Sunday, May 19, 2024

Loving Jesus

 John 14:23-31

Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me.  These things I have spoken to you, while abiding 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 said to you.

"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.  You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.'  If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.  And now I have told you before it comes to pass, that when it comes to pass, you may believe."

Sermon for Pentecost Sunday                                                 05/19/24

Loving Jesus

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

All you need is love, or at least that is what John Lennon said.  Many Christians talk a lot about loving God and loving Jesus, and by that they each seem to mean specific things, or they mean to use the concept to induce people to engage in certain courses of action or behavior.  They turn loving Jesus into a law, and use the faith-driven desire of the believer to manipulate them and shape their behavior.  Certainly every child of God wants to love Jesus.  We have been treated to a lifetime of exhortations to do just that.

In our Pentecost Sunday Gospel this morning, Jesus talks about what it means to love Him, and what effect it has.  It turns out that loving Jesus is not the same as what so many preach it is.  This morning we will take advantage of the words of Jesus, and see what it means to love Him, according to His definition, and what follows upon that love.  Our theme is "Loving Jesus."

First of all, Jesus describes loving Him, He doesn't command how to do it.  In this, Jesus is speaking as He did in the Ten Commandments.  Jesus does not say, "If you love me, then you must do this and do that."  He says, "The one who loves me is the one who is keeping my Word", just as in the Ten Commandments God does not actually say, "Don't Murder!", or "Don't steal!", but "My people are the sort who simply will not take the life of another, or the personal property of another, or the wife (or husband) of another, and so forth".  In other words, Jesus is describing, not commanding.  I know that because Jesus knows, as the Scriptures clearly teach, that none of us is capable of obeying the Law by nature, and so commanding us to behave in a certain way is unfruitful.  Jesus describes instead.

Loving Jesus means keeping His Word.  It doesn't mean that we love Him by keeping His commands, but that we keep His Word as part of loving Him.  Now, we can turn it around, and measure our sincerity by looking at our faithfulness to His Word - and even use these words as a motivation of sorts to do what is good and right, but we have to remember that this is not a command, in the sense that we can do it on our own, but as revealing what God would work in us, and help us to understand which way the Lord would lead us.  So we need to consider what it means to Keep Jesus' Word.

Keeping His Word, for example, means knowing it.  Let's face it, it is difficult to be faithful to something if we do not know what it is.  This is the knowledge part of faith - what theologians like to call the "fides quae creditur".  You need to possess substance to your faith - the stuff that you believe.

Keeping His Word also means believing it.  Once you know what His Word is and what it contains, you must actually believe it - this "believing-ness" is what theologians have called the "fides qua creditur", that is, the faith with which you believe.  Luther called this "fiducium cordis", that is, the trust in the heart - the trust that all that you accept as true actually is true and that all that it means and offers applies to you and that you may depend upon it and act upon it.

It almost goes without saying, then, that Keeping His Word means sound doctrine.  You cannot be faithful to Jesus or to His Word, His teachings, without holding fast to what He said, and what it really means.  When you do not care what the truth is, you are not keeping His Word.  When it is more important to "get along" than confess the faith, you are not keeping His Word.  The appeals to the brotherhood of man, and love for another, and uncertainty in the face of the variety of opinions promulgated by the various church groups, for you to be more patient with other doctrines, or for you to be less clear and assertive with your confession are appeals to you to surrender the Word of Christ, rather than keep it.

Keeping His Word also means living out what it teaches.  This is the trust in the heart working its way out in real life.  So, Jesus died for your sins, did He?  So what!?  What does His death mean to your life?  What does His love mean to your dealing with other people?  What does the forgiveness of your sins mean to how you live, and how you deal with others?  What does the gift of eternal life mean - that is, how does it influence your thinking, and your choices, and your approach to life and dangers and sickness, and such things?

You see, if God loves you as deeply as you confess that He does - and you believe it - it has to mean something to what you think, and how you respond to life and its pressures.  The temptation that the devil wants to stumble you with is the temptation to forget the love of God and fear stuff and worry about what it happening around you, and pull in your horns, so to speak, so as not to draw any attention to yourself or your confession.  We confess that God is intimately aware of us - the very hairs on your head are all numbered - and genuinely concerned for our well-being.  We are, after all, His chosen and beloved - right?

So what difference does that make in your life, in your choices and values, in what you will dare to do and what you will refuse to do?  Remember, all of life is theological, and your life between the end of our service and, perhaps, Bible Study, this morning, and the beginning of service next Sunday, is your worship.  No moment in your life is insignificant or dismissible.  No decision, however daily and ‘secular' it seems to you is excluded from your life in Christ.  Keeping His Word means not just putting a Bible on the coffee table or bedstand, but living all of your life, even the little parts that no one sees, as though you are God's, chosen and precious, forgiven and blessed with everlasting life, and protected by the Creator of all that exists because, as Jesus says, He loves you.

When you love Jesus – the way Jesus talks about our loving Him, and not the warm and squishy, ‘feelings' oriented kind of love – certain things will be true.  I struggle with how to describe them.  First I wanted to say "results", but that makes it seem like quid pro quo - as something we cause to happen, which is not true.  I then chose the word "consequence".  But the dictionary say that this refers to cause and effect, which is not where I want to go either.  What I want to talk about is connected to our loving Jesus, and contemporaneous, but not caused by us or our behavior, since God makes us believe.  So I chose the word "accompany" - there are circumstances which Jesus tells us attach to us when we love Him and keep His Word.

The keeping of His Word is accompanied by the love of God for you.  Jesus said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him."  It isn't that God doesn't love anyhow, since God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, but when we love Him, He loves us personally, not just in general.  He claims us as His own, and counts us special and precious and privileged.  His promise to hear our prays and answer each one is an example of this special and personal relationship.

The keeping of His Word is also accompanied by God – both the Father and the Son – being with you, blessing you, guiding and keeping you (living with you).  Jesus says, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; . . . and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him" Wherever Jesus is, there must be all of His blessings and help.  We are literally in heaven - except that our sinful flesh cannot perceive it or enjoy it as it should.  It is also the will of God that we walk, for a time, by faith and not by experience or sense data.  God has a purpose for our time and life here, not the least of which is to confess Him before men and share the hope that is in us.  So He tells us what we cannot perceive, namely that He is with us, and not just aware of us, but making His dwelling-place with us and in us.  

So, when we love Jesus, we have everything we need.  We don't necessarily have everything we might want - but that is also because of our sinful flesh, which desires that which is not good for us, and which lusts after evil - and is incapable of sensing the riches of God which lie about us at every side.  So Jesus tells us of His love, of His presence, of our full and free forgiveness because of His cross and suffering.  He tells us that we have only to awaken from our graves, on that good day, and we shall live before Him in glory, and not the humility of the flesh which we have today.

And so, the keeping of His Word is also accompanied by peace - "the peace of God which passes all comprehension" - not just human comprehension.  This peace comes with faith.  It is peace in circumstances that don't warrant peace.  It is peace which comes by gift of God, not as the result of human reason, or observation.  It is the peace of God which God gives, for Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."  We have the gift and the promise of the peace, so Jesus tells us not to allow our flesh to be troubled or cause us to be fearful.  No, instead we cling to the peace which is our gift by virtue of keeping the Word of Jesus.

The keeping of His Word is also accompanied by rejoicing.  How could we not rejoice, if we really and truly believe?  Your sins are forgiven.  You will live forever.  Even the grave cannot change the will of God for you, the plan of God for you, or the love of God for you - you will rise from your tomb fully alive!  While you live here, you are promised everything you need, and blessing and guidance.  We poured that out on Kennedy Sue this morning in her baptism!  How could you not rejoice?  The only way would be if you did not keep the Word of Jesus.

The one who does not keep the Word of Jesus does not love Him.  He or she is, by definition, an unbeliever.  Whether they reject the Gospel outright, or try to change it by changing the Word and denying this or that while pretending to hold to the core - they do not believe.  If they cannot take Jesus as He presents Himself to us in His Word, they cannot do it because they do not know Him or love Him.  If they deny His gifts, they do it because they do not love Jesus.  You cannot have Jesus without His Word, just as you cannot have the Father without the Son.  The one who does not keep the Word of Jesus does not love Him, and, vice-versa, the one who does not love Jesus cannot keep His Word.

The long and the short of it is, Loving Jesus means being a Christian - the sort of Christian that is saved by grace through faith, not just the sort that wears the title like a disguise.  Some like the name, but hate the substance.  Some want the sense of religion without having to deal with the reality of it.  You can see that in some of the churches that reach for feelings and experiences in their worship, rather than for the Word of Christ, and the confession of the faith.  But only in Jesus Christ, in His crucifixion and resurrection, is there salvation.  Only in the Word of Jesus is the truth.  And only in keeping that Word is it possible to know and love Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, May 12, 2024

These Things They will Do

 John 15:26-16:4

"When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me, and you will bear witness also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.

"These things I have spoken to you, that you may be kept from stumbling.  They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.  And these things they will do, because they have not known the Father, or Me.  But these things I have spoken to you, that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you."

Sermon for Exaudi Sunday                                          05/12/24

These Things They Will Do

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Today is the Sunday between the Ascension and Pentecost.  It marks the period of time between Jesus removing His visible presence from among His disciples, and the gift of the Holy Spirit and the official jump-starting of the Church on Pentecost.  In my mind, I liken this to that time in a race when the starter is crying out, "on your mark . . . get set . . ." just before he says "Go!" or fires the starter's pistol, or whatever it is that begins the race.

The Gospel is perfect for this day.  It records words of Jesus during His last great discourse with the disciples before the Passion.  This is a warning and a promise, and none of it was spoken to us, directly, but to His disciples who were soon to be promoted to Apostles – from ‘students' to those who were the "Sent Ones", sent out to bear witness to what they had seen and heard and to spread the Gospel.  Our task this morning is to take these words, aimed squarely at the disciples, and see what they actually teach us.  Our theme is "These Things They Will Do".

Jesus warns the disciples about troubles that they will face.  He warns them "that [they] may be kept from stumbling."  It is easy to understand why Jesus would do this.  They have followed Jesus.  He has cared for them, and shielded them from all of the dangers and troubles that might have happened to them.  They may not have understood or even seen the providential care of Jesus for His disciples, but nothing happened to them as long as Jesus was with them.  He fed them and led them around the whole of the once "promised land".  They had enemies, and there were all sorts of local issues and parties, just as there are today in the middle east - just different personalities, but the same old hatreds and animosities.  The disciples never seemed to have been confronted by them.  None of the enemies of Jesus attacked them physically - or seemed to have any success in shaping public opinion against them.  Jesus gave them a few years of peaceful instruction, as He modeled the faith and showed them how they were to live once He was gone -- without telling them in advance that this was what He was doing.

But now they were about to be cast out on their own.  Jesus was going to be brutally murdered, and then He would rise again from the grave, and then ascend into heaven leaving them to be His witnesses.  He was going to take His visible presence from them, and withdraw that providential care that gave them such peaceful times with Jesus.  He was not taking His care away from them entirely, but things were going to change, and God knew about it.  In fact, it is all part of God's plan.  Jesus told them, "They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.  And these things they will do, because they have not known the Father, or Me."

This meant that they were going to become targets of hostility for those Jews – the people who were supposed to be God's people – and yet who did not believe.  That part applies to us too.  The specifics that Jesus spoke of really only fit the first Christians.  I have never been cast out of a synagogue, nor would it bother me if I were.  I don't believe the stuff they teach in their synagogues anyhow, and I have no emotional attachment to them, either.  The disciples did.  The first Christians all - or nearly all - came from the synagogues.  Being thrown out of the synagogue was almost like ending life as they knew it.  It was extremely painful, and came with broken relationships, lost friendships, and hostility from those who should have been, and once were, friends.

We've sampled some of what that is like in our congregational conflict.  Those who we called friends, and fellow members of the church, were suddenly hostile to us, angry with us, and wanted nothing more than to drive us out.  And the reason for our pain was pretty much the same as the reason for the hostility of the synagogue toward the disciples - "And these things they will do, because they have not known the Father, or Me."  It was doctrine.  They did not believe what we believed, and they rejected both us and our faith vehemently.

Jesus had to tell the disciples that this was coming because they were likely to be tempted with the idea that just because they worked for the Savior, things were going to go smoothly (as they had up to this point), and God would pave the way before them.  He would, of course, prepare the way before them, but not by removing obstacles like the hatred and violence of the world.  That remains - and in fact, that is a tool in the arsenal of God for getting the world's attention, and demonstrating His power, and our weakness, and making converts in the most unexpected of ways.  The early church even had the proverb, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."  Their patient endurance, with so little evident power, made many sit up and take notice; people who only understood the unbridled use of power and who could not comprehend what might lie behind patience and forgiveness and stubborn goodness such as they witnessed in the Apostles.

We are not witnesses.  We never saw Jesus.  We are confessors.  We confess what we have heard and believed.  We speak what God has spoken to us through His Word and through His called speakers - preachers.  We confess with the Church what those original witnesses bore witness of - and to.  We confess that Jesus is the true Son of God, come down in human form and having taken on human nature on our behalf.  We confess that Jesus kept the whole will and law of God, where all of mankind has failed, and having earned and rightly deserved eternal life, Jesus has suffered and died in our place, and for our sins, and on our behalf.  His death on the cross is ours, endured for us to meet the justice of God against our sins.  That is what those first witnesses bore witness to.

Then we also confess that God raised Jesus from the dead, because those first witnesses saw it, and spoke with the risen Jesus.  We confess that His resurrection shows us first that Jesus is true God, and secondly, that the death of Jesus has been accepted in our place and for our sins, and that it was sufficient, so that now we are forgiven and we stand in the good will and favor of God.  We confess that there is nothing for us to do - to earn our salvation - Jesus did it all.  

We confess that we fail to qualify to even start to work out our salvation, because we are sin-filled, and sin-corrupted, and fall short of the glory of God before we can even start.  We also confess that even our coming to faith is not possible for us by our own wisdom or will-power, but God must call us to faith and cause us to believe, and that He does so by the preaching of the Gospel.

It is those things, human weakness and corruption, and divine power and grace, that cause those who should be our brothers in the faith to respond to us with hostility and rejection.  Some of them want to be able to earn and deserve something of their salvation for themselves - and the teaching that they cannot insults them and infuriates them.  Others want to claim that at least they chose the right path, they "decided for Jesus", and the doctrine of divine monergism - that God alone works faith in us against our nature and beyond our abilities - causes hostility in their hearts towards us.  Most of the Protestants we know cannot accept a God they cannot understand, so the Sacraments, and the durability of the incarnation - that Jesus is always and everywhere fully and truly human even now, with His body and human nature still with Him wherever He goes - is unreasonable to them, and our stubborn confession of those truths makes them angry.

No matter which way we turn, we face the hostility of those who call themselves Christians, but do not believe what we believe.  They have another Gospel, and believe in another Jesus.  Please understand that I am not saying that all of those in other denominations are not Christians.  I cannot look into their hearts and judge that.  I can only look at the "Gospel" they proclaim, and say that it is not the same Gospel which we confess.  Individuals in these other bodies may  - and some surely do - believe exactly what we believe about Jesus and salvation, just as we have all encountered Lutherans who are not Lutheran - who do not hold to what we teach and confess, and believe something entirely different, but still call themselves "Lutheran".

But the doctrines of works righteousness, and the doctrines of decision theology, and the doctrines which limit Christ to heaven, as to His human nature, and deny the very possibility of forgiveness in the absolution or in either Sacrament, or of the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Lord's Supper - their doctrines are unbiblical, and un-Christian.  They paint a picture of God and of Christ which is unlike our Savior, and they hide the comfort of Christ and the hope of salvation from many that believe them.  As Jesus said, "they have not known the Father, or Me."  

And they will reject us, and try to marginalize us, and when they have the power, they will try to drive us out of the church.  They will do so with the complete conviction that they are right, and that they are serving God and God's truth.  Of course some will not count God in the picture - they will be convinced that they are serving "truth" and "all that is reasonable" and that they are fighting "superstition".  The point is, they will persecute and trouble those that confess the truth of the Gospel, all the while thinking that they are the good guys and on the side of the angels.

We have the Helper, that Jesus promised - the Holy Spirit.  I will not talk much about that today, because that is the point of the feast of Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday.  And Jesus warns us of the truth of the hostility of the world to our confession, through the warning to the disciples of the hostility of the world to their witness.  It still applies by extension.  "But these things I have spoken to you, that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them."

Jesus wanted them – and us – to know that when they came upon these pains and sorrows and troubles, that it was to be expected.  Nothing was out of order - except the unbelief of those that persecuted them.  Suffering is part of the confession.  We share in Christ's righteousness, so we also share in His suffering.  Our suffering has no redemptive quality, but it does carry some power, by the will of God, in confession, and speaking to the mind and hearts of the unbelieving world.  And since we are Christ's, we should know that it is coming, and, as Peter put it in His first epistle, chapter 4, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation."

When the pain comes, and people turn on you, and speaking the wonderful good news of Jesus gets you into trouble, or pain, or your friends and even your family turn away from you, you will be tempted to be confused, and wonder why some strange thing is happening.  Jesus warned the Disciples, and through their warning He warns us - it is coming.  Expect it.

  Knowing that pain is coming doesn't change the pain, but it explains it - and it is for your strengthening and comfort that Jesus tells us about it.  These things they will do.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Therefore, Pray!

 John 16:23-28

"Truly, truly, I say to you, if you shall ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you in My name.  Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.  These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will speak no more to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.  In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father.  I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again, and going to the Father."

Sermon for Rogate Sunday                                              05/05/24

Therefore, Pray!

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There are few Bible passages that have produced the kind of confusion that our Gospel lesson has.  Jesus speaks to His disciples about prayer, and what He says sounds to our ears as if Jesus is giving us the authority to use God like an internet shopping site - you click on your request and, shazam!, there it is, delivered right to your door.  That isn't exactly what Jesus is saying.  It is, however, about prayer, and about our relationship with God the Father.  Jesus does promise an answer to every prayer, so our theme, this morning, is what the text finally says to us - Therefore, pray!

Part of the problem with misunderstanding the text is the translation we use.  It says, "If you ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you."  All of the translations tend to sound the same - some use the word "Whatsoever" instead of "anything", but it tends to come across in the English as a broad guarantee that we can get anything and everything from God simply by asking.

AND WE CAN!  The fact that I have to admit that is part of what makes this so difficult to understand for so many people.  But Jesus was not promising that we will get everything we can conceivably pray for.  That is where the language barrier still stands in our way sometimes.  Jesus was not promising that anything conceivable we asked would automatically be given.  He was promising that every prayer would be heard and answered, that God the Father was listening to our prayers, and wanted to hear our prayers, and that we could count on God the Father just as the Disciples counted on Jesus Himself.  Jesus was also actually subordinating Himself to the Father.

Keep in mind that Jesus was speaking to His disciples.  We are also the recipients of the promises, but we were not the original audience.  Those disciples were accustomed to Jesus, in the flesh.  This text comes in the middle of Jesus warning them that He was going away, and they would not see Him, and their hearts would know sorrow on account of that.  These disciples were accustomed to asking things of their Master - and receiving something in response.  They were not accustomed to asking for motorized toys, or even candy bars, but when they asked Jesus a question, He answered.  When they wanted to eat, they got to eat - now and again they ate miraculously.

Jesus was telling them that when He was gone from among them, they were going to have the same relationship with the Father that they had with Jesus.  They would not be praying to Jesus, but to the Father, and He would deal with them just as they might expect Jesus would.  He would answer.  Whatever it was that they needed, God the Father would provide.  Jesus even made the point that He wasn't going to have to intercede with the Father for them, in order to get what they needed, but the Father Himself would listen and answer their prayers because He loved them!

He loved them because they believed.  In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father.  Jesus takes His place behind the Father - we call that the subordination of the Son to the Father - and God the Father deals with us, just as lovingly and just as intimately as Jesus did with His inner circle of disciples.  He loves us because we love Jesus and believe God's Word about Jesus.  Praying in Jesus name doesn't here mean just stapling the name onto our prayer, but praying to God on account of Jesus - because we know what He did and why He did it and what it means for us and about our relationship with the Father.  It is, in other words, a prayer which flows from a heart of faith.

Jesus tells us these things for our comfort and our peace of mind.  Life is not going to be comfortable at all times, and we will be tempted to despair.  Jesus tells us of the Father's love for us so that we will be able to approach any situation with faith in Him.  More than just comfort, Jesus says He wants us to know this that our joy may be full.  Our joy is filled up by knowing what we know, and by walking in the truth of what He teaches us.

What we know is the Gospel.  We know the reality of sin.  We know how frequently we go our own way, and feel as if we can handle life without considering Jesus.  The verses just preceding our text talk about how the disciples will have sorrow, but the world will have joy, but then our sorrow will be turned to joy.  Jesus uses the image of a woman in labor; the pain before, the joy afterwards.  That is how the gospel works in us and for us.

While we live in this world, we have the joy of the Gospel, but the sorrow caused by the hatred of the world, and the sorrow of our own sinful flesh longing and lusting for sin.  We have the sorrow of guilt and of the knowledge of our sins.  The world, on the other hand, has no problem with sin.  It rejoices in sin.  The world loves to lead us to sin for it understands on a primal level that sin separates from God.

Of course, when I speak of the world as a sentient being, I am not referring to grass and trees, but to the society of men under the guidance of the "ruler of this world" as Jesus described the devil.  Men have consciousness and intelligence, and so does the leader of all those who live without Christ.  He leads and plans, and so do those who follow him.  That's where persecutions come from.  Congress, under the guise of protecting Jews from hate speech, has just passed a bill which has the potential to make any Biblical speech illegal.  We have been safe in the past from persecutions, in this country, least open and overt persecutions, but that time is coming to an end.  

There is a senseless and violent hatred towards Christians in this country - coming from the Main Stream Media, many politicians, and the intellectual elites.  It is growing.  Strong language and virulent aspersions are aimed with increasing frequency and energy at just-plain-old-fashioned Christians.  We are called ignorant, demented, backwards, dangerous.  Our intelligence is impugned in speeches and in print and in our entertainments, like TV and movies.  We are accused of doing things we don't do, of trying to commandeer the country and force our values on the world.  We are likened to Hitler, accused of being insane, and pictured as an enemy that must be eradicated - and this by people who think that Islamic terrorism is really not a big problem in the world.

Those who spew such hate language at us are "the world" of which I speak.  They have effectively removed historic Christianity from the public square in our culture, and they want to silence anyone that might bring a Christian perspective into the arena of politics or government policy or education.  They have likened the humble confession of the Christian faith - or Bible-based morality - to terrorism.  They make the lives of God's people difficult and bitter, that is, if the disappearance of religious symbols from the streets and buildings of our towns bothers you, and if hearing athletes and entertainers castigated for speaking about being a Christian and viewing their lives in the spotlight from a Christian faith perspective offends you.

The sorrow we know now is the sorrow of the cross.  It is our sins, and the sins of those around us, and the displeasure of the world - even that part of the world that calls itself our friends, our family, or fellow Christians.  The joy they know is the joy of seeing the influence of Christian thought and morality diminish.

It is in the face of these pains and pressures that Jesus reminds us that we are not alone, nor are we bereft of any help.  Just as He would stand up for His disciples and speak against the hostility of the world toward them, and give them peace, and provide for them - so will our heavenly Father do for us.  He gives us the promise that God will listen to us and answer any and every prayer.  

"If you shall ask anything of the Father, He will give it to you in My name."  That is, He will listen to every prayer, and answer it just as Jesus would - not necessarily giving us every single thing we might think to include in a prayer, as though He were an online marketplace, but guiding us, blessing us, forgiving us, protecting us, and providing for our needs, and helping us in every trouble and in every circumstance.

Our joy now is that we are never alone, and never without resources.  We have God standing there, ready to hear, eager to answer, promising help and supply in every need.  He promises all of that to us because He loves us.  He loves us particularly because we love Jesus, we believe in Him and hold to Him and serve Him and call ourselves by His name, and stand with Him for blessing, or for the abuse and hatred of the world.

And how could we do anything other?  We are filled with Him.  We are in Christ and Christ is in us, and we stand in the world as Christ, with His holiness and with His glory, and with His power.  We have His Word.  We eat His body and drink His blood.  We love with His love, and we suffer the hatred of the world for Him.  And the heavenly Father loves us and desires to help us stand in Him and in His love.

Of course, our joy will finally be made complete on the great day of the Lord, when He shall bring us to Himself, body and soul reunited and outfitted for eternity.  And He gives us this privilege and power of prayer so that we may stand, and may finally taste that ultimate joy.  And knowing the truth of all of these things, our theme this morning is, Therefore, Pray!

Pray often.  Pray with confidence.  Never give up on prayer.  Take advantage of the love of God for you - because that is precisely what He wants you to do.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Spirit of Truth

 John 16:5-15

"But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?'  But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.  But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.  And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

"I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.  He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you.  All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said, that He takes of Mine, and will disclose it to you."

Sermon for Cantate Sunday                                                              04/28/24

The Spirit of Truth

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

He is not coming.

He is here!  The Spirit of Truth of which Jesus spoke.  He is here through Word and Sacrament.  And, yes, it would be correct to say that He continues to come in the preaching of the Word and in the gifts of the Sacraments.  My point is, however, that it is no longer merely a future event.

The Apostles were looking forward to the coming of Pentecost, although they did not know it.  Jesus had not died yet, and they were not expecting that, so how could they be anticipating Pentecost?  The Spirit is at work among us already, convicting the world and teaching us the truth.  It is this work that is so important that it is to our advantage that Jesus is not among us now, so that the Spirit may be among us and working His work.

What is that work?  Convicting the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgement, and leading us into the truth.

He convicts the world concerning sin.  That doesn't mean that the world becomes convinced about sin.  The world's certainty about sin comes and goes - it waxes and wanes.  We are presently in a time when most of the world, including the part that calls itself Christian, is unconvinced – and usually unconscious – about sin.  That is why we have legal abortion and preferential treatment of homosexuals, and women ministers, and such things.  Part of the problem, of course, is that so many preachers do not preach the law clearly.  Too many have decided that what the Church has to offer is so weak and pathetic and undesirable, that we must approach people in a socially appealing way, and sell them on the sweetness and delight of the treasures we distribute or they want to change the message altogether.  They think we must find some sort of sugar-coating to get people to take the bitter medicine of the Gospel.

You can't tell people that they are wicked and sinful and expect them to come back to church week after week.  That is how the story goes.  Unfortunately for such preachers, that is the only tested and true way to make people want to come back.  Those who hear such a message are the only sorts of people who will come back week after week, faithfully.  Sinners need forgiveness and salvation.  Those who are not really sinful need to be entertained and "uplifted," and they don't really need it every week.

The whole thing really comes down to the "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me," that Jesus spoke in our Gospel a couple of weeks ago.  The Good Shepherd comes to rescue us, not entertain us, or please us with His bag of tricks.  Too much of the world around us thinks that the purpose of religion is to make us happy or to make life make sense for us.  The Gospel does that, but that is a secondary benefit.  We find that life makes more sense when we know that we rest secure in the hands of the Good Shepherd, and when the real issues of life and death are resolved for us.  Jesus came to solve the problem of death and hell, not give us a heartwarming hour of praise music, or deal with the injustices of our society or of the world around us.  The world wants so much less from God than He wants to give us.

Thank God that He has done just what we really needed, solved the problem of dying and of eternal misery in hell.  One of the reasons that you don't hear so much about that problem is that Jesus has saved us.  Too many people figure that since we have salvation, we should talk about something else, and not dwell on the negatives - - like sin, and God's wrath, and guilt.  People want to feel good.  Since Jesus has saved us, they say, we should look at the positive side, and stand up and sing happy songs, and just feel good!  So that is what most churches do.  It certainly seems like it should be more appealing to people than sin and guilt and death and hell.  And the big churches generally prove that point.  The unbelieving world wants to feel good, and they believe it is the job of their churches to make it so.

The Spirit, meanwhile, convicts the world of sin because they do not believe in Jesus.  The world believes something about Jesus, that's for sure.  But the world believes, basically, in themselves.  Some figure that their choices and decisions are what make the difference in their salvation - so they really believe in themselves.  For others, their feelings determine how they are and how things are going, not Jesus, not the promises of God, but how they respond to the preacher and the worship "event."  

That's the big thing for them.  Truth be damned, how you feel inside is what really counts.  So, they figure that if they feel good enough, or pious enough, or repentant enough, or "spiritual" enough, that is what is important.  That is what they count as saving.  Jesus can tell them that their sins are forgiven because He died on their behalf, and to them that is nothing but words.  Their preachers do not dare to speak either the absolution or the retaining of their sins.  He (or she, some of them have women preachers) may not believe it himself, but even it he does – who does he think he is to do that, only God can forgive sins!  Jesus had the same problem with the Pharisees a long time ago.

Since the world does not wish to hear about sin, and the members of the world do not place their hope completely on Jesus, they stand convicted of the sins they do not want to hear about, do not want to repent of, and do not want to hear the absolution of spoken to them.  

They stand convicted because they called Jesus a liar when He said "This is my body, given for you," and "This is my blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins."

They stand convicted because they will not take Jesus at His Word when He tells them that Baptism is step one of the two step program for making disciples, or when Jesus says that one must be born again by Baptism (by water and the Spirit) to enter the kingdom of God  – and they call Peter a liar when he teaches us, by the inspiration of Jesus, that Baptism saves you.  Oh, they practice baptism, but they do so only after carefully calling Jesus a liar and saying that it is only a rule we must follow – and not the very gift of life itself.

The Spirit of Truth convicts the world of sin by preaching it to them, and they simply will not listen.  You can ignore those letters from the IRS, too.  But if you do, eventually, they will come and take your stuff away from you – and when people ignore it and reject it and call it a lie when the Holy Spirit preaches the Law to them, and reject the wonderful gift of forgiveness and life which He brings to them in Jesus' name – they still stand convicted of sins, precisely because they refuse to believe in Jesus.

The Spirit of Truth convicts them of righteousness, too, because Jesus is righteous, and he has gone to be with the Father.  It is not their righteousness, however, that they stand convicted of, but Jesus'.  He is perfectly righteous, otherwise He could not stand in the Father's presence.  But we Him see no longer, as did the disciples of old, because He is righteous and can stand in the presence of the Father, interceding for us, and bestowing upon all that believe His own perfect righteousness.  Believing or unbelieving, the righteousness of Jesus stands as a truth, and He gives it to each one of you – by grace, received through faith.

Your sins are forgiven!  Each of you stands before God as perfect and holy, just like Jesus, because Jesus died for you, and forgives you.  It doesn't matter how you feel today, or tomorrow.  It is simply the truth.  If your life doesn't make sense to you, that's okay.  Your salvation is still the truth of God!

Then, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of Judgment, because the ruler of this present, sinful world has been judged.  Court was held on the cross, and in the grave that once held Jesus.  The resurrection was the verdict.  Christ is arisen!  Your sins are forgiven.  Now death and hell have been destroyed!  No one need ever suffer eternal death and condemnation.  The only people who will are those convicted of sin!   Remember the great courtroom scene of Romans 8?  Listen again as I read it for you.  What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?  Who will bring a charge against God's elect?  God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?  Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Far from being convicted of sin, you are each justified!  Your sins are forgiven and are nowhere to be seen!  The only people who will face judgment are those who refuse to be rescued by Jesus.  They are the ones who stand convicted of sin.  These are the truths into which the Holy Spirit leads us.  These truths are not accepted by everyone.  They are not even accepted by everyone who boasts of the name "Lutheran".  Nevertheless, they are true.  They are God's treasures, poured out on all mankind, but received only by them that believe.  To the rest, these truth are all either just a dream, or they are an error, and the world does not wish to participate.  They often dress their rejection of life and salvation up as wisdom, or science, or spirituality, or inclusiveness and compassion.  It is rejection, however, and it is their mistake - a tragic and fatal mistake.  They stand convicted of judgment.

The Spirit of Truth teaches Christ.  He proclaims forgiveness won by Christ and freely bestowed – and totally undeserved by every single one of those that receive it.  The Spirit of Truth speaks of the Love of God and of confidence in His good will toward us within which we may rest secure.  Every bit of it is true, because it is from Jesus, and Jesus got it all from the Father.  Human opinion does not carry any weight here, because these things are work of Jesus Christ and the trustworthy teachings of the Spirit of Truth.

Our part - and it, too, is a gift, really, is to speak the "Amen."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, April 21, 2024

A Little Sorrow, a Lot of Joy

 John 16:16-23

"A little while, and you will no longer behold Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me."  Some of His disciples therefore said to one another, "What is this thing He is telling us, ‘A little while, and you will not behold Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'; and, ‘because I go to the Father'?"  And so they were saying, "What is this that He says, ‘A little while'? We do not know what He is talking about."

Jesus knew that they wished to question Him, and He said to them, "Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, ‘A little while, and you will not behold Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me'?  Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy.  Whenever a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she remembers the anguish no more, for joy that a child has been born into the world.  Therefore you too now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you.  And in that day you will ask Me no question."

Sermon for Jubilate Sunday                                                                 4/21/24

A Little Sorrow, A Lot of Joy

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This morning I want to begin by reminding all of you who have been parents of the reality of parenting.  Parenting bears a certain similarity to our theme, this morning: a little sorrow, and a lot of joy.  Children can be a challenge, and heartbreak, and an opportunity for unneeded and unwanted worry.  But I have met remarkably few parents who would trade their children to avoid or eliminate the little bit of sorrow that their children occasion.  Children can bring us a little sorrow, but they also bring us a whole lot of joy!

I can remember the early years myself.  When I was a young father, and working two jobs to support my family – full-time in the Air Force and full-time at any of a host of different jobs I held, I would often wonder why I bothered working sixteen hours a day – until my son would run across the room when I got home at night hollering "Daddy!" and wanting to be held, and thinking I was just the greatest guy alive.  Then I would remember.  It was the little sorrow and a lot of joy kind of thing.

Our text holds just such a thing before our eyes this morning.  For the Disciples, the little sorrow was seeing Jesus die.  The lot of joy was seeing Him alive again.  That was then.  Later, it became something else for them, as it is something else for us.  Let us consider the words of Jesus in our Gospel lesson this morning and measure a little sorrow, a lot of joy.

Jesus didn't always make sense to those who were listening.  He always made sense, but those listening didn't always hear it.  Our text is such a case.  Jesus said, "A little while, and you will no longer behold Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me."  Of course, the Disciples weren't tracking very well that day.  They give us hope.  We don't always follow what God is telling us, or understand what He is doing with us, and on this day the Disciples didn't understand too well or too consistently either, until God made it clear to them by special enlightening after Jesus rose from the dead.  So, our text says, Some of His Disciples therefore said to one another, "What is this thing He is telling us, ‘A little while, and you will not behold Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'; and, ‘because I go to the Father'?"  And so they were saying, "What is this that He says, ‘A little while'? We do not know what He is talking about."

Jesus was speaking to them about His approaching crucifixion and His subsequent resurrection.  They were not ready to hear about the approaching crucifixion so they were not going to understand what Jesus was saying.  That's okay, of course.  Jesus used the same principle with His Disciples that we use in Catechetical Instruction leading to Confirmation.  He taught them the stuff now, and figured that it would make more sense to them later, when they were ready and the circumstances were right.  We make our adolescent students memorize facts and doctrines and Bible passages now, and we know that they will spend an entire lifetime saying, "OH!!  So that's what that passage meant! – Now I understand!"  Of course, if they had never learned them, that sort of discovery would never happen.

The Disciples were learning at this point in the work of Jesus what would only make sense to them later.  Jesus was preparing them, just as He prepares us.  They asked, and He wanted to explain, so He did.  He explained like this, "Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, ‘A little while, and you will not behold Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me'?  Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy.  Whenever a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she remembers the anguish no more, for joy that a child has been born into the world.  Therefore you too now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you.  And in that day you will ask Me no question."

He described their pain and sorrow that they would experience when He died – and the joy that the world would have at the same event.  The unbelieving world was almost giddy with delight when Jesus died.  Not everyone, of course.  Not everyone knew.  But the Jews who knew who Jesus was and hated Him anyhow were thrilled.  They stood at His cross while He was suffering and mocked Him.  At the same time His Disciples were bewildered, and terrified, and horror-stricken.

But it was only for a time, Jesus said, like the labor pains of a woman giving birth to her child.  Sort of like the woman who swears she will never have another child, while she is in labor, but four hours after the baby is born – or four days later for some of you – wants to have another, or a whole bouquet of them!  The deeper their sorrow, the brighter the joy of the Disciples on Easter when their Lord and Savior was risen, and alive again!

Of course, that is not what Jesus was actually talking about.  It fits, except that the Disciples did ask questions of Jesus after the resurrection.  The Bible tells us about them.  And Jesus said that on that day they would ask Him no questions.  Besides, if that were all this text was about, then it would be about them, way back then, and really have nothing to do with us.  But it does have to do with us.  We live in that little while, and endure that little sorrow right now.

The pains and troubles of our lives are the sorrows that Jesus was referring to.  The world rejoices.  They are delighted to see us suffer.  They are pleased when life gives us no immediate evidence to support the existence of God, or we fail to perceive for a time His goodness and gracious guidance in our lives.  When illness strikes, when sorrow comes a'calling, when hardship knocks on our door – the world tells us to keep a stiff upper lip, to tough it out, and reminds us that if God were real, if He really loved us, we wouldn't be suffering like this.  And sometimes were are strongly tempted to believe it.

Add to that our sorrow over the corruption of our world.  Who can watch the decay of our society, and know what is wrong, without sorrow?  And yet no one who can make a difference seems to listen to us!  We see the sowing of so many sorrows in the lives of young people, and it is at the insistence of the world!  They are trained to use drugs in the schools, and then told to be responsible when the message should be to avoid them like the plague.  They are instructed in sexual behaviors in classes, even sexual deviancies, and then encouraged to act responsibly within them without any moral foundation being added.  They are told to not just tolerate but to celebrate the perversion of others around them.  They are counseled to hate authority, and despise teaching, and to feel good about themselves without having accomplished anything to which they might anchor that self-esteem.  So our society has poorly motivated, undisciplined, immoral people crowding it, which leads to a drug problem, children killing one another with guns, children giving birth to children, and a troubling sense that too many simply do not understand how life works.  Our leaders, charged with preserving public decency and paid handsomely to enforce laws and maintain that which is good in our society, pander to the corruption of our nature and manipulate the sorrows of our age for their own short-sighted advantage.  We can see this working itself out in the issues in the news.

We sorrow.  We groan.  We pray.  We cry out in pain at what we see and must endure, and our world plays and sings and says everything is just fine.  It is nothing new.  Lot experienced it.  Peter wrote in His second epistle, about righteous Lot who was oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men in his society, saying for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds.  Like Lot, we often feel almost physically assaulted by the growing corruption around us.

But it is only for a short time.  In the scale of humanity, in the time of this world, our lives are short.  They seem long, at least when we are in pain.  Pain always seems long, too long.  But God has promised that our sufferings have a limit.  However long they may seem, or however great they may appear as we endure them, they are soon over – and God has something wonderful for us.  It is so good that Paul, writing on this same topic says by God's inspiration, I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Jesus said that we would weep and lament, that we would be sorrowful, but that our sorrow would be turned into joy!  He has already accomplished that on Calvary!  He has taken our sins and the causes of our sorrows and sicknesses and borne them to the cross.  There He died for us – the death that we have earned, and the death that we should have died.  And God the Father raised Him from the grave to declare to us that His death was a sufficient substitute, and that our sins have been forgiven.  The answer to sorrow and pain and sickness and even death is Jesus Christ.  He is our hope and our joy.  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.

Of course, in this world that is so hard to see.  When a loved one dies in the flesh this good news does not stop our tears or our sorrows.  It is a comfort, yes!  But we still cry and we still sigh and we still suffer the torment of this world.

That is why the words of Jesus are so precious here!  Therefore you too now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you.  And in that day you will ask Me no question.  Sure, we have sorrow here and now, and pain and frustration!  But when Jesus returns, and He is coming soon, that will all be over with.  When we see Jesus, our hearts will be filled with rejoicing and glory and praise and delight!  The world will then have the torment, and will draw a collective gasp on that day.  But we will rejoice!  We will see at an instant how wise and good the plan of God has been.  We will delight in His grace and love and will be so utterly happy that God held us steadfast that even the worst of our sorrows and trials here will seem well worth it – insignificant by comparison.  

In that day, we will ask Him no question.  That is the day that Jesus was actually pointing His Disciples toward.  That is the day they were waiting for – the day when they would finally see Him again, with the vision that will not dim and the sight that will not go away.  That is the day we wait for.  The day of the full victory of Christ, and the last enemy to be destroyed will be death itself.  That is the day when we will see that the sorrow has been little – by comparison – and the joy will be a lot.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Good Shepherd

 John 10:11-16

"I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep.  I am the Good Shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd."

Sermon for Misericordias Domini Sunday                                           04/14/24

The Good Shepherd

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Laymen and pastors hear the Gospel for today differently.  Laymen tend to hear about the gentle, loving, self-sacrificing Savior, pictured for us as the Good Shepherd.  As a pastor, I hear Jesus, the chief Shepherd, describing the difference between Himself and all those who serve unfaithfully as under-shepherds of His flock.  You hear comfort, I hear job-description.  I also hear comfort, but I am confronted by the image of the hireling.

Now I know that Jesus was not merely saying either of the things we hear.  Surely, He meant us to see those messages, but He was also connecting Himself to the prophets, to Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel who spoke of the unfaithful shepherds of Israel - both the kings and the priests, and who declared that He Himself would be our Shepherd, and that He would be a good and faithful Shepherd.  Jesus wasn't just being pastoral (in the sense of pastures and countryside), He was taking His stand as the fulfilment of the prophecies, such as this one from Ezekiel 34:

For thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.  As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.  . . .  I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest," declares the Lord GOD.  "I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment.  . . .

"Therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey . . ..  Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.  And I, the LORD, will be their God."

The Good Shepherd is the work of God.  He is the one who does not run from danger - any danger, but pays the price.  What that tells us is that it's not that Jesus didn't want to flee.  He told His disciples that He was sorrowful to the point of death – He really didn't want to go to the cross.  He cried out earnestly to His Father in heaven that if there was any other way, He wanted to avoid the cross.  But He is the Good Shepherd.  He is not a hireling, but the Owner of the sheep.  So, He could not run.  He could not deny the need of the flock.  He could not take care of Himself first.  The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  So Jesus died – on the cross – in your place and in mine.  He died for His sheep, because they were His and He is the Good Shepherd.

And if He is the Shepherd, we must be the sheep.  It is informative to consider the image that Jesus leaves with us about who we are.  People will often have this wonderful, warm feeling as they consider the picture, but the picture they have in mind is the one where Jesus is holding the sweet little lamb in His arms.  That is not a picture of sheep.  That is a picture of Jesus.  Sheep are another thing altogether.

Just think of the phrase, "a bunch of sheep."  It is not a positive image.  Sheep are, in fact, among the least intelligent of animals.  They will wander from safety into danger without a thought.  They will go where they cannot get back from without assistance, repeatedly.  They are helpless in the face of genuine danger.  Sheep often do not understand the dangers that confront them – and even when they do, it is often too late for them to flee or do anything about it to protect themselves.  That is what makes the sheep a perfect image for God's people – and the Shepherd the perfect image for God Himself.  We often do not understand the depth of the danger we live in.  We do not see sin for the evil thing that it is, nor do we often see our sins as sins, until it is too late.  We do not consider what it means when we make our religion over into something we like, rather than following God.  We follow our family, our friends, our neighbors, just like sheep, into things we ought not to do, and into attitudes and values which deny our God and betray the faith we confess.  Like sheep, we allow ourselves to be drawn away from what is wholesome and good, many times, by our expectation of some pleasure, some joy, some "greener grass" on the other side of the fence.

When we do discover the danger, and see what we have done, we don't know how to put it back, or to get back ourselves.  Even when we know we have gone astray, we are all too often unwilling to be turned around, unwilling to do the things that we know would bless and benefit us, unwilling to give up the things we have become accustomed to or the high regard of the people we have learned to treasure.  Instead we just stand still, right where we are, and await disaster rather than repent, and forgive, and turn away from whatever it is that threatens us.

And what can threaten us?  Lives accustomed to sin.  Too much free time and too great a hunger to be tickled and pleased.  Too great a pride to admit our errors.  Too much wanting wealth and happiness of a worldly sort, and too little willingness to set aside the desires of our flesh for what God lays before us.  The devil, the world and our own sinful flesh can threaten us and destroy us if we are unwilling to give up whatever it is that draws our hearts and our attention from a holy life of faith, whatever it is that keeps us from His Word, whatever it is that makes us too busy to pray or too important to put the others first.  Anything which delights us or frightens us into placing God and His grace out of our minds or out of our priorities is one of those things that threatens us.  Anything that causes us to forget to trust God or causes us to despair of God's love and good will and forgiveness threatens us.

Then there are many people who do not understand Jesus either.  Of course, you cannot blame them.  The Bible tells us that we cannot understand Him until and unless the Holy Spirit changes us and enlightens our minds and hearts.  People often make of Jesus a new Law-giver, like Moses.  They see Jesus as a task-master and a fun-spoiler.  Others think of Him as a buddy, a Friend, something like the social director on this giant cruise ship, whose business it is to make us all feel good and have fun and be jump up and down with joy happy, and give us a modicum of success in the bargain too.  We humans are naturally as clear headed as sheep.

The truth about Jesus is the Gospel.  Jesus is the Son of God – True God Himself – who came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and was made man.  That means that He became one of us, taking on human nature and flesh and blood and was born fully human, while still truly and fully God as well.

The truth about Jesus is that He lived without sin, and spent the last few years of His life teaching His disciples and doing things that should have identified Him as the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, the Savior intended by God for our rescue from the mess of sin into which we had gotten ourselves.

Then Jesus died.  "The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."  He died on a cross, as the Church just celebrated on Good Friday.  His death was ours.  We had earned it and we deserved it and He did not, but He died for us and in our place anyhow.  Because of His great love and His self-giving sacrifice, we are forgiven.  Our sins are not held against us.  We are no longer reckoned as guilty and deserving punishment and death, but holy and righteous because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus won this for all men, and God has promised that all who trust His promises, and expect what He has promised, will receive and possess those promises -- forgiveness and love and blessings now, and life everlasting and resurrection of these tired bodies from our graves, only they will be outfitted for unending and eternal life before God in Glory, which is His gift to those who believe, though Jesus Christ.

Jesus' sheep hear His voice and follow Him.  We follow Him into our graves trusting in His power to raise us from the grave to eternal life.  We follow with lives of faithfulness and holiness, by His help and power.  We will follow Him in His resurrection, also by His help and power.  In the course of this life, we hear His voice where He has placed it, in the called servants of the Word who are faithful.  We follow by faithfully doing what He has given us to do.  We believe in Him, and we cling to His Word and His truth – that is sound doctrine – and we follow His voice.

Others don't.  That is an unfortunate truth.  Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice.  Those who cannot hear it are not His sheep.  Those who will not listen are not His sheep.  Those who will not believe the things His voice says are not His sheep.  Those who will not follow Jesus are not His sheep.  In the days of Jesus, shepherds led their sheep, they did not drive them like in a cattle-drive.  In fact, you cannot drive sheep as one might drive a herd of cows.  You have to lead them.  Shepherds of old would meet and their flocks would mingle, but when it came time to part, the shepherds would simply walk away singing their song or calling out their call, and their sheep would each hear his shepherd's voice and follow the right shepherd because he was their shepherd, whom they knew and trusted.  Jesus' sheep hear his voice.  He said so.  Those who do not hear and follow Him are simply and sadly not His sheep.

And Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  There are other shepherds out there.  They speak different words and lead in different directions.  Each has his own agenda.  But they do not care for the sheep, except as a means to their own ends.  They do not love the sheep because they do not own them, and they cannot save them, because the kind of saving the sheep need is beyond anyone but Jesus.  When the dangers of life, or death and hell confront the sheep, those false shepherds, those hirelings, run away and abandon the sheep to their destruction.

But Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  That means you are safe.  The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  He will keep you in all your ways.   He will guide and guard and bless you.  He will not desert you in the hour of need, because He is not merely a hired hand.  You need have no fear of life or death.  He is Your Shepherd.  He has loved you to death and into everlasting life, and He will keep you until you arrive at the heavenly sheepfold.

You and I are the other sheep that Jesus mentioned in our text.  We are the ones whom He has added to His flock.  Ancient Israel was His flock.  We have been added.  He knew that we were like sheep – not able to understand, and not able to sense the danger we were in, and not able at all to help ourselves, so He has done it, worked our salvation on the cross, and has spoken His love to us in Word and Sacrament.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

There are still many false shepherd and hirelings out in the world today.  They are those who have their own agendas.  Some want to build a large flock that they can lead wherever they will.  Some use the sheep for their egos, or they are serving another who would be shepherd, but is not and cannot be.  Some just want to fleece their flock.  Whatever their goal or agenda, only the Good Shepherd has forgiveness and life and salvation.  Only the Good Shepherd can bless and only the Good Shepherd can save.

Only the Good Shepherd is the One promised in ancient prophecy, "I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest," declares the Lord GOD.  "I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment."  He has sought you.  He has gathered you together into His flock.  He has healed your deepest wound - sin and death.  And He gives you the rest - the peace and joy of the Gospel.  Only those who are too strong and too comfortable to listen to His call are in danger.  Those He will destroy.

So listen for His voice.  Be careful to hear His voice and not another.  And when you have heard His voice, and you will know that it is His voice, follow Him.  Do not let anything, not fame or wealth, not family or friends, not pleasures, or fear, or troubles, or sorrows, or any other thing stand in your way, but follow Him.  And be at peace in whatever circumstance you may find yourself, for  Jesus Christ, your Shepherd, is the Good Shepherd.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Peace Be with You

 John 20:19-31

When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."  And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus therefore said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you."  And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.  The other disciples therefore were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."  And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, "Peace be with you."  Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing."

Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!"  Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."  Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

Sermon for Quasimodogeniti Sunday                               4/07/24

Peace Be With You

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Peace is a big thing in the Christian Church.  It isn't automatic, as our parish experience indicates, but it is a great value among the people of God.  We begin every sermon with a prayer for peace.  Here, in our Gospel, Jesus chooses to speak a blessing of peace upon His disciples as the first thing He says when He appears to them the first time following His resurrection from the grave.  The content of the Gospel is, when it is boiled down to it, the blessing of peace.  Our theme this morning is, Peace be with you.

Our Gospel takes place on the first Easter.  It is the first day of the week, a Sunday.  The disciples were huddling together in an upper room for fear that they might be next on the ‘hit' list of the enemies of Jesus.  They had undoubtedly heard the stories about Jesus' resurrection.  They had run to the tomb.  John and Peter had seen the empty place where the body and been laid.  We are told by John earlier in this chapter that Peter and John had run to the tomb, and looked in, and seeing the body missing had believed, we just don't know what they were believing.  They had hopes and yet they still had fears.

Then Jesus appeared.  The doors were locked, but still, suddenly, He was there among them as though He had just walked into the room through a doorway.  He spoke, "Peace be with you."  Then He showed them the wounds in His hands and side.  He proved to them that it was Jesus, the crucified One.  He even ate some fish in their presence to prove He was not a ghost.  Then they were happy.  The whole unbelievable thing was true!  Somehow, Jesus and risen from the dead!  It was outstanding news!

Then Jesus spoke again.  One more time, He bid them peace, and said, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you."  That is where the word "Apostle" comes from.  It means "Sent One."  Jesus commissioned them right then and there.  He charged them with a mission.  And what was that mission?  Listen to the words of John - and Jesus as quoted by John, And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

The mission of the Apostles was to forgive and retain sins.  They were to distribute what Jesus had purchased with His bloody death and fantastic resurrection.  Their commission was to forgive sins.  The authority they received that day has been passed on to the Church.  It is the authority of the Office of the Keys, exercised by the pastor publicly for the congregation in the preaching of the gospel, in the pronouncing of absolution, and in the administration of the Sacraments.  Its use does not depend on the worthiness of the pastor, but on the power of God, on the authority of the Word, and on the work of the Holy Spirit.

The words of Jesus are the command I refer to when I say, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you . . .".  It is in this first moment of the Christian Church, as Jesus commissions His Apostles and gives them both the scope of their mission and His authority to perform it, that the power and efficacy of the absolution you hear each week is established.  These words are meant to speak peace and comfort to your hearts as well - peace be with you.

Of course, Thomas, known as "The Twin" (that is what "Didymus" meant), was not present on that day.  I think he was absent that day by the design of God for your sakes.  Naturally, the disciples couldn't help but share the good news!  We have seen the Lord!  He is really risen from the dead!  Just like any one of us, Thomas was just a wee bit skeptical.   "Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."

I said that I think he was absent for your sakes, because he asked the question that any reasonable person would, just as if you were confronted by the incredible claim that someone had risen from the dead!  "I'm no fool.  You will have to show me!"  Thomas was not about to just take their word for something so unbelievable as that.  He had to see for himself — and for us, as it turns out.

Thank God for old Doubting Thomas!  The next Sunday, Jesus appeared to His Apostles again.  This time, Thomas was there.  Jesus waited, again, for the doors to be shut tight and locked.  He wanted Thomas to see it just like the others had.  First, Jesus greeted them again with the bidding of Peace be with you.  Then Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Touch Me.'  "Reach here your finger, and see My hands; reach here your hand and put it into my side, and be not unbelieving but believing."  There was no sense of scolding here.  It was our invitation to see for ourselves – through the eyes of Thomas.  He was invited to put his fingers (and ours) into the nail holes and see that they were real.  Then he was asked to stick his hand into the wound made by the spear and be sure it was real, and that the man he was seeing was actually, physically there.  This wasn't just "seeing" with his eyes – eyes can play tricks on you.  This was seeing with his eyes and his touch and his ears!

Thomas was overwhelmed!   "My Lord and my God!"  Not words of profanity or an overstatement by a man who had just been shocked by seeing what he could not even imagine was true when he was told about it.  This was a confession of faith.  Jesus is Lord and God – proven by His rising from the dead.

Then Jesus said something remarkable!  He said - "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."  Those words refer to us.  They tell us also that Jesus doesn't intend to go around "proving it" to everyone.  Thomas was our test case.  Jesus is also telling us that Thomas is to be our eyes into this event.  Thomas did not believe a fantasy - nor did any of the other disciples.  They believed what they saw, and what they saw transformed them from men huddling in fear to Apostles boldly going out to proclaim, and to forgive sins, even in the face of the threat of death.  You are blessed when you see through the eyes of Thomas and believe what caused this doubting man to become a humble confessor.

John then tells us that his book does not tell us everything about Jesus, or what He did, but it tells us what it does so that we, too, might believe, because it is by believing that we have life eternal in the name of Jesus Christ.  It is by faith that we possess what Christ has won for us.  By trusting in the promises of God that what Jesus did took sin out of the equation, and that all that God has promised - forgiveness, life everlasting, and salvation - is ours because of and in connection with Jesus Christ.

When you stop to consider the staggering price paid for us, and the overwhelming gift of God, you can understand the peace which Christ offers and gives to each of His people.  It is the peace of sins forgiven.  There is no longer any need to carry guilt around.  When we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us for Jesus' sake.  We don't have to wonder.  There is no reason to ask what we must do to earn it or deserve it.  Doubting Thomas took care of that for us by examining the evidence.  It was real.  Jesus died and rose again.  All that He has promised is certain and sure.

And He promises to take our sins and our guilt and remove it.  He promises that those who trust in Him for this forgiveness will also possess life eternal, and resurrection of the body to that eternal life of both body and soul on the last day of the world.  All we need is faith – and faith comes by hearing the Word of God.  Like Thomas, we need to examine the evidence, and hear the promises of God, and let the Holy Spirit have time to work in us through the Word.

Because of the greatness of the promises, we should be eager to learn more clearly and completely what is promised, and what our God is like.  We should be excited to give the Holy Spirit access to us by the Word – and the Sacraments.  Every Christian has this eagerness, for it is a work of the Spirit, too.  Some resist it, not understanding it, or feeling the pressures of the flesh and of this world more acutely than they feel the urgings of the Spirit.  That is why the Apostle Peter wrote, "like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation."

That verse is the one from which this Sunday of the Church Year draws its name - Quasimodogeniti, Latin for "just like a new-born baby".  We are those new-born babies.  We are born of water and the Word unto everlasting life.  We are kept by the power of God for salvation, and not our own wit or will.  We are fed by the Lord's Supper for faith and salvation and immorality.  We are strengthened and built up by the Holy Spirit through the hearing of the Word of God.  Our sixty or eighty years – even ninety – are nothing in the face of eternity, so we all remain but "new-born babes."

So, let us pay close attention to Thomas the Twin, and see in him the test of the evidence.  It really happened. Jesus rose from the tomb, which means that it will also happen for everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ.  It means that even when we have no sense or feeling of it, our sins have been forgiven.  It means that God loves us. And He counts each one of us as though we were His only-begotten Son, so our lives are never out of control - just out of our control, at times.  God is with us every day, blessing, and guiding, forgiving and loving, and bringing us to the things He would us to do for Him.

And knowing that is comforting, and trusting in that with all your heart - as Proverbs 3:5 says - is peace.  It is the peace of knowing we are secure.  It is the peace of knowing God will not let us go.  It is the peace of sins forgiven.  And it is the peace of the child who knows that his or her Father is there, so nothing can go wrong.  It is the peace of faith in Jesus Christ, and all that He has done, and all that He has won - in short, the Gospel.  It is a peace which begins when we can confess with Thomas, "My Lord and my God!"

Peace be with you!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Servant Shares the Victorious Life

 Isaiah 53:10-12

But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

Sermon for Easter 3/30/24

The Servant Shares the Victorious Life

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

He is Risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

This morning we bring to a close our Lenten series on the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Rather than use our Gospel as our text today, we will go back to Isaiah once more. But don't worry, I will not ignore the Easter accounts. Today is all about the glorious truth of Easter. Jesus Christ has risen from the grave. Our theme this morning is, "The Servant Shares the Victorious Life".

Easter begins at the tomb. The LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief. Without Good Friday, there really is no Easter. The will of God was, from the very beginning, that His Servant would die for our sins. The Lord was not pleased simply to crush Him and put Him to grief. His will was that Jesus would be the guilt offering, the One who died because of human guilt. That is why God came in human form. Easter is the reason behind Christmas. He had to be human, bound to the law just as all of us are: Sin, and you die. The other side the side none of us has accomplished is that if you live utterly without sin, you will live forever.

But Jesus changed that. He lived the sinless life of perfect obedience to the Father from a heart of love, and not merely from a sense of duty. He earned eternal life. Then He died anyway. Death had no power over Him, but Jesus died nonetheless. He said that no one would take His life from Him, but that He Himself would lay it down. He died deliberately, and by His choice when the time was right. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.

He knew anguish. He was so sorrowful on that night in the garden that it nearly killed Him. His sweat came as great drops of blood which doctors say can happen when you are under enough stress emotionally. Then came the arrest, the trial before the kangaroo court of the Sanhedrin, the trials before Pilate and Herod, and the scourging, illustrated so graphically in Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ. Finally came the cross. All of that is summed up here in our text by the words "the anguish of His soul".

And then Isaiah says, "He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities." That is where Isaiah comes to Easter! The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave is the evidence that God saw all that His Servant, His Son, bore and He was satisfied. The debt of sin is paid. The wrath of God is not just appeased but used up and worn out and met completely by the "guilt offering" of Christ for us. It is now as though we had never sinned. We are covered by Jesus and His atonement. God is satisfied. Just as He looked on His newly created world and saw that it was very good, He looks on us in the light of Jesus and His death on our behalf, and we look very good once again without stain or spot or any such thing. Jesus bore our iniquities to the cross and nailed them there forever.

By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many. That was Isaiah's elegant way of saying what Mark said in chapter 16, verse 16, "he that believes and is baptized
shall be saved
." "His knowledge" means "the knowledge of Him". By it we are justified, declared holy and righteous by God Himself. That is the glory of God, that He rescued and redeemed us,  His creatures, at such a tremendous price, from our sins. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

You see Easter is not just about resurrection. That peculiar show on TV called "Resurrection" shows us that resurrection all by itself is not necessarily a good thing. When the dead rise on  the last day, many will rise to discover that their resurrection is nothing good. They will rise to eternal condemnation, and regret, and pain, and sorrow. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that does not believe shall be condemned. It is by knowing the truth, accepting it as true, and living in the light of it that one finds salvation. Isaiah said, By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many. We call that faith. Jesus said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." You see, even there, in the words of Jesus, you gotta know the truth. The knowledge of Him sets you free.

He poured Himself out to death. No one killed Jesus. He gave up His own life. He was numbered with the transgressors. He died between two criminals as one of them. But His crimes were our sins. He bore the sins of the many, Isaiah said. That is what we celebrate today. Sure, we say, He is risen! And you reply, He is risen indeed! Hallelujah! But we do it because the resurrection is the divine declaration of forgiveness. God said, "It worked!" He was satisfied! Sin as a cause of divine displeasure toward all men is done with. God is not angry with us over our sins because of Jesus. No one goes to hell due to their sins. When they get there, there will be an accounting, and they will suffer over them, but they don't go to hell because they sinned. You and I have sinned too! Yet we will go to heaven. The reason anyone goes to hell is unbelief.  They choose hell by rejecting heaven and salvation and glory in Jesus Christ.

Many will go to hell because they refuse to believe in the Jesus that existed and suffered for them. They have another "Jesus" in their minds. Or they reject the concept of God altogether.  Or they believe in some way that they have to make it on their own, earn their way, and be fit and deserving. They actually believe that they can be deserving of eternal glory. Some believe in other deities, fictional though they are. Good examples are the Mormons and the Moslems. We can point to when these deities were invented when their holy books were written, and even trace many of the sources from which the authors borrowed or stole their writings and ideas. Joseph Smith wrote his book just a century and a half, or so, ago. He stole a novel by a retired Methodist minister, inserted some Old Testament chapters directly into the book, and started his own religion.

Some would say that such things do not matter. That all religions are alike, or that all the gods are just the same god under different covers. But He is risen! He died to atone for our sins, and God raised Jesus from the dead to declare us forgiven, and said there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. No one else has died for us or risen again. Period. Of course, some say that I am wrong, and way too focused on this doctrine, this form of the faith. But that points out that this is what it is faith. He is risen. That is the proclamation of Scripture. Many disagree, even some within the church, so-called. But that is our Easter joy!

Because Jesus has risen, we shall also rise. We shall rise to eternal life in glory with Him. We call that heaven', but we don't really understand it. It is good, and it is beyond all sorrow, sickness, pain, or death. It has no end to put a stop to our joy, or the enjoyment of the many blessings of God, and we will not have to deal with those little consequences of sin, like bad eyes, deafening ears, aching joints and muscles, or the frustration of not knowing what is going on or why or what it will mean for us in the future, or the larger consequence of sin: eternity in hell. We will live in God's presence and glory conscious of His presence, unlike now. He is among us, be we have no consciousness by our senses of his presence, just the confidence in it because He said He would be with us always, even to the end of the age.

So, for now, we confess with Isaiah that "The Servant Shares the Victorious Life". In our circles as among all of God's people, however, we say it like this: He is risen! He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)