Listen for the Voice of the Gospel

Advent 2 + December 7 & 10, 2017

Text: Mark 1:1-8

A popular show on NBC is the The Voice, which features contestants singing to a panel of celebrity judges. The season starts with blind auditions. In this phase of the show, the contestants go on stage and sing, but the judges sit in chairs with their backs to the contestants. They can’t see the contestants; they can only hear the voice.

This is what God wanted the people of Jerusalem to do with John the Baptist. Our Gospel lesson says, "John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey." (v. 4-6)  By offering that description of John, the Bible is basically telling us, John was not much to look at.  He was not a well-dressed, polished celebrity.  The only things that really mattered about John were his voice and his message. The same is true with preachers today. God does not issue a dress code for modern preachers. God only requires one thing: that they use their voices to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. And on the other side of the coin, God requires this of you, his people: listen for the voice of the Gospel.

Listen again to our text from Mark:  "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  It is written in Isaiah the prophet: 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way - a voice of one calling in the desert, "Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."

 Saint Mark quotes the prophet Isaiah to describe John the Baptist and his work, which was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus.  John did this by "baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." (v. 4) The Lord still uses the same basic method today.  God still sends out his preachers to prepare the way for the Lord. He wants this way prepared because the Lord wants to come to you and to bless you with his gospel of love, peace, comfort, and salvation. But before any of God’s people can appreciate and accept this good news, they first have to hear the bad news.

John the Baptist was especially good at preaching the bad news. For example, in Luke, chapter three, we read, "John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?" (Lk. 3:7) Vipers are snakes.  Satan took the form of a snake when he tempted Adam and Eve to sin. John was effectively telling the Jewish people,  You think you are so holy because you kinda-sorta-but not really follow the Word of God.  You think your relationship with God is safe and secure because you are a Jew and God called the Jewish people to be his very own.  But don’t fool yourself.  Your sinful nature makes you the spawn of Satan, not a child of God.  Your willful breaking of God’s law every day cuts you off from the Lord.  Your sin and your guilt make you repulsive in God’s sight and a foul stench in God’s nose. John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance.

God still calls his modern preachers to echo the voice of John the Baptist, even to good, church-going people like you and me. God still prepares the way for the Lord by having his preachers tell you: You members of Saint John’s know the right words to say: “Lord, I’m not worthy. I am a poor miserable sinner in thought, word, and action.” And yes, you are very clever at keeping your sins hidden from others. Or at least, you are very careful of the company among whom you commit your sins of anger, drunkenness, gossip, foul language, and lust.  But you cannot hide you sins from God.  Your shallow, robotic confession of sins is the unbearable shrieking of lies in the holy ears of your Almighty God. Your smoke and mirror act of hiding your sins are so pathetic, they would be laughable if they were not so damnably serious.  Yes, you think you are so holy.  But you are nothing but filthy rags and rotting garbage. You are only fit to be thrown away from the presence of the pure and Holy God.

That’s how God prepares the way for the Lord.  It’s like a road construction crew. That crew blasts away hills, pulverizes boulders, and cuts down trees to make a smooth, straight highway.  So also, the Word of God destroys every sinful obstacle in your heart and life to prepare the way for the Lord.  That’s why Isaiah says, "A voice of one calling: In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain." (Isaiah 40:3-4) 

So listen to the voice of the preacher.  God is using him to prepare a road of redemption, a freeway of forgiveness, and a superhighway of salvation from God’s loving heart to your needy soul. That’s why God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Lord.  John’s ministry had nothing to do with John;  it had everything to do with Jesus.  That’s why John says, "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (v. 7)

 John the Baptist was the greatest of all prophets, but he was nothing compared to Jesus.  Sure, John did the outward work of the gospel.  That’s why he says, "I baptize you with water." But Jesus does the real work, the inner work, the powerful, spiritual work of the gospel.  That’s why John says of Jesus, "he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (v. 8)

The same is true today.  In every baptism a pastor performs, he speaks the Word of God and pours water on the person being baptized.  But every time that happens, Jesus is the one who is doing the real work.  Jesus is sending the Holy Spirit to create faith.  Jesus is forgiving sins. Jesus is turning that poor sinner into a dearly loved child of God for eternity. The same is true when a pastor preaches.  Sure, the pastor studies the Word of God.  The pastor writes the sermon.  The pastor prepares the sermon. The pastor preaches the sermon.  But it is Jesus who does the real work. Really, it’s like that TV show, The Voice. When the contestants sing, the use their own voices, but they always sing a song from an established artist’s repertoire. 

That’s what John the Baptist did.  That’s what faithful preachers still do today. They preach the Gospel of Jesus – not their own ideas or opinions.  So listen for the voice of the gospel. Through your lowly, insignificant pastor, Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of Lords says to you: Comfort, the true comfort of God’s love, is what I give you. For where your sin abounded, God’s love and forgiveness doubly abounded. Not only do I forgive all your sins by my holy, precious blood. But for the punishment you deserve for your sins, I will award you double joy and double happiness in heaven.  Although your holiness is like a wilted flower and a leafless tree, my promise to be your Savior and my guarantee to forgive your sins will stand strong and true forever and forever.  And even though you have acted like a foolish sheep wandering away from my fold, I will be your faithful Shepherd.  I will gather you, my precious lambs, in my arms and I will carry you close to my heart forever and ever.

Listen for the voice of the Gospel. Listen for the voice of your Savior, Jesus Christ. Listen and believe.  Believe and rejoice.

Amen.

Keep Watch! Your Master is Coming Soon

Advent 1 + Nov 30 & Dec 3, 2017

Text: Mark 13:33-37 

This year, Black Friday started early on Thanksgiving Day and extended throughout the weekend.  Cyber Monday began weeks ago and the deals are still on line.  This past week, Americans spent a record amount of money on holiday shopping.  We can thank God that our economy is strong.  But, as Christians, the ultra-commercialism of our culture still bothers us—even while we participate in it.

Even though the excessive commercialism of our time offends us, we Christians can learn something from retailers at this time of year: they are prepared for Christmas.  They advertise. They have huge sales.  They keep their stores open extra hours.  Amazon and all the other online retailers offer free shipping, overnight shipping, and low, low prices. Retailers go all out at this time of year because they know that holiday shopping will either make or break their business.  A successful holiday season means profit instead of loss.  So that’s why retails prepare so thoroughly for this season.

This season before Christmas - the season of Advent - also has one dominant message:  Prepare, prepare, and prepare even more.  We are not preparing for hordes of shoppers.  Instead, we are preparing for something far more important.  We are preparing to welcome the King of kings and Lord of Lords.  We are preparing our hearts, our souls, our whole lives for the arrival of Jesus Christ. And that’s what Jesus says in our Gospel lesson.  He issues three commands: be on guard, be alert, and keep watch!  So on this first Sunday in Advent, we listen to Jesus tell us:  "Keep watch! Your master is coming soon."

Hear again Jesus' words: "Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.  It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.  Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back--whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'"   

Now, the master of the house is Jesus.  When Jesus ascended into heaven, it was like the master of a household going away on a business trip.  He puts his servants in charge while he is away,  but he tells them, “Make sure you keep doing your job because I will come back suddenly. So, do your job and always keep watch for my return.” Jesus is up in heaven now, but he has promised us that he will return. So, what job does Jesus give us to do while we wait for his return? Well, we manage his household.  That means that we take care of his Church on earth. 

But how do we do that?  We manage and take care of what makes the Church the Church.  The gospel, the Word of God, is what makes the Church.  Saint Paul says in Romans, "Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ." (Rom. 10:17

So how do we guard and protect and take care of the gospel?  We do that by proclaiming the Word of God in its truth and purity.  Again, Saint Paul says, this time to the pastor Timothy, "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction." (II Tim. 4:2) We keep watch for Jesus to return to judge the living and the dead by proclaiming the Word of God.  Specifically, we proclaim the law that condemns sin.  We also proclaim the gospel that promises forgiveness of sin in the name of Jesus Christ. 

Therefore, the work of the Church on earth must always sound like this: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:21) You have broken God’s law. Every human must confess what Isaiah said: "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." ( And for the filthy rags of our sinfulness we deserve to have the mighty hand of God sweep us away and dump us in the burning heap of hell.” (Isaiah 64:6) That’s the law that we must proclaim from now until Judgment Day.

And yet, along with that law, we must also always preach the Gospel.  And in that sense, the work of the Church on earth must also always sound like this: The best Christmas gift does not come from Target, Macy’s, BestBuy, Walmart, or Amazon.com.  The best Christmas gift is not a huge TV, an iPhone X, a new set of clothes, an exotic vacation, or even a new vehicle.  The best Christmas gift is a little baby who is also the almighty God.  The best Christmas gift is Jesus himself.  Jesus is the best gift because he came to wash the filthy rags of our lives in his pure and holy blood.  With the cleansing of Christ all who believe in him share in his holiness.  With faith in Jesus you have forgiveness of all your sins.  With faith in Jesus you will pass the test on Judgment Day and enter eternal life in heaven.  That’s the gospel that we must also proclaim from now until Judgment Day.

In a way (and I am not totally comfortable making this comparison), when the Church proclaims the Word of God it is like the advertising that stores do this time of year.  If you watch TV, listen to the radio, skim through your mail, read your email, check Facebook, or drive around town, you face a constant barrage of advertising. Every store, business, and charity is pleading for your business.

By that comparison, I am not suggesting that the Church should stoop to annoying and manipulative gimmicks. But we can learn a lesson from the stores at this time of year.  They know that Christmas is their most important season, and they do everything they can to make sure they get their message out to as many people as possible. Jesus wants us to do the same thing with the gospel. And we have even more reason to do that than the stores have.  To use business terms, we have the best product.  We have the good news of Jesus Christ, the one and only Savior of the world.  And we have the best price: free. The Gospel is free. Forgiveness is free. Salvation is free. Jesus paid for it all by his life, death, and resurrection.

So, be a faithful and diligent servant in the household of Christ’s Church on earth. Proclaim the Word of Jesus Christ. Invite your friends and relatives to our Divine Services. Include the grace of God and the gift of Jesus Christ in your conversations—not in a pushy, holier-than-thou way, but in a humble, gentle, and respectful way. Send out Christ centered Christmas cards. Put up Christ-centered posts on Facebook and other social media. Include a Christ-centered Bible passage at the end of all your emails.

But also do something else.  Remember that the good news of Christmas is not just something to share. It’s also something for you to believe and treasure for yourself. Jesus came to be your Savior, too - to forgive your materialism, your greed, your selfishness, and your failures to share the gospel.  So, rejoice in the best Christmas gift of all.  Rejoice in Jesus, your Savior.  And look for his coming again. He is coming to take you to the everlasting joy of that perfect peace in heaven.  So, yes,  keep watch! Your master is coming soon.

Amen.

 

Behold, A Host Arrayed in White

Saints Triumphant + November 16 & 19, 2017

Text: Revelation 19:1-9

Hymn: Behold a Host, Arrayed in White (CW 550)

When couples send out wedding invitations, sometimes, they only invite a few close friends and relatives.  Sometimes they invite every friend, relative, co-worker, and neighbor they can think of.  But I have never heard of a bride or groom inviting each other to their wedding.  Why would they?  Isn’t it obvious that both the bride and the groom will be there?

Well, in the heavenly wedding feast of eternal life, the bride is actually invited to her own wedding. Our text says, "Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb." (Rev 19:9) Of course, the Lamb is Jesus, the Lamb of God, who carried upon himself the sin of the world. 

So who is Jesus, the Lamb, married to?  Saint Paul answers that question in Ephesians 5: "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." Now, Saint Paul wrote this part of Ephesians to Christian husbands, using Christ as the ultimate role model on how to love your wife. Christ is the Husband.  The Church is the Bride of Christ. 

And our text from Revelation shows us how the Church is "a radiant [bride], without…blemish, but holy and blameless." (Eph. 5:27) It says, "For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Rev. 19:8) The Bride of Christ is pure, holy, blameless, and beautiful.  Her wedding dress is made of "fine linen, bright and clean." (Rev 19:8) But that linen is not clean because the Church is naturally pure and holy.  No, the Bride did not make this dress or even choose this dress. Instead, our text says that the fine linen was given her to wear."  

Now, there’s a slight but important translation issue in that last phrase. When it says "the righteous acts of the saints," it might make you think that the saints did enough righteous acts to earn their way into heaven. But the real sense of the phrase is this: Fine linen stands for the righteous acts that belong to the saints. And we know how the saints got those righteous acts. They were a gift from her Groom, Jesus Christ, who "loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, … to present her to himself as a radiant church, without… blemish, but holy and blameless." (Eph 5:27)

So heaven is the marriage feast to celebrate the everlasting marriage of Jesus to his Bride, the Church.  But to be the Bride of Christ and to attend your own wedding feast in heaven, Jesus has to invite you. Our text says, "Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb." (Rev. 19:9)  Those invitees are also the saints, the Church, those who have faith in Christ. Yes, odd as that may sound, the Bride of Christ is invited to her own wedding. And you have been invited, too. You're invited because Christ has washed away all your inborn impurity in the waters of baptism.  Christ has strengthened his marriage to you by serving you his Word and Sacrament. Christ has shown his faithful love to you by forgiving all your sins with his holy, precious blood.

But you aren’t the only one who has this privilege. Today is the festival of Saints Triumphant. On this day, we remember and give thanks for all our fellow believers who died in the Christian faith. We remember grandma and grandpa, mom and dad. We remember our husband or wife. We remember our children. We remember our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, relatives, friends, and Christian role models. We remember them and give thanks to God for blessing them with faith in Jesus and for inviting them to the wedding supper of the Lamb. We remember our Christian loved ones and rejoice with them because they have escaped all the evil of this world and they are now free from sin, suffering and sorrow.  The saints in heaven are enjoying peace, strength, and a perfectly glorified body and soul. The saints in heaven are united with Christ and will be his true bride forever.  So, as we consider the Saints Triumphant in heaven, we say what that hymn title says: Behold A Host Arrayed in White.

On her wedding day, wearing her white dress, a bride exchanges vows with her groom. In a typical ceremony, both bride and groom promise to be faithful to each other. They promise to forsake all others and remain loyal and pure only to each other. The first verses of our text warn us about a real and dangerous threat to the purity and loyalty in the marriage of Christ and his Church.  It says, "I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.'" (Rev. 19:1-2)

A prostitute dresses up to be alluring and enticing.  But beneath her appealing façade, she offers no love, no purity, and no loyalty. You could say that a prostitute is a false wife, the false wife of Christ on earth. That is, she is the false church on earth:

the church that does not concern herself with faith, hope, and charity but with political influence and worldly wealth; the church that gives lip-service to God’s Word but does whatever she pleases to increase her popularity with the movers and shakers of this world; the church that says all sorts of nice things about Jesus but thinks she can commit spiritual adultery behind his back by self-gratification, spiritual manipulation of the innocent and the naïve, and even the persecution of true believers. Of course, the false church cannot fool Jesus. Jesus will have nothing to do with that church, except to punish her for her spiritual adultery. As our text says, "Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries." (Rev. 19:1-2)

Now, the Church in heaven has already witnessed God’s destruction of the false church.  The Church in heaven is free from her attacks and her temptations.  That’s why we call the believers in heaven The Church Triumphant.  By Christ’s power, the saints in heaven have triumphed over sin, Satan, death, and the false church. However, you and I are the Church Militant. Since we are still in this sinful world, we still have to fight against the false church.  We still have to avoid her temptations to make the true Church look and sound and act like the bride of this sinful world instead of the Bride of Christ. We still have to guard against the allure of compromising Bible truth in the name of making the faith appeal to more people.  We have to resist the false church’s enticement to think that success involves numbers, money, and following the latest trends. Yes, the false church is still a danger.  That’s why Jesus calls to the true Church in Revelation 18, "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues."

But until that day, when Jesus takes us to heaven, we will keep on fighting to remain faithful and pure to our heavenly Groom.  But we are confident and filled with hope.  Jesus has won the victory.  He has overthrown the false church.  He has invited you and me to the wedding supper of the Lamb.  Yes, on that day, we will be with Jesus forever in heaven.  On that day, we will join our loved ones in heaven. On that day, we will be part of that heavenly host arrayed in white. Until then, we will always pray, "Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.  AMEN."

Deliver Us from the Final Evil

Final Judgment + November 9 & 12, 2017

Texts: Revelation 21:6-8Luke 16:19–31

Hymn: Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending (CW 29)

“My battle against cancer lasted so long and I was in such pain, I literally went through hell on earth.” 

“The Las Vegas shooting, the Texas church shooting, drug addiction, corruption, broken families—our country is going to hell in a handbasket.”

“Come on, team. Let’s give the other guys hell.”

“Oh, you stinker.  You scared the hell out of me.”

“Who the hell are you?”  

Perhaps you're getting uncomfortable with my use of the word hell.  If you are, I both apologize and commend you for your sensitivity.  It’s good that you are sensitive to that word because hell has become overused.  People throw around the word hell so frequently, it has lost its impact and its force. But the Scriptures do not use the word flippantly. Instead, hell is always a serious subject in the Bible. That’s because hell is the absolute worst experience. Nothing compares to the pain, suffering, and torture of hell.

Our text says, "the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur." (Rev. 21:8)  Did you notice who is going to be in hell? The vile, murderers, the sexually immoral, idolaters, liars, and so on. The worst people will fill hell. It will be like a prison for the criminally insane. The inmates in hell will be full of wickedness, hatred, anger, violence and also sorts of evil.  Everybody in hell will hate and try to harm each other.

But that will be the lesser part of their suffering. Revelation says, "their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur." (Rev. 21:8)  Everybody knows what a burn feels like.  Whether you burn your finger cooking, in a camp-fire, or getting a wicked sun-burn, a burn is agony.  But can you imagine being thrown into a fiery lake of burning sulfur? The chemical sticks to your skin and you can’t wipe it off.  The more you try to get it off, the deeper you press it into your skin.  This unbearable pain covers your whole body, and your lips, fingers, eyes, and tongue—the most sensitive parts of your body—they feel it the most. Our text says, "this is the second death." (Rev. 21:8)  Hell is death without being able to die, death without an end to your existence, a spiritual death of your soul. It is the constant burning of your body without the relief of having the fire consume your body so it disappears into a cloud of ash.  The second death is a death that never ends.

But this teaching about hell is not just an obscure Bible footnote.  Today’s Gospel lesson describes the physical and emotional anguish the rich man suffered in hell.  Jesus says, "In hell, where [the rich man] was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’" (Lk 16:23-24) So, hell is full of fiery, searing pain without any relief. Not even one tiny drop of water is offered to give a shred of comfort to those suffering in hell.

The prophet Isaiah also described hell. He says it is a place where "their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched."  In other words, like a parasitic worm eats away at your insides, guilt, regret, self-hatred, and shame will constantly torment the minds and souls of those in hell. In hell the damned will be constantly thinking, “Why didn’t I listen to God’s Word when I had the chance?  Why didn’t I repent of my sins?  Why did I reject God’s gift of faith and his Son, Jesus?  Why was I so proud and foolish so that now I will have to suffer this extreme agony in hell forever?" But no amount of regret or sorrow will change their suffering in hell.  In fact, it will only make it worse.  And what is more, the damned in hell will not get used to the pain and suffering of hell.  Instead, each day will be worse than the other. This continual increase of suffering will get worse and worse for all eternity. The intensification of hell’s pain will last forever.

Of course, some people don’t think that any of this is true.  They ask, “How could a loving God send anyone to hell?  And how could a good person end up in hell, just because he didn’t believe in Jesus?  That does not seem fair.” Well, first of all, it’s not so much that God sends people to hell.  Yes, God created hell as the place of torment for Satan and his demons.  And, yes, as Judge of all the living and the dead, Jesus does send people to hell.  But the real cause for someone going to hell is not God; it’s the sinner.  By rejecting God, they are rejecting God’s blessings. By rejecting faith in Christ, they are rejecting everything about God, including heaven and all its joys.  So, the only person who is to blame for going to hell is the unbeliever himself.

But rejecting God also explains why hell is so terrible. God is the eternal source of life and every good thing.  In our text Jesus says, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son." (Rev. 21:6-7)

Jesus is the first and the last.  Jesus is everything that is good, pure, joyful, and pleasurable.  Jesus is the source of life.  To cut yourself off from Jesus by unbelief is to cut yourself off from everything that is good, pure, joyful, and pleasurable.  To cut yourself off from Jesus is to cut yourself of from life.  That is the real definition of hell—to be completely cut off from all of God’s loving presence and all his bountiful gifts of peace, comfort, security, purity, love, and everlasting life.

And praise be to the God who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. By his gift of faith in Jesus he is our God and we will be his sons. By faith we are saved from hell because on the cross, Jesus took upon himself the full anger of God over our sins and poured out his blood to wash them away.  By his perfect life, death, and resurrection Jesus has earned for us absolute perfection.  By the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith, we have Christ’s perfect righteousness and holiness as our very own. 

Therefore, by God’s grace alone and by God’s gift of faith in Christ alone, you and I will be in the presence of God’s goodness, love, and blessings in the eternal glories of heaven.  And in heaven we will never get restless or bored.  Every new day in heaven will bring more happiness, more joy, and more comfort.  In heaven, we will love everyone and be at peace with everyone.  Heaven will be perfect every day and every day will be better than the previous day.  This intensification of heaven’s glory, joy, and peace will last forever and ever.

So, until that day when Jesus sends his angels to carry us to heaven, we will put our faith into practice.  We will not treat hell flippantly or casually. No, we will take hell the way the Bible takes it—very, very seriously. And our prayer to our merciful, Savior-God will always be: Lord, deliver us from the final evil. 

Amen.