The Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2024

The crowd followed Jesus out of its own self-interest.  The people, members of the crowd, had witnessed the healings Jesus had performed upon the sick… had witnessed the demons cast out from the possessed… had witnessed these signs, and coveted them for themselves—that is, they were concerned for their own self-interest.  This self-interest is confirmed when we come to the conclusion of our text.  First, we are told that the people witness the feeding of the crowd, realize that it’s a sign, and proclaim Jesus a prophet (vs. 14).  Then, out of their concern for their own self-interest, the people would seize him and make him king (vs. 15).  They would impose a responsibility upon him:  provide for us and for our self-interest.  The crowd’s reaction exposes it in its sinfulness.  The Scripture text exposes us in our own sinfulness.  We want Jesus… we want God… we want the religious life for what we can get out of it.  When you are enticed to believe in God and his Son, Jesus Christ, by the benefits promised to you—that is, the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation—you fall prey to indulging your own self-interest.  You are guilty, then, of Satan’s accusation delivered in Job 1:9.  You love God for your benefit rather than loving God for himself.  That self-interested love is the bondage of your will.

Prayers from those bound to their own self-interest…

Heavenly Father, your abundance falls upon the righteous and the unrighteous alike, grant me to confess the coveting of my own self-interest that I may love you and your Son for yourselves alone.  Merciful Lord, hear my prayer.

Heavenly Father, your abundance falls upon the righteous and the unrighteous alike, grant me to receive your abundance as a blessing upon my love for you rather than its cause.  Merciful Lord, hear my prayer.

Heavenly Father, your abundance falls upon the righteous and the unrighteous alike, grant me to love you even when your abundance fails to be obvious and is so far from my sight.  Merciful Lord, hear my prayer.

Heavenly Father, your abundance falls upon the righteous and the unrighteous alike, grant me to forgive the unrighteous ones when your abundance falls upon them in plentitude.  Merciful Lord, hear my prayer.

Heavenly Father, your abundance falls upon the righteous and the unrighteous alike, grant that the unrighteous forgive me when I receive blessing beyond measure while they do not.  Merciful Lord, hear my prayer.

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The Third Sunday in Lent, March 3, 2024

Jesus removes neutrality.  You cannot claim a middle position between faith and no faith.  Among the crowd surrounding Jesus, each person is either for him or against him.  The authority of his words and actions leaves no room for the non-committed.  You are either “all in” or “not in.”  In today’s religious Christianity, faith is treated as a personal virtue, something like the theological virtues of “faith, hope, and love” given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13.  That faith, however, remains a virtue you possess.  You are in charge of it.  You desire to grow it… increase it… and avoid its diminishment.  Like those disciples of Luke 17 pleading, “Increase our faith,” Jesus exposes you in your lack of faith… no faith, not even faith as great as a mustard seed (Lk. 17:6).  The faith given by God as a gift… faith in Jesus Christ as worked by the Holy Spirit… this faith is not a faith you possess.  It is not a human virtue but rather a work of God.  As a work of God, it is given in its entirety, or it is not.  This faith possesses you; you do not possess it.  There is no middle ground:  you have it or you don’t.  In being possessed by this faith, God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are totally and completely faithful and trustworthy.  And you?  You are exposed in the inconsistency and fallibility of your human virtues, even the virtue of faith.

Prayers from those confessing the need to be possessed by God-given faith in Jesus Christ . . .

Father in heaven, you have given your Son Jesus Christ for me.  Grant that he exchange his true faith for the fallible and fickle virtue of my human faith.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

Father in heaven, you have given your Son Jesus Christ for me.  Grant that I live from your Word which comes to possess me in such faith.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

Father in heaven, you have given your Son Jesus Christ for me.  Grant me the blessing of a preacher who is bound to speak your Word to me, that in hearing it, I would be possessed in faith.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

Father in heaven, you have given your Son Jesus Christ for me.  Grant me the blessing of neighbors gathered into a congregation that calls such a bound preacher that together we would be possessed by such faith.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

Father in heaven, you have given your Son Jesus Christ for me.  Grant that we, the gathered congregation, would be sent out into the world bearing the life that has come to possess us.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

Father in heaven, you have given your Son Jesus Christ for me.  Grant that the Institute of Lutheran Theology would provide such preachers bound to God’s Word.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

Father in heaven, you have given your Son Jesus Christ for me.  Grant that I am under the care of such a servant of the Word throughout these days of my baptism that I may enjoy the faith of Christ given to me through the preaching of Christ alone.  Amen

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The Second Sunday in Lent, February 25, 2024

Jesus is most offensive and certainly politically incorrect in this response to the woman’s plea that he help her daughter. “Dog…” he implies and “dog” he means, for the generations-long custom among the Jews did indeed give this name to the Gentiles… to those who were not Jews. “Dog,” Jesus says and gathers in all Gentiles… all Gentiles, including you and me. “Dog,” Jesus says and names us as beggars… beggars gathered around the master’s table awaiting scraps… beggars crying, “Have mercy on me, Lord…” And that… that exposes a second difficulty for us. Not only is Jesus offensive and politically incorrect in his response to the woman but it’s obvious that he would rather have remained silent. He does not respond to the woman’s pleas until his disciples insist that he visibly reject her by sending her away. Silence… rejection… offense… Not the typical responses usually depicted as coming from Jesus. This is not the warm and fuzzy Jesus of Sunday School and wishful thinking. This is not the wishy-washy Jesus of a sentimental sort of love… love… love… No. What is given us in this account of the Canaanite woman is an edgy Jesus… a Jesus who doesn’t conform to the stereotypes we’ve built up in our minds… a Jesus who refuses to be easily categorized.

Prayers from sinners who cannot help but confine their Lord in easy and comfortable categories . . .

Heavenly Father, your mind and your ways are inscrutable to us. Forgive us as we futilely fit you into our human and sinful categories; re-establish in us the mind of Christ as our preacher pours your Word into our ears; and stir up your Holy Spirit that our hearts would be possessed by the faith you provide. For Jesus’ sake. Amen

Heavenly Father, your mind and your ways are inscrutable to us. Lift us out of despair and keep us from pride as we look to the works of our hands, seeing them in either paucity or plentitude. For Jesus’ sake. Amen

Heavenly Father, your mind and your ways are inscrutable to us. Hold us steadfast in your promise that our sins are forgiven, even in the face of the world’s contradictory evidence. For Jesus’ sake. Amen

Heavenly Father, your mind and your ways are inscrutable to us.  Present us before our neighbors, not as an object of scorn or pity, but as a brother or sister to Christ and a fellow member of the household of God. For Jesus’ sake. Amen

Heavenly Father, your mind and your ways are inscrutable to us. Bring our neighbors to us in times of trouble so that, even as they call upon the Lord for deliverance, the Lord would use us in their time of need. For Jesus’ sake. Amen

Heavenly Father, your mind and your ways are inscrutable to us. We do not know the end of this venture we call the Institute of Lutheran Theology. Keep us confident that you have called us into it and that you will bring about the end you desire. For Jesus’ sake. Amen

Heavenly Father, your mind and your ways are inscrutable to us. How long must we wait, Father, for your Son to come in all his glory? We do not comprehend the delay but even in our lack of understanding, hold us patient in our wait for his final revealing. For Jesus’ sake. Amen

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The First Sunday in Lent, February 18, 2024

The temptations confronting Jesus all concerned temptations to power:  the power to feed himself; the power to demand God’s protection; and the power to rule over temporal kingdoms.  We call those who feed themselves and others “breadwinners.”  Breadwinners often have little patience and little tolerance for those who will not or cannot feed themselves and their families.  To “tempt God,” as Jesus puts it, by demanding of God his protection even in self-induced situations is presuming upon God.  Presuming upon God likens back to that two-year-old we all once were… that toddler, looking mother in the eye as she says, “No,” and then said toddler grabbing a fistful of cake anyway.  That’s presumption.  Ruling over temporal kingdoms comes in packages large and small… as small as a family unit or as large as a worldwide dominion.  It is the power to control… to have things your way… to silence others in their disagreement with you.  Power and the temptation to grasp after it is as old as human history… history that began in a Garden with a tree and a serpent’s whisper, “You shall be like Gods…”

Prayers from those whose blackened hearts hide their coveting of power and its use.  They await a revelation from the Word of God…

Heavenly Father, your power is made perfect in weakness, hold me in the weakness of dependency upon you for my daily bread.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

Heavenly Father, your power is made perfect in weakness, hold me in the weakness of having only a promise from you to sustain my life… you who does not lie.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

Heavenly Father, your power is made perfect in weakness, hold me in the weakness of being ruled over rather than being the ruler.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

Heavenly Father, your power is made perfect in weakness, grant to me neighbors who do not take advantage of my weakness but come to my defense and join me in my weakness.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

Heavenly Father, your power is made perfect in weakness, grant that I refrain from exploiting my neighbor’s weakness but rather aid them in times of trouble.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

Heavenly Father, your power is made perfect in weakness, grant the Institute of Lutheran Theology the power of your Word… your Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

Heavenly Father, your power is made perfect in weakness, grant me to stand steadfast in the weakness you would work upon me that I would stand and wait with patience.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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Quinquagesima Sunday, February 11, 2024

Jesus announces that God will have his way with his Son.  This God… this Father… this God who hides himself takes hold of Satan and wears him as a mask.  This God, using Satan as his tool… using the hands of sinful men… using the crowd as it believes Satan’s lies… this God has his way with Jesus.  Jesus is flogged.  Jesus is crucified.  Jesus is raised from the dead.  This is Jesus’ passion:  he suffers the will of God to be done unto him.  The twelve stand there listening uncomprehendingly to his words.  They did not get it.  You, too, suffer the will of God to be done unto you.  God will have his way with you.  It will be the passion of your Christian life.  You, like Jesus, will have a flogging, being whipped from one thing to another.  You, like Jesus, will have a cross to bear, not one of your own choosing but one that is inflicted upon you.  You, like Jesus, will suffer your own peculiar crucifixion, your death, and go down to the dust like him.  You, like Jesus, will be raised from the dead, called forth from the dust.  This is the passion of your Christian life.  Like those twelve standing before Jesus looking at him with the blank stares of incomprehension, you, too, stare.  To use one of Luther’s favorite idioms, “You stare like a cow looking at a new gate.”  Pray that the Holy Spirit drives you through it.

Prayers from those who need the Holy Spirit’s driving lest they merely stand and stare…

Father in heaven, have your way with me that I would suffer your will to be done upon me.  Drive me, Holy Spirit, through the gate into eternal life.

Father in heaven, have your way with me that I would be conformed to the image of your Son in both life and in death.  Drive me, Holy Spirit, through the gate into eternal life.

Father in heaven, have your way with me that, like my Lord Jesus, I would be humble beneath your work upon me.  Drive me, Holy Spirit, through the gate into eternal life.

Father in heaven, have your way with me so that I would be useful to my neighbors and forgive their sin that you might have your way with them as well.  Drive me, Holy Spirit, through the gate into eternal life.

Father in heaven, have your way with me so that I would be content with my duties in family, congregation, community, and nation.  Drive me, Holy Spirit, through the gate into eternal life.

Father in heaven, have your way with me that I would look to the Institute of Lutheran Theology for the provision of a preacher who is duty bound to forgive my sin in the name of Christ.  Drive me, Holy Spirit, through the gate into eternal life.

Father in heaven, have your way with me so that I would steadfast, held in the victory of Jesus Christ, until that day when he comes in glory.  Drive me, Holy Spirit, through the gate into eternal life.

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Sexagesima Sunday, February 4, 2024

We have often sung a hymn, “Lord, Let My Heart be Good Soil” (WOV 713). The hymn presents the positive things good soil possesses, things like openness to the seed of the Word… like a place for love to grow… like a place where peace is understood. But the hymn doesn’t stop there. It names the qualities of the heart that need to be changed, qualities like hardness, coldness, and lostness. Just so, the hymn prays for the Lord to break a stoney heart, warm a cold heart, and lead a lost heart. All of these are wonderful! Except… except you and I don’t know our hearts. Knowledge of the human is reserved to God (cf. 1 Ki. 8:9; Act. 15:8; Lk. 16:15 among many) for only he can plumb its depths and divine its inclinations. Whatever examination you and I might do upon our own hearts only leads us into pride or despair—pride over the supposedly good quality of its soil or despair over the observed poor quality of its soil. Since we—you and I—cannot know what the inclinations of our heart might be, we have to be told. Just so, you must have a preacher… you must have one who will address both the prideful and the despairing with God’s Word of Law and Gospel. Thereby inflicting upon them God’s merciful coup de gras—his stroke of grace—which mercifully puts miserable sinners to death and then graciously raises them up as saints to walk in newness of life which is nothing less than to have Jesus Christ as the life of their mortal flesh.

Prayers from those who must first die in their sin so that they can be raised to newness of life…

Heavenly Father, so use your grace upon me that I would die to sin and be raised to walk in newness of life. O Lord, hear us.

Heavenly Father, so use your grace upon me that I would deplore the sin I find in my heart and trust you in making my heart good soil. O Lord, hear us.

Heavenly Father, so use your grace upon me that during these days of my baptism Christ is the life of my mortal flesh. O Lord, hear us.

Heavenly Father, so use your grace upon me that as Christ is my life in faith, I would have my neighbors back in love. O Lord, hear us.

Heavenly Father, so use your grace upon me that as I have my neighbors in love, they would love me as well and both my neighbors and I would live in the life of Christ. O Lord, hear us.

Heavenly Father, so use your grace upon me that I would have eyes to see the Institute of Lutheran Theology and hear its proclamation of Jesus Christ, him crucified, and him alone. O Lord, hear us.

Heavenly Father, so use your grace upon me that I would wait for your son to come in glory so that my glory would then be revealed. O Lord, hear us.

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Septuagesima Sunday, January 28, 2024

The vineyard owner… the master of this house… he is a stand-in for God the Father.  Taking this parable as a salvation parable which drives home to us the equality of salvation, we are caught in the inequality of salvation as it’s delivered to those who have labored long and to those who have labored briefly.  Both receive the same salvation.  The Father does indeed choose to do what he wants with what belongs to him and he chooses to give you salvation afresh with each new day.  His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:23).  Each Sunday, God chooses to deliver his election to you, choosing you for the salvation had in Jesus Christ.  Each time you receive the forgiveness of your sins, you are returned to the promises of your baptism.  It is your only progress:  to begin again.  According to earthly standards, some Christians will be long in the faith and others will be newly minted.  That both receive the same salvation is a great inequality under those standards.  The Father, though, chooses… the Father elects… the Father delivers salvation and, with each event of choosing, electing, and delivering, every Christian is newly minted.

Prayers from those who long to be newly minted once again . . .

Heavenly Father, do what you choose with what belongs to you but deliver to me the salvation you have prepared for me in Christ before the foundation of the world.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Heavenly Father, do what you choose with what belongs to you but return me to the promises of my baptism that I might enjoy my total and complete justification and sanctification.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Heavenly Father, do what you choose with what belongs to you but provide me with a preacher who will speak the gospel of Jesus Christ to me, forgive my sins, and deliver your election of me to me.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Heavenly Father, do what you choose with what belongs to you but see to it that I forgive my neighbors for their failure to deliver daily bread to me and that they forgive me when I fail to deliver daily bread to them.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Heavenly Father, do what you choose with what belongs to you but provide me with good government and trustworthy communities that my life would be fruitful and useful.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Heavenly Father, do what you choose with what belongs to you but provide for the Institute of Lutheran Theology that it would be fruitful in its mission.  In the name of Christ.  Amen

Heavenly Father, do what you choose with what belongs to you but during these days of my baptism, hold me in the faith of Christ as I await his coming glory.  In the name of Christ.  Amen

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Transfiguration Sunday

That voice of God speaking from the brilliance of the cloud commended those three disciples to “Listen!” to the beloved Son—that is, listen to Jesus. That command echoes through centuries until it comes to us, and we hear it with our own ears.  “Listen to him!”  “Hear him!”  “Obey him!”  Yes, obey him. A feature of Scripture is the word that most often calls forth obedience from us is the word that commends us to listen… to hear… and, to obey. Obedience is the spontaneous result of hearing properly. To hear properly is hearing God’s Word as the living and active Word which accomplishes the purpose for which God speaks it (Is. 55:11). God’s Word is God’s work… God’s work upon whomever hears it. Hearing God’s Word properly brings into spontaneous existence the result intended in God’s purpose. Hearing God’s Word of Law brings into spontaneous existence the obedience that Word commands. When the old sinful being in us tries to insert an act of will… an act of submission… or an act of choice between the hearing and the doing… the spontaneity is destroyed. Religious obedience results. Hearing God’s Word of Gospel brings into spontaneous existence the faith that Word promises. This is a faith that possesses you. When the old sinful being in us tries to exhibit some virtue called faith, the spontaneity of faith is destroyed. It becomes a work of ourselves rather than the work of the Holy Spirit.

Prayers from those who are hard of hearing…

Father in heaven, open my ears… let me listen to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

Father in heaven, open my ears… grant your Word to work upon me and give me faith in your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

Father in heaven, open my ears and give me such hearing of your Word that I am held in the faith of Jesus Christ. Amen

Father in heaven, open my ears… let me listen to my neighbors that their needs would be known to me, and I would work to fulfill them in the name of Jesus. Amen

Father in heaven, open my ears… grant your Word to work upon me so that, for the love of my Lord Jesus Christ, I serve those needy neighbors of mine. Amen

Father in heaven, open my ears and let me hear the needs of my particular neighbor, the Institute of Lutheran Theology, that I would be instrumental in fulfilling ILT’s needs for Jesus’ sake. Amen

Father in heaven, open my ears, that I would be sustained throughout the days of my baptism by the hearing of your Word which delivers me into the faith of Jesus Christ. Amen

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The Second Sunday after Epiphany

One hundred eighty gallons… one hundred eighty gallons of water turned to wine… the equivalent of nine hundred bottles of wine in terms of our culture and times. That’s a lot of wine, and good wine at that! (Jn. 2:10). While we don’t know the population of a village like Cana in the days of Jesus, we can safely say that nine hundred bottles would be sufficient for each guest to have a bottle or two to themselves. And this on top of what had already been consumed! Why does our Lord provide such an extravagant amount of wine? Two reasons, I would say. The first would be that Jesus simply works with what is at hand. The jars are there, why not use them? The second would be that the master of the feast, as is common in this sin-broken world—suffered from scarcity. He ran out of wine. Jesus steps in and relieves that scarcity, not by doling out meager amounts as they are consumed but by providing wine and providing it abundantly. Our Lord is not a lord of scarcity but a Lord of abundance! In your baptism, all righteousness is fulfilled. Your Lord doesn’t dole it out bit-by-bit as you progress on your way to some ultimate sanctification. NO! In the fullness of the Godhead, Jesus delivers the fullness of righteousness to you also day in and day out. Believe it and you have it!

Prayers from those who live amid the scarcity of sin’s brokenness and who hardly believe their God’s abundance…

Heavenly Father, you are always more ready to give than we are to receive, grant that I would receive the fulfillment of all righteousness as a gift from you rather than as an achievement of my sinful life. God of abundance, pour out your Word upon me.

Heavenly Father, you are always more ready to give than we are to receive, grant, that in the fullness of righteousness I have received from you, Jesus Christ would sit enthroned in my conscience and rule my life from there. God of abundance, pour out your Word upon me.

Heavenly Father, you are always more ready to give than we are to receive, whenever my Lord Jesus is dethroned from his rule in my conscience, so place your Word in my ears that I would hear the forgiveness of sins pronounced upon me so that Christ would rule in my conscience once more. God of abundance, pour out your Word upon me.

Heavenly Father, you are always more ready to give than we are to receive, as Christ rules in my conscience set my hands to acts of love that I may be a servant to my neighbors both near and far. God of abundance, pour out your Word upon me.

Heavenly Father, you are always more ready to give than we are to receive, when I cannot act in love because Christ has been dethroned from my conscience, provide me the obedience of your law so that my neighbors still are served. God of abundance, pour out your Word upon me.

Heavenly Father, you are always more ready to give than we are to receive, pour out upon the Institute of Lutheran Theology the riches of your blessing so that its supporters will no longer consider their scarcity, but look instead to their abundance and pour out their riches to the school. God of abundance, pour out your Word upon me.

Heavenly Father, you are always more ready to give than we are to receive, continue to give to me and all believers a rich patience and a deep hope for the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ, in all his glory so that the scarcity of this sin-broken world would be ended, and the abundance of the new creation made manifest. God of abundance, pour out your Word upon me.

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The Baptism of Our Lord

These words hold a fearsome promise. This promise brings fear and great anxiety to the practitioners of religion but is the very bedrock for those who are possessed of faith. Religious practitioners, for whom life consists of one goal of spiritual striving after another on the path to divine glory, fear the promise of all righteousness being fulfilled by something as meager as baptism. Those possessed of faith, however, rest in this promise. They live lives confident that they’ve received all the righteousness they’ll ever need in their baptism…. That God-worked event where the old sinner—that Old Adam or the Old Eve—was put to death and a new person, complete with the life of Christ and all his righteousness, was brought forth to walk in newness of life. To that new person, for whatever reason God intends, the flesh still adheres and, before that new person can even step away from the baptismal font, the sinning begins again. The Old Adam or the Old Eve reaches out of baptism’s watery grave, contending over the newness of life. Luther described this struggle. He taught, especially in his Large Catechism, the Christian life consisted simply of returning to the promises, the righteousness, of baptism through daily repentance and the forgiveness of sins. In this way, the old sinner who would contend with Christ as our life, is drowned daily so that the life of Christ would come forth anew.

Prayers from those whose old sinner contends daily with the life of Christ within them…

Heavenly Father, bring the fullness of the Godhead to contend with my Old Adam or my Old Eve who still believes the lies of Satan. Grant me to confess and repent… Grant me to hear my sins absolved… Grant me to return to the promises of my baptism. For you have commanded, Lord, that I be baptized.

Heavenly Father, bring the fullness of the Godhead into the life of Christ within me so that I receive his victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil. Grant me the joy of his triumph…  Grant me to bask in his glory… Grant me to find his triumph and glory only on the cross. For you have commanded, Lord, that I be baptized.

Heavenly Father, bring the fullness of the Godhead as the Holy Spirit works faith within me so that I am possessed of faith and trust in a God who does not lie. Grant me to walk by such faith as opposed to walking by what I can see… Grant me your Word to reveal the truth about myself and about my God. For you have commanded, Lord, that I be baptized.

Heavenly Father, bring the fullness of the Godhead to me as I walk among the things of this world. Grant me freedom from the oppression of religious striving… Grant me freedom from coveting those things that are yours alone… Grant me freedom from coveting the things of my neighbors. For you have commanded, Lord, that I be baptized.

Heavenly Father, bring the fullness of the Godhead to me as I live among my neighbors—those as close to me as the ones of my household and those as far as on distant shores—so that in them I see a person like me… a sinner for whom Jesus Christ died. Grant me the humility of a common humanity. For you have commanded, Lord, that I be baptized.

Heavenly Father, bring the fullness of the Godhead to bless the work and labors of the Institute of Lutheran Theology that it may be fruitful in delivering forth preachers that go out to baptize and teach in the name of Jesus Christ. For you have commanded, Lord, that I be baptized.

Heavenly Father, bring the fullness of the Godhead to the days of my baptism so that I would not be bereft of hope as the signs of the end accumulate around me—wars, pestilence, disasters, and cosmic disruptions. Hold me fast in that baptismal faith that came to possess me.  For you have commanded, Lord, that I be baptized.

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