Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pentecost Sermon

Pentecost – May 19th and 20th, 2018 – Acts 2, John 14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
The last 4 or 5 weeks or so have all been leading up, preparing us for this week. The time spent in John’s Gospel, hearing our Lord in the Upper Room, promising the Apostles the Spirit, were all leading, all driving to our Lesson from Acts 2 today – the day of Pentecost, the birth of the Christian and Apostolic Church, the Church which you and I are a part of, the Church which not even hell itself can prevail against. And so, when we consider Pentecost, we see and learn how our Lord shapes and grows His Church, even to this day – so then let us ponder what it is that our Lord does on Pentecost, and how that is done now in our midst.

First things first – we see and learn that God has an impeccable sense of timing. It has been 50 days since Jesus rose – 7 weeks. It’s been 10 days since the Ascension – and what of the Apostles? They had been left to hang on out in Jerusalem. Well, why would God just have them hang out – why not just dive in and get to things right away? Because God is patient and does things at the proper time. God waits for Pentecost. Now, one of the things that we end up saying that isn’t quite accurate is that we will refer to Acts 2 as “that first Pentecost.” It’s not – it’s not the first Pentecost. Pentecost was a Jewish festival – Shavout – the festival of weeks, one of the major holidays – 50 days after the Passover. And all good Jewish men would go to the temple and bring the first fruits of the year, the barley harvest, in as an offering. This is why we hear from Acts, “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” It was a day of a major festival, so you have people from all over the Roman Empire and even beyond who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate this year’s Shavout in Jerusalem at the temple.

So, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles, and they preach in the temple, who hears it? Not just the local folks – but folks from all over the world, who are then going to go and return to their homes. This is fantastic timing by God. And while the disciples might have been sitting around bored wondering, “come on God, get on with it already” – when God acts, it is the right and proper time. This is something we need to remember as well. The Church belongs to the Lord, and He establishes the harvest. He is the One who grows His Church, and He acts with wisdom and love for His Church. We are not in control – God is. This can be a very hard truth for us to accept as Americans. As Americans we like to be in control – we’ll just work hard and then we’ll be whatever we want to be – we can be self-made men. There are no self-made Churches – this congregation is not formed by our own wisdom, by how suave and entertaining the pastor is, or any of that. No, the Church grows by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, at work here in our midst, bringing us to faith, growing us in the knowledge of God, and establishing in us ever more love and devotion and trust in God Almighty and in Christ Jesus.

And this leads us to the second, big lesson of Pentecost. We often think of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit’s big day – look, here’s the Holy Spirit, here is power and might and speaking in tongues. Catch the Spirit – woo-hoo! Is that the point of this day… that we become some type of holy cheerleaders – We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ‘bout you? Yeah! Go team Jesus! Pentecost wasn't about excitement, or speaking in tongues (Paul has to warn the Corinthians off of trying to do that all the time) or even really about the Holy Spirit – and we miss this because our lectionary, our system of readings cuts off the story right when it starts to get good. It’s like we’re on a roller coaster and we get to the top of the first hill and then… we’ll just stop here. The good stuff is what comes next.

To sum up what we heard, the Spirit falls on the apostles, and the folks all hear them in their own language – over 15 languages are mentioned. It's a miracle of hearing, people hearing preaching – and so Peter stands up to preach. Peter explains from the Scriptures that this is what Joel told us all would happen – listen now to how Peter drives right on in in the next verses. This is Acts 2:22-24. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” The point of Pentecost is this – that Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection for our salvation is proclaimed in the various tongues of the world.

You see – the Holy Spirit has a very simple job. He points to Christ. He proclaims Christ. He opens our eyes, opens our minds, so that we understand the Word of God which proclaims Christ Jesus to be our Savior from sin. John 14 – “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.” Or John 7 – Jesus says, “Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive…” The Spirit brings the Word to us, and then establishes and grows and protects faith in Christ Jesus and His salvation. The Spirit focuses us upon Christ. The Spirit is why when we hear God’s Word we are pointed to Christ, why and how we understand all this Church stuff really being about Christ and His love for us. The Spirit is why Christ Jesus and Him Crucified has remained the heart and center of all that we are and hear in the Church. The Holy Spirit keeps us in Christ Jesus so that we believe and have life in His Name.

The special tie for you in this is your Baptism. When Peter finishes his sermon, the people say, “Now what?” And Peter’s response, Acts 2:38-39, is as follows: “Repent and be baptized every 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.” Baptism gives the forgiveness of sin, and it gives the Holy Spirit. When you were baptized in Christ’s Name, in the Name of the Triune God, your sin was forgiven. More than just that – the Holy Spirit entered in to you, took you up as His own dwelling place. Again, we cannot emphasize enough that Baptism is God’s Work, it is something that God does upon you, that God gives to you. Peter’s not telling these people to jump through hoops for God. Be baptized… that’s passive, that’s receptive. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Again – passive, receptive. Baptism isn’t what we do for God, it’s a gift wherein God works upon us. Even… our children, for this promise is for you and for your children. All about what God does – because everything in the Church is ultimately about what God does – the God who loves you, becomes man for you, goes to the Cross and suffers and dies for you.

There is another spirit at work in this age, the spirit of antichrist, the spirit of Satan. And how do you recognize Satan at work? Not by horns and a pitchfork, but by this. False and lying spirits will by hook or by crook try to distract you from Christ Jesus. This is what John says in his first Epistle, chapter 4 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard was coming and now is in the world already.” How do you know? What do they say about Jesus? Do they confess that Jesus has come, that He is true man and true God, that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – is their focus upon Christ and Him crucified? If not, don’t listen to them. Is their focus upon what Christ Jesus has done for you… or what you need to do for God (which generally involves you obeying them and giving them stuff)? If it’s the latter, don’t listen. Do they point out how Christ has done everything required for your salvation and gives this gift freely – or do they attach strings to it, say that you yourself must add a bit of this, a bit of that? If it’s the latter, don’t listen. If they glorify and extol you rather than Christ, if they point to how wonderful you are, do not listen to them. We are simply this – sinners who have been redeemed and forgiven by a gracious and loving God, even Christ the Crucified who has risen and given us His own life by the power of His Word and Spirit.

And this is the focus of the Christian Church – it has been since those 3000 were baptized and returned to their homes and proclaimed Christ and Him Crucified. This is what shapes us today, as we, the Baptized in Christ’s Name, are gathered together by the Holy Spirit around the Word of God and Christ Jesus' own Supper. May our eyes ever more be upon Christ Jesus, even to all eternity. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Ascension Day Sermon

Ascension Day Observed – May 12th and 13th, 2018 – Luke 24

Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, alleluia!
So, this is how Luke's Gospel ends, how the book of Acts begins – Christ Jesus wraps up His teaching to the disciples and ascends into heaven, there to “be seated at the right hand of the Father”. That phrase is an old fashioned way of saying that Christ Jesus has ascended to heaven and rules all of creation – being seated is the ancient sign that you are ruling and in charge – a judge sits today, or a king sits and makes pronouncements from the throne. And at the right hand of the Father – well, your “right hand man” is the one who actually does all the stuff for you. Jesus' Ascension does not mean that He has gone far, far away and left us all alone; it means, it is a confession that right now, this moment, Christ Jesus – True God and True Man actively rules the entire world. That He has the whole world in His hands. That He remains the LORD of history, that in fact (as Matthew's Gospel ends), all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him.

So... now what? Jesus has had His great triumphal ascension, but what about us? Right now? Here we are, living in Illinois in 2018, what does Jesus ascension years ago have to do with the price of tea in China, much less the price of gas in Herscher? The answer, my friends, in reality is everything. Jesus tells the disciples two important things before He ascends, and these shape everything in our lives – both what goes on in here, in this place, in the church – but also what goes on in our lives outside those doors. But before we get there, let's consider Jesus' lesson to the disciples and us.

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.” Jesus starts with a basic, fundamental assertion – that He has done everything, that the entire Old Testament drives to the coming of Christ Jesus to win salvation. The Word of God by whom all things were made would rescue and redeem His creation, His people, His world. And everything would drive to Christ. In fact, Jesus sums up the point of the Old Testament thusly – Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and said to them, “Thus is it written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead....” Everything in the Old Testament is driving to that point, rushing towards Good Friday. Christ Jesus, the Word of God, will redeem creation. He will enter into the suffering caused by sin and death and the fall, He will take it all up, even die – so that He can defeat it, fix it, and rise from the dead. And all the Old Testament is about that. Why does Abraham become the father of many nations – that's how the Messiah could come. Why does God deliver Israel from Egypt – that's how the Messiah would come. Why does David defeat Goliath – that's how the Messiah would come. All of it – whether it's wickedness smacked down or the lowly raised – all to ensure the coming of Christ Jesus. And all the prophecies, the foreshadowing – that was so that we would recognize His coming. The Scriptures point to Christ Jesus. And even the New Testament Scriptures, written after Christ's ascension, they all point and drive back to Christ's coming, His death and resurrection – with just a touch of a reminder that He will come again. The scriptures are fundamentally the story of Christ Jesus winning salvation for you. That is fundamental. That is lesson one.

And since the Scriptures are the story of Christ – since Jesus has risen from the dead, what happens? Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning in Jersusalem. Jesus has done all that He has done so that repentance and forgiveness would be proclaimed. This is the point and purpose of the Church – this is why Jesus calls the Apostles, this is what the Apostles do come Pentecost, this is what the Christian and Apostolic Church does even to this day and by the grace of God will continue to do until Christ Jesus returns. Preach repentance and forgiveness. Repentance – this is the preaching that points out that you are out of alignment, that you are crooked, that you are sinful. Preaching repentance deals with sin. So why preaching repentance – well first, because sin is bad. How's that for an earth shattering statement – sin is bad. But it is. To engage in wickedness doesn't really work out right. There are all sorts of stupid things that we are tempted to do, and they don't really work out right in the end. Some we can laugh off – ah, Pastor Brown was tempted toward gluttony and more cake – look at his belly. Laugh... until it become diabetes. Cause sin often tends to spiral out of control when left unchecked. And then, of course, there are the things that aren't funny at all. The things Pastor doesn't mention off-handedly in a sermon – the anger, or jealousy, or lust, or greed that pops up. The things that left unchecked bubble and boil up and really do serious damage, that ruin relationships and opportunities and lives. Things that get you fired, kicked out of the house, and cut off from family and friends. That's what sin, our sin, unchecked leads to. We acknowledge that – we confessed it – we confessed that we “justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.” Temporal – now, in time, I know my sin and it has led me into some lousiness right now – I got out of line and the chickens have come home to roost. And yeah, eternal punishment – if left to my own devices that's where I'll end up. And so repentance is proclaimed, because we need repentance, we need to see our sin for what it is – because the worst sin is the one where you don't think you're sinning, where you think you're right and you just keep charging on and doing it without remorse and without a second thought – and it gets worse and worse. That's not what God wants for you, so repentance will be preached.

But not just repentance – also forgiveness. Forgiveness won by Christ Jesus. When we actually think about our sin, what it's like – we can get scared. That's why most people don't actually think about sin, that's why most people just brush it aside, or it's always someone else's fault, or society's fault. If I'm the donkey and the tail is pinned on me, that is terrifying. And so the Church is to proclaim forgiveness, the forgiveness won by Christ Jesus. How does God view you – does God view you with hatred and disdain? No. He doesn't like sin, He wants you kept from it, He knows how bad it is – and that is why Christ Jesus came, to take up your sin – the things that tempt you, the things that you have done, the things that mess with the life that He has given you – and He takes it all to the Cross and puts it to death and kills your sin. He does away with it. The Father doesn't choose to smite you – He takes your sin and places it upon Jesus instead and smites Him. Jesus can take it. And Jesus will have forgiveness proclaimed. Your sin is actually and truly done away with in the sight of God. It's not your sin anymore, it is taken away. This doesn't mean sin is now good – no, its still stupid and painful – but God's not going to get rid of you or cast you off into hell, He's not going to abandon you. He is going to love you... steadfastly and firmly and resolutely, because you are forgiven. You are washed in the blood of the lamb, you are baptized and clothed with Christ's righteousness, you are His spotless bride to whom He gives everlasting life in a new heavens and a new earth, because this old one just will not do for such a bride as you. And so, you will die and rise to be with Christ. You do that daily, as you fight against your sin day by day – you will do it for good and in full on the day Christ Jesus comes back and you are raised to new and eternal and sinless life.

And that is what the Church proclaims. Repentance and forgiveness. Repentance so that you would not ignore sin and wander into great shame and vice and destroy your faith, forgiveness so that your sin would be removed and your faith increased, your love renewed. That's the pattern – repentance and forgiveness, confession and absolution, crying for mercy and God giving Himself to you. That's how Christ Jesus runs and rules His Church – it's for your good, to see you forgiven.

But I would have you remember something, lest you look at this repentance and forgiveness thing and blow it off, “oh well, it's just one hour of the week, what about the rest of my life out there?” Do you think that repentance and forgiveness doesn't apply out there, isn't relevant there? Remember that Jesus is at the Right Hand of the Father, ruling not just the Church, but the world itself. And here is the reality – in His Holy Church, Jesus not only forgives you much but He also makes you Holy. He fills you with Himself, with the Holy Spirit – and then He sends you out into the world as His holy people. He sends you out as His own agents of holiness in the world. He does good to the world and the people therein through you. Holy and good things. And most of these are just the simple every day things that we do – rightly caring for our friends and family, moms being moms and doing mom things – us all being kind students or faithful workers or gentle bosses. Being patient with people when in their folly they sin (like getting you a really lousy mother's day gift or forgetting it all together) and forgiving them as Christ has forgiven you. These are holy things, these are godly things that Christ Jesus works in us and through for the sake of the world. If we could see or understand the mighty workings of God through even the simplest things in our lives, we would be dumbstruck is awe. And yet, as we are not yet to our own resurrection where this all will go utterly smoothly, we run into sin – other people's sin and our own sin. And we get battered and bruised when we fight the good fight – you bang a couple of swords against each other and the edges get chipped and dinged and dulled. And so our Lord calls us back to His Church, and you guessed it – repentance and forgiveness. The dings are straightened out, they are rebent, repented – and you are polished and good as new and sent out again to live your holy life, precious and loved by God. You still belong to Him and He still puts you to His good use – to love, to serve, to pray, to care for others and to receive care from them – to show forth all the fruits of the Spirit that He brings forth in you over and against your sin. Because your life is in Christ Jesus.

And so my friends in Christ, our LORD's ascension does not mean that He has left us, or forgotten about us. Nope – He still comes to us in His Word, in His Supper, and He deals with our sin in love, forgives us and makes us His servants, servants who show forth His love. And this is all going on around us all the time, even though now we only see this dimly as through a foggy mirror. But your LORD who ascended will return, and you will rise and you will see this all clearly and face to face for all eternity. Of course you will, for Christ is Risen – He is risen indeed, alleluia.