An Ordination Sermon

One of my friends was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry a few weeks ago.  Here is the sermon, preached by Pastor David Petersen.  It was a High Delight to hear an old friend preach at one of the Holy Spirit’s festive days.  Congratulations, James and God’s blessings in Christ as you lead the church to her Holy Groom.

Rev. James Ambrose Lee Ordination

Trinity Lutheran Church Worden, Illinois

John 20:19-23

September 26, 2012 A+D

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Aquinas thinks that the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body is a necessary antidote to the forbidden fruit. Our first parents brought terrible misery upon us by eating. Fruit, meant for knowledge, was abused and taken by force, bringing guilt, need, and death down upon us. Our Lord responds not merely by taking these things into Himself, substituting His law-keeping for our law-breaking and His innocence for our guilt, but also by providing His very Body as Food to replace that which we stole and to undo its effects. His Body removes guilt, satisfies our hunger, and bestows life.

In some ways, His Body gives what was falsely promised to Eve: it makes men like God. There is irony here to be sure. Men lusted to be like God. So God, to fix the thing we broke, took up what we despised.

All the Greek myths, by the way, can be understood in this way. Man goes awry when he seeks immortality. Icarus wasn’t meant to fly. That was reserved for the gods. Pandora wasn’t meant to open the box but chafed against being merely human. And wasn’t Eve’s lust also partially for knowledge that only God should have?

Perhaps the Greeks better perceived the natural law than we thought, or, as descendants of Noah, they retained a confused version of the truth.

We lusted for God. We wanted to be immortal and above the Law. So He took up that which we despised: mortality, weakness, hunger. He became a Man, a creature, born under the Law, that we might be elevated and be like Him. Do we not now know, in Christ, both good and evil?

So Eve gets what she thought she wanted, the object of her temptation. It is bit like David keeping Bathsheba. It certainly seems wrong. Uriah is dead at David’s hand. David’s son is dead for David’s guilt. But he gets his cake and eats it too. He keeps Bathsheba. He gets, in a sense, what he wanted. That is more than kindness. That is high injustice: that, however, is grace.

The Body of Jesus given in the Sacrament gives precisely what we tried to steal from the tree of knowledge. We are like God because God is more than like us: He is one of us. He has a Body and He has Blood and in it He unites us to Himself.  We reap not only where we did not sow, living in houses we did not build, but we get the inheritance by killing the Son. That which we sought to steal is declared a gift. We are welcomed into the family of the Holy Trinity.

It is no wonder the Romans thought we were hedonist cannibals and atheists. We wanted to become gods so god became a Man and declared us His sons and His Bride for killing Him.

Put your feet up, baby, it is Christmastime. Welcome to the happy insanity that is Christianity. I was listening to Johnny Cash sing the little drummer boy on the way here. The song is high on schmaltz, to be sure. But consider for a minute how unusual a piety Christians have that they can write such songs. A dirty little boy can approach God almighty and give Him a worthless gift without fear and even with the correct expectation that God will accept it. The Muslims don’t write any such songs about Allah. This is a distinctly Christian ability and it is because our God has made Himself a Man precisely that we might approach Him. He is not angry with us despite our sins. He forgives us. David gets to keep Bathsheba. This is the happy insanity of Christianity, of grace.

In any case, I think Aquinas is on to something with the connection between the Sacrament and the Fall. And I wonder if the character of the Fall isn’t also seen in the institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry. Death sent an ambassador into the garden, an angel in the form of a snake, who beguiled Eve with clever lies and false promises to tempt and seduce her. The living God responds by sending ambassadors, called angels in St. John’s revelation, into the wilderness of our exile to speak the Truth and proclaim God’s promises, not only to expose the lies of the devil, but also to break the bonds of temptation, to reconcile rebels to their God, to declare them righteous and welcome them to the feast in the garden. Men were seduced by words to eat. Men now are called by words to eat and live.

All pastors sent by God as anti-devils, undoing with words what the devil did through words. Perhaps that is why the primordial and creative breathing is repeated in the Upper Room. Ash Wednesday’s curse is not quite true. We returned to dust in the Fall but God rebreathes live into us again through the Apostolic Ministry. What is breathed into them but the new Adam which they breathe out again in preaching? Dust we were and to dust we returned, but the Holy Spirit comes and revives us again through preaching and absolution. The preachers undo the lie, undo death, by telling the truth. They remove the curse by proclaiming the promise, and their words are carried on the breath of the Holy Spirit. That is why preaching leads to the Sacrament . The devil lied and pushed Eve into the thorns through eating. The pastors tell the Truth and take Eve by the hand, gently leading Her to the Life of God in His Blood.

So that is your charge, James: tell the truth. Lead the Bride to the Supper, to the Bridegroom. Undo the curse. Breathe the Holy Spirit out upon dusty men in need of Good News and Life with God. And God will be with you even as in you He will be with them.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Rev. David H. Petersen, Pastor – Redeemer Lutheran Church Fort Wayne, Indiana

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September’s Newsletter Article

It is a testimony to the grace of God that he chooses to use sinful men to be his ambassadors, his undershepherds.  I’ve often thought that there must be a better way to care and tend the sheep of God then to send a sinful lamb to lead them.  Of course, then God reminds me that his ways are not my ways and his thoughts are not my thoughts and that he is in charge of the church and not me.  The best way then – it’s to have pastors.  It’s God’s will that a man come to Our Redeemer Lutheran Church to stand in the stead of Jesus and at his command give the good news of heaven to the lambs of his church.

God’s good grace is seen and given to you nestled in the things of creation.  That is what your Lord is after all.  God has become a man.  He has veins and a brain, a fingerprint, and ten toe nails…  Your God is a man.  He uses water and bread and wine.  He bids that a man be sent to you with his message, with the explicit instructions to forgive their sins and to wash them in the blood of the Lamb.  A pastor must feed the sheep, care and tend for the flock, scrub behind their ears and make sure they are brought to the quiet waters of the sacraments.

I love it.  A flock of lambs, the beloved of God, his bride and holy stones…your head is Jesus Christ.  St. Paul would have you be imitators of Christ.  Give up your life for your neighbors and die loving those who hate you.  Its impossible.  You cannot by your own reason or even with every bit of your strength love anyone but yourself.  It takes the interjection of the God-man, Jesus Christ.  You need the Holy Spirit to whip you into shape.  Without Jesus you would be like the world, looking out for yourselves, storing up treasures of earthly stuff, and in the end loosing everything when you thought you had it.  The rich man feasted everyday, but in the end he had to look up from hades to see the beloved Lazarus.  It’s easy to curse and to hurt and to hinder.  It’s easy to ignore and to refuse to love.  Repent of your earthly pride and loose the bitterness of the world.

You’ve heard it said, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  Its human nature to dislike those that hurt you and to hold in your heart a grudge.  It’s easy to gossip and ruin a reputation and to trash those that are easy to walk all over.  But Christ Jesus says that his body and blood shed for you shatters the human nature.  In the cross of Christ every evil plan and purpose of your heart is broken and hindered.  “But I say, love your enemy and pray for those that persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44)

WHAT??!  Love your enemy?  Pray for those that hurt you and do all kinds of bad things to you?  Jesus can’t really be serious, can he?  How can we insist that people LOVE one another?  How can we insist that people stop speaking all kinds of evil and start loving and lifting up each other?

Jesus picked you.  He pours out his life-blood for you.  He dies in love for you.  In that death is life and salvation.  He dies and makes you a holy stone, a loving, lovely mini-Christ.  Together, you are a holy priesthood and a bride – without spot or blemish.  Our Redeemer Lutheran Church is all about this love.  You are a flock of mini-Christs, loving each other and loving the world.  You are called to be a light on a hill, to love those that persecute you, and to reach out to those that sit in this congregation with you.  We pray in the divine service, “We give thanks to Thee, Almighty God, that Thou hast refreshed us through this salutary gift (the sacrament); and we beseech Thee that of Thy mercy Thou wouldst strengthen us through the same in faith toward Thee and in fervent love toward one another; through Jesus Christ, our Lord…” (emphasis mine)

We must insist that love abound at Our Redeemer.  We love each other, every member, and we reach forth into the neighborhood and beyond with the love of Christ.  It’s time to end the gossip of our poisoned tongues and to hold each other accountable to the love, of which we know we have been made a part.  Love means forgiveness.  Love means reaching out to the lost and the missing.  We love because Christ first loved us.  AND he keeps loving us.  He loves us and sends his Spirit to call you back to the altar to give you rest and restoration in the shadow of his wings.  Come and be refreshed.  Be encouraged in the Word of God.  Eat and drink his body and blood.  You are a priest and a prince in the kingdom of God.  His good favor abounds, his grace is free and it is for you.

Oculi Sermon 2010

In the name of the Father and the +Son and the Holy Ghost.  Amen.  These are difficult times.  A house divided upon itself will always fall.  My friends and I used to play war when we were kids.  The basic tenant was always, “divide and conquer.”  And we knew that if you could divide, the conquering was easy.  And so it is that I’ve happened upon a family here at Our Redeemer.  A household of faith – a kingdom if you will.  Brothers and sisters have been born out of water and the Spirit.  The Church birthed them… many of you right here, if not in this room, then in Houston.  Our Lord Jesus has made you a member of himself in the Holy regeneration of Holy Baptism.  The finger of God has touched you.  You are called holy.  You are called righteous.  You are children of the most high almighty God.  Look at yourselves.  Look at your hands.  Hold them up before your eyes.  God has made for himself children out of creation.  He has made family out of humans.  You have become divine because of Jesus.

And yet it is the way of the human heart to call what is good “evil,” and we have all done it.  We have vilified those we disagree with.    We rarely call our opponent in politics, at the work place, at home, or in the Church “evil.”  But we have called them “closed-minded,” “hateful,” “legalistic,” “Pharisaic,” “stupid,” “racist,” and “liberal.”  And we’ve rolled our eyes.  Our intentions in all vilification, in arbitrary accusations, character assassinations, and plain old name-calling has been to make ourselves look good and to enact some vengeance, born of envy or anger, disgust or ignorance, but never of charity, on our opponents.  And we have allowed our brothers and sisters to become opponents.  We’ve made ourselves the judge.  We’ve relished our anger.  Repent.

Jesus was casting out demons.  The mute man spoke for the first time.  There should have been great rejoicing.  It was a sign from God.  It was a miracle – the mute man’s affliction was cast out and his voice returned to him.  But Satan wouldn’t allow it.  Some in the crowd hated Jesus, no matter what he did.  Their hearts were full of envy and rage.  They couldn’t stand or accept his good deeds.  So they called him evil.  They called him the prince of the dung heap.  They were saying, “Jesus is in league with the devil.”  Divide and conquer… and the joy evaporated like the morning fog.

Envy is never happy.  Anger is not easily satisfied.  They kept testing him: seeking a sign from heaven.  Were they blind?  Was not Jesus performing a sign from heaven?  Who casts the doubt?  Who demands a sign?  This is what the devil did in our reading two weeks ago.  In the desert he asked Jesus to throw himself down from the highest point of the temple.  “Force the angles to catch you.  Make your Father prove his power and his love.”  Is that what we do, too?  Are we forcing God to show his power to forgive us, even when we refuse to forgive… when we harbor anger, or let our envy grow and lust?  Are we forcing the angels to intervene?

Jesus would later say to this same crowd that an evil generation seeks a sign.  They refused to be satisfied and would not trust in Christ and his Word.  They demanded proof.  Jesus said he would give them the sign of Jonah… the sign of a man buried three days in the belly of death alive out of death to preach repentance and salvation to the nations.  That is the sign faith clings to—the sign of the cross.  Christ crucified and risen to save sinners, death spitting up its prey.

Still fallen men call what is good evil.  They attack God’s Word by calling it a human-created fiction.  They say Christians are intellectually foolish and psychologically weak, Christianity is an offense that should die its own death.  But God has chosen nonsense in the world to shame the wise.  God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God has chosen you, in his mercy, to be vilified with the Lord Jesus, to go the way of the cross.

The devil is obviously strong.  He has great power.  He is ruthless, and he is also clever.  He will stop an nothing to divide this family.  To see it conquered, he will throw any lie at us and he will whisper sweet nothings in your ear to trick you into hate, envy, and anger.  He wants there to be no joy here—and he is delighted when the angles stop rejoicing.  But our Lord Jesus Christ is stronger then the devil.  He exercises his strength not with spectacular power, violence, or deceptions, but instead he submits to all the devil has.  He lets the devil do his worst, bring his full power to bear, and he turns the other cheek.  He uses Satan’s strength against him.  It is not a surprise, it is exactly what the Law, the Psalms, and all the prophets foretold.  The devil knew.  He quoted the Word of God in the desert.  He has the Word of God memorized.  But in the end, he was a fool who could not resist the chance to kill God even though this is how he lost humanity.  Jesus did not use evil disguised as good, that is the way of the devil.  Jesus used good disguised as evil.  The unjust death he died, the innocent for the guilty is good.  The centurion’s conversion and the repentant thief are good.  The death of Jesus appeared evil but is the ultimate and greatest good.  It is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.

It was by a tree that the devil overcame the human race and plunged creation into darkness.  So it is by the Tree of the cross that the devil is overcome.  It was by death that Satan sought to steal away man’s glory.  So it is by the death of Jesus Christ that the glory of man is restored.  Satan is caught in his own trap, succumbs to the temptation, bound and defeated.  He was divided and conquered.  The strong man is out worked by the Stronger Man whose strength is not hatred and rage but love and mercy.  The war is over.  Satan is defeated.  Jesus is the victor.

The unclean spirits must be replaced with the Holy Spirit.  And those who have the Holy Spirit hear the Word of God and keep it and are thereby blessed.  Blessed are those whose wickedness has been covered and sins have been forgiven.  Blessed are those who confess what is evil as evil and confess what is good, even the Lord Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection as good.

You are such people.  For though you have called good evil and vilified your opponents and even your brothers and sisters… so also have you confessed your sins.  You are not a hypocrite.  You have not claimed to be anything other than a sinner.  Neither are you wicked.  For you do not call your sins good.  You confess them.  You call them evil.  You repent of them.  And you also confess the goodness of Jesus Christ, of his Holy Cross, of his power over death and the devil, and of his Holy Sacraments.  You expect and receive forgiveness.  You hear the Word of God and keep it, which is not to say that you obey it perfectly, but that you believe it, trust it, and you hope in it.  Jesus Christ is your Lord.  Satan has not divided you.  Jesus now bind you together into one body.  You are made one flesh in him who has come down from heaven.  Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy.  For unto you this day Jesus Christ has come to give you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Blessed are you.  The difficult times are made easy in the yoke of the Lord.  He is come.  You are his.  He is faithful.  He calls you by name.  He is faithful and today he does all things well.

In +Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

**Modified from a sermon by Rev. David Petersen, Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana and Rev. Richard Futrell Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Kimberling City, Missouri.

The Reverend Steven Thomas Cholak

A Sermon for Reminiscere – Matthew 15

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  It looks pretty grim.  They tell me this is a dying place.  The sun and its rays are hidden and the fierce darkness of Satan’s clouds are rolling in.   The rain is sure to fall upon our heads… The day is past, your prime is over, the excitement blown out when the clouds blew in.  Some say its the neighborhood or the gangs.  Some say its just because everyone has moved on in their lives.  Our Redeemer Lutheran Church waiting for its end… no youth, no excitement, no money.  What else is there to do?

Satan’s been lying in wait.  He’s been counting the days, to stir up within us terrible thoughts, as if God our Lord had rejected and forsake us.  His sly and cunning tongue whispering the nothings of destruction in the ears of God’s elect.  By a word he cast doubt in Eve’s ear and by misusing the Word of God he wills to convince you that trouble will reign in your hearts, in this place, among those gathered here… that you aren’t worthy of the things God has in store for you, that you don’t even belong to him.  “Heathen, Jesus came for the lost sheep of the house of Israel – you are nothing, dogs at best, mangy mutts to be kicked under the table.”

Yes, even the Lord Jesus would agree.  He gave the Canaanite woman the silent treatment.   He reminded her that he came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  He called her a dog.

The disciples were bothered by her continued pestering.  Send her away, Jesus, for she cries out after us.  Wailing and yelling she longed for the King of kings to cast out her daughter’s demon.  She wanted her daughter back.  She came to the creator of all things and called out again and again.  But he ignored her.  She was a Gentile.  He was a Jew.  He the King of the Jews.

You and I might have quit there.  He won’t answer.  His people are staring at me.  I’m uncomfortable and I’m not getting anywhere.  It isn’t going to happen anyway.  She’s been tormented for years… I’ve been looking for a job for weeks… The congregation is getting smaller and smaller… We’ve been hoping the cancer would go into remission…

We’re not getting anywhere.  We ask and ask and ask.  He doesn’t answer.  He says ask for anything and the Father will give it… but there is no answer.  We might as well just pack it up and go back home and quit there.

But, the difficulties in the way do not appall the Canaanite woman; she keeps only in view the object of her coming, and forgets that she is a heathen and he a Jew.  Her confidence and hope in Christ are so great that she never doubts his condescension.  Her faith cancels the fact that she is a heathen.  One without faith would never have acted this way, but would have concluded: It is of no use to present my request before him; I am in the clutches of the devil beyond all hope; let his own people come to him; them he will hear, but not me.

It is surely a severe and dangerous affliction when Satan comes and prompts the heart to despair of the mercy of God.  Rest assure the devil is at work to speak his lies to your hearts in this place.  You and I are his target.  He labors to convince us to refuse to pray to Christ, and rather to be ready to curse him… to think that all is lost and damnation sure… to think we are the heathen kicked under the table to be ignored by God and his Christ.

But she cried out all the more, “O Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Full of earnestness and faith she confesses with these words her faith in Christ as the Savior of the world.  And yet he says, “I came only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  And here her faith moved her like your faith has moved you today.  She worshipped him.  Casting herself to the ground she would not let him go.  “It is not good to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs.”  It was as if he said to her, “You are a child of the devil in every respect; begone, I will have nothing to do with you!”  It matters not what your problem, woman, be gone.  Stop pestering and leave me.

You and I cower and relent.  We retreat and stop asking… we decide he must have better prayers to answer, more important people to care for… and we go home.  And yet we learn a most startling thing; faith will not retreat.  It will not cower in even the most harsh of rebukes by the King of kings.  Faith takes hold of Christ’s words, even when they sound harshly, and changes them into soothing expressions of consolation.  She replies, Yes Lord – I am a dog.  Treat me like one if you like.  Give the bread to the children, and seat them at your table… only allow me to sit under the table and pick up the crumbs those children drop.  With those scraps I will be happy.  Taking the place of a dog she receives the privileges of a child.  And here, forced by his own words, Jesus gives in.

Satan would have us believe it is a dark and gloomy day.  But really it is the light of Christ that dawns.  The rays of God’s pure light make manifest what really is happening here in this place.  The Holy Spirit is creating faith in your hearts.  He is using the very Word of God come from heaven to create and sustain this faith – deep within the soil of your heart.  And this makes the devil frustrated because this faith reaches forth and grasps ahold of Jesus… just like this Canaanite woman’s faith.  It draws you to Jesus in your need.

Christ’s repulsive treatment of the Canaanite woman did not proceed from an unfriendly disposition towards the Gentiles, but it was his purpose to test and make manifest the faith of this woman, so that we might learn from her.  Jesus is so well pleased with this woman that he can no longer withhold his mercy and kindness, but tells her: “O woman, great is your faith.  Be it done to you as you desire.”

And so likewise he is please with your faith.  No longer stuck under the table eating the scraps that fall to the floor, Jesus commands that you come up higher and sit with him as he restores you in the forgiveness of your sins and gives you life and salvation.  He does this by his body and blood shed upon the cross.  This the Holy Spirit testifies to you and this your faith reaches out and grabs ahold of.  Jesus died upon the cross and now the devil’s trickery and lies have no depth.  The grave can’t hurt you and death has no sting.  For in the renewal of life, the Lord of life showered you with his blood, drowning the dog that was your old Adam and instead brought forth a new man – righteous before the Father and holy in his sight.  You are made new in the death of Jesus.  You are given new life in the resurrection of the flesh of Jesus.

Satan would have you believe this is a dark and gloomy place.  He wants you to stop praying for this congregation and to ignore its people.  The devil works overtime to make sure that there is division and strife among you.  But I tell you today – in your hearing – that Jesus, the Son of David, the Lord of life is here in this place.  Satan has no hold.  He is a liar.  But Jesus speaks the truth.  He is here and he has called this place holy and vibrant.  He looks out and sees brothers and sisters – not dogs – Children of God.  Angels are singing because of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church.  All the vault of heaven resounds because of this family.  Jesus is building you up.  He has made you alive.  Today he sets a table in the presence of your enemy the devil.  He sets it here for everyone to see.  Your faith is great – your sins are forgiven – come dear brothers and sisters and feast with Jesus and celebrate with God.

The day is now.  This is the day of salvation.  This is Our Redeemer’s prime.  Celebrate with Jesus.  The Father is celebrating because of you and because his Son has picked this people.  In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Our Redeemer Lutheran Church Houston

The Reverend Steven Thomas Cholak

Invocavit Wednesday Sermon

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.  —Romans 8:16-17

God would with the opening words of the Lord’s prayer (Our Father who art in heaven) invite us to believe that we are his true children.  Even the Holy Spirit testifies to the case – God has made us his own.  So that we may with all boldness and confidence use his holy name to ask him as dear children ask their dear Father.  But rather — what do we use his holy name for??  We call upon it in every unimportant moment and joke and curse with it upon our lips.  It was by this name that you were brought out of your old life and made a new.  It was by this name that you are marked and targeted by the devil.

True, God’s name is indeed holy by itself.  Without you or me – it is holy and it will remain holy despite our sinful nature.  But that it may be holy among us… holy upon our lips… holy in our use, that is what we pray here.  God has come to you and me when we did not want him in our lives, when we ignored him and ran the other way.  In our sin he stopped us in our tracks and showered his Spirit upon our hearts to make Christians out of the heathen.  This holy name he placed upon us and we were begotten in that baptism.  Begotten and birthed by our mother, the church.  A man must be born of the Spirit.  And born of the Holy Spirit you were.  He testifies with your spirit that God has made you an heir to the heavenly kingdom.  You are holy heirs.

Our Father gives us the kingdom.  We call him Father and he is ours because of that which he done to us.  The Blood of Jesus has washed you and made you a new Adam.  We have been transformed by the glory of Christ and by his blood we are made alive.  Not only alive, but forgiven.  And so the Father continues to give you these gifts of heaven.  He calls out your name and doles out the goods.  He looks out and sees his beloved and is delighted that he has picked you.

And so that name that is above every name has forced fruit to come forth from your branches.  Good works cannot be helped.  They are a natural result of the name that God has placed upon your head and that he wants you to use with your lips.  You are his witnesses and you will suffer because of it… but he has provisions.  There is nourishment for the war, and consolation for the weak of heart.  Jesus has won the victory.  Upon Calvary’s cross, he emptied his body of its life and died.  The Godman died.  You are bound to that death.  It is yours.  The water that was poured over your head and the blood that is poured down your throat have made that death yours.  And the life he lives in his resurrection is yours made real in your baptism.

Sin no longer has mastery over you, but rather it is defeated in the bread and wine here offered.  The body and blood of the King of kings has undone the power of the devil and has elevated you to the right hand of God.  Sons and Daughters of the Almighty Father.  It is real.  He is true to his Word, you are his and he is Our Father.  In +Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

Reverend Steven Thomas Cholak

Invocavit Sermon

Grace, Mercy, and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.  For forty days and forty nights it rained upon the earth.  Eight souls in all were in that boat.  As the rain began to come down, Noah and his family began to fast.  It would be some time before they would see the sunshine again, or to breath the fresh air as the wind carried it down the face of the mountains and across the valleys.  Forty days the rain came down and for forty nights, too.  It deprived them of everything they knew and loved and kept them locked up with all the animals.

Not a self-chosen fast, like “I’ll give up liver this Lent,” but a fast inflicted upon them because God counted Noah righteous.  Forty days and forty nights the rain beat down upon that boat as eight souls remembered their village, their friends, the green grass, and the warmth of the sun upon their cheeks.  They remembered the ridicule, the pain, and the violence that filled the earth.  Locked up by the Lord Himself because the Lord found favor with Noah.

Jesus was hungry.  Again, not a self-inflicted fast, but it was the Spirit of God that led Jesus to the wilderness.  For forty days and forty nights, He he did not eat.  A desolate place, alone without the niceties of life, away from everything that He knew and loved, led there to be tempted by the Prince of Darkness.  And when he was good and hungry Satan came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

But Satan didn’t get it.  Well, he thought he was punching Jesus when He was down.  You find the weak part in the armor and drive the sword straight through.  Tempt Jesus with food when He’s hungry, yeah that’s the way to go…and maybe, just maybe, He’ll take the bait and lose the war.  But Jesus’ answer was more devastating for Satan than he would ever know.  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”

In those Words, in that short little bit of preaching, Jesus’ fast was over.  “It is written,” Jesus said.  Man shall live by the words that God has written.  Man shall live by the bread that comes from God, that comes down from heaven, that fills our ears, our mouths, and our eyes.  It is the gifts from heaven that sustain God’s people.

Beware dear Christians, it has been a long fast.  Many years have gone by since we have walked with God in the cool of the Garden.  The Prince of Darkness has waged a long and dangerous war and each of you is his target.  Get the weakest link, take down the ones that are hungry, and carry away the spoil.  Too often this devil’s lies have found willing ears nestled upon our heads, his seduction an easy mark in our wayward hearts.

A fast has begun for us this past week.  Our alleluias taken from us.  No more “Glory be to God on High”…for forty days and forty nights…our lenten fast carries us outside the walls of Jerusalem to the bread that came down from heaven.  Each stop along the way eating up the Word we live by.  Nourishment for the war that is being waged upon us.

A bumper sticker, “Pray for peace!” it said.  Peace in our world, no doubt, peace that keeps soldiers from marching through Kabul…that keeps Twin Towers from falling…that cures cancer and dries each tear before they are formed.  Satan would tempt us even with a little bumper sticker.  Tempt us to forget about the Peace nestled within the Word of God and rather to turn to the desires of sinful men.

Temptation is always temptation to break God’s Word, to go against it.  God says, “Do this” or “Don’t do that.”  And the devil says, “Oh, come on now!  That is not practical.  You’re being a prude, old-fashioned, no fun.  Surely God didn’t really mean it.  And even if He did then it is only because He is holding out on you.  What kind of a God is He, anyway?  I thought He was supposed to love you.”  This is the way he attacked Eve in the garden.  It is the way he attacked Our Lord in the desert.  It is the way he attacks us here and now.  Eve could not bear the assault. Adam failed to protect her.  He, and she, gave in, and became children of Satan and you are the spawn of their loins.  But the 2nd Adam, the perfect Adam, suffered these temptations also.  And He did not fail.  He overcame.  He lived the perfect life of faith and with nothing more than the Word He drove the devil back.

So we pray for a different peace, knowing that bombs will still kill, and soldiers will still march.  There will always be hospitals…and those that die in them.  We pray for a peace that sustains and brings us through the lies and attacks of Satan.  We pray for the peace that brings us life and unifies us with Christ.  We pray for peace that is the Word of God.  The Word that we live by.  Christ, our fighting King, has succeeded where Adam failed.  He does not stand idly by as Satan and his legionnaires taunt you with their siren songs of destruction and death.  He intervenes.  He shields you, His beloved, but weak bride.  He protects and defends you.  He attacks those who would harm you.  He goes in your place, overcomes what you and Eve could not.  He did not need to do this for Himself.  He did it for you.  He removes death’s sting, the grave’s morbid victory.  The roaring lion who once terrified you is now but a barking dog with no bite.  His teeth, his claws have been removed.  He is chained to his own torture which will never end.  He cannot have you.  He cannot harm you.  For you have a Master, a King, a Benefactor, and a Protector.  You bear the Name He placed upon you in Baptism.  Thus you belong to Him, not just because He made you, but also because He bought you.

So be forewarned.  Be prepared.  Make yourself ready for warfare, ready for sneak attacks, and dirty underhanded tricks.  Make yourself ready by eating and drinking the provisions provided in His Grace, that which He has given and shed for you.  Open your ears.  Hear the Word of God.  Pray that He would strengthen and sustained you in the days to come.  Pray lest you fall into temptation.  And learn to pray once again, O Christians, the prayer He taught, the prayer He gave.  And learn to pray as the early Church so fervently prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!”

“And the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.”  In +Jesus’ Name.

Reverend Steven Thomas Cholak

Lent Starts This Week

This Wednesday we begin our journey to the Cross of Good Friday.  Our celebration at Our Redeemer will be marked with the imposition of ashes and holy communion.  (There will be two services – one at 10:00 a.m. and another at 6:30 p.m.)

It is interesting to me that the same cross that was placed upon the forehead of the baptized is retraced this Wednesday in dust and ash.  What is not seen on a normal basis becomes something seen on Ash Wednesday.  Marked by the dust of the earth, the very work and merit of Christ is made known for us – personally for each of us.  We feel the grit and the dust.  We see the cross in the mirror and its presence is felt vaguely all day.  Luther wrote in his small catechism that we should start and end our day by tracing the holy cross upon ourselves.  So also we start the season of Lent with the sign of the cross made upon our heads.

This is why I love the liturgical year – the ebb and flow of the year uses our senses to remind us of the promises and work of Jesus.   God engages our bodies in the feeding and nourishing of Word and Sacrament.  Good Friday is seen for us, albeit dimly, upon our foreheads this Wednesday.  We are reminded that it is death that has now become a gate to life.  No longer does it have a sting.  No longer can it trap us and hunt us.  Now death is a slave of Christ and our death is undone.

Reminded of Christ’s work on the cross, we will then proclaim that death again in the celebration of the Supper.  There, at the communion rail, the Our Redeemer family will join your family in the participation of the body of Christ and the blood of Christ.  We’ll see you Wednesday.

Beginning Adult Instruction

Tomorrow I start a new Adult Instruction class at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in north Houston.  They have asked me to serve them as their vacancy pastor while I wait for a full-time call.  I’m excited about this opportunity to serve Our Redeemer congregation and to be preaching on a weekly basis and teaching again.  If you are in Houston tomorrow come on by please join us. Church is at 9:00 and Bible study is at 10:30.  See you around there!