Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 9)

July 6, 2014
Text: Matthew 11:25-30

            We are children of the heavenly Father.  That is our posture toward Him.  Little children.  That means that we are utterly helpless apart from His care and providence.  We can do nothing for ourselves.  We need Him to feed us, cloth us, put a roof over our heads, keep us safe, comfort us when we are hurting or in distress, nurse us back to health when we are sick.  We need Him for everything.  And most especially we need Him to rescue us when we are in mortal danger, for we cannot save ourselves from sin and death any more than an infant can rescue himself from the clutches of a violent predator.  God must do everything for us.  So that’s what He does.  He created the world and everything in it, the universe and all that exists, created it all out of nothing, by His almighty Word.  And in this world He provides for all our needs of body and soul.  He gives us, as every Catechism student learns to recite: “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have.  He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.  He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil” (Luther’s Small Catechism [St. Louis: Concordia, 1986]).  He rescues us from that violent predator, the old evil foe, from sin, and from the very jaws of death.  For He sends His Son, Jesus, who (again, as we learn in the Catechism), “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”  And that we may receive all of this, know that it comes from our gracious God, and believe in Him and trust Him for help and salvation and every need, He gives us His Holy Spirit, who “has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” 
            As is often the case with children, we take for ourselves much of the credit that properly belongs to our heavenly Father.  We’ve earned this.  This stuff is ours.  We can provide for ourselves.  We can protect ourselvesWe know what is good for us and what is bad for us.  And so we get a little too big for our britches.  Children always point out the stuff that belongs to them as if it weren’t Mom and Dad who actually paid for it.  They act as if they own the house, the food magically appears in the refrigerator, and the money for all their stuff grows on trees.  They think they can do just fine without Mom and Dad’s wisdom, Mom and Dad’s protection, Mom and Dad’s rules, but even when they go off to college, they’re more than happy to have Mom and Dad buy some groceries, do some laundry, take them out to a nice restaurant.  But you know what, Mom and Dad are happy to do that, because they’re Mom and Dad.  That’s their job.  That’s their office.  Whether the kids recognize it or not.  And so God our Father in His dealing with us.  We think we don’t need Him.  Except when we do.  And it is in those moments that we realize we always need Him.  And He always provides.  He always helps.  He is always God for us.  He is always our Father.  He reveals this not to the wise and learned, those who think they know enough on their own and don’t need Him.  He reveals it to little children, you, when your labors and burdens bring you to the end of yourself and you realize how utterly dependent you are upon God for every moment, every breath, every beat of your heart.
            God must do everything for you, as a Father for His infant.  And He does it through His only-begotten Son, Jesus.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who took on our flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  He became a little baby for us.  He was utterly dependent on His mom, for us, who are utterly dependent on His Father.  He is the Word through whom the Father created all things (John 1:1-3).  He is the Word by which the Father sustains all things (Heb. 1:3).  He is the Word by which the Father cares for you, the Divine Wisdom by which the Father teaches you (Prov. 2:6, etc.), and it is He who became flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, to redeem you, to pay for your sins by His death, to give you eternal life.  Now He is risen in that same flesh, and has ascended to the right hand of the Father.  And the Father has handed over to Him all things.  He rules all things for us and for our salvation.  And He reveals His Father to us by sending His Spirit, who works right here in His Church, in the preaching of the Word and in the holy Sacraments.  The Son reveals God to us, not as a God of wrath, not as a God far removed, but as “Our Father who art in heaven.”  Our God, for us.
            And that takes all the burdens off of us.  I think about this sometimes, how there were times when I was a child when I was literally without a care in the world.  Because Mom and Dad took care of everything.  Those were great times, if only I had recognized it then.  For example, when we would go on a family vacation, Mom and Dad paid for everything.  I had no idea it even cost anything.  They just took care of it.  They drove.  They made sure we got where we were going safely and efficiently.  They made sure we were well fed.  They made sure we had a place to sleep.  None of this was ever of any concern for me.  I wish my kids knew how wonderful this whole thing is they’re about to experience.  Now I’m the dad, and I have to worry about all of it.  Except I don’t.  Not ultimately.  Sure God has called me to be responsible for all of this for my family, humanly speaking.  But ultimately, who is responsible for all of this, right down to the last detail?  God is.  Our Father is.  He takes care of it.  I suppose as a kid I thought I had a few things to worry about.  Would we get to go to my favorite restaurant?  Would I get the souvenir I really wanted?  But when we grow up, we realize those aren’t really cares.  In those moments when we realize God, our heavenly Father, has it all covered, we also recognize that we don’t really have any cares.  We don’t really have anything to worry about.  He’s got it.  Just trust Him.  He’s in the driver’s seat.  We just buckle up, and go for the ride.
            This is what Jesus means when He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28; ESV).  You can rest knowing that it is ultimately Jesus who bears your labors and your burdens, that He bore them already to the cross where they have been baptized by His blood, sanctified, made holy, all sin having been washed away. He would have you take up His yoke, which is His Name given to you in Baptism.  We’ve been talking about that yoke the last couple weeks in terms of persecution.  I suppose that is burdensome.  He would have you learn from Him, learn His Word, come to know it by heart so that it just becomes a part of you.  I suppose that is laborious.  But His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  Because He is the one who ultimately does the labor and bears the burden.  He does that on the cross.  And He gives you rest.  Rest in Him.  Rest in His Father.  Rest as a little child who simply trusts in your God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
            It has been a tough week for our congregation, and I can tell you one very important thing about our two dear sisters as they lay on their death beds.  There it became clear to them that they are little children of the heavenly Father.  They could do nothing.  But that’s okay.  Because Jesus has done everything.  And He continues to do everything, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  All they could do is trust in Him and rest.  And so you.  Trust your Father.  Trust Jesus.  Come to your Savior with all your labors and burdens.  Come here to His Table.  For here He gives you rest.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    


Saturday, July 05, 2014

In Memoriam +Norma Ruth TerAvest+

In Memoriam +Norma Ruth TerAvest+

July 5, 2014
Text: John 20:11-18

            Norma is one of the matriarchs of this congregation.  If I know my Epiphany history, one of the inaugural (if not THE inaugural) meeting of the congregation-to-be was held in the farm house living room, Norma and Bob serving as hosts.  God has given us many gifts through this dear saint.  Many of the members here learned the faith in her Sunday School class at St. Paul’s.  Many more learned the faith from her confession of Christ and her Christian example.  And many learned the best that human wisdom has to offer at her feet in the schoolhouse and classrooms in which she taught for so many years.  Norma is a teacher at heart.  And this morning she continues to teach us in Scripture and hymn and liturgy as through this service she confesses her risen Lord Jesus Christ.
            This is, after all, what her Lord called her to do in her Baptism into Christ on February 9, 1920, when the Lord Jesus called her by name and put the very Name of God on her, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  She was called to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus, one who learns of Him, and then passes on what she has learned, that others may come to believe in the Lord Jesus and be strengthened in their faith.  Susan mentioned that Mary Magdalene was a hero of Norma’s in this regard.  Mary, as we heard in the Holy Gospel, was the first to see the risen Lord Jesus on Easter morning (and touch Him – Matt. 28), and she was charged to go and proclaim the Resurrection to the Apostles.  She to whom the Lord Jesus had shown great mercy by casting out seven demons (Mark 16:11), she who had followed the Lord and cared for Him in His earthly ministry (Luke 8:2-3), who stood at the foot off the cross and wept for her Teacher (John 19:25), who served Jesus even in His death, coming to His tomb early that morning to anoint His body with spices (Mark 16:1), she was given to see Him, risen and living.  She did not recognize Him at first.  In her grief, she could not see Him clearly, though there He was, with her in her grief, with her to comfort and impart faith.  She supposed Him to be the gardener.  Until He spoke her name.  “Mary,” He said, and that was all it took.  “Rabboni!” she replied, “(which means Teacher)” (John 20:16; ESV).  For she recognized Him when He called her by name. 
            And this is the pattern of Norma’s life, is it not?  He first called her by name in her Baptism into Him, into His death and resurrection.  She learned to recognize Him at the font.  In great mercy, the Lord Jesus made her His own, forgiving all her sins, bestowing on her eternal life and salvation, teaching her Divine wisdom in His holy Word, feeding her with His Body and Blood at the altar, providing for her every need of body and soul.  And He opened her lips by His Spirit to teach God’s people His own Word.  She taught what Jesus first taught her.  She gave what she had first received.  She loved, because He first loved her (1 John 4:19).  She loved and she served in the love of Christ.  She followed her Lord and cared for Him by caring for His people.  She served Him by serving His people, serving His Church, even planting this congregation with her brothers and sisters in those exciting early days with Pastor Lach.  For the love of God poured out upon Norma in Jesus Christ flowed through her to others, to us, and to so many.  And she confessed Him.  She confessed her Teacher, her Savior, her Lord.  “Christ is risen!” she would say.  “He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!”    
            And so she could face death with peace, with hope, even with joy.  Because Christ conquered death in His death and in His resurrection from the dead.  And He has promised to raise Norma and all of us, bodily, on the Last Day. 
            It was a really beautiful experience Susan and I had in Norma’s final moments on earth.  I had stopped in, made small talk with Susan for a bit, Norma was sleeping soundly.  Moving to her bedside, we began to pray the Commendation of the Dying, portions of which we had already prayed a number of times.  This time we prayed it in full.  There was the Holy Absolution, the forgiveness of all Norma’s sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  There were Scripture readings and prayers, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, a commendation of our dear sister to the Lord, and His three-fold benediction.  Among the Scripture readings which were the last Norma heard were these words from the Holy Gospel coming up tomorrow, the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the eleventh Chapter: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).  Jesus said, “Norma, come to me and rest.”  And Norma did.  By the time we finished the prayers, the holy angels had taken her to behold the face of her Savior in heaven.  He called her by name.  And for the first time she saw Him clearly.  He in whom she had believed, He whom she had confessed, she saw Him now for herself, sees Him now, just as Mary Magdalene did, her risen and living Savior.
            It is hard for us to see Him, though, in our grief.  In our sadness because we miss Norma.  In the other things that weigh us down in this earthly life.  Our sins, our heartaches, our sicknesses and pain.  But He is here with us.  Just because you can’t see something with your eyes, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  Just because you can’t see Jesus with your eyes, that doesn’t mean He isn’t with you.  He’s hidden, for sure.  But when someone is hidden, that necessarily means that person is present.  Jesus is here with you.  And just like Norma and Mary Magdalene, you recognize Him when He calls you by name.  You see Him by faith when He calls you in His Word and in Holy Baptism.  You’ll see Him for yourself when He calls you to come to Him at the end of your earthly life.  Learn from Norma.  She’s teaching you, here.  Come to Jesus and lay your labors and burdens at His pierced feet.  Take His yoke upon you, which is to say, the confession of His holy Name, as Norma did throughout her life.  And learn from Him, as Norma did, learning His Word, and then teaching it to others. 

            And be comforted.  All the things the Lord Jesus has done for Norma, He does for you.  He calls you to be His own.  In great mercy, He forgives all your sins and bestows on you eternal life and salvation.  He provides for your every need of body and soul.  He teaches you.  He gives you His Holy Spirit.  And He consoles you, even in your grief.  And His Words aren’t just empty sentiments.  For He has conquered death.  He is risen.  He will raise Norma on the Last Day.  And He will raise you, too.  That’s what Norma taught.  This congregation exists because she and Bob and their fellow founders believed it.  And now, she and Bob together, they see it.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Third Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 8)

June 29, 2014
Text: Matt. 10:34-42

            “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34; ESV).  Those are Jesus’ Words about Himself.  And how different our Lord’s self-description is than the way many in our culture would describe Him.  Isn’t Jesus all about bringing peace and reconciliation and love?  Well, He is, but not the way so many in our culture think He is.  Jesus is not about everybody accepting everybody else for who they are and whatever they want to do and whatever they want to believe so that we can all have a big group hug.  Jesus is not about tolerance when the thing we’re supposed to tolerate is physically or spiritually harmful, sinful, and destructive to people.  And as far as diversity, yes, Jesus is all about people from all over the earth, from many nations, with many backgrounds and many skin colors, coming together under the standard of His cross in one holy, Christian, and apostolic Church.  But not all diversity is good, and it isn’t all blessed by Jesus.  For example, our Lord is pretty insistent that there is only one way to heaven, and He is it.  He’s not very tolerant about diversity in religions.  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” says the Lord.  “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  So Jesus does not live up to the culture’s politically correct expectations.  Turns out He is not about rainbow unicorns and cuddly kittens.  He’s the Lord who enters the Temple to overturn tables and drive out the merchants and money-changers with a whip of chords.  You can read it for yourself.  It’s right there in John Chapter 2 (vv. 13-17).  The Jesus of Scripture is a Jesus with hard edges. 
            Jesus comes packing heat.  He’s wielding a sword.  As you can see from the picture on the front of your bulletin, He wields the sword with His mouth.  The sword, of course, is His Word.  “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).  And this sword does exactly what our Lord says it will in our text.  The Word of Christ becomes a source of division even between family members.  And you know what I mean.  What are the two topics you’re never supposed to bring up at the dinner table?  Religion and politics, right?  Well, just bring up Jesus and see how it goes.  Because you either believe in Jesus (the Jesus in Scripture, not the one made up by the culture), or you don’t.  You’re either with Him, or you’re not.  You either believe His Word, or you reject it.  And feelings are strong on both sides because there is so much at stake.  Those of us who believe in Jesus are devoted to Him, because we know what He’s done for us, saving us from our sin and death, from hell, by His suffering and death on the cross.   He gives us peace of heart, peace of conscience, peace with God, and eternal life, and we want others to have that peace and eternal life, so we witness.  We speak of Jesus and urge others to believe in Him.  But those who don’t believe in Him, have strong feelings, too, because again, there is so much at stake.  If Jesus is God, and if Jesus is the only way to eternal life, and I don’t believe in Jesus, well then, what does that mean for me?  That means I’m lost.  My sins aren’t forgiven.  I have no peace.  And instead of eternal life, I have eternal death, which is to say, hell.  And so, if you’re having this discussion around the family dinner table, it’s easy to see how the sword of Jesus’ Word sets a man against His father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  Passions run high.  And in times of persecution, like I warned you last week I think are coming, well… It has happened and it will happen again until our Lord returns that family members deliver up their own family members unto death.  Again, just think of Miriam Ibrahim (who has been freed, thank God, and for whom we continue to pray that God would grant her safety).  Her own Islamic father’s family, it is reported, are the ones who asked Sudanese authorities to take action against her.  So peace in the family might not be an option for those who believe in Jesus Christ.  Remember, dear Christians, that Jesus comes first, before family, and that’s what Jesus means when He says that “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37-38).  Confess Christ, speak His Word with gentleness and respect, but firmly and faithfully.  And then take what comes to you, whether from friend or foe.  That’s what you’re called to do. 
            The sword of Jesus’ Word, though, is double edged.  It is both Law and Gospel.  And here is the beautiful thing about our Lord’s wielding of the sword.  He comes among us with that sword, and we expect Him to mow us all down with His righteous Law, to slay us for our sins.  But He doesn’t.  Instead, He submits Himself to the sword.  He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), took our sin into Himself, and bore it to Calvary.  He suffered under God’s justice, that in Him God would justify the world.  He died, that we might live.  He was mowed down, that He might raise us out of sin and death to righteousness and life in Him.  That’s the Gospel.  And that is why, beloved, we can bear persecution.  Because, as we learned last week, all any earthly persecutor can do to us is kill our body.  They cannot kill our soul.  And on the Last Day, Jesus will raise our body from the grave to eternal life with Him.  That means the persecutors can’t really kill us.  When you die you go to heaven.  Then Jesus raises you.  There is a happy ending.  And that is also true about any lesser persecution you may have to endure.  So you are mocked.  Jesus will set the record straight on Judgment Day when He confesses you before the Father.  So friends and family speak ill of you, maybe even refuse to speak to you.  On the Last Day, they will confess your faithfulness before the throne of Jesus Himself.  So they take your home and your possessions.  Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you in the Father’s House.  So they imprison you.  Jesus will give you perfect freedom on the Day of Resurrection.
            Of course, as Christians, it is not our aim to be pests.  We don’t want to cause divisions, and we won’t so far as it depends on us.  But we will speak the Word of Christ faithfully.  We will confess Him.  Like Jeremiah in our Old Testament reading.  He didn’t want to be divided from Hananiah and the King in Jerusalem.  But the LORD had given him a Word to speak, and he had to speak it, even though it brought him suffering and the cross.  Jesus tells you, also, to take up your cross and follow Him.  And what that means is, don’t be afraid to suffer for His Name and for the Gospel.  Trust that He’ll preserve you, because that’s what He has promised.  To take up your cross simply means to take up your Baptism.  You already died.  You are baptized into the death of Christ.  You already have eternal life.  You are baptized into the resurrection of Christ.  So take they your life, goods, fame, child, or wife, let these all be gone.  They yet have nothing won!  The Kingdom yours remaineth! (LSB 656:4).  Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).  What that means is you have the world offering you life on its terms, and you have Jesus offering you life on His.  The life the world has to give you, with all its pleasures and charms, ends in death.  Finding your life, you lose it.  Deny Jesus and the world will let you alone, but in the end, you die.  The life Jesus has to give you starts with your death in Him and your continual losing your life for His sake in this earthly life as you bear the holy cross.  But in the end, you live, and that eternally.  Losing your life, you find it.  Confess Jesus and you may be flogged and hanged, as Miriam Ibrahim was threatened.  But then comes the reward, a reward Jesus Himself won for you on His cross, eternal life and the martyr’s crown.

            Jesus is not a politically correct Savior, and to whatever degree you’ve been influenced by political correctness (and we all have), repent.  Because this is about deeper things than having people like you, peace in the family, honor in the world’s estimation, money, possessions, and fleeting pleasures.  This is about deeper things than your home, your family, even your bodily life.  This is about things eternal, the holy things, the things of Jesus who died for you, the Jesus who is risen from the dead and lives for you, that you might live eternally in Him.  The Word of Jesus is sharp and it is deadly.  It will kill you, and it will hurt.  Don’t think believing that Word comes without a cost.  But it also raises you to life again, for it comes with this reward: Jesus, your life and your salvation, your God in the flesh.  It comes with Jesus saying to you in the end: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).  And now you’ve found it, your life in Jesus Christ, the Crucified.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 7)

June 22, 2014
Text: Matt. 10:5a, 21-33

            Miriam Ibrahim sits on death row in a Sudanese prison, as we speak, awaiting punishment by flogging followed by her execution by hanging.  Her crime?  She is a Christian.  The formal charge is apostasy.  The Islamic Sudanese government claims that Miriam converted to Christianity, which is illegal, and punishable by death.  In reality, her Christian mother raised her in the faith of Jesus after her Islamic father abandoned her.  Miriam grew up, became a doctor, married a Christian who is also a United States citizen.  They had a son.  She became pregnant with a daughter.  Then the Sudanese government arrested her and convicted her, first of adultery, because they do not recognize marriage to a Christian man (thus the flogging), and again, of apostasy, because Miriam confesses Jesus Christ.  She can renounce her Christian faith at any time and she will be released.  But she will not do it.  She believes what Jesus says in our Holy Gospel: “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33; ESV).  Miriam recently gave birth to her daughter in her prison cell, her legs chained together through the labor.  She has been forced to keep her children with her in prison until she is executed.  The infant mortality rate in this prison is one per day in the summer, according to the U.N.
            If you think it can’t happen here, you haven’t been paying attention.  There are things you cannot say as a Christian without being called a hater and a bigot.  In this country where we value our religious freedom, Christians are forced to pay for things that violate the deepest principles of our faith.  Our own courts have forced Christian business people to provide services that violate their conscience.  This is not a Democrat verses Republican thing.  This is just the reality.  Christianity is being officially censured.  Now, we have not yet been called upon to suffer as our sister Miriam has.  We have not yet been imprisoned.  We have not yet had to shed our blood or give our lives.  But if you don’t think it’s coming, I’d love to hear your theory about how that will all work out.  And when it does come, what will you do?  There will be an easy way out of the persecution.  It is the same option open to Miriam.  Just renounce Jesus and all the trouble goes away.  Just compromise your convictions.  Just waffle on Christian teaching.  Don’t be so stubborn about holding to what the Bible teaches.  Shut up, pay up, and you can go your merry way.
            But that is not an option for you, dear Christian.  No, like our sister Miriam, you believe what Jesus says to you this morning: “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  Our Lord has told us ahead of time that we will have to suffer.  Do not think that you are immune.  Jesus says our own family members will persecute us: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death” (v. 21).  You’ve probably been to family dinners where the tension is high because of disagreements about abortion or gay marriage or something like that, and you may have kept your Christian mouth shut because you didn’t want to add to the conflict.  Jesus says, though, you’ll be hated by all for His Name’s sake (v. 22), which is to say, because you bear His Name (Christian), because you’re Baptized into the Name He gives you, the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And because you speak in His Name, when the Lord opens your lips in confession, confession of a Christ the world despises.  You can’t avoid it, beloved.  A disciple is not above his Teacher, nor a servant above his Master (v. 24).  If they hated Jesus, they will hate you.  If they crucified Jesus, they will persecute you.  But there is the Promise: “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 22).
            Endurance is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is given by grace.  It is free to you, a gift of your Baptism.  We always talk about how we don’t know what we’ll do or what we’ll say until we’re in the moment, until we’re actually suffering persecution, and I suppose that is true in some sense.  The old sinful flesh will always want to take the easy way out.  There are Christians who have messed up on this.  They renounced their faith in time of peril.  Some abandoned Christ forever.  Others repented and came back to take up their cross.  But you are baptized.  You do have the Holy Spirit.  And Jesus did promise that you don’t have to worry ahead of time what you will say because the Holy Spirit will teach you what you should say and give you the words (Matt. 10:19; Luke 12:12).  In fact, He’s already taught you the words.  You know the Creed.  That’s the confession.  Just confess it, and confess it unto death. 
            After all, you know that your persecutors can only kill your body, and as Jesus says, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).  That’s God.  Fear God.  Do not fear man.  And trust God.  He’s your Father.  He will not let you perish.  He has numbered your every hair follicle (v. 30).  If not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from your Father, surely you, who are of more value than many sparrows (v. 31), can trust in the protection and providence of the God who loves you so deeply that He gave His only Son, Jesus, into death for you, to make you His own child.  If that’s true (and it is), you have nothing to fear.  Jesus says to go and proclaim His Word from the housetops.  Confess Christ.  Speak the truth in love.  Be like the Prophet Jeremiah and speak the Lord’s Word to those who hate you.  And then take it, whatever it is the unbelieving world has to dish out.  Because all they can do is what they are doing to our sister Miriam.  That’s the worst that can happen.  It sounds really bad to our lazy, apathetic flesh.  But think about it.  Because you are in Jesus, who died for you and is risen from the dead, when you die, you go on living.  They can’t really kill you.  You go to heaven.  And even the death of your body is only temporary.  Jesus will raise it up again, and then you can’t be flogged.  Then you can’t be hanged.  Then you can’t be persecuted, because then the old order of things has passed away and the new has come in Christ.
            In the meantime, practice what you’re going to do.  Practice the choice you will make under persecution.  We American Christians have been lulled into apathy and complacency.  We just don’t realize what is at stake when we compromise with the world.  Opportunities to practice faithfulness abound.  You just don’t recognize them.  You’re not going to like this, but it needs to be said.  When you have to choose between Church and inconsequential things (like sleeping in, or the lake, or sports, or whatever), and you choose those inconsequential things over Church, I want you to think about something.  If that’s what you do when the stakes are low, what are you going to do when the stakes are high?  When you have to choose between Church and your life on this earth?  What happens when you are in prison with Miriam?  And what about your children and grandchildren?  What priorities are you teaching them?  It is summer and these things have to be considered.  Practice what you’re going to do now, while the stakes are low.  If you can’t make it on Sunday, come on Wednesday.  Just come.  If you’re on vacation, find a Church.  Look on the Missouri Synod’s website.  There’s a congregation locator.  Or ask me.  I’ll help you find one.  But you need to go to Church.  After all, this is where the Holy Spirit teaches you what you shall say in that hour, when the persecution comes.  This is where the Holy Spirit teaches you the faith and keeps you in Jesus.  He keeps you steadfast.  He keeps you so that you endure to the end and are saved.  That’s the Promise. 

            Our sister Miriam will be released, of that I have absolutely no doubt.  I pray for her release daily, and I ask you to do the same, and to pray for the millions of Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering active persecution for the faith.  Miriam will either be released from prison because of the intense international pressure on the Sudanese government (and really, God’s mercy and your prayers), or she will be released when the holy angels carry her to the arms of the Savior in heaven.  Then Jesus will acknowledge her before the Father: “This one is mine, dear Father.  This one is Yours, dear Father.  She endured to the end.  She has won the martyr’s crown.”  So also you.  You will endure to the end, because that is the promise.  You may escape imprisonment, bloodshed, and death here on earth.  Or you may not.  Maybe the worst you’ll have to suffer is the tension around the family table.  That’s up to God.  But just confess.  Confess Christ and trust it all to Him.  Because you will be released from your suffering, too, should it come upon you.  God will keep you.  “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost (A)

June 8, 2014
Text: John 7:37-39

            “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.  Alleluia” (Alleluia verse for Pentecost).  Amen.
            It is the eighth day of the Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, and our Lord stands up and cries out.  He cries out in compassion for those He has come to save.  He cries out in grief over the hardened hearts of those who reject His love and saving presence.  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37; ESV).  Now, it was the custom at the Feast of Tabernacles that “On each of the seven festal days, the officiating priest took a golden vessel at the morning service, and filled it with water from the fountain of Siloam in the Kidron valley, mixed the water with the wine of the drink offering, and poured it into two perforated silver bowls on the west of the altar for the burnt offering, while the trumpets were sounded and praise was sung. The people chanted Isaiah 12:3”[1]: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”  Salvation would come out of Zion.  The faithful should slake their thirst with joy and singing.  And here our Lord declares that He is the Fountain of Salvation, the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the fulfillment of the great Feast, our true pool of Siloam (which means “Peace”), and our well of salvation.  “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters,” Isaiah bids us (Is. 55:1).  “If anyone thirsts,” cries the Lord, “let him come to me and drink.”
            Do you even know you are thirsty?  It is said that by the time you feel thirst, your body has already needed water for quite some time.  If we are so easily unaware of our physical thirst, how much more so is this true of our spiritual thirst?  We are parched.  We are empty.  Do you know this about yourself?  That is why God has given His holy Law.  Like a mighty, rushing wind, like a thunderbolt from heaven, the holy and righteous Law of God exposes and illuminates the barren, fruitless, and dead state of your soul outside of Christ.  You have been faithless toward God and heartless toward others.  You are full of lust and covetousness.  You have gossiped and lied and cheated.  You have lived as if you mattered most, as if God and your neighbor mattered not at all.  And yet, you have deluded yourself into believing that you are a living fountain of good.  Everyone should love you.  Everyone should admire you.  Everyone should respect you and thank God for you.  And our Lord cries out in grief, for in your delusion of self-fulfillment, you reject Him and His living water.  Repent.  The Ten Commandments are relentless in exposing your failure.  The Law of God shows you how parched and dead you are.  If you don’t know you are thirsty, just look into the mirror of the Law.  You’ll see.  And you’ll realize the Lord Jesus is crying out for you.
            “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”  Or as He says to the Samaritan woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10).  What is this water?  It is the Holy Spirit, whom those who believe in Jesus receive (John 7:39) as His free gift.  The Lord Jesus poured out the Spirit on His Church first at Pentecost, when the mighty rushing wind came through the Holy City and the tongues of fire rested on the heads of the disciples in the Upper Room.  Then the Apostles were filled with the Spirit and were given to preach the Gospel in other tongues, languages they had never known or studied, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).  Now, it is not as though the Spirit had not been present up to that point.  The Spirit was there in the beginning, when the earth was without form and void, hovering over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2).  The Spirit was there behind all of the events in the history of God’s people, giving faith to the patriarchs, inspiring the prophets to preach and to write God’s own Word, pointing to Messiah who would come to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15) and save His people from their sins.  He came upon the Virgin Mary to conceive the Father’s Son in the flesh of her womb.  He descended as a dove upon our Lord at His Baptism in the Jordan (Matt. 3:16).  He was present with the Twelve when Jesus called them to Himself, as He taught them and the crowds, performed miracles and signs.  He was there creating faith in the thief on the cross when our Lord promised him, “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).  “Christ… through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” for our purification and redemption by His blood (Heb. 9:14).  The Spirit was there when the Savior bowed His head and gave up the ghost (John 19:30).  And the Father raised Jesus from the dead in the Spirit (Rom. 8:11) who is the Lord and Giver of Life.  The risen Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23).  The Spirit was present with and in the Apostles when Jesus ordained them to forgive and retain sins.  So when St. John writes in our text that “as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (7:39), he does not mean that the Spirit had been absent, but that He had not yet come in His fullness.  But now, at Pentecost, Jesus has poured out His Spirit in His fullness, as living water, slaking the thirst of parched and dead sinners by bringing them to faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior. 
            Jesus poured out the Spirit on you in your Baptism.  Talk about living water!  There, at the font, you feel the splash of it all over your head as Jesus cleanses you from your sin, puts God’s Name on you, and makes you God’s own child.  Baptism is also an exorcism.  It isn’t pleasant to think about, but man, by nature, is born in the spiritual possession of the evil one.  But here the devil is renounced with all his evil works and ways.  The evil spirits are cast out.  And the Holy Spirit takes possession of you for Himself.  Confirmation, which we also celebrate today, is not a Sacrament, but it is a good tradition of the Church wherein our confirmands once again renounce the devil and his works and ways.  And they confess the faith of their Baptism, a confession made for them by their parents and sponsors at the font, today made with their own mouths now that they have been instructed.  In that instruction, by the way, Jesus has continued to pour out His Spirit upon them, just as He continues to pour out His Spirit on all of us in our every encounter with His Holy Word, here in the Divine Service, in Bible Study and Sunday School, in Catechesis, and home devotions.  And, of course, don’t think that the risen Body and Blood of Christ touches your lips without the Spirit present to give you life and strengthen your faith.  Today we celebrate our confirmands’ First Communion and we rejoice as they join  us at the Lord’s Table.  Another gift for them by which Jesus gives Krista and Olivia His Spirit.  And so He does for you.  Pentecost is still going on.  Jesus is continually pouring out His Spirit upon you in His gifts.
            Well, why does He have to continually pour out His Spirit?  Isn’t once enough?  Beloved, if you have to ask that question, you don’t even know how thirsty you are.  And our Lord cries out for you.  When Jesus pours His Spirit on you, you do not possess the Spirit in such a way that He is contained.  You do not trap Him and cage Him.  No.  He flows to you and through you in Jesus’ gifts.  He flows to you in Jesus’ Word and in His Sacraments.  He flows through you in faith toward God and love toward one another.  He is a never failing fountain of good.  He never dries up.  He never stops giving you life and faith.  He never stops giving you Jesus.  And so, as He flows to you and in you, as Jesus says, He also flows from you, “rivers of living water” flowing out of your heart (v. 38), faith spilling over in Spirit-given works of love.  You are not a bucket to be filled with this water so as to keep it all to yourself.  You are a pipe through which this water flows as it is connected to the source of this water, Jesus Christ and His means of grace (illustration by the Rev. Mark Love).  The expression “living water” means flowing water.  The Spirit flows from the Father and the Son to you, and through you to your neighbor.
            And as the Spirit flow through you and to others, you don’t lose Him.  You never lack.  Just as the LORD took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and put Him on the seventy elders of Israel, yet the Spirit upon Moses was not diminished (Num. 11:25), so you.  When the Spirit flows from you to others, you are both full.  What was once empty is filled with the very Spirit of God.  What was once dry and dead is now lush and full of life with the living water of Jesus Christ.  Drink deeply of Jesus.  He cries out for you.  He is your Fountain of Peace.  He is your well of salvation.  In Him, by His Spirit, you live and grow and bear the fruit of faith. You, O sinner, God has declared righteous on account of Christ.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have eternal life.  And the Holy Spirit now fills your heart and kindles in you the fire of His love.  Alleluia.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

[1] Ylvisaker, quoted in Buls’ Notes:

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)

June 1, 2014
Text: John 17:1-11

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            “I’m praying for you.”  How often do we say that to one another when one from our midst is suffering or facing uncertainty, when their faith is weak or they have been caught in some particular sin, or perhaps they have forsaken the faith altogether?  We also say this to one another as an expression of our common faith in Christ.  When someone is leaving on a trip, or when we speak with loved ones we rarely see due to distance, or even just when we want someone to be encouraged, we speak these words: “I’m praying for you.”  And it’s a wonderful thing to say.  I am always telling people on our prayer list that I know a number of you pray through that list faithfully, daily or weekly.  And of course I’m always telling people, “I’m praying for you.”  Speaking those words, we encourage and comfort others.  Hearing those words, we are encouraged and comforted.  And if that is the case, how much more so when we hear this morning that Jesus is praying for us.  Jesus prays for His Church.  Jesus prays for you.
            We heard about this on Wednesday evening at our Ascension Eve service, that one of the things our Lord Jesus is continually doing for you now that He has ascended to the right hand of the Father, is praying to His Father and yours for His Church, which is to say, for you.  He prays on the basis of His sin-atoning self-sacrifice for you on the cross, which is the same basis, by the way, of your prayers.  He is always praying through His blood, through the merits of His suffering and death.  He is praying for His Body, the Church, that she be kept and preserved through the Word and the Sacraments in faithfulness and holiness and righteousness, that she be one in the oneness of the Holy Trinity.  He is praying for you as a member of that Body, a member for whom He suffered.  Jesus prays for you in your afflictions.  He prays for you when you are sick or hurting or alone.  He prays for your marriage and your family… if you are single for your chastity and patience.  He prays for you to be faithful in your vocations.  He prays that you be sanctified by the Truth of His Word.  He prays for your loved ones.  He prays for you when death causes you grief, and he prays that you have a blessed death in the faith of Christ, that He may bring you to Himself in heaven.  Yes, Jesus prays for your eternal life and salvation.  He prays for your repentance.  He prays for your forgiveness.  And what does the Father answer Jesus?  What else could He answer?  He answers, “Yes.  Yes, My dear Son, I forgive their sins.  Yes, My dear Son, they have salvation and eternal life.  Yes, My dear Son, I will sustain them by My Holy Spirit, by My Holy Word.  For You have shed Your blood to purchase them for Me.  You have suffered and died that they might live forever.  Their sins are forgiven already.  My ministers declare it so.  And they are My dear children.” 
            Jesus prays for you, and the Father hears and answers.  Jesus gives you a little glimpse of His prayer for you in the Holy Gospel this morning, what is known as our Lord’s High Priestly prayer.  Priests sacrifice for the sins of the people, and priests pray for the people.  And so Jesus, your High Priest, makes the once-for-all sacrifice of Himself on the altar of the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, rendering all other sacrifices unnecessary and useless for your salvation.  Your atonement is complete in Him.  And now as your risen and ascended High Priest, He prays for you on the basis of His sacrifice.  Now here in the Holy Gospel it is the night of His betrayal, just before His crucifixion.  He is instructing the disciples, washing their feet, commanding them to love one another, and instituting the Supper of His Body and Blood.  And as we hear in John Chapter 17, He is praying for His disciples, and for you who believe on Him according to their word recorded in Holy Scripture (John 17:20).  And what does He pray in this beautiful text?  He prays that, now that the hour has come, the appointed hour upon which hinges the whole history and destiny of the world, that He, the Son, may be glorified, and in so being glorified, thus glorify the Father (v. 1).  Don’t misunderstand what He is saying.  Jesus is praying that the Father would lift Him up on the cross to die, for you.  And that His death would make atonement for your sins.  That His death would free you from death and from hell.  That the Father would accept Jesus’ sacrifice and raise Him from the dead, and give you, with Him, eternal life.  That is the Son’s glorification, and in the Son’s glorification, the Father is glorified.  For His delight is in your salvation, in bringing you into His Kingdom to serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. 
            Jesus prays that you may know the Father by knowing Jesus Christ, knowing, not just about Him, but really knowing Him, which is to say, believing in Him.  For in so knowing Him by faith you have eternal life… “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3; ESV).  Jesus has the authority to give eternal life to all who believe in Him, all whom the Father has given to Him, called to be in Christ (v. 2).  And He does give that life, in Baptism, Word, and Supper.  He gives you life in Himself.  He does it by manifesting God’s Name to you and to the whole world (v. 6) in preaching and Sacrament.  The Name, of course, is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” the Name the Father has given the Son to bear in Himself and reveal to you, the Name of our Triune God.  That is the Name placed upon you in Holy Baptism.  God writes His Name on you in the Blood of Jesus.  And why do you write your name on something?  Because it is precious to you and you don’t want to lose it.  God has written is Name on you because you are chosen and precious to Him.  The Father gives you to the Son, who keeps you for Himself by giving you His Word.  He gives you the words that the Father has given Him, and so you come to know in truth that Jesus is the very Son of the Father, made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, for you and for your salvation (v. 8).  Jesus prays for you.  He prays that you be kept in His Word.  He prays that you be kept in the faith.  He prays that you remain His and that He be glorified in you by your justification and sanctification, your life of faith and works of love, and your eternal salvation in Him (v. 10).  He prays that God would keep you by His Spirit, in spite of this fallen flesh and fallen world, in the midst of so many dangers to your body and soul, in this time when you cannot see Jesus with your eyes, but can only know Him by faith.  Jesus prays that the Father would keep you in His Name (v. 11). 
            And that is what He does here in the Church.  He makes you one with His Church.  He makes His Church one as His own Body.  The whole thing is a Trinitarian action.  The Father keeps you in the Name that the Son has given you, the Triune Name, by His Holy Spirit, who works upon you in Word and Sacrament to give you faith in Christ, join you to His Body, and sustain and strengthen you in that faith.  That is what we will celebrate next Sunday in the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit given to our confirmands in their Baptism, which has now led them to confess their faith publicly.  Jesus prays for them.  Jesus prays for you, that you remember your own Baptism, where the Spirit is given to you personally, and that you be ever faithful and bold in your confession of Jesus Christ.  Jesus prays that you be preserved when you must suffer the fiery trial of persecution and rejection on account of His Name, as St. Peter warns you in our Epistle (1 Peter 4:12).  Jesus prays that you rejoice and be glad as you share in Christ’s sufferings (v. 13), knowing that you are blessed, “because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (v. 14).  Jesus prays that you would humble yourself (5:6), that you would cast all your anxieties upon Him and recognize that He cares for you (v. 7), that you would be sober-minded and watchful, resisting the crafts and assaults of the evil one, firm in your faith, suffering in patience in the hope that God Himself will restore, comfort, strengthen, and establish you (vv. 8-10).  And again, what is the Father’s answer?  What else can it be?  He says, “Yes.”  God does it.  He does it for you, for Jesus’ sake.

            “I’m praying for you,” we say to one another, to comfort and encourage one another.  That is good and right and very important.  But even better and more important is what Jesus says to you this morning: “I’m praying for you.  I’m praying for you and for the whole Church of God.  Be at rest.  I have the Father’s ear.  I intercede on your behalf.  And because of My blood and death, the Father hears and answers, and He delivers.”  What do you do when you need the comfort of this promise?  You simply trace the sign of our Lord’s glorification upon yourself, and speak the Name He manifested to you by writing it upon you in His own blood: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.             

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Ascension of Our Lord

The Eve of the Ascension of Our Lord

May 28, 2014
Text: Acts 1:1-11; Eph. 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

            We confess in the Creed that our Lord Jesus, the only-begotten Son of the Father from all eternity, was in time conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  What we mean is that the very Son of God clothed Himself with our flesh in Mary’s womb.  He took upon Himself all that is ours, became one with us, was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).  Yet He took our sin into Himself.  God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  He bore our sin, all of it, to the cross, to pay sin’s wages (Rom. 6:23) in His suffering and death in our place.  The sinless Son of God suffered under Pontius Pilate, shed His holy, precious blood, was crucified, dead and buried, for us.  And so, having become all that we are, He has redeemed all that we are.  He has ripped us from the bitter fangs of the serpent and the yawning jaws of hell, purified us as His own holy Bride, and made us, by His self-sacrifice, to be ourselves a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.
            And the Father is well-pleased.  The sacrifice accepted, God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  We feasted a mere 40 days ago (or almost 40 in our case) in the Easter celebration of our Lord’s bodily Resurrection, a celebration we also commemorate every Lord’s Day, every Sunday, which is a little Easter.  The Third Day He rose again from the dead, we confess, and so we are justified, declared righteous by God on account of Christ, receiving new and eternal life from our crucified and risen Lord, looking forward with eager anticipation to our own bodily resurrection from the dead on the Last Day and the life of the world to come.
            For forty days our Lord Jesus appeared to the Apostles and to many other eye witnesses after His Resurrection.  He wanted to leave them with no doubt that He is indeed risen from the dead.  He appeared suddenly here and there among them.  He spoke to them.  He breathed on them.  He ate with them.  They touched Him.  And they knew it was the Lord.  Then one day He led them out as far as Bethany.  He lifted up His hands, the imprint of the crucifixion nails still visible for all to see.  And He blessed them (Luke 24:50).  One wonders what He said.  The Holy Spirit has not seen fit to tell us in Scripture, though I have always wondered if Jesus, our High Priest, was pronouncing upon them the Aaronic Benediction and the thrice-Holy Name of our God: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26; ESV).  So the priest was to put the Name of the LORD upon the people of Israel.  So the Lord puts His Name on you in benediction, in these same words every Divine Service, calling you back to your Baptism in His thrice-Holy Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And so it would certainly be appropriate if these are the words our Lord spoke on this occasion, for as He was ascending into the air, He never put His hands down.  In other words, beloved, He’s still blessing His disciples.  He’s still blessing you.  Those nail pierced hands are still raised in benediction over you, and you live and move and have your being under the blessing of those mighty hands.
            While He was blessing His Church, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:51).  In the Book of Acts, St. Luke tells us “a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).  Now, this is very important.  Jesus parted from their sight, but He did not go away.  He did not leave them in such a way that they were to stand there gazing up into heaven, wondering how many miles into outer space our Lord had to travel.  The angels remind them how silly they look (v. 11).  You’ll see Him again, the angels tell them.  He’ll come back the same way you saw Him go, on a cloud, visibly, to judge the living and the dead.  In the meantime, don’t forget the promises He spoke to you: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20).  “In my Name,” by the way, means those who bear my Name, so wherever two or three Baptized are gathered, there the Lord Jesus is with them.  And then there is the marvelous Promise made to the disciples shortly before the Ascension: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).  He’s not just with us as God, but as Man.  In His Body.  He’s not just with us in spirit.  As I’ve told you many times, when I tell you I’m with you in spirit, I’m telling you I’m not really with you at all.  I just wish I was.  That’s not a real presence by any standard.  Jesus is with us.  He promised.  Really and truly with us, in His body.  Just hidden from our sight ever since the Ascension. 
            But doesn’t the Scripture say He ascended into heaven?  Right.  And where is heaven?  Heaven is where God is.  Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.  And where is the right hand of the Father?  Everywhere.  And that’s the point.  That is what St. Paul writes in our Epistle this evening.  The Father has seated Jesus “at his right hand in the heavenly places,” (Eph. 1:20), and so our Lord, God and Man, the Person, Jesus Christ, now “fills all in all” (v. 23).  Jesus fills all things.  He is everywhere.  Which means He is with you.  In His Body, crucified and risen, for you.  He ascended into heaven that He might fill all things and be with you wherever you go, with me, with us all.  
            That is why after the Lord was carried into heaven, the disciples “worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53).  You can’t worship a God who isn’t present to receive it.  You can’t worship Jesus if He isn’t present with you.  The disciples knew He was with them always, as He promised.  And so they worshiped Him as if He was still there, because He was, and He is, and so you worship Him. 
            He is hidden from your sight, but with you very tangibly in His Word and the holy Sacraments.  He is hidden from your sight, but you know by faith that He is here with you as surely and as bodily as you and I are here.  And you know some other very wonderful things that He does for you as He sits at the right hand of the Father.  He rules all things for your benefit.  He’s the King, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come,” all things having been placed under His feet (Eph. 1:21-22), the world and the whole universe, believers and unbelievers, kings and presidents, angels and archangels, heaven and hell and the devil himself.  He rules it all, for you, for your good, for your salvation.  And He prays for you.  He intercedes for you before the Father.  He has the Father’s ear on your behalf.  And the Father hears His prayer, and answers.  How could He not?  How could the Father deny His own Son?  The Son prays for you and for your salvation, and the Father says, “Yes.  Yes, my Son.  You have purchased them with Your own blood.  They belong to You.  Thus they belong to Me.” 
            And because the Lord Jesus became all that you are, to redeem all that you are, He gives you to become what He is: Righteous, holy, precious to the Father.  Where He goes, you go.  Heaven.  He ascended into heaven, we confess in the Creed, for having sanctified our flesh by becoming flesh, He now exalts that flesh to the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  As a result, you can know without a doubt that He is coming back for  you, and you will live with Him, in the flesh, in the blessed presence of His Father and yours, forever.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)

May 25, 2014
Text: John 14:15-21

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Lutherans are often falsely charged with forbidding good works, or thinking that good works are unimportant or unnecessary.  St. Paul suffered the same false charge at the hands of the Judaizers in his day.  The preaching that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from works, will always bring that charge.  Natural man is a Pharisee.  By nature, we think we have to do something to be saved, do good works, be good enough to (at least to some degree) earn eternal life.  Preach free grace to a Pharisee and he’ll always react by charging you with making it too easy.  “So, you don’t think God demands good works, eh?  You don’t think the Ten Commandments apply anymore, eh?  You don’t think a Christian has to behave?”  That’s not what we’re saying at all.  In fact, the Lutheran Confessions are very clear on this: “we hold that good works should follow faith” (Apol. XX:92; McCain).  “Faith must be the mother and source of works that are truly good and well pleasing to God… as Dr. Luther writes… O, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith.  It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly.  It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them” (FC SD IV:9-11).  In other words, Christians do good works.  That’s who we are.  That’s what God calls us to do.  Good works are necessary in the sense that they are the life of living faith.  As faith lives, it works.  But works are not necessary for the forgiveness of sins or salvation.  Works rather come about as the result of forgiveness of sins and salvation, and the love for God who has saved us by the blood and death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.
            Which is simply to say what our Lord Jesus says in the Holy Gospel this morning.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15; ESV).  Jesus doesn’t say, “If you want to be forgiven of your sins, work them off by keeping my commandments.”  Jesus does not say, “If you want salvation and eternal life, earn it by keeping my commandments.”  Nor does Jesus promise we’re going to do the Commandments perfectly in this earthly life.  Now, you may think this goes without saying, but there are many who interpret this verse precisely that way.  What Jesus actually says, though, is that love for Him is the basis for your keeping of His Commandments.  You already love Him because He saved you.  That all happened prior to the works.  Now, as a result of all that, you want to do what pleases Him.  It is not unlike a husband who buys flowers for his wife, not to make her love him, but because he loves her and wants to do something that will express his love.  Or a wife who makes her husband’s favorite meal, not to make him love her, but because she loves him and wants to bring him joy.  Or a child who wants to do what pleases her parents, not to earn their love, but because she loves them and wants to honor them.  That’s your relationship to God in Baptism.  You are His child.  He has told you what He would have you do in His Commandments.  Now, you’re already His child, so your being loved by Him is not contingent on you keeping the Commandments.  Thank God for that.  But you want to do it because He’s your Father, because Jesus is your Savior, because He continually pours out His blessings upon you, including His Holy Spirit who works in you to will and to do what He commands (Phil. 2:13).
            The Son bids the Father send the Spirit to you for this very purpose.  As He says, He will ask the Father to send another Helper (John 14:16).  The word is Paraclete, and it means not only Helper, but also Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, One who is always at your side to help you in your time of need and defend you in your time of trial.  That’s what the Holy Spirit does.  Ever since your Baptism into Christ, the Holy Spirit is with you and in you.  He is ever directing you to Jesus, giving you faith in Jesus, teaching you by His Word about Jesus and the salvation you have freely in Him.  That is why Jesus calls Him “the Spirit of truth” (v. 17).  He is always teaching you the Truth that is Jesus Christ, your Savior, and the Truth that is God’s Word.  He is guiding you by that Word, which is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (Ps. 119:105).  This is called sanctification.  The Holy Spirit sanctifies you, makes you holy, so that you actually want to walk by the light of His Word and do what He commands.  The world cannot receive that light.  The unbelieving world reviles the Truth.  They don’t want to walk in the light of God’s Word.  They prefer to bask in the darkness of the serpent’s lies.  But not so you.  You have the Spirit of Truth.  You know Him, for He dwells with you and is in you (John 14:17).
            And where He is, there is Jesus.  That’s the great thing about the Holy Trinity, our one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  When you have one Person, you have them all.  When you have the Spirit, you have Jesus and His saving work for you.  When you have Jesus, you have the Father.  You have Him as your Father, and you are His son.  So it is very true what Jesus says.  You are not an orphan.  “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (v. 18).  Even as He came in the flesh to be your Savior, He comes to you continually in His Word and the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, and you see Him (v. 19), even though the world cannot see Him.  You see Him, not with your eyes, but by the Spirit who dwells in you, by the Spirit-given faith which sees Him where He has promised to be for you in the means of grace.  You see Him, and you live in Him, for He gives you life by the same Spirit whom we confess to be “the Lord and Giver of life.”  It is life with God, life with Jesus who is in the Father.  Life with Jesus in whom you are, and who is in you (v. 20).  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, your saving God, in whom you live and move and have your being, who comes to you and dwells in you.  Now that is really living.  That is living eternally and abundantly.  That is the life Jesus gives you by the power of His resurrection.
            And it spills over in love toward God and love toward the neighbor.  In other words, it overflows in good works.  “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (v. 21).  You have His commandments, for He has given you His Word.  What a gift.  We don’t have to guess at what God wants us to do and not do.  He has spelled it out for us in His Word.  Want to please God?  Do the Ten Commandments.  You don’t have to make something else up that you think will please Him more.  In fact, know this, that if you make something else up it will most certainly not please Him, but merit His wrath and anger.  He has told you what to do and not do.  Have no other gods.  Fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.  Keep His Name holy and do not misuse it.  Do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  Honor your father and your mother and those in authority over you, for they have been placed in their office by God Himself.  Do not murder, but help your neighbor in his bodily needs.  Be chaste in your thoughts and words and deeds, be faithful to your spouse, keep the marriage bed pure, and husbands and wives love and honor one another.  Do not steal, but give generously.  Do not bear false witness, but be truthful in everything, for after all the Spirit of Truth dwells in you.  Do not covet, but be content with what God has given you, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
            But what about when you don’t keep the Commandments?  Repent.  Confess your sin.  Turn from it.  And rejoice that Jesus has paid for all your sins in His death on the cross.  His blood has washed all your sins away.  What a beautiful thing.  He did all that for you because He loves you.  And so you love Him.  And so you are loved by the Father and by Jesus Christ Himself, our risen Lord, who manifests Himself to you, makes Himself known to you so that you really see Him by your Spirit-given eyes of faith in His gifts, the Word and the Sacrament (v. 21).
            And so, loving Him, yes, you do good works.  Yes, you serve Him by serving your neighbor.  Remember, God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does, and so you do good works for God by doing good works for your neighbor.  Yes, you give yourself for your neighbor, as Christ Jesus gave Himself for you.  Yes, you give generously of the gifts that God has poured out upon you and continues to pour out upon you.  It grieves you to grieve God, and so you live a life of repentance, sorrowing over your sins and fighting against it, daily crucifying your sinful flesh, taking up your cross, and following Jesus.  Lutherans have never taught anything else.  But you don’t do this in order to be saved.  You do it because Jesus saved you.  You love Him because He first loved you (1 John 4:19).  You live because He died.  You never die, because He lives.  You live in Him.  For He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  And the risen Lord breathes the Spirit of Truth into you this day, the breath of faith that is living and active, the faith that works.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)

May 18, 2014
Text: John 14:1-14

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            We call it the scandal of particularity, what Jesus says in the Holy Gospel this morning.  It is a verse beloved by many, but those same people, maybe even you, are horrified when you stop to think about what the verse actually says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6; ESV).  This is not the touchy-feely verse we so often think it is.  Jesus is saying He’s the only way of salvation, the only way to eternal life, the only way to heaven.  No one comes to the Father except through Him.  He’s the Truth, the Truth by which the truthfulness of everything else is measured.  And He is the Life, for outside of Him there is only death and condemnation in hell.  Do you hear how politically incorrect all of this is?  The scandal of particularity, a scandal because Jesus, this Jesus in particular, the Jesus proclaimed in the Bible, is the only way, the only truth, the only life, by which you come to the Father.  He’s the only true God, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  All roads do not lead to the same place.  Jesus is it.  He leads to life.  All other roads lead to death.  And if that bothers you, remember, Jesus is the One who said it.  If you have a problem with that, your problem is with Jesus Christ.  Repent. 
            But also rejoice, because here Jesus has told you the way to the Father, the way to eternal life.  It is Himself.  You don’t have to guess.  You don’t have to try this road, than that road, this truth, then that truth, making your best educated conjecture about which is the right one when your eternal destiny is on the line.  Stick with Jesus and you have it.  You don’t have to work for it.  You cannot earn it.  Jesus gives it to you freely, this eternal life, by His suffering, death, and resurrection, handed over to you in His Word and Holy Sacraments.  You want to go to the Father, to the Father’s House in which there are many rooms, and a place prepared especially for you?  You know the way.  Follow Jesus.  He’s the way.
            Now, Philip wanted just a little glimpse of the Father, and that would be enough for him.  Then he could know for certain that Jesus is speaking the truth.  We often want the same thing, just a little glimpse, some evidence that all of this is true.  Show us heaven.  Show us the Father.  That’s why books and movies like Heaven is for Real are so popular.  Now, I know some of you recently enjoyed that particular movie, and that’s fine, but I do want you to understand something.  Your comfort and assurance do not come from the subjective experiences of people who have had near death experiences, who may or may not have seen heaven, and who certainly have filtered their experiences through their own fallen reason and worldview, not to mention erroneous theology.  And certainly your comfort and assurance are not to come from dramatized versions of those subjective experiences in movies.  What you’re wanting out of a movie like that is what Philip wanted.  Just a little glimpse.  Just a little evidence.  As if Jesus and His Word, which is Truth, is not enough.  What does Jesus say to Philip?  “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?” (v. 9).  “Well, that’s Philip,” you say.  “He got to see Jesus with his own eyes.”  True enough.  But you get to hear Jesus with your own ears in His holy Word.  You get to touch His Body and Blood in the Supper, eat it and drink it, that same Body that was crucified for you, that same Blood poured out for you, His resurrection Body and Blood now coursing through your veins.  And you have His promise that wherever two or three of you are gathered, there He is in the midst of you (Matt. 18:20).  You have His promise that He is with you always, to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:20).  So has He been with you so long and still you do not know Him, not so well anyway that you don’t have to seek comfort and assurance from those who have allegedly “been there”?  Come on, beloved!  Jesus is here right now, for you, and He’s telling you that you don’t need that when you have Him!  Because if you’ve seen Him, you’ve seen the Father!  And you have.  You’ve seen Him with your ears.  You’ve seen Him with your tongues.  You’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8).  And so you’ve seen the Father.  You know the Father.  You know Him in His Son Jesus.  You get all your comfort and assurance right here in the Father’s House, where He gives you Jesus.  “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10).  The words of Jesus are the words of the Father.  Hearing Jesus, you hear the Father.  If you know Jesus, you know the Father.  When Jesus comes to you, the Father comes to you, and you have eternal life and a place in the Father’s House, at the Father’s Table.
            Jesus says He goes to prepare a place for you (vv. 2-3), a place in the Father’s House.  He’s not talking about doing renovations to your room somewhere up there in heaven, though He does use wood and nails to accomplish His preparations.  He’s talking about the cross.  That is where He does the work.  He takes the nails, the wood, up onto the mountain, to be nailed there, to suffer and bleed there, to die there, so that you have a place in the Father’s House.  Sinners cannot live in the Father’s House.  Sinners cannot live in the presence of God’s holiness.  That’s a big problem for us who just confessed ourselves to be poor miserable sinners.  And that’s why Jesus is the only way to the Father and to eternal life.  He takes our sin away.  He does it to death on the cross.  He buries it in the tomb forever.  He washes us clean with His blood in Baptism.  He declares us righteous in His Absolution.  So even though we still sin and we’re still sinners for the moment, now in this earthly life, our old sinful nature is daily put to death in Baptism, daily crucified in repentance, along with all sin and evil desires, and our new self in Christ Jesus is daily brought forth to new life by the power of Christ’s resurrection.  As a result, the Father does not look at you as the sinner that you are.  He looks at you and sees you covered in the righteousness and holiness of His Son Jesus.  You are clothed with Jesus.  God looks at you and sees His Son, and calls you sons and daughters, and gives you the place Jesus prepared for you in His death and resurrection. 
            It is not only a place for your soul in heaven when you die, though it is that.  It is also and especially a place in the new heavens and the new earth, in your body, on the Day of Resurrection.  But it is not only a future place.  It is a place right here and now in the Body of Christ that is the Holy Church.  It is a place right here and now around the Lord’s Altar, the Christian family Table.  You are, after all, named with God’s Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Baptism means you are God’s own child.  That makes the place Jesus has prepared for you in the Father’s House a present reality.  You have a place where you belong.  Right here.  Right now.  The place Jesus has prepared for you by His death and resurrection.
            And because that is the case, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (v. 1).  Believe in the Father.  Believe in Jesus.  For when you believe in Jesus, you believe in the Father.  You can’t have one without the other.  And be comforted.  Even when being a Christian is hard.  Even when being a Christian is scandalous.  It is, you know.  There is the scandal of particularity that Jesus preaches this morning, that He is the only way of salvation, the only way to the Father, that our Triune God is the only true God.  Then there are the scandalous things you believe because the Bible teaches them, things that the culture rejects, like marriage between one man and one woman for life, like sexuality being reserved for the holy estate of marriage, like life being sacred from conception to natural death, something only God can give and only God should take away.  Being a Christian is scandalous.  You may lose friends over this.  You may suffer family strife over this (Jesus said it would happen – Matt. 10:34-39).  You may suffer the loss of your possessions, your freedom, your life.  So be it.  Let not your heart be troubled.  Jesus has prepared a place for you that no one can take away.  It is the Father’s House.  And Jesus is the way.  Believe in Him and you have it.  Take your comfort and assurance from Him alone.  You don’t need to see it to believe it.  You have Jesus’ Word on it.  You have Jesus’ Body and Blood on it.  And in having Jesus in His Word and Body and Blood, you have the Father.  And in having the Father and the Son you have the Holy Spirit who proceeds from them.  You have the one God, who lives and reigns to all eternity, the God who has written His Name on you: The Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!