The Feast of Pentecost——9 June 2019

5212053Our text is today’s reading from Acts (Acts 2:1–21): 1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.  2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 

5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.  6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.  7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?  9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,  11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”  12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.  15 For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.  16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:  17  ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18  even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19  And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20  the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.  21  And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (ESV)

In December, with all the hustle and bustle of buying gifts and planning holiday meals, Christians like to remind the world that “the reason for the season is Christmas”—the birth of the Christ Child. And this morning, we could say that the reason for Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter is Pentecost. 

Make no mistake about it: Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became Man in order to pour out the Holy Spirit upon sinners. To pour out the Spirit, Jesus first was conceived by that same Spirit and had taken flesh from the holy Virgin Mary. To pour out the Spirit, Jesus had lived a perfect life of love and obedience to His Father. To pour out the Spirit, Jesus suffered and died, descended to hell, and rose in victory on the third day. To pour out the Spirit, Jesus had ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father. And now, it was on this day of Pentecost, fifty days after He rose from the dead, that Jesus kept His promise. Jesus poured out His Spirit, and the Spirit rushed into human history like never before. He came with a startling suddenness that was impossible to miss.

The Holy Spirit—the third person of the Holy Trinity—came that morning in wind and flame and the miracle of the apostles proclaiming God’s mighty works in languages they had never learned. St. Peter preached a sermon proclaiming the crucified, risen Jesus to be the Lord and the Christ, the Messiah, the One anointed to be the world’s Saviour. As Peter concluded his sermon, he invited the people not to wait around for a similar miracle. Rather, he pointed them to where they (and every generation since) may receive the Holy Spirit no less powerfully than the apostles had: Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself (Acts 2:38–39).

No fewer that three thousand people took the plunge that day. Adults and children got into the baptismal water. There they received the exact same Spirit that had fallen on the disciples earlier: I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit came bringing joy abounding, the joy of forgiveness, life, and salvation in the Name of Jesus.

The Festival of Pentecost was always held fifty days after the Passover. Pentecost was a harvest festival, the ingathering of the winter wheat. Pentecost was also the celebration of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Sinai accompanied by wind and fire. And now, fifty days after Easter, Pentecost is transformed. Peter, quoting the prophet Joel, proclaims that these are the last days, when God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. The last days are the Holy Spirit’s days, and so Pentecost begins the time of the Holy Spirit. What began with the Father at Christmas—Of the Father’s Love Begotten—and continued with the Son through Holy Week and Easter—Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—now carries on with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. 

And the Holy Spirit transforms Pentecost into something greater that the ingathering of the winter wheat and the celebration of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Sinai accompanied by wind and fire. Now, in these last days, Pentecost is the ingathering of sinners into the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Pentecost is the celebration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ— the Good News of our sins forgiven, our shame and guilt washed away, our names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, our souls upon death entering into Paradise with the Lord and our bodies being raised up to eternal glory on the Last Day. 

Can you see why the Holy Spirit has traditionally been associated with joy? The Holy Spirit gives us what we cannot receive by our own reason or strength; He calls and gathers us sinners into the Christian Church, what the writer to the Hebrews called the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (12:23). In the ancient world, the firstborn son received the father’s inheritance. That is why in the Bible, those who confess Jesus as Lord are called “sons of God”. For all believers have the rank of the firstborn son in God’s sight. They are heirs of God’s salvation, with all that it offers. God has entered their names in His heavenly family record even more carefully than the Jews did in their earthly genealogical records.

Scripture loves that expression: written in heaven. In Luke 10 Jesus tells his disciples, Rejoice that your names are written in heaven (v. 20) and in Philippians 4 Paul speaks of fellow workers whose names are in the book of life (v. 3). Each believer carries citizenship papers for heaven written in the indelible ink of God’s grace. Every believer on earth has a room reserved in the Father’s house.

And so, as we observe Pentecost today, rejoice! Rejoice that the reason for Jesus, God’s Son, becoming Man and living a perfect life of love and suffering, dying, and rising from the dead was so that He might pour out the Holy Spirit upon you. Rejoice that in Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit has gathered you into the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.  Rejoice that today the Holy Spirit is performing a greater miracle than a mighty rushing wind and tongues as of fire and our speaking the Gospel in languages we have never learned. Rejoice that the Holy Spirit is working in you the great miracle of a repentant heart, a heart that confesses all your sins and lays them bare before God, a heart that trusts God to keep His promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus. Rejoice that your sins, failures, sorrows, and afflictions—all of them put together—can never make null and void your citizenship papers for heaven written in the indelible ink of God’s grace. Rejoice that the Holy Spirit is ever working to keep you in the faith your whole life long so that you may receive the room reserved for you in the Father’s house. 

The ongoing work of Pentecost is not in wind, fire, and miraculous languages but in Word and Baptism and Holy Supper. At the close of Pentecost, St. Luke notes: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the communion, to the Breaking of the Bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). And so, by God’s grace, you and I devote ourselves to the true doctrine of God’s holy Word, to the communion of saints, to the Lord’s Supper, and to the prayers and liturgy of the Divine Service. For in the assembly of saints gathered around Word and Supper and liturgy, the Holy Spirit is ever being poured out afresh for the renewal of our faith in Christ.

Pentecost. Fifty days. The ingathering, the Word, the Church. You are a part of it, for you are called, gathered, enlightened, sanctified, kept in the faith by the Spirit.

Come, then, Holy Spirit, warm our cold and lifeless hearts with your Gospel fire.

Come, Holy Spirit, rattle our dry and dusty bones and make them live.

Come, Holy Spirit, loosen our tongues to speak the good news of Jesus.

Come, Holy Spirit, quench our thirst with the waters of Baptism.

Come, Holy Spirit, satisfy our hunger for righteousness with the Body and Blood of our Saviour.

Come, Holy Spirit, put the good news of Jesus into our ears, our minds, our hearts that we may hear, comprehend, and believe it.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Amen.

Seventh Sunday of Easter (Exaudi)—2 June 2019

Thanks to Pastor Elect Fenn, for preaching today’s sermon.

5212053John 15:26–16:4
26 [Jesus said:] “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” (ESV)

A few weeks ago, on the morning of Easter Sunday, a man walked into a Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, and detonated a bomb during Mass, killing at least fifty people. At almost exactly the same moment, another suicide bomber killed over a hundred Catholics in a church in a neighboring city. Twenty minutes later, a third terrorist, prevented from entering a Protestant church, blew himself up outside the building, killing twenty-five people, including both churchgoers. By the time it was over, the wave of coordinated bombings had killed more than 250 people and injured hundreds more, making it one of the deadliest attacks since 9/11. The suicide bombers were all Muslim extremists working with the Islamic State. They killed Christians believing that by doing so they were offering worship to Allah. How did the Sri Lankan Church respond to such attacks? They have suspended Church services indefinitely until security improves. But, isn’t that what the extremists wanted all along?

As for the rest of us—comfortable, wised-up North American Christians not inclined to pose as martyrs—we tend to like our stories of martyrdom the way we like our miracles: as ancient and remote as possible, softened in the mists of legend. But the age of miracles is not past, and neither, alas, is the age of martyrdom. Our society is just as drastically opposed to Christianity as was the Roman Empire and sometimes just as violent as any Islamic Extremist.  This brings us to the point of today’s Gospel. When the going gets tough, how are we going to react? When we experience trials which test our faith and push us to the limits, are we tempted to thrown in the towel? 

I. The Threat of Falling Away 

Our Lord Jesus tells the disciples what they are to expect. They are to expect persecution and even death. We too can expect a world which does not even care to know Jesus. We can expect a world which is opposed to and hostile towards the Church. In this world you will have hardship. Jesus says it will happen. And he warns you of it today so that you will not fall away. 

The world will mock you for following a God who goes and gets himself killed on a cross. Yes, the world will think you are nuts for believing that the Almighty God of the universe delights to be called your Father and counts the hairs of your head. Yes, the world will be self-righteous and call you cruel and intolerant for daring to say that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ. The world will call you misogynistic, and backwards for believing that abortion is murder. Television, social media, and movie screens are the world’s pulpits, and our children and are in the pews.

Here we come face to face with a hard reality: we can fall away. We can forsake God and Christ. We can stop going to Church, stop clinging to Jesus, and start thinking like the world around us. The hardships of life have a tendency to choke faith out. When the job is lost, when the diagnosis is dire, when the prayer is not answered the way you want it to have been answered, when the loved one dies too soon or too cruelly: that is when we can be tempted to doubt the Lord and his care for us. That is when we can waver – when we can be blinded and confused and scandalized by the lies of the the world. The world would like nothing more than to silence us and to get us to conform to its ways. The world wants to break us, and our fallen and sinful flesh wants nothing more than to take the easy route, give up, and throw in the towel. It doesn’t look like we have much hope compared with the world, does it? What are to do?

II. Kept from Falling Away

Think for a moment of the apostles. Fear gripped Peter’s soul as he stood in the shadows and watched Jesus’ interrogation. Before Jesus was brought to Pilate, Peter three times denied Jesus.  What about the other disciples on that night? They ran away. They did not stand by their Lord. Rather, they ran away into the night. When faced with persecution how did they react? For weeks these eleven men cowered behind locked doors because they were dreadfully afraid of the crosses which might await them. These are the men we look up to. They all fell away! Do we think we are any better than they were? Do we expect to fare any better?

Yet, after Pentecost, there they were, boldly proclaiming the Gospel publicly. Each one of these eleven men suffered terrible persecution because they confessed Christ. Ten of them were brutally murdered, and John was exiled. These same cowards who disowned Jesus on the eve of the crucifixion, were all themselves martyred. So what happened? 

What happened was the coming Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was sent and given to these men. When we’re going through the trails of this life, the comfort for us is that the Apostles were given the Holy Spirit. They didn’t find the strength within themselves, the Spirit strengthened them. He brought back to their memories all that Jesus said and did with them. Remembering all of the words and promises of Jesus kept them from falling away. The Holy Spirit witnessed to the disciples concerning the Savior. This enabled the apostles to witness to the world. Their message was written down and preserved in our Bibles. If we feel like we’re  tempted to throw in the towel and give up, we’re not supposed to sit and wait for the Holy Spirit to jump out of the sky give us strength. If we want to be kept in the true faith unto life everlasting, we should go and hear the word of God. The Holy Spirit speaks to us today through the written testimony of the Apostles – God’s Holy Word. 

This isn’t a matter of saying, ‘Oh well, these things happen.’ It isn’t a shrug of the shoulders, resigning yourself to the world being a nasty place and there being nothing much you can do about it. The Holy Spirit doesn’t speak to us through the wind or through a burning in our heart. He speaks to us through God’s Word. As he carried men of God to write the Scriptures, so the Holy Spirit speaks through them. Jesus is speaking not just to apostles, but to the first pastors of the Christian Church. He is preparing to send out pastors into the world to preach. He speak through men. He speaks through your pastor, when he declares your sins forgiven. There is no comfort of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, there are no gentle reminders in our minds and souls of the death of Jesus, without preaching. We can’t remember God’s word if we haven’t heard it first. We need God’s word proclaimed to us!

And Holy Spirit, through the Word, bears witnesses to you about Jesus. The finished work of Christ is the source of the strength the Spirit gives to us in God’s Word. That is the testimony of the Apostles. Jesus said: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” All of the world’s opposition to Jesus did not succeed in turning him aside from what he came to do: to give his life that the world might be saved. ‘The world’ that will hate, persecute and ridicule Jesus’ followers has been defeated. When Jesus took upon himself the weight of the world’s sin; when he burst through death itself into God’s new creation; when he ascended into heaven to intercede on our behalf, he was not just proving a point but winning a victory. The cross is the victory of Christ and the defeat of the world. This victory belongs not to Christ alone,  it also belongs to the baptized children of God.

When the world threatens to undo us, when we are tempted to fall away, our pastors proclaim to us the Word of God which reminds us of Jesus’ own victory over the world and this proclamation keeps us in the true faith. Even in the midst of persecution, God does not abandon us. Through His Word He strengthens us. This strength comes to us as the Spirit leads us to Word and Sacrament to feed us, nourish us, and strengthen us to meet the tribulations we will face in this world. Through this word we are assured of the certain hope of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. This is the Word given to us in our Baptism, strengthened through Jesus’ true Body and Blood, and further confirmed as we hear and read that Word. This is the Word which calls us to repent daily, grants us forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, and assures us of Jesus’ presence. This is how God has chosen to give you his Holy Spirit, to keep you in the true faith. 

The Sixth Sunday of Easter (Rogate)—26 May 2019

5212053Our text is today’s Gospel (John 16:23–33): 23 [Jesus said:] “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!  30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”  31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  (ESV)

Continue reading “The Sixth Sunday of Easter (Rogate)—26 May 2019”

The Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cantate)—19 May 2019

5212053Our text is today’s Gospel (John 16:5–15): 5 [Jesus said:]  “Now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  (ESV)

Continue reading “The Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cantate)—19 May 2019”

The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Jubilate)—12 May 2019

5212053John 16:16–22

16   [Jesus said:] “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”  17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?”  18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’?  We do not know what he is talking about.”  19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”  (ESV)

 

1 John 3:1–3

1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.  (ESV)

 

There are different kinds of seeing. There is a seeing which really isn’t a seeing at all. “Did you see a new Starbucks coffee shop is now open in Virgil?” “Well, no. I’ve been driving past it all week, so I must have seen it, but I guess I didn’t notice.” That kind of conversation happens all the time, doesn’t it? We see, but we do not perceive.

Today’s Epistle begins with a command: See what kind of love the Father has given to us. The Greek word St. John uses for “see” means to fix one’s gaze upon, to pay attention to something or someone. It is the kind of word that tells you to stop whatever you are doing and to focus intently on what I am about to reveal to you. This word reminds me of my high school gym teacher. At the start of class, the students would be slouching on the bleachers gabbing away. And suddenly the gym teacher would stroll into room, snap his fingers, and then bellow out: “okay, people, listen up!”. And then he would explain the day’s activity. And you had better pay attention or else later, when he saw you did not know what you were doing, he would call you out on it.

Now, paying attending to the gym teacher involved a certain amount of dread—the fear of being ridiculed in front of your classmates for flubbing up. But today’s Epistle is not like that. Rather, John’s command to pay attention is meant to give us the greatest comfort ever. When John tells us to see, to fix our gaze on, to pay attention to the love given us by our heavenly Father, it is if he is saying: “you had better sit down for the news I have to tell you because this news is so good that if I told it to you while you were standing, you would faint!”.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us. These words are yours to contemplate deeply your whole life long. But your problem is that you do not take these words to heart. You get so caught up in your daily chores and your future plans that you live as though you do not even have a heavenly Father. At times, you get so weighed down by your pain and suffering that you question whether your heavenly Father loves you at all. And over time, you grow lukewarm toward spiritual matters, and your heart becomes bitter, filled with despair, and resentful towards God. Repent! Confess that you are as ungodly as the worst sinner you could imagine, that you are indeed the chief of sinners. Confess that among your greatest sins are the shameful ways you have thought about your heavenly Father. And then trust your heavenly Father to nonetheless be gracious and merciful to you for the sake of His dear Son, Jesus your Saviour. Yes, trust your Father to forgive you and to fill you afresh with the Holy Spirit, in whom you receive the strength to amend your sinful life and to think rightly about your heavenly Father.  

This morning, I proclaim to you the gift the Holy Spirit gives you as He renews you in the one true faith—the gift of thinking rightly about your heavenly Father. See what kind of love the Father has given to us. Now, we must understand that in John’s day, a father had the authority to abuse and even do away with his children. When they were born, a father was free to order them to be “exposed”, taken to an out-of-the-way place and left to die. The church father Tertullian notes that across the empire children were killed “by drowning or by exposure to cold and hunger and dogs” (Apology 9). And the times have not changed all that much. For here in Canada, abortion is permitted throughout all nine months of pregnancy, for any reason, up to the moment of birth; the state of New York has gone ever further by recently passing a law allowing for babies to be aborted even during labour; and there is now talk among so-called ethicists about allowing parents to euthanize their children up to six months after birth!

Even the best earthly parents fail to love their children as they should, and the worst parents actually put their children to death! How great is the contrast to our Father in heaven. No matter how many times you sin, your heavenly Father will never take you to an out-of-the-way place and leave you to die. And your sufferings are never the act of your heavenly Father abusing you on some cosmic torture rack. Our Father who art in heaven never abuses His children and never leaves them out to die. Let these words sink deep into your heart: your heavenly Father will never abuse you nor leave you out to die! Rather, in Christ Jesus, He loves you. And His love exceeds your sins and suffering as eternity exceeds a day. 

See what kind of love the Father has given to us. God loves you, the sinner, not because He is drawn to you by your lovableness, but because, in spite of your unloveliness, God sets His mind and will on seeking your highest good. This is what is amazing about God’s love. God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Roman 5:8). Contrary to your opinion, the highest good that God can give you is NOT to spare you from pain, sorrow, suffering, and death in this fallen world. The highest good God can give you is an eternity spent with Him in heaven. That is why He demonstrated His love for you by sending His Son to die for you while you were yet a sinner. 

God so loved the world that He gave His beloved, His one and only eternally begotten Son. Begotten in time through the seed of the Spirit, God’s Son came to be one of us. He came as Abraham’s seed, as David’s seed, as the promised seed of Eve, come to crush the head of Satan (see Genesis 3:15). God’s Son came to do love’s work. And the work of divine love is to cover sins, to cover our sins but not by sweeping them under the carpet. Rather, as St. John says in the chapter following today’s Epistle:  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. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). Propitiation and another closely related biblical word, expiation, mean that Christ’s atoning sacrificial death on the cross satisfies God’s wrath and removes our guilt. The blood of Jesus covers up and washes away our sins. God Himself has provided the means by which sinners can avert His anger and be set free from guilt. Jesus, the Lamb of God, died on the altar of the cross, shedding His blood so we would not have to shed our own, dying sacrificially so we would not have to die eternally. 

Jesus’ death has brought about an eternal atonement, an eternal peace between God and sinners. Of course, many sinners reject Christ’s atonement and still fight against God. But the truth remains firm and unmovable: Jesus, the true light [… came] into the world. […And] to all who … receive[d] him, who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God (John 1:9, 12). And so, we see that Jesus came not only to atone for our sins but also to provide the way for us too to be born of Him and of the Father through the very same seed of the Sprit. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!

We say it every Sunday in the Nicene Creed: I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. Baptism is where we are born from above, born of water and the Spirit, born again as children of the kingdom of God, set free from our sins. We truly are God’s children. 

But the world does not recognize us as such. Rather, the world makes fun of Christians and even despises and persecutes those who confess the Holy Triune God as the one, true God and Jesus Christ as God-in-the-flesh, come to save sinners. Don’t expect the world to praise you for being a Christian. But count yourself blessed nonetheless. For remember our Lord’s promise: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12). The world does not know you for who you really are because the world refuses to know Jesus for who He truly is, the world’s Saviour.

But it is not just the world questioning your God-given identity. We ourselves often question our status as God’s beloved, forgiven children. What can you point to within yourself that proves beyond all doubt that you are God’s child? Absolutely nothing! Rather, when you look within, you see a sinner often defeated by temptation and bouts of depression, anger, and fear. You do not see the person you really should be in Christ, and so you may wonder whether you actually are God’s child. In light of your many failures, it is tempting to become discouraged, just as the disciples gave themselves over to sorrow when Jesus was crucified.

A Christian is God’s child and already in heaven. But this is still hidden so that we cannot see it. Nonetheless, remember this: every child of God must live through a little while of walking by faith while suffering. The disciples endured a little while of three days from Good Friday to Easter. During that little while, they did not do so well at walking by faith but rather hid themselves behind locked doors in fear and despair. But then on Easter, they saw the risen Christ and their hearts rejoiced with a joy no one could ever take from them.

And the same is true for you. You are currently living in a little while in which what you will someday be as glorified children of God has not yet appeared. And in this little while, you often struggle with doubts and fears, with sadness, despair, and anger. But your loving heavenly Father—the same Father who so loved you that He gave His Son to die in your place—your Father is calling you to persevere through your struggles, to walk by faith, to know that the day of the Lord is coming. And on the day Jesus appears, you shall be like Him, because you shall see Him as He is, in all His glory. And in His glory you will dwell for all eternity.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. Our little while of struggling here on earth will one day come to an end. And we will longer need to walk by faith, for we will see Jesus as He is. This is the blessed hope that sustains us. To live in this hope is to live for Jesus’ sake, so that in this fallen world, we desire to walk as Jesus walked—to live in faith toward God and in fervent love for one another. That is why each Lord’s Day we feast on our Lord’s true Body and Blood, that we may be strengthened in the blessed hope of seeing Jesus in His glory and of being like Him when He appears.

There was once a man who had gone blind in early adult life. He had then, subsequently, got married and had children. They could all see him, but he had never set eyes on them. Then, one day, the medical breakthrough came, the operation was a success, and he could see at last. What an amazing moment! To come face to face, eye to eye, with the people he had loved but never seen (From N.T. Wright, Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John and Judah). But what an even more amazing moment it will be when the little while of your earthly struggles is finally over and you see Jesus as He is and you shall be like Him. No longer will you be besmirched by sin and sorrow; rather, you will be shining in glory. On that day, you will come face to face, eye to eye, with the Saviour you have loved but never seen. And then, for all of eternity, your hearts will rejoice in Father’s love in making you His dear children. And no one will ever take your joy from you. Amen.  

The Third Sunday of Easter (Misericordias Domini)—5 May 2019

5212053Ezekiel 34:11–16


11
“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.  12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.  13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.  14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.  15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.  16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. (ESV)

1 Peter 2:21–25

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.  24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (ESV) 

John 10:11–16

11 [Jesus said:] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (ESV)

 

 

All we like sheep have gone astray. We were born as lost sheep trapped in a thicket of sin with no ability to break free and find our way home to God. Completely estranged from God, we lived under the sentence of death and damnation. But then Jesus—God’s Son—came as the Good Shepherd…[who] lays down his life for the sheep. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows;…He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed  (Isaiah 53:4-5). 

Jesus the Good Shepherd laid down His life for us straying sheep. But His death is no defeat; rather, it is the greatest victory the world has ever known. For on the cross, Jesus freed us from sin and death and He defeated the devil—that menacing predator who loves to devour straying sheep. The Good Shepherd died for sheep who love to wander, and in His dying for us, Jesus has given us a new life. Now, we no longer live estranged from God and trapped in death and damnation.

Jesus died and rose for you, to give you a new life. Your new life is a life of freedom, for the Son has set you free from sin, death, and the devil. Your new life is eternal, for whoever believes in the Son has eternal life  (John 3:36). Your new life is a life of healing, for by [Jesus’] wounds [we] have been healed. Yes, Jesus’ death is the divine victory that gives freedom, life, and healing to us straying sheep. His resurrection shows us that His victory over sin, death, and the devil is complete. And in the still waters of Holy Baptism, Jesus has transformed us to be the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand  (Psalm 95:7). Yes, you and I are members of the Lord’s holy flock, His Church. And Jesus, the Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls, is ever leading us through the valley of the shadow of death to the house of the LORD, where we will dwell forever. 

Now you would think that with our victorious Lord Jesus leading and guiding us in the way of life and salvation, that the journey would be smooth sailing. If you and I were to paint a picture of the Christian life, we would want to paint a peaceful scene of a shepherd leading his flock through gently-rolling lush green hills on a sunny day with a few billowy clouds.  

But if we were to paint the Christian life as it really is, then our painting would have to present a reality that is much more grim. For starters, look at the Shepherd Himself. See the wounds He bears. These are the death-wounds He suffered while saving His sheep. That alone should tell you that this holy flock is not taking an easy stroll through the park. 

And that is another point. Look at where the Shepherd is leading His flock. He is not taking them away from the valley of the shadow of death, but right through the heart of it! And in that dark valley, His sheep will suffer all kinds of afflictions and finally death itself.  

Now look at the sheep. See how injured and weak they are! Yes, the Shepherd has set them free. Yes, the Shepherd has given them eternal life. Yes, the Shepherd has healed the sheep by His very wounds. But as long as they are traveling through the valley of the shadow of death, the sheep will continue to be afflicted by life’s trials and by temptations to stray back into the ways of sin and unbelief.  

As you look closely at this true picture of the Christian life, you will see a terrifying sight.  There is a side path leading away from the Shepherd! And there are actually sheep heading down this evil path. On top of that, there is a predator loose—the devil himself.  Though he is a defeated enemy, he still seeks to work what destruction he can upon the Shepherd’s flock; he loves nothing better to devour straying sheep.     

A true picture of the Christian life would have to depict a Shepherd bearing death-wounds leading sheep who are injured and weak through a deep, dark valley of affliction, with some sheep going astray and with a defeated predator still loose. Not exactly a comforting picture, is it? And yet, there is indeed great comfort in our life in Christ. The great comfort is found not in us, but in Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls, the One who is leading us through the valley of the shadow of death to the house of the LORD. 

In the still waters of Holy Baptism, Jesus the Good Shepherd has placed you on the path that leads to heaven, to the house of the LORD, where you will dwell forever. But the path leads through the valley of the shadow of death. In this fallen world, we have an enemy within us, for we still possess a sinful nature that ever tempts us to satisfy the desires of the flesh. And we have enemies outside us—the devil and this evil world. And so, it is still possible for the people of [the Lord’s] pasture, and the sheep of His hand to go astray, to abandon the hard way that leads to life for the easy way that leads to destruction. How can we stay on the straight and narrow? How can we remain faithful to the end, so that we may be saved?

The prophet Ezekiel helps us answer that question. He speaks of fat and strong sheep. Of course, he is speaking of people’s spiritual condition. The fat and strong are those who think they do not need the Lord, that they do not need to repent. A terrible doom awaits these self-sufficient sinners, for the Lord says: the fat and the strong I will destroy.

Ezekiel then mentions sheep who are lost, strayed, injured, and weak. These sheep are not self-sufficient. Rather, they know they cannot save themselves. They know they need the Good Shepherd to save them. These are the Lord’s sheep, who listen to the Shepherd’s voice speaking a gracious word of forgiveness. That is why the sheep of [the Lord’s] hand gather faithfully each week. That is why the Divine Service begins with Confession and Absolution. Here, lost, strayed, injured, and weak sheep come to God, acknowledging and lamenting that they are ever sinning and going astray. And to all to come here to confess their sinning and their straying, our Lord Jesus gives a gracious promise: I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak. That is the Good Shepherd’s Word of Absolution speaking to us His peace, His forgiveness that heals and restores our souls, so that we remain faithful, following the Good Shepherd all the days of our life.  

It is not at all by our own strength that we remain faithful, but only by the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep. It is Jesus the Good Shepherd who faithfully leads [us] in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. When we fall into sin, Jesus restores [our] souls through His Word of Holy Absolution. When we grow weary and faint-of-heart, Jesus prepare[s] a table—the feast of His Holy Body and Blood—before [us] in the presence of [our] enemies. Our Good Shepherd Jesus guides us along the path of His righteousness that leads to eternal life, and He never leaves us nor forsakes us. His goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our life.   

In the still waters of Holy Baptism, your Good Shepherd Jesus has given you heaven and He has placed you on the path that leads to eternal life. Oh, on this path, you will encounter suffering and sin, and the devil will always seek to undermine and destroy your faith in Jesus. But your Good Shepherd Jesus knows how injured and weak His sheep are, how vulnerable you are to the devil’s attacks. And so through His Holy Word and Sacraments He ever works to restore your soul and to lead you in the paths of righteousness for His own name’s sake. In the midst of your sufferings and sins, then, remember that Shepherd Jesus bears the death-wounds that put to death your sin, for He himself bore [your] sins in His body on the tree.  And now, in the midst of your fierce struggle to remain on the hard path that leads to life, Jesus comes to you, speaking a Word of Absolution to restore your soul, to keep you right by His side. He says to you: “I forgive you.” He comes to you, preparing a table before [you] in the presence of [your] enemies.  He says to you: “Come, eat, drink, and be sustained by My body and blood so that you may continue your journey on the way that leads to life.”

Here is how the prophet Isaiah describes Jesus: He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young (40:11). This morning, you have come to Good Shepherd Jesus, bearing the injuries of your sufferings and sins. And Jesus gathers you up in His arms and He carries you in His bosom. He whispers into your ear and heart the peace of His forgiveness and He places on your tongue His very Body and Blood, given and shed for you.  

And having thus restored your weak and injured soul, Jesus keeps you right by His side, to protect you from that roaming predator, the devil. You are never on your own, without help. For the Good Shepherd goes with you each day, giving you His humility to repent of your sins; giving you His strength to resist the attacks of the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature; giving you His love and compassion to serve your neighbour and to forgive those who have hurt you; giving you His bold confidence so that in spite of your sufferings, you fear no evil; giving you His grace to continue in your journey through the valley of the shadow of death so that you safely arrive at the house of the LORD, where you will dwell with Him forever.  

To depict the Christian life accurately, you must paint it with all its suffering. Yes, you must depict the Shepherd bearing death-wounds and the valley of death and the weak and injured sheep, with some sheep going astray and with a defeated predator still on the loose. But you must also depict the Good Shepherd’s loving care of His sheep, as each day He guides us through the dark valley of this fallen world and leads us in the paths of His righteousness. 

And to paint a complete picture of the Christian life, you must include one final glorious scene—the scene of you safely arriving at the house of the Lord, where you will finally see with your own eyes the Good Shepherd Jesus, who has gently led you your whole life long through all the dangers and deceptions of this fallen world. There, in heaven, your Good Shepherd Jesus will guide [you] to springs of living water, and [He] will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes  (Revelation 7:15-17). And there, with a heart finally free from sin and suffering, you will say with great joy: surely goodness and mercy [has] follow[ed] me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Amen.

Second Sunday of Easter (Quasimodo Geniti)—28 April 2019

5212053Our text is today’s Gospel (John 20:19–31): 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  (ESV)

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The Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord—21 April 2019

5212053Our text is today’s Gospel (Mark 16:1–8): 1  When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”  4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.  5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.  6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.  7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”  8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (ESV)

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Good Friday—19 April 2019

5212053Our text is Psalm 22:1:  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (ESV)

And also Matthew 27:45-46: 45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (ESV)  

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Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion—14 April 2019

5212053Our text is Zechariah 9:9: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

And also John 12:12-15: 

12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.  13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”  14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,  15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (ESV)

 

On Palm Sunday, our Lord Jesus Christ enters Jerusalem as King, but not in a chariot or on a war horse, but rather, on the back of a borrowed donkey.  It is a day of festive celebration as the crowds wave palms and shout their jubilant “Hosannas,” acclaiming Jesus the Blessed One, the King who comes in the name of the Lord.  But the excitement and energy of Palm Sunday is a prelude to Jesus’ Passion.  Before this week is over, the One who is confessed as King will be mocked, crowned with thorns, and crucified under a sign which reads “King of the Jews.”  This man who rides the donkey is God; yet, in humility, He takes on the form of a servant and He comes to suffer and die.

Palm Sunday’s parade will culminate on Calvary.  Jesus enters Jerusalem in the midst of joyful psalms of praise. But when He leaves on Good Friday morning, His ears will be filled, not with sounds of praise, but with cries for His crucifixion. 

When Jesus had fed the five thousand in the wilderness, there were those who wanted to take Him by force and make Him king.  In truth, Jesus is King, but His kingship is not of this world and He will not conform Himself to this world’s definition of kingship.  Jesus fed the multitudes in the wilderness with bread and fish, but that did not make Him a “bread king” who would simply keep people’s stomachs full.  Jesus rode in triumph into Jerusalem, but that did not make Him a king who would liberate Jerusalem from Roman rule.  He is a king of an altogether different type.  He is the King promised by the Prophet Zechariah: Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

King Jesus comes to meet the greatest of all human needs. He comes to reconcile us to God the Father; He comes to die in our place in order to win for us the complete forgiveness of all our sins. And living in peace with God, having received His full pardon through Jesus, we have every reason to rejoice and no reason to fear. Did you notice in today’s readings that whereas Zechariah says, Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!, John apparent misquotes Zechariah, for he says Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt! But John knows what he is talking about. You see, the presence of joy in the Lord always goes together with the absence of fear. Rejoicing over the King who comes to save us means that we no longer need fear our spiritual enemies, for they are defeated by the Lord! We no longer need to fear our spiritual enemies—the devil, the world, and our sinful nature—, for in Holy Baptism, Jesus has made us His own and no one can snatch us out of His hand. Do you see then, how, the coming of King Jesus gives true joy and removes our fears?

Without this King, we would have every reason to be afraid of life and death. For without the sacrifice of King Jesus on the cross, life would be vanity and a chasing after wind, and death would be the door to everlasting condemnation in hell. Our King comes to rescue us from the futility of our lives turned inward upon ourselves and from the condemnation that sin brings. 

As we live in the forgiveness of our Saviour Jesus, as we live in our baptism, our calling is to live lives of joy in God’s promises and to not be afraid of our spiritual enemies. Fear is out of place among those who confess King Jesus as God-in-the-flesh come to save us! Fear is out of place because nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is given us in Jesus Christ our Lord. By dying on the cross in our place, our King Jesus has defeated death, and by His rising from the grave, He gives us a life that death cannot touch. 

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel! Notice that this proclamation of Jesus’ victory is made just days before He goes to the cross. He still must face the betrayal by Judas, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the false accusations, the sham trial, the mockery, the beatings, and death on the cross. But in the face of all that is to come in Passion Week, Palm Sunday anticipates our Saviour’ victory. Even as Jesus humbles Himself and goes to die as our Saviour, Palm Sunday gives us a preview of the outcome of His saving work. Jesus became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and of those under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Jesus humbled Himself to die in our place on the cross, but now He is exalted forevermore as the King to whom everyone must bow. 

Even now, as baptized children of God, we bow before Jesus, confessing the enormity of our sin and also the great abundance of His salvation. And so, Palm Sunday is for the praise and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is honoured and praised as the King who comes to save sinners. Palm branches and chants of “hosanna” acclaim Him as the Saviour, the Redeemer, of us undeserving sinners. And so Palm Sunday points beyond Good Friday to the triumph of our Lord. Palm Sunday anticipates the heavenly kingdom which our Lord Jesus opens to all believers by His blood. In Revelation, John describes the fulfillment of Palm Sunday as he gives us a glimpse of the celestial liturgy: I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues standing before the Lamb clothed with white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 

That is the victory of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. The saints in heaven praise the Lamb of our salvation. And on this Palm Sunday we join them in their heavenly anthem, for the Lord whom they adore is the same Lord Jesus Christ whom we adore, the Lord who comes to us in His body and blood to give us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. He who rode into Jerusalem by lowly donkey that  blessed Sunday before His death comes also to us under the lowly forms of bread and wine to distribute His body and blood, by which we receive the gift of forgiveness. And so every time King Jesus rides among us through His Holy Supper, we greet Him with the same greeting which reached His ears on that first Palm Sunday:  Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.  

The word “Hosanna” means “Lord, save us now!” And that is what our Lord Jesus does for us. He “hosannas” us, He saves us through His Holy Word and Sacraments. He abides in our hearts and He rules as our Lord and King, so that we may live in His joy and no longer fear the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. And by His Holy Spirit, He enables us to remain steadfast in our loyalty to Him. He keeps us from presumptuous sins, lest we crucify Him anew with unholy living. And above all the temptations we encounter, He keeps us faithful unto death, so that He may fulfill His promise to us and give us the crown of life. Yes, He preserves us in the faith until the end of our days, that we may behold Him in glory forever. Blessed indeed is He who comes to forgive us, to save us,  and to give us eternal life!  Amen.