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17 Oct 2014 - Caesar or God - Matt. 22:15-22

Rev. Bruce Skelton, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Highlands Ranch, Colorado ☩

In this, the heart of the football season, I am reminded of the story of  a young man, who took his girlfriend to a football game for the first time. After the game he asked his girlfriend what she thought.  “Oh, I really liked it,” she said.  “But I couldn’t understand it why they were killing each other for 25 cents.”   “What on earth do you mean?”   “Well I saw them flip the coin at the beginning and then for the rest of the game all everyone kept screaming was, ‘Get the quarter back! Get the quarter back!’”

Okay, I’ll admit that was a bit of a groaner, but in a somewhat humorous way that story reminds us that things are often a matter of perspective.  The young lady thought the football game was just a big fight over money, but there was certainly more to it than that.  The same thing is true for our Gospel lesson for today where Jesus is asked a question about paying taxes.  Now, at first glance it may seem like it is just a simple question about money, but when we look at it more closely there much more to it than that.  It’s really about allegiance.

Our text takes place on the Tuesday of Holy Week, just after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and just a few days before His crucifixion.  His enemies are earnestly looking for a strategic way to get rid of Him.  So it is that St. Matthew tells us the Pharisees and the Herodians banded together to trap Jesus in His Words.  It is said that politics sometimes makes strange bedfellows and that’s precisely what is taking place here in our text.  You see the Pharisees and the Herodians were very much on opposite ends of the political spectrum.  The Pharisees were Jewish nationalists who despised their Roman conquerors and they hated paying taxes to them.  The Herodians, on the other hands were collaborators with the Roman government and reported anyone who refused to pay their taxes or otherwise sought to rebel against them.  Normally, these two groups would never think of cooperating with one another, but in Jesus they had a common enemy.  Both of them feared him for different reason and so they joined together to lay a trap for Him. The Greek word for ‘entangle’ used in our text actually refers to a snare that was used to catch an animal.  But they would find that they set a trap for a fox and caught a lion instead.

First, they try to butter him up a little by offering him idle flattery:

Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.

One of the tricks that people who want to take you down or humiliate you have always used and still do is use is to build you up first or flatter you so that you will be off your guard when they slip the knife into your back.  That is what they are attempting to do with Jesus.  Then they spring their trap.

Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?

On the surface a simple, harmless question, but beneath it they thought a fool-proof plan, a perfect “catch-22”.  If Jesus said ‘no,’ He would be accused of treason by the Herodians and arrested by the Romans.  But if He said ‘yes,’ He would be cast by the Pharisees as a traitor to the nation of Israel, and disloyal to their God.

But as I mentioned earlier they had not reckoned on who they were dealing with and their devious plan backfired.  First he exposed them for the frauds that they are, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?” Then He asked them to bring Him a coin used to pay the poll tax.  The coin was a common denarius.  On one side was a picture of the Emperor Tiberius and on the other side was the inscription:  “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the Divine Augustus.”  Jesus pointed out that the coin obviously belonged to Caesar, since it had his image and picture on it.  So, He concluded:  Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.

Though many have falsely tried to paint Jesus as a zealot or revolutionary or a fanatic over the years, I even remember seeing a poster once where Jesus was depicted as a machine gun carrying Sandinista, He never was.  In fact, the only kingdom he came to overthrow was the devil’s and he even did that non-violently. No, the clear testimony throughout the Scriptures is one of obedience to government and yes that includes even bad government.  St. Peter summed it up well:  “Show proper respect to everyone:  love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”  In other words, give allegiance to those whom you owe allegiance.

The question, of course, is to whom do we owe allegiance?  Well, as Peter pointed out we owe allegiance to the government, because they are supposed to protect us and take care of us.  That’s why we pay our taxes.  We also owe allegiance to the church, because it’s God gift of the brotherhood to us for our spiritual welfare.  But above all we owe allegiance to God, since He is our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

You see, to the Romans, Caesar was their god.  There was no separation of church and state as we know it at all, which is why their coinage referred to Augustus as the Divine.  But when Jesus said, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”  He was subtly pointing out that there is really only one God, the God of Israel, the True God, our Triune God.  And He’s the One to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance.

But how do we express that allegiance to God?  Well if we show allegiance to the government by paying taxes, praying for our leaders and being good citizens, then it stands to reason that we should also demonstrate our allegiance to God by giving our all to serve Him by devoting our time, talents and treasures to support the work He has given us to do in this time and place He has put us.  But do we do always do that?  Perhaps the real question comes down to who or what is your God?

Is it money or power or success?  Is it material possessions or pleasure?  Is it sports, recreation or leisure?  Is it maybe something as wholesome as family, friends and loved ones.  None of those things, of course are bad in and of themselves, but when we get our priorities out of whack and put those things above God or in his place we have misplaced our allegiance. The same is true with government, by the way, the moment we begin to rely too much on government and make it a God, we are in deep trouble.

Think about it, why do we render to Caesar and not to God?  The obvious answer is:  because Caesar makes us.  For instance, if we don’t pay our taxes, we get fined or thown in jail. God, on the other hand, wants us to give ourselves to Him freely, voluntarily.  God doesn’t command us to tithe, He encourages us.  He doesn’t demand that we use our time and abilities to further His kingdom, He exhorts us to.  In other words, He wants us to express our allegiance to Him willingly out of thanks for all He’s done for us.

It’s rather instructive that the word ‘render’ in our text actually means: ‘to give back or restore.’  That is, to pay someone what is due them.  In fact, it can even mean: ‘to make atonement.’  And thankfully that’s just what Jesus Christ did for us.  He died on the cross to make atonement for all our sins, to pay God back for everything with His blood – even the times when we misuse or abuse our time, talents and treasures. 

Yes, in spite of our lack of allegiance to Him, He is always loyal to us – loyal and faithful to love and forgive us.  Before we could even hope to give back to Him, He first gave to us the greatest gift of all – His life to restore us to God’s kingdom.  And that, my friends, is why we render unto God what is God’s.   Jesus surrendered His life for us on Calvary, so that we might be rendered His children – loved, cherished and accepted.  And in return for all of that we want to render to Him our time, talents and treasures for service in His kingdom.  We want to surrender our lives to Him, to be used by Him wherever and however He wants. 

We might think of it like the woman, who wrote the following story:  “Soon after our last child left home for college, my husband was resting next to me on the couch with his head in my lap.  I carefully removed his glasses. ‘You know, honey,’ I said sweetly, ‘Without your glasses, you look like the same handsome young man I married many years ago.’  ‘Honey,’ he replied with a grin, ‘Without my glasses, you still look pretty good too!’”

Dear friends, the Good News is that that is exactly how God looks at you and me.  He sees us as beautiful, precious and holy in His sight.  You might say He has special glasses through which He looks at us – not rose-colored glasses, but blood-stained glasses that erase all our faults and flaws.  No matter that we have sinned, no matter what terrible things we’ve said and done, God doesn’t see them anymore, because Jesus’ blood has washed them all away.  That is the wonderful gift Jesus has given to us and that’s why we willingly render unto Him not only our allegiance, but all that we have and are in joyful obedience. May the H.S. empower and equip us to do that always, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.


12 Oct 2014 - The Wedding Banquet - Mat 22:1-14

In order for us to better understand this parable of Jesus, it helpful to know that the first part of this parable, like the parable before it (the parable of the wicked tenants) which I preached on last week, is directed primarily at the corrupt leaders of the Jews, namely the chief priests and teachers of the Law.  What Jesus is doing in both of these parables is illustrating to his Jewish audience then and to us today how God felt about their shameful treatment of His messengers, the prophets. 

Even though Jesus does not explain this parable as he does other parables, the application is obvious.  For about 2,000 years God had been sending prophets to His people with an invitation.  For 2,000 years the Almighty King of heaven and earth had been inviting Israel to repent of their sin and unbelief and to believe in Him and His Word.  As I have explained many times both from this pulpit and in the Bible studies that I have led, O.T. believers were saved or justified the same way we are today, that is by faith in the Lord God and most especially faith in His promise to send a Savior who would crush the serpents head or destroy the power of the devil by redeeming the world. The only difference between them and us was that that they were looking ahead to his coming and we are looking back upon it as an accomplished fact.

At any rate, the reaction of all too many of the people of Israel to the gracious invitation of their heavenly King was the same. They ignored it. They ignored Him.  They paid no attention to His royal messengers and went about their business as if He did not exist at all.  And some of them, their leaders in particular, took it upon themselves to mistreat and even kill the royal messengers, because they did not like to have their sins pointed out and they wanted the King’s power for themselves.  They wanted to play God.

And how did God feel about that?  He was justifiably outraged and as I mentioned last week God destroyed them and their beloved city, using legions of Roman soldiers in 70 AD which came and burned and leveled Jerusalem to the ground and slaughtered and sold her inhabitants into slavery. A very sad story, a sad ending indeed, and also a stern warning to all who would spurn God’s grace and ignore God’s Word.  

But we might ask where do we fit in to this parable, we citizens of the U.S.A. nearly 2,000 years later?  Well, we are the ones Jesus talks about at the end of the parable.  We are the later invitees, the Gentiles and for almost 2,000 years now the wedding feast has been going on.  The feast began when the Son of God, Jesus Christ, died on a cross for the sins of the world and rose triumphantly from the grave, in order to claim his bride--the church. This beautiful Gospel has been proclaimed throughout the world and by the work of the Holy Spirit our ancestors have received the invitation, they have heard it and believed it and have been saved, but there is a problem.  Some among us are like the man that the good king has thrown out of His banquet because he did not wear the king’s garments.

What Jesus is doing  here  is giving us a brief, but complete picture of a sham or false Christian.  A sham Christian is one who has accepted the invitation to the heavenly wedding feast, been baptized into Christ, heard the Word of God, entered into the wedding hall (which is the church) and confessed its pure doctrine and maybe even defended it with great zeal. Such a person may also mingle with the other festively adorned guests; that is have friendship and fellowship with true, believing Christians. He or she may even sit at the table with the other guests and eat and drink with them; that is they appear at the Lord’s Table and receive the sacrament. Finally, they may have even act like other wedding guests; that is live outwardly as pious Christians who could not be reproached for any obvious sins, betray no haughtiness, perform laudable deeds, show modesty, be industrious in their work and from all outward appearances appear to be a believer.

Yet, despite their honorable life, their good works, their pious exercises, and their active zeal, they are still not true Christians. Why?  Christ says they lack the "wedding garment" (Matthew 22:12). The sham Christian, despite his or her outward appearance, does not wear the Christian faith in his or her heart. By this faith, true Christians wear Christ’s righteousness as a garment. The sham Christian appears to lead a Christian life, but before God's all-seeing eyes, his life has a form that cannot please Him, for the Scriptures say that "without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

The sham Christian may be rich in so-called good works, but because these works do not flow from the fountain of a heart purified through faith, they are, before God, nothing better than sin, for Scriptures say that "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).

What will be the fate of sham Christians in the life to come? Their hands and feet will be bound. The time of grace will be cut off and they will have no part in the kingdom where God and the Lamb shine as the sun. They will be cast out into the eternal darkness, where no light of 'comfort rises upon them and where the praise of God will no longer be heard from his hypocritical lips; instead there will be only "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 22:13).

Beloved, it would behoove us to examine ourselves before the Lord comes to inspect us. Let us not be content with the mere appearance of Christianity, but present ourselves to the Lord as we are. Let us, as poor sinners, daily fall at His feet, seek His salvation with earnestness, follow Christ from our hearts and serve Him so that He will one day recognize us as his own.  That is what putting on the wedding garments is all about.

It is important to go back and see what the Scriptures have to say about garments or clothing. The first garments we encounter are the garments God clothes Adam and Eve with after their fall into sin. They were embarrassed and ashamed about their nakedness and sin which was why they were hiding in the bushes, in a futile attempt to cover themselves with leaves, so God in His mercy provides animal skins to cover their shame. Notice that in order for them to be clothed however, something had to die. Now, let’s fast forward to the end of the Bible and look at the last mention of garments in Revelation chapter 7:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" …Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

In Scriptures garments often symbolize a person's character: filthy garments representing sinful character and white garments representing holiness and purity. In God’s kingdom all are clothed in white and they are made white by the blood of The Lamb, Jesus Christ the Lamb of God who died to take away the sin of the world. That is the garment of perfect righteousness given out by the King at His wedding feast. That is the garment that covers our shame and guilt. No other garment will do.

The Bible says that our righteousness, which we would clothe ourselves in, are like filthy rags compared to the perfect righteousness and holiness of Jesus Christ. No other garment than the perfect holiness and righteousness is acceptable at the high wedding feat of the lamb. That was the problem with the hearers of this parable when the Lord told it to them and it is still the problem with us today. We have heard the very same invitation and not only that, but we have something they never had and that is the full knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, we are even more culpable than the people Jesus spoke this parable to, because of our knowledge. Therefore if we reject it, the insult is greater, if we who know the truth look somewhere else for our salvation, either to our own works or to another person or an idol. That would constitute our discarding the king’s garment. May God grant that we never do such a thing.

But, now lest we focus exclusively on the upon the wrath and judgment of our good and righteous King in this parable of Jesus, I would like to point out the main idea or the most important part of this parable and that is that there is this magnificent wedding feast that has been prepared and everyone is invited.  It doesn't make any difference whether you are good or bad, rich or poor, old or young, black or white.  The King says, "Everyone is invited and welcome to come to my wedding feast."

This gracious invitation is open to us and all people and on the front of the invitation is a cross.   For it is by way of the cross that Jesus Christ has taken away all our sins and won eternal life for all who would believe in Him.  There is no invitation like it in the world.  Nowhere will you find such hope or peace or joy.

Sometimes, I think we hear this good news so often that it loses its impact on us.  So, I would ask you to try for a moment this morning to put yourself into this parable. Imagine you are one of those people in the streets in this parable.  Imagine you are a beggar you can’t remember the last time you bathed, and you are dressed in filthy rags. The last time you ate was from a garbage can three days earlier.  Suddenly, up comes the royal herald with your invitation written in gold on fine parchment. At first you think it is a joke, but the herald assures you it isn’t and so you go to the king’s palace and are welcomed. Upon entering your old dirty lice infested clothing is carted off and burned and you are given a nice hot bath or shower.  Then you are fitted with a robe so splendid that you can hardly look at it.  It is so white it shines like the sun.

As you go down a hallway toward the banquet hall the most beautiful music you have ever heard greets your ears and when you come into the great banquet hall you can hardly believe your eyes.  The tables are filled with heaping plates of sumptuous food.  It is so incredible and rich and lavish that it is beyond your wildest dreams.

Beloved, if all of this sounds to good be true, let me tell you as the king’s herald, that it is true. You are invited and by faith in Jesus Christ all of these things are yours. The filthy rags of your own righteousness have been taken away and Christ has put upon you his perfect righteousness as the prophet Isaiah says: For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest and a bride adorns herself with jewels.

In our baptism we were clothed in Christ as St. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.

And we must not forget, that this is a wedding feast and that the Bridegroom does have a bride and she is us, the church, or all believers in Jesus. And it is important for us to remember that, because we need to know how our Lord feels about us.  It is important for us to know that He loves us as a bridegroom loves his bride.  And there is no love stronger than that.  It is a love that took him to the cross, uncomplaining and unflinching.  A love that cost every drop of his sweat and blood. That is the love that Jesus Christ had and still has not only for you and for me you, but for all people everywhere.

And that is why He asks us now to tell others that they too are invited, because He wants His wedding hall to be full to the rafters on the last day, when our bridegroom comes again to raise us up from the dead and celebrate with him and all the faithful forevermore. So come in, join the fun, the party’s waiting, in Jesus Name. Amen.

7 September 2014 - God’s Watchmen - Ezekiel 33:7-9

God's Watchmen

Sunday, 7 September 2014 - Ezekiel 33:7-9

Rev. Bruce Skelton, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Highlands Ranch, Colorado ☩

Passing an office building late one night, a man saw a sign that said, ‘Press bell for the night watchman.’  So the man, being somewhat of a practical joker, proceeded to do so many times.  After many, many rings he noticed a rather unhappy looking uniformed watchman come clomping down the stairs, who then proceeded to unlock the first gate, then another gate, then shut off the alarm system, and finally make his way through the revolving door.  “Well,” he snarled at the joker, “what do you want?”  To which the man replied, “I just wanted to know why you can’t ring the bell for yourself.”

Well, as bad as that story is, it does bear a resemblance to our text for today, about the diligence it takes to be a watchman.  You see, in spite of the practical joker’s action, the watchman still had to check it out.   That was his job.  As the night watchman, he had to keep watch in order to protect the building and keep it safe.  Well, in a similar way our O.T. lesson for today is the story of another kind of watchman – not a night watchman, but God’s watchman as it says in our text. 

So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.

Now, before I continue I think it is important to point out that being a watchman back then was quite different from being a watchman today.  Today a watchman or a security guard is in not a very well-paid or esteemed position at all, but in those days it was. In fact, the watchman was one of the most well-paid and prominent people in town.  He was the key figure in the defense of a city.  It was his job to station himself high atop the city wall and to act as a sentry, scanning the horizon for any would-be attackers that might come to molest the people. The moment he saw anything suspicious, he was supposed to immediately take out his ram’s horn and blow the warning signal, so that the citizens in the field could retreat to the safety of the city walls and the men could prepare for battle.  Any failure on the part of the watchman would often result in death, either death for many or all the members of his city or his own death, because if he failed to do his job he would be executed, because he was considered liable for the lives of the people.  If the watchman didn’t blow the warning signal and someone got killed on account of it, he would be judged a murderer and the victim’s next of kin would be obligated to avenge the wrong by stoning the watchman to death!

Now I don’t know about you, but if I were Ezekiel I might have been inclined to ask God to look for someone else to do the job, because it was so risky.  Sure, it was prestigious and well-paying to be a watchman, but it sure doesn’t sound like it would be worth the risk, if you should happen to make a mistake. However, we must remember that Ezekiel was called by God, not to be a military watchman, but a spiritual one. He didn’t have to stand on top of a wall and blow a ram’s horn.  Instead, he had to stand firmly on the Holy Scriptures and proclaim the truth of God’s Holy Word.

In many respects that’s an even more weighty responsibility.  Being a spiritual watchman is a very serious endeavor – so much so, that God gave Ezekiel the following caution:

If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your [own]soul.

According to these words, Ezekiel as the spiritual watchman would be held accountable by God.  He was not just looking out for the people’s physical welfare, but for their spiritual welfare, which, in many ways, was more important. It is an extremely serious matter, because his failure to warn would not just result in people’s physical or temporal death, but their spiritual or eternal death in hell, which was and still is much worse.

Surprisingly enough though, Ezekiel did not withdraw his application.  He gladly took on the job of spiritual watchman for the House of Israel.  And by the power of God the Holy Spirit, he did what God gave him to do. He made it his business to warn the wicked to turn away from their sinful ways, to repent and to believe and trust in the Lord God of Israel so that they would not surely die, but live eternally with Him.

Now some of you might be thinking, well that was good for Ezekiel, but he is long dead and gone. He ministered some 2,600 years ago, so what do these words have to do with me here today?  Well, I’ll tell you.  My friends God still needs watchmen today, just as much as he did back then.

Now at this point some of you might well then turn and say to me, “Fine, Pastor, that’s what we hired you for, go be the watchman, go do your job and we’ll do ours.  Well, that might sound okay to some people, but it is a cop out pure and simple, because my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our enemies are legion. The devil, the demons who work for him, the world and our own sin-fallen flesh are always out in force and there is no way one man could ever see them all and blow his horn to warn everybody all the time.  In fact I would be tooting 24/7 and I still wouldn’t be able to warn everyone of all the dangers that are out there.   So guess what? As baptized believers in Christ, as members of the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church you are all watchman too.  You’ve all been drafted and like the old song went, “You’re in the army now.”  And If you don’t believe me just take another look at our Gospel reading for today.

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

Beloved, I don’t know about you, but that kind of sounds like we are all responsible for each other.  And this is particularly pertinent on this rally Sunday as we begin yet another year of Sunday school classes and Bible studies. For how else can we be alert and watching out for danger, scanning the horizon for any possible attacks from our enemies and then battle them effectively without a thorough grounding in God’s Holy Word?  What was true for Ezekiel is true for us, which is why we must be constantly occupied with it in order to fight the good fight of faith that God has given us all to do.

In our men’s Bible study yesterday, we had a wonderful presentation given to us by Mr. Al Czanderna on the walkout in 1973, where of a large number of our St. Louis Seminary professors and students walked out of our largest Seminary, because they had essentially departed from the word of God and no longer taught that the Scriptures were true.  As a result there was a huge split in our church body that impacts us still to this day. If hadn’t been for the efforts of some faithful watchmen, a few confessional and Bible-believing pastors and, more importantly, a large number of faithful Bible-believing laymen. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod would either be in fellowship with or be a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which for all intents and purposes has pretty much abandoned the Word of God in their doctrine and practice.   

My friends the danger is still there, so if you are not currently involved in Bible study here at church or at home, I earnestly ask each of you to prayerfully consider doing so, so that you might be a good and faithful watchman as God calls us all to be.  We need to be constantly reminded not only of our own faults and short-comings, but of the beautiful gospel, that God in His limitless love, sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to save us all by obliterating our enemies of sin, death, and hell.  He was appointed by the Father to be the ultimate and perfect watchman, watching out for our eternal welfare.  And He did so, not by climbing up on a wall, but by climbing up Calvary with a cross.  He didn’t sound the alarm by blowing a ram’s horn, but by shedding His holy blood to wipe out all our sins.  He took the full onslaught of Satan’s attack, all his charges and accusations and indictments against us, so that you and I would be spared, so that we could all be free from blame.  He did it all, so that we might retreat within the shelter of the city walls, the safety of His everlasting kingdom.

As a matter of fact, in a beautiful way, Ezekiel’s name is a picture of that.  It’s a Hebrew word that means: ‘God strengthens.’  It comes from a verb that means:  ‘to harden, to make firm.’  And that’s precisely what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, our almighty, all-knowing ever-present Watchman.  He continually strengthens us in our faith through His Holy Word and Sacraments, so that we can be forgiven and saved.   He has made us hard and firm, so that we can withstand all the assaults of the evil one.  Be assured that Jesus we will prevail, because He has prevailed. May that Good News equip and encourage us as we serve as faithful watchmen for Him and for one another all the days of our lives.  In Jesus Name. Amen.


31 August 2014 - Romans 12:9-21

Overcoming Evil with Good

Sunday, 31 August 2014 - Romans 12:9-21

Rev. Bruce Skelton, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Highlands Ranch, Colorado ☩

Several years ago on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson Frank Sinatra related this true story about an incident he had many years before with the acid-tongued comedian Don Rickles. Sinatra was dining in the lounge in the Sands hotel when Rickles came over to him and told him how he wanted to be a big hero with the girl he was eating with, who was star stuck by the famous Frank Sinatra. Rickels asked the crooner if he wouldn’t mind coming over when he was finished eating to just say hello. “Don’t come right away,” said Rickels,  “just give me a few minutes with her first.”

So Rickles went over and sat back down with his date and after ten minutes or so Sinatra finished his dinner and walked over and said,"Don, old friend how are you?" And Rickles turned with an annoyed look on his face and said,"Frank, why are you bothering me. Can't you see I'm with somebody?"

Not only was that a good prank, but wonderful illustration of human nature, which is,of course, just the opposite of what we find in today’s epistle lesson: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil…Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengence is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Do not be overcome evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Boy, that is easier said that done isn’t it? I think it safe to say that as Christians we all want to live God-pleasing lives. We want to be more stable in our spirituality, more consecrated in our devotional life, more dedicated in our service to God and his people, but again and again our behavior does not measure up to our ideals and we fall far short of what we ought to be and when we do that, whether we want to admit it or not, we are doing evil in the sight of God.  Now when you talk to most people about evil, they perceive it as something entirely apart from themselves. To them it is some sort of extreme, terrible act done by another person, someone else who has no conscience and feels no remorse. Rarely will they ever see themselves as being evil or doing evil.

Such is the case with the sin that the Apostle Paul points to in our text, that of anger which brings with it the desire for revenge. Once again most people, and that might even include some of us, think of  revenge as some gross act of retribution, like a criminal committing murder to repay a doublecross or a spurned lover killing his former sweetheart or her new boyfriend. But when we do that what we are really doing is denying our own sin, by saying and thinking that we have no such desire.  Often we give it other names like: “getting even” or “teaching someone a lesson.” We seek to mask our anger and claim that we are justified in our desire for retribution, because of the evil done to us. And so we secretly believe that we are right in taking matters into our own hands.

Sadly, the place where I have seen this manifest itself most often is in marriage. One spouse does something to offend the other, but instead of talking about it the offended spouse quietly and often subtly begins to act out their anger. The undealt with anger and tension increase until the husband and wife who once promised before God to love one another until death, are at eachother’s throats.  That reminds me of the time a reporter asked Ruth Graham, the wife of the famous evangelist Billy, on the occasion of their 35th wedding anniversary, if she had ever thought about divorce. “No,” she said, “No, I've never thought of divorce once in all these 35 years of marriage, but I have thought about murder a few times."

Ouch! At any rate, whether we want to admit it or not we have all been guilty of the sin of anger and felt the desire for revenge at some point in our lives. And like all sin it has an insidious underlying cause and that cause is pride. This text pulls no punches in making it clear when is says we ought not to be haughty, or Paul says elsewhere: “Do not thing more highly of yourselves than you ought.”  And that has been the problem all along. From the day Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in garden of Eden to this day humankind has always thought more highly of itself than it ought to have. That is what caused the first man ever born, Cain, whom Eve thought to be the Savior, turned out to be the first murderer instead. He slew Abel his brother because his pride had been injured, and he became jealous and angry when God had not accepted his sacrifice.

Likewise we also desire revenge and retribution when our pride is injured, and as I pointed out earlier, we even attempt to justify it before others and before God, but try as we might we cannot. We can’t, because we are but poor miserable sinners as we confessed at the beginning of our worship this morning. Brothers and sisters, we are nothing more than animate dust. We would have nothing and we would be nothing if it weren’t for our gracious and loving God. And it is only when we understand that and bow our heads in deep humility and repentance, that we can begin to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. 

Now, that being said, it is also important to point out that in spite of our sinfulness and unworthiness, we have great value to God. I like to use the illustration of the child and his Teddy bear. The child owned the Teddy since he was an infant and it was his constant companion. As time passed the little bear became old, ragged, and worn. It had been restuffed and sewn together again and again. The parents thought that it should be thrown out and replaced with a new toy, but the child wouldn’t hear of it, because he loved it. It was priceless to him. Likewise, beloved, our worth isn’t determined by our ragged appearance or what we have done or not done, but by God’s incredible love for us.  There is nothing in these sinful wretched bodies that would seem to have any value to anyone, yet God has sewn us together again and again with his forgiveness and in His eyes we are priceless. The realization of that amazing truth, is the essence of the Christian faith. 

For the ultimate expression of God’s love for us, we need look no further than to the cross and to Jesus Christ who died upon it. Almighty God, the creator of heaven and earth, the omnipotent Lord who sustains all things, came into his creation, suffered a lifetime of injustice, poverty, persecution, pain, and death to restore us to communion with Him. The king became a servant, the creator became a creature, all to buy us back from our sinful pride and anger and from death and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. On Calvary Jesus humbled himself, enduring the punishment that was rightly ours, so that we would not have to.

Beloved, it is only in light of Christ’s humility, that we can begin to understand what St. Paul is telling us here. Jesus, in his incomprehesible mercy, has forgiven us our trespasses against Him, against God, so we have no right, no justification for not forgiving others theirs. That is why we do not fight fire with fire or repay evil for evil, but by the Holy Spirit’s power we do the exact opposite. We repay evil with good, we feed our enemies when they are hungry, we give them something to drink when they are thirsty, we kill them with kindness, and sometimes, though certainly not all the time, our enemy becomes our friend, then he is not our enemy any more.

On the other hand, if evildoers decide to persist in their sin against us and, by extension, against God, as we do good to them, then not only will their consciences accuse them and it will be as if burning coals were heaped upon their head, but in the end they will face judgement by an omniscient and omnipotent God and the eternal flames of hell.

Beloved, please understand that God is just and that in the end His justice will prevail, which is why we, in faith, through by the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, seek to proclaim the Good news of the Gospel and share the love of Christ with everyone, because as Christians, we like our Father in heaven, want no one to go to hell. We want all people to be saved, yes, even those who persecute us. That is why we abhor evil and seek to do what is good, leaving any vengeance or retribution up to God.

The best example of this that I have heard of recently was depicted in the movie End of the Spear, which tells the true story of the murder of  five men, American missionaries in 1956. They were killed by members of a primitive Ecuadoran tribe called the Waodani. The Americans had been trying to penetrate the tribe's isolated culture, befriend its members, and bring them to Christ, but instead met their deaths at the hands of the Waodani's spears. The story could have ended there, but it was only the beginning. In a decision that would have been unimaginable to most people, the wives and children of the murdered missionaries later moved into the Waodani village and helped care for them. Everyone, the widows and orphans of the missionaries, the killers and their families, were all eventually transformed by the awesome power of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. The Waodani men laid down their spears and gave up a tradition of revenge killing that had been going on for more than 100 years.

What a wonderful lesson for us all to learn, that evil is not overcome with spears, but by faith in Jesus Christ who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed by our iniquities, and by whose stripes we are healed.  May God grant us all the strength to lay down our spears as well. In Jesus name.  Amen.

24 August 2014 - Romans 11:33-36

All The Glory to God

Sunday, 24 August 2014 - 

Rev. Bruce Skelton, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Highlands Ranch, Colorado ☩

A psychiatrist was making his rounds on the psych ward one day and he was conducting a little test to ascertain how connected they were with reality. So he asked the first patient, “What’s 3 times 3?”  “274,” replied the patient.  The doctor just shook his head and made a note on his evaluation sheet then turning to the next patient, he asked “What’s 3 times 3?”  “Tuesday,” replied the patient.  Once again, the doctor just shook his head and jotted down another note.  Finally, turning to a third patient, the doctor asked “What’s 3 times 3?”  “That’s easy,” replied the patient.  “It’s 9.”   “Excellent,” said the doctor, thinking that he had at last found a patient who had made some progress.  “And how did you come to that conclusion?”  “Simple,” replied the patient, “I just subtracted 274 from Tuesday.”

At first glance, the third man seemed to be perfectly normal.  He seemed to have it all together.  He seemed to be wise enough to get the answer right.  But as it turned out, he was just as confused as the other two.  He wasn’t wise at all, but foolish.  So it is with those who live under the power of sin and think according to the sinful ways of this world.  To give in to the passions of the flesh like taking God’s name in vain, or skipping church and Bible class, or drinking to excess, or lusting after someone or something – those things seem like the ‘normal’ thing to do, because everyone else is doing them.  In fact, the world makes us think that that’s the ‘wise’ thing to do, because then we can selfishly get whatever we want and to the sinful human nature, somehow it all makes sense.  But the Scriptures clearly tell us that it is really all the height of foolishness, because when we give ourselves over to sin the only ones we are really fooling are ourselves.

On the other hand, following the ways of God and doing things like worshipping Him, studying His Word, and praying to Him, or treating our fellow human beings with kindness and respect, or going to extremes and actually forgiving those who hurt us, those things are -- according to Scriptures --  the truly wise things to do.  Yet, to the world they seem like utter nonsense.  It isn’t logical to give up our will to follow God’s will.

However, as the Bible reminds us:  “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.”

And that is the basic thrust of St. Paul’s in our text for today as he exclaims to the Christian church in Rome, “Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God!” Here Paul likens God’s wisdom to all of the world’s treasures rolled into one.  When my children were little they used to watch a cartoon where one of the lead characters was a very weathy fellow called Scrooge McDuck and one of his favorite activities was to go down into the basement of his mansion where he had a huge olymic-sized swimming pool full of gold coins and he would waddle up to the diving board and jump off head first into his obscene amount of wealth and swim around in it for awhile.

Well, beloved, that is what the wisdom and the knowledge of God’s is like.  It is staggering and overwhelming and yet it is not something that we cannot understand. No, God’s wisdom shows itself to us simply and perfectly in the work and in the person of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, our Lord. In other words, the cross of Christ we see what God’s wisdom is truly all about.  It was God’s wise, eternal plan to save the whole world through the atoning death and resurrection of His Son.  When Jesus died on the cross, He put an end to our dying.  And When He rose again, that was the beginning of our living with Him eternally. As Paul wrote in chapter six of this epistle:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his for we know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

Yes, God’s wisdom, that is, His grace and mercy, is a treasury so rich that we could never deplete it.  No matter how much we sin, we could never run out of God’s forgiveness.  For every time we repent, He is right there with His mercy, because when Jesus died on the cross, He took the ink pad of His blood and stamped our bill:  “Paid in full.”  All our sins have been cancelled out for good

This is what Paul is getting at when he asks, “Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”  The answer, of course is:  “No one.”  None of us have ever given or will ever give God more than he has given to us. This, by the way, is the folly of all the religions of the world which hold that somehow, someway we can make ourselves right with God through our own works or preparations.  It is utterly ridiculous, because, if the truth be told, all we ever do is sin. We sin against God and one another continually and this has been the case with all mankind since the fall into sin as we read in Genesis chapter 6:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

Is it any different today. Look at what is going on in the Middle East. Look at what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri. Look at our own community. Look at what goes on in our own households and within our own hearts.  All we do ever do is sin against God which is why he owes us nothing.  All we deserve is His wrath and condemnation. Nevertheless, out of His grace He freely gives us all that we need, most especially the forgiveness of all our sins.  As a matter of fact, in our text the word ‘given’ literally means in the Greek:  ‘to pay in advance.’  And that’s exactly what God has done.  Through Christ He has paid off all our debt of iniquity in advance, as guaranteed proof that He will give us the rest of what He has promised; namely, eternal life with Him in heaven. That’s why Paul exhorts the Christians at Rome and us, by the power of God the Holy Spirit who has worked faith in our hearts, to seek to glorify God in everything we think and speak and act.  As the concluding doxology of our text puts it:  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

My friends, that’s what you and I were created for – to give glory to God.  Why?  Because He deserves it. He deserves it all, as we put at the end of every worship folder “Soli Deo Gloria!”

(to God alone be the glory) because He has done all things well and every good thing we have or ever will have is a gift from His gracious and loving hand.

This is why we as Christians seek to do good works.  This is why we worship frequently and read our Bibles more diligently and pray more fervently. This is why we show our love for one another by being kind and generous to eachother. This is why we give generously and volunteer our time and talents around church.  We do not do them to earn God’s favor or to gain our salvation, we already have those things as a free gift by His grace, through faith in Jeuss Christ our Lord.  No, as Christians we do good to others out of thanks for what God has done for us.

It is as a former Army Ranger, Seattle Pastor Tom Allen described in a special connection he felt with the characters in the WWII movie Saving Private Ryan.  He writes:  “I was extremely proud – until the last minute of the movie.  I felt proud watching the valor of the American soldiers as they faced death taking Omaha Beach.  Then they received a mission to go deep into enemy territory to save Private Ryan.  They bravely fought skirmish after skirmish and some of them were killed along the way.

When they finally got to where Private Ryan is holed up and they said, “Come with us.  We’ve come to save you and take you home.”  But he said, “I’m not going.  I have to stay here because there’s a big battle coming up and won’t leave my buddies here to die without me.”  What did the Rangers say?  “We’ll stay here and fight with you.”  And so they did and almost everyone dies, except Private Ryan.

Then at the end, one of the main characters – played by Tom Hanks – is sitting on the ground.  He’s been shot and he’s dying.  The battle has been won.  Private Ryan leans over to him, and Hanks whispers something to him.  Everyone in the theater is crying because Tom Hanks was shot.  But I was crying because of what he said – it was terrible.  Ryan bent down and Hanks said, “Earn this!”  The reason that made me angry is no Ranger would ever say, “Earn this.”  Why?  Because the Ranger’s motto is “Sua sponte”, which means:  ‘I chose this.’ or ‘I volunteered for this,’  because every Ranger volunteers three times: once for the Army, once for Airborne School, and once for the Ranger Regiment.  If Hanks was really an Army Ranger he would have said, ‘Sua sponte.’  In other words, ‘This is free.’  I willing gave up my life for you, because that’s what I chose to do.” 

And Pastor Allen concluded:  “And so when you look at the cross and see Jesus hanging there, you do not hear ‘earn this.’  You never heard Jesus say, ‘earn this.’  He didn’t say, “I’ve given everything for you .  NowI need you to gut it out for me.”  What He says instead is, “Sua sponte.  I chose this. I chose you. It is all yours free of charge. ”  What a beautiful understanding of the Gospel.  Jesus freely gave His life, so that we might have forgiveness, life and salvation.  He gave His all for us to pay off our debts and trespasses and to set us free.  And there’s nothing we have to do to earn it.  It’s a free gift by His grace through faith in His name.  May that move us, then, to live our lives to His glory – not because we have to, but because we want to, we freely chose to, in Jesus Name.  Amen.


20 July 2014 - Romans 8:18-25

Present Sufferings

Sunday, 20 July 2014 - Romans 8:18-25

Rev. Bruce Skelton, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Highlands Ranch, Colorado ☩

The first time that I preached on this text was in August of 1992 and hurricane Andrew had just blown through the carribean, Florida and Lousianna and killed 65 people, destroyed 63,000 homes, left hundres of thousands of people homeless and without power, and done over 34 billion dollars in damage.  At that time it was one of the worst hurricanes in the history of this nation and today it still stands as the fifth worst of all time. The second time I preached this text was in July of 1996 hurricane Bertha had just run up the eastern seaboard and was considerably less awful, killing only 1 person and doing about 335 million dollars worth of damage up, but shortly after that TWA flight 800 had gone down just off  Long Island killing all 230 people aboard and causing quite a panic, because of the rumors of terrorism. 

nullI suppose the next time I will preach this text, I will point to all of the terrible suffering that has recently happened: the passenger airliner shot down over the Ukraine, the terrible bloodshed that is currently taking place in the middle east, particularly in Gaza, Syria and Iraq, as well as the humanitarian crisis that is currently taking place on the southern border of our nation.  All of these crises and all of this suffering, causes us to ask two very important questions: First, why is there so much suffering or why is this world such a mess? And second why God does allow it?

Well, to answer these questions we must begin at the beginning. According to the Bible, things haven't always been this way. Yes, as hard as it is to believe once there were no natural disasters. There were no hurricanes or hailstorms or earthquakes or floods. Likewise, there were no man made ones either; no wars, or terrorism, or humanitarian crises. The book of Genesis tells us quite clearly that on the sixth day after God had surveyed all that He had created, he pronounced it “very good” and for an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, holy and perfect God to say such a thing, it must have been very good indeed. We are told that it was, in fact, paradise.  And then something came alone that would change paradise and mankind forever and that something was sin and with the fall into sin came all the suffering, decay and death we see around us every day.

Now this is where many people have a problem, yes, even some Christians misunderstand or they grossly underestimate the impact of sin upon the world and how far-reaching its effects really are.  They tend to look upon sin as just a slight imperfection, like a pimple on a teenagers face. They believe that it is a sort of  like a blemish on the face of humanity that can be overcome with the right hygiene or proper topical medication.  If we just educate people properly, or create the right environment, or come up with the right government program, then people would do better and won't behave so badly.

My dear friends in Christ, I have to say that nothing could be further from the truth.  Sin is actually more like leprosy which not only disfigures us, but is killing us and everything around us. It is like a huge black shroud that cuts us and everything around us off from God’s light and life.

Again and again in the Scriptures sin is presented as the cause of everything that is wrong, not only with people, but with all of creation.  When Adam and Eve rebelled against God they messed everything up. Not only did they fall out of a right relationship with Him, but they fell our of a right relationship with eachother and with nature. From the moment they defied Him, everything became messed up, even nature which originally had been our friend, suddenly became our adversary. Once it had been so plentiful and generous in delivering food, but then then sin turned it into a miser and Adam and all his sons would have to work ceaslessly to make a living off of it. Originally, giving birth to children was to be an easy thing, but when sin entered the picture it was only with great pain and travail that Eve and all her daughters would bring their children forth into the world.

Interesingly, this is the illustration St. Paul uses to talk about this fallen creation in verse 22 of our text when he speaks of the whole creation which "has been groaning together in the pains of child birth until now.”  What an apt lillustration of what is going on in nature. Ever since mankind first transgressed God's law, the whole of creation has been experiencing great pain and suffering right up to today and as is the case with childbirth these convulsions, these birth pains, will continue to increase in frequency and severity, until the new world, the new heavens and the new earth are born after Christ’s second coming, the resurrection of the dead, and the judgement.  

Paul also uses the metaphor of imprisonment or slavery in this text when he speaks of all of creation being in in “bondage to corruption.”  With sin everything grows old, gets rusty, wears out, runs down, dies, and rots.  Yes, everything is subject to corruption including us, perhaps especially us.  Did you ever notice how quickly things that start off as being something good, like for instance love of one's country or one’s people suddenly turns into something bad, like hatred of someone else's country or people?  My how our enemy the devil, Beelzebub, the Lord of the blowflies, is good at tempting, deceiving, and destroying us. Yes, if we are honest we must admit that more often than not he has his way with us, while our loving God, our true creator is forgotten or openly defied and ridiculed.

Well, that is the bad news, but there is good news and it is to be found in answering the second question I posed at the beginning of this sermon which is:  Why does God allow us and other people to go through these present sufferings?

The answer is simple.  So we could hope.  Hope that things would once again be returned to the way they were in the beginning.  Hope that we would one day regain paradise. Hope that nature would once again be our friend.  Hope that we would again have a right relationship with God and with our fellow human beings.

Now if we had it already, we wouldn't have to hope for it as St. Paul points out: "Who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it patiently.”  And with these words we see the utter brilliance of our God and the ingenious purpose behind these present sufferings. He allows us to undergo them to prepare us for something better, which is an eternity with Him.  

And chief to that preparation is the recognition and acknowledgement of our sin, our desperate need for a Savior.  You see the chief cause behind most if not all of our sin, is the idea that we don't really need God or that we can play God.  We foolishly believe that we can save ourselves or that we can go it alone and do it all on our own.  So God allows hurricanes and hailstorms and earthquakes and automobile accidents and cancer and financial ruin or whatever other disaster it takes to help us realize that we can't do it on our own.  We need Him. We need His Almighty help, in fact spiritually, we need Him to do it all.

That is why He throws us like good seeds into a weedy field filled with thorns and thistles.  That is why we throws us into a world filled with evil demons and deceit and problems and worries and the deceitfulness of wealth.  So that we would become frustrated with this decaying dying world and repent, so that we would by the power of the Holy Spirit, abandon our rebellious ways and seek His face and live, live in hope.

And our hope is not in vain.  For as Paul writes, we have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit, we have the blessed Gospel.  We have the good news that there is a hole in the black shroud of sin and death that has been cast over the world like a shroud. And that hole is in the shape of a cross.  The cross born by the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Who suffered for us and who died to remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west and who said to the penitent thief who was suffering next to him, "Today you will be with me in paradise." 

My friends how can we not hope?  In God’s Holy Word we ample testimony that sin and the effects of sin have been effectively dealt with. In it we have eyewitness accounts of Christ’s perfect life lived in our behalf, we have true stories of miracles where the effects of sin were undone.  Most especially we have the account of his own glorious resurrection from the dead, proving that he has defeated death and if he did it once he can do it again.  And best of all we have His promise. The promise of  a Lord who always keeps His promises.  And that promise is that He will return one day to set things right, that He will create a new heaven and a new earth were the Scriptures say there will no more suffering, no more sin, no more sorrow, no more crying, no more pain, no more death, “for that is the old order of things” St. John writes in his revelation, “and the old order of things has passed away.”

So, it was armed with that knowledge that the Apostle Paul could write: For I (Paul) consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us. And Paul went through a lot more than any of us ever will.  He lists some of them in 2 Corinthians chapter 11: Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

And the list goes on.  And he endured them all because of his faith in Jesus Christ who suffered, died and rose again for him.  And faith is defined for us in Hebrews 11:1:  Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Paul hoped because he trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ and His gracious promise to return and reveal the sons of God, that is to redeem His children on the last day.  And it is in that same faith and hope that will bring us through any suffering we face as well.  For not only we, but all of nature awaits that glorious day when it will at last set be free from the bonds of sin and corruption, death and decay so that it might be right and beautiful and perfect as it was in the beginning and as it will be again when our blessed Lord Jesus comes again to set us free. To Him be all the glory power and might, now and forever.  Amen.