Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost (B)

The Confirmation of Chloe Adams and Bradly Lowery

May 27, 2012

Text: Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Pentecost and Confirmation go together. The Feast of Pentecost has historically been one of the Church’s traditional Confirmation Days. And the reason is this: Both are a celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early Church, as He came in the sound of a mighty, rushing wind, and tongues of fire came to rest on each of the apostles as they preached the Gospel in languages they had not previously learned or studied (Acts 2). The Spirit continues to dwell with His Church in the preaching of the Gospel, leading us into all truth (John 16:13). Confirmation is the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon our confirmands in their Baptism in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When Chloe and Brad were baptized into Christ, they received the same Holy Spirit who came to the Church on the first Pentecost. Today, the questions that were answered for them and the vows that were made for them at their Baptism by their parents and sponsors, are spoken and made by their own mouths as they make their good confession of the Lord Jesus and His doctrine as they have come to know it from the Holy Scriptures and Luther’s Small Catechism. As God’s own children, they are publicly confessing the gifts God gave them in their Baptism. It is a confession they can only make by the Holy Spirit. Pentecost and Confirmation both celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on His Christians. Pentecost and Confirmation go together.

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to His apostles and His Church in our Gospel this morning. There He promises that the Paraclete will come. The Paraclete. It’s a Greek word. The ESV translates it as “Helper,” but the title means so much more than that. Paraclete can be variously translated as “Helper,” “Counselor,” “Comforter,” “Advocate,” and it means all of these things and more. It literally means one who is called to someone, meaning one you call to your side in a time of crisis, like a mother who runs to the side of her crying child who has fallen off her bicycle.[1] The mother is a paraclete. She helps, counsels, and comforts. She helps. She cleans and bandages the wounds. She counsels. She identifies what caused the accident and imparts her wisdom for avoiding bicycle injuries in the future. And she comforts. Her very presence is comforting. She scoops her child into her arms and consoles the little one. This is what God, the Holy Spirit does for us. He helps us who have been wounded by sin and death. He cleans us up and binds our wounds with the healing medicine of the Gospel. He counsels us. He identifies the sins that afflict us and imparts true wisdom to us through His Word to avoid sin and do the will of God. And He comforts us in all our afflictions. His very presence is comforting. He demonstrates and imparts the love of God for us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And Jesus Christ is what the Holy Spirit is all about. He proceeds from the Father and the Son to bear witness about the Son (John 15:26). And He works in us, as He is working in Chloe and Brad today, to bear witness about the Son in our confession of Christ and in our daily vocations (v. 27). He’s all about the Son. That’s His work, to point us to Jesus, the Son of Mary, the Son of God. For this reason the Holy Spirit has sometimes been called the “shy” Person of the Holy Trinity. It’s not that He’s bashful. But He’s always pointing us to Jesus as the way to the Father. He’s always pointing us to Jesus and His innocent suffering and death for the forgiveness of our sin. He’s always pointing us to Jesus and His resurrection for our eternal life. Lutherans are often accused of not talking enough about the Holy Spirit. The reality is, though, that when we’re talking about Jesus, we’re talking about the Holy Spirit. Because we cannot know Jesus apart from the Spirit. St. Paul tells the Corinthians that “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; ESV). Because, as we memorized in the Small Catechism, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”[2] Apart from the Holy Spirit we cannot believe in Christ or confess Him. We’re trapped in unbelief by virtue of our sinful nature which is spiritually dead. The Holy Spirit has to come, just as He came to the Church on Pentecost, and breathe new life into us, make us a new creation, by His gifts in the Gospel and Sacraments. He comes so that we will know Jesus. “He will glorify me,” says Jesus, “for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14). The Holy Spirit is always pointing to Jesus.

And He works through means. He attaches Himself to means so that we will always know where to find Him. Otherwise we might not know which spirit is speaking to us. If we trust feelings in our hearts or guts or voices in our heads, we’ll never know whether it’s the Holy Spirit speaking to us or an evil spirit. But we do always know that in the Scriptures it is the Holy Spirit who speaks. That is why we can absolutely trust the Scriptures as the divinely inspired and inerrant Word of God, because even though the Scriptures were penned by sinful humans, the apostles and prophets, those apostles and prophets were writing the very Word of God. The Holy Spirit speaks through the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit speaks through the preaching of those Scriptures. And we know from the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit comes to us in the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Word and Sacrament, these are the divinely appointed means by which we know the Holy Spirit is present and doing His work among us, ever pointing us to Jesus. And this is what He does as He comes to us in these means. Jesus says He convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me,” says Jesus (v. 9). Through His holy Law, the Holy Spirit shows us to be sinners and convicts us of unbelief. “(C)oncerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer,” says Jesus (v. 10). The Holy Spirit shows us in the Gospel that now Jesus Himself is our righteousness, who has ascended into heaven in His crucified and risen body, where He ever makes intercession for us before the Father. Now, when the Father looks at us, He does not see our sins, but only the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, His Son. And finally, “(C)oncerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (v. 11). The Holy Spirit shows us in the Gospel that Satan is judged, defeated in the victory of Jesus Christ by His cross and resurrection. We are no longer enslaved to the devil. In Christ, we are free. And notice that in this way, by means of the Word of God and the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit is paracleting us. He is helping, counseling, comforting us, as He delivers Jesus to us, our Savior and our Advocate. He doesn’t come to us in spectacular displays of mighty, rushing winds and tongues of fire, or the miraculous speaking of languages we never previously learned or studied. But then again, He never promised that He would always come to His Church in that spectacular way, with those spectacular gifts. He does promise that He will always come to His Church in Baptism and in Scripture and preaching and Holy Absolution and the Lord’s Supper. He does promise that by these means He will impart the most important gifts: faith in Jesus Christ, the hope of eternal life, and the love of God with which He fills us so that that love spills over to one another.

And that is what we celebrate on this Day of Pentecost. The coming of the Holy Spirit according to the Promise of the Lord Jesus. And His coming to the children of our heavenly Father in Baptism, which we celebrate in the lives of Brad Lowery and Chloe Adams on this, their Confirmation Day. This is a day we celebrate our own Baptism into Christ along with them. For we, too, were made God’s own children in Holy Baptism, where the same Holy Spirit was poured out upon us to direct us ever to Jesus Christ, who died for us and who has been raised from the dead so that we can have eternal life. The same Holy Spirit who was given to us in Baptism works in us to will and to do what God commands, what we call sanctification, and to bear witness to Christ in our own lives of confession and vocation. The coming of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost and Confirmation. They go together. Today is a day of great rejoicing. For by His Spirit, God has made us His own. Because the Spirit gives us Jesus, who purchased us with His blood. The Spirit gathers us into the Church. And here in this Church He daily and richly forgives all our sins through the Word and Sacraments. He gives us new life in Christ now, and on the Last Day, He will raise us and all the dead, and give eternal life to us and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. For the Spirit of Truth can never lie. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The Rev. James Blain
[2] Luther's Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Seventh Sunday of Easter (B)

May 20, 2012

Text: John 17:11b-19

Beloved in the Lord, our text for this morning comes from what is called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, the prayer Jesus prays on behalf of His Church in the upper room on the night in which He is betrayed, the night He institutes the Supper of His body and blood, Maundy Thursday, the night before His suffering and crucifixion as the sacrifice for our sins. Priests make intercession to God on behalf of the people, and as our High Priest, this is what Jesus does for us. He prays for us. He prays, and as the only-begotten Son of the Father, the Father hears and answers Jesus’ prayer. He cannot fail to hear and answer His Son. He surely will not deny His prayer for us. He will give His Church whatever it is for which the Son prays. And in our text, there are three particular petitions that Jesus lifts before the Father for our sake. He prays first of all that we would be kept as one in God’s Name (John 17:11). Second, He prays that we would be kept from the evil one, Satan (v. 15). And third, He prays that we would be sanctified in the truth of His holy Word (v. 17).

Jesus prays that we be kept in God’s Name. “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (v. 11b; ESV). He prays that we be kept in the Name of the Father, which the Father has given to and revealed in the Son, Jesus Christ. This is baptismal language. This is a prayer that we be kept in our Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism all our sins are washed away by the flood of Jesus’ blood, and we are given the Holy Spirit and faith in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation. We are rescued from death and the devil. It is a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). We are made God’s own child, having been baptized into the death and resurrection of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. We return daily to our Baptism as we drown the old sinful nature in repentance and daily emerge and arise to newness of life in Christ by faith. Jesus prays that we be kept in this, that we not wander away from our Baptism and so be lost. Because the world hates us. The world hates the Church, because the world hates Christ. And the most effective way the world can do damage to the Church is to lure us away from our Baptism by worldly enticements, be it money, power, influence, sex, altered consciousness, or whatever. The world lures us away by the works of the flesh. The allurements are shiny and captivating, but upon close scrutiny, are empty and unable to give us what they promise. Jesus knows that in our sinful flesh we have a weakness for these allurements. And He is not with us visibly in the way that He was visibly with His disciples during His earthly ministry. Then, He tended His disciples visibly as He talked with them and walked among them. But ever since His ascension into heaven, which we celebrated earlier in the week, though He is very much present with us in His Word and Sacraments, just as present as He was with His disciples in His earthly ministry, still, He is hidden from our sight. He does not walk and talk with us in a visible way. So He prays that God would keep us by His Spirit in our Baptism into Christ. He does not pray that God would take us out of the world. Jesus wants us in the world, confessing Christ and serving our neighbor in our vocations. But He prays that we would be kept in our Baptism so that we do not succumb to the world.

He prays this so that we might be one, even as Father and Son are one along with the Holy Spirit, three persons, but one God, the Holy Trinity. Jesus wants us who are baptized into Him to enjoy an intimate unity and communion with one another in Him. As we heard last week, we are a family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Actually, the communion of the Baptized is even more intimate than that. In this communion, we are one Body, the Body of Christ. There are many members, each with their own particular functions, but we are one body. That is the reality of our Baptism. When one member suffers, we all suffer with that member. When one member rejoices, we all rejoice with that member. It is not unlike our own fleshly bodies. When I hurt one of my members, say, for example, when I stub my toe (as my wife will tell you happens almost daily), my whole body hurts along with the injured member. When my taste buds delight in a juicy bacon cheeseburger, my whole body rejoices with my taste buds. And then later on that evening when my stomach is upset… well, you get the point. We’re one Body, the Body of Christ, and individually members of it (see 1 Cor. 12). That’s the reality of our Baptism and our Communion in the body and blood of Christ around His altar. We sometimes rebel against this notion. Sometimes we fight. Sometimes we offend one another. Sometimes we hurt one another. Brothers and sisters, this should not be. We need to repent when this happens. And we need to forgive one another. As our Lord Jesus covers all our sin by His blood, so we cover one another’s sins by love. And we stick with each other, because the Father has answered Jesus’ prayer and made us one Body in Holy Baptism. He keeps us in His Name, the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

And He keeps us from the evil one, the devil. The devil is our main enemy along with the world and our own sinful flesh. The devil does not want us to remain in God’s Name. He wants to sever us from Christ and divide us from one another. If he can’t do it with the help of the world’s allurements, he’ll try to do it by causing divisions among us. When such a division begins to rear it’s ugly head in our midst, we need to see it for what it is, the devil’s trickery. Stamp it out by returning to your Baptism, dying to yourself, rising to new life in Christ, forgiving your neighbor in love. Pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil,” or more accurately, “Deliver us from the evil one.” Jesus gave us that prayer to use against the devil when he afflicts us. He also prays that prayer for us in our text: “keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). And the Father hears and answers that prayer. He sends the Holy Spirit to keep us by His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, in the one true faith of Jesus Christ, to be ever pointing us to Jesus Christ our Savior, and to guide us into all the truth (16:13). This is the gift of God we will celebrate next Sunday in the Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the early Church to guide them into all the truth, even as He is poured out upon each one of us in our Baptism. Chloe Adams and Brad Lowery will be reminded of that in a special way next Sunday as they remember their Baptism in the rite of Confirmation. It will be a day of rejoicing for all of us as two members of our Body confess the faith of their Baptism as they have come to know it from the Scriptures and the Small Catechism. Jesus prayed for them in His High Priestly Prayer, even as He prayed for all of us. Keep them in Your Name. Keep them from the evil one. And finally, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (17:17).

Jesus prays that we be kept steadfast in His Word of truth, the Holy Scriptures. In this way, Jesus prays that the Father would sanctify us, which is to say, make us holy. We are made holy by God’s Word. It is a holiness that comes from outside of us, from God Himself, bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit through the Word of truth. We are sanctified, consecrated, set apart for God by His Word as the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keep us in the one true faith. It is by the power of the Word that we come to faith in Jesus and are kept in that faith. It is by the power of the Word that we know the truth and hold it sacred, putting it into practice. It is by the power of the Word that we love and serve our neighbor and seek to do what God commands. Jesus consecrated Himself, set Himself apart, for the saving work of our redemption, so that we might be sanctified in the truth of His Word (v. 19). In that Word we have eternal life, because the Word imparts Christ. And He sends us out with that Word into the world, as His Body, the baptized, the holy Christian Church.

Jesus prays for us. And what a comfort. We know that the Father cannot deny the prayer of the Son. He hears and He answers His Son. He keeps us in our Baptism. He keeps us from the evil one. He sanctifies us in the truth; His Word is truth. And so we have eternal life. All our sins are forgiven. We have peace with God. We have peace with one another in love and the unity of the Spirit. And we gather in that unity for communion around that altar. The Body of Christ eats and drinks the body and blood of Christ. It is the answer to Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. Because here at the altar, with one another, with Christians throughout the world, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we are one. And the joy of Jesus Christ our Savior is fulfilled in us. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter (B)

May 13, 2012

Text: John 15:9-17

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

Beloved in the Lord, the holy Christian Church is a family. This congregation is a family. God is our Father, as we say every time we gather for the family prayer. He is our Father through Jesus Christ, His Son, our Savior. We are one family in the unity of the Holy Spirit. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. The holy Christian Church is a family. This congregation is a family. We’re a family, and you may find this fact heartwarming. On the other hand, we’re a family… whether you like or not. Families love each other. But every family has its dysfunction. There are disagreements and all-out brawls in families. There is almost always a crazy uncle or two. There are patriarchs and matriarchs, and there are many children, some better behaved than others. Many families have a hard time overcoming the obstacles and holding it all together. Because families are made up of sinners who, guaranteed, will and do sin against one another. If a family is to “work,” if a family is to “succeed,” it must be held together by love; love, not defined as a warm and fuzzy feeling, but as a willing commitment on the part of the one loving to love the other members of the family regardless of their worthiness of that love. That is how God loves. That is how Jesus Christ loves us. He does not love on the basis of our merit or worthiness. In our sin, we simply aren’t loveable. God loves us anyway. He has decided that it is so. He has made the commitment, sealed with Jesus’ blood shed on the cross to purchase us for Himself and cover our sins. He has made the commitment to love us, and He will not change His mind. We’re family. His family. Because He says so.

“Love” is the key word in our text this morning. Agape in Greek, selfless, self-sacrificing love, love of which only God is really capable. This is the Love that became man, Jesus Christ, to lay down His life for us, and to take it up again in His resurrection from the dead. For “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13; ESV). This is the love Jesus has for us. It is first of all the love that the Father has for the Son. It is a love that flows through the Son to those who believe in the Son, His disciples, you, beloved. Such love can only come from God. Because we are incapable of selfless and self-sacrificing love in this fallen flesh. No, this love does not have its source in us, but in the Father, who has begotten the Son from all eternity. What great love the Father has for the Son, and yet, for our sakes, the Father gives the Son into death. Can you imagine it? The greatest love that there is, the love of the Father for the Son, the love by which all other love is measured and defined, is given in sacrifice to rescue you.

That is the love in which Jesus bids you abide. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (v. 9). Jesus loves you. Jesus gives Himself willingly for you. He bids you abide, remain, bask in His redeeming love. To abide in Jesus’ love means to receive it in His Word, to receive it in Baptism, to receive it in the Supper. It means to listen to what He says, to be taught by Him, to learn His commandments, all things whatsoever He has taught (Matt. 28:19-20), as a good disciple, and put them into practice. That is what He means when He says “keep my commandments” (John 15:10). To keep the commandments is not simply to do them slavishly, but to learn them by heart, to meditate on them, to hold them as precious, and to put them into practice. Because you love the Savior who so greatly loves you. It is a mark of the Son’s love for the Father that He does what the Father commands. He delights in the Father’s will, even though that divine will means suffering and death for the Son. So also for you. It is a mark of your love for Jesus and for the Father and the Holy Spirit that you do what God commands. You delight in the Father’s will. It grieves you deeply when you fall short. You repent and cast yourself upon Jesus for forgiveness and for strength to amend your sinful life and do better. You abide in Jesus’ love by daily repentance and faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins. You abide in Jesus’ love by living in the death and resurrection of your Baptism. Jesus says that in this way the joy that is in Him will also be in you (v. 11). And that joy, beloved, will be full, complete, in the fullness of God.

So God has drawn us into His family by the love He has for us in Christ Jesus. We are born into the family in baptismal water, a washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). We carry the family Name with us, the Name of Jesus, Christian (little Christ), or, the full title, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s Name is on us. We belong to Him. But so also we belong to one another. And this is where the whole thing gets messy. Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (v. 12). That’s a tall order to fill. That means that we should lay down our lives for one another. That means that we should love one another even when the one we love doesn’t deserve it, even rejects it. We should forgive our brother when he sins against us. We should be patient and longsuffering, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, even to those who are faithless to us. We’d like to love like that. But our sinful flesh gets in the way. We just don’t have that kind of love in us. And that’s the point. This love cannot come from you. You won’t find it anywhere inside you, not even in the depths of your heart (those black, murky, slimy depths). This love can only come from God. This is the love of the Father for the Son, the love of God for you. This is the love that flows from the Father, to the Son, in the Spirit, and in the Spirit, from the Son, to you, and through you, to your neighbor. The only hope for you to love one another as Jesus commands is if that love comes from God Himself. And it does. It is poured out upon you in the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, from the ever-flowing spring of God’s love, so that it overflows in you and is spilled out in love and good works for the benefit of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus calls you friends. Jesus calls you into His family, the Church. He lets you in on the family business. He reveals to you what He hears from the Father (v. 15). Now, just like your earthly family, into which you were born by God’s free choice, without any participation on your part, so also with God’s family. You did not choose Him. You did not make your decision for Jesus. He chose you (v. 16). He chose you to be His disciple, His friend, His brother. He brought you into the family by Baptism. And He has work for you to do in the family business. He wants you to bear fruit. He wants you to love your brothers and sisters in the Christian Church, warts and all. He wants you to love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the fulfilling of the Law (Rom. 13:10). You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). Pray to God. Pray for each other. Work in love for each other. Forgive one another. Live in unity. Serve one another. Build one another up in the holy faith of Jesus Christ. Rejoice with the one who rejoices. Grieve with the one who grieves. Be there for each other, really and truly, be present. Visit the sick and the widow and the orphan. When someone is in the hospital, go see them. When someone dies, if you can come to the funeral, come, and love those who grieve. When someone has a need and you can fulfill it, fulfill it. Let us not love only in word or in talk, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). Because we can. Because it is the love of God that has been poured out upon us in Christ, a love that never dries up, never runs out, a love that the more we give of it, the more we receive of it.

So, dear family of God, this morning we gather around the Christian family Table, the altar where our Lord Jesus distributes His true body and blood into our mouths, the fruit of His cross for our forgiveness. The family that eats this food together, stays together, prays together, serves together, and loves together, because here the love of God in Christ is poured into us from the Cup and binds us in one Holy Communion, the mystical body of Christ. It is as we pray in Luther’s post-Communion collect: God refreshes us through this salutary gift and strengthens us through the same so that we live in faith toward Him and fervent love toward one another, the very love of Jesus Christ our Savior. Abide in that love, beloved, and know without a doubt that 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, May 09, 2012

Let Everything That Has Breath Praise the Lord!

Wed. of Easter 5

Text: Psalm 150

The Christian’s life of praise is grounded in the mighty deeds of God. To praise is not simply to heap all manner of flattering adjectives upon the subject of our praise, but to proclaim that which is praiseworthy. So when we praise God, we are not attempting to build up His Self-esteem by telling Him how special He is to us, as if we could build up God’s Self-esteem, and as if He needs us to build up His Self-esteem. Too often Christians think the objective of their praise is to let God know what a top-notch God He is. Not so. The objective of our praise, beloved, is to remind ourselves and confess to the world what God has done for our salvation. It is to confess Jesus Christ.

We do that here in God’s sanctuary as we receive His gifts in Word and Sacrament, and respond in liturgy and prayer, in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Then we take that praise out with us from the Divine Service into the world through our various vocations. All that we do, in word and deed, we do it all in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through Him (Col. 3:17). We do it all in the Holy Spirit, as those baptized into Christ, covered by the blood of Jesus. We do it as those upon whom God’s love has been poured out, and through whom God’s love flows, so that we love one another, and reach out in love and service to our neighbor. For if God has so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:11). Such love is praise to God, as we recount His mighty deeds in Christ Jesus.

And when recounting those mighty deeds, who can help but sing? In the music of the Church, the Word of the Lord is wed to melody and song. Our liturgy and hymns should be nothing less than vehicles of God’s Word, so that even as we sing our sacrifices of praise to God, we continue to receive from God His divine teaching and the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Christ. The Church’s song should not reflect our selfish musical tastes or that which is currently in fashion in the unbelieving world. The Church’s song should reflect the Word of the Lord it carries with dignity and reverence and truth. Because our praise is not about us. It is about what God has done for us in Christ. Therefore let everything that has breath praise the LORD (Ps. 150:6). Which is to say, let everything that has breath proclaim the goodness of God in sending His Son to redeem us. In the Name of Jesus (+). Amen.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Fifth Sunday of Easter (B)

May 6, 2012

Text: John 15:1-8

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

God wants us to be fruitful Christians. St. Paul writes that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23; ESV). Those who belong to Christ Jesus, according to Paul, “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (v. 24). “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (vv. 19-21). These things are against the Spirit of God, and we ought not participate in them. They are the opposite of the fruit God desires. We crucify the sinful nature and the works of the flesh by repentance, by returning to our Baptism into Christ. The old Adam is daily drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires and the new creation in Christ daily emerges and arises to live before God. This is called sanctification, doing good works and avoiding sin and evil. God wants the fruits of the Spirit. Not the works of the flesh.

But how? We still live in a sinful world. We still live in our sinful flesh. The sinful flesh frustrates us. St. Paul writes about this frustration in Romans Chapter 7, and he writes these words as a Christian and an Apostle: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (vv. 15, 24). How is a Christian to be faithful and fruitful when, in our sinful flesh, we do the very things we hate, the things we do not want to do, the things God does not want us to do? Wretched sinners that we are! Who will deliver us from this body of death? St. Paul has the answer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25). Jesus says it this way in our text: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Our Lord Jesus Christ delivers you from this body of death, from the sinful flesh, paying for your sin and the sin of the whole world in His innocent and bloody suffering and death on the cross. And He is risen from the dead to be the true Vine of His Christians, so that His life flows to you and through you in your connection to Him. If a branch is severed from the vine, it is dead. It has no source of life. Not only will it NOT produce fruit, it won’t live. It has no way of receiving nourishment. It will shrivel up and be good for nothing but the fire. But when a branch is connected to the vine, it receives the life-giving and nourishing sap from that vine. The vine connects the branch to the very roots, and the nourishment flows from the roots and through the vine, to the branch and through the branch so that the branch produces beautiful, sweet fruit, fruit that bears within it seed to give birth to others, fruit that can nourish and strengthen those who receive it.

This is a picture of your life in Christ. Christ is the Vine, rooted in the Father, who is also the Vinedresser, the One who tends the Vine that is Christ and the braches that are His body, the Church. You are the branches. If you are severed from the Vine, you are dead. If you are severed from Christ, you cannot remain in the true faith. You will produce no fruit. You will shrivel up and be good for nothing but the fire. The fire, of course, is hell. Outside of Christ, that is the fate of the branches. Dead, shriveled branches will be gathered up and thrown into the fire to burn, says Jesus in our text (v. 6). But if you abide in Christ, if you are connected to the Vine, you receive the life-giving and nourishing sap from that Vine, the Holy Spirit, who enlivens faith in you, faith in Christ, which receives His forgiveness, life, and salvation, and flows to you and through you, active in works of love which are the fruits of the Spirit. That fruit bears seed within it to give the life of faith to others by speaking God’s Word, and nourishes and strengthens others as you do works of love that benefit them. Do you want to be a fruitful Christian, as God desires you to be? The power to produce fruit does not lie within you. There you will only find the works of the flesh. The power is in Christ, the Vine. If you are connected to Him, the works of your sinful flesh are nailed to His cross, and His Spirit flows to you and through you so that you produce the fruit of love and good works. For faith is always active in love. Dr. Luther writes: “Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises; it has already done them and is always at the doing of them.”[1] Fruitfulness is an indication of faith. Good works show that faith is living. Now, of course, the works do not save you. They do not justify you. Jesus saves you by His death and resurrection. Jesus justifies you by His saving work. And His saving work is given to you through the Word. Jesus says in our text, “Already you are clean,” cleansed from sin and the works of the flesh, “because of the word that I have spoken to you,” (v. 3), the Gospel, the Word of Absolution. The works of love, the fruit, is an evidence of that cleansing that has already happened. It is an evidence that you, in truth, are connected to and abide in Christ, the Vine. “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us” (1 John 4:13).

And how do you abide in Christ? By His Word and Sacrament. There is no connection to Christ outside of His Word and Sacrament. Word and Sacrament are the means of grace by which God Himself keeps you connected to Christ the Vine so that you receive the Holy Spirit and faith. In fact, Jesus speaks these words to His Apostles on the night He institutes the Lord’s Supper. The image He uses is that of the grape vine, even as He gives the chalice of wine that is His true blood to His disciples. Abide in Me, He says, as He distributes His body and blood. Be connected to Christ in His Supper where He is bodily present with you and gives Himself bodily to you under the bread and wine. Come in repentance. Repent of the works of the flesh. Reject them. No longer walk in them. Don’t participate in them anymore. Commend them to Christ for forgiveness. Come in faith. Believe what Jesus says about your sins, that they are covered by His blood. Believe that in the Supper you receive His true body and blood, and that in this way you are connected to Him and abide in Him. Come as one baptized into Christ, having been made a true branch of Jesus Christ when you were cleansed by water and the Word in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Come in love, love for the Savior who here feeds you, love for one another, for if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:11). Forgive each other, care for each other, come as one body to receive the body of Christ.

And the works of the flesh that remain in you, the Father will take care of. He is the Vinedresser. He will prune what is diseased in you, so that you produce more fruit. This pruning is the afflictions and the crosses you bear in your Christian life. It is God’s discipline. God disciplines those He loves. It is never pleasant at the time. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). By discipline, by pruning, the Father cleanses every branch of its unfruitfulness, so that it remains strong and healthy and produces much fruit.

God wants us to be fruitful Christians, and we know what are the fruits of the Spirit, again: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. This is actually a description of Christ. All these fruits are attributes of Christ. So if you want to be fruitful, as God wants you to be, abide in Christ by His Word and Supper. Abide in Christ by daily returning to your Baptism in repentance and faith. Abide in Christ, and you will love one another, producing the fruit of good works. It is the gift of God. It is God’s Spirit, active in you, flowing to you and through you through Christ, the Vine. Apart from Christ, you can do nothing. But in Christ, you will bear much fruit. It is His promise. And He is faithful. He will surely do it. 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.

[1] "Preface," Commentary on Romans, Trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Zondervan/Kregel, 1954/1976) p. xvii.