Sunday, May 26, 2024

Baptism – Birth from Above

 John 3:1-15

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Him by night, and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."  Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?"  Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.'  The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?"  Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?  Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness.  If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.

Sermon for Trinity Sunday                                              05/26/24

Baptism – Birth from Above

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This morning is Trinity Sunday.  Normally, the sermon should focus on the doctrine of the Trinity.  I am not going to do that today.  I am going to preach on the gospel, which deals with being "born again" - which is better translated "born from above", I think, and which is described by Jesus as being "born of water and the Spirit."  As to the doctrine of the Trinity, I could not describe it better than the creed which we just spoke together - the Athanasian Creed.  What we can say, and what we cannot say about who the Trinity is or how it works is set forth in short order there.

Today we are going to talk about that washing – Baptism.  Although our Gospel lesson doesn't state this explicitly, it is taught elsewhere, that this baptism is "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."  So, we are baptized in the name of and into connection with the Holy Trinity.  This morning, however, I want to talk with you about Baptism, starting with the words of Jesus in our text.  Our theme is, "Baptism - Birth from Above".

Our Gospel begins with Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night.  Nicodemus was identified as "a ruler of the Jews", which indicates that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Israel in those days.  He was also a rabbi, a teacher, for Jesus says to Him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?"  So Jesus was not speaking with a novice in theology, but a teacher, and clearly He was teaching Nicodemus things that Nicodemus had never even considered before.

Jesus spoke about being born again.  The word used there to mean, "again", means "from above".  We can see how Nicodemus took what Jesus said, at least at first, because He asks about how a man could crawl back up into His mother's womb to be born a second time.  That is part of what Jesus wanted Nicodemus to understand - but surely not all of it.  The common word for the idea "again" in Greek is pavlin.  It is the most commonly used word in the New Testament, used 141 times.  The word Jesus used here is the Greek word, a[nwqen, which is used 13 times in Scripture and is translated "again" only three times - and two of them are in this Gospel lesson.  Jesus chose that specific word to couple the ideas of a re-birth, and a birth from above.

That is what Baptism is, a second birth, not from the womb, but rather from above.  It is a birth by water and by the power and working of the Spirit.  Nicodemus was a good Protestant.  He could not imagine what Jesus could have meant, and the only way he could think of "birth" was natural birth from the womb of a woman.  That seems to have suited Jesus' teaching intention, too.  Jesus used natural birth as "born of the flesh", and the birth from above - Baptism - as "born of the Spirit".  He teaches us that we are inadequate, as we come from the womb, "to enter (or see) the kingdom of God."

That is the witness of Scriptures in general, as we have often discussed.  1 Corinthians 2:14 says, "But a natural man [the way a person is when they come from the womb - untouched by God in any special way] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."  Romans 8:7 says, "because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so".  Again, 1 Corinthians 12:3 tells us, "Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed'; and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit."

The reason we need that birth from above is our spiritual condition as those born of the flesh, Ephesians 2:1, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins."  Paul also calls us "Children of wrath, just like the rest" and "dead in your transgressions" before the Spirit "made us alive together with Christ", working life in you by the new birth in Baptism.  This is what Paul is getting at in Romans 6, when He writes, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."

These words of Romans 6 also remind of the reason this birth is called "born again."  We are buried with Christ by Baptism into His death - that is we literally die with Christ - spiritually - and are raised, then, to a new life through baptism, dead to sin and alive to God in Christ, as Romans 6:11 says.  This is a real death and a real re-birth to new and everlasting life with Christ.  That is why it is worse for a man to fall away once he has tasted the goodness of the Lord.  Peter says it is better to never have known than to know and turn away from Christ.

Jesus answers all of the modern objections to the doctrine of the sacramental power of Baptism when He speaks to Nicodemus.  Nicodemus cannot fathom how these things can be, and Jesus tells him to simply trust God and know that the Holy Spirit can do far more than he, Nicodemus, can imagine, "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."  And Jesus tells Nicodemus this in the context of telling him that you must be born of water and the Spirit.

He even chides Nicodemus,  "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?  Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness.  If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?"  If anyone should have been able to understand these things, it should have been Nicodemus.  Nevertheless, he did not.  What the words of Jesus mean, basically, is that we should not trust our wisdom and powers of reason in matters theological, but trust and depend on the Word of God.  What God's Word tells us is true, and it means just what it says, even when it doesn't quite make sense to us.

The word for "Spirit" and the word for "wind" in Greek is the same word.  When Jesus describes the wind and says you hear it and see its results, but you don't know where it came from or where it is going, He was describing a common human experience.  With modern weather maps and such, people might think they know more about the wind - and they surely do - but the message is really unchanged: just as the wind goes where it goes, without our permission and without our understanding - we simply experience it - so, too, with the Spirit of God.

But Jesus doesn't actually say that.  He says, "so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."  Like the wind, we cannot see the Holy Spirit, but only see some of what He is accomplishing.  We cannot always tell what He doing - nor control where He will go next.  The Church Growth Movement appears to believe that it can dictate where and when and how the Spirit will move - - - but they are wrong.  So, too, we cannot predict who will become a Christian, or who God will use, or how.  All we can do is experience what the Spirit is doing, and what He works in those around us.

Some times we think we have made a good confession, and yet, the hearers just cannot accept what we say.  At other times we think we have said everything wrong, and yet they hear the Word, and the Spirit works in them, and they are moved by the Spirit to work powerfully and effectively where the Lord has called them and placed them.  It is not under our control, how all that we do and say works, and it is not our work, actually.  It is God's.  And He promises to work through baptism.  All of this, "You don't understand how it works" talk is for Nicodemus, about Baptism.  Luther said it this way for us,

"How can Water do such great things?  It is not the water indeed that does them, but the Word of God which is in and with the water, and faith which trusts such Word of God in the water; for without the Word of God, it is just plain water, and not Baptism, but with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and the washing of regeneration and renewing in the Holy Spirit as St. Paul tells us in Titus, chapter three, "He saved us, not by deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit."

Who you are and what you are is the work of God, through your Baptism – and life since then in the Word – and in the Lord's Supper.  You didn't make it happen, God did.  You are not really in charge of what you will be doing next.  You can decide about coffee and cookies after service, but God has your life in His plans — and in His hands.  Meanwhile, your life in Christ is the plan of the Father, the gift of the Son, and the work of the Holy Spirit.

This birth from above is not the result of a decision you make.  It is the gift of God.  It is not merely "as if" you were born again, but a truth which we do not perceive with our senses, but hear of only in the Word.  In your Baptism, you were clothed with Christ, your sins were washed away, you were made righteous, and given a good conscience towards God through the work of Jesus.  These are not merely what we think or how it feels, but truth revealed in God's Word.

This new birth makes you alive to God and dead to sin, and promises that sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.  It is not a ceremony without power, but the very power of God at work in you to bring you to Christ, and to guide you into holiness of life - both growing and imputed - and you got to see it happen for Kennedy Sue last Sunday.

And it is the sine-qua-non of the Christian life.  Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Without this work of God in you, you cannot be a child of God.  Your doing it doesn't earn anything, it receives the promise of God.  But have no fear - this precious gift is already yours, in your Baptism.

You have been born ‘from above'.  Your life is no longer earth centered, but Christ centered.  Your family is no longer simply those connected to your flesh by genetics, but those who have been born in Christ by Baptism into this new family, the household of God, as St, Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:19.  You are truly children of God in Christ, both by adoption and by new birth from above.  Don't ask how it can be, or why you cannot feel it, just know that the Spirit works where He chooses, and He has chosen you, with the outcome that you will have everlasting life in Jesus Christ.

And if it seems hard to comprehend, just think about the Holy Trinity, who works this great thing in us.  He is, in His own being, beyond our ability to comprehend - even when He tells us about it.  So, why should we be able to understand all that He is able to do?    Just take Jesus' word for it, Baptism is a birth from above.

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

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)