Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (A – Proper 8)

June 26, 2011
Text: Jeremiah 28:5-9

Beloved in the Lord, today we begin a new sermon series that will last most of the summer, in which we will concentrate our meditations on the Old Testament lessons each Sunday. There are several reasons for doing this, among them being the fact that we’re just not as familiar with much of the Old Testament literature. We tend to know more about the New Testament. The Season of Pentecost, which is a season of growth for the Church in the Word and in faith and in the Christian life, provides a good opportunity to grow in our understanding of the Old Testament. Also, pastors are charged to deliver the whole counsel of God to their flock (Acts 20:27), and this includes the proclamation of the Old Testament prophets. Finally, and most importantly, by examining the Old Testament lessons, we will see that the whole Bible is about Jesus, that Christ may be found on every page, that Jesus is the whole content of the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments. Jesus Himself says, “You search the Scriptures,” meaning the Old Testament, “because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39; ESV). On the road to Emmaus, before the disciples realized it was the Lord, Jesus demonstrated that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer the cross and so enter into His glory (Luke 24:26), “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures (again, the Old Testament!) the things concerning himself” (v. 27).

So it is that we turn to our text from the Prophet Jeremiah, and happily this very day, June 26th, is the day set aside on the Missouri Synod’s calendar of observances to honor Jeremiah. You can read more about him in the observances section of your bulletin. In our text, we encounter Jeremiah debating with the false prophet, Hananiah. Let’s set the scene by examining the historical context. Babylon, during the reign of the infamous King Nebuchadnezzar, has taken the place of Assyria as the great world power. Babylon, near modern-day Baghdad, has become an expansive empire, a conqueror of nations. And now the armies of Babylon are knocking on Judah’s door. Judah has been unfaithful to her God. She has run after other gods. She has trusted in her own might and in the might of other nations. But Babylon is mightier yet. God has allowed His chosen nation, Judah, to be plundered by the Babylonians as a call to repentance. Babylon has already carried off many exiles. Babylon has already carried off the sacred vessels of the LORD’s house. And King Nebuchadnezzar has already replaced Judah’s King, Jehoiachin, with Zedekiah, who subsequently rebels against Nebuchadnezzar. Now the Babylonians are really mad, and they’re coming to Judah to finish what they started. The LORD is chastising His people, calling them to repentance. He sends His prophet, Jeremiah, to preach Law and Gospel, to call the people to repentance for their sins and idolatry, to call the people to faith in the one true God, YHWH. “Repent, or the Babylonians will destroy you,” Jeremiah preaches. But the people do not repent. They do not like Jeremiah’s preaching. They reject the prophet and his prophecy. You see, they much prefer the preaching of another, Hananiah by name, who assures them that all this doom and gloom preaching is only so much exaggeration. Within two years, Hananiah declares, the LORD will bring back those who have gone into exile, along with the sacred vessels of the Temple (see Jer. 28:3). Within two years, the real King of Judah will be restored and Babylon will never again be a threat (v. 4). Thus says, not the LORD, but the false prophet.

It has always been the case that there are false prophets a-plenty to tickle the fancies and scratch the itching ears of those who want to hear feel-good, patriotic, religious-sounding, spiritually optimistic preaching. Just tune in to a Joel Osteen or a Robert Schuller sermon sometime, and you’ll find that the spirit of Hananiah is alive and well. Sinners want to hear what they want to hear. Sinners do not by nature want to hear the Word of the LORD. Because the Word of the LORD will kill them. The Word of the LORD will kill them for the purpose of making them alive. Beloved in the Lord, the Word of the LORD will kill you, convicting you of your sins, of your idolatries, and pronouncing the whole thing damned. The Word of the LORD will do this, not to leave you in death and hell, but to bring you to repentance, and to drive you to your only Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for you and gives you eternal life. This Word of the LORD is hard. You don’t want to hear it. But you need to hear it. Because there is no other way to be saved. The Babylonians are coming. In your case, death, hell, and the devil are coming because of your sin. The only escape is the precious blood of Jesus Christ and the salvation you receive by faith in Him alone.

That is why God sends the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah confronts the false preaching of Hananiah in the Temple. “Amen!” he says. Jeremiah wishes it were so. He wishes the optimistic prophecy of Hananiah could be true. “May the LORD do so; may the LORD make the words that you have prophesied come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the LORD, and all the exiles” (vv. 6-7). But here’s the problem. That’s not the Word of the LORD. That’s only a hopeful word of man. It is a lie, a deception. The true preaching is this. Babylon is coming. Repent, or you will be destroyed. The people don’t repent. And in 587 BC Jerusalem is leveled, the Temple is utterly destroyed, Judah no longer exists as a nation, and the people are taken into exile in Babylon. It will be 50 years before Jerusalem is rebuilt. False preaching cannot save. False preaching cannot prevent disaster. False preaching offers no lasting or real comfort. False preaching inevitably results in death.

True preaching of God’s Word brings salvation, because it brings Christ. Such preaching isn’t easy to preach, and it isn’t easy to hear, though. Even Jesus points out in the Gospel lesson this morning that true preaching of God’s Word can lead to earthly divisions even between family members. Preachers who proclaim God’s Word in its purity will face opposition from within the Church and persecution from without. Christians who believe and confess God’s Word in its purity will face rejection and mockery on the part of unbelieving family and friends. And you may even someday be called upon to suffer full-fledged persecution, beatings, imprisonment, loss of property, even death for the sake of Christ and His Word. Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life,” namely, by making peace with the unbelieving world, “will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). You will be persecuted to one degree or another for faithfulness to the Word of God. But it’s worth it. Because Jesus Himself is your reward. He is your life. He is your salvation. And your inheritance is with Him, in heaven. So take up your cross in this life, and follow Jesus. The exile is not forever. The Temple will be rebuilt. Christ is risen. Sin, death, the devil, hell, Babylon is conquered forever.

Jeremiah suffers for proclaiming the truth. He is mocked, scorned, abused, imprisoned, and often threatened with death. But such is his honor for faithfulness to God’s Word. Jeremiah is, in fact, a living picture of our Lord Jesus Christ, who proclaimed the truth and was nailed to the cross for it. Our Lord Jesus was mocked. He was scorned. He was abused and imprisoned and often threatened with death. And when the divinely appointed hour came, He was betrayed into the hands of sinners, Jews and Gentiles, that they might have their way with Him. He suffers and dies at their hands. He suffers and dies at our hands. Because He dies for us. He dies for our forgiveness. He dies not only preaching the truth, but as the Truth made flesh, that we might come to know the Truth and be saved. He dies that we might not perish, but have eternal life. And the reason He can do that is that He knows His vindication is coming. His vindication is that He is risen from the dead, and that His enemies, you, me, and all sinners, enjoy the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. That’s why Jeremiah could boldly suffer for his preaching of the Word. That is why you can boldly suffer for believing and confessing the truth of Jesus Christ. Because Christ is risen, and your time of exile in the land of sin and death is coming to an end. You have died with Christ by Baptism into His death. So also, baptized into His resurrection, you have new life now. And on the Last Day, He will raise you from the dead, bodily, even as He is risen, bodily, lives, and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity (A)

June 19, 2011
Text: Matt. 28:16-20

In the Creed, we confess, “I believe in one God,” yet we go on to say “I believe in… the Father Almighty… And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God… And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son” (Nicene Creed). We are monotheists, believing, teaching, and confessing that there is only one God. And yet we believe, teach, and confess three Persons in the divinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Contemplation of the Holy Trinity is contemplation of that which is incomprehensible. One God, three distinct Persons, the Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Pretty soon we have to bring out the Excedrin. God is mysterious right down to His very essence. Which is to say, the doctrine of the Trinity is not a doctrine to be understood, but a doctrine to be believed. For the God who created us, body and soul; the God who redeemed us by His suffering and death on the cross; the God who sanctifies us and keeps us as His own; this God graciously reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, three Persons. We dare not go beyond what He reveals. We simply believe it and confess it.

This is a rather humbling Sunday. Humbling, because in the article on the Trinity we have to confess our intellectual limitations. Humbling, because we have to be content with not understanding something so mysterious and majestic. Humbling, because we realize that God doesn’t owe us an explanation about everything, not even about His essence. It’s like the child who asks his father, “why?” and the father responds, “because I said so.” God says so, that He is one God, yet three Persons, and that is enough for us. We are not to be so arrogant as to think we understand how this can be. If you think you understand it, you’ve got it all wrong! This makes this Sunday especially humbling for a poor preacher trying to adequately explain the Holy Trinity. There really aren’t even any good illustrations for the Holy Trinity, though many have tried. For example, St. Patrick apparently used the shamrock to explain the Trinity, three leaves on one stem, but even this illustration isn’t entirely adequate. We can more easily say what the Trinity is not. It is NOT the case that God is one person, who sometimes puts on the mask of Father, sometimes the mask of Son, sometimes the mask of Holy Spirit. NOR is it the case that there are really three gods, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each possessing their own divine essence, but working together as one. Both of these are ancient heresies refuted in the Athanasian Creed which we will confess in a few minutes. No, we have one God, who is three Persons. The three Persons are of one essence, yet they are three distinct Persons. How can this be? We can’t answer that. We can only believe and confess what we have been given by God to believe and confess. A humbling Sunday, indeed.

And yet this is a comforting Sunday, because the article on the Trinity is full of comfort for the Christian. God has graciously revealed Himself to us poor sinners. He didn’t have to do that. He could justly have revealed Himself to us only in His wrath. But instead He reveals Himself as God for us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Notice, He has community built (if we can even speak that way!) right into His very essence. The god of the Muslims is all alone, and it is not in the nature of such a god to be in community. So also, the god of the Jews is all alone, unapproachable, appeased only by strict adherence to traditions and laws. But our God, the one true God, is a God of community and communion. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one God. So when we say, along with St. John, that “God is love” (1 John 4:8; ESV), we mean it! He is love within Himself. We certainly love, and love is one of our characteristics, but God is love, because He is essentially in community. The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and the Father and the Son love and are loved by the Holy Spirit. And so it is only natural that the love of God within God creates a new object of love, you and me. Just as the love of husband and wife begets a new object of love, a child to be loved, so the love of God begets us, His Church, the children of God, the bride of Christ.

It’s not just that God created us. He did, but He also created a lot of other stuff, and He doesn’t call that stuff His child. It is that God creates us to be His own. The love of God is never an abstract idea. God’s love for us is concrete. The Father sends the Son in the flesh to redeem His children who have fallen into sin. The Son is really conceived in a real womb of a real woman, the Virgin Mary. He grows up as a flesh and blood boy from Nazareth. He fulfills the Law of God as an obedient Son. He suffers in a real body, nailed to the real wood of the cross, sheds real blood, and dies a real death. He’s laid in a real tomb. That’s love. Almighty God, the Son, mysterious beyond all comprehension, dies. For you. For me. And then He rises from the dead, victorious over sin, death, and the devil, in His very real body, the same body that died on the cross. Behold, the wounds. They are mortal. Yet He lives.

And we live in Him. Because we are baptized into Him. His death is our death. His resurrection is our life. We’re born dead in sin, but He’s rescued us from sin and death. And though we die physically, He will raise us from the dead, in our bodies, just as He is raised in His body. It all starts at the baptismal font, the act of re-creation, where the Father speaks the Word, His Son Jesus, into the water, and the Holy Spirit is hovering over the waters. There God forms us for Himself and breathes into us the breath of life, His Holy Spirit, so that we believe in Him and come to new life in Him. There He places His Name upon us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so that we become His disciples, gathered from all nations into one holy, Christian, and apostolic Church. Notice, “baptizing them in the name (one Name!) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (three Persons!)” (Matt. 28:19). The Name of the Triune God is written on you. You belong to Him. You are the object of His love. He created you. He redeemed you by the blood of Jesus Christ His Son. And now He sanctifies you by keeping you in the one true faith through the teaching, as Jesus says, “teaching them to observe” (again here, the word means to keep, consider, meditate upon, believe, and yes, obey), “all that I have commanded you” (v. 20). And then the promise. Jesus says, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He is with us as the revelation of God in the flesh. He is with us as God for us. He is the God of our salvation, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. And He’s with us in a very real way, in Baptism, in His Word, in the Supper of His body and blood.

So don’t ever think that Holy Trinity Sunday is “too high falutin’ doctrinal” for you. It is humbling, and it’s supposed to be. But it is also of great comfort. God has revealed His Name to you and placed His Name upon you, a Name mysterious beyond all telling. You belong to Him, purchased with His Son’s own blood. You don’t have to wrap your mind around it. You can’t. Just believe it and confess it, and marvel in the mystery of the God who is love, and who loves you. Rejoice that God’s Name is written upon you, and your name is written in the Book of Life, even Jesus Christ our Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost (A)
Confirmation Day

June 12, 2011
Text: Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39

Pentecost, an Old Testament harvest festival fulfilled in our Lord’s New Testament Church as the Holy Spirit is poured out on the disciples in Jerusalem, resulting in a great spiritual harvest by the preaching of the Gospel. The Spirit comes as a mighty rushing wind filling the entire house where the congregation is gathered, and tongues of fire rest on the disciples’ heads as they speak the Gospel in foreign languages they had previously never studied. Beloved, the Spirit still comes today and fills the house where the congregation is gathered. We don’t get to hear and see the spectacular display of power these disciples in the early Church were privileged to witness. We don’t get the mighty rushing wind. There are no tongues of fire over our heads. None of us miraculously begin to speak the Gospel in foreign languages we’ve never before studied. And yet, the Pentecost miracle continues even today. The wind, the fire, the speaking in tongues are not the main things that happen in our text. For after these things, the greater miracles take place, the lasting miracles, the miracles that continue to happen today, even though we don’t recognize them as such. Here is what I mean: Peter stands up and preaches a sermon, Law and Gospel. And he doesn’t just pull it out of thin air or out of his own imagination. He preaches on a text of Holy Scripture, from the Prophet Joel, chapter 2, verses 28-32. We get the first part of his sermon in our text this morning. But as the account continues beyond our text in Acts chapter 2, we learn that the Spirit comes to the hearers through the proclamation of the Word. They are cut to the heart and desperately inquire of Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37; ESV). The Law of God has brought them to a realization of their sin and their lost condition. And Peter responds with the precious words of the Gospel, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (vv. 38-39). So they do. They repent of their sins and come to Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, men and women, adults and children, even infants, for Peter says explicitly here that the promise is for you and your children! And about three thousand souls are added to the Church that day (v. 41). And then they do what you do as members of the Church: “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v. 42), which is just another way of saying they attended the Divine Service, listening to the Scripture readings and sermons, receiving the Lord’s Supper, and praying the liturgy.

So you see, the miracle of Pentecost continues right up to this very day, in this very place, among you. You may not witness the mighty rushing wind, the tongues of fire, or the speaking of tongues, but you have the greater miracles going on right now: The miracle of preaching, repentance, Baptism, the Communion of Saints, the Lord’s Supper, and the Prayers. It’s just the regular stuff that goes on in the Church. But in every case it is miraculous, because the Spirit is active in these things, bestowing faith in Jesus Christ and strengthening believers to remain steadfast unto the end.

And so finally the Pentecost event is what we celebrate in the rite of Confirmation. Today we rejoice in the Holy Spirit’s work in Curtis Ihle, Hannah Kelsey, Laura Scott, and Hannah Stark. For the Holy Spirit came upon them when they were baptized. They came to faith by water and the Word, and ever since they have lived the life of the Baptized, God’s own child, they gladly say it; gladly hearing and learning the Word; daily repenting of their sins and clinging to the Word of forgiveness in Jesus Christ; participating in the liturgy and the prayers of the Church, singing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; and finally, today, after much prayer and careful study of God’s Word, they join us at the Table of the Lord to receive His true body and blood for their forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is a concrete example of Acts chapter 2 happening right here before your very eyes. It’s a miracle!

It’s a miracle, because just like you and like every other son and daughter of Adam and Eve, the only exception being our Lord Jesus, these four dear children of our congregation were born in utter spiritual blindness, dead, enemies of God. This is called original sin. It means that you are not born a Christian, nor are you born with the ability to become a Christian or make a decision of your own free will to be a Christian. You have no natural inclination toward the one true God. You’re born dead, and you can do everything a dead man can do, which is to say, not a thing! If life is to enter you, if you are to live again and if there is to be spiritual light for you to see and believe, if you are to love God and live in fellowship with Him, this must come from outside of you. And it does. God does not leave you in death. He re-creates you and brings you to new life. What happens at the baptismal font is a re-run of the creation of the world. There you are, dead in your trespasses and sins, and your believing parents, by no choice of your own, bring you to the font, where God the Father speaks His creating Word, the Son, our Lord Jesus into the water. And the Spirit is hovering over the waters, just like at the creation of the world. And by His Word, God breathes His life-giving Spirit into you, just as He breathed the breath of life into Adam, so that now you are no longer dead, but living, no longer blind, but believing (because God has said, “Let there be light!”), no longer enemies of God, but lovers of God, dear children of God who love Him and trust in Him for all things needful. It is the creation miracle and the Pentecost miracle all wrapped into one, happing in real time to ordinary people at ordinary churches throughout the world. And it happened to you.

In just a few moments, these four baptized saints in Christ Jesus, will stand before God and this congregation to make their good confession, to solemnly vow that they would suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from this Christian faith which they have learned from the Scriptures and the Small Catechism. This is serious business, to say that you’d rather die than deny the Savior and His teaching. And it’s a miracle, because as St. Paul writes, “no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Your confession of Christ is the fruit of your Baptism and a testimony of the Spirit’s work in your heart and mind and soul. The Lord here opens your lips that your mouth may declare His praise and confess His holy Name. This is, in fact, the promise Jesus makes to us in the Gospel lesson this morning. “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive” (John 7:38-39). You see, faith and the Spirit always go together. The Spirit is the One who gives you faith in the first place, so that you believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. And the Spirit is always present in and with faith, so that out of your heart flow rivers of living water, which is to say that the water that flowed from our Lord’s pierced side into the font and over your head now flows through you in the confession of Christ and deeds of love done for the benefit of your neighbor. This is all the work of the Spirit in you. Your confession this morning, your vow to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from your Lord, this is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This is Pentecost once again happening before our very eyes. You may not be speaking your confession in foreign languages previously unknown to you, but the tongue with which you speak is just as miraculous. For it is a Spirit-filled word that you speak, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, by His grace and His activity in you. Moses exclaimed in the Old Testament lesson this morning, “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Num. 11:29). And Peter quoted the prophet Joel in our text from Acts (2:17), “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” Beloved in the Lord, don’t miss the miracle this morning. These Scriptures are fulfilled this day in your hearing.

Preaching, repentance, Baptism, the forgiveness of sins, the Communion of Saints, the breaking of the bread in the Lord’s Supper, the Prayers, all the common, routine stuff of the Church. And all of it, miraculous. In all of it, the Spirit imparts Himself, imparts faith, imparts Jesus, who by His holy, precious blood and innocent suffering and death, restores us to the Father as God’s own dear children. It’s a miracle! Through these means the Lord continues to gather in His Pentecost harvest. Behold, the fruits of the Spirit in these four young Christians who make their good confession this morning. And rejoice as they come with you for the first time to the altar of God, to receive the Lord’s true body and blood. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Witness, Mercy, Life Together (Part II)

Pastor’s Window for June 2011
Witness, Mercy, Life Together (Part II)

Beloved in the Lord,

The second component of our three-fold Synodical theme is Mercy, tied to the Greek word diakonia (διακονία – from which we get the English word “deacon”), which means service, especially in connection with merciful aid and the distribution of alms. In Acts 6, the apostles appoint seven men as deacons to take care of the distribution to the widows so that the apostles can devote their full time to the ministry of the Word (vv. 1-7). The early Church came up with the idea of hospitals and other charitable institutions established to relieve suffering. Throughout the Church’s history, clergy and congregational leaders have distributed alms to those in need. Only in very recent times in the West has responsibility for the work of mercy been transferred from the Church to the state. Though the Word is primary, mercy has always accompanied the preaching of the Word in the holy Christian Church. This is so because the preaching of the Word produces faith, which is always living, busy, and active in good works for the benefit of the neighbor.

The Church’s mercy toward those in need flows from the mercy of God poured out on us in Christ Jesus. The Lord beheld our great need, enslaved to sin and condemned to death and hell, and He acted in mercy. He sent His Son to suffer the punishment for our sins, in our place, and to take our death and hell upon Himself, that we might have eternal life. And the Lord continues to act in mercy. He graciously forgives our sins each day on account of Christ, and grants us His Holy Spirit, who bestows and strengthens faith in Christ through the blessed gifts of God’s Word and Sacraments. He also gives us all that we need for this bodily life, defends us against all danger, and guards and protects us from all evil. “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in [us]” (1st Article of the Creed, Luther’s Small Catechism). And so, as God generously pours out His mercy upon us, our cup overflows in mercy toward our neighbor.

This mercy is concrete. St. John writes, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18; ESV). Mercy is not just having good thoughts about someone, not just saying “I’ll pray for you” (though we should do that as well!), but concrete deeds done for the benefit of our neighbor, the relief of our neighbor’s suffering, the promotion of our neighbor’s welfare. If our neighbor is in need, and we can fill that need, we should do so. If our neighbor is suffering, and we can relieve that suffering, we should do so. If we have an opportunity to do some good for our neighbor, even when he is not in need, we should do so. We should take every occasion to enrich our neighbor in body and soul. Why? Because that is what our Lord has done for us. He has filled our need, relieved our suffering, and enriched us in every way. His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. His mercy endures forever. And He does not base His mercy on our worthiness. Neither should we base our mercy on the worthiness of our neighbor. We have mercy because our cup overflows with God’s mercy. And in this way we are privileged to be the merciful hands of God in the world, a little christ to our neighbor. God has mercy on our neighbor through our works of mercy!

St. Paul says to us: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Opportunities for mercy abound in our congregation. This is not a complete list, but here are just a few examples: our Good Samaritan Alms Box, located in the narthex, is always in need of funds. 100% of gifts given to the Good Samaritan fund go to someone in need. Our Food Truck is always in need of volunteers and financial donations. In this way, we are the hands of God in feeding our neighbors in need. There are opportunities for volunteer work at Project Hope, and they are always in need of donations of food and pantry items, and items for their thrift store. Other opportunities for mercy include special free-will offerings for various agencies, collections for Lakeshore Pregnancy Center, the seminary food co-op, our LWML collection for Christmas gifts and food baskets, appeals for help in times of natural disaster (especially with the work of LCMS World Relief and Human Care), various servant events, as well as any number of private opportunities to help a brother or sister in need. Do this in secret, and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matt. 6:1-4)! There are other opportunities for mercy outside of our congregation. In addition to the many secular opportunities, look at the many possibilities at our Synod’s website,

So beloved, serve with great joy, and be God’s hands of mercy in the world. And bask in the merciful love of God which has no end.

Pastor Krenz

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)

June 5, 2011
Text: John 17:1-11

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

Jesus prays for His Church. We get a glimpse into Jesus’ prayer for His Church, for you, in what is known as the High Priestly prayer, the whole of the 17th Chapter of St. John’s Gospel. Jesus prays, for the hour has come, the divinely appointed hour, which is to say, the time for Jesus to suffer and be crucified for the sins of the world. Jesus prays that His heavenly Father would now glorify Him, glorify the Son. And in John’s Gospel, Jesus is glorified when He is lifted up on the cross for the salvation of the world. In this way, Jesus, the Son of God, also glorifies the Father, for this is what the Father sent Him to do. The Father gives the Son authority over all flesh, that He may give life to the world. Of course, as God, the Son has always had this glory and authority with the Father, even from all eternity. But now the Father bestows this glory and authority on the Son according to His human nature, because since the incarnation, you cannot separate the natures of Jesus. He is always God and He is always man, in one indivisible Person. And in this personal union of the divine and human natures of Jesus, our human flesh is glorified. God is one of us! He is flesh and blood! And He suffers in that flesh and sheds that blood to pay for the sins of the world and redeem us for Himself. Jesus prays for His Church. And the first thing He prays is that the Father would nail Him… to the cross. His glory is manifested in His weakness and suffering and death for the life of the world. By His death, beloved, you have life. The Father sent Him for this very purpose.

Indeed, Jesus is the revelation of the Father’s heart toward you, His love for you, and His saving will for you. Thus Jesus has manifested the divine Name to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Name placed upon you in your Baptism. God’s Name is on you. You belong to God. And here we come to the mysterious and comforting doctrine of election, that God has chosen you from all eternity to come to faith in Jesus Christ and receive eternal life. For Jesus says of those to whom He has manifested the Name of God: “Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (John 17:6; ESV). God has chosen you as His own from all eternity, and He has given you to Jesus to be His disciple. You have been redeemed by the Savior’s blood. You belong to Him. He purchased you. And He has called you by the Gospel. You have kept His Word, which as we learned last week, means that you hear it, take it to heart, meditate upon it, believe it, and observe it. But that comes only after the fact that you belong to the Father, who has given you to the Son. Notice that it is God who makes you a Christian. He makes you a Christian precisely through the revelation of His Name and His Word in His Son Jesus Christ, by which the Holy Spirit creates faith in you. Jesus says, “I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me” (v. 8). The Father gives you to the Son, who gives you the words of the Father, by which you come to know intimately and believe that Jesus is your Savior, sent by the Father to redeem you by His glorious death and resurrection, to make you the Father’s own child.

Jesus prays for His Church, that you be kept in the Word and in the Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the fellowship of the Triune God. In other words, He prays that you be kept in your Baptism. He prays that you be kept, that He continue to be glorified in you by your faith and love and good works (v. 10). And understand, this is not just a one-time prayer on the part of Jesus. This is not confined to the prayer recorded here on the night He was betrayed, as He reclined around the table with the apostles in the upper room. This is Jesus’ continual prayer for the Church. For even now, as our risen and ascended Lord, as He sits at the right hand of the Father, Jesus prays for His Church. He is our High Priest who continually makes intercession for us. The High Priestly prayer recorded in John 17 is just a little glimpse into what Jesus continually prays for His Church. Beloved, Jesus prays for you! And how could God ever deny His prayer? When God prays to God, the Son to the Father, God cannot deny the prayer! Jesus prays that you be kept in His Name and His Word and His death and resurrection. Amen! So let it be done! Yes, yes, it shall be so!

This prayer is so necessary because Jesus is no longer in the world in such a way as to be visible to the naked eye. He has ascended to the Father and sits at the Father’s right hand. He is now, even according to His human nature, glorified with the glory He had with the Father according to His divine nature from all eternity (v. 5). But for this reason, we can’t see Him with our eyes. We see Him, rather, by faith where He is truly and bodily present with us, where He has promised to be, in His Word where He continues to reveal the Name of God, in Baptism where He places that Name upon you, in the Holy Supper where He feeds you with His true body and blood. Jesus knows, though, that seeing Him by faith alone, and not by sight, is hard in this fallen world. Because in this fallen world, you have the temptations of the devil and your own sinful flesh to contend with, not to mention a world full of unbelievers who are hostile to Christ and His Christians, who mock you for your faith in Christ and belief in the Scriptures, who seek to convince you that your Lord’s Word is untrue, who reject you when you hold so tenaciously to the Savior. Who knows, you may even have to suffer real persecution someday for the sake of the Name, maybe even imprisonment, maybe even death. But understand that just as our Lord Jesus Christ is glorified in His suffering and death for you, so He is glorified in you when you suffer for His sake. When you suffer for Him, rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt. 5:11-12). But of course, when you suffer, and as you continue to struggle in this life with the devil and with your sinful flesh, what a great comfort to know that Jesus prays for you. He prays that God would keep you even in suffering, even through suffering, even in times of temptation, even in spite of your sins and your sinful flesh, in the Name, by the Word, as the Father’s own dear child. Jesus prays for His Church.

What great comfort! At all times, in all circumstances, Jesus prays for you! How comforted you are when a brother or sister in Christ tells you that they’re praying for you, and rightly so! How much more comforted you are, then, when you recall that Jesus Himself is praying for you! When you sin, Jesus prays for you, that the Father would forgive you for the sake of His Son’s blood and death, and that the Father would restore you in repentance and faith by His Spirit. When you suffer the holy cross, Jesus prays for you, that you be preserved in your time of tribulation, that you not fall from faith, but be strengthened to persevere. When God blesses you with times of prosperity and joy, Jesus rejoices, and He prays for you, that you give thanks to the Father through the Son and in the Spirit, acknowledging God as the Giver of all good gifts, and that you not become presumptuous or arrogant on account of His blessings. And when you stand at death’s door, Jesus prays for you, that the devil be kept at bay, that you persevere by God’s grace unto the end, that Jesus may receive you face to face into the joy of His Father, with open arms and pierced hands, to enjoy with Him His heavenly glory. Jesus prays for His Church. Jesus prays for you. And of course now, even according to His human nature, He has authority to give you life. For He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Ascension of Our Lord

The Ascension of Our Lord (observed)

June 1, 2011
Text: Acts 1:1-11; Eph. 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

We often live and act as if, in the Ascension of our Lord, Jesus has left the building, as if He is no longer present with us in any real way (only “in spirit,” which really means not present at all), as if we’re left on our own to muddle through this earthly life as best we can with whatever scraps He’s left to us in the Bible, and primarily with our own resources, our own reason and strength. We live and act as if Christ is confined in some sort of heavenly prison, at least in His body. This is the official theology of much of Christendom. And for all practical purposes, many Lutherans adopt this theology as well, as if Jesus is somewhere up there, and we’re down here, and in this earthly life, never the twain shall meet. This, dear friends in Christ, is to entirely misunderstand the meaning of our Lord’s ascension. Rather, in His ascension and session at the right hand of the Father, our Lord Jesus now fills all things and is present with His Church in His body, for in His incarnation at Christmas (His taking on of human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary), He is no longer only spirit. Jesus is a flesh and blood God!

The Church confesses that 40 days after our Lord’s bodily resurrection from the dead, He bodily “ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty” (Apostles’ Creed). We confess this in all three creeds. We confess this because it is clearly revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. And it means something for us and for our salvation. Our Lord doesn’t ascend into heaven so as to twiddle his thumbs until it’s time to come back on the Last Day. He ascends into heaven for the purpose of sitting at the right hand of the Father where He rules all things for the benefit of His Christians. This is the three-fold Kingdom you learned about in Catechism class: The Kingdom of Power, His rule over all things in the whole universe, seen and unseen, even over the devil and the demons; the Kingdom of Grace, which is the holy Christian Church on earth, the Church militant, which He rules by His Word; and the Kingdom of Glory, the holy Christian Church in heaven, the Church triumphant. And let us note with great care that He ascended bodily and sits at the right hand of the Father in His body. Our flesh is fallen and corrupt in the sin of Adam, but now it has been exalted and perfected in the flesh of our new Adam, Jesus Christ. His human flesh has been exalted to God’s right hand. That means that humanity itself has been exalted. And He goes to prepare a place for us (John 14:2-3), for where He has gone, we will go. We, too, are given a place in heaven, a place not just for our souls, but for our bodies in the resurrection. As God and Man, two natures in one person, our ascended Lord is our Mediator with God, our Advocate. He prays for us. The Father hears Him. The Father hears us for His sake. And our ascended Lord sends His Spirit who calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, gathers us into the Church, sanctifies us, and keeps us in the one true faith of Jesus Christ.

But all of that doesn’t mean Jesus has left the building. Far from it. He has not left us! In fact, He has promised to be with us always, to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:20). And where Jesus is, He is there in His whole person. Jesus is one person with two natures, divine and human. But we dare never divide Him into two persons, as if there are two Jesuses, one divine and one human. He is never with us strictly according to His divine nature, anymore than He could ever be with us strictly according to His human nature. Ever since the incarnation, wherever the Son of God is, He is there as God and Man. That means that Jesus promises to be with you in His body. And this is so important, because a god who is not flesh and blood, a god who is so above you and removed from you, is finally not helpful to your salvation. He is either the God of Christianity, who is one with you, and you are flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone, thus He intimately cares for you, or He is the god of all the other religions, Islam for example, a god who is not love, who would never become one with you, a god whose favor you must earn.

But that’s not Jesus. Jesus is one with you in the flesh. He conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. In the flesh. And He gives Himself in the flesh. He gives Himself to death in the flesh on the cross, the punishment for your sins, that you might be forgiven. He suffers hell in the flesh, that you may be set free. He is buried in the flesh, sanctifying your grave as a bed of peaceful rest. He has been raised in the flesh, that you may awaken in your own flesh, fully healed of sin and all that ails you on the Last Day. So He ascended and is seated at the right hand of God in the flesh, where He continues to be present with you in the flesh, bodily washing you with His own blood in Baptism, really speaking to you in His Word, really forgiving you in Absolution, and giving His very body and blood to you in the Supper. His flesh is for the life of the world (John 6:51). Our texts this evening don’t say that Jesus has gone away in such a way that He is no longer present. No, a cloud has taken Him away from our sight (Acts 1:9). But He is not gone. He is with us, as He promised. He is with us right where He has promised to be. Don’t stand there like fools gazing up into heaven, as if He’s however many trillions of miles that direction, up in the sky. Look where He’s promised to be for you, really present, in His body, God and Man. Go to His Word and Baptism and the Supper. He’s present right here in the midst of His Church in His gifts, as St. Paul writes, He has been given “as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23; ESV).

Of course, He will come back visibly on the Last Day. He will not be removed from our sight forever. Then we will see Him eternally with our own eyes. But even now we see Him by faith in the means of grace. So we can live and act as if He’s right here, because He is right here, delivering forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. And this, beloved, is cause for great rejoicing. “God has gone up with a shout” (Ps. 47:5). But He has not left us. He takes us with Him in His bodily exaltation. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.