Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity (C)
The Baptism of Ezekiel Bruce Baier
May 30, 2010
Text: John 8:48-59

“Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us” (Introit).

We glorify our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because He has first shown mercy to us. Notice that mercy is the catalyst. Glory, praise, is the grateful response to mercy. We don’t praise God so that we obtain mercy. We praise God, who is mercy Himself, and has already bestowed mercy upon us in Christ Jesus our Lord. We praise as a result of mercy. And we stand in awe of the glorious mystery that our God is one God, in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Scriptures make this clear. God is one: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4; ESV). Yet this one God, YHWH, is three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are nonetheless one God. We dare never think we have figured out this mystery. This is beyond mathematical comprehension. How can three be one and one be three? We are not to solve this mystery. Ours is simply to stand in awe and to praise. For in mercy, this incomprehensible Triune God has made Himself comprehensible, as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, took on human flesh, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Trinity Sunday is the only festival in the Church Year that does not celebrate an event in our Lord’s life, or the life of His Church, but rather celebrates an article of doctrine, a teaching. It is a great mercy that our gracious God has revealed to us the paradox that He is Triune. A paradox is made up of two truths, both equally true, that seem to contradict one another, but must be held in tension. Christianity is chalk full of paradoxes. The word “Triune” is a paradox in itself. God is three, yet He is one, three persons, yet one divine substance, one God. Jesus is both God and Man, a paradox. Baptism is paradoxically a death and a resurrection. The Lord’s Supper is bread and wine and the true body and blood of Christ. You are a saint, yet a sinner. You already possess eternal life, yet unless Jesus returns first, you will have to die. These are all paradoxes. They are beyond human reason to solve, yet they are the doctrine, the teaching of Jesus Christ, which He has revealed to us in His mercy. This morning we celebrate doctrine, teaching, the creedal faith, that which God has revealed to us in the Scriptures, that which we believe, teach, and confess: God is Triune! One God, three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things… the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped… This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved” (Athanasian Creed, LSB p. 320).

“But Pastor, all this talk about doctrine and the necessity of believing the right doctrine, especially when it’s so hard to understand, just sounds arrogant and mean. It’s so intolerant. Besides, doctrine divides, Pastor. We should just concentrate on what unites us.” Beloved in the Lord, don’t you see, there can be no unity if there is no unity in doctrine? What would be the basis of such unity? God, you say? Which god? The God who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who took on human flesh? Or some other god? And understand, the minute you define this G/god, you’re talking about doctrine. Does Jesus grant you unity? He does. But again, which Jesus? Jesus, my buddy? Jesus, my boyfriend? Some other designer Jesus of my own making? Or the Jesus revealed in Holy Scripture, my Savior, who sheds His blood for me, dies for my sins, and is raised again for my justification? Understand, the minute you define this Jesus, you’re talking about doctrine. And it matters. It matters for salvation. Because if I believe in any other god than the one true God, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I’m lost forever. If I believe in any other Jesus than the Jesus revealed in Scripture, the incarnate Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity made flesh, crucified and risen for the sins of the world, who comes here and now in the preaching and the Sacraments, then I’m damned. And this may very well rub you the wrong way. It’s certainly not politically correct. This may sound intolerant, and it is, in this sense: There is salvation in no other god. There is salvation with no other Jesus. Every other doctrine is a false doctrine. And this is a matter of eternal life and death.

Well, if you don’t believe me, believe Jesus. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is talking to people who believe in God. In fact, they claim to believe in the God of Abraham! They claim to believe every word of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. They even claim to be defending the doctrine of God revealed in those same Scriptures. It is Jesus they cannot stomach. And in this way they betray their unbelief in the Scriptures and the God of Abraham. For the Scriptures, even of the Old Testament, in their totality, testify of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world. Jesus engages the Jews in a heated conversation about doctrine. The eternal life of the Jews is at stake! The Jews call Jesus a demon-possessed Samaritan (John 8:48, 52). The Samaritans were the heretics of Israel who did not worship at the Jerusalem Temple and had intermarried with the pagan nations. The Jews said they were all demon-possessed. And of course, it is blasphemy to say that Jesus is demon-possessed, and that His Word is untrue. Jesus calls the Jews out on their false doctrine. Jesus says, “It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him” (v. 54). You have not known Him! This is a doctrinal statement. He’s telling the Jews, “You have the wrong god!!!” “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (v. 58, emphasis added). Pointing to Himself, He declares, “YHWH!” You want the God of Abraham? Look nowhere else. Here He is, in the flesh!!! Those who hear this are without excuse, no matter how religious they may be, no matter how “good” or “sincere” they are. If you do not have the true God of Abraham, the Triune God, the God revealed in the flesh of Jesus Christ, you don’t have the right god. It is a false doctrine that leads to death. Do you still think that doctrine is unimportant? Repent. And believe the promise of Jesus: “if anyone keeps my word,” my doctrine, “he will never see death” (v. 51).

But if we are to keep His Word, His doctrine, which is to say, believe it, teach it, confess it, then He must first give it to us. Because this doctrine is something our sinful nature is incapable of comprehending or believing on its own. By nature, we know that there is a God, but we know very little about Him. We know simply by observing creation that Someone awfully powerful had to make all this and set it in motion, all evolutionistic illusions aside. “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God” (Heb. 3:4). When we enter a building, we know intrinsically that there was a builder, or builders, because someone had to put all of this wood and brick and concrete together in this order. It doesn’t just happen by accident. So also when we look at creation, we recognize an intelligence that designed and constructed all of this. This is called the natural knowledge of God. Furthermore, our consciences bear witness to a deity of some sort. That we have a sense of right and wrong, that we feel guilt when we do what is wrong, shows that we have the Law of God written on our hearts, whether we believe or not, and whether we’ve ever read the Ten Commandments or not. We recognize innately that there is a higher power, one we would call God. But creation and conscience cannot really tell us anything about God. They certainly cannot tell us that God is Triune, and they certainly cannot tell us of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, and the salvation He has won for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cannot know these things by nature, nor have we any power to believe them. So in mercy, He reveals them to us. And then He gives us the faith, as a gift, to believe them.

In mercy, God reveals Himself in His Word, the Holy Scriptures. And He reveals Himself in the Word made flesh, the flesh of Jesus Christ, our Savior. He reveals Himself in Christ as a God of love, who would be reconciled to sinners in the death of Christ. If we are to believe this, God must tell us and give us the faith to believe it. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe these things. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. And we are given the Holy Spirit in Baptism, where we are named with the Triune Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, where we are made God’s own dear children, united to the death and resurrection of Christ, all our sins washed away, given His righteousness as a gift, and brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ, brought to new life in Christ. This morning, Ezekiel Bruce Baier, was given this gift. He believes in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He has no ability to understand the Trinity. In fact, he can only confess it through the mouths of his parents and sponsors. But this is a good reminder to us that we don’t have the ability to understand the Trinity, either. But we believe it. And we confess it. Such faith and confession is the gift of God in Christ Jesus, bestowed by the Holy Spirit. It is a Trinitarian act in us. It is all God’s work. It is all by grace. What great mercy is bestowed on us. All praise and thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Indeed, that is all we can do in the face of such great mercy: stand in awe, and praise. Our almighty and everlasting God has given us grace to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of a true faith, and to worship the Unity in the power of the Divine Majesty. That is to say, He has given us to believe in Him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He gives us the faith by His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. He strengthens and sustains that faith by His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. What more is there to say but, “Thanks be to God!” “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown mercy to us.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Death of God in the Balance

"Our Savior, the humble and despised Jesus of Nazareth, is the eternal God. That is our comfort, to know that in our redemption the suffering and death of the eternal God is in the balance. It is the eternal God that delivered us from eternal damnation. That the eternal God suffered for some hours on the cross, that has taken away the power of hell and damnation."

-- Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament Vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia, n.d.) p. 461. He gets this from Luther.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost
Confirmation Day
May 23, 2010
Text: Gen. 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love. Alleluia” (Introit).

Pentecost, the great celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Church and the pastor are dressed in red, the color of fire. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles with tongues of fire, as we read in the second lesson (Acts 2:1-21), so that they boldly spoke the Word of the Lord, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to all who had gathered for the great feast. And it was a great miracle. The Spirit blew through the place with the sound of a mighty, rushing wind, and the tongues of fire appeared on the heads of the apostles, who began to speak the Word of the Lord in the native languages of all the people, languages the apostles had not previously studied or known. Pentecost, a word that means “50,” was originally an Old Testament harvest festival, also known as the Feast of Weeks. It occurred 50 days (or seven weeks) after the Passover, when all the Jews gathered in Jerusalem bringing with them the firstfruits of the grain harvest to offer to the LORD. It is also the celebration of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, which according to tradition took place 50 days after the first Passover and the Exodus. And so 50 days after the celebration of Passover, 50 days after our Lord’s exodus, His sacrificial death as the Passover Lamb of God for the sins of the world, and His victorious resurrection from the dead, the Jews are gathered together in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost. And once again, the LORD gives His Word, by His Spirit, who inspires, breathes into the apostles His Word, so that they expire, breathe out in their preaching, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in the Holy Gospel: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26; ESV). This promise was originally given to the apostles who, as you’ll recall, often didn’t get Jesus’ teaching. How many times in the gospels do we find the phrase applied to the apostles, “they did not understand…”? Even after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, as He was about to ascend into heaven, the apostles ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). It is so clear that they have misunderstood the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ teaching that our Lord does not address their question directly, but instead promises again: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (v. 8). Promise fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. Now these bumbling, uneducated Galileans speak with all the authority of God. They have been reminded of all the things Jesus did and taught, and it is Christ Himself who speaks through them, by His Spirit, the very Word of the Father. The preaching of the apostles and their writings contained in the New Testament are not simply the words of men, but the very Word of God, inspired and inerrant. And in this way, the promise of the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, applies directly to each of us, for in the apostolic Word we receive that same Spirit, who likewise teaches us and reminds us of all that Jesus said, and brings us into living and saving relationship to Jesus Christ.

And so it is very appropriate that the Day of Pentecost is also Confirmation Day here at Epiphany congregation. Bray and Samantha and every one of us had a personal Pentecost on the day of our Baptism into Christ, when the Holy Spirit came upon us, marked us as God’s own children, washed us with the blood of Christ, and gave us faith in Christ as a gift. On the day of our Baptism into Christ, we enter the school of the Holy Spirit. Our whole life is a life of being taught the Holy Scriptures, taught of our dear Savior Jesus Christ, and of our loving Father, by the Spirit. He teaches us in every contact with His Word. The primary place for teaching is here in the Divine Service, and in the home through study of the Scriptures and the Catechism. The Holy Spirit teaches us in Scripture reading and preaching and Sacrament and liturgy, in Bible class and Sunday School and in the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren as we discuss the Word of God informally. In the home, the Holy Spirit teaches us in our study and personal and family Scripture reading and devotions. And a very important part of this schooling is Catechism class. Confirmation comes at the end of Catechism class. Confirmation is a free thing. The ceremony, I mean. We don’t have to have it. It is a good practice. The Rite of Confirmation is a celebration of the Spirit’s work in our confirmands, and an opportunity for them to publicly confess the faith of their Baptism. For no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). But confirmation is adiaphora, neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture. Catechism class is NOT adiaphora. Our Lord commands us to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and then teaching them, all things whatsoever the Lord has commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). Baptize and teach. The two go hand in hand. That is how you make disciples. One leads to the other, and vice versa. Nor is Confirmation Day ever to be thought us as a graduation from Catechism class. Catechism class never ends. It is a lifelong study in the school of the Holy Spirit. Even the most mature Christians return again and again to the Catechism to be schooled in the basics of the Christian faith.

Martin Luther knew a thing or two about theology. He writes in his preface to the Large Catechism: “I am also a doctor and preacher; yes, as learned and experienced as all the people” who think they know everything there is to know about theology. “Yet I act as a child who is being taught the catechism. Every morning—and whenever I have time—I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, and such. I must still read and study them daily. Yet I cannot master the catechism as I wish. But I must remain a child and pupil of the catechism, and am glad to remain so.”[1] I know from talking to Bray and Sami, that they echo Dr. Luther’s words, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to give them that commitment to the Scriptures and the Catechism so that their whole life long they will be immersed in the gifts of Christ, and finally delivered to the joy of heaven. May we all have the same zeal for the gifts and teaching of our Lord. God grant it, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth (John 16:13) and remind us of all the things Jesus said (14:26), and this promise is so important, because we live in a world cursed by sin. The evidence is all around us: our own sins and the corruption that runs so deep into our very nature, sickness, injury, decay, immorality, natural disasters, terrorism and other man-made catastrophes, and the list goes on and on. And we try to save ourselves. We try to work our way out of our problems. Save the planet. Save the Church. Save our nation. Like the people of Babel, we try to build our way to heaven by the bricks of our own merits. And we always fall short. We never reach the goal. God is always still looking down on our works, because they can never measure up to Him. And so we try to bring God down to our level, as our peer, make a name for ourselves and be our own gods. And what does that get us? Division, discord, and strife. The words of men are only meaningless babble. Our language is confused. We separate. We break away from one another. We wander in loneliness, captive to our selfishness, captive to sin, captive finally to death. Our hopes of reaching heaven on our own merits are annihilated.

And that is why Pentecost is so important. Pentecost is the reversal of Babel. Now we are united as one people by the Holy Spirit’s language, one Word, the Word of God, the Gospel. The Holy Spirit teaches us in this one language. When the Holy Spirit teaches us, He breathes Jesus into us. He breathes the Savior into us. He enlivens us who are walking dead in trespasses and sins. He breathes new life into us by His Word. He washes us with the precious blood of Christ in Baptism. He places the very body of Christ into our mouths, the body that was crucified for us, and pours the blood that was shed for us down our throats. Sami and Bray will taste and see, in this special way, that the Lord is good for the first time this morning. You see, whereas sin divides and scatters, the Holy Spirit, in His Word, gathers us and unites us around the gifts of God in Word and Sacrament. Whereas sin confuses our language, so that we speak past and against each other, and bring great harm to one another, the Holy Spirit gives us a common Word, His Word, one Word that we speak with and to each other, and so bring healing and life to one another. Whereas the wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:23), given and dispensed by the Holy Spirit in the means of grace.

So we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful.” Fill us, again and again, with Your Word and the blessed Sacrament. Fill us so that we ever be faithful, united to Christ and to one another as the Body of Christ. Fill us, we pray, “and kindle in” us “the fire of Your love. Alleluia.” The fire of Pentecost is still burning, beloved in the Lord. There may not be the spectacular display of tongues of fire resting on our heads and the sound of the mighty rushing wind. We may not be speaking the Word to one another in languages we previously did not know or study. But the Spirit is among us as surely as He was with the infant Church in Jerusalem on Pentecost. The Spirit is among us, blowing through us, breathing into us a living faith in Jesus Christ, lighting our hearts afire with love for God and for one another and for the whole world. The Spirit is in Bray and Samantha. The Spirit is in every one of the Baptized who carry with them the Name of God. He is teaching. He is reminding. He is giving Jesus. He is forgiving sins and sealing His people for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Come, Holy Spirit. Fill our hearts, and kindle in us the fire of Your love. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Luther’s Large Catechism with Study Questions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2010) p. 8.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Seventh Sunday of Easter (C)
May 16, 2010
Text: John 17:20-26

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

To confess “one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church,” is to confess an article of faith, not of sight. Jesus prayed for His disciples, including those coming after them who believe on account of the apostolic Word, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21; ESV). But again, the reality of this oneness is an article of faith, not of sight. If we rely on sight, the Church appears to be anything but one. To state the obvious, there are how many denominations within worldwide Christendom? Of course, the divisions that separate Christendom into denominations are sinful, but they are not superficial. To use just one example, consider the Lord’s Supper. We maintain that it is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, received orally, under the elements of bread and wine. Most Protestants maintain that it is only bread and wine, or grape juice as the case may be, merely symbolizing Christ’s body and blood. Rome maintains that the bread and wine are substantially changed into the body and blood of Christ, so that there is no bread or wine left, but only the appearance of bread and wine. And in spite of our post-modern American inclination to be relativists, to maintain that we are all right in some sense, the plain truth is, we cannot all be right. Logically speaking, we can all be wrong, but we cannot all be right. All three options are mutually exclusive. Nor is this an unimportant issue. The issue is whether we believe the Word of our Lord, “This is my body, this is my blood.” Church dividing doctrinal issues finally boil down to the issue of how one regards the Word of the Lord. To sweep these issues under the rug is dishonest. The father of lies would have us ignore doctrinal differences. We dare not give in to his temptation. The goal of the Church must always be to resolve our doctrinal differences on the basis of the Word of God, and so come to visible and complete unity, resulting in altar and pulpit fellowship, and a united confession of Christ to the world. But in a fallen world, where even many sincere Christians distort the Word of God (one can be sincerely wrong), there will always be doctrinal division. St. Paul even says that “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Cor. 11:19). And so there are denominations in Christendom.

Even those who share a denominational name are divided into even more denominations. There is the hodgepodge of initials within Lutheranism: LCMS, ELCA, WELS, ELS, ELDoNA, TAALC, CLC, LCR, and the list goes on, and these are only the Lutheran churches in the United States. But this sin is not unique to the Lutheran Church. There is the Christian Reformed Church, the Reformed Church in America, the United Reformed Churches, all of these related to the other Calvinist bodies, like the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Presbyterian Church in America, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and on and on it goes. There are Southern Baptists and American Baptists and 60 some different Baptist associations in the United States alone. There are Roman Catholics and a whole host of other Catholic churches that have separated themselves from Rome. And even within denominations, there are separations: conservative vs. liberal, traditional vs. contemporary, doctrinal vs. missional (as if those two could ever be opposed to one another!). And it’s not much better within congregations. In the local congregation there is always the danger of dividing over the silliest things, like the color of the paint on the walls or which dishes go in which cupboard in the kitchen. We must always be on the watch for the work of Satan in our congregation, ever standing firm on the issues of God’s Word and doctrine, but ever yielding in love to the will of the other in matters of indifference, always repenting of our unwillingness to do either, because both are hard. And we must ever confess, in faith in the Lord who prayed it and promised it, the “one holy Christian and apostolic Church.”

The oneness that Jesus prays for in His Church is not a “Can’t we all just get along,” group hug, sweep our differences under the rug, kind of oneness. We are not talking about the feigned bi-partisanship of politicians. Jesus prays for a union that can never be achieved by human efforts. It is a union that can only be the gift of God, for it is the union of the Triune God. It is the union of the Father and the Son, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21). That can never be the result of our own works. That must be gift. Given by grace. Received by faith. Notice the basis of the oneness in our text. It is to know the Father. “O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me” (v. 25). This knowledge is faith. To know Jesus is to know the Father, for Jesus gives His disciples such knowledge: “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (v. 26). In knowing the Father, knowing His Name, the very love of God, the love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dwells in Christians, and among Christians, that they may be one. It is a profound mystery, a work of the Holy Trinity, a gift.

The oneness of the Church that we confess, by faith, not by sight, is bestowed in Baptism. There you are given the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Baptism, you are made a member of the one holy Christian and apostolic Church. There you are given the Holy Spirit, who gives you faith as a gift. There you are brought into the invisible reality of the Church. The Church is holy believers in Jesus. We often use the word “church” for denominations and institutions and congregations and church buildings, and these are all proper expressions. But in essence, the Church is people. And not just any people. The Church, strictly speaking, is believers in Christ. Those on the church rolls, who belong outwardly to the congregation, but do not believe in Jesus, are not members of the Church. But every believer in Christ Jesus is a member of the Church. And this is an unseen reality. We cannot see into the human heart. Only you know if you are a believer or a hypocrite, one who confesses the faith outwardly, but secretly rejects Christ. And God knows. He knows the full number of those who are His. He grieves over all those who are lost. He preserves His believers in the one true faith of Jesus Christ, and He adds daily to the number of those who believe. Every Baptism is church growth. Every conversion by the Word is church growth. Every new believer is a new member of the one holy Christian and apostolic Church. And by the way, the one holy Christian and apostolic Church does not shrink when one dies in the faith. When one dies in the faith, that person can never be lost from the Church, but is a member for all eternity. The blessed dead are where Jesus is, in heaven, where they ever behold the glory He has had with the Father from all eternity.

And we who are still living in the Church militant, the Church on earth, are one with those who have entered the Church triumphant, the Church in heaven. This is by faith, remember. Not sight. But it is real. Very real. In fact, nowhere is this oneness more real than here in the Divine Service, as the Church of God gathers around the Word, and especially as the Church of God gathers around the altar. At the altar, we both confess and receive the oneness that is the gift of God. We confess it. In coming to the Lord’s Supper at this altar, we confess that we believe the doctrine of this fellowship. We proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. We confess that we are united in doctrine and life. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, gathered around the family Table. The joys of one are the joys of all. The sorrows of one are the sorrows of all. The needs of one are filled by the other. Out of many grains, there is one loaf. Out of many grapes there is one cup. Many members make up one body, and you are the Body of Christ. And this one confession and one Body are the gifts of God, given and sealed by the Body and Blood of Christ in the Supper. So we come and we kneel to be gifted from the pierced hand of Christ Himself. He gives us His death and His resurrection. He gives us the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. And we receive and we sing, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. As we gather around the altar, the Church in heaven gathers with us. It is one unending feast.

And so the Father answers the prayer of the Son with a resounding “Yes!” We are one in Christ, one holy Christian and apostolic Church. It is the gift of God. One with Christ, we are one with the Father, one with the Holy Spirit, one with one another, forgiven for our sinful divisions, covered by the blood of our Savior. And so having received this gift of God, which is invisible, the oneness we confess by faith, there begins to develop a certain visible unity. It is always imperfect in this life and this fallen world. But it is also always forgiven. It is unity of doctrine, a unity of confession, a unity of love that manifests itself to the world, so that men see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16). God sanctify us by His Spirit, and grant us such unity. And may He bring us finally out of the Church on earth to the Church in heaven, where there are no denominations, where there are no divisions, where we may see the glory that the Son has had with the Father before the foundation of the world. God is faithful. He will do it. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Ascension of Our Lord

The Ascension of Our Lord (Transferred)
May 12, 2010
Text: Acts 1:1-11; Eph. 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

“God has gone up with a shout” (Ps. 47:5; ESV). It is God who ascended into heaven. And He is also man, Christ Jesus, God in human flesh. This is how it happened: Jesus led His disciples out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands… the same hands that were pierced for our transgressions, the hands with the holes in them, into which Thomas wanted to poke his fingers that he might believe… lifting up His hands, Jesus blessed them. Jesus blesses His Church with His crucified hands. And while He blessed them (note: there is no conclusion to the blessing here!), He parted from them and was taken up into heaven. A cloud hid Him from their sight. The disciples stood around gazing into the sky, when two men stood by them in white robes (in other words, angels), and said “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” (Acts 1:11). Up is the wrong place to look if you’re looking for Jesus. He is not gone. He is only hidden from our sight. He is still with His disciples, still with His Church, still with you, beloved in the Lord. He promises: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Jesus is with us. But how can that be? He has ascended into heaven, and as we confess in the Creed, He sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. Jesus is not, however, as John Calvin taught, and as our Reformed brothers and sisters still teach, confined to some locality called heaven, or the right hand of God. He sits at the right hand of God in heaven to be sure. But where is the right hand of God? Does God have an actual right hand? Not the Father. Only the Son, Jesus, has a right hand. The right hand of the Father is a figure of speech describing His great power and authority. That Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father means that He possesses now, not only according to His divine nature, but also according to His human nature, all the power and authority of God. That is to say, He rules all things on our behalf. The right hand of God is not a locality, 50 billion miles that direction. It can’t be found on a map. God’s right hand is everywhere. And that Jesus sits at the right hand of God means that He fills all things, as Paul says in Ephesians, “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (4:10). But doesn’t the fact that Jesus is a human mean that He can be in only one place at one time? Again, that’s what John Calvin taught, and it’s really quite logical. But the Scriptures say otherwise. We can say things about Jesus that we can’t say about any other human being, because while He is fully and truly human, Jesus is also fully and truly God. And He is one person with two natures, and we dare never separate the natures, lest we have two Jesuses. Where the one Jesus is, He is there as God and as man. And so Jesus, as God and man, can be, and is, in more than one place at one time. He is all places at all times.

This means that when Jesus says that He is with you, He doesn’t mean it the way I might mean it if I say “I’m with you in spirit.” When I say “I’m with you in spirit,” I really mean I’m not with you. I may be thinking about you, but in no sense am I with you. When Jesus says He’s with you, He means He’s with you! Bodily. As God and as Man. He’s not just thinking about you, He’s present with you. He’s with you now. He’s with you everywhere you go. You are never alone, because Jesus is always with you, as God and as Man. It is a profound mystery that Almighty God in human flesh is with you. Immanuel, God with us. The King of the universe rules all things for your benefit. And as Man, He sympathizes with your weaknesses. He has been tempted in every way, as you are, yet without sin. In all your suffering, physical, emotional, and spiritual, you have the presence of One who suffered all the torments of hell on the cross for your forgiveness and salvation. You have a Savior who knows what it means to be sad, to be forsaken, to be lonely, to be in physical agony and agony of soul. You have a Savior who has stared death in the face. You have a Savior who died. You have a Savior who is risen. And He’s with you! Really, bodily, with you.

Don’t stare up in the sky this Ascension Day. That is not where you will see Jesus. One Day you will see Him returning in the same way He ascended, on a cloud. But until that Day, know that He is with you, and He is with you in a very particular way. Don’t look for Him down in your heart. Don’t look for Him in your feelings or your reason. Look for Him where He has promised to be for you. He has promised to be present for you, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation, in the preaching, in the Scriptures, in your Baptism, in holy Absolution, and in the Supper of His body and blood. Yes, he is truly and substantially present, bodily, in His Supper. His true body and blood are in, with, and under the bread and the wine. Again, how this can be is a great mystery, but we can say things about Jesus that we can’t say about any other human being. And of course, we take Him at His Word when He says of the bread, “This is my body,” and of the wine, “This is my blood.”

Jesus has promised to be with His Church, and for His Church, especially in His divinely appointed means of grace. Remember, there was no conclusion to His blessing as He was hidden from the disciples’ sight by the cloud. Jesus still raises His pierced hands in blessing over His Church. He blesses us with His eternal presence, with and for us in the Word and the Sacrament. Jesus is now hidden from our eyes. But we always know where we can find Him. We don’t look up into the sky. We find Him here in His Word and in His Church. We find Him in the flesh. And wherever we find Him in the flesh, we find Him also in His divinity. We find in the one person of Jesus, God and Man, a gracious God who loves us and forgives us and calls us His own. Beloved in the Lord, God has gone up with a shout! Rejoice. And know, that though you do not see Him now with your eyes, He is with you. Bodily. In His Word and in Baptism and particularly with His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. He promises it. And you can take that promise with you to the grave and back again. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter (C)
May 9, 2010
Text: John 16:23-33

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

Beloved in the Lord, “the world” is often used in the Bible and in theology as a collective term for all unbelievers. In this sense, then, “the world” does not mean planet earth, which is part of God’s creation and which He originally pronounced good. Nor does “the world” include everyone in the world. “The world,” as Jesus uses it in our text, is the world of unbelievers. “The world,” in this sense, does not include Jesus and it does not include Christians. It is in using the term in this sense that Jesus says elsewhere that His disciples are in the world, but not of the world (John 17:14-15). In fact, “the world” in this sense is an enemy of Christ and His Christians, that which is ruled by the devil, a force arrayed against the followers of Jesus Christ, seeking sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly, to seduce the people of God into sin and unbelief. Thus we speak of our three main enemies: “the devil,” the sly serpent who brought sin and unbelief into the world in the first place and continues to tempt us and to accuse us; then “the world” itself, again, all unbelievers and the collective pressure they bring against Christians in temptation and persecution; and finally, our own sinful flesh, which is all too willing to heed the seductive voices of the devil and the world, and so give in to their demands. God protect us from this. Thus the world is hostile to Christ and to Christians. We can and should expect nothing less. Jesus tells His disciples, His Christians, who are in the world, but not of the world, that “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33; ESV).

In the world, you will have tribulation. It is a promise, straight from the Savior’s lips. Now this tribulation can take many forms. When the Bible speaks of tribulation, it can mean the tribulations we bring on ourselves from sin, or the crosses we have to carry as a result of living in a fallen world. In this context, however, Jesus is primarily speaking of the tribulation Christians experience at the hands of the world on account of His Name and Gospel. This includes subtle temptations to forsake the faith, be it temptation to succumb to sin or the implication that anyone who believes all this Bible/miracle/sin/Savior stuff is ignorant. And this includes outright persecution, as happens even today in many places throughout the world. We Americans don’t have to suffer a lot of this persecution. While there are certainly movements within American culture to discredit and ultimately squeeze out Christianity, not many Americans have been imprisoned for the faith or been called upon to confess Christ with their blood. Still, in many places in the world, it is illegal to be baptized, illegal to own a Bible, illegal to go to church, and especially illegal to evangelize. Even in places where Christianity is legal, it is so unpopular, that Christians are beaten, robbed, raped, burned out of house and home, and martyred on account of Christ. In the last century alone, more Christians were killed for confessing Christ than in all previous centuries combined. It does not regularly happen here. But it could. Do not be deceived. Deception is the work of the evil one. Jesus has promised that in the world you will have tribulation. If you are to be a Christian, there is no way around it.

But we don’t fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. We fear only the One who can kill both body and soul in hell. More importantly, we trust Him. We believe in Him. We believe His Word. He has overcome the world. And this makes all the difference. The world did its best to eliminate our Savior, Jesus Christ. When His hour came, Jews and Gentiles together conspired to snuff Him out. The Jews charged Him with blasphemy, a capital offense, because He made Himself equal with God. The Romans charged Him with sedition, punishable by crucifixion, because He called Himself a King. So, while the disciples are scattered for fear of the world, our King Jesus, crowned with thorns, is lifted up on the throne of His cross. Behold, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. He is also King of the Gentiles. He is your King, and my King. He is King of all creation. And He dies. He dies to redeem the Jews, and the Gentiles, and you and me, and all creation. He dies as the payment price for our sin. He dies for the world. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He sheds His precious blood and gives His innocent life. The world thought it had won that Friday we call “good.” The world thought it could bury our King in a tomb and forget about Him forever. But on the third day, the stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty, except for the grave cloths, neatly folded. And Jesus appeared to His disciples ALIVE!

Jesus has overcome the world. He lives! He is still alive. He died, and now He can never die again. He is risen, and lives, and reigns to all eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And here is the good news for those of us who are still in the world, but no longer of the world. Jesus calls us His own. And because Jesus calls us His own, the Father calls us His own. Because you are in Christ, baptized into Him, united to Him by faith, Jesus’ Father is your Father. And you can approach His throne with every request as a child to their dear father because you come in Jesus’ Name. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you… Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (vv. 23-24). Now to ask in Jesus’ Name means not to ask for foolish or sinful or self-centered things, but to ask according to His will and according to the revelation of a merciful God in Christ Jesus. It is to ask for all the things promised in the Scriptures with confidence, knowing your heavenly Father will give these things to you without condition, and it is to ask for help in all other needs according to God’s time and in His way. It is to ask for yourself and for your neighbor. It is to pray for the Church and for the world, even for your enemies, even for those who persecute you. You can ask boldly, because you are God’s own children. What is a child forbidden to ask his father?

God loves you. God so loves you and the whole world that He sent His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). And more than this, in spite of your sins, in spite of your selfish prayers, in spite of your despising of the world, in spite of your failure to engage the world while you are in it with the blessed good news of forgiveness and life in Christ Jesus, in spite of your failure to confess Him when the pressure is on, in spite of all of this, God is pleased with you. He is pleased with you because your sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ. He is pleased with you because your debt to God was paid in full by Christ on the cross. He is pleased with you because all the righteousness of His innocent Son, now risen from the dead, has been credited to your account. Now when God looks at you, He sees Christ. And He cannot turn His Son away.

So the Church prays to God as Father. We pray “Our Father…” And we do so in the knowledge that God is able to help us in every tribulation the world can throw at us. And not only is He able, He is willing, because He loves us. Well, if that is the case, let the tribulation come. We recognize that it won’t be pleasant at the time. It will be hard. Jesus promises it. But we take heart, because Jesus has overcome the world, and the Father who loves Jesus loves us also, and is our Father, and the Father and the Son have sent us the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, to counsel and comfort us in every tribulation. What do we do, then, in the midst of tribulation? We commend ourselves to God. As we sang in the Introit: “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you” (Ps. 55:22). We pray. We pray to our Father, through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, in the Spirit, who makes our prayers perfect as He brings them before God’s throne, and who Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express (Rom. 8:26). And having thus prayed, we await His help, in His time, in His way, knowing for certain that He who has overcome the world for us can and will deliver us from the tribulation.

He will deliver us. If not in this earthly life, then in the life to come. Because of our flesh, it is difficult for us to realize that the end of tribulation does not come in this world. That’s just the point. “In the world you will have tribulation.” But then Jesus points to Himself and says, “I have overcome the world.” How did Jesus overcome the world? He died, and He is risen. But what about you? How do you overcome the world? In Christ, you have overcome the world already. In your Baptism into Christ, you died, and you have eternal life now. One day your body will die, but your soul will be in heaven with Jesus. And on the Last Day, Jesus will raise you from the dead. Knowing the end of the story casts a whole new perspective on the tribulations we have in the world. They are passing storms that ultimately cannot harm us. For we are in Christ. Our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:27). Tribulation is coming to an end. As Jesus promises: “Behold, I am making all things new” (v. 5)! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter (C)
May 2, 2010
Text: John 16:12-22

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!

“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20; ESV). Jesus makes this promise to His disciples in the upper room on the night of His betrayal. He promises sorrow, and He promises joy. He promises, in fact, that the disciples’ sorrow is precisely what will become their joy. Needless to say, it is a confusing statement. The cause of their sorrow? Jesus’ prophecy: “A little while, and you will see me no longer.” Their joy? “[A]nd again a little while, and you will see me” (v. 16). What is Jesus talking about? The disciples are bewildered. “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about” (v. 18). They cannot know what He is talking about, because their sinful, fallen minds are clouded. They do not have in mind the things of God. The things of God are foolishness to them, and they cannot understand them, because their minds are fleshly. In reality, Jesus is not telling them anything new. He had told them beforehand: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22). The disciples will be sorrowful. They will weep and lament, while the unbelieving world rejoices (John 16:20). It must be this way. When Jesus tells the disciples they will sorrow, for they will see Him no longer, He is speaking of His death and burial. But precisely this, the innocent suffering and death of the Son of God on the cross, will become the disciples’ joy, and the joy of every Christian. For on the third day, the disciples will see Him again, risen, bodily, the firstfuits of the resurrection, just as He said.

“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” The same is true for us. We live in a world of many sorrows. Many are the griefs that pierce our hearts, because we are fallen, and the whole creation has been subjected to the fall. We are sinners, and the wages of sin is death, and so we live in a world of death and dying. Not just the physical expiration of our bodies, but the bitterness and decay all around us. And don’t think for a minute that Christians are immune from this sorrow. Our bodies age and succumb to various ailments. Our “stuff” is destroyed by moths and rust, broken and failing. As the owner of a well-aged home, sometimes I think my house is crumbling down around me faster than I can keep up with the repairs. And if it isn’t the house, it’s the car. And if it isn’t the car, it is sickness or injury. And if it isn’t sickness or injury, it is the death of a loved one. And one day, it will be me staring death in the face. You will be sorrowful, indeed. Jesus hits the nail on the head. What makes us sorrowful is that we really had hoped these things would bring us joy… true and lasting joy. We search in vain for joy and fulfillment in the things of this earthly life. Stuff will never make us happy. Money won’t either. Nor will sex, or jobs, or power, or honor, of fame. These things can provide fleeting pleasure, but that pleasure is only an illusion. These things cannot provide a joy that lasts. Only Jesus Christ can fill us with eternal and authentic joy. Beloved in the Lord, repent.

In reality, our sorrow as Christians has the same source as that of the disciples in our text. We can’t see Jesus! It would be so much easier if we could see Him, talk to Him face to face, get a better grasp of His plan for us. But then that wouldn’t be faith, would it? We live by faith, not by sight. And that is the problem. We cannot see that which we believe. We have to trust Jesus. We have to let go of the control, and by the way, our obsession with control and autonomy is nothing more than self-idolatry. We have to give up our illusion of control, which is to say, repent, and release ourselves into the pierced hands of Jesus, whom we cannot see. At least for now, for “a little while,” He is invisible to the naked eye.

And yet, we do see Him, in a manner of speaking, for He has given us His Holy Spirit, as He promises in our text. The Spirit of truth comes and casts out the demonic spirits of falsehood and deceit. The Spirit of truth comes and He leads us into all truth, leads us to Jesus Christ who is the Truth incarnate, points us to Christ, and Christ alone for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. The Spirit of truth comes, and He speaks. He speaks with all the authority of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He does not speak simply on His own authority, but He speaks what He hears in eternal counsel with the Father and the Son, and He declares not only what has happened for our salvation, but the things that are to come. He glorifies our Lord Jesus Christ. He is always directing our attention to Christ, crucified and risen. He takes of what is Christ’s, the eternal Word made flesh, and declares it to us. He speaks a Word to us, the Holy Scriptures, the preaching, the visible Word of Baptism and the Supper. And here, in these means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, to which the Holy Spirit has bound Himself, we see Christ. He is here, forgiving our sins, strengthening us, nourishing us, comforting us in the midst of our sorrow. And in seeing Him, we have joy, even in the midst of sorrow. It is true joy. It is joy that lasts. We see Christ, and as a result, our hearts rejoice. And no one can take that joy from us (v. 22)!

Our joy is not in some ambiguous or theoretical idea of salvation, but in the physical reality of the risen Christ. Our joy has the same source as that of the disciples in our text: Christ is risen! Death is dead. Satan’s head is crushed. And sorrow is banished. Oh, they still make a good show in this earthly life, now, for a little while, but mark my words, or better, mark Jesus’ Words, they are defeated forever. We live in the time of what Luther called the “already/not yet.” We are already saved, but it is not yet apparent that hell has been vanquished. We have eternal life now, already, as the Baptized people of God, but we are not yet completely free from death. We are already saints, washed clean in the blood of Christ and sanctified by the Spirit, but the sinner has not yet been entirely cast off. We are already delivered from sorrow, but our joy is not yet fully manifest. Jesus says it is like a woman who is giving birth. She has sorrow in the midst of her labor. Especially in Jesus’ day, giving birth was no safe occupation. Many women died in the midst of childbirth. And even today, while safety has increased exponentially, to say that childbirth is painful is an understatement. Yet I am told that when a mother holds her baby in her arms after labor, she forgets her pain for the joy of beholding her child. It is just as Jesus says: “she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (v. 21). So it is for us. The sorrows of this world are the labor pains of the new creation. The new creation is already upon us, but it is not yet apparent that the former things have passed away (Rev. 21:4). We live by faith, not by sight. Our sorrow will be turned into joy. It is a bold confession that only one led by the Spirit of truth can make.

Understand that this is no belittling of the sorrows with which you are currently afflicted. Sin is the cause of little annoyances and earth-shattering catastrophes alike. That the sorrows of this life are humanly insurmountable makes it all the more clear how desperately we need the Savior. To the cancer patient who may not make it through the surgery, to the grief-stricken parents who have lost their child in a horrific accident, to the spouse whose marriage will not survive despite her best efforts, and to every sinner who is ridden with guilt sitting in the pews this morning, Jesus does not tell you to “get over it” or “walk it off.” We’re talking about real sorrow, here. And we’re talking about a real Savior who takes that sorrow into Himself and nails it to the cross. He dies, and that, beloved, is the sorrow of sorrows. He is the Man of Sorrows, the sinless Son of God who dies in the place of sinners. But on the third day, He rises from the dead. And all at once, our sorrow is turned to joy. Though now, for a little while, we do not see Him with our eyes, for He has ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of God, ruling all things for our benefit, one Day we will see Him. With these eyes. And on that Day, He who has trodden through the valley of the shadow of death and come out on the other side alive, promises that He will wipe away ever tear from our eyes. Death shall be no more, says He whom death could not hold. Neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain. Sorrow is at an end. For the former things have indeed passed away. “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Beloved, rejoice! For Christ is risen, and He has united Himself to you in Holy Baptism. Our risen Lord has spoken, and He cannot lie. His Word is sure. You are His. In Him your joy is complete. And no one, no one, and nothing, can take your joy from you. He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.