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Growing and Going with the Word and Sacraments

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It is our sincere prayer that the Lord Jesus will bless you through the hearing of his word. First Evangelical Lutheran is a Bible-Based, Christ-Centered Church. Since 1849, First Evangelical Lutheran Church has proclaimed great news of free salvation. Our mission is to use this Gospel, found in God's inerrant Word, Baptism, and Holy Communion, to bring Christ's forgiveness to sinners. Learn more about what we offer by clicking the buttons below.

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is knowing the LOVE of Christ and sharing the abundance of that love, that God may be glorified.

Jesus is the most generous person to have ever lived. He gave his life so that we might live. As ones who follow Christ, in joyful response for all he has given us, we give him thanks and glory as we generously give of our time, talent, and finances.

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First Evangelical Lutheran Church is located in downtown Racine, Wisconsin, at 728 Villa Street.

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If you are interested in joining our church or simply would like to know more about what we teach and preach, we offer a Bible Information Class. The class is held at various times throughout the year, lasting 13-15 weeks. For more information or to sign up, contact Pastor Roekle using this form. You can also sign up here.

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Jesus, Our Great High Priest - Pastor John Roekle

March 18, 2018 [Lent 5] Hebrews 5:7-9 J.D.Roekle

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Jesus, Our Great High Priest

Dear Friends in Christ,

When I traveled over to Israel and wanted to charge my cell phone, I needed to be prepared. I wasn’t able to simply plug my power charger cord into the outlet. That’s because the outlet I was plugging the power cord into is meant for a cord with circular posts on the ends, rather than the flat edge of a typical power cord here in the United States. So I needed to have along an adapter. I would plug my phone cord into the adapter and the adapter had the correct posts that I could plug into the outlet in Israel. If I didn’t have the adapter, I would have been carrying around a dead phone, since I wouldn’t have been able to charge it. The adapter was necessary for my phone to receive the necessary charge from the outlet.

An adapter is also necessary in your life. How is it that you and I can be connected to God? We have something by nature that is not at all compatible with God: sin. We’re all infected with it. We are born with it. On our own, we cannot plug into a relationship with God. We need an adapter of sorts. That adapter is Jesus. The office, which Jesus holds that explains Jesus connecting us to God, is his office of High Priest. Jesus is our great High Priest. The thing that makes Jesus our High Priest so great is his perfect obedience. He did everything that was asked of him in order to connect us with God.

The problem of our broken relationship with God has been around since the first sin in the Garden of Eden. In order to show the children of Israel their need for someone to connect them to God, the Lord established the Old Testament office of High Priest. This office was quite an exclusive club.

While there were many priests, there was only one High Priest at any given time. The High Priest was appointed by God himself with Aaron being the first one chosen. Aaron’s line would provide the High Priest through the centuries.

Because the High Priest was one of a kind, the Lord commanded the very cloths he would wear when he was doing his appointed work around the tabernacle or later the temple. While there were quite a number of garments, he was to wear, today we will simply focus on a few items that shows what his role was all about.

He wore two onyx stones on his shoulders. On them were engraved the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. In wearing these, he was showing that he represented the people before the Lord. He was also to wear a breastplate on which were 12 gemstones. On each gemstone was the name of one of the tribes of Israel. Carrying them near his heart, he was reminded of the great responsibility he had on behalf of the people. On his head, he wore a gold plate with the words inscribed on it: “Holy to the Lord.” This was worn on his head to show that he was the one appointed to do the sacrifices of atonement on behalf of the sinful people.

Now each of these articles, and all the other ones we didn’t discuss, were to be worn by the High Priest as they entered the Holy Place and Most Holy Place. If they would enter there without any of these articles properly worn, Moses says that they would “incur guilt and die.” (Exodus 28:43) They were to carefully do as God had instructed.

Jesus as our High Priest was much greater. While he didn’t wear the garb of the Old Testament High Priests, he was perfectly clothed in perfection. He did everything that God sent him to do. And what a difficult task this was. A task beyond our understanding really.

As our High Priest, he was to reconnect us to God, by being perfectly obedient in everything, including taking the very weight of our every sin on his shoulders. You and I can hardly begin to appreciate what Jesus went through.

The writer to the Hebrews says: During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

It was a regular practice of Jesus to pray. To pray both for himself and for the people he came to save: you and me. But the words here are clearly indicating a certain time in Jesus’ life when his earthly work was coming to a culmination. When you look at these words carefully, they describe Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane after he celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and just before he was arrested on Maundy Thursday. The prayers described here are more intense than we had seen Jesus give previously.

There’s good reason for that. “During the days of Jesus’ life of earth” literally mean “In the days of his flesh.” That captures much better what was going on here. Remember, that while Jesus was fully God, he was also fully man. Fully human. As Jesus reached the Garden of Gethsemane, the full realization of what was about to take place hit him. Remember Jesus’ prayer: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Now some might say that once Jesus fully realized what he was about to endure, he was changing his mind; that he was trying to get out of it. But the Hebrew writer makes it clear that this wasn’t the case. God heard his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane “because of his reverent submission.” Jesus was all along submissive to the Father’s will. He was going to do whatever was necessary to complete God’s perfect plan.

What this was on Jesus’ part was a reaction of his human nature. Think of the things Jesus would endure through his suffering and death, and even the suffering of hell. Who wouldn’t be taken aback at that! God heard his cry and answered him. He answered him not by taking the cup away from him, but by strengthening him for the task at hand. In fact, the Gospel of Luke tells us that God sent an angel to Jesus to strengthen him.

This truth about Jesus should draw you even closer to him. After all, he took on flesh. He knows what it is to be human. And while he never experienced sin, he experienced all the horrible results of sin. In other words, he knows what you’re going through. Whatever it is! You may feel alone. You may be afraid. You may not know how to face the day. Jesus knows. With every ounce of his being, Jesus understands. He’s been there too. Take comfort, then, in all that he has done for you. Take comfort in everything that he says to you.

After all, what Jesus experienced and accomplished is for your eternal welfare. “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

The phrase “once made perfect” might strike you. It is not to be understood in the sense that Jesus was not perfect and so had to become perfect. Jesus was already perfect. The idea here is actually in terms of coming to the completion of a goal.

In being perfectly obedient, Jesus completed his goal. Just as God commanded, Jesus lived the life we couldn’t. He suffered an innocent death on the cross, and then rose victoriously.

In this way, Jesus is our great High Priest. Our perfect High Priest. In being fully obedient, he completed his goal of winning eternal salvation for us. And so, he is the source, the only source in fact, of our salvation. He alone saves!

And now it is up to us to obey God. And what does he tell us to do? Believe! Believe in his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. To believe that he has done everything necessary to save us. Just so we’re clear: God gives you faith through the Gospel in his Word. Through his Gospel in Baptism. He even strengthens that faith through his Gospel in Holy Communion. But you are the one who believes. God doesn’t believe for you. So believe what God tells you through the Hebrew writer today: Jesus our great High Priest is someone you can relate to since he took on human flesh to experience everything you and I do. And Jesus our great High Priest is someone you can believe in because he became obedient to God in everything, even death on a cross in order to save us. Amen.

Christians Are A Breed Apart - Pastor John Roekle

March 11, 2018 [Lent 4] John 3:14-21

Jesus said: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Christians Are A Breed Apart

Dear Friends in Christ,

A host on a daytime talk show host recently made an offhanded remark about Christians. She was reacting to something that Vice President Mike Pence (who is a Christian) had said in respect to Jesus talking to him. She said: “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus; it’s another thing when Jesus talks to you. That’s called mental illness, if I’m not correct. Hearing voices… Say what you will about Mike Pence and his religiosity, and everything else, I don’t think that he’s mentally ill even though he says he is hearing voices.” She later backed off on her comments and claimed that she didn’t mean to offend Christians and that she herself is a Christian. She claimed that it was ‘a joke.’

So what would you say about her comment? At the very least we can say that it was a joke in poor taste. But there is something that she is putting her finger on in respect to Christians even though it was most likely unintentional. Christians are different. That’s actually an understatement. Christians are a breed apart. Even though the world recognizes that fact, it often times has a hard time putting its finger on why Christians are so different. Jesus’ words here reveal that truth to us.

When someone calls 911, a network of emergency police, fire and medical responders are set in motion. These emergency responders make a lot of sacrifices. Their families do too. They often work long hours on few hours of sleep. That means they will often be away from their families. But they do it for a purpose. To help those who are in need of their services. Emergency responders have a heart to help people.

In terms of making sacrifices, no one had made a greater sacrifice than God: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

There may not be a more well-known verse in the Bible than this one. And that’s a great thing, because it speaks of God’s great sacrifice for us… for the world!

Why did God make this sacrifice? The reason is in the word LOVE. The music industry has made a living on producing songs about love. The movie makers have capitalized on it. It is an often used word.

Yet, God defines what love is here. His love. God so loved the world! Jesus uses “world” as a figure of speech here. He didn’t want to exclude anyone. Yes, God loves everyone. Think of how remarkable that is. God loves all people, even though many are murderers, adulterers, terrorists, ruthless dictators, and even atheists. He loves all people even though all people, including you and me, are by our very nature: selfish, greedy, spiteful, and unforgiving.

And God’s love is so great that he didn’t hold back. He expressed his love by sending a part of himself. He sent his one and only Son.

For what purpose did God send him? Jesus reaches back to the Old Testament lesson for today in explaining his purpose: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

The complaining Israelites were faced with a plague of poisonous snakes. Many of them got bit and were dying. They called to Moses for help. Moses, in turn, called on God. God’s solution? God provided an antidote. He told Moses to mold a snake of bronze and put in on a pole. When an Israelite was bit, he was to look up to the bronze snake and he would live.

Likewise, God sent his Son so that he would be stretched out on a pole and lifted up in full view of everyone. This was God’s antidote for sin. Anyone who looks in faith to Christ, his life and his death on the cross, is saved from the devastating effects of sin – death in hell. That is what sets us Christians apart: we look to something for salvation that looks foolish to the outside world. We look to something that looks illogical to everyone else. Just as that bronze snake may have seemed like nonsense to many of the Israelites, so also the cross of Christ seems like nonsense to those who don’t rely on it.

But just as the bronze snake gave life to people who looked in faith at it, so also trust in the cross gives us life. And that cross leads us to understand that God’s love has no limit.

As a group of college students toured the slums of a city, one of the girls, seeing a little girl playing in the dirt, asked a guide, “Why doesn’t her mother clean her up?” “Madam,” he replied, “that girl’s mother probably loves her, but she doesn’t hate dirt. You hate dirt, but you don’t love her enough to go down there and clean her up. Until hate for dirt and love for that child are in the same person, that little girl is likely to remain as she is.”

God matches that description. He hates the dirt of sin and he loves us enough to clean us up and to keep us clean. That again was the purpose of God’s Son: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

The non-Christian lives in constant uncertainty. They don’t truly know what is going to happen to them. As it is, the non-Christian stands under God’s condemnation. They are on the path to hell.

But the Christian is different. The Christian is not condemned before God. That is a great reassurance, especially because the Christian knows that he sins daily. But God isn’t going to simply take away his salvation because he sins. God through Christ’s sacrifice took away the condemning effects of that sin. God isn’t about to withdraw his forgiveness. The Christian knows that the only way he would face condemnation is if he stops believing in Christ.

But again, that’s what makes Christians different. We lean on God’s limitless love. We know that he loves us and continues to wipe away the filth that would otherwise condemn us. And knowing this truth leads us Christians to live according to God’s truth.

Jesus said: 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Just think about how this plays out in society. How often are evil acts carried out under the guise of darkness? Or in secret? Why is that? Because people are afraid of being caught for doing something wrong. They don’t want their evil deeds to be exposed, and perhaps punished. But they also don’t want to give up doing evil.

That is what sets the Christian apart. The Christian lives by a different standard: “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Christians love the light and aren’t afraid of stepping into it. Why? Because they know the truth of God’s Word and they strive to live according to it. Christians aren’t afraid to boldly live in the light, even though their sin is exposed. The Christian knows there is forgiveness for that sin. In response to the love of God, Christians seek to live the life God wants them to. Yes, Christians are indeed a breed apart.

There were two gentlemen who were traveling on a plane and were seated next to each other. One turned to the other and asked, “What do you do?” The gentleman replied: "I am a minister." "Oh," said the first man. “I don’t believe in that religious stuff. It’s for kids, you know, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so...’” The minister politely laughed and asked the other man what he did for a living. "I am an astronomer," said the first man. "Oh, that stuff," said the minister. “I thought it was just for kids, you know, ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star...’”

You and I really shouldn’t be surprised when people are puzzled about Christians. There really is something different about us. Even though many of us have the personality that just wants to blend in wherever we go, God tells us that we are distinctive. We have something that others don’t. We are something that others aren’t. We as Christians will want to stand out so that we might be given the opportunity to communicate to non-Christians about the hope that we have in God’s one and only Son. So, dear Christian, you are a breed apart. Embrace it! Amen.

Remember Me, O Lord - Pastor John Roekle

February 25, 2018 [Lent 2] Genesis 28:10-17 J.D.Roekle

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

Remember Me, O Lord

Dear Friends in Christ,

Today, the Second Sunday in Lent, the church has historically called Reminiscere Sunday. The name comes from the Latin word which means ‘remember.’ It is based on Psalm 25:17: “Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.”

Think about how appropriate it is for us to call on the Lord to remember his mercy and love. Especially today…a day on which our Lord tells us that his way is the way of the cross. That is something the disciples didn’t fully grasp. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus said he would suffer and be killed. Peter didn’t like that kind of talk, so he rebuked Jesus for it. And what did Jesus say? You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. And then on top of that, Jesus made sure Peter and all his disciples knew the truth about following him. It wasn’t going to be an easy life! Jesus said that if you want to follow him, you must deny yourself and take up your cross.

The difficult lesson we need to be reminded of is this: when it comes to our salvation, suffering is a necessary part of it. It was for Jesus. Jesus knew the path he had to take in order to save us. He knew he had to face various cruelties. He knew he had to face the public humiliation of the cross. He knew he had to give up his spirit on the cross. He knew that there was no other way.

The difficult lesson for us is that salvation also means suffering for us. No, we don’t need to suffer in order to pay for our sins. Jesus took care of that already. Because we now have Christ’s name, we will suffer. It is not difficult to become a Christian. In fact, God makes it easy for us. He worked salvation for us. The Holy Spirit gives us faith through the Gospel. But it is difficult being a Christian.

Since that is the case, we can easily get discouraged along the way. And so we call on the Lord to remember us. To remember his mercy and love and apply it to us as we journey on life’s road.

Today, Jacob helps us to see how God remembers us. Let’s get a little understanding of what’s happening with Jacob where we find him in these verses. Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob had a twin brother by the name of Esau. Esau was the older twin and Jacob the younger. As such, normally the oldest son had the birthright, receiving special blessings from his father. However, God had announced to Rebekah that he was reversing that order. Jacob was the one that was to receive the blessing of the oldest son.

Now, Isaac evidently wasn’t ready to accept that. He wanted to give the special blessing to his favorite son, Esau. Knowing that, Jacob and his mother devised a plan by which he would receive the blessing instead. He dressed and acted like Esau deceiving his blind father Isaac into thinking he was Esau. Isaac unwittingly blessed Jacob.

When Esau found out about this, he was clearly upset and asked for a blessing too. However, Isaac wasn’t about to give it to him. Instead, Esau was told that he would serve Jacob. This angered Esau and he threatened to kill Jacob when their father Isaac died. When their mother Rebekah learned this, she wanted to send Jacob to her brother Laban who lived in Haran 500 miles away. She reasoned to Isaac to let him go there so that he could find a wife who believed in God.

In the verses before us we find Jacob about 70 miles from his home of Beersheba and still a long way to go. He had stopped here for the night, a place known as Luz, but Jacob named it Bethel. What thoughts do you think were circulating in Jacob’s mind? Maybe he was afraid of his brother’s retribution. Perhaps he was feeling bad about deceiving his father. It could be that he was wondering what was ahead on the road to Haran. What would he encounter along the way? Maybe he was feeling anxious about what he was going to find once he got to Haran. Would he find a suitable wife?

Can you relate? As you travel on life’s road, what thoughts fill your mind? Perhaps regret over things you have done. Maybe fear over the enemies that lurk that try to bring you down. It could be that you are anxious about the future. What’s ahead? How will it all turn out?

“Remember me, O Lord” is what we may be thinking at times like this. Maybe that thought was on Jacob’s mind. If it was, what happened next to Jacob was still surprising. At the place where Jacob stopped on his journey, he got some sleep. There God gave him a dream. The dream pictured a stairway that reached from earth to heaven. Angels were going up and down on the stairway. And standing at the top was the Lord. Each facet of this dream was surprising to Jacob. The stairway, the angels, the Lord himself.

The dream was God’s way of bringing comfort and reassurance to Jacob. In fact, the Lord spoke to him and told him who he was. This was the God of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac. And he was here to give him the same promises he had given to his fathers. For one, the land he was sleeping on would be the very land he and his descendants would occupy. Also, his descendants would be as numerous as the dust on of the earth. And finally, all the peoples on earth would be blessed through Jacob and his offspring. This was the promise of the Savior which would come through Jacob’s line. All of these promises Jacob could only accept by faith. Remember that Jacob didn’t have any children yet. In fact, he wasn’t even married or even engaged.

What God had to say to him was surprising. The most surprising aspect of this is that the Lord didn’t have any harsh words for Jacob. Remember, this was Jacob the deceiver. But the Lord in his grace and mercy came to Jacob with his loving forgiveness and gave him great promises.

When you are feeling regret or feeling guilty or anxious, what the Lord has to say to you should always be surprising to you. He tells you that the channel between heaven and earth is completely open. The communication line is open and your Lord God. Your Savior is there to communicate his love and forgiveness to you. Yes, the door to heaven is open wide, and Jesus is the door.

What a surprise it should be once again when Jesus comes to us through his Word and tells us that our sins do not separate us from God. What a surprise it is that the Holy Spirit would work through water and the Word to make us his own children. What a surprise it is when Jesus even gives us his very own body and blood to assure us that all his promises to us are a sure thing.

And there’s more. The Lord also promises that he will protect us all along the way that leads us to glory with him. Jacob was on his journey alone. Can you relate to him? Does it seem sometimes that you are all alone on your journey through life? Do you feel that it is you against the world? Oh yes, you have people in your life that help with that. But sometimes, it may seem that no one else is going through the same things as you are. In a certain way that is true. We are in a sense ‘alone.’

That’s what is so key about God’s promise to Jacob which he has also extended to you: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

In his dream, Jacob could have very well come away with the impression that the Lord was a distant God. He’s way up there at the top of the staircase and I’m way down here. However, he had to look at the whole picture. There were ministering angels ascending and descending. They were there to be God’s messengers and to minister to the needs of God’s people like Jacob. But the other thing that would have wiped away that impression that God is distant, is the promise we just read.

Does God ever seem distant to you? As if somehow God doesn’t know what’s going on in your life? Remember me, O Lord! Has the Lord forgotten me? I certainly may feel that as I go through the trials and tribulations this life has to offer. Is he here with me in this hospital bed? Where was he when my spouse died? Is he there when there are other people mocking me for my faith?

It is at these times the Lord wants you to hear him clearly: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go…I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you…I will never leave you nor forsake you…I am with you to the end of the age.”

Remember me, O Lord. Does God really forget? We know how forgetful we can be. We know that others we may rely on can be forgetful too. So sometimes, we may liken that to God. But God’s memory is perfect. So what are we really saying when we are asking God to remember me? We are really making a confession. I don’t deserve your attention Lord! I don’t deserve your grace and mercy. But please show your grace and mercy to me! Think about how wonderful the Lord’s response is to us. You have been washed in the blood of the Lamb of God. I remember your sins no more. Instead, my grace, mercy, and love is yours. With that in mind, you can journey through this life in peace. Amen.

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