Thursday of the First Week of Lent

February 25, 2021 • Pastor Aaron Fenker

Today's Reading: Small Catechism: The Fifth Commandment Daily Lectionary: Genesis 11:27-12:20; Mark 4:21-41 You shall not murder. (Small Catechism: The Fifth Commandment) In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Love creates life. We know this because God is love and created life. He created us in order to bless us, to give us gifts, and to save us. That's God's eternal plan. To love, to create, to save. That's how God is toward you, me, and all people. We like life, too, especially our own. Others? Not so much. Sure, we don't like murderers running around. We're against abortion and mercy killings. Letter of the Law. But we're also against bullying and abuse. Spirit of the Law. And our anger and bitterness towards those around us? Let's not talk about that. Doesn't our being against abortion make up for our grudges? Besides that, we're more concerned about the Fifth Commandment when it comes to us. We don't want people to kill us. But our neighbor in physical need--hungry, naked, thirsty, homeless, poor--well, we turn a blind eye. Serves them right for their choices. Ouch. We sometimes think that, don't we? The Lord created life to give gifts. And He's given you as a gift to your neighbor to care for them, protect them, love them, defend them, preserve their life. They are more important than you are. Them first. No saving your own neck first. Jesus comes for all the ways we put ourselves first. For all our anger, bitterness, lack of forgiveness--murder in our hearts! For all the ways we do protect life--good gifts--but only to balance out our other sins, Jesus comes. Jesus trades places with murders. The Author of Life is murdered by sinners in order to save them. Love itself suffers insults. He puts His life on the line for you, so that you would receive His unending life--life into your mouth (forgiveness of sins) with His lifeblood and life-body. You are saved, not because you defend the life of others, but because Jesus gave His life for you. This life He gives to you in His Word and Gifts so that you'd spend it on others. And when you mess up? Take heart. Look at Barabbas. Jesus swapped places with him--murderer! He's swapped places with you, too. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. They rise and needs will have My dear Lord made away; A murderer they save, The Prince of Life they slay. Yet cheerful He To suff’ring goes That He His foes From thence might free. ("My Song is Love Unknown" LSB 430, st.5)

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

April 20, 2021 • Pastor Alfonso Espinosa

Today's Reading: 1 Peter 2:21-25 Daily Lectionary: Exodus 34:1-28; Luke 7:18-35 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. (1 Peter 2:24) In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Believing God and trusting God that your sin (your core condition) and sins (all the sinful things you've ever thought, said, and done) have been taken away can be hard for us. In fact, without the Holy Spirit's working through the Word of Christ to give us faith, it is impossible for us to believe! But thank God it is true and thank God that the Holy Spirit is powerful in creating saving faith so that we personally receive Christ for us. Still, even after we receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, we are still in possession of a great mystery: Even though we still feel our sins, it is true that in Christ those sins we feel are also gone. Now that is a mystery, something too marvelous for us to comprehend. And yet, it is 100% true. Why? Because God did something for us called imputation. God, with all power and authority imputed, or cast upon Himself, our sin. There was no sin in Christ, and yet, because He imputed our sin upon Himself, Jesus took the place of all sinners! Your sin was on Him. My sin was on Him. The sin of all people of all time was on Him. He was so sinful in fact, that the Heavenly Father looked away from His own Son as He was dying for us (Matthew 27:46). By doing this, God was confirming that He accepted what His Son was doing for us that day. He was our sin and He bore our punishment and He died our death with sin still on Him. So, yes, as. Peter writes, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree." Because Jesus did this, we live in God's gift of faith in Christ and in this faith, we get back to our Baptism into Jesus every day. We "die to sin and live to righteousness." And when tomorrow comes, we do it all over again! By grace we live this way, because by the wounds of Christ we have been healed. God no longer sees sins on you. Jesus took them. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Lord Jesus, prepare us to receive Your very body and blood by giving us repentance to weep over our sins and then rejoice that in You the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have Good News preached to them; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

April 21, 2021 • Pastor Alfonso Espinosa

Today's Reading: Small Catechism: The Apostles Creed, First Article, pt.1 Daily Lectionary: Exodus 34:29-35:21; Luke 7:36-50 I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. (Small Catechism: The Apostles Creed, First Article) In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. When Dr. Luther taught the meaning of the First Article, he started by teaching what God gives or provides according to His almighty power. Luther wrote, "I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life." One of the greatest lies of our culture today is that what is "ours" is ours: "Our" bodies are ours, "our" lives are ours, "our" time is ours, etc. Wrong! Consider God's Word: "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:19b and 20a). You were also created with a price, with a "price tag" that means you have infinite value because you belong to God. You are not your own. All that you have in accord with First Article gifts has come from God. To claim these things as our own is to ignore the Creator, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to pretend that what is the LORD's is only ours. This is not only an illusion. It is also a sin. The LORD, however, is so good, so kind, so loving, and so merciful that not only did He heap our selfish, gobble-up-everything-claiming-it-as-our-own sin upon Himself to cover it with His atoning blood, but then He chose to actually GIVE TO US His Kingdom! How? By giving us Himself, the King! Christians are now in this amazing situation: They speak the truth when they say that what is theirs is really God's, but now in Christ, what is Christ's is also--really and truly--also theirs. How do we live in this Law/Gospel reality of what belongs to God and what belongs to us? We say that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), and that whatever we say is "ours" is only because our Savior Jesus has given it to us to care for and to also say, "To God alone be all the glory!" In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us Your gifts of faith, hope, and love that we may receive the forgiveness You have promised and love what You have commanded; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our LORD, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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.