Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Third Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 8)

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

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

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

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 7)

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

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

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

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost (A)

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

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






[1] Ylvisaker, quoted in Buls’ Notes: http://pericope.org/buls-notes/john/john_7_37_39.htm

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)

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

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

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