Lessons and Hymns for The Nativity of John the Baptist

Note: This year we are trying to include special services celebrating various feasts and commemorations in the church year that fall on a particular Sunday. This Sunday is an example.

These are the Scripture lessons you will hear this coming Sunday:

Isaiah 40:1-5
Acts 13:13-26
Luke 1:57-80

Click here to read the above readings and the propers for the day.

St. John the Baptist Was Sent to Prepare the Way of the Lord

St. John the Baptist is not the Christ, only His forerunner (Acts 13:25). He was called from the womb to bring Jacob back to God through his Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Is. 49:5), just as Christ was the true Servant of the Lord. Miraculously conceived by Zechariah the priest of barren Elizabeth, John was marked to be the greatest born of women (Matt. 11:11). The Church rejoices over the Lord’s mercy just as Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives did at John’s birth (Luke 1:58). But when Zechariah’s tongue was loosed, John was not the subject of his song. Instead, he said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68). John is the voice crying, “Prepare the way of the LORD” (Is. 40:3); Jesus, the virgin-born Son of God, is that Lord. John is “the prophet of the Most High” (Luke 1:76). He is born “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,” because Christ the Dayspring is visiting (Luke 1:76–79). Thus, what John preaches is the comfort of iniquity pardoned by Jesus, the promised Savior of Israel (Acts 13:23), so “that [His] salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Is. 49:6).

These are the hymns we will sing:

When All The World Was Cursed (LSB 346)
Sing Praise to the God of Israel (LSB 936)
Comfort, Comfort Ye My People (LSB 347)
On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry (LSB 344)
Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies (LSB 873)

“A cathedral for the glory of God”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Ezekiel 17:22-24
2 Corinthians 5:1-10
Mark 4:26-34

Here is a sign to put on the bulletin board in front of your church: “Saints Under Construction.” Many images in Scripture compare the citizens of the Kingdom of God to animals or plant forms. We are called sheep, branches of the vine, etc. In Sunday’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus compares the Kingdom to a large shrub, which starts as a tiny seed and grows to the point where birds make nests in its branches. I prefer to be one of the “birds of the air” over being some dumb sheep.

The parable appears after another parable about a different kind of seed. The Kingdom is compared to someone scattering seed on a field and waiting. Eventually, stalks appear, then heads or pods, then grain in the heads. The one who sowed the seed waits patiently until the harvest is ready.

Both parables reveal that the infinitely Great is active in the infinitely small. We people may want the Kingdom of God to come rushing in like some gigantic tidal wave, but our patient God brings it slowly, quietly, magnificently, surely. The parable of the great shrub from the tiny seed is very similar to Ezekiel’s story about a splendid cedar tree from a tiny shoot. Through Ezekiel, God goes on to say that “birds of every kind” also come to live there and “find shelter” in its shade. The cedar is the new Israel; the other trees around it are other nations, but the birds introduce a unique idea.

The tree of the Lord will not be home for only Israelites, but for “birds of every kind.” Ezekiel’s audience did not like that idea any more than Jesus’ audience liked it when He implied the same thing.

These three stories address three mistaken notions about the Kingdom of God. First, the Kingdom is not some national entity to be established by revolution and the sword of a mighty messiah on a galloping war horse. Second, it has no ethnic, regional, or racial boundaries; it is worldwide in scope and the citizens are saints-in-process. Third, the Kingdom is not something that will be–it already is.

This Sunday is Father’s Day. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the father-like quality of the farmer who sowed the seed and then had patience with its slow progress. In his book, It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, Robert Fulghum told a story about great patience and great vision.

A traveler went to Chartres in France to see the great church that was being built there. He arrived at the site just as the workmen were leaving for home. He asked a man, covered with dust, what he did there. The man replied that he was a stonemason. Another man, when asked, said he was a glassblower, who made slabs of colored glass. Another said he was a blacksmith who pounded iron.

Wandering inside the unfinished edifice, the traveler came upon an older woman, armed with a broom, sweeping up the stone chips, wood shavings and glass shards from the day’s work. “What are you doing?” he asked. The woman leaned on her broom, looked toward the high arches and replied, “Me? I’m building a cathedral for the glory of God.'”

Fulghum concludes: “I’ve often thought about the people of Chartres. They began something they knew they would never see completed. They built for something larger than themselves. They had a magnificent vision.”

In the Epistle, Paul takes a different slant to fixing our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. He says, “We live by faith, not by sight.” There is one child we never stop rearing until we die–the child of God within ourselves. Each of us is a saint-in-process, a cathedral for the glory of God. We have a faith that is taking us to soar with eagles instead of trudging along with sheep.

Jesus’ parable about the patient farmer reminds us that the seed of the Word grows in us, producing the fruit of faith and eternal life. The growth within us and the growth of the Kingdom are both God’s doing. The growth may seem slow, but it is inevitable and powerful. At the same time, we ought to remember that the ultimate fruits of agricultural products are more agricultural products! It is the nature of plants to plant. Seeds that grow produce seeds that grow. All imagery aside, we saints-in-process are called to make other saints-in-process. God’s mission is our mission.

It is a parable, not an allegory, but if the Father is the farmer who sows the field and we are the harvest, where does Jesus fit in? I see Him as the seed. He is the Word Made Flesh, and the Word is usually the seed in such parables. Jesus once said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” This is the final truth about the kingdom of God that the people of Jesus’ day could not imagine–the victory of the Messiah is a victory over death. The lives of his brothers and sisters were more precious to Him than His own life.

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

God Has Made Us His Stewards

As God’s stewards, our first assignment was given to us in Genesis 1:28: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” God delegated us as His representatives to rule the Earth in His place. We have been given dominion over God’s creation. Because God has retained His ownership of all things, we are merely stewards who are responsible and accountable to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the awesome and challenging privilege You have given me to be a steward of Your creation. To think that the God of creation is giving me this opportunity is very humbling and exciting! Grant me faith to honor you in all I do. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your stewardship journey!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 4 (Proper 6B)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Ezekiel 17:22-24
2 Corinthians 5:1-10
Mark 4:26-34

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for the day.

The Cross of Christ Is the Tree of Life, Which Bears Abundant Fruit after Its Own Kind

The parables of our Lord convey the mysteries of the kingdom of God to those who are “able to hear it,” that is, “to his own disciples,” who are catechized to fear, love and trust in Him by faith (Mark 4:33–34). He scatters “seed on the ground,” which “sprouts and grows” unto life, even as “he sleeps and rises” (Mark 4:26–27). “On the mountain height of Israel,” He plants a young and tender twig, and it becomes “a noble cedar.” Indeed, His own cross becomes the Tree of Life, under which “every kind of bird” will dwell, and in which “birds of every sort will nest” (Ezek. 17:22–25). His cross is our resting place, even while now in mortal bodies, we “groan, being burdened” (2 Cor. 5:1–4). Yet in faith, we live for God in Christ, who for our sake “died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). We know that, in His resurrected body, “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (LSB 700)
O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth (LSB 834)
Jesus, Priceless Treasure (LSB 743)
Almighty God, Your Word Is Cast (LSB 577)

“Heart Trouble”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Genesis 3:9-15
2 Corinthians 4:13-18
Mark 3:20-35

Last week’s lesson from Second Corinthians continues this week. The entire 4th chapter is a neat package. Verses 17 and 18 provide a good conclusion, but the bookends that begin and close the thoughts are in verses 1 and 16. In the first, Paul wrote, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” In verse 16, he repeats, “Therefore we do not lose heart.”

Paul had a physical ailment. We don’t know what it was, but it knocked him down on more than one occasion. It appears that it wasn’t “heart trouble.” In last week’s lesson, he wrote (as paraphrased by J.B. Phillips), “We may be knocked down, but never knocked out!” In addition to his ailment, we know that he also had something less than smooth sailing in his travels. He encountered more disaster than the average. In verse 17 Paul sums up the physical side of life as “light and momentary troubles.”

In Chapter 11 of this same letter, Paul lists these: imprisonments, severe floggings, the infamous 39 stripes on five occasions, beaten with rods on three others, one stoning, three shipwrecks (including a day and a night in the open sea), in danger from rivers, bandits, his own countrymen, the Gentiles, the wilderness and false brethren, the hardships of sleepless nights, bitter cold, hunger to the point of starvation, thirst and the daily pressure of concern for all the churches. These are the light and momentary troubles that cannot compare to the eternal glory toward which he is heading!

It is no wonder he referred to himself as a clay pot containing the Gospel–the real treasure. His misfortunes give power to the words that conclude this week’s lesson: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Paul was no loser and no loser of heart! He had a perspective on his work and his life that influenced everything else.

My father has a saying to fit every situation. When things are not going well, he will announce, “This, too, shall pass.” When a thunderstorm is getting scary, he will say, “I think the thunder is getting farther away,” or “Tomorrow will be ‘fair and warmer.'” But his is not a blind or subjective optimism. Like Paul, Pappy believes that “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Paul was no fool (except a fool for Christ). He saw the present and dealt with it, but it was not his primary focus: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.”

Paul’s faith in God’s undying grace, revealed unquestionably in a dying Jesus, was what gave him his confidence in the middle of turmoil. Long before it was popular, he gave the Corinthians a little workshop on handling stress. But his goal was not to prevent physical heart trouble, but to help prevent loss of heart what would hinder the spread of the Gospel and fulfilling of Christ’s mission.

This lesson lends itself well to an illustration for a children’s sermon. The visual aid was not available in Paul’s day–it is a sandwich cookie. No matter how dark things may appear on the outside of life, faith gives the Christian a Christ-filled center. It brings light and life, the joy of salvation, the earthshaking mercy and delicious grace of God to bear on everything else. The darkness is temporary; the light is eternal.

The “best of times” and “worst of times” in Paul’s life began when he came to faith in Christ. That should be no surprise. Jesus’ troubles began the day He was born–with no room at the inn and Herod trying to kill Him. In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus’ family wants to hide Him from the public because they think He has gone off His rocker. The Scribes think He is possessed by Beelzebub!

Their reactions make sense when we realize that, according to their standards, Jesus had rejected everything holy–family and religious tradition. It is no wonder they thought He was evil personified. In reality, He was quite the opposite–God in the flesh!

Many people try everything to avoid heart disease. They shun smoking and smokers; they exercise, count fat grams, avoid cholesterol and triglycerides, ease stress and take vitamins and one aspirin every day. We in God’s mission are concerned that many have heart trouble of a far more serious nature and it will be the death of them forever. They clamor to the latest fad in doctors but do not know the Great Physician. They are obsessed with the things that are seen and temporal, but have lost the things eternal–the Christ-filled center–the best and most delicious part.

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

We Can’t Serve both God and Money

By nature, we are selfish and greedy people. Our society encourages that sinful mindset by telling us that more and newer is better. Although Scripture nowhere teaches us that being rich is sinful, it does warn us that wealth may be a trap and temptation “that plunges men into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24). An indication that our money has become overly important to us is when we ignore the needs of others and the needs of our church. With God’s strength, we can place God first and overcome the temptation to love our money.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to be faithful with all the blessings You’ve entrusted to me. Give me a grateful attitude and help me to be a faithful manager of my money. Help me always to be thankful for what I have. I thank You for Your constant love and presence in my life. Through Christ I ask these things. Amen.

Blessings on your stewardship journey!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 3 (Proper 5B)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Genesis 3:8-15
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

Click here to read the above lessons the propers for the day.

Jesus Has Defeated the Devil and Released Us from the Bondage of Sin and Death

The devil deceived us, enticing us to disregard and disobey the Word of God and driving us to hide “from the presence of the LORD God.” But the Lord, in His mercy, promised a Savior, who would set Himself against the devil on our behalf (Gen. 3:8–15). The Son of Man came, the incarnate Son of God, conceived and born of the woman. He “first binds the strong man,” Satan, by atoning for the sins of the world, thereby removing the condemnation of the Law and the fear of death (Mark 3:27). Now He plunders the devil’s house by calling all men to repent. Though He appears to be “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21), He fulfills the will of God and makes of us His own brothers and sisters. Therefore, “we do not lose heart,” despite the suffering, sin and death that we experience in this fallen world. “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.” By His grace, we are “being renewed day by day.” For the Gospel is daily bringing us into His presence, not for punishment, but for “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:14–17).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (LSB 790)
Rise! To Arms! With Prayer Employ You (LSB 668)
O Christ, Our True and Only Light (LSB 839)
You Are the Way; Through You Alone (LSB 526)
Thy Strong Word (LSB 578)