Sunday, June 29, 2014

Trinity 2 Sermon

Trinity 2 – Luke 14 – June 29th, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

          Now, before we examine our Gospel text in detail this morning, let’s pay attention to where Jesus is at, what He is doing.  Jesus is at a dinner, a small feast, dining at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees.  This is the meal where the Pharisees earlier had come and brought before Jesus a man who had dropsy.  And it was the Sabbath day – what would Jesus do?  Well, Jesus is not like the Rich Man of last week to let the man on his doorstep suffer, and so Jesus heals this man and challenges the Pharisees.  Jesus says to them, Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day will not immediately pull him out?”  And the Pharisees can say nothing.

          It is after this, and after another bit of advice – sit at the back so you will be called forward – that Jesus speaks these words of our Gospel lesson this morning.  And know and understand, dear friends, what Jesus is doing.  He is warning these Pharisees – Jesus is holding their pride and disbelief in front of them as a warning – Jesus lays everything out for them this morning.  Let us hear Jesus’ Words.
          A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.  And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.”  But they all began to make excuses.  This is Jesus’ description of what is going on right then and there.  The Kingdom of God throughout the Old Testament had often been portrayed as a feast – a celebration, a time when the hills would drip with honey and wine.  And Jesus points out – the Kingdom of Heaven is here – behold, the Messiah is here, now, I AM He.  John even came announcing that I was here.  And yet – where is the joy?  Where is the celebration?  In fact, the Pharisees hold back, are cold, reserved, throw up tests towards Christ, keep Him at arm’s length.

          The first said to him, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it.  Please have me excused.”  And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them.  Please have me excused.”  And another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”  Oh, the Pharisees had their excuses for being wary of Jesus.  He might upset the Romans.  He might make us seem less important.  He challenges our preconceptions.  And they all were flat and false excuses.  A long planned feast – and your field cannot way a day?  It’s one you’ve just bought – it’s not as though there is specific work waiting.  A long planned feast – and you have to check your oxen?  Didn’t you examine them before you bought them?  And as for being married – I can’t come, it’s the woman’s fault.  That is literally the oldest excuse in the book – that’s Adam’s pathetic excuse in the garden.

          No, in the parable the excuses made for avoiding the feast are just as pathetic as the ones made by the Pharisees to Jesus.  And what are the consequences of these excuses.  So the servant came and reported these things to the his master.  Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”  The master has a fantastic response to these people who spurn him.  You think you are so important – fine, I’ll replace you with the people whom you look down upon.  If my feast is too mean and common for you, then I will bring people who appreciate it.  And thus, we see what Jesus is doing.  As He warns the Pharisees of the price of rejection, we see Jesus bringing Himself to the very people that the Pharisees looked down upon, the poor and lame, the roughians of Jewish society.  And it goes further.

          And the servant said, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.”  And the master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”  And the final, blunt, declaration is laid down.  Even the strangers and foreigners and passer-bys on the road, even the lowly criminals and robbers hiding behind the hedges would be invited.  And those proud people who spurned the master – nothing.  Likewise, Jesus warns the Pharisees – look, I am going to invite even the Gentiles and peoples far off into the kingdom – all will come and be united to Me, will be partakers of My salvation.  And if you persist in your denials, your rejection of me – you will be cut off, and there will be no salvation for you.  A hard statement – but a true one, for there is no room for those who persistently reject Christ, for those who wish nothing to do with Him.  This is what Jesus tells the Pharisees today.

          So then, how does this apply to us then?  What is it that we here today need to hear from our Gospel lesson?  Where do we fit into the text?  Well, sometimes we want to jump to the idea of folks coming in from the highways and the hedges – we want to look at the Gentiles being invited in and then sit back contentedly and say, “Yep, see, we are right to be here and Jesus likes us.”  While it is true that Gentiles are welcome in the Church – that’s not the main point of the text.  This text is a warning against complacency, against spurning God’s invitation.  So I ask, does that warning have a place for us?

          We are in the same position as the Pharisees.  Each and everyone of us here belongs to the Church, we are part of it, it is our home – just as the Pharisees were of the house of Israel.  And yet, when Jesus came to them, some of the Pharisees rejected Christ, they made excuses – and as such, they fell away.  This is what Jesus was warning the Pharisees of – and He also is warning us of the same today.  Do not fall away, do not reject what God offers.

          Do you make excuses regarding God?  Do you make excuses regarding your faith?  When Christ invites, when Christ calls out to you, says study My Word, come and worship – indeed, come to the very feast which I prepare for You – do you make excuses and shy away?  Do you look down upon what God offers you in His Word and in His Sacraments and treat them as unimportant or ho-hum?  This is a difficult thing to think about, but it holds true – our sinful nature despises what God offers us, our sinful nature thinks it has better things to do than receive God’s forgiveness.  And this stirs up in all of us – don’t simply think, “Well, I’m here today, what a good boy am I!”  How often do the temptations to not be in the Word come up?  How often are there things that seem more appealing to do on a Sunday morning?  And not just Sunday, how often are our daily devotions and study of God’s Word what they ought to be?  How often do we make excuses and not spend time in the Word during the week like we ought?  How often do our prayers go unsprayed?

          Jesus speaks these Words of warning to us today, dear friends, for Satan desires that we fall away, Satan desires that our eyes be not upon Christ but upon our vain excuses.  The temptation to fall way, to abandon the faith – evenly slowly and without thought – to just let it slip away, will always be there.  And so God calls us to repentance.  Although the Gospel lesson has a stern word of warning in it, it also has beautiful Gospel as well.  “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes and bring in the poor and the crippled and the blind and the lame.”  Absolutely wonderful.  Satan tries to make us prideful, to tell us that we don’t need what God offers us in Church, that we have better things to do.  But when God speaks His law and shows us our sinfulness, when He shows us our sin, our lack – when we see that we are indeed poor of spirit, that we are crippled morally and do wickedness often, when we understand how often we are blind to the needs of others and lame and useless, not showing the love that we ought – or in other words, when we are brought to repentance, what does God do?  Quickly, quickly He invites to the feast.  Quickly He offers His forgiveness – come you penitent sinners, come to the altar.  Indeed, blessed is everyone who eats bread in the Kingdom of God!  Blessed are the sinners who come to the feast which Christ has prepared, Christ’s own Body.  Blessed are those who draw nigh and partake of the very life Blood of Christ with which He bought us upon the Cross.  And why blessed?  Not because if we show up to Church we’re better people than those lazy sluggards out there – but blessed because we are forgiven, because we are joined to Christ and His blessings.

          Luther started off the whole reformation by saying in the first thesis of the 95 theses that a Christian’s entire life is to be one of repentance.  That is what Jesus teaches us today – the Christian’s life is defined by the fact that a Christian repents of all the things in life which would sunder him from God, and humbly comes to the feast to which God invites him, comes and receives the blessings of God’s Word and Sacraments.  Hold fast, dear friends, not to your pride or the vain glories of your life, but hold fast to God’s forgiveness, which He desires to give you and to which He invites you over and over.  Rejoice at His invitation, and receive with thanksgiving the forgiveness won upon the cross.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession - Circuit Worship

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – John 15:1-11 @ Redeemer, Enid

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          It was the summer of 1530, and it was a dangerous time to live in Europe.  The Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was Charles V, and he had two major problems.  The first was within the German part of his realm, where this “Reformation” had brought about religious debates and fights and anger – disunity.  The second and bigger problem was the Turkish Army that advancing from southeastern Europe.  You see, while in our politically correct day and age we only tend to hear about how those mean, evil Christians invaded the Holy Lands in the Crusades, the Muslims liked to invade Europe as well.  In fact, Charles V was Emperor precisely because his ancestors – Charles Martel and Charles the Great, Charlemange, had stopped Muslim invasions hundreds of years before.  That was how Charles’ empire was forged – and now the Turks were invading – they were even about ready to attack Vienna.  Charles must rally a defense… but how to do this when the Germans in the back lines were squabbling?

          And so, Charles summoned all the various princes and dukes of Germany to the town of Augsburg in June of 1530, and there he intended to forge a new religious peace, to restore unity to his empire.  Put aside your religious differences, you pesky and stubborn Germans, and let’s just do what is really important – fight the Muslims.  Forget these spiritual squabbles, the world and its problems are calling.  Lay down your bibles, pick up your arms, and be reasonable.

          And so the question was this.  What would these German princes do?  Would they merely shrug and go along with the Emperor?  Would they seek to earn new honors and earthly glories, expand their political power?  Who knows what new lands might open up if the Muslims were repelled and pushed back!  Or would they instead chose something as foolish as remaining steadfast in their faith and confession?  What would they do?  “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”  These princes, these Confessors, knew that they must abide in Christ, for there is no other safe place to dwell.  They were clean, forgiven by Christ Jesus, and they would bear the fruit that He desired, come what may. 

          One of the German leaders, George, Margrave of Brandenburg, let his position be known most emphatically.  After George arrived, the Emperor demanded that all the German princes attend a Corpus Christi day mass and commune from a Roman Catholic priest.  There would be unity, and I will bring it by force!  So instead, George knelt before the Emperor and lowered his head and said, “Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let them strike off my head.”  There you go, Emperor.  If you want to live by force, Emperor, you can just cut off my head now and save us all a lot of time.  You see, dear friends, when we sing in A Mighty Fortress “And take they our life, goods, fame, child or wife” we are not just whistling Dixie.  This was the reality that the Lutherans faced in 1530, what they expected.  And yet, they met this harsh reality with the truth that their Victory had already been won, that Christ’s Kingdom theirs remaineth.

          The Emperor was taken aback – in fact he is reported to have helped George to his feet and in broken German (because Charles was actually Spanish) the Emperor said, “Not cut off head, dear prince.  Not cut off head!”  And so the Emperor insisted that the Lutherans present their beliefs, their positions.  What exactly is it that you believe so strongly, that you are willing to risk life and liberty for – and not just those confessors back then.  The men and women who founded our congregations were serious and diligent as well – how many of them gave up their homes come out to the plains to worship God rightly?  And they passed over joining in with the rest of the people here, hob-nobbing with the mighty of Garfield County at the popular, large churches – and instead with their own sweat and toil built churches where God’s Word would be preached in its truth and purity.  But not just them; you here in this room, you as well vowed to do the same.  When you were confirmed the question was asked of you – “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” “I do, by the grace of God.”  We confess Christ.

And so these princes, with the aid of Phillip Melanchthon, one of Luther’s fellow professors at Wittenburg, gathered and wrote what would be known as the Augsburg Confession.  And on the morning of June 25th, 1530, this Confession was read, both in German and in Latin.  And every pastor at each of our congregations has sworn to uphold this Confession as part of their ordination vows, even to this day.  As well we should.  The Augsburg Confession is the most beautiful, the most eloquent, the clearest confession of the faith that has been written.  While we do not have time to read the Confession in its entirety tonight, allow me to read one of the articles – Article 4 – on Justification.  Lutheran theologians have said that this is the Article upon which the Church stands or falls, and rightly so for if we abandon this, we abandon Christ. Listen:  Our Churches teach (hear that – our Churches – it’s fitting that we are gathered as a Circuit for this) that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works.  People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.  By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins.  God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight.  This is heart of what we believe, this is the heart of what Scripture teaches. You are a sinner, and you cannot be justified by anything you do.  Nothing that you do gets you right with God.  It doesn’t matter how much money you give, it doesn’t matter how many little old ladies you help across the street, how popular and influential you are – your strength, your merit, your worth, your works, the things you do cannot save you.  Apart from Christ you can do nothing.  On the contrary, you are saved because of what Jesus has done – because He went to the Cross and made satisfaction, because he won forgiveness for your sin.  You receive salvation when you hear and believe this, when God gives you His forgiveness.

          This is what we hear throughout the scriptures.  Paul says, The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”  Peter says, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  John says, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us from all unrighteousness.”  And this is the truth we defend.  We oppose any teaching, any doctrine which says that we aren’t sinners in need of a savior, and we oppose any teaching that robs Christ of the glory of our salvation.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  We defend the Gospel, the teaching that you are saved by what Christ has done, and we defend this tooth and nail against any and all who would rob it from us.

          This is what we do, this is what we gather for every Sunday in our congregations.  Christ builds His Church upon the Gospel – and so we in His Church abide in Him and His Gospel and we are grown.  Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession explains this.  So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.  Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given (John 20:22).  He works faith, when and where it pleases God, and in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.  Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.  God works in His Word, the Holy Spirit comes to us and brings us forgiveness and faith through the Word, be it preached, be it attached to Water in Baptism, be it Christ’s own Body and Blood attached to bread and wine in the Supper.  This is how God grows His Church, through the gifts He gives us here.  This is why each of our congregations was founded, and this is why they exist to this day.  This is how we define the Church – Article 7 says, “The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.”  That is what we are, and it is our duty as members of Christ’s Church to see that this is what we remain.  Why?  Because we always need the forgiveness that Christ gives in His Church.  Our friends and neighbors, they need forgiveness, so we are to preserve and safe guard the Gospel here so that it is always there for them.  We gather to hear God’s Word, to sing hymns to God, to delight in the forgiveness God gives us.  We maintain this confession, we fight the good fight of faith, and cling fast to the promise of salvation that God gives us, come what may.  We abide in Christ – and He brings forth fruit in us, the fruit of the Spirit – now in part, and then in full on the last day.

            Dear friends in Christ – as Lutherans, our history, our heritage is this: we will confess Christ, we will at all times strive to be ready to give the defense for the hope that is in us.  And we confess this together – we strive to remain in Christ, we seek to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified, and we will oppose any false teaching that would rob Christ and the Father of Their glory.  Why?  Because we know that more than anything, more than wealth, power, the approval of the emperor, the approval of our friends and family – we need Christ and His forgiveness.  And this He has won for you, this He gives freely, without any merit or worth in us, all thanks be to God.  This truth has echoed from Lutheran pulpits for nearly 500 years, and may it ring forth even until He comes again.  Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Trinity 1 Sermon

Trinity 1 – June 22nd, 2014 – Luke

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

          I know the preachers on TV tell us that our lives are supposed to be ones of wild riches and unending joy.  I know the books tell you that if you just name the blessing, God will give it to you.  I know the kids’ song says that I am supposed to be in right up right down right happy all the time.  That’s the track that by in large American theology has taken – God gives you the blessing bootstraps and you just pull yourself up by them and everything is wonderful.  And then, we hear this story – the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  Jesus has been telling a slew of parables, ones we are familiar with – the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son, the dishonest manager… and then, the Pharisees, whom verse 14 (before our text) notes “were lovers of money” mocked Christ for those parables.  Made fun of him – a little old lady with a mere ten coins.  And no father would welcome the son who squandered his estate.  You cannot serve God and Mammon – ha!  God gives me all this stuff because I am such a good servant.  I guess the Pharisees and the typical, modern American tend to think the same way – Good Little Christian ought to equal Good Big Bank Account.  And we here get tempted – we get tempted to want that same stuff, tempted to think that maybe we aren’t up to snuff in God’s book whenever we see the hardships in our lives, even the same, stupid things we have to face down over and over again, and with that background health and wealth preaching, we can be even more run down.

          Then our Lord speaks this parable.  “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.”  There we go.  The ideal Pharisee – clearly blessed by God.  The ideal American Christian, clearly blessed by God – and he knows it.  If I told any of you here that God was going to triple your income, I don’t think any of you would complain, or think about the dangers of greed or abuse of power that might come along with that – because we are Americans.  And there it is – the American dream.  In Jesus’ day it was purple clothes and an overflowing table – today, big house, fine cars.  Same idea.  Is that the ideal, isn’t that what the Christian life is supposed to look like?

          “And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.”  And then, there’s Lazarus.  He’s poor, a beggar, he has nothing.  The best he hopes for are table scraps.  And he’s weak.  He doesn’t even walk himself to the rich man’s doorstep – he’s carried there.  He’s covered with sores – and doesn’t even have the strength to shoo away the dogs who come and lick him – the dogs who are probably strong enough to go pull those table scraps out of the junk heap.  There they are, the two characters.  The Rich Man and Lazarus – and if you didn’t know the story, if you were hearing it for the first time every single one of us in this room would have in our gut wanted, assumed that we are supposed to be like the Rich Man.

          “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.  The Rich Man also died and was buried, and in Hades.”  The guy the Pharisees want to be like.  He’s in hell.  The poor, helpless man, he gets carried, but this time instead of being carried to the doorstep of the rich man, he is carried by the angels to heaven.  Quite the contrast.  And we see this contrast play out in the story.  “And in Hades, being in torment, [the rich man] lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’”  Well, apparently a bit too late, the rich man remembers a bit of his Sunday School training.  Shouldn’t be too proud, should be humble, shouldn’t be too demanding.  I know… I’ll only ask for but a drop, a fingertip of water.  That is all that I want or need.  See how kind and humble I am – I’ll even use the right words – have mercy on me!  I played the game in the world, I’ll just play the game in the afterlife.

          Yet think about that.  Even burning in hell, this rich man thinks to instruct Abraham, tell Abraham what to do, what mercy ought to look like.  Even burning in Hell this guy thinks he can boss Lazarus around – hey, send Lazarus on a little day trip to hell – lazy bum sat around all his life, he doesn’t need to sit around in the afterlife – get that boy to work bringing me a bit of water!  The outward veneer of piety melts away, and there is nothing but self-righteousness and condescension.

          And so Abraham calls him on it.  “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to there may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”  Yeah, rich guy – you received good things, and Lazarus received bad - from you.  He was your neighbor, and you gave him nothing.  You took the blessings that God your Father had given you and you wasted them, instead of loving your neighbor as God desires.  There in hell, you’re getting what you deserve – and even if I thought otherwise, I couldn’t help you.  You who took every blessing for granted, who thought you earned all that you have – you are beyond receiving blessing, beyond earning anything.

          And then we get this fascinating conversation.  “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’  But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”  And right there is the crux of the parable – right there we see how the story plays out.  The problem wasn’t that the rich guy was rich – it might be harder for a camel to go through the eye of the needle, but the wealth itself wasn’t the problem.  At first this seems like such a nice and kind plea from the rich man – looking out after his brothers.  But Abraham gets to the heart of the matter.  They already have Moses and the Prophets – they have the Word of God which has told them what they need to know.  They should be aware of their own sin already, they should know their need for a Savior, they should be looking forward to the Messiah and eager to hear Him.  But that’s not good enough for the rich man or his brothers, these scoffing Pharisees.  Oh no, Father Abraham, Moses isn’t good enough.  Now pause and think of this.  You have a Jewish man, first contradicting Abraham, and then denigrating Moses and the Prophets.  Telling Abraham no?  Treating Moses and the Prophets as worthless?  That would be like complaining about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson on the 4th of July.  That would be like an OU fan insulting Bob Stoops, Barry Switzer, and Bud Wilkenson.  That is a man without faith telling God that His Word is worthless.  And that’s the problem.  Disdain for God’s Word.

          In this story, we hear the rich man talk, talk, talk.  He is entitled, he expects to be the boss and have things his way – he gives commands, he contradicts Abraham.  And sure, by outward appearances, his life seemed to be good, but it was empty, faithless.  Spiritually bankrupt.  For all that he did, for all that he thought he could make others do – he was nothing – he did not hear the Word.  Now, contrast this with Lazarus – with the man of faith.  We don’t see Lazarus doing anything.  He’s too weak to do anything in life, and in the afterlife, all we hear of him is that he is carried to Abraham’s side, receiving comfort there.  Lazarus is a hearer.  He is simply one who hears the Word and trusts in it, even when life appears lousy and terrible.

          Dear friends in Christ, oftentimes does your life seem terrible?  Lousy?  Things go poorly, not the way you planned, not the way you wanted them to be?  Business goes dry, crops come out lousy?  Or what of those things that you would never breathe a word of to others – the family skeletons in the closet, the secret and hidden temptations that you yourself struggle with, struggle against?  While the world and the tv preachers might bluster their lies and false expectation – hear the Word of your Lord Jesus Christ.  These things don’t surprise Him.  He knows the affliction, the “bad things” people receive in this world.  He knows the impact that sin and the fall has.  This is why He came.  Christ Jesus came not to give you the secret business strategies to give you your best life now or the 7 biblical principals to make sure your family is awesome.  He came to redeem sinners, to find the sick and poor, to find poor miserable sinners and win for them forgiveness.  He came to suffer and die and rise so that you who suffer sin and hardship and even eventually death, would rise with Him.

          And this is for you.  There is a bit of subtlety here in this text.  Do you know how I can say conclusively that Christ has died for you – how in the face of all those doubtmongers in the world who say that if you aren’t overwhelmed with stuff and mammon that maybe you’ve ticked off God?  Here’s how.  You are baptized.  Consider.  In the parable, the rich man didn’t have a name.  We don’t know his name.  Lazarus has one.  A name means you belong, that you are part of the family.  Your name is given you, your Christian name, when you are baptized.  “How is this child to be named” – as the rite goes.  How shall this child of God, who belongs to Him, who has been redeemed by Christ be known?  You are part of the family of God, you are known by God, redeemed by Christ, called and gathered by the Spirit into His family, into His Church – and it doesn’t matter a lick what the wealth lovers or the scoffers or those who ignore the Scriptures say.  You belong to Christ, you are baptized.  You are redeemed by Him, this is the reality, this is the truth.

          So dear friends, do not let the world and its Christless and loveless and Scriptureless and Spiritless expectations dismay you.  You needn’t pretend.  I have hardships and temptations, you have them, we all have them.  That is life in this sinful world.  But for our sake, God Himself comes down, suffers and dies, so that we would be forgiven, that we would be His for all eternity.  This is our hope.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + AMen. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Virtue or Faith, Rich or Poor, Exhortation or Comfort?

This upcoming Sunday in the One Year Series we hear Luke 16:19-31 - The Rich Man and Lazarus.  I wonder how many people will turn this into a morality play, a tale of virtue - make sure you love your neighbor and are generous!

Now, yes, we are to love our neighbor - but that's not the point of distinction.  It's not the greedy rich man versus the kind and generous rich man.  And the apex of the parable isn't even about receiving or not receiving good things in life.

It's about hearing the Word of God or ignoring it.

The lack of love isn't the problem - it's just a symptom of ignoring the Word of God... the very Word of God which creates and gives faith.

It's not a week for stressing virtue - it's a week for remembering that faith comes by hearing.  It's not a week to ponder about how rich we are in works, so that we could expect to boss even Abraham around.  It's a week to remember that we are poor miserable sinners - though we have been baptized, called by God, named as sons and daughters, and that we will be comforted by Him eternally, even in the face of a life that is so often lousy.

This is a parable of comfort.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Trinity Sunday Sermon

Trinity Sunday – June 15th, 2014 – John 3 and Isaiah 6
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +

          We have reached Trinity Sunday.  Trinity Sunday marks a change in the Church year.  For the past 5 or 6 months, with Christmas and Lent and Easter, we’ve really been looking at things Jesus has done – events in His life.  But now, entering the Trinity season, our focus through November will be on teaching, Christ’s teachings, what we ought to know about God and His love for us.  And so, this Trinity Sunday, we start off at the beginning with the most important and basic thing – We see the Holy God and our relationship to Him.

          We see and learn in our Gospel that our God is Triune – that the One True God has three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Father Almighty sends Christ Jesus, the Son, to win salvation.  The Holy Spirit takes people and has them born anew, gives them life, so that by believing in the Son, they might have salvation.  This is what God does, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is what the Apostles’ Creed speaks to, this is what the Nicene Creed speaks to, and this is what the Athanasian Creed speaks to at length – that we worship a Holy God who is One God in three Persons, and Three Persons yet only one God.  This God is righteous and good.  This God is perfect and loving and merciful.

          And so the question becomes what is our relationship with this God.  How do we, we human beings, interact, relate, deal with God Almighty?  For this, let’s start with our Old Testament lesson.  Isaiah is a priest, a highly ranked priest.  He is in the temple, and he is doing the one yearly sacrifice in the Holy of Holies.  For that year, Isaiah is the top of the tops, the highest of the high.  Humanly speaking, it doesn’t get better or higher than Isaiah.  And Isaiah enters the Holy of Holies, and there, something unusual happens.  Isaiah beholds not just the earthly temple in Jerusalem, but He beholds the heavenly courts, beholds God Himself.  And what is his reaction?  “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”  Isaiah knows that at this moment, his life is forfeit.  By rights, he should be obliterated.  Gone, done away with.  Why does Isaiah know this?  Because Isaiah knows that he is a sinner.

          Sometimes I think we don’t really think about what it means to be a sinner.  We will pay attention to specific sins, to acts which are bad.  Acts which are naughty.  Stealing is bad.  Murder is bad.  And that is true, but Isaiah points to something bigger than just sinful acts.  Sin isn’t just something you do – it is a description of who you are.  You are a sinner, and sin is part and parcel of everything you do.  Here is Isaiah, and what is he doing?  He is serving God in the temple.  He is doing the things of a priest.  He is doing the highest, the most holy service a person could do.  If anyone could ever point to what he is, what he is doing, and brag about it, it would be Isaiah right here this morning.  But he doesn’t.  Isaiah beholds God, and he fears.  He confesses his sinfulness.  I am unclean.  My lips are dirty.  Everything that comes out of them is corrupted.  Even there, even there doing the highest worship, Isaiah sees that he is a sinner, and that everything he does is sinful.

          That’s what the word sinful means – it means full of sin.  This is what you are, this is what I am.  Full of sin.  Everything, everything we do is tinged and tainted with sin.  Everything falls short.  Now, when we look at each other, when we look at the person next to us, we might strut out our chest – oh, I’m not as bad as this person.  We can get all full of pride and stuff like that when we think we are better than our neighbor.  And you know what?  From a mere human perspective, You might be better than your neighbor, but who cares?  Here in this place, before God, that all goes out the window.  You are a sinner.  Period.  Plain and simple.  Compared to God, judged by His standards everything you do, everything you have ever done is flawed and comes up short.  Nothing you’ve done is perfect – rather it is sinful.  This is what Isaiah confesses in this text.

          This is the same thing that Jesus says in our Gospel.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  What are you like?  You need to be born anew.  You need to be born.  In front of God, by yourself you are as good as dead.  And we get this all over in Scripture.  We hear this over and over again.  Paul in Ephesians.  You were dead in trespasses.  Dead.  Not alive.  What we do, our sinful acts don’t impress God.  Hear what Isaiah says in chapter 64.  All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  Oh, I’m so good – no you aren’t, you’re a mess in your pants.  Scripture is blunt on our condition.  By nature, there isn’t a good thing about us, and we are rotten through and through.  We have sinned, and we fall short of God’s Glory, and if you think otherwise, you are simply lying to yourself.  There is nothing in you which earns or deserves God’s respect or God’s love.  That’s hard and harsh, and we don’t like to admit it, but when we compare ourselves to God, when we view ourselves in light of God’s Holiness, this is what we see.

          This is what God sees as well.  He sees our lack.  He sees our shortcomings.  The flaws we work so hard to hide, the sins we try to cover up, the problems we pretend we don’t have – God sees them.  And this is the wonder.  Although by rights God should wipe us out, toss us into the trash can – He doesn’t.  For God so loved the world.  God loves the world – God loves you, and this is how God loves you.  When we hear “God loves you” – it’s not just a matter of God thinking you are nice.  It’s not a matter of God loves you so He puts up with you.  This is how God loves you – He gives His only Son, gives Jesus Christ over to death, sheds the blood of Christ so that your sinfulness might be covered, washed away and clean – so that you don’t perish.  Everything about you that is wrong, that is lacking – the fact that you are a sinner, through and through, is covered by Christ Jesus.  Just as you are completely a sinner, Christ Jesus is completely and totally righteous and good, and upon the Cross He sheds His blood so that you might be made righteous and good and brought into God’s presence.

          This is what God does with us.  He takes us sinners, and He purifies and forgives us so that we can be with Him.  We see this in the Old Testament.  Isaiah is there before God, and Isaiah knows His life is forfeit.  The wages of sin is death, and Isaiah is expecting to get paid in full.  But what happens?  Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.  And He touched my mouth and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”  God wants Isaiah to be with Him, so what does God do?  He sees to it that Isaiah is forgiven.  The Altar, the place of sacrifice, that applies to Isaiah, that is done for him.  Who is God?  Do you wish to know what God is like?  This is what God is like – He is the God who forgives sinners.

          This is what Jesus teaches in the Gospel.  You must be born again.  You must be given new life.  And this isn’t something you can do by yourself.  You didn’t choose to be born of your parents – and likewise you don’t do anything to be born again.  God does this, and God did this when He took you, and brought you to His font, and taking Water and His Word, washed you clean in Baptism.  God did it when by Water and the Word He poured His life giving Spirit into you.  And you are now born of the Spirit.  The blood of Christ covers you.  You are now completely and totally holy.  He has taken all your sin, your sinfulness upon Himself and put it to death on the Cross.  You are now a saint.  Just as the Angel brought a coal from the altar and touched it to Isaiah’s lips – what do we get?  Christ Jesus brings us Himself, His own Body and Blood from the true altar, the Altar of the Cross, and He places His own Body and Blood on our lips, and we are clean, we are righteous.  All that Jesus is, all that He has done, overwhelms us, and we are forgiven.  What Isaiah foretells in chapter 1 is brought to completion in Christ – though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.  By yourself, by your own nature, apart from Christ you are a filthy, bloody rag – but Christ Jesus has won your forgiveness, and God has washed you, cleansed you, purified you so that you are white as snow, like clean fresh wool.

          When God sees you, He sees you as completely righteous and perfect.  Why?  Not because of who you are or what you do. Rather, when God looks at you, He sees Jesus.  The Father sees His Son when He looks at you, He sees you as His New Creation, He sees that you have new life in Jesus.  This is the entirety of our lives as Christians.  By nature we are completely sinful – and if we look to ourselves, if we trust in ourselves, if we persist in justifying ourselves – sinners is all we will ever be – and we will be damned.  But the Triune God comes into our lives, calls us to repentance, and makes us holy and righteous.  And now, in this life here on earth, we see both.  We see the sinner, worthy of damnation; we see the saint given heaven.  This is the struggle in your life.  This is why your life is difficult.  Because you are both sinner and saint.  This is what we see in Baptism.  “What does such baptizing with water signify?  It signifies that the Old Adam in us,” that is our sinfulness, “should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts and, again, a new man,” the righteous saint we are in Christ, “come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”  While we live, we have both – we are at the same time sinner and saint.  And as God’s people, we struggle against our sin and confess it.  We don’t hide our sin, we don’t puff ourselves us, we fight temptation and confess our sin.  And God makes us righteous; God makes us holy, God washes us clean and gives us forgiveness as often as we need it – and since we are always sinners, that’s often, that every day.  He gives us this forgiveness in His Word, in His Sacraments – bringing us ever closer to Him, and making us look more and more like Christ.

          Dear friends in Christ, marvel and delight in the God whom we Worship.  God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost beholds us sinners, but because of His love for us, wins for us salvation in Christ Jesus, and makes us Holy by the Working of the Spirit.  Our God wishes to be with us for all eternity, and He does all that is required to see this happen.  Our Lord gives us heaven, He gives us Himself.  Thus to Him be glory forever.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pentecost Day Sermon

Pentecost Day – June 8th, 2014 – Acts 2 and John 14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          Today is Pentecost, the day where we remember the sending of the Holy Spirit 50 days after our Lord’s death and resurrection.  And in our reading from Acts we heard that story, the coming of the Holy Spirit as tongues of flame, the 12 Apostles speaking and being heard in at least 14 different languages.  And now I will ask the question – why?  Why Pentecost, why this sending of the Holy Spirit?  To what purpose, to what end?  Is it merely so that we can deck the church out in Red every once in a while, maybe adopt a pretty flame motif?  Is it so that every crackpot and his sister can say “The Holy Spirit told me blah bla-bla-bla-blah” and make up things off the top of their head to convince you to give them money?  Why?  Why Pentecost, why is the Holy Spirit sent?

          The Holy Spirit is sent so as to be tied to the Word of God, and to tie us to the Word of God – specifically, the preaching of our sin and the preaching of our Savior.  Consider Acts.  The Holy Spirit comes upon Peter, and what does He do?  He quotes the Scriptures, the Word of God, and then He proclaims what it means, and then quotes more Scripture, and shows how it is about Christ and Him crucified.  As soon as the Spirit comes upon Peter, his focus is the Word, whether that is the Word written or the Word preached and proclaimed (and let’s face it, if what a preacher is preaching isn’t preaching Christ from the Word, the preaching is worthless).  And people, by the power of that same Holy Spirit, are made to hear and believe Peter’s preaching, are made to receive the promise of salvation.  That is what the Spirit does – as we confess in the Small Catechism the Spirit “Calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies” – and that is what we see going on expressly in Acts 2.  The Holy Spirit makes us to understand the Word of God, makes us to see Christ Crucified for us, makes us to believe and have faith – the Spirit is always tied to the Word of God.

          And for evidence of this, consider our Gospel lesson for the day.  And again, this is Christ preparing the disciples before His crucifixion for life in the church after His Ascension, after Pentecost.  Our lesson begins with our Lord saying, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words.”  We can hear this so off today, we can so easily misinterpret it.  We can almost think Jesus is being naggy here – if you really loved me, you’d take out the trash.  That’s not the point.  This word “keep” here means not just to do, but to cling to, to focus upon, to hold sacred and gladly hear and learn it as the 3rd commandment would say.  The word keep doesn’t just mean obey, because how do you obey a promise?  “The promise is for your and your children,” says Peter in Acts.  In English we wouldn’t say you obey that Word, that promise; we’d say you believe it, you cling to it, you heed it.  And that is what Christ is saying – those who love Him cling to His Word.  Why?  Christ is speaking a reality here – the love of God is tied to the hearing of God’s Word – faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, and where there is no faith, there is no love, no fear, no trust of God.  With these Words Christ is tying, is binding the Church to the Word of God – if you want Christ and the Father to be here, to be with you, you seek them no place other than the Word of God, that is other than the Scriptures, than the proclamation of those same Scriptures, than the proclamation of Christ and Him Crucified for sinners.  This is where Jesus has promised to be with you.

          And what is this Word that is proclaimed, this Word to which we are to cling and heed?  “And the Word that you hear is not Mine but the Father’s Who sent Me.”  The Word that we pay attention to is God’s Word.  The Scriptures, they are the Word of God, for men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.  And this too is the standard for how you are to judge preaching, the preaching of anyone, and in particular the preaching of anyone who is in this pulpit.  Are they proclaiming the Word of God, preaching Christ and Him Crucified, or are they making stuff up?  You do not need the thoughts and opinions of Eric Brown preached here – it’s not my job to wax eloquently on politics or why the Cubs are better than the Cardinals or any such other clap-trap.  And you certainly don’t need me making up religious junk to suit my own whims or desires, about what I’d want you to do – you need the Word of God, that that is what you ought to demand of me or anyone whom is given to preach to you.

          But do not think that in this, the Holy Spirit is absent.  Whenever someone preaches the Word, the Holy Spirit helps and enables them to preach – if it were not for God and His great mercy, I’d never be able to preach a lick.  However, it is also true that without the Holy Spirit, you wouldn’t be able to understand a lick of preaching either.  Listen.  “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  This true – this preaching and hearing this preaching are all things that are brought about by the Holy Spirit – to God alone be the glory and thanks and praise.  That is why I pray twice before every sermon – first for all who hear the sermon, myself included, that the Spirit would make us to see Christ and strengthen our faith, and second for myself before I preach, that God would “send Thy Holy Spirit, that He may work with me, yea that He may work in me” – that He “Use me as Thine instrument, only do not forsake me, for if I am left alone I shall easily bring it all to destruction.”  That’s how Luther taught pastors to pray.  What we are to remember is that at all times it is God who is with us, God who grants us faith, God who gives us faith, makes us to believe, and keeps us in the faith – and that this is done by the Holy Spirit working through the Word.

          And all to what end?  What is the thrust, the purpose, the focus of all this work of the Holy Spirit?  “Peace I leave with you; My Peace I give to you.”  Or as Peter preaches this peace on Pentecost – “Repent and be baptized everyone one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”  There is peace, peace in Christ Jesus.  The war with God, the rebellion that sin is, it is done, it is finished, your sin is no more, it has been taken up by Christ and crucified with Him.  And now God calls you to be with Him, gives you His Spirit, gives you His Word so that He will dwell with you now even until the last day when you are raised from the dead and shall dwell with God, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and even indeed all the saints forever and ever.  The thrust of this preaching, the direction is always this – that while we are the chief of sinners, Christ has died for us, and we have life in His name.  This is the truth that the Word and Spirit proclaim, this echoes out from Pentecost until the end of time.

          And so what of us today?  What we ought to remember this day, this Pentecost, is that this church, our church, is still part and parcel of what we see in Acts, what Christ preaches in John.  We are those afar off whom the Holy Spirit has called by the Gospel, we are part of that Christian Church which has been kept in the true faith in Christ Jesus.  We are brought to His Church, in which we receive daily the rich forgiveness of our sins, even until that day when we are raised to new and sinless life.  But we must remember that this is not our own doing, it is not about us, about our own reason or strength.  Just as it is Christ Jesus who has won us salvation solely by His Work, by His efforts, so too our faith is also a gift, worked and brought about solely by the Holy Spirit – a miracle and wonder that each of you has received that is just as wondrous and fantastic as the speaking in tongues on Pentecost day, for both are brought about by the same Spirit.  Yet over and against this, the world, Satan, and even our sinful flesh will strive to distract us, annoy us, and deceive us.  Thus our Lord tells us to cling to His Word, to pay attention to what He has declared, because it is there, in the Word, where the Holy Spirit does His work, where He creates and sustains your faith.  It is there in the Word where God comes to be with you – for that is what it means to be gathered in Christ’s Name – we are gathered Here in the Name of God to hear His Word, and God Himself is present with us, brining us peace and forgiveness and His love.  This is the shape of the Church, this is what the Church is – where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments are administered, all so that the Holy Spirit might bring us faith and the salvation that Christ has won, so that we will be reconciled to the Father for all eternity.  Thanks be to God for His great love and service to us this Pentecost day!  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Which is the Greater Loss?

So, which is the greater loss, which change or decay do you fear more, worry about more?

The decline of moral virtue or the decline of mercy?

I think much of the theological discussions and back and forth we see can be settled by answering that question - which do you fear the loss of more - virtue or mercy.

This, of course, isn't saying one is good and the other is bad - but rather this... which one must take priority, which one is more important.

The answer you give says much to your theology.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Times that Try Men's Egos

Sometimes people are born into times that try their souls - where there is fierce and open battle on great and grandiose epic scales -- like the Revolutionary War, let's say.  Or maybe even the halcyon days of the Reformation.


You know what?  That's not today.  Even with all the troubles facing the Church, even with the growing disdain of the Gospel... it's not something sweeping and grand with passion stirred souls on both sides.  If anything the problem we face in the Church is just simple... people don't care.  We aren't important.  We are losing our cultural impact.  And we don't have a great theological opponent because... well... no one wants to do theology.

These are the times that try men's egos - where there is no glorious battle for us to fight, no great opponents whereby to show our mettle. 

Do we claim gay marriage or some other social issue as the great struggle of the day?  Well... um... it's not a theological struggle, because, well... theology doesn't really come into play.  Really, it doesn't.  Even the theologians in the fight are all going "natural law" arguments.  Which is basically, if you think about it, a concession that in the US theology doesn't matter.

Or what about within the Church?  The "worship wars"?  Um... yeah... is that really being contested?  On a large scale?  No, we've just split.  It's sort of done except for some skirmishing within congregations.

I hear about an antinomian crisis - of the pastors in the LCMS corrupted by terrible theologians....  Oh ack, preaching to bounds wills (which I don't think is that bad of an idea)... which maybe 40, 50 pastors total think about weekly?  Or the scourge of Finnish approaches to Luther... again... 40, 50 at most.

That's not exactly epic or epidemic when it's at most 1 percent of the clergy.

And so here we are.  There is no great battle for our generation - not even a good old fashioned battle for the bible.  We're just kind of... here.  And there's no great glory for us to win.

Which is a great and wonderful thing, because our focus ought not be on our glory, or the crushing of our enemies, or making a great name for ourselves (theological wars do not make one great!).  And instead, God in His wisdom does what He loves to do - He leaves us with nothing to do but proclaim the Cross - its folly, its power.

Maybe for such an egotistic generation and such an egotistic people, having nothing but Christ to preach and proclaim in our own congregations from our own pulpits, with that being the extent and sweep of our influence is precisely, precisely what we need. 

Only send Your Holy Spirit to be with us, lest we bring it all to utter destruction!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ascension Sermon Transferred

Ascension Day Observed – June 1st, 2014 – Luke 24

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.
          Yes indeed, Christ is risen, and more than that, He has ascended, and He is seated at the Right Hand of the Father, and He shall come again to judge the living and the dead, that is He rules the world with truth and grace, and that He shall come and finally put an end to all sin and wickedness, taking us to His side for all eternity.  This is our faith as Christians, this is what we look forward to, what we long to see.  And on this day, when we remember and celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, it is a time to see that all that Christ has done, indeed, all of the Scriptures are driving that this end – that Christ Jesus shall come again and that because of Him, you will live with Him forever.

          Listen to our Lord.  Then He said to them, “These are My Words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.  Everything must be fulfilled, all the things of the Old Testament must be fulfilled, because God loves you and will not let anything stop Him from showing you love.  You realize that is the story of the Bible right?  It’s not just events of long ago, not just a list of rules, or even practical advice.  It is the story of Christ Jesus not letting anything get in the way of His love for you, not sin, not death, not the Devil.

          Consider creation.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  By Him all things were made – a garden where man and woman would live, delight, enjoy, and walk with God in peace.  Sin messes that up – then Christ Jesus will come and redeem now sinful men and women, and He will make for them a New Heavens and a New Earth not tainted by sin, because that’s His love for you.  Or Cain and Abel.  Cain slays Abel, and Abel’s blood cries out.  Then Christ Jesus will come, and He will be slain by His brothers, and His blood calls out for your pardon and peace.  The world at the time of Noah is so wicked that it must be washed away – then Christ will come and give you the gift of Holy Baptism, so that your sins are washed away and you are left to live with Christ.  Abraham had no children – so Christ comes to be His descendant, bringing Father Abraham the many sons that the children’s song extols.  Isaac deserved to die, to be sacrificed!  The Lamb of God will come and be sacrificed in Isaac’s stead, so that father and son can rejoice – whether that father and son are Abraham and Isaac or God the Father and all of you.  Jacob thought he had to fight and cheat for his blessings, but instead Christ wrestles him down and says, “I will be the one who comes and gives you blessings!”  Joseph suffers all sorts of wickedness, is sold into slavery, unjustly prisoned… but this is all so that he would be exulted by Pharaoh so as to save his brothers and give them bread.  Likewise Christ is betrayed by His friend, handed over to wicked men and killed – and though they intended it for evil, God intended it for good; He raises and exults Jesus, and now He gives you a better bread, the Bread of His Supper, now His own Body so that you have life and life everlasting.  All of it, all of Genesis – driving and pointing to Christ Jesus and His love for you.

          And there’s 38 more books of the Old Testament… we could see the same in them all – in Moses, in the Exodus, in Joshua, in David, in the story of Boaz and Ruth, in the Prophets, in the temple, in the rules and regulations, in the Sabbath itself that points to Christ’s Sabbath rest in the tomb after Good Friday… but if we did, I might not make it out of this pulpit alive.  And that’s not suggesting that any of you would do anything to me, I’d probably just keel over from exhaustion.  But this is what Christ makes the disciples to see – that the Old Testament, the Scriptures, are the story of God showing love to His people, fixing the fall, preparing the way for Christ Jesus, pointing us to the coming Messiah, so that in Christ we would see and know the great love that God has for us.

          And having shown this to the disciples, Christ Jesus continues.  [He] said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem….”  This is what the Scriptures proclaim.  Christ will bruise Satan’s head, while Satan bruises His heel.  Or Psalm 22 – I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint, my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast.”  Hanging on the cross, joints destroyed, the spear pierces His side, His heart, and blood and water melt out.  The Son must die and rise.  And this truth is to be proclaimed – repentance and forgiveness.  Behold your sins, for they are great, but Christ and His death and resurrection are greater, so there is forgiveness in Him, in His Name.  And begin in Jerusalem, but go to all nations, for Abraham will have many sons, and the sheep not of this fold the Shepherd with gather, and go not like Jonah grumbling on his way to Ninevah, but rejoicing that this is for the Gentiles as well!  Yes, you here in this room, those of you without even a drop of Jewish blood, who cannot claim Abraham as your physical father in the slightest – the promise is for you as well.

“You are witnesses of these things. And from our point of view, not just the Old Testament points to Christ.  Indeed, the New Testament, the writings of the Apostles do the same thing.  These witnesses preached, and they also wrote things down – the Early Church would call the New Testament the “memoirs of the Apostles”.  And what do they do?  The proclaim repentance and forgiveness in the Name of Christ.  The Gospels proclaim this.  The Epistles all proclaim this.  Paul is determined to know nothing among you but Christ and Him Crucified.  Luther is right – every page of the Old Testament drips with Christ, and the New Testament is the revealing of what was hidden in the Old, namely Christ.  All things are set, all things are prepared.

“And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the City until you are clothed with power from on high.”  And Pentecost will come.  And the Apostles will be sent out, and the preaching of Christ will spread through all nations, through various languages, even making it’s way out here to Oklahoma, even in a language as strange as English.  But more on that next week when we celebrate Pentecost.  For today, let us consider what happens next.
“Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them.  While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”  And His work is done.  He has accomplished all things and won salvation.  He has died and He is risen – your salvation is won.  But did you note what He is doing even as He ascends?  He is blessing them.  And what do you think Christ is doing now?  Right now, at this moment, Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father.  That implies two very important things.  First, that is a position of power – All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to Me.  Christ rules the world – and how does He rule it?  For your blessing, for your good.  And that may not always be obvious – the world still intends things for evil – God still works it for good.  It may not be the blessings you expect, but Christ Jesus is in charge, and He will still bless you and keep you, will make His face shine upon you (like the transfiguration) and be gracious unto, and will lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace – Peace be with you, see My hands and My side!  Christ Jesus is your Lord and your God, and He still cares for you.  He has been crowned with many crowns, and the King reigns for you and acts out of love for you.
And not only that – you have an advocate with the Father.  You have an advocate with the Father who has borne all your sin, who has with His own stripes healed you, and so that now in Him the Father is well pleased with you.  You have been restored unto the Father, you have been forgiven by Him.  This is the great joy and reality – and it is the reality and truth that we shall see in full, for one day this same Jesus who ascended shall come again with trumpet sound, and the dead will be raised, and we shall go to the joys of eternity with Christ.  Christ has done it all, and in Him we have life, all thanks be to God.  Amen.  Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.