Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost Sermon

Pentecost Sunday – John 14:23-31 – May 31st

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
The day of Pentecost is finally here. The day when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles, and there in the temple they began to speak in tongues, speak so that every foreign worshipper who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival held 50 days after Passover could hear and understand in their own native language the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The events of Acts 2 are one of the more picturesque in the New Testament – the rushing wind, tongues of flame, huge crowds – and the scene can be so dramatic, so eye opening that we forget the main point. Partially, it’s the way we handle the readings – we start going through Acts – and Peter starts to preach, and he gives his introduction, quotes from Joel – see, God has poured out His Spirit. . . and then. . .we stop. Well, why does God pour out the Holy Spirit? Oh, man, you will hear lots and lots of wretched answers to that question in the world. In fact, I can’t stand seeing any of the stuff on TV or the radio, the answers are so horrid. “The Spirit proves to others that you are a Christian, the Spirit tells you which stocks to buy, the Spirit tells you when to plant your crop, the Spirit lets you have your best life now.” Rubbish. If you want to know why God sends the Holy Spirit, you might do well to listen to Peter. Peter’s next words, verses 22-24, show us why the Holy Spirit is given that Pentecost day. “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 yourself 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 raise Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” Do you see? Yes, Peter says, “It’s okay, I’m not drunk, I have the Holy Spirit – now listen to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus.” That’s the movement, that’s the direction that this goes – the wonder of Pentecost isn’t just that the Holy Spirit comes – but rather, as the sermon concludes in verse 36, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Jesus is True God and True Man – Lord and Christ – so repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sin. The Holy Spirit is there so this truth may be proclaimed and believed.

Do you see the movement there? The Spirit always moves people to focus on Christ? The Spirit always moves people towards repentance and forgiveness. This is the great wonder and joy – this is the great comfort that we have – for we have received the Holy Spirit, indeed, He is here now, active in our midst. And what for? To focus our eyes upon Christ and His forgiveness, so that we might endure this life and be saved. This is what the Holy Spirit does – The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to shape us and keep us in faith in Christ Jesus. Simple as that. As wondrous as that. The Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in Christ through the Word of God – as wonderful a gift as there can be, and anything more that people want the Spirit to do – avoid it – because they are probably selling you something. The Spirit always points to Christ, the Spirit is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – and if it doesn’t lead, if it doesn’t move towards Christ – it isn’t the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord spells this out for us in our Gospel lesson. 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. The focus, the thrust, is being in the Word of God. The heart of being a Christian is being in God’s Word, is hearing forgiveness proclaimed, is living as the Baptized and being United to Christ in the Lord’s Supper – all the stuff that happens here – because this is precisely where God comes to you who abide in His Word and makes His home with you. Literally, this is where God has made His home with you, this is where God comes to you in Word and Sacrament – this is where you receive over and over God’s love for the forgiveness of your sin. And the Holy Spirit is the One who makes all this happen, who works faith, makes it real. 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. As a Christian, you are to be in the Word – and what does the Holy Spirit do? He teaches the Word. He makes you to remember the things that Christ has taught you – what His law teaches so that you learn to see your sin and repent, and His Holy Gospel, so that you know that your salvation rests upon the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. That’s the movement, that’s the way the Holy Spirit works. The working of the Holy Spirit is no mystery – it’s wondrous, it’s mysterious in the fact that God is so far above us and His mercies to us are mind-boggling – but it’s no mystery in terms of where and how the Holy Spirit works. The Holy Spirit works in the Word, He works in the Sacraments – He works whenever Christ is proclaimed and given for the forgiveness of sins – so that you might be brought to faith and kept in the faith.

We know where the Holy Spirit works – and this is indeed wondrous. See how wondrous it is. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. When the world gives, it always expects something back. You wash my back, I’ll wash yours. If I do the work, I expect to get paid. Kindness ought to be returned. That’s the way we think in the world. You give someone a hand when they need it, you sort of expect them to help you out in return – this for that. That’s not how Christ gives. He gives His peace freely, without any demands, without any expectations of what you must do for Him. When the Holy Spirit works faith in you – the purpose, the point of this, isn’t to get you fired up, it’s purpose isn’t to suddenly make you happy worker bees for Jesus so He gets His due. Yes, Christians do good works, but that’s not the main point. God isn’t worry primarily about what He’s going to get out of you – He’s concerned for your care and well-being. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. Again, do you see the focus that Christ has upon you, on having you calm and secure and trusting in Him? This is the goal of the Spirit – to see that the Peace of God that calms the troubled heart and bolsters when fearful dwells in you richly.

And sadly, this is what we so often neglect. Think of the times when you have had opportunity to be in the Word, when you’ve had the opportunity to let the Holy Spirit work upon you, be it at home in your own studies and devotions, or be it gathering together here with your brothers and sisters in Christ at God’s House – and it just flies by the wayside. When you’ve decided that there is just something other better to do. This is the struggle we face in the world. Satan knows exactly what God desires for you, he knows how God works – and so Satan will work on you, will try to distract you and give you every reason in the book not to be in the Word – and when you abandon the Word, when you neglect it – you are cutting yourself off from the Spirit, you are cutting yourself off from God’s peace. And what is left, then, but all the fear that is part and parcel of this world, all the anguishes and anxieties of this life. And when you aren’t in the Word, those ills just loom larger, and larger – Satan makes them grow and grow until they are the only thing you can see. That is what our old evil foe tries to do – to wave his arms and distract you in this life with the cares of this world so that you are too busy, too hurt, too tired to be in God’s Word – to be refreshed by the Spirit.

But God is merciful – God too knows the trials Satan throws at people in this world, and so, look what God does. He has people proclaim His Word – Apostles in the temple, Pastors in pulpits all around the world, parents to their children, friends to their friends. The Holy Spirit works though people, works in the people in your lives so that you hear the Word, that you receive that peace and encouragement that comes from knowing Jesus’ love and forgiveness, and then He makes you to be speakers of that same Word, so that others iny our lives likewise are refreshed. The Holy Spirit sees that you are cared for by the Word being spoken by others – and then sees that other people are cared for by the Word which He brings forth from your lips. There is a movement – what we receive we also give out, what we get we distribute. The love and peace which you receive from the Word wells up out and over us into all aspects of your lives, so that wherever you go, you go as a Baptized Christian, forgiven and confident in God’s love – a living witness to this truth. You have forgiveness and peace which you receive through the Word and the Supper, forgiveness and peace which you receive through the working of the Holy Spirit. God grant that He keep us in His Word so that we dwell always in His love. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What a thing is. . .

A theologian of the Cross calls a thing what it is. This is part and parcel of the Lutheran ideal - to be honest and blunt about things (in a loving fashion). However, sometimes I think we can get caught up simply on names and terminology - in our desire for precision (especially as pastors who desire to call a thing what it is) we can end up focusing more on the name of something rather than what it is.

For example - consider the common lament about the lack of Private Confession and Absolution. Pastors will set the times they will be available and no one will come - they are scared to come, they don't think they need it. . . on and on.

Yet, if we look at the rite of Private Confession, the lead in to the confession is "What troubles me particularly is that. . . " Hmmm. . . gee, do we Pastors ever have people come to us with their troubles, with their difficulties. Do they ever ask for counselling? If so, what they are really asking for is Confession and Absolution (even if they don't know it), and what you will do is yes, give advice, yes, get the heart of the problem, but you had probably also better absolve.

And people have a sense of this - because if they come to you for advice they expect what they say to be sealed and held in confidence. . . which is what you swore about what you heard Confessed. We don't call it Confession and Absolution (and perhaps we ought), people don't think of it as Confession and Absolution (we don't default to assuming that if I have troubles part of it is my sinful actions) - but it's set up right there.

There are other things too - we get hung up on terminology and jargon, rather than the substance of a thing - and no one understands. It's not that people haven't confessed - it's that they haven't gone through a rite - and the rite is simply a tool. Ah well, thus is life.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ascension Observed

In the Name of our Ascended Lord and Savior Christ Jesus, Amen
The Ascension of our Lord is one of those Christian Holidays that sadly in this country has become vastly overlooked. Today, no one thinks about the importance of the Ascension – we are still coming off of our Easter high, and we are maybe looking forward to Pentecost. The Ascension of our Lord seems as but a small speed bump on the way. It wasn’t always that way. Ascension is properly last Thursday – and you’d get as many people showing up on that day as you might for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. It’s mentioned in the Creed – Who ascended into heaven and sits at the right Hand of the Father, from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. That’s a lot of the Creed for this day. And the Ascension hymns – today we sang “A Hymn of Glory Let us Sing” – one of the great hymns of Christian History. Though we seem to have abandoned it today, in the past there was such a focus on the Ascension – it’s even the picture we have on our Altar – such a focus on the Ascension.
Why? Why was this day considered so important? You just sang the answer – On Christ’s Ascension I now build the hopes of my Ascension. The idea, the importance, is that the Ascension is the proof that all that Christ has done, all that He has accomplished is good, is complete. See, He’s ascended into heaven – at this moment Christ Jesus, true God and True Man – note that, True Man – dwells in heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, on the day of Ascension, strides through the gates of heaven. As He, as that True Man is in heaven now, we men, we folks here, know and have the proof that we will be brought through those same gates of heaven on account of Christ, that we will not only rise as Christ did on Easter, but we shall be welcomed into heaven as Christ entered the Father’s Kingdom on the day of the Ascension. That’s the importance of this day, and it spills out in what Christ teaches the Apostles in our text.
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.” The Old Testament constantly and continually shows two things – it shows the devastating results of sin, and it points to the Savior who would rescue us from that sin. The consequences of sin is all over in the Old Testament – from Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, slavery, wars, exiles, affairs, murder – and all the pain and anguish. The Old Testament constantly shows how the world is evil and wicked, and how even those who fear and worship God fall into vice, are abused in this world, are in need of rescue. But whenever there is a focus on these things going poorly, God gives a promise as well. The Messiah will come. He will save. He will crush the Serpent’s head, He will reign forever. The Messiah will come and He will win salvation for His people, He will be their righteousness and their God. That is what is pointed to, that is the promise. And what does Christ say? Everything must be fulfilled – everything in the Old Testament that spoke to what Christ would do, from Genesis to Malachi – all of it needed to be done. Jesus is not going to leave the job half done – Jesus isn’t going to give things a good start and then leave it up to us to finish the rest. It must be fulfilled – otherwise Jesus still has more work to do, more things to accomplish.
Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and 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 of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” And it has been done, it has been accomplished. Christ has suffered, and Christ has risen. The work, the things needed for salvation, everything that is required, everything that pertains to Salvation – accomplished. Completed. Done. And the proof, the evidence of this – While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. Nothing more remains for Christ to do in order to accomplish salvation – the sins of the world have been paid for. Every sin, everything you’ve done, every lingering bit of guilt you have – Christ has paid for that already. Every sin you’ve suffered, every thing that someone has done to you, every hurt that you’ve received – Christ has paid for that already. Done. This is the reality that we see confirmed when we consider our Lord’s Ascension. There is no sin that Christ has not dealt with. Full forgiveness has been won – and there’s nothing more left for Christ to do regarding sin, regarding salvation. It is finished.
This can be hard to believe, sometimes, can it not? This is the way in which Satan attacks us, Satan tries to beat us down. Do you feel lingering guilt for your sin? Do the sins of your past loom large? That’s Satan working on you – trying to tell you that your sin is too big, that it still lingers on, that it’s not done away with. But Christ has ascended – and that means your sin is taken care of. Do you feel lingering grudges and hatreds? Do the wrongs of the past that you have suffer loom large? Again – that’s Satan working on you. That is Satan trying to tell you that what you suffer isn’t taken up by Christ’s suffering, that what others have done towards you is unforgivable. Yet Christ has ascended – and so there is no reason for us to bear any grudge towards anyone for anything – all sin is covered. Everything that Christ was to do – it is fulfilled. This is the idea of objective justification – that because Christ has died and risen again all sin of all time has been paid for – there remains no punishment for it. We need not live in fear of our sin – for Christ has saved us. We need not live in fear of what others have done or will do to us – for Christ has saved us. We need not hold on to hatreds – for Christ has died, even for those people who have wronged us. He has died for them, even if they don’t know, even if they don’t care. It is all fulfilled – see Christ has ascended. Nothing remains, no stone unturned, no sin left uncovered. Christ has done it all and He has done it well. Period. And whenever Satan tweaks us, as He so loves to do, we are to flee to Christ, see and remember what He has accomplished, so that we can have peace, so that we can live in confidence of our forgiveness, our victory in Christ.
And it is not merely a victory just for us. Christ won this victory for all, and He would have all come to faith in Him, would have us all be in Him. How are they brought to faith? Same way we are. This faith, this growth in the Christian faith, comes by the Word – the Word of repentance and the Word of forgiveness. We who are of the Christian faith – we need this Word preached to us. We need to repent – for we still daily sin, do we not? We still daily let the sins of others affect us, and we use their sin as an excuse or reason not to show love, and so we become even more vile and wretched than them, do we not? When Christ’s Word brings us to repentance – when He pulls us away from our selfish desires, when He cools the heat of our anger and closes the book on our grudges – we see what truly remains – that Christ has won forgiveness, and that Christ’s forgiveness is the highest reality in our lives. This is why we, we ourselves, need repentance and forgiveness preached to us. And seeing this, knowing this need for repentance and knowing the freeing beauty of forgiveness is what prepares us for service to others in this world.
Christ’s victory, Christ’s forgiveness isn’t just our prize, it is that which He won for all – and when we see it, when we know it – then we are able to speak it, to share it, to proclaim it to the people we know in our own lives. Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations. There is no great mystery to how this is done, how this happens. God works through His Word – and quite often it is His Word upon the lips and tongues of His people – not only Pastors – heaven forbid that Christ’s cross be spoken only in this place by me – but mothers and fathers teaching their children – that is God placing His Word upon His people’s lips, friends telling their friends – God at work, neighbors to neighbor – God at work. When you know, when you are focused upon what Christ has done for you, when you see what a benefit it is to you – then you are ready to speak, then Christ has prepared you and given you what is needed. The Word that you speak is not your own Word – it’s Christ’s Word, the Word that He has given to you, the Word that you have learned, have study, have grown in. You merely say what you yourself know – and the Holy Spirit will work in it when and where He pleases. And this is where we are at – we are those people who strive to grow in knowledge of God’s Word, grow in understanding repentance and forgiveness, and then God will use us to speak it to others. When we understand the depth of our own sin, how it traps and messes with us – we will have compassion upon our neighbor who is trapped in sin – and more importantly, in knowing how Christ has freed us, we will be able to point them to their freedom in Christ as well. And we can do this confidently – because we know that Christ has done everything, that all is accomplished – when we speak we speak with confidence – Everything is accomplished by Christ – we simply understand what that means more and more, and we speak so that others might understand more and more as well. We speak, hoping that they too will stride through the gates of heaven with us, all following our ascended Lord.
So thus today, as we celebrate the Ascension, we truly celebrate the security of the Christian faith – the fact that Christ Jesus has done all that is required for our the salvation of mankind – that we can live in that salvation confidently – that Christ will draw our eyes off of sin and unto Himself. The fact that this salvation is for all people, and that Christ will be with us when we share this saving truth with others. This is the hope that is shown on this Ascension day – the hope that is ours every day until the Christ who rose to heaven descends on the Last Day to call forth all believers to His side for all eternity. God, keep us in the faith and give us and our neighbors growth in the same faith until that day. Amen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Forgetting we are a remnant

The great danger to Christianity is expecting the glorious revolution - where God will raise up a "great leader" who will take us to the promise land and we will have earthly glory. This even impacts us who desire to be honest Lutherans - we see the theological tomfoolery done by those who share our name, and we can begin dreaming about the day when the changes will come - if this person gets elected, if this measure doesn't pass, if we all go off on our own and start over - then things will be great!

We forget that on this earth the faithful will have tribulation. Period. There is no glorious revolution in terms of what the eye can see. We see this from the Scriptures.

Moses lead folks to the promise land. But they all died in the desert.
David led the Kingdom of Israel. And his own son rebelled against him.
Elijah defeated the priests of Ba'al. Then he had to flee for his life.
The prophets preached on and all. Then the kingdoms fell and we taken into exile.
Christ came preaching and healing. Then they shouted Crucify.
The Apostles (misused heroes of tacky pop books) went out. Then they were martyred.

Or even Church History.

Ignatius of Antioch - martyred.
Ireneaus of Lyon - only got to write because his predecessor was slaughtered.
Athanasius, who helped defend the Nicene Creed (which was attack for 60+ years even after the good convention) - spent over 17 years in exile.
The Venerable Bede - had to deal with Vikings.
Martin Luther - couldn't even get all of Germany - instead Rome becomes more adamant and then you have all the Protestant spinoffs doing crazy things.
Johann Gerhardt - life in the 30 years war was nasty.
Walther - the beginnings in the US were horrid, and then at the end of his life the Synodical Conference crumbles when Ohio leaves, prepping the way for all the mess of the 20th Century.

This is the fact - the Lord will always preserve for himself a remnant - and it won't be a hidden remnant - it won't be a remnant off on it's own in it's own holy land - it will be a remnant in the world but not of the world.

Do not seek peace in the world. We won't have it. Do not seek glory in the world. That is not the Light which we ought to seek. Rather - be faithful, and pray that God would give you endurance.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Easter 6 sermon

. . . posted today because after a morning pre-marriage session, I'll be headed down to Norman to meet up with my 2 of my best buds from college and don't know when I will get back in -- not too late, but I may want to sleep in tomorrow.

Easter 6 – May 17th, 2009 – John 16:23-33

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
Today in our Gospel, our Lord instructs us about prayer – what prayer is, what prayer is useful for. And this is a text that can get a lot of people in trouble, it’s a text that the televangelists and the prosperity Gospel people take and run with. After all, our Lord says, Until now you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. Oh, well, look at that! Ask and we will receive! Full Joy! Why, it’s better than Santa at Christmas! We hear these words of our Lord, and suddenly there’s that part of us in our mind that starts looking at prayer like a giant gift certificate, like a blank check where we can just go and get whatever we want, where we can get whatever joys we seek.

What brings you joy? Honestly, what brings you joy? When we hear our Lord say, Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full, what sort of things, what sort of joys do you think of? Now, if your pastor were to ask you that, you’d probably put on the brave face and think of all the good, kind things that a person can want. Ah yes, family brings me joy. Ah yes, just lovely weather, that brings me joy. We become the equivalent of the beauty pageant gal who says, “I just want world peace.” Sure, those are all good things – but don’t think in terms of sounding good and nice – what are the things that bring you joy? There are plenty of things in this life that do bring us joy – I enjoy good food, or baseball. Family is a joy. But on this earth – they aren’t simply joys, are they often twisted into things that are painful. Your family ever get you down? Ever enjoy your food a bit too much, a bit too often? And I’m a Cubs fan, don’t even get me started on baseball. But even beyond that – let’s be really, really honest. Are there things in this life that bring you joy that are wrong? Seeing someone whose been mean to you get their comeuppance? Turning the tables on someone who is mean. The annoying person at work gets fired so you don’t have to deal with them anymore? And that’s just in that “crush your enemies” category, what about things like sexual desires, or coveting – all sorts of wicked little joys that we sinful boys and girls like to play around with. This isn’t me wagging a holier-than-thou finger at you – same stuff applies to me, too. Rather, think about what comes along with being a sinful human being. There are things that we think are joyful that really aren’t – there are perverse things which we delight in.

This should come as no surprise, but this is not the joy that Christ our Lord is talking about. But it needs to be said. Too often, when we think of joy, we jump automatically to earthly pleasures and delights – even if we try to clean up those delights. And in so doing, we set our sights too low, and in so doing we miss out on true joy. We miss the point of joy that cannot be taken away. Consider our Old Testament lesson as an example of how sinful folk miss the point. And the people spoke against God and against Moses. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” What are the people of Israel focused on? Their wants and desires – they think with their bellies, with their passions, with their desires. No food? God gives you manna and quail. . . oh, right, well, we hate this worthless food that God has given us. We wish we were back in Egypt. Where you were slaves? Where you were beaten? Where your sons were slaughtered at birth and your daughters vilely abused? That Egypt? The people of Israel are simply focused on earthly pleasures – and their focus even has skewed them on earthly things. Do you really think it is worth it – being a slave, beaten and slaughtered – just to get a little more variation in your diet? Do you really think abandoning the promised land is worth it? They became so focused on their wants, their desires, what they thought would bring them joy, that they completely disregarded God. And we see that God doesn’t take too kindly to this – the fiery serpents come, chomp on them for a bit – and then the people realize that they have done wrong – they ask for mercy, and God gives mercy. But the people of Israel made things awfully hard on themselves because they focused and acted on what they wanted.

When we read our Gospel text, whenever we hear things along the lines of ask and ye shall receive, we need to pause and remember that this is not God giving us carte blanche to do what we want – this isn’t God saying, “Whatever makes you happy.” This promise isn’t just about making your life the best that it can be where you are the envy of everyone. Jesus is honest saying that this life won’t be all sunshine and daisies – at the end of this text He says again, “In the World you will have tribulation.” This promise that what we ask for will be received, this gift of prayer, it’s not a way to just satisfy the belly. No, God is giving us this promise to point us to, to bring us to a joy that is beyond the broken joys and the greed laced desires of this life. We so often shoot right by the key point – and it’s something that we even close our prayers with here and we miss it. Listen again. “Until now you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Until now. . . what? We have not asked in Christ’s Name. So what does that mean pastor, we just add on “in Jesus’ Name” at the end of the prayer and they become the magic words that mean that God will give us whatever? Nope. Rather this – what does it mean to ask in Christ’s Name? To ask in Christ’s Name means to ask at His command and with His authority. It ties prayer to Baptism. It is at Baptism, it is at the font where you are brought into Christ’s Name, where you are made part of His family – where you are given the gifts of life and salvation and forgiveness – these things are all yours – these are the things that are yours in the Name of Christ Jesus – and when they are obscured, when the world beats down upon you and tries to convince you that salvation isn’t real, that Christianity is a pipe dream, when guilt burdens you - ask and you will receive. Ask in Christ’s Name – ask as one of the Baptized for the things that God gives the Baptized, and you will receive.

That phrase “in the Name” describes really what is going on. “In the Name” denotes authority. The classic example of this is the policeman saying, “Stop, in the Name of the Law.” You are to stop because someone who has been given the authority of exercising the Law uses that authority. But if you misuse that authority – it’s not any good. A cop can’t walk into the donut shop and say, “Give me 5 bear claws for free in the Name of the Law!” It’s outside this authority to do that. Likewise, when Jesus instructs us to pray in His Name, it’s not a command or promise that we get whatever – but rather, we have been given the command and authority to ask for what we have been promised, to know that we will have it. God beholds us in Christ, and gives us all the blessings of Christ – and He will give them anew and again whenever we call for them.

This is why our Lord concludes this section saying, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Do you see what our Lord is saying? Jesus knows that the world is full of suffering and pain – take refuge in Him, like in the promises of your baptism – and then you will have peace, you will have joy that even the lousy things of this life cannot take away. This is all about being whom God made you to be when He washed you in the waters of Baptism. Christian joy flows from knowing God’s love in Christ Jesus, from being in Christ and knowing that He has overcome the world, that eternal life and salvation are ours.

But this joy is not just a spiritual one – it also applies to the physical – not in the sense that because we are Christians God will give us whatever we want – but because we are Christians, because we are baptized – we see that the Father is well pleased for with the Son – and so we know that He is well pleased with us as well – we know and trust that He will care for us, that He will provide for us what is good. We are free to pray – and we will pray for many things. The blessings of baptism, the fruits of the Spirit, we pray knowing that these are ours. Blessings in the physical world, be it success, be it safety, be it healing, we are free to pray for these as well, knowing that if the Father desires us to have these things they will be for our good, or if He sends us something else, that too is for our good. This is what it means to pray in the Name of Jesus – listen for that today in the prayer of the Church, in the Lord’s Prayer, in the prayer after communion. When God focuses us upon Christ, when His Word beats down our sinful wandering desires and His forgiveness returns us to Him – we have joy, we have confidence, we have peace. Because we are forgiven, because we are united to Christ, because we are in His Name by the gift of Baptism, we have constant access to peace, to joy which surpasses any earthly pleasure. God keep us in Christ, so that this joy may be ours in full. Amen.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Directionally Challenged

Here is the brief thought for the morning. Many times heretics would have you do the right thing, only for the wrong reason. That is what makes heresy so perverse - the actions, the externals can seem fine, but the falseness rots one away from inside.

Take prayer. There is much talk about prayer and why one ought to pray often. One should pray often. But why? There are three major options I can think of today.
1. Prosperity - God said ask and you shall receive, so get to asking so you can start getting the blessings from the Almighty.
2. Combat - Christians ought to be prayer warriors, those who fight off Satan and his minions with the power of prayer - so get to praying.
3. Trust/Union - When a Christian prays, the Christian learns more and more to place his trust in God, learns more and more to look beyond this world of sin and to behold the true union that God's children have in Christ.

Sadly, 1 and 2 are the ones I hear the most of the time. . . and there's just a grain of truth to them. Yes, if we have a desire, we should take it to God. Yes, our prayers do combat Satan. But note the shift in focus - instead of prayer being a matting of placing things in God's hands, prayer becomes (in 1 and 2) an action, a burden, something that you better do and do well otherwise the consequences will be dire. The focus has shifted entirely from God onto my actions. The crack is made -- and the first time prosperity fails, the first time someone isn't healed by my prayer combat. . . doubt creeps in. Sometimes it's doubt in me (do I have a strong enough faith), sometimes it's doubt in God (why didn't You do what I wanted, God?). Either way, a gaping hole forms in our armor.

That's what Heresy always does - even if you do something that is okay, it twists the focus to where things are shattered and ruined.

Don't look just at what someone does (or tells you to do) - look at why. Satan is cunning, and his works often look fine.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Today's Easter 5 Sermon

. . . in which I don't mention mothers at all. . . partially because I don't do a special Mother's Day sermon, but mainly because I had a funeral Tuesday, and as such, the fact that *Sunday* was Mother's Day didn't even dawn on me.

Sometimes in my mind there is a divide between Church time and World time. That's good - and sometimes, it's not.

Easter 5 – May 10th, 2009 – John 16:5-15

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia – Amen
As Christ our Lord speaks to the Disciples Maundy Thursday evening in our Gospel text, He is preparing them for the life in the Church after Pentecost. Our Lord is preparing them for how things will work when they are no longer His disciples but His Apostles, how things will work even as they do now, in the time of the Church. When Christ has ascended, then the Helper, the Holy Spirit will come. I will send Him to you. And of course, we see this happen on Pentecost, and we are part of the Pentecost Church, even unto this very day. So this morning, we will give ear to the Words of our Lord and see what we learn about the Holy Spirit and how He works.

First, we need to remember that there is a tie, a connection between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Sometimes today there is this idea that the Holy Spirit just runs around like a wild, loose cannon, sometimes just randomly popping up and zapping us, or sometimes just completely disappearing until we flap our arms and get His attention. But that’s not the case. In Scripture, our Lord always ties the Holy Spirit to Himself, to His Word. Lets consider what our Lord says. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. Do you hear the connection and tie? The Holy Spirit is the Helper who is sent by Christ – there is order, there is structure there. The Holy Spirit isn’t running around like some kid on a sugar high, bouncing off the walls – He is working to Help, He is working as He is sent by Christ. You aren’t going to have the Holy Spirit doing things apart from or unrelated to Christ.

Or consider this – I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. Again, do you see the connection between the Spirit and Christ? The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – and so if the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, He is the Spirit of Christ. If the Spirit is the Giver of Life, He is tied to Christ. And specifically here, we see Christ telling us that the Spirit is tied to the Word. The Holy Spirit will speak forth the Word of God, He will speak forth Christ, He will take Christ and proclaim Christ forth. And when does this happen? In the writing of the New Testament – when the Holy Spirit carried along the Gospel Writers and the Epistle writers and had them speak forth, write down all these things which Christ says to us in His Word. The Holy Spirit is tied to the Word. Christ, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit – these two always work together. One of the fathers in the early Church referred to Christ and the Spirit as the Hands of God – the Hands that work together. We see this at Creation – what’s going on at Creation? The Father speaks – see the Word, and things happen. The Spirit is there as well, hovering over the deep, breathing in the breath of life – because the Spirit and the Word go hand in hand.

Thus, if we want to know where the Holy Spirit is, where He is present, where He is active – we know it is wherever the Word of God is. When we study the Holy Scriptures – the Holy Spirit is there. When we pray, that is when we speak back to God His own Word, when we pray as He has taught us to – the Holy Spirit is there – indeed, it is the Holy Spirit who is doing the praying, for as Romans teaches us, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” When we speak out Christ’s Words to others, we know that the Holy Spirit is there, in fact, we know that it is the Holy Spirit who is doing it - For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. God works through the Word, and the Holy Spirit always attends that Word and is active through the Word. Whenever the Spirit is working, it’s always with and through God’s Word. Simple as that.

And our Lord Jesus even tells us what work the Spirit will do through the Word, what we can expect the Holy Spirit to accomplish through the Word of God. Our Lord says, “And when He comes He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” Three things the Spirit will convict, will concretely speak about – sin and righteousness and judgment. So let’s look at these three things. To begin, sin. Concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me. The Holy Spirit will cut to the heart of the matter when dealing with sin. All sin is a violation of the First Commandment – Thou Shall Have No Other Gods before Me. All sin is not believing, is ignoring God, ignoring Christ Jesus the very Word of God, and instead doing what you yourself want. And part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to convict people of their sin. The Holy Spirit is why the Law of God works – why God’s Law will thump you when you’ve done wrong. The Holy Spirit, using God’s Word, will let you know when you’ve gone astray, will call you repentance. That’s one of the things He does.

Another is that the Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father. Strange things can happen when we start talking about righteousness here in the world. If we want to talk about our own righteousness, how we in and of ourselves are righteous – then the Holy Spirit is going to smack us down. The truth that the Scriptures tell is that there is not one who is righteous, no, not one – that all our works are as but filthy rags, that no man many boast. If we wish to point to our own righteousness, the Spirit will show us that we are wrong and in error, that we are of ourselves unrighteous. However, the Spirit also shows us where righteousness truly is – and that is in Christ. Note again what Christ says, “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father.” When Christ rises from the dead, when He ascends, this is the ultimate proof that He is righteous, that Christ Jesus is the righteous One – and more over, that by the power of the Word Christ’s righteousness is made our righteousness – that God considers us to be righteous on account of Christ Jesus – and the Holy Spirit, by the power of the Gospel, creates faith and ties us to Christ, ties us to Christ’s righteousness – so that we receive what is Christ’s as our own. This is the heart of our faith – that we who were sinners are made righteous in Christ because Christ is righteous. This is why we over and over proclaim that God is righteous, that He is just. Because God is Just, He makes us just – He justifies us. We are justified by grace through faith – and this faith comes how? By hearing the Word of God, the same Word that the Spirit works in. This is where it all ties together – life and forgiveness and salvation are all made ours by the Holy Spirit working through the Word, taking what is Christ’s and giving it to us.

And finally, the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. The Holy Spirit will speak a Word of comfort to us while we are still in this world. There are times when being a Christian in this sinful world is hard – when we look and we see ever more and more wickedness. Yet what does the Spirit say to us when we behold the vileness in the world – the ruler of this world is judged – he’s judged, the deed is done, one little word can fell him. This is the great comfort of the Holy Spirit – for it is the Spirit working through the Word that draws our eyes off of the simple, horrid things of life, and rather pulls our eyes unto Christ, so we see everything through Christ – so we at all time remember the death and resurrection of our Lord and know and are focused on His victory.

This is how Christ tells the disciples things will be, and this is how they are, even unto this day. We begin our worship calling upon God, Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit – and we are gathered here around the Word, and the Holy Spirit works through that Word to forgive our sins, to bring us growth in faith. The Holy Spirit then opens our lips so that our mouths might show forth praise, that our lips might speak words of prayer that are pleasing in the sight of God – that we might know forgiveness and comfort, that we might be given joy, that we might be strengthened and enriched in love. And all of this, Christ has promised through His Spirit, whom we find whenever we are in the Word. This is the wisdom of God – that you need never struggle to seek Him, for He has told you where He is to be found – the Spirit of Truth is always present with the Word, and when you hear the Gospel of Christ, the Holy Spirit keeps and sustains you in the true faith, even unto life everlasting, so that you might share for all eternity in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is Risen! (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Self-Centered Growth?

One of the things that disturbs me when I hear it is self-centered growth. "We must grow the Church" people cry. Now, it is true that it is not we who grow the Church but rather God (but that is another post), but sometimes I will respond with "Why?"

A lot of times our desire for a growing Church is self-centered. "We'll die if we don't." "The budget is getting tight." "The other church in town is doing _______ and we need to keep up."

That's all self-centered. That's all about us.

Yes, we are to hope and pray for Growth and to speak out Christ's Word over and over and again and again. . . but not for our sake, but for the sake of those who have not yet been brought to faith. We seek growth, not for our sake, but for the sake of those who have not yet heard.

To many programs and such dealing with growth focus on our growth, the growth of the congregation. That isn't the growth we should worry about - rather, we should pray that the Seed which is the Word of God take root in our neighbor and that they have Growth (indeed, that we ourselves as individuals as well continue to grow).

Lord, defend us from selfish thoughts of growth!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sermon for Easter 4

Easter 4 – May 3rd, 2009 – John 16:16-22

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
Suppose you were to visit your doctor and your doctor were to tell you that you need to have something done, some procedure, and you asked him about it, and he were to smile at you and say to you, “Oh, don’t worry, it won’t hurt a bit.” Call me cynical, but when I hear that, I assume that it is going to hurt like the dickens. And this is just because it seems like so often, for whatever reason, we like to dance around the issue, wave our hands and say, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s nothing,” when it really is. We even come up with neat names for this – it’s “sugar coating” the truth, it’s just trying to spare someone their feelings. No it’s not. It’s giving into fear. Fear that a person won’t be able to handle a harsh truth.

Our Lord does not act out of fear – and when He needs to tell us something, He tells us, even if it is something uncomfortable, even something that we won’t enjoy. Jesus is not one to whisper sweet nothings in our ears – rather, He will tell us how it will be. And that is what we see our Lord doing in our text for this Sunday – indeed, for our Gospel texts for the next three Sundays. Our Lord speaks these words to the Disciples on Maundy Thursday – and some of the things He says are great, and some, some speak to difficulty and challenge. After Easter, after our Lord’s Ascension, things would be different for the disciples, and for them to be able to handle those changes, they needed to know what was going on. Jesus tells them the truth. Likewise, our Lord deals with us squarely, He tells us what to expect so that we can handle it. Let us see what our Lord instructs us today.

A little while, and you will see me no longer, and again, a little while and you will see Me. This throws the disciples all into a fluster. What does Jesus mean – we aren’t going to see Him? That word “see” there has the implication of seeing someone who is around, who is there. In a little while, I won’t be hanging around with you – I’ll be taken away. And Christ here is speaking to His crucifixion. When He speaks these words, His Crucifixion is less than 24 hours away – that little while isn’t long at all. And He admits that it’s coming. There will be a point where you won’t see Me, where I will not be here with you – I’ll be hanging on a tree, I’ll be placed in a tomb. And that’s going to be rough. In fact, Jesus tells the disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” Truly, truly. Blunt and honest. The next few days are going to be hard on you. You will weep. You will lament. And even as you sorrow, you will see the wicked of the world rejoice, you will see crowds jeering and cheering. It will seem as though all the hosts of hell are laughing in your face. In a little while.

Note that Jesus doesn’t soft-sell what is going to happen. Jesus doesn’t pretend that what is coming won’t be horrid, that it won’t impact them, that it isn’t a terribly hard thing. He doesn’t play pretend. Rather this – He instructs the disciples to remember, in their grief, that they will see Him again. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. You will sorrow over Christ’s death, but that sorrow will be banished and done away with when you behold the risen Lord. The change will be dramatic – When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. This is a wonderful image. No woman looks forward to and enjoys labor – let’s just get it done with, let’s get through it – and then, when the labor is done, when the birth is complete – there is only the joy of the child, only the joy of the babe. Same thing – the sorrows of Good Friday yield to the joys of Easter. Those sorrows are real, but they pass, and they are replaced by a wondrous joy.

This is the lesson that our Lord speaks to the disciples on Good Friday, and it is an apt lesson, one that is quite appropriate for the disciples. But now, how does this lesson apply to us? What do we learn from it? First, we learn that we will have hardships in this world. Too often, we want to hide from the truth. We want to think that everything in our life will go our way – that because we are good Christian people that everything will be wonderful. Not so. I’d say that the disciples were better Christians than we are, and if they have to face sorrows, then we certainly will. And the reason for this is simple – we are still in the sinful world, we are still surrounded by those who will cheer on wickedness. In this world, bad things will happen, and then will happen to you. We can’t pretend otherwise, we can’t expect otherwise.

All too often we want to deny this, we want to listen to the people who will simply tell us that everything will come up roses. We can want to delude ourselves – and in so doing we miss out. Christ’s solution isn’t to tell you to close your eyes and hope it all goes away. Rather this – you will have sorrow – but Christ will turn even your sorrow to joy. When we consider our Risen Lord, when we consider that Christ has risen from death – we know what this means. That Christ Jesus has overcome the world, the world in which we face these sorrows, the world in which loved ones die, in which we face pain and suffering, where there are concerns and fears and people seeking our harm – Christ has risen and He has overcome this world – and so we will endure through the sorrows of this life until we share fully in His joy. In fact, knowing our Lord’s victory, knowing His resurrection, this is how God gives us peace, gives us contentment, gives us joy even in the midst of our sorrows – our eyes are drawn to something more wondrous than our present sorrow – they are drawn to Christ.

And as such, our Lord instructs us something else. He shows us how Satan is going to attack us. When we have sorrows, the world will rejoice. The world will be loud and brash, and try to rub it in. The world will try to make it seem as though there is nothing else but sorrow for you, nothing else but problems, try to overwhelm you so that is all that you can see. Doesn’t this happen? I’m sure each of us could tell times of when we were overwrought, overwhelmed, when everything in life seemed against us, seemed to beat down upon us. We’ve all been there – and it was bad, we can’t deny that. But we don’t receive comfort by denying that things are bad, that they are rough – rather this. We are focused upon Christ – we are shown our risen Lord, we are pointed again to the truth that Christ has conquered, that He remains, and thus, even in the midst of our temporal sorrows, we are pointed to the eternal joys that are ours in Christ. Satan tries to make us forget this, but our Lord draws us unto Himself, and so we have gladness.

Ponder with me, for a moment, what a most excellent example of this truth we have in the Lord’s Supper. What happens here whenever we celebrate the Supper – what will happen today in just a little while? We will see our Lord, He will come to us, come to us who all have our own struggles, our own pains, our own fears – and He will come to us and be with us – give us His own Body and Blood, tell us we are forgiven, tell us that we are His. And all around this, we sing, we sing songs of joy, songs of heaven. With such a simple thing, under simple common things like bread and wine, our Lord Himself comes to us in His Body and Blood, is with us, points us to and brings us to a foretaste of the joys of heaven – even in the midst of our sorrows. Our Lord says to you, “Friend, this is My Body that was given for you. See, I have risen, even though this world has done its worst to me. So shall you. Friend, this is My Blood. See, you are indeed truly and well forgiven, and nothing separates you from Me, not even these trials and tragedies you face – My Blood covers them all.” And for this brief time, we are brought here, we are pointed to, we are show and share in the joys of heaven, we join with all the company of heaven, even our departed loved ones in the faith who are with Christ, who are indeed with us in this most blessed Communion, for they are ever with Christ, and if He is here with us then so are they – we see this reality, and we understand that even now we have joy in this life – and we are reminded that there will come the time when we have this joy completely unhindered by any sorrow – for sorrows shall pass away – the labor pains of this life will be forgotten and replaced simply by the joys of being brought into the life everlasting in full.

Dear friends, let no one deceive you, let no one pull the wool over your eyes or try to pin your hopes in this life. Life in this world is hard – has been since the fall, and it will be until Christ returns. In this life you will have sorrow – but only for a little while, for our Risen Lord who has ascended will return, and then we will see His joys face to face, and they will be complete. God keep you firm in Christ Jesus, so that His joy might sustain you now, and be with you for all eternity. Christ is risen, (He is risen indeed, Alleluia) Amen.