Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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

Tag Archives: spiritual life

Feasting with God #56 – “Drinking My Tears”

Feasting with God #56 – “Drinking My Tears”

Text: Psalm 42:3-6a

“My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.”

Life is hard.  Bills to pay; money to earn to pay the bills; hours to work to earn the money to pay the bills.  And that’s just the difficulty of material things.  What about the difficulties of emotional distress?  What about depression, anxiety, and everything in-between?  And what about the difficulties of interpersonal relationships?  What about friends who are distant and unable to help, and enemies who are near and seeking actively to harm?  Or what about those oblivious people who are even nearer that aren’t actively seeking to harm you, but by their ignorance do more damage than enemies?

Amid this life of pain and tears, of dullness and apparent meaninglessness, the question is asked, not just by your enemies, but by your own soul, “Where is your God?”  Where is God during trial and hardship?  Why does God allow suffering?  These questions have tormented people for millennia.

This song of Psalm 42 sings of a memory amid suffering:

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

The memory of the singer is a sweet one, when he would dance in front of the mass of thousands of worshipers coming into God’s house, singing songs of praise to God, all eager and excited to come and worship, to receive the spiritual blessings of God.  The memory’s sweetness serves to make the current situation—he is away from the festivals of praise, he is suffering, he is surrounded by enemies and tormented by them—all the more bitter.  But the memory also serves to encourage him:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Remembering the worship, the hymns he sang, the singer who suffers now encourages himself that he “shall again praise” God.  He recognizes that the situation of suffering in which he finds himself now is temporary, fleeting.  He had a foretaste of the eternal joy and glory he would experience when he worshiped.  The hymns he had sung told his soul that he would sing hymns of praise to God in heavenly bliss.  “Even in this life, we as Christians will travel showing that our citizenship is in heaven, that we’re bound for the promised land.  The Bible pictures our earthly life like a camping trip.  We are just tenting here as Israel did for forty years.  We are waiting to be free from the vanity of this prison house.  Therefore our hope and confidence are not based on how large our tents are here but on the fact that heavenly mansions are waiting for us.”[1]

Remember your worship when you go home.  Remember the hymns we sing, and the joyful message of salvation that they sing to you, melodiously providing the hope of your eternal life when you will sing to your Lord in heavenly bliss.  Let the notes of song lift you above this terrible existence, this foul campground, and provide you a glimpse of heavenly bliss.  Your God has become your salvation in the person of Jesus Christ, who died, taking all our bitter tears into himself, and rose into life amid the joyous song of angels just as we will rise into eternal life to join that angel song.

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand.
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises I will ever give to thee. Amen. (ELH 262)

[1] Gaylin Schmeling, “Our Citizenship is in Heaven,” From Wilderness to Promised Land (Mankato, MN: Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary Press, 2012), 114.

Redeemer Report 1.6 (February 2015)

Read the Church Newsletter Feb 2015 here!

Redeemer Report 1.5 (January 2015)

Read the Church Newsletter Jan 2015 here!

Redeemer Report 1.4 (December 2014)

Read the Church Newsletter Dec 2014 here!

Epiphany – After the Twelve Days of Christmas

January 6th is the festival of the Epiphany.  In our liturgical calendar, the next few Sundays are called “Sundays after Epiphany,” to observe this celebration.  While Christmas is a familiar holiday, however, not many recognize what Epiphany means.

The word “epiphany” comes from Greek, and means “manifestation.”  In this holiday, it is recognized how God manifested himself, or made himself present and visible to the world, in the person of Jesus Christ.  We can define the difference between Christmas and Epiphany by saying that Christmas celebrates Jesus as True Man, while Epiphany celebrates him as Very God.

In some parts of Christendom (specifically the Eastern Churches) Epiphany is regarded as the actual celebration of Christmas.  There are several reasons for this, but perhaps the most compelling is that while Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth, Epiphany celebrates his revelation to the world and the beginning of his ministry and work.  Christmas is his birthday, while Epiphany is his coronation.  Epiphany, in fact, is closer in relevance to the average human population than Christmas is – Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds are really the only ones directly affected by Christmas.  Epiphany meant that God had come to fulfill his promised work of salvation.

There are several little epiphanies celebrated during this season.  Historically, the first “epiphany” is the coming of the Magi or the wise men to worship Jesus.  They were the first from the broader world to see this God-Man, and actually to bow down before him, recognizing his glory and power.  Other epiphanies include when Jesus was presented at the temple and Simeon sang his famous song of thanks to God for sending salvation, when Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and the Father declared him publicly his Son and endorsed his mission, when Jesus performed his first miracle and demonstrated his divine power to the wedding guests at Cana, and when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain before his disciples so that they could see his divine glory.

All of these epiphanies and more are designed to bring proof to the world that Jesus is God made Man, that he is the promised Messiah and the Christ, and that he is the Savior of the world.  After seeing what this season and this holiday is about, can you fail to recognize its blessed significance?

At Redeemer this season, we celebrate on January 11th the Baptism of Jesus, on January 18th and 25th the calling of disciples by God, on February 1st and 8th the miracles of Jesus, and on February 15th the Transfiguration.

Feasting with God #7 – What Comes Out of the Mouth

Feasting with God #7

What Comes Out of the Mouth

(Fountain for ceremonial hand washing before entering a synagogue)

Matthew 15:17-20

17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  20These are what defile a person.  But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.

One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year is to lose weight, or to eat healthier.  Many people are very concerned about what they eat, because they know how different nutrients affect their bodies.  In Jesus’ day, there was another idea about the food one takes into his body, and the way he eats that food.  The Pharisees and Jewish leaders had very strict regulations about how a person was to take his meals in order to live the holiest life he could, to cleanse himself of sins, to purify himself.  But Jesus told them and his disciples that what goes into a person’s body makes no difference spiritually.  It is what comes out that defiles.

Since Adam and Eve fell into sin, all humanity is corrupt through and through.  Because of sin’s beginning, we cannot help but sin.  We are full of sin.  This is what Jesus means when he says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.”  We wash our hands before we eat to avoid ingesting harmful bacteria and materials.  But what really needs washing is our hearts, our very souls.  The most deadly bacteria lives in our veins.  This sin that has become a part of our very existence will not only cause us to die and leave this earth, but it causes us to die eternally, forever separated from our heavenly Father.  This sin, which festers in our hearts, manifests itself in actions, words, and thoughts that are harmful to ourselves and others, and omission of actions, words, and thoughts which would be helpful to ourselves and others.  Because our hearts are so filthy with sin, everything we do becomes sin.

It is easy enough to wash our hands.  We have water and soap: simple things to find and use.  But how can we wash our hearts?  The answer, again, is water, but water and the Word.  Through baptism, which takes the Word of God and applies it to the water, our hearts are washed clean of sin’s impurities, and we are given forgiveness, new life, and the salvation that Jesus Christ won for us on the cross.  Jesus’ heart was never corrupted by sin, and he never committed an evil act.  Yet he suffered the punishment for the sins all of us committed – he suffered hell’s torment.  When we are baptized, we receive faith in him which is what takes ahold of what he won: perfection.  Yes, while we live on this earth we still commit “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander,” and other sins.  But because of our faith in Jesus and what he has done, because our hearts are washed clean, we face no punishment, but rather reward.

Dear Lord Jesus, continue to come to us through your Word as you came to us in our baptisms.  Let our hearts each day be made pure toward you, prepared to leave behind our sins and go forward in the doing of good works in your name.  Let us rely not on ourselves or on our own abilities which are themselves corrupted by sin, but let us rely instead on you and your Word of promise.  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 #6 – Laid in a Manger

Feasting with God #6

Laid in a Manger

Luke 2:1-7

1In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  3And all went to be registered, each to his own town.  4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 

Nativity scenes are common around this time of year.  Made of wood, ceramic, felt, or other materials, we place them on our mantles, on our coffee tables, or under our trees.  Sometimes we have people dressed as the various characters in the Nativity – three wise men bearing gifts, a few shepherds with staffs and stuffed sheep, perhaps an angel or two, and Mary and Joseph with a baby doll in a manger.  It is indeed a picture that says “Christmas” even better than a fat Santa Claus in a red suit.  But do we really understand the significance of this baby that was born and placed in a manger for his crib?

A manger is a feeding trough.  It would have been a soft bed for the Christ-child because of all the hay that rested inside it, but that hay was there for the stabled animals to eat.  Parents nowadays will usually go on a shopping spree to find just the right crib for their newborn – one that’s safe, soft, and built to last.  Mary and Joseph couldn’t find any good bed for this child.  Perhaps Joseph, as the carpenter that he was, had been working on a crib for Mary’s soon-to-be-born son, but that would not have been part of their packing for this trip to Bethlehem.  So they had to settle with what they had, and what they had was the feeding trough of barn animals.

More than anything this demonstrates the humility of God becoming man: not only did the Almighty lower himself so much to become a full human being, but he became one who was willing to sleep in the lowliest of places.  But this would only be a foreshadowing of the deep humility of his that was to come.  Jesus Christ was to live a complete human life, and in that time be hated by men, betrayed, arrested, tortured, and executed like a slave or a criminal.  He was to do all of this purely out of love for us, so that we could be saved by believing in him.

That humility could be seen beginning here, where he slept in a manger.  But there’s another way to look at that manger.  It was humble, yes, but it was also the greatest gift available for Mary and Joseph – and indeed for the animals in that stable – to give to their God made flesh.  What gifts are we really able to give to God, who already has everything?  He has given us salvation, and what do we give in response?  Only things as insignificant as a barn-animal’s feeding trough.  But because these gifts are given out of love, and out of thankfulness to that God who gave us everything, our gifts are in his eyes as glorious as feasts.

Dear Father in heaven, on this Christmas Day we remember and celebrate the birth of your Son who humbled himself to become a man, to live and to die for us.  Lead us to see what a great gift we have been given, and lead us to thank and praise you for it.  In that thankfulness, enable us to have truly giving hearts, hearts that give to one another, and especially give to you.  In your Son’s 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 #5 – Bread from Heaven

Feasting with God #5

Bread from Heaven

Exodus 16:11-15

11And the Lord said to Moses, 12“I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel.  Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”  13In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp.  14And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground.  15When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.  And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

“What is it?” asked the Israelites – in Hebrew this question would have sounded like, “Manna?”  Hence, from that time forward, Israel referred to this miraculous bread from heaven as “manna” (Ex. 16:31).  Its name is quite telling.  “What is it?”  It is unknown, incomprehensible, incredible, miraculous.  What else can we call it but “what-is-it”?

Of course, we do not currently receive this miraculous bread provided by God.  Nevertheless, we do receive our daily bread from him.  How easy isn’t it to fall into the same pattern that the Israelites did?  Their God had miraculously rescued them after inflicting Egypt with ten plagues, divided the waters of the Red Sea so that they could pass by on dry land, and led them in the form of a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.  But now Israel began to grumble: “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt!” (Ex. 16:3).  How often don’t we see the occasional pangs of hunger rather than the countless blessings we receive?  Do we know better than God?  We so often do exactly what Israel did, and instead of thank God for his blessings, we complain to him about what we don’t have.

But nevertheless God is merciful.  Even as Israel complained, God “heard the grumbling of the people of Israel,” and provided for them.  He does the same for us.  Even as we grumble and complain about the injustice of God for not giving us what we want, he continues to give us what we need to live.  And more than this, he has given us already the very thing we needed for our spiritual survival.  As the manna was sent down from heaven into the wilderness, so into the wilderness of this world where “there is none who does good, not even one” (Ps. 14:3) the true Bread of Life came down from heaven to feed our souls.  As the Israelites could daily go out and gather the food they needed to live out of God’s providence, so in his Son God gave us the one who said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).  We hunger in our bellies, but God fills us with even greater things than earthly bread, filling even our souls.

So we can continue to call upon God, and beg him to provide for us.  The Israelites complained out of the wickedness of their hearts, and yet God provided for them.  How much more won’t God provide for us when we cry out to him in faith, knowing that he can and will give us what we need?

O Lord, as we come to you often complaining and burdened by the wearisome things of this world, do not turn away from us in anger, but hear our complaints and provide for us, as you have done, and as we know you will continue to do.  Provide indeed our daily bread which we need to live in this life, but even more so, provide our spiritual nourishment, which you give us through faith in your Son, the true Manna from Heaven.  Through his name we pray in confidence.  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 #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.