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Homecoming - Pastor Gless


Homecomings are meant to be a time of joy. Homecomings are meant to be a time of smiles and laughter and stories shared. Homecomings are meant to be a time of embracing and open arms.

I can remember coming home from college each year. My parents would wrap me up in a warm embrace. They couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces. They would have me sit down and tell them all about the experiences and adventures that I had had over the course of the year at school in Chicago.

But that pales in comparison to the homecoming that we would have when my brother would return home to America from deployments overseas. With tears streaming down our cheeks, we couldn’t wait to see him, to hug him, to hear all that he was willing to share with us. To know that he was finally home was the best thing ever.

That is what homecomings should be like, or so we think. Unfortunately, that is not what Jesus experienced at all in our text for today. There were no smiles or laughter. There were no open arms longing to embrace him. Instead, the homecoming He received can be summed up in one word: Rejection.

He went from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him (Mark 6:1-3).

Even though we can’t read tone in the Bible, we ought not think that these questions were asked with some sort of kind-hearted gentleness. These were questions of doubt, jealousy, anger, all mixed up together into a pot of hatred and disdain. So much so that the text says that Jesus could do no mighty work there. Not because He was incapable, but rather because the works He did were to give testimony to who He was as the Son of God. Had He performed miracles there, it would have only heaped judgment upon them as their anger increased and their rejection raged on.

The sad thing is that this is not the first time Jesus faced such a homecoming rejection. Three chapters before our text for today, we hear of the only other time that Jesus went back to his hometown. It was just after He called His disciples, the text says, Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:20-21). His own family thought He was crazy. So much so that they wanted to seize him. The literal translation was that they wanted to arrest him. Probably to lock him up in the insane asylum, or something like that.

That’s what makes what happens in our text for today so striking. When Jesus is rejected by his hometown family and neighbors, when they literally take offense at Him, what does it say that He did? And He went about among the villages teaching (Mark 6:6). He didn’t stop teaching because the people didn’t like what He had to say. He kept on going from village to village, teaching to anyone who would have ears to hear what He said.

I am reminded of a story that Pastor May once told me about a group of ten Somali men who came to him to be instructed to be pastors. Now in Somalia, being a Christian comes at the risk of one’s life because of the threat of the Muslim extremist group, Al-Shabaab. You can’t even cross the border with a Bible in your luggage. Christianity is not tolerated at all.

But this didn’t keep these ten men from coming to be instructed as Christian pastors. Once they had been instructed, they returned back home to Somalia. Unfortunately, five of these men were killed for their faith. Some time passed, and those five men returned to Pastor May for more instruction…only this time they came with seven more men. Now there were twelve men. When asked why they were doing what they were doing if it would only mean their lives were at greater risk of being ended, they responded in quite striking fashion, “What difference does it make if we lose our lives? If we die as Christians, we will go to heaven. But many of our family and neighbors do not yet confess Jesus as Lord which means they will go to hell. We are here to learn how we might teach them to know what we know so that they too may be saved.”

As we consider how Jesus kept going in His teaching, how these Somali men kept going in their witness of Christ, how about us? Do we keep going in our witness…even when we face rejection? Truth is, our homes are meant to be the starting points for our life as witnesses of Christ. Yet, it would seem that when we are in our homes or neighborhoods, we are more consumed with what others think of us and trying to keep up appearances. We allow the words and actions of others to shape and mold us. And in the case of our witness of Christ as Savior and Lord, we often choose to be silent because we are fearful of what others might think or say about us. We are fearful of being rejected.

Fellow Christians, let’s ask ourselves: Who are we trying to please? Are we trying to please others? Are we trying to please ourselves? What’s guiding our witness of Christ to others, be it in our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces? Is the fear of rejection driving us to be silent?

What we see from Jesus in our text for today was that even when He was rejected, He kept going from village to village. Now that doesn’t mean it didn’t pain Him to walk away from His hometown. We can assume that as Jesus walked away, His heart ached. He knew this would be the last time that He would walk those streets of Nazareth, yet how sad it must have been knowing His own family and neighbors wanted nothing to do with Him. That, no doubt, hurt a lot, and yet He kept going.

It is the same thing He instructed His disciples to do when they faced rejection in their witness. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:10-11).

Here we see that Jesus fully expected His disciples to be rejected just as He was rejected. That’s why He gave them instructions on what to do when it happened. So it will be with us. If we are going to follow Jesus, then we are going to be rejected. Expect it. If the Son of God was rejected, then so will we be. The question we ought to consider is that if we aren’t being rejected, then who are we caught up in pleasing? Is it others? Is it ourselves?

Jesus was only consumed with pleasing one person, and that was His Father in heaven. So much so that He willingly and voluntarily came to this earth to be rejected by His hometown, by chief priests, Pontius Pilate, and unruly crowds. He was spat upon, mocked, and whipped by His own people and government. He was hauled off to die on a cross. And it was there that He was rejected by His Father. Imagine that, bleeding, suffering, dying…crying out to the only One who could help Him and what is the response? Rejection. That’s what He gets from His Father.

Jesus is rejected by His Father, so that we won’t be. He endures the rejection that should have been ours in our place. He paid that price. He secured our salvation with His own precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. He removed all of our sins so that we will not be separated from God for all eternity.

That, my friends, is good news for us! Because the truth is, while we are in this world, we will be rejected. In fact, Jesus said that we will be hated. He said to His disciples, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (John 15:18-19).

The thing is though, as we face this harsh reality of rejection in our witnessing here on earth, we do so in the confidence that our salvation is secure. We are His baptized believers who have the gift of the Spirit given in baptism working in us. We have been fed and nourished by His Word and his body and blood. We have everything we need and more. Our cup is overflowing, so that we may keep going with His blessing upon us…keep going to the cross and the empty tomb where a homecoming awaits us that will be filled with eternal smiles and laughter and warm embraces as we fix our eyes on Jesus for all eternity. It is as we just sang, “I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home; Earth is a desert drear, heaven is my home. Danger and sorrow stand, round me on every hand; Heaven is my fatherland, heaven is my home.”

As we share hope and teach Christ, may we keep going knowing that Jesus will never leave or forsake us. And may we pray for a faith that is like those Somalis who found their security in Christ and the salvation He has so graciously given in the home of heaven. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Lord of Your Life


The Psalmist cries out, 8To you, O LORD, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy.” But the Psalmist is not alone. Today we also hear the woman with a chronic bleeding disorder, and a father of a terribly ill little girl. They’re all crying out to the Lord. Of course, there is your voice too. You know what it is to cry out for mercy, to long for help, and to ask for relief.

How many nights do you suppose the woman lied upon her bed, crying aloud to the Lord? How many years was she waiting, pleading, begging, and hoping to simply touch the Holy One of God? Did she pray Psalm 30, saying, 9What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? 10Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O LORD, be my helper.” The Psalmist gives expression to her lament. It does for you as well.

            How many sleepless nights did Jairus endure? His precious little girl was at the point of death. No small sickness, this little girl was gravely ill. He was desperate. Any parent here knows what his terror stricken soul was enduring. The death of a precious child is utterly heart wrenching. Undoubtedly, his prayer was similar to the words of the Psalmist, “To you, O LORD, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy.”

Such pleas for help capture our own longings. The Psalms give expression to our voices. From hurting souls to hurting bodies, you cry out. From worried minds to burdened hearts, you plead for help, especially during these trying days of living in a chaotic secular age, which is very often antagonistic toward your faith.

You strive to be faithful but the deception of society, the lies of our age, the fickleness of your faith, and the unrelenting attacks of Satan press down heavy upon your soul. With the Psalmist, with the afflicted woman, and with Jarius, you cry out for God’s mercy. You walk through life one day at a time. But you do so with Jesus Christ on you side.

After all, He’s the most powerful being in the universe. He’s invincible. He’s incorruptible. He’s irresistible. You can’t outsmart Him. You can’t overpower Him. You can’t stop His love. You can’t thwart His plan. He owns all of history! He’s built eternal paradise. And He’s in your corner. In fact, baptized into Him His Holy Spirit is literally in your body, so where you go, He goes.  

Yet, for many, perhaps even you, these can seem like hopeless times. People long for purpose and direction, for meaning and hope. The recent number of Hollywood suicides remind us that even when you supposedly “have it all” it is still no replacement for loving the One who truly does have it all and will give it all to you on the Last Day.

Yet, anxiety abounds. Unrest creeps into your life and sets up shop. You worry about the future—the future of this country, the future of this community, the future of your career, and now even the future of this congregation. “What will happen? Who will lead? Where are we headed? How are we going to carry on?” Whether it’s about the country, your career, or the congregation these questions can so often press down on you.

So with the Psalmist, with the woman, and with Jarius you pray, “To you, O LORD, I cry, to the Lord I plead for mercy.” Jesus is quick to answer. Remember, all of time and all of History are in His hands. He is Lord over all! So yes, He answers. But perhaps not in the way you may want, or in the time you might want it. But let’s be clear, He does clearly answer us.

He answers first with His incarnation, where He walked around in your fragile flesh, and felt the burdens of this world. He answers with His bloody cross, where He had every evil deed, every wicked thought, and every twisted way of thinking nailed to His body. He answers by His glorious resurrection and magnificent ascension, showing how He’s utterly invincible and incorruptible.

He answers with His Holy Spirit to baptize you, lead you, and protect you. And one day, when He returns, He will answer once and for all, where every last man, woman, and child who ever walked on the face of this planet will know that He is the Lord of all Lords and King of all Kings. 

Until then, we walk by faith, praying for mercy, and trusting that come what may, Jesus still gets the final say—that in His almighty, invincible, incorruptible, and irresistible self, He brings hope and salvation to lost lives and order to an age that is full of chaos and disorder.  

But walking by faith can be hard to do. In our “instant” everything society, we feel like Jesus should be instant messaging us with a remedy for our every affliction, and a plan of action for all the anarchy. Therefore watching, waiting, and walking in the ways of the Lord can feel frustrating at times, especially when you want Him to give you an answer right here and now.

Consider the woman in the Gospel lesson. Listen to how long she had endured her affliction: 25And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but only grew worse.

These two verses give us insight into the tremendous suffering and patience of this woman. Twelve years! Anyone here who’s endured similar suffering, who’s been pushed from doctor to doctor, appointment after appointment, with no answers and no relief, knows the burden of her plight. She was suffering not just from her affliction itself, but also from all the so-called physicians who were all too happy to take her money and add to her suffering. Perhaps you know this feeling.

But then there’s also Jairus. His daughter was in dire need. He says it plainly to Jesus: 23…My little daughter is at the point of death.” If someone is at the point of death there’s no time to spare. No dilly-dallying around. No taking the scenic route, and certainly no stopping for some woman grabbing onto your clothes. This is urgent. Your little girl is at the point of death. She needs Jesus to get there right now. There’s no time to waste!

However, time is not the master of Jesus. You and I are bound by it, subject to it, age by it, and die in it. But, Jesus is the creator of it, walked through it, and is the master and judge of it. So He’s happy to stop and help a suffering woman. And in a single moment her suffering ceases. 

Yet, that single moment also meant death to a little girl. How could Jesus be so cruel? Why did he wait so long? He knew Jairus wanted Him and needed Him right now.

Jesus presses on. He walks through the anxiety of the moment, through the chaos of time, and through an affliction that’s run its course, and commands the little girl to arise.

When the creator of time and the Lord over life commands a body to do something, dead or alive, your body obeys. In fact, when He touches the unclean and afflicted, you become clean and whole. When He heals, diseases dissipate. When He forgives, your conscience is cleansed.

Jesus touches you this day. Under bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus touches you. It strengthens your faith to look at the present circumstances of your life and see Jesus’s promise of hope and deliverance. It strengthens your faith say that you can confidently believe He is in control.

And whether or not He brings immediate relief to your afflictions or makes society get its act together, your eyes of faith are called to bear up under His cross and hold onto His love.

By faith you look into the future and see that His life, His death, and His resurrection remain true and powerful whatever the time and whatever the circumstances. Sickness, afflictions, the whims of society, your sin and my sin, and even death itself does not, cannot, and will not get the final say. Rather, the Lord of your life, Jesus Christ, gets the final say.

In the mean time, He’s sent His Holy Spirit and Word of truth to help you, guide you, and sustain you in the knowledge that Jesus Christ has overcome the madness, the chaos, and the hurt of this world.

Crucified, dead, risen, ascended and coming again, He is the Lord of your life, the Lord of the Church, and the Lord over all of history; He’s invincible. He’s incorruptible. He’s irresistible. No one can outsmart Him. No one can overpower Him. No one can stop His love or thwart His plan. Jesus Christ is the Lord of your life and Lord over all. Be at peace. You’re soul is safe with Him. Amen.

Questions & An Answer

nullQuestions!  Questions!  Questions!  Is there an answer? 

Last week, Mark’s reading ends: And with many such parables He, Jesus, was speaking the word to them as they were able to hear it.  34. And He was not speaking to them without parables; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.  Perhaps the discussion was like our Job Reading today. Or Psalm 124. “Had it not been the LORD who was on our side,” Let Israel now say, …Then they would have swallowed us alive… When their anger was kindled against us; Then the waters would have engulfed us, …Then the raging waters would have swept over our soul.” [Ps.124 vs.] Here is a warning to us “that God is our help in the name of the LORD.”     

“On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” “And leaving the crowd, they took Him along in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with them.” [4:35,36]   Jesus has been teaching with authority.  He has been using parables.  He was explaining everything to His disciples. He has healed the sick around His home base in Capernaum. He has cast out demons. He has said “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel.”  He invites His followers “go to the other side of the Lake to continue as The Strong Man who has entered the Strong Man’s house and begun to rob it, that is, Satan’s kingdom, which is well and active to this day!  You do believe that Satan rules all those who are without faith in Jesus, do you not?

Jesus, tired, hungry, and committed wholeheartedly to His mission, leaves with the newly appointed 12 Apostles’ along with others to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The sailors who take Jesus along are experienced ones.  Jesus is not out of His senses. Nor is he casting out the demons with the power of Satan.  He invites them to go to the Decapolis, pagan territory.  Therefore, the Word says, ‘Leaving the crowds behind, they took Him as He was…  

The Sea of Galilee is subject to sudden, strong, whirlwind storms coming off the eastern mountains [Mt Hermon.]  [These are like our northeasterner snow and rain storms which come in off the ocean, strong and heavy] Psalm 124:8 affirms that the Jews knew: “our help is in the name of the LORD who made Heaven and earth.”  Jesus knows that Satan is going to continue to resist His work and mission.  Then “there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up.  And He, Himself, was in the stern asleep on the cushion.” [37,38a]

I remember on Canandaigua Lake, Canandaigua, New York, on the east side of the Lake, being caught in a rowboat, alone, in a heavy downpour. All I could do was row as fast as I could without bailing, heading for the shore and safety.  It is scary, fearful, and anxious time for sailors.  So, from the East, a whirlwind storm can arise any time.  This text, however, is not about whirlwind storms or storms in life.

Nevertheless, we often experience whirlwind storms in our lives!  These can be addictions, abuse, broken families, divorce, broken relationships, illness, sudden & untimely deaths, and the like.  Yet, we know where to turn in them!  What an opportunity these whirlwinds and others like them afford us with the unchurched or under-churched.  What do we do in these storms? What do the unchurched do without hope; or chasing after pleasures that never please; or think that God does not exist, or even care; or be in relationships built on emotion and feelings as they experience them.  To whom do they turn for help?  To where do they turn for help?

Jesus is the parable in this text!

Because the storm of the wind and waves was swamping the boats, the sailors became anxious and angry and afraid. Why? Because Jesus is fast asleep on the ballast bag, there to maintain stability in troubled waters, calm and unafraid.  This raises the question: What do you want Jesus to do for you in your whirlwind storms?   What do the non-religious want done for them in theirs?

They were surely troubled by this overwhelming storm.  They awoke Jesus and said: “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”  Have you ever heard yourself ask this question? I know I did during   a typhon in the South China Sea in 1968 aboard a carrier. I watched ships, large and small, bobbing and tossing, and sliding around and wobbling, as in the waves like corks in a Child’s bathtub. It was scary!

Think about what “do You not care that we are perishing” says! How little faith or understanding of Jesus’ mission they possess, or we possess!  Earlier they thought Jesus was out of His senses. His mission is to bring the Kingdom of God to you, in truth and life: repent and believe the Gospel [1:15]. This is the rescue humans need! We need the seed planted to grow into humble faith.

So how does Jesus show you when you are disturbed and afraid of the storms in your life?  Do you turn to the Word, or do something else? The text: “Jesus, got up, and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.”  Is He silent? Did nothing happen? Did Jesus speak? Did we hear and with understanding?

What do you turn to in our whirlwind storms in life? Does Jesus care that we are perishing?  Yes, Yes, He cares! Look to the Cross.  “Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith.  Fix your eyes on Jesus.  He “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Heb12:2] He suffered rejection, abuse, whippings, thirst, and a cruel death, caring for the whole world and you! And Me. Jesus went to the cross uncomplaining forth to die in our behalf as the sacrifice acceptable to God for grace, mercy, peace and the forgiveness of our sins, that we might have hope, and eternal life with Him on account of His substitutionary death in our behalf. He is fully man and fully God! Yes! Amen. He cares for all sinners!

Jesus got up from the cushion, and “He rebuked the wind and said to the sea; “Hush, be still.”    He has been teaching with authority. He has been healing the sick. He is the Word become flesh.  “O God, who dost still the roaring of the seas; The roaring of the waves, And the tumult of the people…and those who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Thy signs.” [Ps.65: 1a, 7, 8a] 

The Word says: “and the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.”  The elements; the demons; the unclean spirits; the wind and the sea obey the Word spoken by Jesus!     What about us?  Who is this the disciples ask.  

Jesus then addresses the second question: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”  Come, now brethren, let us reason together here.  Who is this that commands the waves and wind to cease and they become calm?  Who is this that is concerned that we are perishing?   Who is it that is calling us to participation in His death and resurrection that is the object of the good news of our salvation?  Is it not God in the Flesh-Jesus, Himself, who saves? 

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”  41b And He no longer tells us to tell no one, though He gave only one answer.  And those who have faith have the one answer. 

In our faith, how do we obey without fear?

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.” 2 Cor.5:21

Jesus asks us, today, “Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith? Jesus asked, but did not answer.  We are called to be ambassadors for Christ. What a beautiful calling we have.

In Baptism, God incorporated us into Jesus’ death and resurrection, gave us participation in His death and resurrection; gave us the forgiveness of sins, and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us; that we might be ambassadors for Christ, “as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  What a wonderful gift this is to all believers in Jesus Christ to be ambassadors for Christ to a dying world, a Satan busy world. This is how we obey the Word, by being faithful spokespersons for the Lord Jesus Christ in all that we think and do.  What a great privilege we have as followers of Jesus sharing the good news of salvation in His name.  He is our help in time of need and theirs help, also, by faith.

God made “Him, Jesus, to be sin in our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” that is, in Jesus!  He is faith’s object.  [2 Cor 5:20,21] God calls us to be righteous through faith in Jesus, that we might become the righteousness of God through the obedience of faith.   Therefore, Receive grace meaningfully.  

And, “working together with Him,” Jesus, “we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain” … [2 Cor 6:1 a]. We have been rescued, we have been saved from perishing, we have received grace upon grace!  This is the acceptable time, behold, this is the “Day of Salvation.”  This is the purpose of the Church.  It is like an upside down boat into which we enter to worship Jesus, the author and perfecter of our Faith; to not be disturbed by the struggles of our lives, the storms, the whirlwinds; and to remain calm in the One who calms the waves, and stills the wind, Jesus Christ, our crucified, buried, risen, ascended and seated Lord who calls us through the Gospel preached to believe that we are forgiven sinners, working to redeem the world from sin, death and the power of the devil by preaching repentance and believing the gospel until He comes again.  Our boat is a hospital for sinners! What a wonderful message, assured by God in the Flesh who stilled the waters and calmed the waves and increased the faith of those who repented and believed the Gospel by His presence.  

In the grace of God, go into the world in which you live and be an ambassador of Christ if you know the answer to the question, “who is in the boat with you?”  Remember who invites you into the boat with Himself.

Regardless of what is going on around us, [though now we have a new, major whirlwind storm of our own as a congregation] we can be assured that Jesus wants us not to perish but be saved, and to continue moving forward and growing in faith believing that God in the Flesh is with us in each step of the way. 

Amen. Amen. Amen. Go in grace and peace, Jesus cares that we are perishing.

Sheer Delight - Pastor Woodford 6/17/18


1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

Who is this man? Who might the Psalmist be talking about? Is it your father (on this Father’s Day)? Could it be you? Do you refuse to walk in the counsel of the wicked? Do you refuse to stand in the way of sinners? Who is that man? Do you delight in the law of the Lord? Do you meditate on it day and night?

The first Psalm is rather insightful. The book of Psalms is called the prayer book of the Bible, but it includes a variety of gifts in its pages. It has prophesy, instruction, comfort, all kinds of prayers, and thanksgiving. We regularly include Psalms in our worship for all these reasons.

Psalm 1 is no different. Blessed is the man who walk not in the counsel of the wicked… but his delight in is the law of the Lord… Do you delight in the law of the Lord, and all of His Word for that matter? The word “law” in the Hebrew is “Torah,” which does refer to the law, but would also include all of God’s Word of law and Gospel. So, do you find comfort and joy at hearing what God’s Word has to say to you?

This Psalm is instructive. It takes us to the core of faith. It teaches us that faith is more than just right knowledge about God and His Word, but actually delighting in God and His Word. Remember, even the Devil and his demons have knowledge about God. The Gospel of Mark carefully records how the unclean spirits actually say to Jesus, “I know who you are—the Holy one of God.” (Mark 1:24). But be assured they do not love Jesus, let alone delight in Him.

Do you love the Lord? Do you, as the Psalmist says, delight in the law of God? Even better, do you rejoice that Jesus has kept that entire law perfectly for you, paid the price for your failure to keep that law, and then baptismally sent His Holy Spirit into you not only to lead you to obey that law, but delight in it?

The Psalmist reminds us how this delight is produced. 3He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In short, it comes from being planted in the living streams of God’s love and mercy. And that’s you!

You are planted in the baptismal stream of God’s love. Every time you say the invocation, that love is pressed upon you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As a result, you love because He first loved you. Just as an apple tree bears apples and shows itself to be an apple tree, planted in the baptismal streams of God’s grace you show yourself to be the Spirit-filled children of God as you bear the fruit of love and good works.

The delight of Psalm 1, you see, is that it teaches you where to find strength for faith and life. Not from yourself. Not from your own will power and grit, but from the streams of God’s life-giving Word. Jesus Himself explains it similarly in the Gospel reading.

Where we may wonder how faith in God and the life of good works and love for others spring up within us, Jesus explains it in terms of the wonder of a planted and growing seed: 26[Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.

In other words, the power to believe and the ability to do good works do not come from within us. Like the man who scatters seed and marvels at how they sprout and grow, you and I have the seed of God’s Word planted in us and are called to meditate on it and delight in it.

It seems so simple. So, why is life complicated and often lacking in delight? “Why do I know what God wants, but fail to delight in it, let alone do it?” The generic answer, of course, is because of sin. But sometimes that answer is too easy to hide behind and think, “Well, I’m a sinner and there’s nothing I can do about it, so I might as well indulge in my sin.”

Such thoughts are lies straight from Hell, seeking to take up residence in your heart. There most certainly is something you can do about it. Jesus is the one who pays for your sins and gives you faith, but you are the one who must repent of your sin and exercise your faith.

You and I are not entitled to say, “That’s just the way I am, so I can’t do anything about it.” Rather, you and I are called to repentance, to turn from sin, to daily drown your sinful desires in those baptismal waters, and then rise with Jesus to live in His righteousness and purity.

In other words, if you and I want to walk “not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers,” then we must be intentional about exercising our faith. If you and I are to delight is in the law of the LORD, and meditate [on it] day and night, then it’s good to be deliberate about engaging our baptismal faith.   

True, many people find meditating on God’s Word to be a foreign practice. But it’s simply reading (out loud) and contemplating on God’s Word in an intentional way. In other words, picture in your mind what God’s Word says and desires of you, from you, and for you. Then fix your mind on what God says, why it’s good, who it helps, and how it pleases Him.    

For example, it’s one thing to know the commandments of God, but another to love them, delight in them, and actually do them. Again, it’s one thing to have knowledge about God, but another to actually love Him, even as He desperately loves you this very moment.  

The difference might be expressed like this. Over my years as a pastor I’ve attended various gatherings and parties. Occasionally, as people become aware of my presence, there is a shift in demeanor and change in the atmosphere of the party. Some are even bold enough to say to me, “We better shape up, the Pastor is here!” (And it’s not just with me. Pastors of all ages share plenty of similar experiences with one another.)

 Depending on the type of party and what people are hoping to do at this party, when a pastor is present there is an unspoken tension in the air that says, “We can’t wait for this guy to leave so we can get back to the party!” It’s the misbelief that the Pastor’s presence somehow makes God more present and better able to see the things you say and do. However, God already sees all you do, hears all you say, and knows everything you think. You can’t hide from Him.

And besides, pastors aren’t dumb. Most of us know what “getting back to the party” means, because there was likely a time in our life when we may have been the life of that party. But my point is this. You and I can know the law of God. You and I can know what His Word says, and even be willing to try to avoid sinning here and there. But that is not the same thing as delighting in the Word of the God and obeying it because you love Him.

And if “getting back to the party” means indulging in a sinful desire—whether that’s at an actual party, at home, at work, or on vacation—then you and I have a problem. We transgress God’s law. We walk in the way of the wicked. And Psalm 1 gives us a warning when it contrasts those who delight in God’s law and those who walk in the way of the wicked: 5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.   

And there you have it. Indulging in our sinful desires puts you and me under God’s judgment. The wicked will perish, says the Psalm. That means death and damnation on the Day of Judgment. And then it just ends, leaving sinners like you and me in fear and trembling.

  But when you reach the end of this Psalm you’re meant to go back to its beginning, for there you will find hope: 1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners…

Just who is this man? He is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, true man just like every one of us, and yet true God. Never once did He walk in the counsel of the wicked; rather He walked the road to Calvary in the place of all the wicked. And while on His way, His delight was in His Father’s law. He honored and loved His Heavenly Father at all times and in all ways, not just on a designated Fathers’ Day. In fact, Scripture records how He certainly meditated on His fathers’ law day and night.

And to be sure, He did not stand in the way of sinners; rather He stood in the place of sinners. Nor did He sit in the seat of scoffers, but rather was scoffed at and mocked in our place.

He who does not have a wicked bone in His body had His body crucified on a cross by the wicked, so that those same wicked people (even the likes of you and me), might not perish but have everlasting life. Here there is truly something to delight about!

When you meditate upon the love your Lord has for you it fills you from head to toe. When you think on God’s love for you, it replaces the darkness of your life with the light of His life. God’s love for you in Jesus is so powerful it’s like a seed sprouting and taking root in your heart, where fear is replaced with hope, sin is replaced with His righteousness, and shame is replaced with His unconditional acceptance. His love for you is so intense, so vibrant, and so powerful that He walked through death back to life to make sure you have it. You are loved!

Yes, there is delight with Jesus. He has claimed you as His own. He has planted you in streams of baptismal water, washing you from head to toe, and giving you His own life to live here and now. The old is gone, the new has come! You are His and He is yours.

He delights in you, so that you can delight in Him. And when you delight in Him you can’t help but do what He desires and love those who He loves.   

Jesus is so fond of you that He comes to you this very day at this altar to feed you with His precious blood and most holy body, filling you with His very own life and hope.

Then He sends you on your way fed, forgiven, and freed, to go out into this world trusting that He will never leave you nor forsake you. That’s His promise. He loves you now and always. He is with you now and always. And when you are with Jesus, there is sheer delight. Amen.  

Hide n' Go Seek - Pastor Gless 6/10/18


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Throughout the last few years of parenting, I have played a fair amount of games of Hide ‘n’ Go Seek. It is a simple game for most. There is one who is responsible for seeking. That person counts to an agreed upon number, while the others go and hide. After counting, the seeker goes and tries to find all of the others. As I said, it is a simple game for most. But not if you are as big as I am. My children find the greatest spots, under the bed, in a cupboard, in the laundry hamper. Great spots! But look at me, does it look like I would ever be that difficult to find?

So it was for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as they attempted to play Hide ‘n’ Go Seek with God. We all know the story. Satan entered the serpent and dangled the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil before Eve’s eyes. And when Satan told her she wouldn’t die if she ate it, and it would make her wise like God, she didn’t hesitate to take a bite and offer it to her husband Adam who took a bite as well. But then they realized they were naked and sewed fig leaves together to make loincloths for themselves.

It is a tragic story that unfortunately affects every one of us today. Because of this disobedience of God’s command, every human being thereafter has been conceived and born into sin. It is what we call original sin. Your parents passed it on to you. You pass it on to your offspring. It is a rotten deal, I know. Since that day, humanity’s relationship with God has been damaged by sin. Because as we know, it didn’t just stop with that one sin. There have been actual sins committed ever since that original fall.

Our text makes that very clear when it says, And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8).

They heard God and they hid. Like you could really play Hide ‘n’ Go Seek with God. Yet, here we see human nature at its finest. They knew that they were guilty, and so they hid. They were ashamed and exposed. They felt their separation from God in their newfound nakedness. So they literally tried to cover up the evidence of their guilt with fig leaf loincloths.

But isn’t that what we all try and do when we know that we are guilty? We try to cover up the evidence of our guilt. We clean up the mess from the broken plate. We erase the internet history on the computer. We delete emails and text messages. And it’s all done in the hopes that we won’t get caught and have to face the consequences. After all, no one likes consequences, so we convince ourselves that if we clean up and cover up enough that no one will notice. No one will notice and the problem will just go away.

But that just isn’t the case. It is as the book of Proverbs says, Whoever covers his sins will not prosper (Proverbs 28:13, NKJV). No matter how hard we try, the sin doesn’t go away. Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, we try new ways to cover sin up, to mask it in some way in hopes that it won’t be as big of a deal.

It is as one chaplain put it, “We have endorsed homosexuality and called it an alternative lifestyle, we have promoted love of money and called it lottery, we have killed our unborn and called it choice, we have broken marriage vows and called it personal freedom, we have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition, we have polluted the air with profanity and nudity and called it freedom of expression, we have ridiculed time-honored values of the Ten Commandments and called it enlightenment.”

Our game of Hide ‘n’ Go Seek with God may not include hiding behind bushes wearing fig leaves, but we are still trying to hide the sin. We just simply hide by a new set of terms so we think it pleases the palate a little bit better. We hide by failing to call sin a sin, but in no way does that remove the sin. Nor does it remove the consequence for sin, which is death. Let’s never downplay the effect of our sins or hide behind any sort of terminology to try and soften them. Sin kills. Period.

That’s why God joins in the game of Hide ‘n’ Go Seek with Adam and Eve. He knows what they have done. He knows that they are hiding. So, he goes seeking for them.

Now we might expect God to be fuming with anger or bent on condemning His hiding creation, but no. He approaches them with a series of rhetorical questions giving them every opportunity to confess. He doesn’t ask these questions for His own benefit. He doesn’t need any information. He is God. He knows everything already. No, these questions are for Adam and Eve’s good. To lead them to see the depravity of their sin and their desperate need for a Savior.

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself (Genesis 3:9-10).

I always think of my son Will when he was younger when God asks this question. When I would play Hide ‘n’ Go Seek with him, I would ask the same question, and he would jump right up and say, “Here I am!”

Well, it wasn’t quite that way with Adam and Eve. There was no jumping up of any kind. Instead he says that he hid because he was afraid. How sad that is. Here he and Eve had just sinned, and instead of turning to God to apologize and ask for forgiveness, they hide from him in fear.

But that’s what happens isn’t it? When we sin, either the devil with all of his deception convinces us that our sin is not that big of a deal or that it is just too big. Either way, we flee from God. We flee thinking we don’t need forgiveness or we flee thinking there is no forgiveness for us. So, we flee from worship, we flee from confession, we flee from the Lord’s Supper. We flee and we hide in whatever way we can try and cover up the reality of our sin. But it’s no use.

Nor is making excuses and blaming others for our sin like Adam and Eve attempted to do when God questioned them further. God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:11:-13).

Here we see that the line, “It’s not my fault” started all the way back in the Garden of Eden. When we are hiding in our sin, we will try any excuse possible before admitting our fault. After all, no one likes to say, “I was wrong.” How easy does it roll off of your tongue? None of us likes to take accountability for our actions. We think it is much easier to point a finger at someone else. But as I have told you before, when we point a finger at someone, we point three back at ourselves.

That’s why the other half of that verse from Proverbs is so crucial. Whoever covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy (Proverbs 28:13, NKJV).

God doesn’t come to the Garden of Eden seeking to condemn. He came seeking to lead His creation to confess their sins and to deliver mercy to them. He knew that if He didn’t intervene they were doomed to remain hiding in their sin to their own eternal condemnation. It is as the evangelist Billy Sunday once said: “Sinners can’t find God for the same reason criminals can’t find policeman: they aren’t looking for them.”

 That’s why when we sin, we need God to come and seek us out. Which is the good news found within this tragic story of creation’s fall. Our God who is rich in love and mercy calls out to His most beloved creatures with His Word. We ought never lose sight of the fact that the first question in the Bible after Adam and Eve sinned is “Where are you?” God seeks the sinner. He seeks the sinner out so that they may hear that it is they who are the ones separating themselves in hiding. And He seeks them so that they may be comforted in knowing that they have a God who loves them enough to come to them to deliver good news to them.

That good news for Adam and Eve and for us starts with the curse of Satan and putting him in his place, and it continues with a promise of a Savior. The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal (Genesis 3:14-15).

All the way back in Genesis, God made a promise that what began at a tree in the Garden of Eden would be finished once and for all at a tree on Calvary. Where Adam and Eve once hid to cover their nakedness and shame, God’s Son Jesus would be sent to endure nakedness and shame as He would bleed and die to save the entire world. Where Adam and Eve feared the consequences for their sinful action, God promised to send Jesus to endure the consequences of all of humanity’s sins. Where Adam and Eve tried to cover their sins in hiding behind bushes and fig leaves; where we have tried to cover our sins by failing to call sin a sin in a myriad of ways, Jesus was sent to cover our sins with His own precious blood to wash them away for good once and for all.

In so doing, He would bruise the head of Satan. The better translation here is “He will crush your head.” I love that image. Crushing Satan’s head. When I teach on this, I always give a good stomp with my feet. In fact, if you ever look closely at the seal of our seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, you will see under the cross, a snake. In fact, what is right under the cross is the snake’s head, reminding us of the victory Jesus has won over Satan. Jesus has defeated Satan once and for all. Satan’s ability to keep us in fear and shame in the presence of God is done for.

As sinners who hear God’s call to repentance through His Word, we can approach the cross of Christ in the confidence knowing that we will always be forgiven. We have no need to play Hide ‘n’ Go Seek with God. We don’t need to fear his wrath and condemnation. In fact, it is as the Psalmist writes: You are a ‘hiding’ place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me shouts of deliverance (Psalm 32:7).

So, no matter the sin we have committed, no matter how big it is in our mind, there is always forgiveness for us. The promised offspring of Eve, Jesus Christ, was sent to endure it all in our place. Remember, God seeks the sinner. That’s why He sent His Son…to save sinners like us. It is as the hymn that we just sang goes: “He sent forth Jesus, My dear redeemer, He sent forth Jesus, and set me free. Therefore I’ll say again: God loves me dearly, God loves me dearly, loves even me.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

          The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

"What about Suffering?" Pastor Woodford 6/3/18



What About Suffering?

11For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Suffering is a heavy subject, which means (just to prepare you) a sermon on suffering can be rather heavy. So consider yourself warned. I’m asking you do some intense thinking today.

How do we make sense of suffering in this world? What meaning could there possibly be in pain and suffering? Headaches and heartaches, addictions and accidents, diseases and death—there’re all around you, they’re afflicting you, and they’re in you. It can be overwhelming and debilitating.

            When your body hurts, life becomes difficult. When your emotions are in turmoil, life becomes heavy. Suffering brings with it all kinds of questions. And if we were to boil them all down we could probably fit them all into one word, “Why?”

            Why does your body have to hurt so much and so often? Why does cancer strike so randomly? Why did it have to be to you? Why does it have to be your loved one? Why does a broken foot have to lead to a dangerous blood clot in the lungs? Why does a routine heart surgery have to send someone into a coma for a month clinging to life? Why does an infant have be permanently debilitated by cerebral palsy and epilepsy, leaving his parents regularly wondering if he’ll be able to take another breathe? Why does a young women fall into drug use, take her life, and leave a husband behind? All are questions that have confronted the people of our congregation and community as of late. 

It’s was Job’s proverbial unanswered question, “Why?” Even Jesus Himself asks it in the midst of His suffering on the cross, “My God, Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Jesus’ question is ours too: Why? Why must I suffer when others don’t? Why do I hurt, why am I in distress and filled with so many anxious thoughts? If God is God, and He is good, why doesn’t He do anything about it?”

The anguish of suffering, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, is relentless and ruthless. If you are in the midst of it, (and right now I know many of you are), you’re looking for a little hope. You’re longing for some kind of solace to ease the pain, to lighten the load, and to bring you relief. In fact, when the pain is bad enough, just a glimmer will do—you want something to make you believe that you can get through it.

I’m here to tell you that Jesus Christ gives you this hope! Whatever your suffering might be on this day Jesus brings to you a powerful solace. He is the Lord of all Lords and the King of all Kings. He is the resurrection and the life. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus gives a powerful solace. But maybe not in the way you think.

You see, sometimes the pain of suffering can only be undone and relieved by one who suffers with you. Undoubtedly, your own suffering makes you wish that you were one of the many in the crowds who received Jesus’ healing touch during His earthly ministry.

He was even known to heal on the Sabbath day, which to the Pharisees was a scandal. They held that not even works of compassion were to be done on the Sabbath Day. But as Jesus points out in the reading for today, the Sabbath was created so that humankind would be given a day’s rest from the labors and burdens of life, not as one more rule they were to rigidly keep. That’s why the disciples could pick grain to eat and Jesus could heal even if it was on a Sabbath.  

In any case, Jesus’ great compassion and healing shows us all something important. As much as God’s silence in the face of your suffering may make you wonder; God does not want to assault you and torment you. He desires to love you and wrap His arms of love and mercy around you.

But be assured, the Devil wants to assault you and torment you. Like a raging tempest and a roaring lion, he brings assaults and ailments of all kinds upon your conscience, into your body, onto your life, and into your family. In fact, he is by nature so malicious and venomous that he cannot stand to see something beautiful or endure anything good.

“It irks him that an apple should be growing on a tree” or a flower growing a garden; “it pains him that you have a sound finger,” a healthy knee, or a vibrant life. “If he were able, he would tear everything apart and put it all out of joint.” (Luther). He wants you to curse God, turn from His Word, abandon your faith, and fall into despair on account of your suffering. The devil is a malicious and devious enemy. We dare never take him or his temptations lightly.

So what does God do about the devil? What does he do about your suffering? We would have Him take it all away. Just remove it altogether and make everything right with a snap of His fingers. But instead, He does something extraordinarily unique for the God of all space and time. He sends His Son into space and time—into the flesh—into your flesh and blood where He too is oppressed by the Devil and afflicted by the frailties of life. Then, of all things, God sends Him into the utter depths of unbearable pain and horrendous suffering to bear your pain ahead of you.

To us it would seem simpler just to take all the suffering, all the misery, and all the evil of the world away. But sin had to be paid for; God’s wrath had to be appeased. The wages of sin is death—that’s the insufferable penalty against us. So in order to remove evil and suffering, sin first has to be dealt with. Thus God sends His Son not only to pay for your sins, but to suffer for your sins, and in so doing, to give meaning to your suffering because He sanctified it by His most holy touch.

The Holy One of God has endured suffering. He has touched it. He has felt it. And He came through it! You and I both know that there is something powerful about someone who knows your suffering—someone who knows the depths of your sorrow and the anguish of your affliction. When somebody like that comes alongside you in your suffering, there is an intimate connection through the bond of shared pain.

            Pain is the great leveler. When you are in it, you claw and cling for hope and solace. You want someone, anyone, who can understand your pain and relate to your affliction. There is someone like that; His name is Jesus and He knows your suffering intimately well.

            When you look at your suffering from the perspective of the cross, you can see your suffering in a new light and find a new and powerful hope. There on the cross Jesus sanctified your suffering because He suffered first for you. On the cross, He sanctified agony, as painful as it is. So now when you carry around pain, you are carrying with you your Lord Jesus Christ and the pain He bore in His own body. As Paul said in our Epistle reading:

8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4)

            You see, in the suffering of Jesus He not only rescues you from sin, death, and the devil, but He also paves the way for you to follow Him through suffering. In other words, amid all of your misery and hurt, amid the confounded anguish and blasted pain in your life, you are able to recognize how you are being crucified along with Christ.

Now, no one wants to suffer. No one in their right mind wakes up and says, “I can’t wait to suffer today!” So it’s only natural to seek to avoid suffering. Yet as some philosophers remind us, without suffering one can never really know the fullness of its opposite. In other words, we could never truly know joy apart from suffering. Without pain, they say, we could never know the fullness of contentment. And without sorrow, we could never know the fullness of love.

So in the midst of all of this, there is Jesus who calls each of you to take up your cross and follow Him. And that most assuredly means suffering. That was the whole design of the cross after all. To make one who bears it to suffer. Here too, we ask why. But Jesus simply responds with, “Follow me.” The call to obey is all the more difficult in the face of suffering.

Of course, your suffering or my suffering can never earn anything toward our salvation. However, by it you become all the more aware of how Jesus is drawing you more and more into Himself; that by your suffering, as ugly, painful, and miserable as it is, you are being emptied of everything that prevents you from clinging only to Jesus, and through it you are being united to your Savior in the most intimate of ways, through the pain of suffering. Here our questions of why can begin to see an answer, unsatisfying as it may be.

            This is no easy pill to swallow. Yet, as one who has endured multiple tragedies and suffers from a painful disease, I speak from experience. Like many of you, I am acquainted with suffering. At times, such suffering is intolerable. We cry out and ask Jesus to take it all away. And were it not for the grace of God there would be no way to endure such misery.

This is where faith is truly tested and tried. This is where the flames of suffering either consume us to the point of despair, or they forge a deeper faith that cuts through that suffering as it looks to our Savior. In Jesus, there is one who understands. In Jesus, there is one who knows the pain, who knows your suffering, and who suffers with you because He’s been there ahead of you. Jesus is your solace and safety.

In your very pain—whatever that affliction may be—you are being drawn closer and closer to Him; more and more into Him; and being more and more conformed into His image. Not simply for sufferings sake, but as it was for Jesus, so that you will enter into the eternal honor and glory that comes at the end of all suffering.

We live by faith, come what may. No, it’s not easy! But Jesus never said it would be. I realize some prefer sermons to be lighter, happier, and full of only the brighter side of life. But ignoring suffering would be to cheat you of the richness and fullness of faith for every aspect of life. To live by faith is to believe what the Scriptures say, even about suffering.

So you want some good news about suffering? The Apostle Paul, one who was quite familiar with suffering Himself, was given a divine glimpse of the grandeur and glory of what comes after this life of suffering, and he passed that on to us with these words: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18). The hope of what is to come carries us through our suffering.

You see, your suffering does not get the final say. Jesus has the final say. He has defeated the Devil. He has sanctified suffering. He has destroyed death. Jesus is risen from the grave, lives and reigns to all eternity as one who has suffered and come through it as the Lord of all Lords!

This same Lord claims you as His very own. Jesus has embraced your suffering and hallowed it by His holy touch. He is with you in your pain. He promises never to leave you nor forsake you, come what may. Jesus is your solace.

We may never fully know why we or those we love must suffer. But we do know who will end all suffering. His name is Jesus. Until then, we walk by faith, knowing that: 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. Amen.

"Truly, Truly, I Say To You" Pastor Gless 5/27/18


It is good to be back with you all here in the Unites States. On behalf of both of our teams that served in Kenya, I want to thank you for all of your prayers and support. The work that is being done through our congregation is helping to prepare men to serve as pastors throughout the continent of Africa. And who knows, maybe one day, they will come to America to share the Gospel with us. Please stay tuned as we will be presenting on both servant events in the near future, and Pastor May and his family will be here on furlough in the middle of July.

While in Kenya, our team had the privilege of meeting a twenty-six year old man by the name of Abai. Abai was very intentional about getting to know each of us through conversation. He spoke English quite well, which made conversation much easier. Our Swahili is still a bit rough.

Abai is from Ethiopia. However, fourteen years ago, his country’s government decided for whatever reason to eliminate his tribe by way of genocide. Abai, along with his family fled to Kenya to a refugee camp. He has lived in the refugee camp for the past fourteen years.

While in Kenya, we witnessed two momentous occasions in Abai’s life. On Sunday, May 13, we were privileged to attend the Divine Service with all twenty-eight students studying at the Lutheran School of Theology, along with the congregation that Pastor May serves. In all, there were probably about 70 people in attendance. The worship service began with us all gathered outside the church in a circle around the baptismal font. Pastor May, Abai, his life Lucy, and their son Ngathe stood by the font as Ngathe was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We then entered into the church for the worship service which went on for about two hours. During that worship service, Abai, along with six other students were welcomed forward to go through the Rite of Confirmation. They had learned the six chief parts of the Catechism, and they were now prepared to receive the Lord’s Supper as they were confirmed.

So on the same day that Abai publicly affirmed the faith given to him in his baptism at his confirmation, he also witnessed the baptism of his son Ngathe. It was quite a day for us to be present to witness. And how appropriate was it that Ngathe, in their native tongue, means ‘faith.’ And what gift is given in the waters of Holy Baptism? The gift of faith.

In our Gospel reading for today, we hear about the importance of baptism from the very lips of Jesus as he speaks with Nicodemus. The text tells us that Nicodemus is a man of the Pharisees, a ruler of the Jews who comes by way of the night to speak to Jesus. But Jesus, who ‘knows what is in man’ (John 2:25), knows exactly why he comes. So, in His infinite wisdom, Jesus directs him to none other than the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Throughout the dialogue, each of Jesus’ responses begins with a common phrase that He is known for using throughout the book of John. “Truly, truly, I say to you.” It is a phrase that he uses to confront those who do not understand who He is or they doubt His message. In our Gospel reading for today in His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus uses the phrase three times. “Truly, truly, I say to you.”

Truly, truly, Jesus has a word of truth for this man that comes to address him in the darkness of the night. And he certainly needs a word of truth. You see, Nicodemus has a problem. Even, though Jesus is standing right next to him, Nicodemus fails to see Him for who He truly is. Though he is willing to confess that Jesus is obviously from God and God is with Him, he is not able to confess that Jesus is God.

Listen again, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

You have heard the saying before: “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” Well, Nicodemus is so close to understanding who Jesus is, and yet so far away.

Nicodemus, like all of us, needs some help. As a Pharisee, he is blinded by his own sinful arrogance. You see, Pharisees thought that they were saved by their works. They were great at pointing out the sins of others, but thought of themselves as those who followed the law perfectly. They couldn’t see that they were sinners. Therefore, they couldn’t see a need for a Savior. And like Nicodemus, he couldn’t see that the Savior, the very Son of God, was standing right in front of him.

Jesus knew all of this. So Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Truly, truly, Jesus points his evening companion to baptism in order for him to see the kingdom of God. Unfortunately, Nicodemus fails to understand, and thinks that he has to literally be born of his mother once again. We can just imagine the baffled look on his face as he tries to figure out how being born again of his mother is even possible.

But instead of letting Nicodemus’ mind explode, Jesus elaborates on His Word of truth. Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6).

Truly, truly, Jesus is taking Nicodemus to a higher truth. A truth that is beyond the ways of his own earthly understanding. He can see that Nicodemus is stuck trying to figure this all out like it was some sort of mathematical equation. But what Jesus makes clear is that this is not some equation that has an earthly method that can be applied to figure it all out. This isn’t algebra. The ways of God are far beyond the ways of man. Man is limited to the flesh, and flesh dies. But God who is Spirit works beyond the realm of flesh and death.

But alas, Nicodemus remains dumbfounded. “How can these things be?” he asks. And at this point Jesus takes over the conversation. You might have noticed that taking place all along. In the beginning, Nicodemus speaks twenty-six words to Jesus. At the end, Nicodemus only has a five word question before he silences altogether and just sits back and listens.

Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:11-17).

Truly, truly, Jesus kindly takes Nicodemus back to what he knows. He helps him to recall the Israelites when they were in the wilderness getting bitten by all those snakes. He points him to what they had to look at in order to be saved from death…that bronze serpent on a pole. Then he connects the dots for Nicodemus. Just as it was for that serpent so it is for the Son of Man. He has to be lifted up on a cross if Nicodemus is going to be saved…if he is going to have eternal life.

Not by his own reason or strength could Nicodemus understand what Jesus was talking about. He needed help. He needed the help of the Holy Spirit given in baptism so that he could see that he was just like those Israelites who were doomed to die in the wilderness in need of being saved. He was a sinner in need of a Savior.

So it is with all of us. Not by our own reason or strength can we understand or believe the words of Jesus. Like Nicodemus, we are blinded by our own sinful self-righteousness. We think far too much of ourselves. Like a Pharisee, we would rather delight in pointing out the sins of others. We carry ourselves around as if we are better than others. We think we are pretty good people. There are no doubt times we even think it is by our works that we are saved. We justify that we are just fine on our own, and all too often we conclude that we don’t need what Jesus gives in order to be forgiven and saved. We fail to see that we are sinners in need of a Savior.

That's what makes baptism so vital. Baptism is where God gives us His Spirit so that we are able confess Jesus as our Savior. Without baptism, we would never realize this to be true. We would never see our need for a Savior. But as baptized children of God, the Triune God has literally joined Himself in love to us. Through water and the Word, He has made clear that He wants nothing to sever the tie He has with His greatest creation. That's why the Father sent His Son. Truly, truly He loves us beyond all human comprehension. Nicodemus may not have understood it all. Nor do we. But when we consider the doctrine of the Trinity here on Trinity Sunday, we can't help but see how much our God loves us as He pours it out upon us in Baptism.

When I think back when Ngathe was baptized that day, I can't help but think about how filled with joy his father Abai was. Then again, I was the same way when my children were baptized. To think that as much as I love them, I could never save them. Only God can do that. And thanks be to God, He sent His Son and gave His Spirit to do just that. Amen.

          The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.