29 February 2016

Homily for Lent 3 - Oculi

"Divine Invasion"
Luke 11:14-28; Exodus 8:16-24; Ephesians 5:1-9

Listen here.

Pharaoh’s magicians knew they had met their match. They could not imitate the miracle of the gnats. You see, they did not serve the God who gives life and who creates things out of nothing. They told their master: “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh would not listen to them. His heart was hardened. He would persist in resisting the will of the God of Israel, even to his own harm and the near destruction of his land. In our Old Testament reading, God works a miracle that brings some to faith while others persist in their unbelief and refuse to heed the words of God.

The same thing happens in our Gospel reading. Our Lord Jesus performs a great miracle. He releases a man who had been kept mute by a demon. He drives the demon out and sets the poor man free. When this formerly mute man begins to speak, some marvel. No doubt they remember the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had foretold that when God would come to save His people, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Is. 35:5). “Surely,” they said to each other, “we are living in the days foretold by the prophet. Listen to the mute man now. He’s singing for joy to the Lord, his Healer!”

Others, however, see the miracle and do not smile; they do not rejoice. No, they frown and they scowl. “Do you know how He’s able to cast out demons?” they ask. “I’ll tell you: He’s in league with them! He’s made a pact with Beelzebul, the Lord of the flies, the prince of the demons. He is Satan’s pawn.”

And still others are perplexed by the conflicting opinions. They beg Him to clear it all up by giving some sign from heaven, something to show that He really is on the side of God and not the demons.

Our Lord is absolutely amazed that people can even think such thoughts. “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” It’s as though He says: “Open your eyes, people. Does it look to you like Satan is fighting a civil war? No way. He has you just where he wants you. He wants you miserable, afflicted, torn down and discouraged. He wants you fearful and doubting and fighting each other as though your neighbor were the enemy. Get real. His army is in lockstep formation; they’re not about to break ranks with him.”

In his book, Grace Upon Grace, Dr. John Kleinig writes that Satan makes his attacks on two fronts. He calls them the “front door attack” and the “back door attack.” “In the front door attack,” Dr. Kleinig writes, “[Satan] tries to break the conscience by attacking our faith in Christ; in the back door attack he attempts to gain a secret foothold by attacking our love for our fellow Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ” (Grace Upon Grace, 234). Satan is certainly using the “back door attack” in our Gospel reading. He also uses that strategy with us on a daily basis.

So Jesus says, “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”

No, Jesus’ coming among us has not triggered a civil war in the demonic realm. You see, Satan is the strong man, fully armed with his lies—lies that he uses to shackle and imprison us. And he was guarding his palace. He was thinking that we were all safely his. Until one day Someone stronger than he showed up on his doorstep. That would be our Lord. 

And our “Stronger-Man Savior” proceeded to attack him, to overcome him, to take from him the weapons of his lies and expose them for what they really are, and then to divide his spoil. And how did He divide that spoil? By releasing those whom the devil had kept in prison—you, me, and the whole human race. So, no, it’s not a civil war among the demons. No, this is a full-out, head-on Divine invasion. Stronger Man Jesus invades demon-occupied territory. The Apostle John said it this way: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

But the unclean spirits do not easily give up their prey, Jesus warns us. Rather, after they are driven out, they are in misery, and they seek a way to return to their human host. And if they come back and find their host like a house swept and put in order, but not filled with the Stronger Man, they bring a bunch of their buddies and move back in with…and with a vengeance. “The last state of that person is worse than the first,” Jesus says.

It’s not enough that Satan merely be driven out. Baptism certainly accomplishes that. The Word of God promises that, and the Baptism liturgy confesses it. Not only must Satan be driven out, but he must also be kept out. And there’s only way for that to happen. When the demon rings the doorbell, you must ask the Stronger Man to go answer the door for you. When the Stronger Man, the Lord Jesus, dwells in you, then you have nothing to fear from the demons.

You see, Jesus has already won the victory in His Divine invasion. His suffering and death on the cross and His glorious resurrection from the dead are the decisive battle. Stronger Man Jesus has attacked the devil and has overcome him!

Dr. Kleinig is very good and very helpful on this too. He writes:
“All people remain in the darkness until Christ comes and teaches them His Father’s Word with authority. That Word discloses and exposes the darkness. With that Word Christ dispels the darkness from human hearts. With that Word He sends Satan and his spirits packing. Everything, therefore, depends on Christ and His victory. Through His self-sacrificial death for our sins and His resurrection for our justification He has won the victory for us. All that remains to be done now in this period of history is to mop up the remaining outposts of darkness here on planet earth” (Grace Upon Grace, 239).

A woman in the crowd cries out: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” She is thankful for the Lord and His teaching. But the Lord comes back with a surprise answer: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Now Jesus is not putting down His mother, the Virgin Mary. Rather, the Lord is pointing the way to how HE may dwell within us: He comes and dwells with His words. And if there’s one thing St. Luke reveals about Mary it’s that she too loved, treasured and kept the words spoken to her.

Where the words of God find a home inside of you, the Lord Jesus finds a home in you—along with His Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus also says: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn. 14:23). So on this Third Sunday in Lent, the Church reminds her children that, yes, the evil one can be kept at bay. He can be kept at bay only when the Stronger One lives within us.

And when the Stronger One—Jesus—dwells within us by means of His words, we will not be like those St. Paul mentions in our Second Reading. They lose the “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God,” the inheritance won on the cross and given in the Gospel and the Sacraments. How so? They invite the demons back in through their sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness. They open the door themselves through their filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking. Instead, we who once were darkness get to be light in the Lord, walking “as children of light,” because Jesus, the Light of the world, makes His home in us.

So, come and receive the Lord’s holy Meal. Here He who loved you and gave Himself up for you as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God upon Calvary’s tree, comes to fill you with His own forgiveness and life. Here the finger of God touches you still. Here the Kingdom of God comes upon you. Here the Stronger Man, against whom Satan is no match, comes to dwell among sinners to set you free, to keep you free, and to keep you His forever. Amen.

25 February 2016

God's Design for Life--Life with a Name

Our 2016 Lent Evening Prayer catechetical series--"God's Design for Life"--continues with "Life with a Name," a sermon on the Second Commandment.

Tonight we continue looking at God’s Design for Life. Last week we heard how God’s design for life begins with perfect fear, love and trust in Him. God wants us to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things—perfectly, absolutely, 100%. The is the bedrock foundation of God’s design for all of life—trust in the heart, trusting Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The First Commandment is about the foundation of the heart. Now we move to the lips and the mouth—the Second Commandment. How does your mouth show what’s in your heart? How do your lips confess the trust of your heart? God’s design for life is that we properly and reverently use the name He has given us.

How does your mouth show what’s in your heart? How do your lips confess the trust of your heart? In Romans 10(:9-10), St. Paul says: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” See how heart and lips are tied together? What you trust in your heart comes out in what you say with your mouth. And what you say with your mouth reveals what you trust in your heart.

God’s design for life tells us what not to do and what to do. What does God tell us not to do in this Second Commandment? He says, “Do not misuse the Name which I give to you. Do not take My Name in vain. Do not us My Name in empty or frivolous ways. Do not use My Name to support or cover up lies.” In fact, God takes this commandment so seriously that He adds a threat to it: “…for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Ex. 20:7). When you curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie or deceive by God’s Name, you are using God’s Name in an empty or frivolous way. You are not guiltless!

And just how might you do this? How might your mouth show the emptiness of your heart? Let’s ponder two ways. First, you might use God’s name to cover up and gloss over your sin and wrongdoing. It’s bad enough that each of us likes to cover up our wrongdoing. We are just like Adam and Eve—we sin, then we cover up with skimpy, little fig leaves called excuses. Then we play hide and seek among the trees when God comes looking for us. But we make our wrongdoing even worse when we use God’s Name as the fig leaves. “Well, God doesn’t mind.” Oh yeah? Who says? We often use God’s Name to cover up our wrongdoing when we say something like this: “Well, I know God forgives me.” Oh yeah? When did He tell you He forgives you for that particular wrongdoing? Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with trusting God’s forgiveness. The problem comes when we use God’s Name and God’s forgiveness to cover up and hide our wrongdoing. How often we say, “God forgives me,” not of repentance, but only to cover up our sin. Don’t admit the sin; just cover it up. Don’t confess the sin—say, to your pastor or a fellow Christian—just gloss over it and try to forget about it. But that’s like concocting a home remedy for cancer and then saying that your doctor prescribed it for you. It’s just not the truth.

Here’s a second way that your mouth might show the emptiness of your heart: when you use your mouth to speak about God in empty or frivolous ways. How might you talk to God or about Him in empty ways? How might you sing in frivolous ways? Several years ago I came across a most unusual song. It was called “Milk.” Part of it read: “Milk, milk, milk / Drink the milk, milk, milk / Read the Word, Word, Word / And grow strong / Shoo-be-do-bop, shoo-be-do-bop.” Sure, it might not sound like false teaching. It might even seem a bit fun for some. But how does it enable you to use your mouth to glorify God? It doesn’t—not much; there’s no substance to it. This song even went on to call God “Mr. Milkman.” Hardly reverent! There are so many better things to put in our mouths and hearts. That’s just one absurd example to show the point. What we say or sing with our mouths does matter. Many songs may be old favorites, or they may be new and catchy. But when you look at the message, they put us creatures in the spotlight and leave God out in the cold. They talk more about us and our emotions that shift like sand, but not so much about God and His rock-solid deeds of salvation. What matters, in the end, is how we use our mouths to glorify God and not ourselves—“for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain”

But the promise is greater than the threat. Where God’s Law has just cut you with the scalpel, the Gospel brings healing. Not only does God tell us what not to do with His name, but He also tells us what to do. And this is a wonderful, gracious, and merciful invitation. God gives you His Name for you to use. God wants you to call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. That’s His grace. Your Lord invites you: “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). This is how to use God’s Name reverently and properly. Listen to what God is saying to you: “Here is My Name. I want you to have it and use it well. Call upon Me, because I want to deliver you and help you.” You see, when you are in trouble—whether it’s doubt, despair, sickness, terrorist attacks, war, or even persecution—God promises to deliver you. And when He delivers you, He does so for His honor and glory.

This is marvelous help and comfort! It cures and heals your double-sided, empty-heart syndrome. First, God gives you His Name so that you may freely admit that you are a sinner. You don’t need to cover up your sin. Sin is your true trouble. And when you call upon God for rescue from sin, He always delivers you from your trouble of sin. No, God does not do this because you called to Him. He does it because of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That’s why God sent His only Son to the cross. Jesus Himself bore and honored God’s Name for you. Jesus was cursed to remove the curse from you. Jesus Himself called upon His Father to deliver you from eternal trouble: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Because of Jesus, God does forgive you and help you.

The gift of God’s Name also cures and heals you from talking about God in empty and frivolous ways. God gives you His very own, life-giving Word. Why settle for pablum songs on milk when you can have God’s mighty Psalms and hymns that teach you what God has done and still does for you in Jesus? In the Church’s liturgy God graciously teaches you how to call upon Him. After all, the Church’s liturgy is simply God’s Word in song and prayer. You know these strong words: “O Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will declare your praise.” Or these: “O come, let us sing to the Lord, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.” Or how about these mighty words: “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.” Now, this is keeping the Second Commandment! You see, we don’t need to live under the tyranny of pop-creativity or the latest fads or even the “shoo-be-do-bops.” God is so gracious that He gives us the very words that glorify Him and honor His name. In this way God tenderly invites you to pray, praise, and give thanks.

God’s design for life is life with His Name. So, we can urge and encourage each other to honor God’s Name and to keep it constantly on our lips. True honor to God and His name is that we use our mouths to call upon Him. After all, our mouths declare and confess our trust in our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

22 February 2016

Homily for Lent 2 - Reminiscere

When the Lord Tests Your Faith
Matthew 15:21-28 

Listen here. 

Faith is often tested through trials and ordeals. That’s what the Canaanite woman discovered. This believing little lady comes to the Lord Jesus. She calls upon Him. She laments her need—a heartfelt plea disguised as a mere statement of fact: “My daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” Sounds dire! Her need is great. By faith she is asking for help. But she doesn’t get it, not right away at least. First, her faith undergoes a testing and trial. Yes, the Lord does test your faith!

Our Lord Jesus Christ still deals with His people—with us—the same way today. He does test and exercise our faith, at different times and in different ways for each of us. The words of 1 Peter 1(:6-7) ring, oh, so true: “Now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Just as gold is tested and purified by fire, so also faith is tested and purified through various trials and ordeals.

“But, Pastor, isn’t faith a spiritual light? Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (Matt. 5:16)?” Yes, He did indeed. And yet a torch also burns more brightly when a wind blows on it. In the same way, faith shines much brighter if a bitter north wind blows various trials on it.

Let’s try another picture. When we receive God’s Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation in the farm land of our ears and hearts, God wants that Word to produce a crop of faith. But an unplowed field does not produce a good harvest. So our Lord cultivates His believers by means of cross and trial so that the seed of His Word may produce the fruit of faith, along with other fruits of the Spirit.

In our Gospel reading today, we see what happens when the Lord tests your faith. We see four tests, and we see how all four of these tests drive us again and again to our merciful Lord.

The first test is external tribulation. This is the easy one to see. This believing little lady was carrying a heavy burden: her daughter was severely demon-possessed. The devil directly assaulted the young girl, and both mother and daughter suffered. Yes, when God sends tribulations upon His people, even loved ones endure a severe cross.

But it all happens so that faith, patience, and hope can be tested and strengthened. Our Epistle reading says so. “We rejoice in our sufferings”—not because of them, but “in” them—”knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” God sends tribulations so that our faith may shine forth through perseverance and patience.

And notice what the little lady did—she’s our role model here. She went straight to Jesus. She begged Him for help. Let’s receive our times of trial and ordeals as times to drive us to Jesus in fervent prayer. You see, in the midst of our trials and ordeals we come to realize our poverty, our need, and our unworthiness. So, let’s turn to our perfect, overflowing Fountain of mercy and every blessing. There we’ll find plenty of help in time of need.

This believing little lady shows us how to craft our prayers. She prayed with true trust. She had no doubt that the Lord Jesus could help her. She simply lifted up her hands without anger or quarreling within herself (1 Tim. 2:8). Not only that, but as she prays she grounds herself on two rock-solid attributes of Christ—His omnipotence and His mercy. Yes, she trusted that He is true God, almighty Lord, and able to overcome the devil. And, yes, she trusted that as true Man, Son of David, He  has pity and shows mercy. She sought His mercy. And she did so with humble heart. She did not pray from any sense of worthiness in herself. So, let’s trust our Lord without doubt. Let’s ground our prayers on the rock-solid foundation of His omnipotence. Let’s plead only for His mercy, and with no sense of our worthiness or deserving anything from Him. As Psalm 27(:8) says, “You have said, ‘Seek My face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.”

Then comes the second test: God is silent and postpones His help. Jesus gives no answer, no help right away. Job received the same kind of silence and postponing of help. He said, “I cry to You for help and You do not answer me; I stand, and You only look at me” (30:20). David endured the same thing. He cried out: “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1). And David cried out more than once. Here’s another one: “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold Your peace or be still, O God!” (Ps. 83:1). And then there was Jeremiah’s lament: “Though I call and cry for help, He shuts out my prayer” (Lam. 3:8).

Job, David, and Jeremiah experienced it. So did this believing little lady from Canaan. Let’s learn from her. She did not give up. No, she held on with prayer. Let’s not receive God’s silence as refusal to help. Rather, let’s regard it as time to exercise faith. Remember, what Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7)? Let’s run those words through the filter of faith. Let’s hear those words as Jesus inviting us: “If you have a need, pray. If you don’t receive help right away, then keep seeking. If help and deliverance still don’t come, then keep knocking. Help is on its way. “For still the [prophecy] awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Hab. 2:3).

Here’s the third test of faith: when we fall into thinking, “I don’t belong to Christ; He couldn’t possibly love me; His promises don’t apply to me.” Yes, it is what Jesus told the believing little lady: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She was certainly a lost sheep, just not of the house of Israel. And, yes, Jesus did come to be “servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness” (Rom. 15:8); He is the Prophet greater than Moses, promised and sent primarily to the Israelites.

But don’t let such doubting, anxious thoughts invade and infect your hearts and minds when you are weighed down by trials and ordeals! The little Gentile lady from Canaan didn’t. She did not allow such thinking to drive her away from Jesus. No, she kept chasing after Him. She kept crying out after Him. She kept pleading and praying, “Lord, help me.” And it’s a good thing too. You see, this same Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the Prophet like Moses, the Christ headed for a Cross, also said things like this: “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked man turn from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:11). And remember this promise, not just for Israelites, but also for you little Gentile children: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). And He even inspired St. Paul to proclaim His heartfelt will for all people: He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

So trust His promises more than the troubled thoughts or fleeting feelings that well up inside you. You see, His promises are divine, and they never fail. Let’s cling to the Word made flesh and to His universal promise like a baby clings to its mother. Then we can calmly say, with St. David, “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Ps. 131:2)

And here’s the fourth and final test of faith: anxiety about unworthiness. Jesus tells the little lady, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the [little puppy] dogs.” Sure sounds like Jesus calls the lady a dog! And unworthy of any help! And so such thoughts creep into our hearts and minds.

But listen to the little lady’s faith-filled come back: “Yes, Lord, yet even the [little puppy] dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Yes, she was unworthy. She freely and openly admitted it. But that was no reason to let her trust fall way! Same goes for us. Yes, we are unworthy. Yes, “we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.” What do you expect from poor, miserable sinners, from dogs such as us? And why else do you think this Jesus ends up on a Cross, bearing your burdens, shouldering your sins, bleeding out to fill you with His life? But once again, let this believing little lady be your role model. Respond to your Lord as she did: “Yes, Lord, I am a poor little puppy dog. But I still desire only the crumbs of Your grace. Yes, Lord, I am a sinner—in thought, word, and deed. But I come crawling to You in repentance. Yes, Lord, I am absolutely unworthy of any help. But Your faithful promise is [so] precious that I believe it … and still cling to You.”

What happens when the Lord Himself tests your faith? You get to be like this little believing woman. You get to hear the Lord Himself say, “Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And you get to be healed. … Oh, and by the way, you also get to come to His Table to receive more crumbs of His grace and mercy and help. Amen.

18 February 2016

God's Design for Life--Life with Trust

In 2016, we're using our Lent Evening Prayer services for catechesis. Focusing on the theme "God's Design for Life," we're looking at the Ten Commandments, reciting the appropriate portions of Luther's Small Catechism and then giving catechetical sermons, in the pattern of Luther's Large Catechism.

This first installment focuses on the First Commandment.

God says, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3).

Before you begin construction on a new house, you must have a design, a set of blue prints. The blue prints show how the designer, the architect, wants the building to look and function. Before you begin sewing on a new dress, you need a pattern for the dress. The pattern shows how the designer wants the pieces of material to be cut and stitched together. During these Lent Evening Prayer services, we’ll look at God’s Design for Life. What kind of blue prints or pattern does God, the Designer of all life, provide? We can see His design in the Ten Commandments.

Tonight we look at the bedrock foundation of God’s design for life: Life with Trust. We just read through the First Commandment and its Catechism meaning, and we reviewed the Close of the Commandments and its meaning. When God designs life, He begins with fear, love, and trust in Him. Life built without this foundation will never stand for long.

Should you really fear God? You better believe it! He’s bigger than you are. He can strike you down with hardly a flick of His little finger. Can you love and trust God? You better believe it! He is the only One who can help you in time of need. God’s design for life is centered on fearing, loving, and trusting Him and nothing or no-one else. But that’s precisely the problem, isn’t it? When you fear, love and trust God alone, you are keeping this commandment. But when you fear, love or trust anything else—anything, anyone, and in any way—more than God, you are breaking and trampling this precious commandment.

Whatever you fear and trust, that is your god. Adam and Eve were created with proper fear, love, and trust. Before they fell into sin, they feared, loved, and trusted in God first and foremost. He provided only good things and always good things for them. He was their true and only refuge, their true and only devotion. But then along came the tempter. He succeeded in diverting Adam’s and Eve’s eyes from God and His promises. No longer did Adam and Eve fear God. They looked down on Him. No longer did Adam and Eve love God. They actually despised Him, thinking that He had been holding out on them.  No longer did Adam and Eve trust God. They doubted Him. Instead, they feared Satan. Instead, they trusted the forbidden fruit. Instead, they loved themselves. So they fell from the palm of God’s hand. And we’ve been falling ever since.

What do you fear, love, and trust? That’s always the key question. What is your false god? You see, idolatry is not merely a matter of statues and shrines. As Luther said in his Large Catechism: “[Idolatry] happens not merely by erecting an image and worshiping it, but rather it happens in the heart. For the heart stands gaping at something else. It seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils. It neither cares for God, nor looks to Him for anything better than to believe that He is willing to help. The heart does not believe that whatever good it experiences comes from God” (LC I:21). That’s idolatry—breaking the First Commandment. And that’s what is in your heart and mine.

What do you fear, love, and trust? It could be almost anything—anything except God, that is. Ponder these examples. Perhaps you fear, love, and trust money and possessions above all things. If you have money or certain possessions, you think you need nothing else. You may get secure and fearless because you trust and boast in what you own. Or there’s the other side of the coin. When you don’t have money or certain possessions, you are full of doubts and despair. You fret. You worry. You complain as you try to get the money and possessions. Whatever you fear, love, and trust, that is truly your god.

How about this second example: pleasure. This is quite prevalent in our American culture. Pleasure is the chief false god of our age. Everything is geared toward our emotions, making us feel good, and having fun. You and I trust things only if they immediately make us feel good. If you have to work at something or wait for some reward or delay gratification, you throw it out. You and I also fear any adverse or negative experiences. If it’s uncomfortable, we just can’t have it. We value pleasure so highly that some people will do just about anything to prevent other people from getting upset. Or, when you do become upset, you want other people to change what they’re doing or saying to please you. Can you say “safe zones”? Whatever you fear, love, and trust, that is truly your god.

A third example, just as in Luther’s day, would be religious works. This is when your heart fears, loves, and trusts in your own religious service or activities more than it fears, loves, and trusts in God Himself. In his Large Catechism, Luther decried the practice of honoring St. Apollonia if anyone had a toothache. He also targeted the practice of making a vow to St. Sebastian or St. Rochio if someone dreaded the bubonic plague. As Luther said, “Everyone chose his own saint, worshiped him, and called to him for help in distress” (LC I:11). How might we fear, love, and trust in our own religious works today? Some people look to angels to help them, rather than the Triune God whom the angels themselves serve. Some believe more in “the power of prayer” more than they do in the power of God Himself. Sometimes we even get the notion that, somehow, we are doing God the favor of being in His house, and He is blessed to have us, rather than the other way around. Whatever you fear, love, and trust, that is truly your god.

God has harsh words for everyone who does not fear, love, and trust Him above all things, completely, absolutely, 100%. “He says, ‘I the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me….” (Ex. 20:5-6). Yes, we should fear His wrath. God does threaten to punish everyone who breaks this First Commandment. And that includes each and every person here tonight. You see, you and I do have our doubts, our fears, our worries. No matter how big or how small, these things get in the way of perfect fear, love, and trust in God. We simply cannot do it. Not perfectly, anyway.

Now, God does give a glorious and precious promise. He also says that He shows “love to a thousand generations of those who love [Him] and keep [His] commandments.” God does promise grace and every blessing to all who keep His commandments—His design for life. But who can do that? Who can keep God’s design for life? Only one Person. Only Jesus, the Savior.

Adam and Eve fell to temptation and fell into sin. Jesus replayed the scene with Satan. He was tempted by the same deceiver who tripped up Adam and Eve. But Jesus did not fall to Satan’s evil wiles. He did not sin. Instead, our Lord Jesus did fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

The Jews of Jesus’ day had a saying. They said, “If one Jew keeps the whole law for one day, the kingdom of God will come.” Well, one Jew did keep the whole Law, and with perfect fear, love, and trust. He kept it not just for one day, but for His whole life. He kept it not just for Himself, but for all of us too. And what happened? They crucified Him for it! But do you know what? The kingdom of God did come, and it’s still coming. God kept and still keeps His promise. God gives you grace and every blessing because of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

You see, Jesus knows that you cannot keep this First Commandment. That’s why He kept it and still keeps it for you. That’s why He endured God’s wrath for you, in your place. That’s why He gives you His perfect fear, love, and trust in God. Yes, we should fear, love and trust in God above all things. And when God looks at you through Christ, that’s exactly what He sees—a person who fears, loves, and trust in Him above all things. And that is your trust. Because of Jesus, God is your God and gives you every blessing and every protection in time of need.

What do you fear, love, and trust? The God who designed you to fear, love and trust. The God who knows that you are quite incapable of fearing and trusting Him, yet He still wants to be your God. The God who gives you His Son, crucified and risen, to be your shield against wrath, to be your grace and every blessing. That is God’s design for life, a new life with trust. Amen.