Reason vs Justice

There is a lot of talk about “reasonable” restrictions in light of Corona Virus: wearing masks, contact tracing, small group meetings, six foot of distance, etc. There are a lot of people who are responding by refusing to follow one or more of these new-normal rules, and there are a lot of people responding by criticizing those people. It’s an ever escalating argument. I’ve seen a lot of vulgar language from both sides emphasizing their point that “we will not comply” and “you must comply.” Emotions run high. And the question is asked, “Why would someone object to a perfectly reasonable rule, and why do they think their liberty trumps reason?” The problem is one of justice.

It is perfectly reasonable for someone to say that those who have higher intelligence must care for those who have lower intelligence. In certain severe cases, it may be required that a person have a caregiver. But it is unjust to use intellect as a basis for enslaving others. And such arguments have been made – not just in philosophy but as a matter of law. They are seldom made anymore, but they were made as recently as 50 years ago, and they were all the rage before 1865.

Similarly, we might argue that certain acts clearly demonstrate patriotism, and lack of those actions demonstrate lack of patriotism – even of disloyalty. Treason is still a death penalty offense. And yet, requiring reasonable acts of patriotism as a show of loyalty can lead to oppression and persecution, as happened to Christians before 314.

Groups that stand in harms way could reasonably be asked to move along for their own safety. If I went into an outlaw biker bar, and the barman suggested that I exit quickly, it would be in my best interests to listen to him. But if the same argument is used for mass relocation programs (Japanese in the American West, Jews in Axis-territory during WW2 for example), it is gross injustice at best, and genocide at worst.

Reason often leads to tyranny. Mao was very reasonable as he starved 20 million of his own people. These example are neither unlikely to occur again, nor isolated incidents.  That is why many are unmoved by those who say “there is no reasonable argument against XX. Your freedom and liberty must yield to my reason”. We have already heard the reasonable argument “You must close down your business indefinitely, and if you re-open do so under rules that are certain to bankrupt you”. This is unjust, no matter how reasonable the arguments in favor may be. Historic and ongoing abuses of that sort are why we have a “takings clause” in the bill of rights. Health commissars are the new “by order of the kings”, and many innocent hardworking people have already faced financial ruin over these reasonable restrictions.

It is also why when people are told “There is no reasonable argument to be made against you giving up your rights”, many are refusing to do so for that exact reason. Because historically reason is a path to injustice. Reason is a dangerous thing. We listen to it, but it must always be kept captive to higher principles (love of neighbor, justice, etc.).  Otherwise, it is reason run amok. And few things are more dangerous. It is worth remembering that reason made the atomic bomb. The scientists immediately turned to religion to try and convince the government not to use it.

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Tradition & Confessing the Faith

There is a tiny little tradition, mostly ignored or unnoticed. But this year it packed a significant punch. It has to do with the announcement of the Gospel reading.

There is a tradition that the Gospel is announced with the words “The continuation of the Holy Gospel according to St ____ the ____ chapter.” It is a small way of making clear that we don’t take these out of context. Instead, there is something that came before in the Gospel, and something that comes after. The themes move slowly through the entire corpus of Christian doctrine over the year. One week is tied to the next. And, feel free to go home after the service and read the broader context. It’s a small thing. Very small. And the next part is even smaller. Except when it is everything.

For Christmas the announcement is “The Beginning of the Holy Gospel according to Saint John the first chapter.” Makes sense. The reading is the opening words of John’s Gospel. All well and good. And it matches with the theme of Christmas: A new beginning. The Gospel itself starts with “In the beginning…” Cute.

The other time it is different is Ascension Day. “The conclusion of the Gospel according to Saint Mark, the 16th chapter.” Nothing really earthshaking about that. Unless someone has been going around claiming that the end of Mark’s Gospel which records both the ascension and the institution of Baptism is not authentic, whatever that means. Now, this little tradition becomes a point of confession. Because the Gospel of Mark concludes with these words – a few of which we teach children in the Small Catechism. This is not optional. You don’t get to pick and choose which parts of scripture you’re going to ignore because of various manuscript oddities. We confess the canonical books of scripture in the Old and New Testaments, and that includes the conclusion of Saint Mark’s Gospel.

The battle for the bible made clear that Higher Critics don’t get to excise this or that bit because they don’t think it is authentic. Today, the so-called Lower Critics (the ones we all learned were the “good critics”) don’t get to do that either. They do NOT get to decide which parts of scripture are authentic enough for inclusion in the canon. The church has already figured it out. Mark’s Gospel CONCLUDES with the words of the Ascension Day Gospel. We teach our children that “Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark…” Now, we’re facing the same problem: if it’s not authentic, then maybe Jesus didn’t say it. But we don’t get to decide what he said. The Scriptures exist to tell us exactly what he said.

And if the critics of yesterday or today want to argue, they can step outside and argue in the parking lot. Because by definition, those who say “I don’t think Jesus really said this thing which the church has confessed for 2000 years,” are no longer arguing in the church. They have stepped outside of the church. And no matter how alluring their voice, or how many follow them, outside of Christ’s Holy Bride the Church is where the argument stays.



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Ascension Day Sermon

This week, we look at the Ascension of Jesus, answer the question “why doesn’t the church panic” (Hint: Jesus is in charge, so there’s no need) and also look at “why it is the church still insists on gathering together two millennia after our Lord returned to heaven, and even with all of the internet church options available today”. It’s a busy time for us. There are a lot of things to consider.


We don’t know a lot about worship in the Old Testament in Israel – or for that matter even in Jesus day. The actual day to day stuff wasn’t recorded until a couple of hundred years after Jesus. By then the temple was long gone. No way to know what was actually happening. We have records of faithlessness and of idolary. We have records of great faithfulness, of those who refused to bow the knee to the Baals even when threatened. We get a hint, a glimpse of something, without any way to know what it looked like. In today’s Old Testament lesson Elijah ascends to heaven. And the sons of the prophets are there. Some sort of disciple group. Was this a school? A congregation of sorts? A trade union sort of thing for those who dealt in the Word of God? After Elijah is gone, they bow down to Elisha. Elisha takes over for Elijah, whatever it was.

The only really recorded worship life in the Old Testament that gives any detail is the rules in Leviticus for how the temple will run. We know a lot about the times Israel failed to live up to them – prophet after prophet brought God’s word of judgment for Israel’s idolatry. But we don’t know a lot about the times it was done right. Why does this matter? Well the only public worship commanded by God was the temple sacrifices. Otherwise, it was all in the home. Even the Passover sacrifice of the lamb was in the home.

By Jesus day there were synagogues. They aren’t commanded. But when we hear – the school of the prophets whatever that was – it seems clear there was some sort of other worship going on in Israel throughout her history. Was the synagogue a totally new thing in Jesus day, or a continuation of earlier customs? We don’t know. We do know that after Jesus ascends to heaven the church immediately begins meeting on a regular basis to celebrate the mysteries. They take the synagogue as a model. Psalms and Hymns, Readings from scripture, an explanation (what we call sermon), Prayers, and then the Breaking of the Bread. The Holy Communion.

And that is basically how we worship today. We actually have a general description of what the church did in about 150 AD, and it is pretty much what we do. The specific details we have scattered here and there – although far from a complete hymnal – are in line with our worship as well. The same basic pattern of worship today is what the church has always done.

Why does this matter? Well for a while now we’ve been in an emergency mode. Not really running fully. Skeleton services. Many of our brothers and sisters around the nation have not even been able to do that. Congregations are re-opening for the first time in a couple of months. Some are not opened yet, and are hoping to do so soon. We’ve got people returning, now that the worst seems to have passed. We pray there is no second wave. But the church continues.

Why are we so insistent on meeting? Can’t we just do things in our homes? When Daniel was in exile in Babylon he prayed in his house. No public worship at all for him. Couldn’t we just do that? Well it isn’t quite that simple. The word church means gathering. We gather together to hear the Word, to receive the gifts of God which he gives through the Word and Sacraments. And that’s the thing that is different from Old Testament times. They had Passover, circumcision, Day of atonement, a variety of sacrifices. And all of those pointed to Jesus and his work. In the New Testament those sacrifices are fulfilled in Jesus Christ and his work. And we are given the benefits of his work through the preaching of the Word, and through the sacraments. When you were baptized, you were brought into Christ’s Holy Church, and joined to his death. His death became your death, his resurrection became your resurrection. And we are fed with the body and blood of Jesus in the Holy Supper. The Lord’s Supper isn’t symbolic. It really is Jesus body and blood that you take eat and take drink. And that’s something that can’t happen at home. The Old Testament sacrifices looked forward to Jesus work. The New Testament Sacraments bring that work forward to today and give us all the benefits of Jesus work. They join us to Christ, and as we are individually joined to Christ we are also joined to each other through Christ in his Holy Church.

That is why the church gathers. In times of war and in times of peace. In times of plenty and in times of want. In times of health and in times of sickness. In times of joy and sorrow. In times of birth and in times of death.

The church gathers to hear and receive the preaching of the Gospel of forgiveness of sins. And to receive the holy meal of Jesus. That’s how he comes to us with forgiveness life and salvation. Through the Eating and drinking as he has promised. And that can not happen in the home. It’s why those who have been confined have become so hungry and thirsty for the righteousness which Christ gives. Because when the church gathers – even two or three – then Christ is there for us in the body and blood.

Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into heaven. Before the Ascension, Jesus was locally present with the disciples. They could hear and see and touch him. They could walk down the road and he would walk down the road with them, explaining to them the scriptures, that the Son of Man would be crucified and on the third day rise again. They could invite him into the house, and see him grab the bread in his hands, bless it, and offer it to them.

In the ascension, Jesus is hidden from the disciples. They no longer see him. But he tells them it is not just a good thing that he is going away, but it is specifically for our good that he does so.

Now, they can not see him or touch him as they once did. But the presence of Christ continues in the church. What was visible in Christ has now passed over into his presence in the sacraments. Through Baptism Jesus is given to little children. Through the Holy Supper the body and the blood are given to strengthen and feed with the forgiveness of sins. We’ve been praying in our homes for a long while now. There is a hunger and thirst for the righteousness given here. And so the church gathers again and again to fill those who hunger and thirst for Christ’s righteousness. This isn’t food that spoils, like when Jesus fed the 5,000, or like when we go home and have lunch. We don’t just come together as a culinary society – although it’s certainly fun when we do that. We come together as the church. The people of God, gathered to hear the Word and respond in prayer, and then to come into the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, who offers his body and blood for you.

When Jesus goes away from the disciples to die on the cross, they are filled with grief. But then he is raised from the dead and they are filled with a joy that can not be taken from them. His going away was for their good. To earn them salvation. Now we are told he goes to His Father to prepare a place for us. It is for our good. And even though we can not see him, we know that if he goes away for our good then it is truly for our benefit. We must not doubt that promise.

When Jesus ascends, he tells the disciples All authority in heaven and earth is given to me. And he is now seated at the right hand of God the Father. A position of full power and authority. That means that nothing happens that he doesn’t already know about.

We are in his hand. Whether that means good or bad things in this life, Christ is already on it. There can’t be a crisis because Jesus reigns. Health, sickness, life death. None of that really matters to us. The church will endure – the word of God will endure. It will never pass away. We know that even in heaven, when such earthly things as clothing, day, night, marriage all those pass away, that even then the Word of God will remain, and we will stand around the throne singing the praises of God and the lamb.

Until then, we live in this world – not by sight, but by faith. We know Jesus reigns, and he is now hidden. Hidden from our sight, just as the church is hidden from the world’s sight by weakness. We are seen as nothing by the world. And yet we know that we will be given all things by the one who has already been given all things. The one who now sits in glory.

Last week the church looked at prayer. God has promised to hear our prayers. And we pray to our heavenly Father who will give us every good thing. Prayer is the theme of the day in the church year after the death and resurrection of our Lord. Why? Because Jesus is our advocate with the Father. He has all authority, and because of his work for us, because of the adoption of sons we have received through Holy Baptism, we can go directly our Father in heaven with our prayers. And so we pray to Our Father. And we receive the pledge in the supper which our Lord prepares for us, in which he feeds us with himself.

We know that we are never abandoned, never left alone by Jesus who reigns over all the earth. And so we gather again this day, and next Sunday, and until our Lord returns, because that is what the church does. We come together, we receive the promise of life. And then we receive the life itself in the body and the blood.

Thanks be to God who has already given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Matins in the Home: Ascension Day

Matins in the home for this Sunday, which will be celebrated as Ascension Day at the Tri-point. (Ascension was actually on Thursday, but we’re moving it to Sunday so we can properly commemorate it during a church service.)

Matins in the Home 2020-05-24


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Sermon for Rogate Sunday

Here is today’s sermon, for those who can not make it to church.

The Old Testament reading happens near the end of Israel’s 40 years in the desert. They are finally on their way to enter the promised land. Then there is yet another delay – they have to walk around the land of Edom, they can’t go through it. They start complaining. The food – they are tired of it. They haven’t worked for it. It just shows up every day – a gift from God. But it is the same day after day. When we don’t work for something, when we have no skin in the game, we tend to not really appreciate what we have been given. We begin to despise the gift, because it comes so easily. “There is nothing to eat, and we loathe this worthless food.” A complaint that by their own words is not legitimate. There is food. It has kept them alive for 40 years, so it is not worthless. But they are thankless. The punishment: Snakes come to bite the people. Stranded in the desert, they have no real options. They are dying, and they have no where to run. They repent of their sin and cry out to God. Suddenly the food they were complaining about doesn’t seem to bad. Certainly better than the alternative. But the snakes remain. And so they ask Moses – have God take the snakes away. God does not take the snakes away. He gives them a way to survive the snakes. But he doesn’t take them away. The nation still suffers from snakes everywhere. They still suffer from painful bites. But the death that comes from the snakes has been taken away.

Jesus will use this account as direct analogy to his own death. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up that everyone who believes in him would have everlasting life.” In our sin we cry out to God for mercy. But he does not suddenly take us out of this world, he does not suddenly take away our sinful nature. Even the best most Spirit filled Christian is still weak and still stumbles. But what does God do instead? He gives us a way to survive the sting of sin. Jesus dies on the cross – he is raised up, and all those who look to him have forgiveness of sins. And even though they die, they never die. Just as all those who looked to the bronze serpent were saved from the serpents venom.

This reading is a wonderful reminder of the forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus. But today, we are also looking at what scripture teaches us about prayer. The hymn of the day is Luther’s great Lord’s Prayer hymn – although we shortened it a bit this year. The Gospel is Jesus giving instructions for prayer – we can pray directly to our Father in heaven, we don’t need super-heroes of the faith to bring our requests before God. By virtue of Jesus death for us – because of what he has done, and because God has claimed you as his own in your Baptism, you can pray directly to the Father. That is why we don’t pray to saints as many Christians mistakenly do.

But the Old Testament reading shows us another important part of our prayer life – God promises to hear our prayers. He promises to answer our prayers. But his answers are not always in the way we would expect. First – when he gives what we pray for, it often looks very different than we expect or want. So, if we pray for an increase in patience, we can expect that God will make us wait for things. If we pray for an increase in faith, we are praying for God to take things away that would distract us from him – things that might come between us and God. Things that are precious to us in this world, but which really do not matter in eternity. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard to have them taken away though. If we pray for an increase of love, we are asking that God send us people who are less loveable so that we can improve our ability to love others. And when we pray that God would take away death from us – he does it by the death of His own dear Son, and by the promise of the resurrection, not by sending a fiery chariot to whisk us away to heaven directly. Our prayers do not always result in happy-go-lucky moments. We pray that God would end the suffering of a loved one. And so he gathers them into his loving arms and carries them out of this world. We pray that God would end our suffering, and instead he gives us strength to endure. Just barely enough strength to endure. No more than we absolutely need. Which is to say, we spend our time just barely keeping our head above water. But, like that food in the desert – it is enough.

What is going on? Why doesn’t he answer our prayers the way we mean them? Because he gives us even better than we deserve. And in Christ Jesus our prayers are always yes. Let’s look at some examples.

A small child asks a parent for a cookie. The parent says no. Dinner is only five minutes away. A cookie now means no nutrition in five minutes. But a child of about 2 or 3 doesn’t understand five minutes. Doesn’t understand vitamins and minerals and protein. Doesn’t understand how yucky broccoli is better than yummy cookies. A tantrum ensues. But the loving parent does not back down. Only a parent devoid of love would allow a child to eat nothing but sweet food all the time, and never offer nutrition of any sort. The child might claim to be happy. But he would also be unhealthy. The results are not pretty.

The loving parent must say no, even though the child does not understand the love behind that no.

So, sometimes the response of God is no to our prayers. Or is it? Jesus prays “Lord if it is possible let this cup pass from me. Yet not my will, but thine be done.” When our prayers are prayed according to God’s will, then the answer is always yes. What was the Father’s answer to Jesus prayer? It wasn’t no, because Jesus entrusted himself totally to the father’s will. And in that trust, the answer was no to the first part – let the cup pass. But it was yes to the second. The father’s will was done. Jesus was sacrificed for the sins of the world. He earned redemption for all mankind.

So also our prayers are prayed according to the will of the Father. As we pray in the Lord’s prayer “They will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are praying that the will of God would be done among us also. And so, we are praying that the answer to our prayers be Yes – which it will be according to the will of God.

But we are praying that he would give us grace to accept that yes. Because sometimes that yes is, “Yes you may have food. But not a cookie. Here is something better for you.” And we place ourselves humbly under the mighty hand of God. And he cares for us as his own dear children.

Our prayers are important – because God has given them importance, and the one we pray to is able to give us all things. Our prayers do not have power for their own sake. We pray to one who is powerful and is able to give us all things.

So our prayers for health, and for the good of our neighbor are always prayed “according to your will, O heavenly Father.” Because we may pray for healing from sickness, or deliverance from some difficulty. But our Father in heaven knows how best to answer. And when we pray “Thy will be done” the answer is always yes. Even if it means a loved one taken to be with him. Even if it means a disease is not healed in this world, but must be endured. Even if it means that what we most desire in this world can not be given to us. But if we pray that God’s will be done, and if we pray in faith and with sincerity for that, then the thing we most desire – the will of God – is done, and the answer to that prayer is yes.

We pray that God may deliver us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation. And that we may be delivered from this veil of tears to himself in heaven. That we would be kept in the faith until this life ends, and the new life – the life in Christ and his death – begins.

Grant this Lord unto us all.


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Matins in the Home for Rogate

For those who can’t make it to church tomorrow, here is this week’s edition of Matins in the Home.

Matins in the Home 2020-05-17

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Sermon for Cantate Sunday

Here is yesterday’s sermon, for those who could not attend church in person.

Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will “Take what is mine and declare it to you.” And adds “All that the Father has is mine.” So the Holy Spirit will take what is the Father’s, and he will declare those things.

The work of the Spirit is not tied up in a lot of miraculous earthly signs – there are some. But generally the work of the Spirit is tied to teaching, to the word of Jesus – which is really the Word of the Father. The work of the Spirit is to bring us into the life of our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, by the Word given in His Holy Church. Not as some sort of earthly victory with earthly rewards, but with eyes beyond this world and into the next. We want to see results now. But the work of the Spirit is tied to patient instruction, to fruit that will be harvested later. The church is not for the impatient. We may not even get to see the results of our work. It’s one thing to plant and think “It will be months or a couple of years before I see fruit and a harvest.” It’s quite another to plant and say “I will not see fruit for decades or perhaps generations, and I may not even see it in this world. But it is fruit that will last, fruit that is worth the time and effort put into it. “That is the church. We measure time not in years or even generations. We don’t even measure time. Oh, the statistical reports are due each year – how many baptisms, how many confirmations, how many transfers, how many funerals. But those numbers are a time slice of the whole picture. Like a pulling a single thread from a giant tapestry. Oh, this thread is red, or yellow. But it gives no indication of what the image is on that tapestry. You just can’t see enough. You need a wider view. For the church, we need to step back beyond just this year, just this decade, or even century. We need to step back from just this congregation, just our district, or synod. The entire scope of history from the beginning of time is the history of God saving His people. The entire scope of all human activity is God coming to earth to save sinners. Even today. We are looking at eternal truths – things that can not be changed. That are hard-wired into the nature of the universe by its creator.

There’s been a lot of talk about science lately. We will be guided by Science. We will look to the scientific experts. But science is just one way of examining the creation. It looks at how things work. Nothing more. It can offer us nothing about the meaning of those things. Science can tell nothing about why we are here. To understand that, we must look to the creator – he must instruct us. And he has: He gives us his Holy Word so that we might hear and understand why in love he created us as male and female, how he placed us into families, and how those families are built into communities, how it is that we are called out of this world and away from earthly things to worship the creator, the one who made us, to give him praise and honor for his mighty deeds – not only in creating, but in redeeming us from our sins, and in calling us to be his own holy people.

Having been called out of the world and the vain pursuits of this age, we are now freed to show love to our neighbor, and give praise to God as his dearly beloved children. This is proclaimed by the Spirit in the church, and it is revealed to us through the preaching of the Word when the Spirit breaks through our dead hearts of stone and gives to us living hearts of flesh.

The way of the world is the way of unbelief. Rejection of all that God has said to us. And as people born into this world according to the flesh, as sinners descended from our first parents, unbelief is also our default position. We reject all that our Father speaks to us through his Holy Word, and through His Church. The world seeks riches and power and influence and pleasures. The world can not see beyond the world. Having been called out of the world, we seek eternal things: The kingdom of God and his righteousness. God promises to take care of the worldly things. We need not worry about them. We work at our jobs and raise our families in this world – and we do it in the fear and admonition of the Lord. But we do not worry about things that pass away. And this world is passing away.

Jesus says so. He tells us that the Spirit will convict – judge – the world. The world will be judged for its unbelief, and the world will melt away. Everything that we spend so much time building in this world will be gone. All that will be left are eternal things – the word and instruction of our Lord Jesus. The communion of Saints in the church. The Holy Communion which our Lord Jesus gives us in His Holy Supper. These things will endure. Our lives in this world will pass away. These bodies will decay and disappear. But in Christ Jesus, they will be raised. That is the eternal thing – the bodies of the saints – which will decay according to the pattern of this world, but which will be raised by the glory of Jesus Christ, given new life in his life, and given eternity in his resurrection.

The world is judged because it rejects the forgiveness life and salvation which our Lord Jesus gives in His Holy Supper. And our sinful flesh is tempted every day to say “I don’t need to eat of that food that remains to eternal life. I am fine on my own without it. I don’t need Jesus today.” Because That is what we are given in the holy supper. Jesus himself. The Spirit gives us eyes to see this, hearts to receive the truth. To look beyond the things of this world, the things that pass away, and to look to what our Lord Jesus promises to all those who believe in His name.

The world will be judged and pass away because Jesus has been raised from the dead – he paid the penalty for sin, and so those who reject his word are still in their sins. They are still living in death right now, heading for eternal death. That is why we pray that the Spirit would convert all who are still in their sin, who live their lives in the way of death. We pray they would repent and turn away from their sin and turn to the Lord. The ruler of this world – Satan has already been judged. He has been cast out of heaven, and now he prowls about like a ravening lion, seeking whom he will devour. But his reign is ended. The cross marked the undoing of what he did in the garden of Eden. He was overcome by the cross of Jesus, those of us called out of this world, have been called out of Satan’s realm of power. We are no longer his. We belong the Father who created us.

The Holy Spirit is not idle in the church. Even in these dark days when it seems the whole world abandons the church of Christ and does not seek heavenly things. Even now, the Spirit continues his work of converting those who do hear and receive. He makes willing hearts out of unwilling ones. Breaking through the heart of stone and giving hearts of flesh to all those who believe. And we who were dead in our sins have been made alive in Christ Jesus.

That is why we do not need to worry about what the world is up to. We don’t need to worry about trivial things like sickness or disease or death, or wealth or power. All of that ends for us when we are taken out of this world. Then the sickness is taken away. Through death we are joined to Jesus Christ and the life he earned on the cross. A life that can not be taken away. When we die we leave behind the things of this world – the sin that so easily entangles, and we are given the crown of life.

That is what the Spirit gives to us as we hear and learn the Word of God. As we rejoice in the gifts which are given here in the church. That is why we train up our children, and bring them to the holy altar of God to take eat and take drink as he has promised.

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