viagra effects on healthy men
discount online pharmacy
generic cialis 5mg
generic cialis tadalafil 20mg reviews
price viagra
viagra chewable tablets
viagra buy online
real viagra
generic viagra 50 mg
viagra prices cvs

Quick Information

9:00 a.m. - Sunday School and Adult Bible Study

10:30 a.m. - Sunday Divine Service
(Holy Communion is celebrated weekly).

We are located on Jefferson Ave., just south of I-44 in St. Louis, MO.

Map of 2241 S Jefferson Ave, Saint Louis, MO 63104-2237

Parking lot is accessible behind the church from Armand or Shenandoah.

(314) 776-1274


Luke 11:14-28. The Unity of God’s House

Posted: March 8th, 2015, by bmayes

Lent 3, Oculi, March 8, 2015 A+D, Emmaus Ev. Lutheran Church U.A.C., St. Louis, Mo.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. DEARLY BELOVED:

A company is strong when all of its workers are united and working toward the same goal. A family is strong when all of its members are united and working toward helping and defending one another. A country is strong when it is united and virtuous, when no one is trying to overthrow the government. And a Christian congregation is strong when it is united under God’s Word, bearing with one another in love, working toward helping one another, working toward the same goal of edifying one another and bringing Christ’s Word to the unbelieving world. Unity is a requirement for strength. It is a requirement for protection. A strong house must be unified.

And it’s for this reason that the devil tries to scatter and divide. He doesn’t try to scatter and divide his own kingdom, he tries to scatter and divide God’s household, God’s flock. Jesus points this out to His detractors. The devil indeed scatters and divides, but he does this not to Himself. (Therefore when Jesus is casting out devils, it’s not by the devil’s power that He does this.) The devil tries to divide God’s household, because divided, God’s flock becomes weak and defenseless.

Faced with a divided kingdom and a divided Temple, Jeremiah, in the Old Testament, was unable to cast the demons out of the house. The evil spirits of the people of Judah had filled God’s Temple, and unity had been destroyed. Instead of being united to God’s Word, each of them were going their own evil way. Therefore, the Lord told the prophet Jeremiah, “Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds.” (Jer. 26:2–3). They were unified, in a sense, unified in resisting God’s Word. Unified in their evil ways, they spurned the most important unity—unity with God’s Word—and they stood in evil unity against God’s prophet. God’s plan was that they would stop being unified against Him, but would be unified in repentance. Later in Jeremiah, it seems that some people did indeed repent, but not all. Some found unity with God. Others remained scattered and divided, just as many people today remain scattered and divided as fornicators, unclean persons, covetous men, who are idolaters, not having any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (cf. Eph. 5:5–6). We are not deceiving you with empty words, but we are warning you of these things, just as Jeremiah warned the people of what comes from being divided and scattered from God’s Word. It’s too bad that Jeremiah spoke, but was unable to fully cast out the demons from God’s House.

But Christ, the stronger Man, has indeed cast out the demons from our house. Although the devil is depicted as a strong man, fully armed, who guards his own palace, Christ is one stronger than he, who comes upon him and overcomes him, takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. Christ is the stronger Man, who has cast out the demons from our house. That is to say, we all were once under the devil’s power. In Luke’s Gospel, our bodies are described as “houses.” Jesus spoke of the strong man and the one stronger than he, when He was casting out a demon from a mute man. The man himself is the house that Jesus speaks of. We ourselves are like houses. The devil ruled us and had us as his possession to serve him in unrighteousness, guilt, and misery. But Christ came to our house, that we might serve Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

So how did He come to our house? For the answer to that, turn to the creed. The creed explains how Christ came to our house, overcame the devil, took away the devil’s weapons, and divided his spoils. This is how He did it: “He came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; And was crucified also for us . . . And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures . . . Whose kingdom will have no end.” That’s how He came to our house and overcame the devil. And he makes His victory our victory by means of the last part of the creed, where we confess the Holy Spirit and His work. “And I believe in the Holy Spirit; . . . And I believe one holy Christian and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins; And I look for the resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come.” That’s how Christ’s victory becomes our victory—through the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church: the means of grace and the resurrection. So you see, Christ by His death and resurrection has cast out the demons from our house. And as a result, we live together as His Church, as a holy temple in which God desires to dwell.

Now we all have probably known businesses which just don’t work, where everything is in chaos, and very little good work gets done. Think of how pointless and futile it would be if everyone in a company was free to do whatever he wanted. The purchasing people would be buying supplies to try to fill the warehouse. The cleaning people would be thowing those supplies away to try to clean out the messy warehouse. Some engineers would want the machines fixed one way. Others would fix them the other way. The accounting people would try to sell the products too high, and the marketing people would undercut them by selling the same products too low. In this sort of a situation, with no clear leadership and no rules, the business would be in chaos, almost no good work would be done, and soon they’d all be out of a job. For a house to be strong, it must be unified. Businesses that are not unified in their goals and clear in their duties just don’t work.

It is similar for the Church, even though the Church should not be seen as a business. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, speaks of the Church as a unified body, where each part of the body has its own duty and its own vocation. He says, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ” (v. 12). He’s saying, just as the body must work together in order to live and grow, so also the Church. And the way that the Church works together is not by business plans, but by love. Paul says in today’s epistle reading, “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” As long as there is unity of faith and doctrine, then we must bear with the weaknesses of others. Martin Luther had a good insight into this. He once wrote, “We are surely prepared to observe peace and love with all men, provided that they leave the doctrine of faith perfect and sound for us. If we cannot obtain this, it is useless for them to demand love from us. A curse on a love that is observed at the expense of the doctrine of faith, to which everything must yield—love, an apostle, an angel from heaven, etc.!”1 But where we have unity of doctrine, where we are unified in believing the true, biblical teaching, there love is necessary to cover over the many faults of others. We can and must bear with the weaknesses of others. Think of what would happen if people didn’t bear with your weaknesses: your laziness, your worrying, your impatience, your backbiting, your rudeness, your disrespect, your concern for yourself first and foremost. (And we all are guilty of these things to one degree or another.) Think of what would happen if people did not overlook these things and simply love you. Life in the home, in the congregation, and in the workplace would be ten times worse.

Look: Christ loved us so much that He gave Himself for us to be an offering and a sacrifice to God. This is the sort of love which binds people in unity, where previously there was strife. This is the sort of love that heals and makes friendship where formerly there was enmity. And first and foremost, this is the sort of love which fully and completely reunites us with God. Not that our love does this. But our love is a reflection of God’s great love for us. God’s love is that Christ would be our sacrifice, for a sweet-smelling aroma to cover up the stench of our sins in God’s nostrils. Now, as a result of His love, we too can begin to love one another by means of the Holy Spirit. The congregation, especially, is like a house. Christ our God is a Man stronger than the devil, who has cast the evil spirits out of this group of people. But not only does He cast out the evil spirits, He also fills this house with the Holy Spirit. It is this Holy Spirit, with His seven-fold gifts, who unites this house. Through His grace—through the Gospel and the Holy Sacraments—this house is the house of the Holy Trinity. It is the place in which God desires to dwell. It is the place where God’s kingdom has come upon us through His gifts. Jesus said, “If I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” And this is indeed the case. We pray “Thy Kingdom come,” and through His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, God’s kingdom is here, in this united house, this congregation gathered around the Word and sacraments. For God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word, and lead godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.

The devil tries to divide us in two ways: by destroying our faith in God’s Word and His mercy, and then by destroying our love and our mercy for each other. May Christ, who sits at God’s right hand, and the Holy Spirit, who is the Finger of God, always cast the devil out of our house, even as He promised He would. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Rev. Dr. Benjamin T.G. Mayes


1Galatians 1535, AE 27:38.

What is Fasting All About?

Posted: February 25th, 2015, by bmayes

fasting1Many people “give something up” for Lent.  This is certainly a noble bodily discipline.  But is this a biblical, Lutheran practice?  To the possible surprise of many, Lutherans have historically approved of fasting.  One of the theologians I have been studying wrote about this.  Conrad Dieterich (1575-1639, “archdeacon” of Marburg, professor in Giessen, and superintendent of Ulm), discussed fasting in his Institutiones Catecheticae (Catechetical Institutes).  This work, which is more like a short systematic theology book than an explanation of the Small Catechism, was reprinted around twenty times between its debut and the 18th century.  It was also popular with early generations of the LCMS.  In 1892, an abridgment was published by Concordia Publishing House under the title “Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism Thoroughly Explained in Question and Answer by Dr. Johann Conrad Dietrich.”[1]  This work was the predecessor of our blue synodical catechism.  Four years later, a German translation of the entire work was published in St. Louis under the title, “Catechetical Institutes, that is, Thorough Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Catechism in Question and Answer, Provided with Notes.”[2]

As an appendix to his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, Dieterich includes six pages on fasting.  He defines it as “the voluntary, complete abstinence from every food for the purpose of more meaningful devotion, whether it happens from one’s own will or at the arrangement of one or the other Christian congregation, as often as necessity demands it.”[3]  In explaining what he means by voluntary, he says, “The abstinence is, furthermore, voluntary; therefore it is not bound to particular commands and orders, much less to particular days, manners, and customs; it is also not necessary in the sense that it would bind all the faithful together, but rather it is undertaken out of one’s own will and choice.”[4]

But what about this concept of total abstinence from all food?  Isn’t that a bit extreme?  Precisely.  To fast is to abstain from all food, according to Dieterich, “not just this or that food, such as meat, eggs, butter, milk and others, but all food.  For fasting, according to the standing linguistic usage of Scripture and the custom of the saints of the Old as well as of the New Testament means literally: to abstain from all nourishment, whether it lasts for a day, as the people of God generally practiced it (Num. 29:7; Judges 20:26; 2 Sam. 1:12; 3:35, etc.) or for several days, (two days, Neh. 1:4; or three, Esther 4:6; or even four, Acts 10:30).  In a non-literal sense it is called fasting when one lives off of scanty and meager fare and at least takes to himself no breakfast or no lunch, and also consumes cheaper and rougher food and drink for a long period of time (see 1 Sam. 31:13; Dan. 10:3).  Therefore it is not fasting in the literal sense when one abstains from breakfast, but takes lunch and supper with a certain limitation in the choice of foods.”[5]  Note that for Dieterich, the goal is not to do away with the discipline of fasting, but to restore its biblical rigor!  He sees the “giving up” of one or the other food as not being strict enough.  But he would by no means reject a distinction of foods, as long as it was undertaken freely and had some rigor to it.  Giving up merely one choice food (such as chocolate) in favor of other foods would, on the other hand, by no means count as “fasting,” either in the literal or the non-literal sense.

Next, Dieterich discusses the purpose for fasting.  Fasting awakens a more fervent devotion which consists in 1. the mortification of the lust of the flesh, 2. true humility of the heart before God, 3. more serious sorrow over sins, 4. a blessed contemplation of heavenly things, and 5. devotional prayer.  Dieterich caps off his discussion of the benefits of fasting with a quote from the early church father Augustine.  “Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of desire, quenches the fire of lust, kindles the true light of chastity.”[6]  It is obvious that Dieterich is throwing out neither discipline nor an appreciation for the early church fathers.

What about necessity?  Is fasting “necessary”?  Here Dieterich gives a nuanced answer.  Fasting is generally commanded to us in Scripture (Joel 1:14; Matt. 17:21; 1 Cor. 7:5).  He writes, “I say ‘generally,’ because both the public fasts as well as the private ones are, to be sure, prescribed generally in God’s Word, but definite times for fasting, definite manners and ceremonies for fasting are nowhere commanded in the New Testament.”[7]  So fasting itself is commanded, but the “when” is a matter of free choice, along with the other “manners and ceremonies” which accompany fasting.

Dieterich has much to say about the Roman Catholic manner of fasting, which I must omit here for the sake of space.[8]  Suffice it to say that Dieterich protests against the stereotype that Lutherans do not fast, and have “banned fasting from the Church completely.”  “They have not banned it, but have only condemned its unbearable abuse.”[9]  Meanwhile, the Lutheran Church is free at any time to institute a public fast, especially when an emergency may require it, but always to the exclusion of superstitious abuse.  If Dieterich had been here on September 11th, 2001, he might have seen a public fast, instituted by and for the whole church, as being completely appropriate in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

In the absence of special emergencies, however, fasting is a free discipline.  We are free to make use of it as a spiritual exercise in connection with prayer.  Fasting is like doing exercise, for example, lifting weights.  Exercise is not what keeps one alive, but is a way to grow stronger.  Likewise, prayer and fasting is not how God keeps us alive in faith.  He does that through the Gospel and Sacraments.  But prayer and fasting are disciplines, exercises to help strengthen us in our Christian life.  Fasting is not for children, the sick, the elderly, or those with special dietary needs.  Fasting should not be undertaken if it would be dangerous to your health.

So, should we “give up something” for Lent?  Sure, why not?  Giving up something, such as coffee, alcohol, or sweets, is a bodily discipline.   But I would suggest that we also, at some point, practice true, biblical fasting—giving up all food and drink except water.  The oldest of Christian fasts was for a day or two in preparation for Easter.  Therefore I suggest that we all give up something for Lent, and then fast on Holy Saturday, breaking our fast with the Holy Feast of Easter.  This is a free discipline, but one that can help us to appreciate Easter all the more.

[1] Dr. Martin Luthers Kleiner Katechismus in Frage und Antwort gründlich ausgelegt von Dr. Johann Conrad Dietrich (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1892).

[2] Conrad Dieterich, Institutiones Catecheticae: das ist, gründliche Auslegung des Katechismus D. Martin Luthers in Frage und Antwort und mit Anmerkungen versehen, trans. Friedrich Wilhelm August Notz (St. Louis: F. Dette, 1896).  In my presentation, I follow the Notz translation.  This work is worthy of further study, especially in his treatment of the Keys and the Office of the Holy Ministry.

[3] Dieterich, Institutiones Catecheticae, 403.

[4] Dieterich, Institutiones Catecheticae, 403.

[5] Dieterich, Institutiones Catecheticae, 403.

[6] Augustine, Sermon 230, in Dieterich, Institutiones Catecheticae, 403.

[7] Dieterich, Institutiones Catecheticae, 404.

[8] See Dieterich, Institutiones Catecheticae, 405-408.

[9] Dieterich, Institutiones Catecheticae, 408.

Galatians 4:1–7. The Adoption of Sons

Posted: January 16th, 2015, by bmayes

Christmas 1, December 28, 2014 A+D, Emmaus Ev. Lutheran Church U.A.C., St. Louis, Mo.

Dearly beloved: Today’s Epistle reading from Galatians 4 speaks about the family, to help us understand salvation. Our salvation through Christ has to do with adoption into God’s family.

At the beginning of this Epistle reading, St. Paul is discussing an heir who is a child. Here he is speaking about the church of the Old Testament, which has now matured and is no longer under the “elements of the world,” which includes the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. Now that Christ has come, the Old Testament ceremonies are no longer in play. There is only one church of God from the beginning to the end of the world, but before Christ the church of Israel was a minor child under guardians and managers, the ceremonial laws—like animal sacrifices and avoiding pork. Now that Christ has come, the church is free of those oppressive laws. The church has grown up. It’s the same church now as in the Old Testament, but it looks different, and the rules are different. That is what St. Paul was discussing at the beginning of today’s Epistle reading.

But the rest of the Epistle reading deals directly with Christmas. Consider for a moment the best Christmas decorations and what they teach us about family. In the run-up to Christmas we often see one of the best Christmas decorations: A crèche, that is, a nativity scene, with shepherds, sheep, cattle, camels, wise men, and of course, the so-called “Holy Family” of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The nativity scene reminds us of what we celebrate with so much joy from year to year—the birth of the Christ child. We Christians know that Christ is the best Christmas present. But the nativity scene tells us something else. It depicts a family, the holy family. Especially at this time of year people know—even non-Christians—that family is the best earthly gift that there is. Somehow we know this by nature. Whether you are married or single or widowed, blessed with children or barren, you somehow know that having family and being with them is the most important thing. But sometimes people can’t enjoy that gift of family. For one reason or another, there is no family left; maybe there never was much of a family. Or being with family is sheer frustration. And then this time of year is bitter. Either way, whether we have family here on earth or not, somehow we know that it’s important.

Thanks be to God, no matter your earthly family, you Christians have been adopted into God’s family. What St. Paul writes in Galatians 4:6 applies to you. He writes, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ ”

Don’t you love how gender-specific the Bible is? All of us, male and female Christians together, are the bride of Christ. But when it comes to being children in God’s family, St. Paul calls us all “sons.” “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” Why “sons” instead of “sons and daughters”? Other places of Scripture do call believers God’s sons and daughters (e.g., 2 Cor. 6:18). But here it’s just “sons,” because it was the only-begotten Son of God who redeemed us, it is the Spirit of the only-begotten Son of God who comes to us, and because the inheritance that we receive is the very same inheritance that belongs to the only-begotten Son of God. We can’t make the Bible gender-neutral like many modern translations try to do. There is meaning in every word, even the gender-specific words.

So how is it that you became part of God’s family? How did you get adopted into the best family of all? First, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” And this is the mystery of Christmas. Notice the careful language here. “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” If Christ were a mere man, St. Paul would not have said this. A mere human being is not first sent and then conceived and born. No, first we are born, and then once we have grown we may be sent on a mission for the government or the church. But here the sending comes first. “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” That indicates that this is no mere baby. Here we have one who existed long before He was conceived and born. As we learn clearly from other passages of Scripture (e.g., John 1; Heb. 1), He is the eternal, co-equal Son of God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father. Yes, this is careful language, and a clear confession.

The words “Born of a woman” are also worth considering. These words are either totally obvious or else they are confessing something important. Of course, it’s obvious, every baby is naturally born of a woman. That doesn’t seem special. But here the mention of a “woman” is indeed special. From the beginning of time to St. Paul’s time, lineage and inheritance were determined by who your father is. Look at the beginning of Matthew and the first several chapters of 1 Chronicles. Being born of a woman doesn’t matter there. What matters is who your father was. But here, when it comes to our salvation, St. Paul says that “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” Not born as the child of Mary and Joseph. Not the son of Joseph at all! Not simply “born as a human being,” as a gender-neutralist might say. But “born of a woman.” He picks his words carefully. The woman is mentioned here, but no human father, because as we know from other passages of Scripture, Jesus had no human father (Luke 1:26–38; Matt. 1:18–25). He was born of the virgin Mary.

These statements back up and support our creeds, our statements of faith. What a comfort to know that when we confess the ancient creeds, it’s not just ancient truths that we are confessing, but truths that go all the way back to the apostles and eyewitness of the Lord Jesus, and to their holy writings. Your faith, which you confess here each Lord’s Day, is based squarely on Scripture. We have not invented it. We do not make up this stuff up; it is all taken from the writings of the true prophets and apostles. You can rely on it! “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” That is the first part of how you were adopted into God’s family.

Second, God’s Son was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.” He willingly became obedient to the Law of Moses—both the ceremonial law and the moral Law. And then He suffered the penalty that you deserved for disobeying God’s Law, the penalty of death. Christmas has a sad side to it. The baby was born to be a sacrifice. This Lamb of God was not going to be a pet, but was just awaiting the time of slaughter. By being born under the Law, by keeping the Law, by suffering the Law’s punishment, He has redeemed you, bought you back, and sealed your adoption into God’s family.

Third, He did all this, as I said, “so that we might receive adoption as sons.” This “receiving adoption” happens through faith in Christ, as St. John’s Gospel says: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Through the preaching and hearing of God’s Word, God is at work. He breaks your hearts through the Law and He draws you, so that through the preaching of the Law you come to know your sins and God’s wrath, and you experience true terrors in your heart, along with sorrow for your sins. But then, through the preaching, hearing, and consideration of the holy Gospel about the gracious forgiveness of sins in Christ, a spark of faith is lit in you, and this faith accepts the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, and comforts itself with the promise of the Gospel. And then the Holy Spirit is given to you. He comes into your heart, begins to make you holy, and brings about true prayer.

True prayer. That is the result of being adopted. St. Paul writes: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” (Gal. 4:6). “Abba” means “Father,” and it calls to mind the prayer our Lord taught us. “Our Father, who art in heaven.” You can call upon God now not just as a master or a stern lord, but as a loving Father.

Therefore: Cry out in prayer and song, saying “Abba,” or rather, “Our Father.” Live in freedom not from the Law, but in the Law. That is, live in freedom in love, which is the fulfillment of the Law, and in thankfulness for this adoption of sons, the best of presents. Family is important. But being in God’s family by adoption is the most important. In conclusion, please listen to a paraphrase of today’s Epistle reading:

“I am declaring something similar to what I said: However long the son of the household, to whom the father’s goods are due, is still of minor age, with regard to possessing the father’s goods he has no prerogative more than the slaves, because he still lives under tutors, until the time elapses which the father defined to the tutors. In the same way, we too in the Old Testament were like little children, occupied with ceremonies and works of the Law like rattles, and as though still under the discipline of tutors, although heirs of divine benefits. But after the time defined by the heavenly Father had been fulfilled, God sent His only-begotten Son to assume human nature from the virgin Mary and in it to fulfill the Law, and to take upon Himself the curse of the Law due to us, and in this way to pay the price of redeption for us, who were debtors to the Law, and in order that we might be received into the true inheritance of the sons of God. And this pertains also to you, O my [Galatians]. For you, too, have become sons of God; therefore you have accepted the Holy Spirit, whom the Son of God acquired for you by His departure to the Father, who works in your hearts so often as you groan to God as to your most kindly Father. And thus you are no longer under slavery, but rather have taken possession of the inheritance of sons through Christ, who appeared in the flesh on account of this your freedom.”[1] Amen.

Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes

[1] Friedrich Balduin, Commentarius In Omnes Epistolas Beati Apostoli Pauli (Francofurti: Mevius, 1654), p. 815.

Philippians 4:4. Rejoice in the Lord always!

Posted: January 16th, 2015, by bmayes

Advent 4, December 21, 2014 A+D, Emmaus Ev. Lutheran Church U.A.C., St. Louis, Mo.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Dearly beloved, let us consider four things: What rejoicing is. What rejoicing in the Lord is. What rejoicing in the Lord always is. And how to do it.

First, what rejoicing is. What happens when you rejoice in something? You love it. You enjoy it. You take delight in. It makes you happy and content. Also, it is something you have, since you do not usually rejoice that you lack something good. For example, your spouse comes home and says, “Rejoice! I got a raise at work.” You rejoice when your team wins the big game. You rejoice that you can enjoy a beautiful day. Or you rejoice that your finals are done, your papers have been turned in, and burdens have been lifted from your shoulders. You rejoice that you finally sold your old car, your house, or your bike, and now you can move on. Sometimes people ignore the good things around them and refuse to rejoice. If your son is in a bad mood, you might have to remind him, “Rejoice! Look at all that the Lord has given you: family, friends, a home, food on the table, even some toys and games.” People can ignore the good things around them and refuse to rejoice. But on the other hand, rejoicing is not usually something you can just decide to do. Rejoicing does not come from a decision you make. Instead, it springs up from something outside of you. It springs up from some good news, from something that you enjoy, something that you love, and that you have, whether it’s freedom, beloved people, security, or even a new toy. It comes from outside of you. That is what rejoicing is.

But note this: The Apostle does not command you to rejoice always, period. God’s will is not for you to be constantly happy in everything in your life. In fact, when you look at yourself and your sins, you are supposed to be sad. The prophet Isaiah says: “Wail, for the day of the Lord is at hand!” (13:6). And St. Paul writes to the Romans: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). So when St. Paul says “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he’s not telling you that it’s a sin to be sad. He is not commanding a normal, worldly happiness.

Instead, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” What is rejoicing in the Lord? It is basically the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. How so? The first commandment requires that we fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Whatever we love above all things, that is what gives us joy more than anything else. If you love something and you have it, then you rejoice. That’s how it works. So rejoicing in the Lord means that you have the Lord as your God (not money, not your stuff, not your lust or pleasure, not even other people) and also, you have the Lord; He is with you. So that’s why rejoicing in the Lord is a commandment. But aren’t you tempted to let your grandkids, your girlfriend, your new computer, your smartphone, be your greatest joy? If you want to see whether you’re keeping this commandment, try telling everyone not to give you any Christmas gifts this year, and see if your heart rejoices in the Lord and is content and happy! The sad truth is that not just secular people, but even you Christians sitting here at Emmaus Lutheran Church probably have more joy in worldly things than in the Lord. Secular people sometimes take joy in evil things, but Christians like you sometimes take God’s good things, His good gifts, and make them your highest joy, something that is not good. The good gifts of God—like family, friends, food, drink, Christmas presents—can be misused, when they become more important than God and His Word. I think we can see this when people stay away from church to be with family, or when churches cancel their Christmas services so that people can have family time. Or when peace in the family is more important than speaking the hard truth in love and calling family members to repentance. This is putting God’s gifts in the place of God. It is rejoicing less in the Lord and more in the Lord’s earthly gifts.

Can you be like Job, so that even if you have nothing else in the world, like Job who lost everything—even his children—you could still rejoice in the Lord? To be honest, I doubt that I could. Of course, not even Job really lived up to this. He did not reject faith in God, but when plagued by illness and loss, he could not really rejoice. But the commandment stands. And you cannot live up to it, either.

Rejoice in the Lord always; not just sometimes, but always. This is a commandment for all times in your life. Whether you feel happy, sad, bored, excited, distracted, etc., you are supposed to rejoice in the Lord always. That means to keep Him in your heart, to let Him be your greatest joy. Do you rejoice in the Lord? By the grace of the Holy Spirit, yes you do, but in weakness, and not always. And so you know that any rejoicing in the Lord which you can do here in this life is only preliminary. You will first be able to keep the commandment in heaven. Then you will rejoice in the Lord always.

So how to do it? How to rejoice in the Lord always? As Pr. Hellwege said in a sermon a few years ago, it is a question of perspective. How to view the world? We often look at it with “me” in the center. Instead, look at it from God’s perspective. We deserve damnation, wrath, rejection, etc. But instead we have received a baby who is God the Son, born unto us. We have received the obedience of Christ counted as our own obedience. We have received His sufferings and cross, counted as our own. From that perspective, we have good reason to rejoice always!

Of course, you can’t just decide and try hard to rejoice. Here’s why. True joy doesn’t come just from human willpower or decision. True, you can decide to not rejoice despite all of God’s good gifts to you in Christ. But you can’t just decide and try hard to rejoice. It’s like how you can’t just decide to fall in love with someone and try hard to make it happen. Instead, this love comes when you concentrate on what is outside of you. You are taken by her beauty, her voice, her kindness. You’re focused on her, and love springs up. So also with joy, you can’t just decide to rejoice in the Lord. Instead, God has shown you how beautiful He is, how sweet His voice is in His Word, how kind He is in sending His Son. God Himself, the Son of God, became a helpless baby, humble and dependent on His mother and other people. God Himself chose to be a child, to have dirty diapers, to fall down, cry, get scrapes and bruises. He chose to live a holy life for you. He chose to suffer the punishment of your sins by a painful, bloody death. He arose from death and ascended on high. And now, the Lord is at hand. He is at hand invisibly in His Word. He is at hand tangibly in His Sacraments. He will be at hand visibly when He comes again. When you’re focused on this, then joy will spring up from outside of you. If you are in love, what happens when you hear that you get to see and be with the one you love? You rejoice. And that is how rejoicing in the Lord happens. You hear that you get to see and be with Him. The Lord is at hand. For you, this is good news. Rejoice in the Lord Jesus always.

May God cut off from our hearts the joy in worldly things, so that we may take full joy in the Lord, who is at hand and abides forever. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes

Sermon: “Let us pass over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Posted: January 12th, 2015, by hellwegej

Text: Joshua 3:1-3, 7-8, 13-17

How can we cross the river of death safely?