Monday, December 29, 2014

How is Christian Spirituality different from New Age Spirituality?


CHRISTMAS is not just about children.  In the lesson we just read we see two senior citizens.  Anna was 84.  We don't have a number for Simeon, but we are led to believe he had seen many winters.  At one time Simeon had received a special revelation.  Some how, God would point out the Messiah to him before he died, so he was waiting in the courts of the Temple when Mary and Joseph brought the forty-day-old Jesus for the Jewish ritual of the redemption of the firstborn, the Presentation.  Somehow Simeon knew this baby was the Messiah.  He approached the parents and explained what was happening.  No disagreement from these parents!  They believed Jesus was the Messiah.  They might have wondered whether it was safe to talk about such things in Jerusalem, but they did not doubt the truth of it.  Luke then tells us that Simeon prophesied, that is, he spoke an oracle from the Holy Spirit, which was what we call the nunc dimittis.  We use that as a Vesper canticle and a post-communion hymn.  When he had finished the oracle, Simeon had some words to say to Mary, telling her that her Child was set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and that a sword would pierce her own soul as well.  How did he know these things?  And how did Anna know what she was telling everybody, that this baby was the Messiah.  Both of these elderly saints knew that they had lived to see a new age, the Messianic Age.  That filled them with such hope, that they were ready to leave this present life.

They weren't the only ones who were aware of it.  Herod would find out because of the Magi, who probably had not yet arrived.  He had some very strong feelings about all this.  He liked being King of the Jews.  Now with an Infant Messiah lurking in the backstreets of Bethlehem there was bound to be trouble.  He thought he could find out more from the Magi, but that didn't work out.  Eighteen centuries earlier, the ancestors of these two had played out a tense drama.  Jacob, the ancestor of Jesus, had tricked Esau, the ancestor of Herod, out of his birthright.  Now the Magi tricked the son of Esau so he could not put out Jacob's Star even as it was rising.  Herod had another trick.   The event which we commemorated yesterday, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, was his "solution" to the usurping Child.  That failed as well.  Herod was doing the Devil's work, trying to make Jesus die the wrong way at the wrong time, but during His childhood and youth Jesus was surrounded by divine protection.  The Devil could do nothing until that protection was withdrawn.  By then Jesus was an adult who could not be tempted.  He kept advancing toward that fateful Passover when another Herod would join with the chief priests and Pontious Pilate, but by then it was the right death and the right time.  Satan had failed.  Jesus was set for the fall and rising of many, and eventually He seized the keys of death and hell.

Are we standing in front of a new age like that?  Was Jesus the ultimate Messiah of Israel, or do we await additional revelation?  Is there another kingdom, or perhaps a Messianic republic?  Most of us are aware of that cultural phenomenon that our writers call the New Age.  Believe me, it did not come from God.  All it promises us are confusion and darkness.  Jesus is the True Light that enlightens everyone.  The darkness did not overcome Him, but it is trying to over come us.

Alas, we are the weak link in God's security system.  When we get to heaven we won't be vulnerable any longer, but while we live in this life, Satan calculates well how to deceive us.  If he wanted our whole society to think that 2+2=5 he knows which words would persuade people to believe that.  Who would have thought that the Constitution of the United States was so unclear that courts could get all sorts of outrageous claims out of it?  Neither is that ancient serpent content with political evil.  He creeps into the Church talking about things like "fool-proof fundraising," and hell's favorite word, spirituality.

St. Paul, in I Corinthians, compares the spiritual man favorably with the natural man.  That's all right for Paul.  He could be spiritual because he was a Christian.  Plato was spiritual, but it made him a self-satisfied, world-denying nut.  We compare the spiritual with the material.  Careful here!  It is true that Christians should never trust in Mammon, but we dare not turn from the material world in disgust.  God made material things for His glory, and made us His stewards of them.  Lake Erie looks like just a lot of water, but with God's Word added to it we have the raw material for making many people into Christians.  If God so loved the world as to give His Son for it, we should see it as a great mission field. 

Examine the New Age closely and you will find the same old errors.  They say that man can become divine.  The snake put the same idea to the mother of humanity in Paradise.  That caused the universal sin that plagues mankind.  The latest New Age might have some new toys, like Oriental religion, occult arts, and feminism, but the main attack began in the 18th century, replacing holiness with the human spirit.  Yes, the main attack is still the Progressivist attack, which is a secular model of the snake's program, you shall be like God.  Today that secular philosophy is our contemporary Herod, seeking to destroy what it cannot rule.   No one needs that kind of spirituality.  The only spirituality that is good is broken and contrite spirituality, because as St. Paul tells us, there is a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.

The Gospel tells us that the opposite happened, God became man.  Everyone needs to hear this.  The Child of Mary and Joseph who began the one true new age is God Incarnate.  God in His mercy had blocked the way to the Tree of Life lest Adam should eat of it and live forever in sin.  Today He calls us to the Tree of Calvary, to take and eat its fruit as we do in the Holy Eucharist, and live forever in righteousness.  Yes, Simeon and Anna knew something.  The genuine Messiah was Immanuel, God made man.  The age of Jesus the Messiah was the new age they longed to see, and did.  As Death reached for Jesus it destroyed itself.  God took man's sin, and death, defeated them, and rose above them.  So all whom we call to repentance, we also call to Him.  He makes us righteous, which is far better than being spiritual.  AMEN

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Is your foundation shaky? Use this regular maintenance tool to realign with the Cornerstone


public domain
Let’s make up a want-ad for apostles; how does this sound?

Help wanted – apostles; no experience necessary; must be willing to travel and speak about an event that will boggle everyone’s mind; some diplomatic skill needed to represent an absent King; opportunity for letter writing; on the job training in suffering and perfection. 

John was one of those.  He represented Jesus, his absent King.  If Jesus was nothing, then John was nothing. On the other hand, if Jesus was who He said He was, then John was God’s representative.  He didn’t write down everything, for he didn’t have time for that.  He selected what he thought was most important to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God, the atoning sacrifice for the world, the Victor over death, who judged the Prince of this World.  It was important that the apostles write their testimony in books, because death would come quickly to most of them, although John lived for many years after the others.  To properly represent Jesus to the world they had to be betrayed, beaten, imprisoned, exiled, and killed.

There are three ways in which the apostles are the foundation of the Church.  First, they were the eyewitnesses who knew Jesus and could vouch that the same Person who was crucified is the One who rose again.  Second, they wrote the New Testament, so that after they were dead we could experience their message.  And third, they taught true doctrine which they put into the form of propositions so we could have a creed.  No, the apostles did not know the Creed that we say today, but they taught all of the doctrines that we confess in it.  They are the foundation, and the Cornerstone is the main event they describe, Jesus Himself.  Every word of the New Testament is directly related to Jesus in some way, whether we are talking about the narratives, the letters, or the apocalyptic visions John wrote down in the final book.

Without the New Testament we would have no faith.  Our faith journey would lead us nowhere if we had no map to follow.  Too many Christians fail to read it the way they should, and that is a serious thing.  Why don’t more of us read it?  Some say because it is already familiar, but that can’t be the real reason, because all those same people have tasted beef many times but they still eat it.  Some say it isn’t interesting.  It may be only if you try to be a spectator. God’s Word is there for you to interact with.  When you interact with it you find it is gripping and beautiful.  Others say they are too busy to read it.  That doesn’t fly, because if something is important to you, you find time for it.  There is one real reason not to like the New Testament, and that is its terrible honesty.  We don’t like to have our sins called sins; we don’t like to be led to a model of behavior we cannot live up to.  Our consciences seek the darkness of ignorance . If the light shines in, we retreat to a safer place.

Although we refer to the New Testament as the "good news," it also contains a lot of bad news.  There are goats as well as sheep, self-exalters as well as self-abasers, those who deny the Son as well as those who confess, and the broad road leads to hell, while only the narrow one leads to heaven.  There is no way to sugar coat these pills, but we get nervous when we hear this news, because there is something inside of all of us that prefers rebellion to obedience, to reign rather than to serve, to worry instead of living and doing, to resist rather than suffer.  In other words, there is something inside each of us that prefers hell to heaven.  That is the self within that thinks it can handle anything.  When it reads God’s Word it sees itself in the brightest of all mirrors.  There can be no more ignorance, no more deception.  We have found ways to tarnish that mirror, to shoot God’s revelation full of holes, to try to make it mean other than what it says, but what are we doing? If we shoot the foundation full of holes, what will we stand on?  No, we have to leave the foundation the way the apostles laid it, and let it lead us to repentance.

The Holy Spirit comes to us through that Word.  Yes, our sins are really sins, but the atonement is a real atonement.  Jesus takes those real sins away.  We must continue to read, mark, and learn the Word, even though we might see something dreadful in the mirror.  We must also see the cleansing blood of Christ.  The apostles show us the resurrection.  They assure us that even though Jesus was made sin for us, He is stronger than sin.  The love of God is stronger than all the evil in hell and on earth.  More than that, not only are these doctrines true in general, they are true for you in particular.  Jesus broke your chains.  Sin cannot rule you.  God’s Spirit lives in you.  Jesus is leading; who wants to follow?

Oh, yes!  You have to get involved, but you can’t volunteer for this.  It takes more than will power.  It takes a miracle.  The Holy Spirit, through the message, gives you a new heart that wants Jesus’ forgiveness and life, a heart that wants His kingdom instead of its own rights.  Each time that happens we have a moral miracle which is greater than the natural miracle of the first Easter.  Even though every human will is bent on evil, the Holy Spirit can change its direction, and He does so in spite of our own resistance.

Your need for the New Testament will never end.  Faith needs the constant nurture of the Word.  You never get too old, too sophisticated, or too familiar with the material.  It’s like food that you have to keep eating to stay alive.  Those who say that once you come to faith you can be sure of eternal life are lying to you.  Judas came to faith, but fell away.  It can happen to anyone who does not persevere, who does not grow in his status in the kingdom of God.  The new heart is sometimes in evidence, sometimes not.  We cannot judge ourselves by that.  But when we see ourselves slipping into the shadows, head for the sunlight.  You can never get too much of the Holy Spirit.  Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.  Indeed, blessed are those who keep on hearing it, reading it, and learning it. AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

With God, small is big


But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me One who is to be Ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.  Micah 5:2

We love to count.  We love to view everything through statistical lenses.  It seems to be the preferred way of processing everything in our day, but we must park our penchant for numbers at the door when we enter the church,  because as our carol says, the wondrous gift comes silently, so however hard we try, we will never be able to reckon the blessings that this carol has bestowed upon men since its birth on Christmas day, 1868.  Every year people sing it, believers and unbelievers alike, but we cannot know how many souls it has led to the manger or how much peace it has imparted to human hearts.

Our dear Carol is base on Micah's prophecy, teaching us once again the lesson that God delights to teach, that with God, small is big.  Why does the Lord take such pleasure in teaching us this lesson?  Because it gets our attention like nothing else; because by human reckoning a thing must be big to be successful.  Big is how you win the admiration of others, make your mark in the world, and get what you want out of life, but with God small is big and only He can transform what public opinion considers to be nothing into something.

We learn in this piece that God chose Bethlehem to be the birth place of the Everlasting Light, the native town of the Incarnate Christ, the birth place of the One who meets "the hopes and fears of all the years" by his virgin birth in this little town tonight.

The Romans had a saying, "dum spiro spero."  While I breathe, I hope.  All men hope, but what do they hope for?  They hope for rest, for peace, for relief from the desperate race that it takes to stay alive.  They hope to secure food, shelter, clothing, and to know where their next meal is coming from.  In a larger sense they hope for peace on earth, not due to altruistic impulse, but only so that they need not look over their shoulder day and night to avoid the covetous neighbor.  They hope to find the thing that fully satisfies the human heart so that it is truly at rest.  In their quest they have employed discipline and debauchery, intelligence and ignorance, beauty and beastliness.  They have looked everywhere, high and low; everywhere, that is, except the little town.

Yet men don't only hope, they also fear.  They fear the loss of life, of health and happiness.  Those are the obvious fears that all men share, but there is one great terror that underlies them all, the fear of death, the fear of judgment.  Though most cannot put their finger on it the apprehension is always there, lurking in the background, and those who deny it the loudest, believe it the strongest, their protests betray them.  If only they could see the Light, but they cannot, because Satan has blinded them; blinded us.

Jesus is the everlasting light that pierces the Stygian darkness.  He assumed human flesh with all of its frailty, in order to answer the hopes and to quell the fears of all the years, to enlighten our benighted minds.  He came, He saw, and He conquered our enemies for us by His humble birth, sinless life, redeeming death, glorious resurrection and by His promise to come again in glory.  He further demonstrates his love by distributing it to us freely, in the church, employing his chosen means, the word and the sacraments, and also by inspiring sacred song to be musical monuments to the splendor of this Newborn King.

Yes, God loves to shock!  Loves to save the world by the incarnation of His Son in this little town, so Jesus was not born in a palace but in a stable; not in a royal bed, but in a manger which is a feeding trough for cattle.  He was not dressed in the purple robes that befitted his royal person, but wrapped in strips of cloth to protect his tender skin from the cold night air.

Today, nothing has changed.  God still does not come to us with fanfare.  Yes, we embellish our worship, for that is only fitting, but it is not by the embellishment that he comes to us, but by the water, the bread and the wine, by those most ordinary elements, combined with His mighty word, He gives us what eludes the world; an answer to the hopes and fears of all the years.  He calms our troubled hearts and fills us with good hope so that now we can glory even in tribulation because we know who is in charge, that all sorrow has an expiration date, and that the present troubles are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.

Therefore on this Christmas Eve let us give endless thanks to our God, who imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven, born in this little town tonight.

Let us thank him, too, for Rev. Phillips Brooks, the 19th century Episcopal priest who gave this incomparable carol to us.  He wrote it as a poem following a trip he made to the holy land, and it would have remained only that were it not for a wealthy real estate broker named Lewis Redner who was the organist at Fr. Brooks' parish, and who dedicated his life to sacred song.  He is the one who transformed the poem into a carol by composing its pleasing melody, a melody written with great skill, each line beginning on the tonic to create its placid feeling, but the third line of each verse venturing into a minor key in order to illustrate musically the dark streets, the morning stars that proclaim the holy birth, the un-meek ear that is unable to hear His coming, and the Christmas angels who tell the great and glad tidings.  We thank God for these men, for the refreshment of sacred music, and for the Little Town of Bethlehem, where the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Christ, the Everlasting Light, tonight.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Monday, December 22, 2014

When it seems that the whole world is entirely controlled by men


It came to pass when Herod was the King of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zechariah of the division of Abijah.  And he had a wife, of the daughters of Aaron, whose name was Elizabeth.  And they were both righteous before God, and walked blamelessly in all the Lord's commandments and statutes.  Luke 1:5-6

IT is still Advent.  In keeping with the church's liturgical drama we are still living in darkness, still awaiting the appearance of the Light, but not only liturgically because in the bigger scheme of things, we are still like the Old Testament saints.  We still long for the Lord's coming, not to redeem the world again by His suffering and death; that is done, sin is judged, life is ours.  We are still waiting to obtain the incorruptible blessing that St. Paul calls, "the inheritance of the saints in light" to us. (Col. 1:12)

At this time we only possess a down payment of it.  It comes to us in baptism where we are filled with the Holy Spirit who permeates our despairing hearts with joy and and darkened intellects with light.  He sets our mind at peace and our affections on the glory that awaits us, however thick the present darkness might be.

It's true what they say, that it is always darkest before the dawn.   That was the case when John the Baptist was born, so after some introductory matters St. Luke opens his Gospel with these words, "It came to pass when Herod was the King of Judea..."  Things could get no darker than that!  God had promised that a descendant of David would sit on the throne of Israel forever, but now even God was thwarted.  Man had proved himself superior to God.  That was the chatter at any rate.  Herod was not even a Jew!  He was from Idumea which is the ancient and sworn enemy of Israel.  In our day it would be as if a member of Al Qaeda were to be elected president of the United States, but Herod was more blood-thirsty than any jihadist.  He is the one who commanded the slaughter of the Holy Innocents in the hopes of snuffing out the Christ for he tolerated no rivals.  There could be no other "king of the Jews" beside Herod.  No one was safe as long as Herod sat on the throne.  He had one of his wives and three of his children executed when they displeased him.  He was so despised -- and he knew it -- that he feared upon his death there would be only great rejoicing throughout the land, so he left orders that when he died, his soldiers were to gather a large group of distinguished men into the city from Jericho and slaughter them there so that there would be mourning on that day even if not for him.   So when St. Luke reports, "Herod was King of Judea," he was saying a lot.

However that is not the end of the story.  He also wrote, "It came to pass when Herod was the King of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah.  And he had a wife, of the daughters of Aaron, whose name was Elizabeth.  And they were both righteous before God, and walked blamelessly in all the Lord's commandments and statutes."

By this outstanding report St. Luke teaches us that however dark the world might get, the world at large, or your own little patch, that God was alive and well; that true religion was still to be found, that God's kingdom was steadily invading the world, and that His plans to deliver us from evil by delivering His Son into evil would not be thwarted, not by the gates of hell, and most certainly not by the likes of a worm like Herod.

We learn here that Zechariah and Elizabeth were faithful and devout people who kept their religion and ordered their lives by its dictates even in the midst of darkness.  We can all learn something here.  We are religiously lazy.  We suffer from spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder.  We are filled with self-pity.  We get easily distracted by the cares and the pleasures of the world so that our devotion to God flags and the love He commands for our neighbor wanes.  Yet we should take a lesson from Elizabeth and Zechariah and re-dedicate ourselves to the things that matter the most.

In today's gospel lesson we hear another of Scripture's Reversal Sequences.  "...He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty."  Whenever we encounter these sequences it is a major sign that our redemption is drawing near.

In the liturgical drama of the church year it means that the Day of Nativity is near.  In real time it means the same; that Christ is near, here with us  now in the church with healing on His wings.  He is with us by His Word which is the verbal icon of Himself.  He is near us in the Office of the Ministry to dissolve our sins, to give godly teaching, to lead us in holy liturgy and in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.  He is near us in the sacrament wherein He consummates the New Testament among us every Lord's Day, and when we leave this holy house we can be certain that His presence goes with us, even as it did with Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness.  He is in our ears, our minds and our hearts.  He is present at our table as we remember to give thanks for our daily bread.  He draws nearer to us each day because each day we live this present life brings us one day closer to our final destination across the Jordan, to the day we will be born anew in the Land that is promised to us where we will see our God face to face and know Him even as we are known by Him.  Then nothing else will matter.

So then let us cast off the sin and sorrow that so easily beset us today and rejoice in the Lord always.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The invitation is still open for willing hearts, tired of their sin


This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries
with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said. John 1:23

St. Paul confesses that, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.” He speaks that way because before God called Him to be an apostle he persecuted the church as vigorously as he now defended it, and also because when he examined his heart in the light of God’s Law he saw nothing there but sin and death. He was so appalled by his “lost condition” that he laments in Romans 7:24, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

What about you? Do you see yourself in that same light, or do you think that your flaws are relatively minor, that you are a pretty good person, and that God owes you His blessing.   If so then either the church is not teaching aright, or you are not listening aright, because the church is not a first aid station where life’s little booboo’s are kissed and covered up with Tweetie Bird bandages.   Instead it is more like a cancer unit where people who are sick unto death come for radical surgery and strong medicine.

This is the message of John the Baptist, and through him God still calls men to repentance today.   Repentance is a word we often hear but do we remember what it means?  To repent means, first of all, to stop what you are doing.  To stop following the natural impulses of Sinful Nature that store up more and more judgment for us.  It means to lament our sins, to detest them, to feel the same malice towards them that we would toward a tumor that might invade our body.   It means to realize that our wrongs are odious to the Almighty, and harmful to our neighbor.  To repent also means to use every ounce of spiritual strength that God gives us to live a holy life, and to resist the devil the world and the flesh.  This is the spiritual warfare John the Baptist has in mind when he says, Repent. But there is more because repentance, above all, means faith.  It means to trust fully in the One whom John announced, the Lamb of God who was sacrificed on the bloody altar of the cross in order to expunge the sins of the world, all sins, our sins.

There can be no question that God loves us, that He has given His Son to die for us and that He calls us to Himself, but we should also remember on this Fourth Sunday of Advent that He does it in ways that defy logic.  All Scripture testifies to the fact that He loves to demonstrate His strength by using what the world considers weak, and His wisdom by employing what the world considers foolish.  We learn this today from John the Baptist who did not conduct His ministry in Jerusalem, the religious capital of the Jewish faith, but instead set up shop on the other side of the Jordan, so that if a person wanted to hear him, he had to make a long and perilous journey to the Jordan Valley, 1400 ft. below sea level, where there were no established roads, or any of the amenities of civilization, but plenty of danger and hardship instead.   In spite of the obstacles, despite the non-user friendly location, people came; streams of them, from all over Jerusalem and Judea: tax collectors and soldiers, Pharisees and Sadducees, and when John’s ministry could no longer be ignored a delegation of Priests and Levites, those ministers of the Temple religion, came from Jerusalem to inquire of John who he was and what exactly it is that he thought he was doing.

His answer was simple:   I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.  What did he mean?  In ancient times whenever a king would visit the far flung reaches of his kingdom the neglected roads would be upgraded, smoothed, straightened and beautified in a way befitting royalty, but the smoothing operation that John has in mind was of a different kind.  It was an inner preparation consisting of the repentance we mentioned earlier; accomplished by confessing our wrongs, receiving the absolution, and by bearing the fruits indicative of true repentance.

St. Paul gives us some specifics in today’s epistle lesson when He says, “let your gentleness be known to all men, the Lord is at hand.”  He says this because he knows that it is not within our nature to be gentle, moderate or patient with the weakness of others, but rather short-fused and hot-tempered should anyone push too hard.  He knows that we each think of ourselves as the long expected messiah, and all others as our servants who are fit only to untie the laces of our shoes.  Every time we wrong our neighbor we prove it to be true, but Jesus came to call sinners, not the righteous, and He does it with a powerful voice indeed.  What is the proof?  The thing that John was prescribing when he said, “make straight the way of the Lord” is impossible for any man to do. He might just as well ask us to “leap tall buildings in a single bound,” but we need not worry because God’s Word is Alive and Powerful, and contains within it all that is necessary to accomplish the thing that it says. Thus when Isaiah prophecies, “He will feed His flock like a shepherd, He will gather the lambs in His arms,” Jesus the Good Shepherd is born in a manger, welcomed and adored by jubilating shepherds from the surrounding Judean hills.

When the Angel Gabriel says to the perplexed young maiden, “ the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” then the Virgin conceives and bears a Son, she becomes the Mother of God and gives birth to the Savior of the nations.

And when St. John the Baptizer says, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” his words still delight us, still excite us, and give us fresh vigor to turn from our sins, greater faith to believe that Jesus cleanses all of them, and renewed devotion to live out our days in His grace and to His glory. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Friday, December 19, 2014

What does God do with the gifts we bring to Him?


Oaks of Mamre - public domain
So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the Oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD.  Genesis 13:18

WE know what moms and dads do with the little gifts that their children give them, the drawings, dandelions and doodads they construct for them.  They accept them, and depending on how hectic the moment, they oooh and aaah, or get misty, or give their baby a tender kiss in return.

What does our heavenly Father do with the gifts that His children bring Him?  The answer is simple, but tricky, so we must proceed with caution.  Most people, even those who are well versed in Scripture, are more likely to get this wrong than right, so may God's Spirit clear the fog from our sin-encrusted minds so that we might learn the blessed answer to this question: what does God do with the gifts that His people give Him?

In order to answer it we must first believe that every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of Lights, who is ever constant in His love, and who will never turn away from us.  He is a giving God of infinite resources, who will never stop blessing us.  We must also know that we can never give Him what He has not first given us.  It is as we sing in the hymn:  We give Thee but Thine own, what'er the gift may be.  All that we have is Thine alone, a trust O Lord from Thee.  Above all we must know that the best gift He gives us, the one that towers far above all the rest, is the everlasting salvation He bestows on us in Christ.  This is the gift that Jesus promised to Mary as she sat at His feet, and to all who hear His Word today and it can never be taken from us.  Now there is a promise!  A gift that can never be taken away.

The world makes such promises too, but you should not believe them.  In America the constitution promises you certain rights, it even acknowledges that they are given to you by God, and guarantees that no one may infringe upon them, but in our day the very people who are appointed to safeguard those rights are busy trampling them, adjusting, restricting and reducing them until soon there will be nothing left.  They say the same thing about education.  Get a good education, that's the word, because it is something that no one can take away, but how many college graduates with advanced degrees and a mountain of student debt are working at Radio Shack or the Macaroni Grill today?  So much for the promises of men.  What Jesus promised Mary that day, that God's Word is our Great Heritage, and that nothing can take it from us, that is a promise you can rely on, a promise you can take to the bank, a promise you can lean on through all of life's sorrow, and one that you can take into eternity. 

What does God do with the gifts His children give Him?  The answer is simple: He accepts them, and then returns them to us a thousand fold, for we can never out-give the Eternal One.  We learn this from Abraham in today's Old Testament lesson.  The Lord called Abram, who was an old man, and promised him that he would have descendants more numerous than the dust of the earth and the stars of the sky.  But there was a problem.  Abram and his wife were well beyond child-bearing years and they had no children, but scripture says that Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as Righteousness.  He went where God led him and settled at a place called the Oaks of Mamre, where he gave the Lord a gift.  He built an altar there for the True worship of the One, true God who had made such priceless promises to him.  That's what faith does.  It believes.  It trusts.  It builds altars, constructs cathedrals and sings Te Deums.

What is the lesson?  Abraham gave something to God -- an altar, but it was from that very altar that the Lord made the great promise to him.  We learn the same from Martha and Mary in today's Gospel lesson.  They invited Jesus to their home to feed Him and to give Him rest from His labors.  They set out a feast before Him, just like Abraham and Sarah did eighteen centuries earlier, but they could not out-give Jesus.  However hard Martha labored to get things ready, however intent Mary was to learn, Jesus was giving them far more than they could ever give Him.  They gave Him rest for His body, He gave them rest for their souls.  They gave Him food which perishes, He gave food from heaven's table which doesn't.

We learn the same thing today in the church's liturgy, in that portion of the Mass we call the Offertory.  Today it has changed greatly from what it was at the beginning.  Because we don't live close to the land or in close communities anymore we bring our gifts in the form of currency, but in earlier times when the faithful brought their gifts to the altar, they were for the support of the clergy and for the relief of the poor, and especially gifts of bread and wine offered to the Lord to be consecrated by Him for Holy Communion.  We do the same thing at our Offertory today even if it is less obvious.  We give Jesus our bread and He gives us back His true body, the medicine of immortality that imparts life and salvation to us.  We bring Him our wine and Jesus gives us back His blood which, as St. John says in his first epistle, purifies us from every sin.

This is what God does with the gifts we bring to Him.  He accepts them, blesses them and gives back to us inestimably more than we could ever give Him; gifts that no one can ever take away from us; gifts that feed our hungry souls and give us peace now and always.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

As the body of Christ was wounded, so is His church, but do not confuse wounds with division


public domain
There is one Body, and one Spirit, even as you have been called to the one Hope that belongs to your Call, one Lord one Faith one Baptism one God and Father of us all who is above all and through all and among you all. Ephesians 4:4-6

ONE of the central themes of scripture is that God gathers all things to Himself in Christ. When sin entered the world the peace, harmony and joy that marked God’s perfect creation was destroyed.  A “cosmic explosion” occurred and since then, the things that were meant to work together for good no longer do.  The pieces landed all over the place and the history of man is the story of trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  We have tried economic solutions, political solutions, military, scientific and religious solutions.  We have united the nations, the states and the churches, but for all our efforts people are more divided than ever before.

Every so often, after herculean efforts that usually destroy half the world, we get lucky and find two or three pieces of the puzzle that we can force together.  We are thrilled that “the trains run on time” and in our ever-hopeful hearts see nothing but bright days ahead.  But it is all a mirage.  Violence and impatience are the order of the day, and the only love that exists is the love of money and the love of self by which we further alienate ourselves from God and from one another.  But we learn from St. Paul that God unites the fractured world in Christ.  Apart from Him there is nothing but dis-unity and divorce.  Man is divided from man, class from class, nation from nation, ideology from ideology, Gentile from Jew.  What is true of the outer world is true also of the inner one.  Every person is a walking civil-war torn between doing what is rational, and living for the moment, and the battle is even more pitched for the Christian who with the New Man loves God with all his strength, but with the Old serves the law of sin.  We also learn from St. Paul’s epistle that on the cross Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility that exists between man and God and between man and man.  We learn that in His crucified flesh all divisions are ended, and harmony restored.

 Consider the impressive “catalogue of unity” the apostle provides for the church to rejoice in.  He tells us that there is one body.  We are apt to misunderstand this word, to think that Paul is using the word “body” the way we do when we talk about the “body politic” or about a “body of knowledge.”  He is not.  Instead he is talking about Jesus’ own Body and in scripture this term has three meanings which are all related to one another.

First it refers to the flesh of Christ: to the human body He assumed when He was born of the Virgin Mary, the body with which He lived a holy life for us, the body that was sacrificed on the altar of the cross as full payment for our sins, the body which rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits on the right hand of the Father, and will come again with its five glorious wounds to judge the living and the dead -- a judgment we eagerly await because the Savior promises to judge all matters for the good of His people. We are His people.

It also refers to the church which is the body of Christ.  The church is not a humanly devised organization or association of religious people.  It is instead the living breathing body of Christ of which He is the head, and we its blessed members, not in an imaginary or symbolic manner, but rather as surely as the branches are connected to the vine, and rely on it for their nourishment and life, so we rely on Christ who is the true vine.

When St. Paul says there is one body he is also talking also about the life-giving flesh of Christ which we take into our own flesh in the sacrament.  Here is the meal that ends all divisions and restores unity, though it is only obvious to the eyes of faith.  Here is the meal in which we truly sup with Him and He with us, thus answering the call of Jesus in Revelation 3:20 to repent and believe the Gospel.  In this meal sinners who have merited only death and damnation receive the bread of immortality for the forgiveness of their sins and the healing of their souls.  “Human reason though it ponder, cannot fathom this great wonder.” (
TLH# 305, v. 6)

As there is one body there is also one Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God whose work it is to make us holy as His name implies.  He does this by the normal means of the Gospel preached and the sacraments administered.  We never need to worry about the church’s growth or her continued existence, because the Holy Spirit is firmly in control of all these things.  Instead of obsessing about our “passion for souls” let us give up our God-complex and remember that this Spirit loves the lost souls of men more than we do, and knows how to save them better than we do.

As there is one body and one Spirit there is also one hope, the hope of eternal life in Christ, one Lord, even Jesus Christ who is the hope of Israel (Acts 28:20), one faith, the holy Christian faith which we learn from holy scripture and which the church always imparts to sinful men, one baptism by which those who are born of the flesh are born anew by the Spirit of the Living God and given everlasting life; with the one God and Father of us all who is over all, through all, and In all who believe. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What the world calls foolish


This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.  1 Corinthians 4:1-2

The third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete, which is Latin for rejoice.  Although Advent is only four weeks in length it represents the millennia of darkness that shrouded the earth until the Sun of Righteousness should appear, until the Savior was born who obtained victory over all our enemies for us by the blood of the cross.  Gaudete is not only a symbol however, but also a reminder.  A reminder to rejoice in the Lord always, even in the midst of sorrow.

The normal liturgical color for Advent is violet because it is a season of repentance, but the color of Gaudete is pink, as we see by the Advent candle newly lit today.  It is a gentle color, one that bespeaks light hearts and care free days, and so may the God of all comfort grant you light hearts and give you reason to rejoice each day.

The Propers for the day -- the Introit, Collect and Scripture lessons -- work together to express a joyous message that shields us from earth's daily sorrow, but before we hear it let us remember once again how it comes to us.  Let us recall that God always works through intermediaries who more often than not strike us as ordinary, even inferior, and beneath the dignity of God, but St. Paul reminds us in today's epistle to regard God's messengers for what they actually are: servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God!

Isaiah was such a faithful servant, but the Gospel he preached, "comfort comfort ye my people," no doubt seemed foolish because in his day God's people were already quite comfortable.  They did not think that they needed the double consolation the prophet had to offer.  They were living the good life.  The nation was prosperous and secure.  Every belly was full, every heart merry and every soul fast asleep!  They did not stop believing in God, it was the national religion after all, but they were only honoring Him with their lips while their hearts were far from Him.  They professed one thing with their mouth, but another by their crooked conduct.  Day by day they moved farther away from their God which should serve as a warning to us, because it is easy to open the door, but can you close it once you do?  Judah could not, and a tragedy of biblical proportion was now on her horizon.

John the Baptizer was also a faithful servant, but nothing could be more foolish in the eyes of men than John.  Why would he set up shop in a place that was hostile, inaccessible and as user-unfriendly as it gets?  Why would he preach a message certain to offend the pride of every person who made the perilous journey to hear him?  Why would he do something as inglorious as baptize in the inferior waters of the Jordan River and direct all attention away from himself to the coming Lamb?  Only so that we might learn the lesson that God delights to teach, namely that the weakness of God is stronger than men and the foolishness of God wiser than the wisdom of men.  We learn this from the results.  What started out as a lonely voice crying in the wilderness became the official religion of the mighty Roman empire within 300 years, and today there is no nation on earth in which the Savior is not worshiped and loved.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was likewise the faithful  messenger of the Father, but He was more than that.  Not only was He different from John in degree, but also in kind.  He is the mystery of God incarnate, the Word of the Father now in flesh appearing.  None the less, 750 years before His birth Isaiah asks this question, "Lord, who has believed our report?"  What did he mean?  By all reasonable standards Jesus was a failure.  He was born in obscurity, in poverty and had no place to lay His head.  By some inexplicable power He could save others, that was indisputable, but in the end He could not save Himself.  That was the chatter!

However, He did not come to save Himself, but us: to deliver us from the wilderness of sin, to give us life in a world without end, to make us death-proof, judgment-proof, and to avert the temporal and eternal punishment that our sins so richly deserve.  Thanks to our Lord's redeeming love our record is now expunged, our pardon granted, our transgressions washed away in the flood of baptism, forgotten by God, never to haunt us again.  That is the blessed estate we enjoy by faith in the name of Jesus, a holy name we must always reverence and never use in vain.

John and his disciples longed to hear that gospel.  So do we, and what a gospel it is:  the great reversal of man's every ill!  Go and tell John what you see and hear.  The blind see, the lepers are made well, the dead are raised to life, and the poor now hear what the poor never hear:  good news of great joy!  Whenever we read reversal sequences in scripture as we do here, or in the Magnificat, they are a signal that lets us know Jesus is near, and that there is overwhelming reason to rejoice, reason to shed our sorrow and lift up our heads because our salvation is finally here.

Jesus informs us in today's gospel that of all the men ever born to woman, there is none greater than John...but that he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John.  Jesus is talking about Himself.  He is the King of heaven Who made Himself the least, the servant of all, Who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.  What John announced, Jesus fulfilled.  John paved the way, but Jesus traveled it to the bitter end:  to the cross, the grave and on to glorious resurrection, for us men and for our salvation.  May we follow in His faithful footsteps with Joy this day.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christian, Do You Struggle with Holiness after Salvation?


Thirty years ago who would have thought that spirituality would be so popular?  Listen to the radio today, read the popular magazines, go to one of the self-help seminars, look at how many spiritual counselors are listed in the yellow pages.  In the past, spirituality was connected to holiness, which tended to make it unpopular. The world definitely does not want to be holy, but there is a new kind of spirituality which demands no repentance, no faith, no walking with God from day to day.  How can you tell whether a given kind of spirituality is God-pleasing?  There is only one way – from His revelation.  The Bible does not recommend spirituality.  It calls us to holiness, speaking of the beauty of holiness.  God’s beauty is perfect.  Holiness imitates God; therefore it has reflected beauty, as well as accomplishing beautiful things.

Now we learn what pleases God from His Law, which for Lutherans has lots of negative baggage.  The Law tells us how sinful we are.  It is like a plow, preparing the ground for the good seed.  It turns over our pride, makes a deep furrow in our complacency, and breaks our self-confidence.  Unless it does those things, we wouldn’t repent.  That’s why St. Paul calls the Law our schoolmaster.  It leads us to Jesus, who can really make us holy.  Jesus sacrificed Himself to atone for our sins, making us right with God.  Jesus is the one who makes us holy.  Consider: if the King is holy, then His kingdom will also be holy.  Our King feeds us with holy food, and gives us a portion of His Holy Spirit.

Now we have three special problems that follow from this situation.  Number one: Jesus has made us holy, but He has not made us feel holy.  He doesn’t have to.  He died for you; that never changes.  Don’t look inside yourself where there is nothing but confusion. If you want to know whether you are holy, look at the empty tomb and remember what it was all about. That wasn’t just for everybody else.  That was for you.  Hear once more that beautiful, very moving story.  Then let your reason figure out the rest – you, and I mean this both in the plural, and in the singular to each of you, you have been redeemed.

The second problem is that even though God wrote His Law on human hearts at the creation, that Law has been distorted and blurred by sin.  We do have a conscience.  It can be quite strong, but because conscience can be uninformed or misinformed it can lead you into evil in the name of God.  So conscience always needs to be measured against the standard of God’s revelation.  What is good is always good, and what is evil is always evil, and this is true because God says so.  How you feel about it does not matter.  Good and evil have definite content.

The third difficulty is that holiness has a bad reputation today.  Who wants to be what the world thinks of when it uses the word "holy."  There is a good reason why holiness has a bad reputation. All too many saints of the past, not content with being separate from the world, went too far down that road and treated the world with contempt.  The monasteries and convents of medieval Europe housed thousands who thought they were too good to live with everybody else.  It didn’t begin that way.  The monastic movement was not meant to be a retreat, but an attack whose chief weapon was prayer, but in time it evolved into an attempt to escape temptations.  The Puritans are notorious today for their self-righteousness.  That is only right.  God has not called us to be religious snobs.  As Christians we are to be more alive than our neighbors, not less.  Notice St. Peter urges us to behave so as to impress the heathen.  Let’s put it this way; it’s not enough to be holy in God’s sight.  We need to be holy in ways that non-Christians can understand.  Our discipline must be such that people notice it.  Jesus did not set us free to be bosses, but servants.

Be ready to describe the hope that is in you.  Peter assumes that people will notice the difference your hope makes in your behavior.  It might very well make us unpopular at work or at school, but we have to stand out.  I do not mean stand out filled with contempt and disgust.  Even though we are sojourners in the world, even though no earthly country is the kingdom of God, true holiness must be beautiful enough to make us good citizens at all the diverse levels from nation to family.  They will all perish with the planet, but they are your context in which you are witnesses to your redemption.  God put you where He did for a reason.  He wants you to be good here and now.

There are better and worse ways to be different. T here is no point in avoiding religious snobbery if you go to the other extreme and wallow in the mire with the unregenerate.  God has not called you to deny your holiness any more than to be proud of it.  Yes, we seek first the kingdom of God.  Yes, we seek holier pleasures than the general public, but always, always be ready to help.  You say that’s hard.  I agree, but we can be certain that God forgives us, the Holy Spirit assures us that we are His children, and we are the only people in the world who actually can be holy.  We are the flock of Christ.  He leads us safely between both temptations, to be too much like the world, or to be religious snobs.

It takes practice and wisdom to know how to be all things to all men, as well as when to be noticeably pious.  We never dishonor God when we keep His commandments. Live and learn how to walk with God so that the heathen will be impressed, will want to know how you do it.  Then you can tell them of the Fountain from which you drink.  That is the beauty of holiness.   AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Thursday, December 11, 2014

God Lived Where We Were Not Satisfied to Stay


As soon as He had been baptized in the Jordan, Jesus went into the desert.  He was there for forty days. He was fulfilling the type of Israel, the people who passed through the Red Sea, then went into the desert for forty years. They had been tempted, so was Jesus.   Moreover, as Mark insists on telling us, Jesus was with the wild animals.

How interesting that Mark should associate animals with temptation. Adam was with animals in Eden.  He was tempted, he fell, and thus turned paradise into a desert.  Jesus was with animals in the desert.  He was tempted, did not fall, and turned the desert into paradise.  Noah, when God was regenerating the human race, was accompanied by all sorts of beasts.  The Flood was an act of deliverance.  Another beast is the Apocalyptic Beast in Revelation 13, representing a time when all Christians will be tempted to desert our holy faith, to forsake the paradise Jesus has prepared for us, and learn to love the desert which the powers of Satan have established in the world.

Matthew and Luke record our Lord's temptation.  We're more familiar with their accounts.  They tell us that Jesus fasted for forty days.  Mark says nothing about fasting.  Matthew and Luke also record considerable dialogue during the temptation.  Mark does not record a single word.  That is because Mark wants to emphasize that Jesus is truly the Second Adam, living with animals, served and protected by the angels.   He wants us to see how completely Jesus had become one of us.

To be human is to be between the animals and the angels.  We have a body, as do all the animals, and we have a soul, as do all angels.  No other creature so combines these features.  This has been a riddle for our ancestors throughout the centuries.  The Egyptians built the Sphynx as a memorial to man's frustration with his own nature.  That great stone statue with the body of an African lion and a human head is a graphic illustration of the double nature of man as body and soul.  The Son of God takes this a step further.  He not only combines the rational and the bestial, but adds the divine to it.  St. Paul says He emptied Himself of divine power and glory, humbled Himself, and took the form of a servant.  He, the Creator of all beasts, now had for Himself the body of an animal.  He, the King of Angels, had the rational soul of an angel.  He had become man.  He had become His own image.  Thus all temptations that come to us came also to Him.

Our position between the animals and the angels sets our natural boundaries.  As long as Adam was content to be that, all was well, but paradise is not part of our lives.  In our fallen condition, contentment is a very fragile item.  Temptations come at us from both directions, to either be a little higher than the angels or a little lower than the animals.  Of these the second is far more common.  The Spirit of the Age exalts the beast in us.  This is so evident from the popular trends among us.  Ever since the First World war, music has become less and less rational and orderly, until a form called "Rap" evolved which did away with melody altogether, and drama shows us the anti-hero, an emotion-driven victim of his own subconscious, totally irresponsible, a pathetic loser of the game of life.  The relationship between the sexes has also suffered, coming down from the plateau of respect and chivalry that was normal in the Victorian Age, to the disease-ridden swamp of the singles' bar, and even to perversion.  In every instance, the fair model has given way to the foul, the truly human to the ethics of the barnyard.  There is even some resentment against those whose taste is for finer things, as if that were a fault.  Carnal indulgence can't be avoided, but we must not be proud of it.  There is nothing virtuous about losing control, and while bestial behavior might be "natural" for pigs, it is sub-natural for us.  We must not desert the post God gave us, between the animals and the angels.  We must not worship the Golden Calf - the beast within worshipping the beast without.

The opposite temptation is equally deadly, and those who overcome the first are very vulnerable to the second.  We want to be higher than the angels. So the snake snared the first woman by promising her You shall be like God.  This is not just a temptation for wealthy people, or people with influence.  Having refined manners can so easily lead to snobbery.  We tend to exclude from our presence those whose language and dress make us uncomfortable.  Even worse is religious snobbery, the attitude that God, for some reason, prefers you.  Worse yet, though, is the craving for power.  Such a quest can lead to magic and occult practices, not caring whom it hurts.  Yet as bad as that is, there is a temptation that is worse than all.  I mean the sin of considering yourself above and beyond the Law.  If you are familiar with C. S. Lewis's stories about Narnia, this was the sin of Digory Kirk's Uncle Andrew.  He did not think the Law applied to him, not because he was under grace, but because his own person and self-chosen mission were too important.  That is the temptation to be a little higher than the angels.  Thank God His discipline usually knocks you down from that before you jump out of your God-given place.

Jesus stood where we stand.  He was in the desert, between the animals and the angels.  He could not be tempted either way.  By turning stones into bread He could have served His animal needs.  By jumping from the Temple He could have been proclaimed the Great Magician, but He refused both of these so Satan tried a unique temptation, one that would only work on a sinless Person - to join the fallen angels in exchange for the world.  He condemned this as well.  He was going to purchase the world with a far dearer price, His blood.  He had proved Himself true Man by dying on the cross, then put His divinity to good use by rising again from the dead, so the way of the cross is the way of victory.  The One who was naturally higher than the angels, the King of Angels, voluntarily accepted this impossible mission, and carried it out to perfection.  As He stood in our place, between the animals and the angels, He opened Paradise to us all, and turned His back on the desert.  In our Baptism, we passed through the Jordan with Him. We stand where He did, between the animals and the angels, tempted as He was, but with the power of His cross and resurrection filling us with grace.  For His sake, the angels serve us, and deliver us from the Beast.  AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Stay Focused: Jesus Came for ONE REASON


Do you ever wonder what happened to sin? Doesn't anyone ask why so much has gone wrong with the world? Doesn't anyone see how disordered everything has become? People who were made in the image of God, act like beasts. In the Third World we see political chaos, while in the West we see a cowardly populace worshipping safety, even offering up their liberty on the altar of that worthless goddess. In the Lord's own country we see bitterness and constant fighting. There are many people who consider themselves to be normal who throw away their afternoons watching talk shows, where a clueless studio audience applauds on cue every time the host excuses the inexcusable behavior of one of the guests. No one talks about sin. Psychologists give us bugaboo about freeing the libido from rational control. What they mean is since it feels good to sin why feel guilty about it? A new mythology asserts that our species descended from bestial beings. Some squeaky pseudo-intellectuals have even concocted the notion that bad behavior is caused by a diet of which they don't approve. When there is no light, there is no limit to the number of irresponsible opinions. So turn on the light and see! The real problem is sin.

So far we have been looking at the bad effects of sin, the anti-social behavior, rather than sin itself. Sin is far worse than murder and mayhem. Sin takes root in the heart and poisons all. Our favorite lusts are sin. Our vengeful hearts are sin. Our arrogant assumptions that we are as important as we think are sin. Sin is any kind of commerce that is not wholesome, even in political life. There's nothing smart about trading off legalized sodomy in order to bring government goodies into the district. It is a sin even to tolerate such things. And it gets worse. If you don't know what could be worse than social evil and political chaos, then think about what St. Paul says in Romans 6: the wages of sin is death. We are all mortal because we are sinners. Nor is the physical mortality the worst of it. Everlasting sorrow and pain await those who die in their sins. We might be distracted by good fortune now, but the wheel keeps turning. When it turns bad, sin is no longer the flattering lackey, but the harsh taskmaster. Troubles take away the illusions and force us to face God. That is the moment of truth.

In fact that is the moment of awful truth, awful because sin is real, sin is serious, and sin is everywhere. We finally realize how hopelessly we are caught up in it. The good thing about that is that we stop denying it. That is the limit of our ability to change anything. It doesn't make sin go away, but at least it calls sin by its real name. For the next step, somebody has to help us. Somebody has to come forward and save us. God did that in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. God the Father loved us, sent His Son to take away our sins, the Son willingly accepted this and humbled Himself to carry it out, then revealed the whole plan to us. Yes, the devil knows all this, too. That's why he wants us to avoid using the word "sin." We can never benefit from the work of Jesus if we don't repent. So the devil deceives us into calling our sins by other names. Or he might let us talk about other peoples' sins, enough to distract us from our own. But he does whatever he can to keep us from thinking of anything we do as sin.

Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners! How clearly Paul's words go right to the heart of the Gospel! Jesus did not come to punish, but to pardon. On the other hand, He did not come to bring permission to sin. He came to offer forgiveness. He didn't come to help us save ourselves, as pop-culture Protestantism teaches. We would not even want to be saved if it weren't for the Holy Spirit. Jesus came to act, to act decisively, to save us. He did not come to show the way, but to be the Way. He did not come to advocate peace, but to be the sacrifice for peace. He was the Priest who performed the perfect Yom Kippur, who passed into the holiest place of the heavenly Temple. As He did, the veil in the Second Temple was torn from top to bottom. He died, physically, and He rose again, physically. He paid all the debt of sin that was ever charged to anyone. He conquered Satan and prevailed. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That's us, the sinners, who no longer need fear sin, death, or Satan. Jesus is the Savior who saved us. Is that so hard to understand?

Of course when something so beneficial turns up we are bound to ask, Is it all true? How can we be sure? St. Paul had thoughts like that, too. He puts this into the strongest language he can find - This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. The entire Bible is that, of course, because it is God's revelation to man, but Paul makes the additional pledge just before he affirms Christ's mission to save sinners. Our times make us cynical, as indeed they must if we have any sense.  If major corporations can break contracts, if countries can break treaties, if spouses can take back their marriage vows, we who live among such events will always doubt the word of man, but we must not doubt the Word of God. Only the Holy Spirit can bring anyone to faith. Throughout the ages He has done this.  Sts. Peter and Paul and all the apostles turned the world upside-down by preaching a message nobody had ever heard before.  That was the Holy Spirit, using it to create faith.  Note that Paul here refers to himself as the "chief of sinners."  He was keenly aware that it took a miracle to convert him.  He had not been disposed to believe anything good about Jesus.  Now, today, the same living Spirit who won him over and made him the Prince of Apostles will also convince you that the Gospel is truth. His message and mine are identical - Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners. You can be certain that you have peace with God through Him. AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross