“Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
A little girl once died, and Jesus said of her that she was only sleeping. The people laughed at Him because they knew she
was dead. But a few moments later, no one was laughing. Jesus had taken her by the hand and said, “Little girl, I say to
you, arise!” And before their very eyes, she rose from the dead.
Death is such a horrible thing and it causes so much pain. It does us no good to pretend that death is anything less than
terrible. It does us no good to pretend that death isn’t a reality. It does us no good pretend that death isn’t coming for each
one of us. If anything is permanent, surely death is permanent.
But consider this: Jesus has power over death. Of that little girl who died, He said, “she is only sleeping.” Then our Lord
“woke” her from the dead. And if our Lord can wake us from death, as if from sleep, perhaps death is not so permanent as
So confident was St. Paul in our Lord, and in our Lord’s power over death, that he too called those who have died, “those
who are asleep.” If St. Paul also calls those who have died, “those who are asleep,” then we should indeed confess with
him today that our loved ones who have died in Christ are only sleeping.
Only in faith can we say such an audacious thing. Only in faith can we say that the dead are only sleeping. Only faith can
say such a thing because faith holds Jesus to His word.
Indeed, Jesus Himself is no stranger to death. He is man acquainted with sorrows, acquainted with grief. And He is no
stranger to the real cause of death. The One who made this world, the One who made you and all things, has spoken very
clearly: there is nothing natural about death, nothing comforting or poetic about it. Death comes because of human sin.
Because we sin and violate God’s holy will, each one of us will die.
But when God’s says that, “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin,” God means “all sin.” The Lord Jesus has taken
our sins, all of them, upon Himself and He has carried them to the cross. On the cross, the sinless Son of God bears our
sins and dies our death. Why does He do this? So that the death we now die might be called “sleep”.
Because of His work on the cross, death is a sleep from which we may be woken, a sleep from which Jesus Himself will
wake us. “Whoever believes in Me,” Jesus says, “though he die, yet shall he live.”
Faith holds Jesus to His word. To reject His word is to reject Him. To reject Jesus is to reject all hope. If you were to
reject Jesus, you would be cutting yourself off from the only One who has the power over death.
Not only did Jesus once raise a little girl from the dead, Jesus Himself has risen from the dead. He is the only One to rise
from the dead and never die again. “I have the power to lay down My life,” He says, “and I have the power to take it back
On that first Good Friday, Jesus laid down His life for us. He gave Himself over to death. And it looked like death had
won. But three days later – that first Easter morning – something strange, something unspeakable had happened. Death
had lost its grip. But no man has ever risen from the dead, never to die again! One man has. If anything is permanent,
surely death is permanent! But Jesus has risen. Death has lost its grip. One has slipped through Death’s fingers.
Rumors rock the world to its foundations. The word is whispered and spread. It comes to our ears this day: Death could
not hold Jesus. Death cannot hold those whom He calls forth. He has power over death, power to raise Himself, power to
awaken those die. And when He awakens us on the Last Day, we will never die again.
If He can awaken us from death, then death is but a sleep. If death is but a sleep, then every night when we lay down in
our beds to sleep, we practice death. And every morning when we rise out of bed we practice the resurrection. Just as God
wakes us in the morning and we rise, so God will awaken our bodies from death and we will rise forever.
Dear Christians, because of Christ, we should fear the grave as little as we fear our beds. Because of Christ, death is but a
sleep. So take heart, for those who die in Christ are only sleeping.
In Christ, Pastor Rhode
Peter swung his leg over the side of the boat, put his foot down into the sloshing waves, and began to slowly shift his weight. To his astonishment, the water held him up! He was doing the impossible! Walking on water!
Faith is like that. Maybe you haven’t walked on water or otherwise deAied the laws of nature. But is it any less miraculous when you defy the laws of your own sinful nature? When you trust God’s word rather than your own eyes? When you believe that bread is His body, that wine is His blood? When you believe that for Jesus’ sake, and His sake alone, all your sins are forgiven? When you go against everything in you, apologize and ask for forgiveness?
I’m convinced that miracles happen all of the time. Often we’re too spiritually blind to recognize them. A little child being baptized – miracle! A teenager singing a hymn – miracle! A mother bringing her children into the Sanctuary to hear God’s word – miracle! A father teaching his daughter the Lord’s Prayer at home – miracle! A widow quietly confessing “I believe in the resurrection of the dead” – miracle!
Miracles happen right before our eyes – miracles no less astonishing than Peter walking on the water. Indeed, Scripture conAirms this. In Ephesians, Paul describes the miracle God does in making we who “were dead in trespasses” … “alive together with Christ” (2:1-‐10). In 2 Corinthians, Paul describes faith as a miracle no less than God commanding “light to shine out of darkness” (4:5-‐6).
With God working such powerful miracles in us, and all around us, why do we doubt?
That takes us back to Peter walking on the waves. There is a fascinating detail hidden in this account (Matthew 14:22 -‐30). Before Peter dared to get out of the boat, he wanted a word from the Lord to stand on. “Lord, if it is you,” Peter said, “command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus answered with one word: “Come.” With that one word of God in his ears, Peter stepped out in faith.
But why did he sink? The Scriptures tell us exactly why: “When he saw the wind, he was afraid.” What Peter saw with his eyes trumped what he heard with his ears. He began to sink. Jesus grabbed him. “Oh you of little faith,” He said, “why do you doubt?”
How very much like Peter we are. We see the wind tossing the waves all around us. We see the storms and tempests in the economy, in the world. We see the waves raging at work and home. We look at our lives getting tossed to-‐and-‐fro by passions, and sins, winds of foolishness. We doubt. We sink. Why? Because we let our eyes take away the word of promise that Jesus has given to our ears.
“Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.” This is what Jesus said to His disciples that stormy night. It’s what He says to you. He has promised to be with you, “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 ). With Him beside you, there is nothing to fear. Yes, despite what your eyes tell you, your ears tell you something very different. He is with you. There is no need to be afraid.
The One who is with you, is the One who gave His life for you. The One who is with you, is risen from the dead and promises to raise you. Yes, the same hands that reached out to save Peter were stretched out upon the cross for you and for your salvation. The same feet that walked on the waves were pierced to the cross for you and for your salvation. He has removed your sin. He has removed your death. He has removed any need for you to be afraid. Because of Jesus, you are God’s and God is yours. To know Him is eternal life.
Let Jesus’ words Aill your ears. His words create faith. Miraculous faith! “Faith comes by hearing,” Paul writes, “and hearing from the word of Christ.”
“It is I,” Jesus says, “do not be afraid.”
We don’t like to talk about money. It’s true. At Faith Lutheran we rarely bring it up, and when we do, we’re somewhat reluctant. Lent, however, is the perfect time to talk about Christian giving. Though few Christians realize it, there is a deep connection between Christian giving and the cross of Christ.
Why are we reluctant to talk about money? Primarily because so many pastors, churches, and “ministries” talk about money all the time. They even hide their greed with Biblical and pious-sounding words like “stewardship” or “sowing,” when all too often what they’re really up to is called “bilking.” Some preach a “prosperity gospel,” promising that if you are faithful and obedient enough then God will bless you with material wealth. This theology preys on many helpless people and we want nothing to do with it!
So, part of the reason we don’t like to talk about money is that we don’t want to get lumped-in with false teachers and “lovers of money.” Saint Paul tells us plainly that, “their god is their belly.” Paul is certainly not a lover of money himself, but that doesn’t stop him from talking about money. Jesus Himself speaks of money and His apostles write many things about giving financially in support of the church. This gives us courage. If the New Testament Scriptures speak of money, then we shouldn’t be afraid to do so either. In fact, what God has to say to us about money is a wonderful blessing to the church. It would be wrong to keep His teaching from you.
What are some good guidelines for Christian giving? I remember the first time that my dad sat me down and talked to me about an allowance. I was twelve years old and my dad had made a list of chores: pulling weeds, doing dishes, taking out the trash, and the like. If I did these duties well (without whining or complaining – something I rarely accomplished!) I would get fifteen dollars at the end of the month. At age twelve, this was a fortune! The next thing he said stuck with me the rest of my life. He simply said: you’ll need to set aside a tithe of that money as an offering to God. How much is that, I asked. Ten percent, he said, one dollar and fifty cents. You always set that money aside first because God comes first – God first, family second, work or school third.
When my dad talked with me that day he didn’t use any fancy religious jargon, but what he said was deeply theological. In the same spirit, I’d like to talk with you about Christian giving in a simple and straightforward way – the only difference being that my dad spoke to a child, and I speak to adults. So I reserve the right to add a little more sophistication. In specific, this Lenten season I hope that you will be able to reflect on the deep connection between Christian giving and the cross of Christ.
Christ’s Death, Christian Freedom, And Guidelines For Christian Giving
1. You are free. Christ’s death has set you free. This truth is so deep and so profound that even when we think we know what it means, we haven’t even scratched the surface. You have been freed from your sins, freed from the accusation of the Law, freed from the curse of death. Always, it is Jesus who sets you free.
2. You are financially free. “Worry not about your life,” Jesus says, “what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. … For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” With these words Jesus invites you to a life of financial freedom, to a life of faith. He invites you to trust that your heavenly Father will provide for your needs, to trust that you can freely give to support the gospel with a generous and cheerful heart.
3. Do I have to tithe? This is a Law question. It deserves a Law answer. God doesn’t want people to give because they “have to” or because they are told they must. God wants people to give because they “want to” and because they realize that Jesus has set them free. Giving the first ten-percent of your income is an act of profound freedom. You are saying, I trust You, heavenly Father, to provide for me and I trust that whatever You provide will be sufficient.
4. Why do I feel conflicted about giving? We should learn to recognize the voice of the “old Adam.” He is stingy. He wants to protect himself and he thinks money will provide security. He doesn’t trust God, and therefore he is not free. He is a slave, and so he always wants to know the bare-minimum that he “has to” give. We must also learn, then, to recognize the voice of the “new Man.” He has been set free. He trusts that God will protect him and provide for all his needs, so he laughs at the idea of giving a tithe and says, that’s a nice guideline to start with, but I think I’d like to give more.
5. Your offering directly supports the preaching of the gospel in this place. So before you make your offering consider the gospel. What is the preaching of the gospel worth to you and your family? How much do you value God’s gifts of grace and mercy that come through a pastor’s hand? In Galatians, Paul tells New Testament Christians very plainly: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Many churches and many places have lost the gospel altogether because they did not support the preaching of the gospel. Sometimes people attempt to use offering as a weapon and they stop giving in order to “make a point.” Make no mistake, the point is well taken by God: this person despises the gospel! When we sow cheerfully to God, we may also reap cheerfully and give thanks to God that His gospel remains.
6. God has made you a steward. He has given you all that you have and everything that you have is really His. He will ask you to give an account. Money is a great diagnostician. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When we view money as something “we’ve earned” we aren’t quite seeing things in the gospel way. It is your heavenly Father who gives you your abilities and talents, your education and opportunities, your mind and hands. Everything you have is a gift, a trust from Him. The Father is the gracious One and, as our good Father, He sets His children free so that we might be good and gracious as well.
7. Christ is our pattern. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” It is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who has emptied Himself for us. For us, destitute in our sins, the Lord Jesus sheds His priceless blood and gives everything He has. Jesus teaches us what it means to give sacrificially, to give out of pure grace. This is the way of the cross. He sets us free and He invites us to join Him and empty ourselves for the sake of all whom God would save.
Lent is a good time for self-reflection. It’s my hope that these guidelines have caused you to reflect more deeply on Christian giving and its connection with the cross of Christ. Lent is also a time of repentance and new beginnings. It’s my hope that the word of God works powerfully in your heart. Money can be a very difficult thing for Christians to talk about, but God’s word encourages us to speak truthfully and boldly about it. As we prepare to give our offerings, we reflect on Christ who gave and offered Himself up for us and for our forgiveness. We also reflect on the Father who not only provides us with all that we need, but gives to us His only Son so that we might have eternal life. God has indeed blessed us with every blessing. He has indeed set us free!
In Christ, Pastor Rhode
My Dear Reader,
As you know very well, a curmudgeon is not an evil person. Neither the Grinch, nor Scrooge, nor Old Man Potter rightly qualifies for curmudgeonhood. A curmudgeon does not hate his world, just its absurdities. And as you know, dear Reader, there are very few things as absurd as Christmas.
Now you may be wondering if I am a villain after all! I am not. A curmudgeon doesn’t hate Christmas itself, only the absurdity that Christmas has become. Another commercial with another scarf-clad woman, hands clasped and mouth gaping as she marvels at yet another bow-topped car. Another million women scowl at their husbands who return the favor. Merry Christmas.
The scarf-clad woman marvels at her fourwheeled “stocking stuffer,” your pastel-clad neighbor can’t carry on a conversation without mentioning the marvel that is the iGizmo, and even your dearest and favorite curmudgeon can’t help but marvel at the idea of a new single malt lying under the tree.
But who marvels at the God of Christmas? Not just God, but God in human flesh – the greatest of all mysteries, miracles, and gifts – God become one of us? A curmudgeon doesn’t hate Christmas, you see, just all the fluff we marvel at instead of marveling at the most of all marvelous things. Christmas is about nothing else but God becoming a man.
A fellow curmudgeon by the name of Martin once preached: “If it were only a matter of this glory and honor – that God’s Son should become our flesh and blood – that honor would be surpassingly great; that today we are so highly exalted that God becomes like us, taking on flesh and blood, would be glory enough. Even though I am a poor human being, nevertheless we are of the same nature in which God shares” (LW 58:192).
Dear Reader, what scarf-clad sinner wouldn’t gladly set her superficiality aside to marvel, with hands clasped and mouth agape, at the God who made all things, lying in a manger. What pastelclad peccator wouldn’t fling his iGadget aside to marvel at the God who became man “for us and for our salvation”? What cantankerous curmudgeon wouldn’t gladly rail against the absurdities of Christmas in hope that some might actually hear of Christ?
Yes, dear Reader, now you know what comes ex corde of this curmudgeon. We Christians do not despise Christmas, just the absurd idea of Christmas sans Christ. But, when this “God-inhuman- flesh” is preached, when His “death for our forgiveness” is proclaimed, even the mostcurmudgeonly curmudgeon can’t help but feel a stirring of Christmas joy.
Mr. Udgeon (an alter ego of Pastor Rhode)