Lord’s Supper, flow from the pierced side of Jesus. A Christian born and sustained by the life of Christ Himself.  The water and the blood do not come to us except by the work of the Spirit, who is in the Word. So these three cannot be separated. The Holy Spirit creates the risen life in Holy Baptism and nourishes and strengthens it by the eating and drinking of heavenly food in the Lord’s Supper.  This new birth and new life imparted by the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood is the continuous testimony to the Son of God.  This is why we sometimes confess these words during the Communion liturgy, words from 1 Corinthians 11:26, “As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  In giving us His body and blood He leads us to remember and confess His holy cross and passion, His blessed death, His rest in the tomb, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and His coming for the final judgment.  God testifies within every believer to the truth of His Word concerning His Son. 

This is what we prayed for in the Collect for today. “Almighty God, grant that we who have celebrated the Lord’s resurrection may by Your grace confess in our life and conversation that Jesus is Lord and God.”  How have you done that this week?  How will do that this coming week?  Giving witness in your Christian life to the One who is the Life of the World, and by your faith a conqueror the world. 

Palm Sunday 2021 - John 12:12-19

Palm Sunday 2021

John 12:12-19

Return to Joy

March 28, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


Throughout our Lenten season this year, and into this coming week, we have considered a common theme in our midweek services, “Return to the Lord.”  After missing the opportunity to gather in public worship most of Lent last year, and after even missing our typical Holy Week and Easter traditions, this call to return to the Lord is an important one and a meaningful one.

We are reminded of that as we enter into Holy Week on this Palm Sunday, that the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Today is a day of joy as we sing “hosanna” along with people all over the world in celebration of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, of the Lord who returns to us. The Gospel of John tells us that the crowd which had gathered to see Him, had heard how Jesus had brought Lazarus back from the dead.  People were following Jesus around and you can bet they were wondering what sort of sign and miracle He might do next.  Many people had believed in Him because He could even raise the dead. There was a lot of anticipation about who Jesus was and who He would be.

It didn’t matter what group a person was a part of. It didn’t matter if they were rejoicing for the right reasons or the selfish and self-serving wrong reasons.  Nobody in the crowds saw the cross coming at the end of that week.  Nobody recognized that parade as the long-prophesied and purposeful procession to Calvary.  Everyone celebrated Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem without a clear view of His purpose: to die for the sins of the world and be raised up again on the third day. 

Whether they were crying out “hosanna” for the right reasons or not, everyone along that route still wound up devastated and shell-shocked six days later.  Everyone looked on the arrest, the abuse, the mockery, the shame, the crucifixion as total failure and defeat.  Nobody saw God’s Word and promise being fulfilled amidst all the darkness and blood and mockery.  Nobody saw the serpent’s head being crushed in eternal defeat.  Nobody saw victory, even though the Victor Himself declared victoriously, “It is finished” before bowing His head and commending His spirit into His Father’s hands.  

Even the very faithful ones who were crying out their loud hosannas for all the right reasons, were still just as terrified and devastated six days later when life took a terrible and unexpected turn towards Golgotha.  Think of the faithful women, who were undoubtedly part of that Palm Sunday procession, who would hurry out to the tomb one week later, with the goal of anointing Jesus’ corpse.  Instead they are met with the question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is risen, just like He told you He would.” They didn’t get it.  

Even the disciples didn’t get it at the time. Our text says that they “did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him” (John 12:16).  Even after the women come to tell them the Good News about Christ’s resurrection, they don’t believe it.  St. Mark tells us in his Gospel account that Jesus appeared to them the evening of the resurrection, and He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw Him after He had risen (Mark 16:14). 

And truth be told, we’re no different either. You’ve heard the promises of God. You’ve followed Jesus around and listened to His teaching.  And still, you have some doubts, some concerns, even some fickleness.  Now, I’m not inviting you to identify with the Palm Sunday crowds not the crowd that would later demand to crucify Jesus nor even the disciples locked away in the upper room.  But to return to the Lord in repentance and in faith.  

Holy Week keeps you honest.  You don’t have to pretend that everything is great, that it is all parades and excitement.  God doesn’t promise that you’ll have it easy, nor that you’ll be healthy, wealthy, and wise. There’s no good to come by pretending that just because we’re able to come back to church after missing last year that everything is all good and fine.  All creation still suffers the effects of sin.  The cross comes before glory, suffering before the resurrection.  But God does promise to strengthen the weak, comfort the mourning, heal the brokenhearted, to be present in every time of need.

“We know that God is at his best when life is at its worst. Our hope is not built upon our job security, our health and welfare, our physical comfort, or our income. All is not right with the world just because God is in his heaven. No, all is right with the world because God was on the cross—because God himself died on that cross on Calvary, paying the penalty for all of our sin and rebellion” (Hal Senkbeil, Triumph at the Cross)”

Palm Sunday is a high point, but also a turning point as Jesus’ opponents go after Him.  Suffering comes before glory and death before the resurrection.  While today is a day full of joy, and looking to the joy of Easter in one week, it also includes the seriousness of what happens in between. Serious, yes. Reverent and somber, yes.  Joyful, yes, though not the fleeting feeling of happiness to which it is often confused, but the overwhelming sorrow over sin and confidence that God’s great love for you is displayed in the cross of Christ.

While we begin a transition today into Holy Week, the seriousness over the events of Jesus’ passion should not rob you of the joy. The hymns we sing are full of joy and praise to Christ, cries of hosanna, “Save us now” matching the shouts of Hosanna God’s ancient people.  This was a plea to God for deliverance.  But in the mouths of those witnessing the very salvation fulfilled in Jesus, hosanna is transformed into praise. You know what it truly means for Jesus to save.  The prayer for deliverance has been answered, the promised Son of David has come to save. The praise doesn’t fade, for He would in humility rode in is not only the crucified Christ but also the risen Redeemer.  Our joy, our songs of praise will never cease.  You are to make a confession of faith that Jesus rode on in full knowledge that by His death He triumphs over sin and death. You are to make the bold confession that three days later He rose.  You are to make the confession that He lives and reigns still today and look forward to His glorious return, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting. 

Rejoice over Jesus for the right reasons this Palm Sunday. Return to the Lord in worship this Holy Week.  Return to make confession of your sin and to behold Christ crucified for your forgiveness.  Return to see the empty tomb. 

Lent 5 2021 - Genesis 22:1-14

Lent 5 Judica 2021

Genesis 22:1-14

March 21, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


This morning we heard in the Old Testament reading the familiar story of Abraham being called by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Now, Isaac was the very son that had been promised to him for years.  If you remember, God had promised that Abraham was going to be the father of many nations, that his descendants were going to outnumber the stars in the sky.  Even more, one of Abraham’s descendants would be the Messiah Himself. Abraham was 100 years old when God finally made that promise flesh and brought Isaac into this world.  It was from this son—this promise in the flesh—that the Messiah would come into the world.  Abraham believed this.  And yet… God is now commanding something crazy and horrifying.  He’s commanding Abraham to put this same son to death!

It’s hard to swallow sometimes.  How could God ask something like this of Abraham? If it was all just a test, doesn’t it seem kind of cruel?  Sometimes this very passage is used by critics of Christianity to try to turn God into some kind of monster who would demand child sacrifices to prove faithfulness. Or maybe it would even point to divine child abuse.  But this misses the entire point of what is actually going on here.  Part of the point is to show us something about the nature of God’s promises.  In fact, over the next two weeks we enter into the final stages of Lent, this time called Passiontide, which is all about the depth of God’s love, the lengths that He would go to see you spend eternity with Him. This account of Abraham and Isaac tells us much about the promises of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Abraham heard the word of God, he believed/he trusted the word of God, and he obeyed.  But what exactly did he believe/trust in? The writer to the Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 11:17-19 that he believed in the resurrection, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”  We even hear Abraham proclaim this resurrection faith when he tells his servants to “wait here, and we [the boy and I] will go and worship and then WE will return.” Abraham wasn’t lying in order to not raise suspicions.  He was telling the truth.  That he and Isaac would return together.  And it’s not that Abraham had some blind generic faith that believed that God would do something on that mountaintop, but he didn’t know what that “something” would be.  Rather, it was a very specific, focused faith on God’s promise that his offspring that would outnumber the sands of the seashore and the stars in the sky would come from Isaac.  God said it many times over the course of 25 years, and Abraham trusted God.  If God told him to kill his son, Abraham fully believed that God would raise him from the dead, because Isaac still had children to bear.  God’s promise could not and would not die with Isaac on that mountaintop.  

As Abraham was poised over his son, knife in hand, the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and stayed his hand. Now, when you see the phrase “angel of the Lord” this a reference to the pre-incarnate, eternal Christ.  This is what Jesus was talking about to the Jews in the Gospel account when He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus is claiming to be God Himself, the Great I AM, the One who made the promises to Abraham in the first place concerning Himself. 

And so as Jesus calls out to Abraham and commends His faith, Abraham’s lifts up his eyes and looks and sees the ram caught in the thicket by his horns is a foreshadowing of Christ with His crown of thorns.  He is showing Abraham what God Himself will do through His only Son, the One through whom the promised is fulfilled.  This ram is sacrificed in the place of Isaac just as Jesus is sacrificed in the place of all the sons of Abraham. 

Remember where they are.  The land of Moriah where God leads Abraham to take his son is where Jerusalem and later the temple would be built. It is on this mountain that Israel would offer the sacrifice of atonement for sins every year in the temple’s holy of holies.  It’s upon this mountain that the Lord would provide the sacrifice for all sins, once and for all.

So you see, this whole account foreshadows Christ.  Abraham believed that God’s promises would not die upon that mountaintop in the sacrifice of Isaac, nor the sacrifice of Jesus.  For our God is the God of the living, not of the dead. It is by His death of the only begotten Son of God, the Son in whom all things are promised and find their fulfillment that death is defeated. Jesus makes clear that He is the One whom Abraham waited for, the fulfillment of God’s promise to him that “in your offspring shall all the nation of the earth be blessed…” (Genesis 22:18).   Abraham longed for and rejoiced to see the day of the Lord fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah.  He saw it and rejoiced.  He named the place “The Lord will provide” not “The Lord has provided.”  He names this place in this way not just because God did provide, but also because He will provide.  Abraham saw more than the reprieve of Isaac. By faith he saw the promise of Jesus. And he rejoiced.  So should we.  God doesn’t hold back.  We should rejoice in the death of Jesus because it is by His death that Abraham and Isaac live.  It is by His death that we live.

On the mount of the Lord it will be provided.  What is this mountain called?  Zion.  There’s a reason why our congregation is named this, because this is where God meets His people, where God provides for His people.  God does not withhold His Son from you.  He does hold back from providing for you.  Believe like Abraham.  May Zion Lutheran Church always been the mount where the Lord provides forgiveness, peace, comfort, security, strength. 


Lent 4 2021 - Acts 2:41-47

Lent 4 Laetere 2021

Acts 2:41-47

March 14, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.”  So writes St. Luke in our text from Acts 2.  This account comes right after Peter’s Pentecost sermon and the faithful response to hearing the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  These four aspects of the Christian life – devotion to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of the bread, and prayers – were part of the daily life of those early Christians, a description of their life together in Christ. 

This should make us stop and think about what we are doing here.  Why are we here week after week? Our common life under the Word of God starts with common worship at the beginning of the day.  Our days and weeks revolve around Sunday, where we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of the bread, and prayer.  But it doesn’t just exist here, or at least is shouldn’t. What really does our life together in Christ mean?

The world finds it hard to articulate just how or why the church has any role to play other than providing a place to fellowship with other individuals who have a private relationship with God. The whole last year has confused the world even more.  Without faith, it doesn’t make sense to physical gather around where Christ promises to be when there is technology that can be used to connect virtually.  Without faith, the common life shared by Christians extends as far as convenience and opportunity, but not as an essential necessity of life.

Many, even within Christianity, think of the church either as a place where individuals come to find answers to their questions or as one more stop where individuals can try to satisfy their consumerist desires. Too often we treat the Church like a club that we can belong to, a group of like-minded people.  And then when it gets boring, or tiring, or we hear something that offends our sensibilities – or dare I say, a fear of illness – we look for the greener grass on the other side of the fence.  As the prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 53, “We like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, every one, to his own way, but the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” 

But being a disciple of Christ, being part of the Church of God in Christ Jesus is not like being part of a club.  It’s being part of the flock of sheep under the care and guidance and protection of the Good Shepherd.  As part of that flock, as part of that family, we then share in all that have, the good and the bad and the ugly, because that is what families do. Christian fellowship is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we participate.  It is a gift of God that we cannot claim, but only receive.  This is because our fellowship, our life together, stems first and foremost, last and finally in Christ. When we receive the Gospel of Christ, we have the abundant life and common unity of the entire flock under one Good Shepherd, in “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship” and in “the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42), all of which takes place under the Cross of the crucified Christ and in the life of the resurrection.

Our life together under the cross will remain sound and healthy only where it does not think of itself or make itself into a movement, a society, a club, but only where we understand ourselves as being part of the one, holy Christian and apostolic church, where we share actively and passively in the sufferings and struggles and promises of that church.  A true understanding of the Church of God shapes our identity, our purpose, our efforts, our life. The word “church” in Greek literally means an assembly. The church is the assembly of God’s saints, sinners redeemed by Christ, in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered.  So, why do we Christians assemble? To get from Christ what He wants us to have. The goal of Christianity community, of fellowship, of life together is to be in the presence of Christ Himself, and to meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation, coming only through Jesus Christ, for in Christ God Himself has taken on our flesh to have fellowship with His creation. 

Luther once wrote a wonderful little tract on this topic where he said, “This fellowship consists in this, that all the spiritual possession of Christ and his saints [i.e., believers] are shared with and become the common property of him who receives this sacrament [of the altar]. Again all sufferings and sins also become common property; and thus love engenders love in return and [mutual love] unites” (LW 35:51).

What do we share? What finally brings us together and holds us together? Jesus. The result is that we are unified in the one body of Christ through faith, grow together in the grace of God, that we share in the commonalty of the will of Christ, that we praise God with one heart and one voice, turning to Christ for forgiveness and life which He bestows through Word and Sacrament, being in fellowship with one another, and a beacon of light to the world. 

Do you remember what the result was of the first Christians in worship and life together?  The rest of the world noticed them! The fact of the matter is your Christian life ought to be noticeable, others ought to see Christ in you.  People ought to look at us Christians and wonder what we are doing and why. At times, this will bring ridicule and criticism, just like it did to Jesus, just like it has to the Church of God throughout the ages. But the Holy Spirit also is at work gathering people into this Church through the faithful reception of the Word, by means of baptism, adding to our number day by day those who are being saved.

Christ, through His Apostles, set the pattern for us.  This is how He takes care of His Church.  By His Spirit, we cling tightly to the teaching of His Word.  We keep the fellowship by steadfast faithfulness to His teaching, and to one another.  He feeds us in His most holy meal at this Altar.  He comes among us in this Divine Service, He hears our prayers as we cry out to Him.  By the grace of God, let us continue in these things, because in them is Christ and our salvation.