Monday of the Third Week of Easter

April 19, 2021 • Pastor Alfonso Espinosa

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16 Daily Lectionary: Exodus 33:1-23; Luke 7:1-17 For thus says the LORD God: "Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out." (Ezekiel 34:11) In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. The LORD spoke these words to Ezekiel the prophet because God's under-shepherds had neglected His people. They were unfaithful shepherds, unreliable, not feeding the sheep, but only feeding themselves (Ezekiel 34:2). The LORD would not stand for it and announced His solution: He Himself would be the shepherd of His sheep, His people (Ezekiel 34:15). God has stood by this resolution ever since. But really?! The last time I checked, my pastor was just a man. Where is God as shepherd? The answer is that while it is true that your pastor is "just a man," he serves in a way that is not his own. The called and ordained pastor serves in the Office of Christ, by the authority of Christ, and through the Word and Sacraments of Christ. What the pastor speaks is Christ's Word, not his own. Luke 10:16 records the words of Jesus when He spoke to the first under-shepherds who were genuine and true--that is, who would be as Christ to God's people: "The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me." Okay, but how do we recognize the true under-shepherds who bring the Chief Shepherd Christ? The answer is quite clear: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." Always "test the spirits," that is, test whether what is being preached and taught is in accord with the Word of Christ. Be as the Bereans were. What did they do when they heard Paul preach? Acts 17:11b tells us, "They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." So, at the end of the day, we know that Christ is shepherding us through His Word! The sheep of God follow the True Shepherd because "they know his voice" (John 10:4). "A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." But we do know the voice of Christ so that we recognize the true under-shepherds who give us Christ, the Chief Shepherd. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. O God, by Your almighty Word You set in order all things in heaven and on earth. Put away from us all things hurtful, and give us those things that are beneficial for us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our LORD, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 8, 2021 • Pastor Alfonso Espinosa

Today's Reading: Introit for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Psalm 66:1-2a, 17, 19-20; antiphon: Isaiah 48:20b) Daily Lectionary: Leviticus 26:21-33, 39-44; Luke 14:1-24 But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. (From the Introit for the Sixth Sunday of Easter) In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Prayer is not magic nor is it designed and intended for the purpose of coaxing, convincing, or making deals with God. Prayer is rather the heartbeat of faith, the holy faith-generated language towards God. Prayer is also the work of the Holy Spirit in and through God's people who trust in the LORD. Sometimes He is the One interceding for us in prayers we can't even put into words (Romans 8:26). Again, it is not for changing God's mind, but it expresses the change we have received when God put us into the life, death, and resurrection of the LORD Jesus Christ through Holy Baptism. Still, doesn't prayer, besides thanking and praising God, also ask God for things, whether they be for ourselves or others? Yes! Throughout Scripture prayer is asking. In fact, Jesus invites and commands us to do so! For example, "If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14:14). Also, "And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Luke 11:9). Furthermore, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24). So what's the catch? True prayer to God comes through faith in Christ, and faith in Christ always desires what Christ desires. Yet we still contend with our Old Adam, even when we earnestly pray. This means our motives are rarely pure. However, the key is to pray in the Name of Jesus for that which is according to His will (as we pray in The LORD's Prayer), and pray that God will turn your will to His This is so because there really is no other kind of prayer than those prayers which spring from faith in Jesus, when we pray for what Jesus wants for us. Yes, these will be answered every time, for our good and for His glory. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. O LORD of grace and mercy, teach us by Your Holy Spirit to follow the example of Your Son in true humility, that we may withstand the temptations of the devil and with pure hearts and minds avoid ungodly pride; through the same Jesus Christ, our LORD, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 7, 2021 • Pastor Alfonso Espinosa

Daily Lectionary: Leviticus 26:1-20; Luke 13:18-35 "[The kingdom of God] is like a grain of mustard seed. . . Strive to enter through the narrow door." (Luke 13:19, 24a) In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. The things of God and our salvation (being rescued from sin, death, and devil) are presented in humble ways, unimpressive to the world. This is the way God operates in the world. He lets the world have its own standards of what important things should look like. The world presents these things as glitter and gold to make them look grand and impressive to the human eye. Why? Because the world values the things of human pride and accomplishment, and human pride always thinks bigger is better and that more is always better than less. My wife, however, reminds me that "less is more." She's right. So God goes the opposite way of human pride. He chooses humility as the sign of His presence for salvation, that which is far greater than the greatest things in the world. The Kingdom of God itself begins with a "mustard seed" (Luke 13:19), seemingly insignificant. As insignificant as when a 30-something Jewish man, a carpenter's son, was nailed to a cold Roman cross outside the city gates of Jerusalem. No biggie, just another execution of a convicted criminal, not exactly a sold-out concert of world-famous musicians where fans are going nuts. And the entrance into this Kingdom is not wide, grand, and surrounded with strobe lights. It, too, is humble. It is narrow. It is as inconspicuous as a few drops of water, or some ordinary bread and wine,, because God doesn't want His holy things to be seen in the superficial "big" things in the world. The things of God only catch the eye and the faith of the humble; but the proud don't care about the things of God, and would rather get the catchy things, the "awesome" things that will turn to dust. But you've been baptized, Christian. So embrace humility in Christ, grab the mustard seed, and rejoice that you have entered the narrow door: Jesus. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. O LORD, You have called us to enter Your kingdom through the narrow door. Guide us by Your Word and Spirit, and lead us now and always into the feast of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

May 5, 2021 • Pastor Alfonso Espinosa

Today's Reading: Small Catechism: The Apostles Creed, First Article, pt.3 Daily Lectionary: Leviticus 23:23-44; Luke 12:35-53 All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true. (Small Catechism: The Apostles' Creed, First Article) In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Sometimes Lutheran Christians can get bashful when it comes to talking about the new life we have in our Risen Savior and the resultant good works which follow. Luther wasn't bashful as he discussed faith and what must come from faith: "Faith, however, is a divine work in us that changes us and makes us to be born anew of God. . . It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them." It is therefore not surprising that when Luther wrote the explanation to the Creed, he expressed what should come from us in response to the grace of God: "It is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him." Did Luther actually say, "serve and obey [God]?" Yes, He did! The amazing free grace of God in Christ which is responsible for all our First Article gifts: iPhone, clothes, games, bed, the transportation that gets us from point A to point B, and the food we eat (we could go on all day) comes from our heavenly Father's good and merciful heart toward us in Christ. The Father's wonderful grace, by the Holy Spirit's urging and enabling us through the powerful Word and Sacraments of Christ, leads us to serve and obey God. It's that simple. But don't we still battle the sinful nature? Of-course we do, but that battle does not cancel the new movements of the Holy Spirit in us responding to our Father's outpouring of His goodness and mercy. In fact, the new life is more prominent than the old precisely on account of God's goodness and mercy for us. So, the apostle John recorded, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). But why do we want to? We do so in response to God's "divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me." In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Merciful LORD, cleanse and defend Your Church by the sacrifice of Christ. United with Him in Holy Baptism, give us grace to receive with thanksgiving the fruits of His redeeming work and daily follow in His way; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our LORD, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.