29 November 2019

Homily for Thanksgiving Day - 2019

"Luther's 'Take' on Thanksgiving Day"
Deuteronomy 8:1-10; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; Luke 17:11-19

You have to love Martin Luther’s “take” on Thanksgiving Day. Yes, I know that Luther lived and taught a whole century before the Pilgrims. Luther lived in Germany and never knew of Pilgrims, a ship called Mayflower, or a Plymouth Colony. Yet he still does a wonderful job of teaching us how best to celebrate this day—in his Catechism, that is.

We live in a day when college professors and students spurn Thanksgiving Day. They claim, wrongly, it commemorates a genocide of indigenous peoples, the Indians. We live in a day when many seek their comfort and daily bread by embracing the common sharing of economic goods, that system called Socialism. Why labor, toil and achieve if everyone gets the same goodies no matter what, the thinking goes.

Actually, the Pilgrims did try that experiment. Their original contract called for everything they produced to go into a common store. Each member of the community, then, would get a common share. Everything belonged to the community. That arrangement did not work out so well, especially after the first harsh winter and losing so many lives. So William Bradford assigned a plot of land for each family to own, work, and manage. As they realized God’s gifts of private property and possessions, the Pilgrims had plenty to support themselves, pay off their debts, and share with those in need. They even sold food and goods to the Indians, and thus the original thanksgiving dinner was born.

Thankfully, we continue to practice what George Washington proclaimed in 1789—a day “to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.” Washington also called this “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God” (Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789).

Let’s do this not only in a national and cultural manner; let’s especially do this as God’s redeemed children. Let’s look to Luther’s Catechism for his “take” on Thanksgiving Day.

When you gather around the table today, do so reverently, fold your hands, and say: “The eyes of all look to You, [O Lord,] and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Ps. 145:15-16). All that food ultimately comes only from God. He has graciously arranged for you to purchase it from the stores, but it still comes only from Him.

Then you can pray the Lord’s Prayer, and follow that with this little prayer: “Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.” Everything you eat, everything you wear, everything you own, everything about you—your eyes, ears, hair color, body structure and sexuality—it’s all gift. “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). On this day, we celebrate God our Father as the giver and rightly confess that we are nothing but receivers.

It’s what the Israelites learned through forty years in the wilderness. As they prepared to enter the Promised Land, Moses reminded them how things really worked. The Lord had led them those forty years in the wilderness; not they themselves. The Lord humbled them, testing them to know what was in their heart, whether they would trust Him and follow His ways. He made them “know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Dt. 8:3). Their clothing did not wear out. Their feet did not swell. All because the Lord God took care of them.

The Lord God also gave them promises. He would bring them into the good land—brooks and springs of water flowing; wheat, barley, vines, and fig trees aplenty; also olive trees and honey. They would eat without scarcity; they would not want, because the Lord is their Shepherd. And when they would eat and be full, Moses called on them  to “bless the LORD your God for the good land He has given you” (Dt. 8:10).

What was true for them, the children of Israel, is also true for you, God’s children by Jesus’ blood and Baptism. So when you finish the turkey and trimmings—and before you rush off to the couch for football and food comas—don’t forget to return thanks. Luther gives more guidance. Reverently and with folded hands say, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good. His love endures forever. [He] gives food to every creature. He provides food for the cattle and young ravens when they call. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of a man; the LORD delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love” (Ps. 136:1, 25; 147:9-11).

And again you may pray the Lord’s Prayer and follow that up with this: “We thank you, Lord God, heavenly Father, for all Your benefits, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.” What could be better than topping off a delicious Thanksgiving dinner with a sweet confession of the Holy Trinity, with confessing that all of this bounty comes only through Jesus Christ Himself!

That’s what the one leper realized on the way to see the priests, upon realizing he had been healed. Ten lepers were healed; nine went on their merry way; but only one “turned back, praising God with a loud voice” (Lk. 17:15). That former leper—a Samaritan, by the way—fell on his knees and bowed before Jesus, “giving Him thanks.” It’s what you do when you realize the true source of your blessings, the real Giver of every good and perfect gift.

And while you’re at it, don’t stop at giving thanks for common food and drink. Even the cattle, young ravens, and all critters large and small receive their sustenance from a gracious Father and Creator. You actually receive more. You receive only the best from your God and Savior. After all, He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Jesus, “true God, begotten of the  Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary” in the little town of Bethlehem—that means “house of bread”—He is your very Bread of Life. He has redeemed you. He has won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. No, not with turkey or stuffing, “but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” Now you are His own. Now you live under Him in His kingdom. Now you serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.

And this changes everything. This opens the flood-gates of thankfulness and praise. Now you know, confess and rejoice that Your God has given you your body and soul, your eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses. He even takes care of them still. Yes, even with glasses, hearing aids, canes, and so on. Your clothing and shoes? Your food and drink? Your house and home? Your spouse, children and parents? All gifts…gifts from the Father…gifts made holy through Jesus and in the Spirit.

So go ahead, receive your day’s bread, turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and whatever else with thanksgiving. God certainly gives them and so much more to everyone without out prayers, even to all evil people. Thank Him for the money, the goods, for the devout husband or wife, the devout children, the devout workers, and even for devout and faithful rulers and good government—“that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2). By the way, that’s the exact opposite of what you are tempted to do, and may even give in to doing, on social media these days. When you receive your daily bread with thanksgiving, that includes “kings and all who are in high positions.” When you do that, you are living as God’s dear children.

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble.” (Ps. 107:1-2). Amen.

25 November 2019

Homily for Last Sunday of the Church Year - 2019

"Wise Virgins & the Bride of Christ"
Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus reminds us that this world is not home! Soon and very soon He will come again. At His coming all who have trusted in Him will enter with Him into the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which will have no end.

Jesus says this coming reign of God will be like ten virgins who take their lamps to meet the eternal Bridegroom. These virgins look the same. They all have identical lamps. They appear to have the same purpose—to meet the bridegroom.

These ten virgins are all people who have ever been associated with the church on earth. They all hold membership in a congregation. They all attend Sunday services. They all do churchly things. They look the same to us, but on the day of Christ’s coming we will discover that they’re not all the same. Some are wise and some are foolish.

The foolish virgins are excluded from the marriage feast of the Lamb. They are excluded because, even though they had church membership, went to church on Sundays and did churchly things, they lacked faith in Jesus in their hearts.

St. Paul said it well: “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). Sounds like headlines in your newspaper or news website of choice!

The “last days” are all the years between our Lord’s first coming and His second coming. In this time span, many hold the outward form of Christianity; many call themselves Christian. But they do not know the power of the Gospel. They do not trust only Christ for their life, their identity, their purpose, or their forgiveness.

These foolish ones hear the words of Jesus but do not believe them. As Jesus said: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Mt. 7:26-27).

A fool stops his or her ears to the words of Jesus. The words fall on the ears physically, the words beat on the eardrums, but the heart refuses to open. The words fall to the ground and bear no fruit in the fool’s heart.

A fool thinks that mere outward ties to a church is the ticket to heaven, mere friendly association with other church-goers is the same as being Christian. A fool may be on the church membership roster, but denies the power of the Gospel. A fool may stay away from hearing God’s Word and receiving Jesus’ Sacrament. A fool may hear the Word and receive the Sacraments, but the divine gifts don’t change heart and life.

Foolish virgins think they know Christ but, truthfully, they do not. And He does not know them. “[Jesus] answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” Our Lord knows all people very well and yet He says to the foolish virgins, “I do not know you.” Frightful words!

In the Bible, knowing a person can mean different things. It can mean a simple acquaintance, but it can also mean intimacy—such as the relationship of husband and wife. When Jesus says, “I do not know you,” He means I am not intimate with you. You have kept Me at a distance. You have kept Me from penetrating into your heart and soul. You have kept Me from giving My life to you.

Imagine a man and a woman going through the formality of a wedding service but then never becoming intimate. They are husband and wife in name only.

So it is with the foolish virgins. They have been through the outward formality of church membership, but they are not joined to Christ. They are not one body with Him. They are not bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh. At His second coming, Jesus exposes the pretend Christians and tells them the true and frightful words: “I do not know you.” Lord, spare us!

But to the wise virgins, the door will be opened. They will enter into the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which will have no end. The wise virgins are members not just of a congregation, but also members of the Body of Christ. They are joined to Christ. They are one body with Him.

The wise virgins are baptized into Christ, buried with Him through Baptism into death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, they too might walk in newness of life.

The wise virgins are nursed and nurtured on the very Body and Blood of Christ under bread and wine. It’s how Jesus nourishes and cherishes His own body, the Church.

The wise virgins partake of the divine promises. The words of Jesus do more than fall on their ears. The words of Jesus enter through the ears, penetrate into the heart, and enliven the soul. The words of Jesus take root in the soul and bear the fruit of faith. The words of Jesus give life with God, both now and into eternity.

As Jesus said: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Mt. 7:24-25).

You are the wise virgins! You are the ones Jesus talks about: “I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14). You wise virgins are intimate with the Lord. He knows you and you know Him. He has penetrated your being with His Gospel message. You are one flesh with Him.

In the custom of Jesus’ day, the virgins were merely friends of the bride and the groom. They rejoiced with the bride and the groom. Not so with Christ and the wise virgins! The wise virgins are not just guests at someone else’s wedding party. In this case, the virgins become the bride of Jesus. Jesus transforms you virgins into His holy bride, the Church. Christ the bridegroom makes you His holy bride.

Let’s go back to Genesis 2. The Lord God looked at Adam and said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” God then remedied Adam’s aloneness by creating a bride for him. God put Adam to sleep, opened his side, took out a rib and fashioned a wife. Then as a good father giving away the bride, the Lord God also brought the woman to the man. The man looked at his bride and said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” And the two became one flesh.

Jesus is the second Adam. On the cross He was put to sleep in death, His side was pierced open, and out flowed blood and water. And from that blood and water, the Father created you, the bride of Christ, the Church. “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 Jn. 5:7-8).

When Jesus returns, you wise virgins will enter into the marriage feast of the Lamb as the bride of the Lamb. You are washed clean from sin by His precious blood. All your spots and blemishes are removed by the water of Holy Baptism. As St. Paul says: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Our Lord is an anxious husband joyfully waiting for the day when He can come for you, His bride, and take you into the feast in His kingdom which shall have no end.

Let that image on the wall [second from the back, lectern side] remind you of Jesus’ promise and return. Five lamps are unlit. They remind you of the foolish ones who were not ready for Jesus’ delay or His coming. They will be left out in the dark, separated from Jesus for eternity. The other five lamps are lit. And they are inside. Inside what? The life of the cross, the life of Jesus poured out for you in His Word and in the water and the blood. Amen.

18 November 2019

Homily for Trinity 22 - 2019

"Unlimited Forgiveness"
Matthew 18:21-35

During World War II a young Nazi officer lay dying in a Polish hospital. He wanted to confess his horrible actions, be forgiven, and die in peace. So he asked a nurse to bring a Jewish man to his bedside. The Jewish man arrived and listened to the soldier’s confession. The soldier confessed how he had herded Jewish people into a house, set gasoline cans inside, and then ignited them with hand grenades. The soldier also confessed how he gave orders to shoot a father and a daughter when they tried to escape. “We shoot,” he cried, “oh, God…I will never forget it…it haunts me. Please forgive me and let me die in peace.” The man got up and left the room without saying a word. Later some rabbis confirmed this man’s actions and wrote this: “Whoever is merciful to the cruel will end up being indifferent to the innocent…. Let the SS man die unforgiven. Let him go to hell.” (Concordia Pulpit Resources, 9:4, p. 10). Ouch!

Jesus has a much different way for us today. Our Lord Jesus calls us to trust His forgiveness so that we will also forgive one another.

Just before our Gospel reading, Jesus teaches us to go to our sinning brother, tell him his fault, and seek to gain him back in forgiveness. Peter was listening carefully and catching on. His newfound insight led him to ask a question: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Now Peter was actually being gracious and generous. Jewish rabbis at the time said the going rate for forgiving someone was three times. After that, a person ought to know better. So Peter was being very gracious. He doubled the going rate and added one more forgiving act for good measure. After all, “seven” is the Biblical number of completeness.

Our sinful flesh always wants to put limits on the forgiveness we dish out. We also ask Peter’s question: “How often shall I forgive?” We might even phrase it this way: “How often do I have to forgive?” Too often there’s no sweeter sound to our sin-clogged ears than, “Don’t get mad; get even.” After all, we don’t want to appear weak or soft on crime, and we certainly don’t want to be “taken advantage of.”

To be sure, forgiveness is very laudable, in the right situation. I still remember when Pope John Paul II forgave the man who tried to assassinate him. He was applauded for his graciousness. But then again, John Paul was considered a “man of God.” He’s supposed to be more forgiving than most. We also hear talk of forgiveness after school shootings. But then again, the evil shooters might take their own lives, and we don’t have to look them in the eye anymore. Still, we, with Peter, like to ask, “Isn’t there a limit to my forgiveness?”

Jesus answered Peter: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” It doesn’t matter how you do the math—is it 77 times, or 490 times?—Jesus is teaching us to live and practice unlimited forgiveness. His parable gives the reason. A certain king forgives a servant, but the servant cannot forgive his fellow servant.

Let’s consider the enormous, infinite debt of your own sins. Augustus Toplady wrote a hymn you know:

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure:
Cleanse me from its guilt and pow’r” (LSB 761:1).

How much guilt and power does your infinite debt of sin hold? Mr. Toplady did some calculating. In 1775 he was “inspired” by the national debt. (Yes, there was one back then too!) Toplady wanted to show how a sinner’s debt can never be repaid. Since we are sinners who sin in all we do, he said, “Let’s say people sin once every second.” Yes, you heard right: one sin per second.

That adds up to 3600 sins per hour and 86,400 sins per day. Each year it adds up to 31,536,000 sins. When you can first drive a car, at age 16, you carry a debt load of 504,576,000 sins. When you’re 30 years old, enjoying family times with your children, you’re lugging around 946,080,000 sins. When you’re 50 years old, the children are grown, the house is empty (hopefully!), and your conscience is overloaded with 1,576,800,000 sins. And when you reach 80, getting ready for life’s end, you’ll have have to wrestle with 2,522,880,000 sins. Wow!

What’s the point? Your debt of sin is infinite. It just keeps piling up. You cannot even begin to pay it back, no matter how many times you promise to do better.

But here’s the good news. There is forgiveness for your infinite debt of sins. As God told His Old Testament people: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her… that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Is. 40:1-2).

Double forgiveness! For all sins! Jesus has more forgiveness than you’ve got sins for. No matter what your sin-debt is, Jesus paid it. Jesus forgives it. Jesus blots it out—“not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.” The king in Jesus’ parable absorbed the loss of the servant’s “gazillion” dollar debt. In the same way, Jesus, your King and Savior, has absorbed the debt of your sin and that of your neighbor. He did not demand justice. He did not hold a grudge. He simply absorbed it, paid it Himself, and forgives. Unlimited forgiveness.

This is what your Baptism tells you. Your infinite debt is washed away. This same infinite mercy of God drives you to your pastor to confess your particular sins and hear the words of Jesus’ forgiveness. And when you eat and drink Christ’s Body and Blood, you receive even more infinite forgiveness from Jesus.

Now we can consider the debt of our neighbor’s sins. In Jesus’ parable this debt does seem large—a paycheck for three month’s work. But compared to a massive debt of billions of dollars, that’s just a drop in the ocean. This is the way to view your neighbor’s sins against you. Yes, your fellow Christians sin against you, disappoint you, anger you, even offend you. But what is that debt compared to how you have sinned against God? No contest. It’s a mere speck in your brother’s eye compared to the 2 x 8 plank sticking out of your own eye.

St. Paul said it well: “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Col. 3:12-14).

It really is a matter of faith toward God as well as love for your neighbor. If you cannot forgive your brother or sister, then you really have not trusted God when He reveals your infinite debt of sin. It also means that you don’t trust God’s forgiveness that comes through His beloved Son. You see, God also gives that same forgiveness to your neighbor. If God forgives him or her, why can’t you?

But God does forgive your neighbor. So the best thing you can do for your neighbor who sins against you—a loved one, a friend, a co-worker, a brother or sister at church—is to give your forgiveness too. That’s how your neighbor can see God’s forgiveness in action.

You see, the Church is the Body of Christ. As Christ forgives each of us, we also get to forgive one other. Jesus doesn’t want His body members to harm each other by not forgiving. No, He wants the same forgiveness that He gives to flow through His whole Body. When you trust and rely on Jesus’ forgiveness for you, you can also freely forgive each other and trust that Jesus has forgiven your neighbor as much as He has forgiven you.

Keep this in your mind and heart as you come to the Lord’s Table. Jesus places His forgiveness into your mouths in the same Body and Blood that carried your infinite debt of sins to the Cross. He unites you to Himself and restores you to His image as one who forgives. Your hands and mouths that receive Christ’s Body and Blood may also speak and show His forgiveness to others. Amen.

11 November 2019

Homily for Trinity 21 - 2019

Do You Really Believe God's Word?
John 4:46-54

It’s very hard to believe God’s Word.  I mean really believe it. Just ask the nobleman from Capernaum. He had heard about Jesus turning water into wine at Cana. He had heard about Jesus miraculously healing other people. Now he wanted just such a miracle. His son was feverish, almost to the point of death. But would he really believe God’s Word?

Or would the nobleman believe the miracle over the Word? Jesus had to call him, the crowd, and us to the carpet for trusting in “signs and wonders.” “Unless you see signs and wonders,” He told the nobleman, the crowd, and us, “you will not believe.” You can almost see Jesus shaking His head. You see, “signs and wonders” are for the weak in faith, for those who can only handle milk but not meat. Yet Jesus still wants to help the nobleman, and us, grow in believing Him, the Word of God in the flesh.

It’s amazing how a personal tragedy or hardship in life turns you to the Word who is Jesus. But do you really believe God’s Word in the flesh? Perhaps you are like the nobleman, who needed proof before he could believe.

Perhaps you are like Thomas. He needed to see Jesus and put His fingers into Jesus’ wounds before he would believe. Jesus first appeared to ten of His disciples, but Thomas was absent. And Thomas would not believe the Word that the others later proclaimed to him until he himself saw and touched Jesus in the flesh. The next Sunday, Jesus did appear to Thomas of the weak faith, and He did grant Thomas his request. Then Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29).

Or perhaps you are like Elijah. He expected to see and hear God in the loud wind, or in the earthquake, or in the raging fire. But God was not in those things. No, Elijah heard God in the “sound of a low whisper” (1 Kgs. 19:12). God certainly allows and sends natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, so that we might turn from our self-centered thoughts and ways, so that we might repent and trust Him for every need. But He speaks to us in the still small voice of His Word, especially the Word made flesh, Jesus the Son of God.

Do you really believe God’s Word? Or would you rather look for things that are much more monumental? Would you rather seek God’s love for you in what looks good and successful? Perhaps the preaching of the holy Gospel and the giving out of the holy Sacraments don’t seem to do the job. Perhaps you’d rather see the capacity crowds, even standing room only, in the church. Perhaps you’d like to add something—anything—to draw the crowds. Perhaps you’d rather see the “faith healer” do his or her work to the applause and cheers of adoring crowds.

But if you want these things, you must be ready for the consequences. When you need the healing and don’t get it, you’ll be told, “Well, you don’t have enough faith. You need to read your Bible more. You must pray harder. Come back when you have enough faith, and then we’ll see what we can do for you.”

Notice that the nobleman’s faith grows beyond wanting mere signs and wonders. He persists. He says, “Sir, come down before my child dies!” He wanted more than a miracle; he wanted the Lord Jesus to help him. He knew and trusted that only the Word of God in human flesh could give life. But would he really believe this Word? It seems that he would not be satisfied until Jesus dropped what He was doing, changed His schedule, and made a personal visit to Capernaum.

Again, you and I are like this nobleman. We may get past the immature need for “signs and wonders,” but we still want to tell God how to do His job of being God. Perhaps we think that God must immediately heal us of the disease or injury we have. Doesn’t He know how it will get in the way of your daily life? Perhaps we try to convince God to remove the family trial we’re going through. Doesn’t He know it’s torture? Perhaps we actually come out and ask God to make those other people see our point of view. Doesn’t He know you are always right?

But Jesus will not be dethroned from His place as God’s eternal Word of love and life for us. The nobleman begs Jesus to come to his home, but Jesus says, “I’ll do something even better. I will not come to your home, but I will heal and give life back to your son.” “Go; your son lives.” That’s it! Just a word. That’s all the nobleman had to go on. As one preacher once said, “The nobleman went home with only a word in his pocket.” Would he really believe that Word?

As the nobleman returned home, his servants met him on the way. They told him that his son had recovered. He asked, “At what time?” They said, “Yesterday at about 1 PM.” The nobleman knew that was the time that Jesus had said, “Your son lives.” So, really, two people were cured—the young lad who was sick and on death’s doorstep, and his father who fought the disease of unbelief. “He himself believed, and all his household.”

Do you really believe God’s Word? Do you really trust this Man who brings life into this world of death? You see, Jesus comes to heal you here today. If you’re honest with yourself, sometimes it’s hard trust that He sends the Holy Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth and keep her with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. Truth be told, you want to add various “signs and wonders”—whether they’re outward signs of success or inward signs of wonderful feelings. Somehow, we think, that will give the Spirit a nudge.

But Jesus knows how to heal and give life. You see, God does not hate you or His creation. No, He longs to heal and restore. Even though you are feverish in your sin, sick to the point of death, your God still loves you and works to heal you. That’s why He sends His only-begotten Son into the flesh. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” (1 Jn. 4:9). Jesus took your sickness of sin and death upon Himself. He took the punishment and wrath that you deserved upon Himself. And when He died on the cross, He sent your sins packing and trampled death to death. When He came forth from the grave victorious, He burst a big, gaping hole in death’s belly. Now sickness and death have no more dominion over you. Sure, we’re all bound to catch a virus now and then; maybe even contract a deadly disease. But those things cannot separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Now you get to live!

That’s the Word that you get to hear over and over again. Just as Jesus told the nobleman, “Your son lives,” He also tells you: “You now live.” And notice how Jesus tells you this—through His Word. So, do you really believe His Word? In the face of your daily struggles, you may certainly believe the Word that comes to you here in the Divine Service. You may certainly believe what Jesus says to you through Holy Scripture, through the Word read from the lectern and proclaimed from the pulpit. As Jesus said, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24).

And this same Jesus, this same Word in the flesh, also said: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:53-54). Let that be the Word in your pocket, the Word that you really believe, the Word that says, “You live, because you eat and drink Me!”

No, you don’t need to look for signs and wonders. You have the divine wonder of Jesus the Word. You have His signs called Sacraments. Let these gifts from God sustain and strengthen you when times get rough, when illness and death strike. After all, Jesus comes to tell you, “You now live.” And, yes, you may really believe it. Amen.