Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

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Ash Wednesday 2017

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Why place ashes on our foreheads?  It’s an old, old Church tradition that carries with it an important symbolism.  By placing ashes on our foreheads, we enter a visible state of repentance, knowing what God said after the Fall into sin: “for your are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).  The ashes signify our complete inability to save ourselves, and our faith that the death of one man, the Lord Jesus Christ, brought us the life we had lost.  Join us Wednesday, March 1st at 2 PM for the imposition of ashes.

The evening of March 1st, our regular schedule of Wednesday night Lenten Vespers begins with our service at 6:30.  We begin by looking back at that Garden where mankind fell, but always in light of the promise of One who would restore life in the fruit of his blood.

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Feasting with God #4 – Prepare a Feast for the Coming King

Feasting with God #4

Prepare a Feast for the Coming King

Luke 22:15-18

15And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  16For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”  17And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.  18For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

Last week we read about the institution of the Lord’s Supper, in which we are given the forgiveness of sins.  In Luke’s Gospel today we see another portion of that institution, when Jesus speaks with his disciples in what must have been a very sad tone.  He knows that this is the last time he will eat the Passover with his friends, and the last time he will drink wine with them, “until the kingdom of God comes.”

The day before Jesus died, he and his disciples were celebrating the Jewish festival of the Passover, which was a remembrance of the time in Egypt when God sent the angel of death to kill all the firstborn in that country, but those who spread the blood of a lamb according to God’s command on the doorposts were spared, and the angel “passed over” their houses (Ex. 12:1-51).  Now it would become connected to the fulfillment of the Passover, when the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, would cause eternal death to pass over all who believe in him.

But there is yet more.  This meal was to be a sort of good-bye party for Jesus.  His disciples were all gathered around, and although they refused to acknowledge it, they had heard Jesus tell them over and over that he was going to die very soon.  As with all good-bye parties, the loved ones gathered around are saddened at the separation to come, but look longingly and hopefully towards that time when they can be reunited.

This is what Jesus meant when he said, “From now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  He was telling his disciples what to look for, what to wait for – to wait for his return.  And the Church has waited and waited for two thousand years.

We still wait.  We do not wait with despair, but we wait because we hope, and because we know that Christ will do as he promised: he will return.  The anxiousness is almost too much to bear, so that we hope for him to come now, immediately, post-haste so that we can see him and be in joy and glory with him!  But we must be patient, for he will come in his appointed time.  In this patience, we prepare.

Rather than sit idly throughout these ages, we have things to do.  Jesus asked his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).  We have the task of telling others about him.  We have the task of worshiping together, of reading his Word, so that we can be strengthened and ready when he comes.  But we have also been given a gift to help us prepare.  This is the gift of that same Supper.  We eat this feast in the Church together as a preparation for the coming of the King.  As we partake of it now, we eat with the saints who have already gone before us into heaven, and we remember Jesus’ words that he will come again.  Eating this Supper, we look back at what Jesus has done to save us, but we also look ever forward at when he will come back.  It strengthens us and feeds us on our journey through life until we reach heaven, and when Christ comes, we all will have another, wondrous feast, a feast of glory, a feast fit for a king.

O Jesus, come in glory now, fulfill our expectation.  We hold our faith which you endow, through joy or tribulation.  We eat this very feast you gave, with your own blood that us did save, and praise you for salvation.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #3 – Forgiveness in the Meal

Feasting with God #3

“Forgiveness in the Meal”

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Matthew 26:26-28

26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

For almost two whole millennia people have been partaking of the blessed meal known variously as the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, and the Sacrament of the Altar.  This sacrament Martin Luther described as “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself, for us Christians to eat and drink” (Luther’s Small Catechism).  Yes, we eat bread and wine in this meal, but also, through a miraculous means that we cannot understand, also the body and blood of Christ.  We Lutherans are accustomed to saying that the body that we eat is the very body born of Mary, and that the blood that we drink is the very blood shed on the cross.

The Church has been mocked for its entire existence on account of this meal.  The Romans used to persecute those in the Church for being cannibals, for they heard that Christians would eat a baby in their secret worship meetings.  But despite the ridicule of centuries, Christians still eat the body of Christ and drink his blood.  Why?

Jesus’ own words give us the answer: “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  Forgiveness itself is given to us in this meal!  The blood of Christ, which justifies us – “we have been justified by his blood” (Rom. 5:9) – this very same blood is now given to us where we can see it, feel it, smell it, and taste it.  It is fed to us so that it becomes a part of us, nourishing our souls even as worldly food nourishes our bodies.

And notice as well that we did not take this blood.  Blood is taken by murderers and executioners, such as when Cain murdered Abel, and Abel’s blood was “crying to [God] from the ground” (Gen. 4:10).  Blood taken unjustly highlights the sin.  How many murder weapons haven’t been found with the blood still on them?  To be “caught red-handed” is to be found with the blood of your victim still on your hands.  But the blood of Jesus is different.  We already had blood on our hands.  Our sins stained us from the moment we were conceived, and like layers of grime only grew thicker and thicker as we continued through life.  We by nature are red-handed murderers, sinners and rebels to God.  Our very inmost thoughts are only selfishness and evil against him.

Jesus Christ’s blood became the universal solvent, cleaning that grime of sin away more quickly than the fastest-acting soap.  That blood and that body are given to us as a gift in this Supper of our Lord.  What a gift!  And certainly it is worth all the ridicule of the world.

Lord Jesus Christ, as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, let us remember your death and the shedding of that blood, by which you freely gave us the forgiveness of every one of our sins.  Help us to see that we daily sin much, and much need the forgiveness you give, so that we can learn better to put our full trust in you and in your promises.  As you promise to give us forgiveness in this holy meal, let us come to it with joy.  Continue to give to us your promised forgiveness.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #2 – O, Give Thanks

Feasting with God #2

“O, Give Thanks”

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Romans 7:24-25

24Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Every year we come back around to this day, this holiday known as “Thanksgiving.”  Every year, I have also heard the discussions: What does this holiday really mean?  Is it just a day to stuff our faces and get sick with what we eat?  Is it a day for family and football?  What are we really giving thanks for?  Whom are we really giving thanks to?  For Christians, the answers to these last two questions are really one and the same.

In the first place, we do indeed see the feast that is spread before us and our loved ones, and we thank God for providing for us bodily.  Without God to provide food, no one could live.  God is “he who gives food to all flesh” (Ps. 136:25), to man and animal alike.  When we give thanks, then, we recognize God working in the world to care for us, and we are grateful for it.

But this is not enough.  Even the well-fed will die.  Remember the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus: poor Lazarus who couldn’t even get scraps from the Rich Man’s table, and the rich man “who feasted sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19).  They were very different in life, and yet when the “poor man died,” the “rich man also died” (Luke 16:22).  The same end awaits us all: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades” (Is. 40:6-7).  But there was a difference yet between Lazarus and the rich man, and here is where we find the other reason to give thanks.

The apostle Paul also saw the death that surrounded him, the death that awaited him, and the death that was in him.  His very sins he felt weighing him down, dragging him closer and closer to hell.  This is where the rich man ended up.  Because his concern in life was only for his fleshly reward, only for the food that would fill his belly, the rich man condemned himself.  But Paul here seeks rescue from that fate: “Who will deliver me?” he wonders.  “Who will save me?”  And yet he answers it immediately: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  He knows that through his faith in God he has grasped the salvation won for him by Christ Jesus.  Lazarus also could not rely on himself, but trusted completely in God’s providence.  Because of that faith, Lazarus was delivered into heaven by the angels.  Because of that faith, Paul saw how he was saved from his body of death.  Because of that faith, we, too, are saved from the death of our souls on account of our many sins.

And Paul’s answer is every Christian’s answer to those two questions: “Whom are we really giving thanks to?”  “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  “What are we really giving thanks for?”  “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  We thank God and Christ for the salvation won for us by God and Christ.  this is the essence of true Christian Thanksgiving.

Thank you Lord, God, Heavenly Father, for all you provide for our daily living and well-being.  Thank you for the food and drink you give us to nourish our bodies, the air we breathe, the homes in which we find shelter, the family and friends with whom we find comfort and joy.  And even as we thank you for our daily bread, we thank you also for your spiritual care, in that you sent your only Son to die for us, that whoever has faith in him may come to everlasting life, which you also provide for us freely.  Continue to provide for us, as you have always done.  We ask this in the name of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #1 – Praying for God’s Blessings

Introduction:

This weekly series of devotions will seek to nourish the soul of the reader as food nourishes the body.  Each week, based on a specific text of God’s Word, we will delve into how God feeds our spirits through that Word, feeding us forgiveness, life, and salvation.  From the blessing of food in the Garden of Eden, to the feast of the Passover, to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, to the heavenly marriage feast of the Lamb in his Kingdom, God seeks to satisfy our spiritual hunger.  So we ask all to join us, feasting with God.

Vicar Michael G. Lilienthal

618px-Grace1918photographEnstromFeasting with God #1

“Praying for God’s Blessings”

Psalm 145:15-16:

15The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Every family has its own tradition of table prayers.  Some families pray what is called the “Common Table Prayer,” which begins, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest….”  Others pray some translation of the Psalm text above.  Still others pray, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts….”  Whatever the tradition of the family, these table prayers are the means by which we ask God to bless the food we are about to receive.

What does it mean for our food to be blessed?  No, it’s not a magical incantation that somehow makes the food more nourishing to our bodies.  This blessing means so much more than that.  Because of our sinful natures, our whole lives have been corrupted by sin.  Everything we do, even our good deeds, are tainted by our innate sinfulness, so that even those good deeds are considered sins, as Isaiah writes that “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Is. 64:6).  As sinful beings, everything around us is sinful, everything we do is sinful, and everything we take in is sinful, including the food we eat.

But looking to God, we can see where our salvation comes from.  This psalm says, “You satisfy the desire of every living thing.”  In one sense this means that, whatever every living creature needs to survive in its daily life, God provides it, as the Creator and Preserver of the universe.  The hunger of each being is not satisfied by anything other than what God provides.  But in another sense, we can understand the keen desire of God’s creation, being broken and corrupted in sin, to have salvation brought to it.  And that, God satisfied.  Paul wrote to the Romans, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves…groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23).  Creation groaned for its salvation throughout history until the satisfaction came in the form of a literal birth: a child born in a stable, who then grew up performing miracles and never sinning, and ultimately who died on a cross, suffering the pains that our sins deserved.  And he rose again to lead those who followed him into a new life that never hungered again.

Because of our faith founded on Christ, all the corruption of sin in us and around us is sanctified, made holy.  Now, doing our good deeds in faith, they are no longer sins but true good deeds.  Now, although this world is still sinful and continues to harm us, the things we eat are nourishing our bodies and our souls.  Therefore we pray God to bless our food the same way we ask him forgiveness.  We pray it knowing that he provides, knowing that he opens his hand.  And so we have the blessing of food given by God, and the forgiveness of our sins, salvation of our souls, and new life in his Son.

Come now to us, Lord Jesus, and bless us with your presence.  Be a welcome guest at our table and in our lives.  Help us to realize that the gifts you give us of food and nourishment are truly blessings from you, as are the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of our eternal life after our death.  Bless these physical gifts also with your grace so that we may grow in our holiness and thankfulness to you.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.