Monday, May 27, 2013

Holy Trinity Sermon

Jesu Juva

“God For You”
Text: John 8:48-59; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

I read a newspaper article recently about two folks who had gotten married. They had met and fell in love, but they were two different religions. He was a Christian of some stripe, but she was something else. It didn’t matter to them until they got more serious and decided to marry. What would they do? Well, after thinking about it a bit, the man decided that he would become what she was and give up his Christian faith because, he finally concluded, it didn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe . . . something

I wish I could say that kind of thinking is rare and unusual, but unfortunately it’s not. I’ve seen stories like that quite a bit, and more and more. But it’s an opinion that makes no sense, really. I believe that aliens planted us here. I believe that the sky is green. I believe that goats should run the country - we’ll pass whatever bills the goats eat into law. It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe. Really?

But contrast that statement to what we confessed in the Athanasian Creed just a moment ago: Whoever desires to be saved must believe this. It matters. And then all those things that were said - quite a list. One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Equal in glory and majesty. Uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty. The Son not created but begotten. The Holy Spirit neither created nor begotten, but proceeding. And then Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born a son of man, who suffered, died, and rose for our salvation, ascended into heaven, and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. That’s the truth, we confess. And it matters.

But why does it matter? That’s a question many are asking these days. And, some would say, it doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter to the folks in Moore, Oklahoma right now, who have lost everything and are trying to get back on their feet. It doesn’t matter, some would say, to those who on this Memorial Day weekend are mourning the loss of a spouse or child or parent in the war, and don’t know how they’re going to make ends meet. It doesn’t matter to those who had their legs blown off at the Boston marathon. Cold, hard facts like the Athanasian Creed don’t matter when the rubber of faith meets the hard road of life. The Church needs to be more loving and less doctrinal, some would say.

But on the contrary, it is exactly for all those reasons that all of this does matter. Love and doctrine aren’t opposites (or at least they shouldn’t be!). For if the Scriptures are right (which, of course, we believe) when they tell us that God is love (1 John 4), then to know God is to know love. And to know what God has done for us is to know what love does and to be drawn into that love. For love isn’t the ooey-gooey, ishy-squishy feelings that it is often pawned off to be. Love is much deeper than that. Real love is based on knowing the beloved. That’s why real love lasts beyond the ooey-gooey, ishy-squishy feelings. That’s why real love grows stronger over time, even when looks fade and skin grows wrinkly. 

And so when the Athanasian Creed says whoever desires to be saved must believe this, it says that not because you have to be able to pass a test and have all the right knowledge in order to get into heaven . . . though that’s probably how it sounds sometimes. No, it matters because to know who God is is to know who that man on the cross is. To know that the man hanging on the cross isn’t just a man, but the God-man, fully God and fully man. To know that God died - in love - for you and me. For Christianity isn’t about good people doing good things in good ways for a good life. It’s about God dying on the cross for sinners. It’s about a good God doing good things. It’s about the Father giving His Son who gives us the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit joining us to the Son who takes us to the Father. That’s who God is and that’s what God does. The two go together. And you either have both or you have neither.

That’s why it matters, and why we cannot give up this Christian, trinitarian faith. It’s not just a matter of life and death, like so many other things in this world - it’s a matter of eternal life and eternal death. If God only loves us when we’re good, that matters. If that wasn’t God dying on the cross for our sins, that matters. If there are many ways to get to heaven and so Jesus didn’t really have to die on the cross for us, that matters. But (on the other hand) if God has come for us to save us, if He sent His Son to rescue us from our greatest need - death, if He sends His Spirit to be with us and keep us now through the trials and troubles of this life, that matters too. That matters when death comes upon us suddenly. That matters when tragedy comes upon us suddenly. 

It matters that we know who God is. I think of the man in Cleveland in the news lately who had kidnapped and held those girls for ten years - the neighbors all thought they knew him and that he was a pretty good guy. But they didn’t know him, they didn’t know who he really was and therefore what he was capable of doing, and what he did. But we know God. Not just because we know the facts - but because of what He did; because of the cross. There God shows us who He is. There God shows us His love. There God shows us that He will never leave us or forsake us, no matter how bad things get. If He was going to, He would have. Jesus would have jumped down from the cross and said: forget that! I’m not doin’ this for a bunch of stiff-necked, ungrateful, unloveable sinners! But He didn’t. He stayed for you. He suffered for you. He laid down His life for you. And that matters.

And that was the plan from before the foundation of the world. It’s who God is and so what God does. We heard in the reading from Proverbs that the Son was there with the Father at creation. They delighted in and loved one another, and they delighted in and love their creation. And then Peter (in his Pentecost sermon) spelled out how God’s plan to redeem His creation from sin and death had been revealed long ago, and then accomplished by Jesus. Jesus - the God of Abraham in the flesh. Jesus - showing us the Father and His love for us. And now the Holy Spirit given, to unite us in that love. Yet that’s exactly what the Pharisees couldn’t wrap their minds around: this love of God for us. That God would be this. That God would do this. 

But if God is not this, and if God does not this, then we must. We must bear our own sin. We must find our own way to eternal life. The Pharisees thought they could, but every time they sparred with Jesus, their wisdom, their deeds, their life, never could match His, could it? So what the Athanasian Creed is confessing is really this: sin, death, and hell are powerful; more powerful than you and I. So powerful that only an uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty person could defeat and overcome them. And we have such a person in Jesus.

And that matters. It matters when death is staring you in the face that you have been baptized into this one, this Jesus, who defeated death and the grave for you, so that death will not be the end for you, but that you will pass through death to life with Him. 

It matters when the trials and tumult of this world are flung upon you that you have received the Body and Blood of this one, this Jesus, who endured it all with you, who knows it, and who has promised to be with you through it. 

It matters when satan floods your mind with the thought of all your sins and failures and shortcomings and shows you how unworthy you really are that you hear the absolution of this one, this Jesus, who loves you anyway; who came and died for your sins and unworthiness; and says to you: I took care of all that. I forgive you. I love you. Satan’s words, his accusations, are true. But my words are true, too. I forgive you all your sins.

And if all that from Jesus, then all that from the Father and the Spirit also. For all are one God, one Lord. A Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity. God for you. The Athanasian Creed confessed that too by using the word “catholic” - catholic with a little “c” which means universal; which means it’s for everyone, not just for some. God did this for all people, for you.

So when the last day comes, when all the dead are raised and the Judgment takes place, you will not be alone. So it’s a day you need not fear, for you will have God for you then, too. And by grace through faith in Jesus your Saviour, in Jesus the Son of the Father, in Jesus the sender of the Spirit to you, in Jesus who took your sin and evil and dealt with it and who delights in and remembers your good -  on that day you will receive, body and soul, the gift of eternal life. 

For He is God for you. This God for you. That matters. That’s something (as the Athanasian Creed says) to keep - to guard, to treasure, to hold onto tightly and not give it up. On this Memorial Day weekend, we do that with the memory of those who took the bullet for us in war. How much moreso for the One who took the bullet for all of us on the cross. It matters. He matters. Come now and receive Him, His Body and Blood for you. For He comes not only on the Last Day. He comes here. He comes now. He comes for you. That you may live: forgiven, free, and forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Our Babel Undone”
Text: John 14:23-31; Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We are living in a very spiritual world. Yes, there are a small minority of people who claim to be atheist, but the large majority of people believe in God, or gods, or at least some kind of supreme being; in some kind of life after death, either here or in another world; and that there are things that happen in this world that cannot be seen and cannot be explained by science or the laws of nature. 

Now, just that description alone reveals that while we are living in a very spiritual world, it is a very confused spirituality. There are many opinions, many claims of truth. Because the spiritual is different than the physical. It cannot be seen, it cannot be touched. For that reason, some say it is not real, or it is not important. But others will say it is real and very important because though I cannot see it or touch it, I can feel it.

And so the truth for many, when it comes to things spiritual, is what they feel in their heart. This is what folks mean when they say things like: “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Or, “That may be true for you but not for me.” But if the basis of truth, the foundation of spirituality, is what you feel in your heart, then there are as many truths and as many spiritualities as there are people in the world. And what is believed, therefore, cannot be criticized or corrected. There are no standards, no right or wrong, if what is true is what I feel.

This confused spirituality, I would suggest, is the end result of God’s scattering of the people who were building the Tower of Babel. For though God stopped the building of the Tower by confusing the languages of the people, the people did not stop building - they just stopped building with bricks, and they stopped building together. People are now building lots of individual towers, their own spiritual paths to God. People are still trying to make names for themselves that will live forever. But people are confused, scattered. Many want to be spiritual, but don’t quite know how. Many want to forge their own way, but don’t quite know where to go.

So you could say that the spirituality of the world today is quite a Babel. Lots of voices, lots of advice, lots of truths, that is all very confused and confusing.

But what if the spiritual was not like that? What if the spiritual could be seen, could be touched? What if we didn’t have to make our own way to God, but God would come down to us? What if what is true isn’t what I feel, what comes from me, but a word that comes from outside of me and is given to me? That would be a game-changer, wouldn’t it? And that game-changer was named Jesus. True God become true man. The spiritual become physical. God come to us that we may be with Him. To cut through the confusion and give us the truth. To cut through our death and give us life. To bring together the scattered by His Word.

The spiritual made physical. This is what we need because we are not only physical or only spiritual beings - we are both. And uniquely so. Animals are physical but not spiritual and angels are spiritual but not physical, but men and women are both. And even though we sometimes act like animals and some want to be angels, that is not who we are. We are men and women uniquely created in the image and likeness of God. Uniquely created with that glory and honor and majesty as the crowning achievement of God’s good creation. But sadly it’s a crown, a glory, an honor, and a majesty thrown away in sin. When our first parents tried to be what they were not, and so became what they did not want to be. A situation not so unlike what happened at Babel.

But it was not only because of sin that the spiritual is made physical for us. Even before that, beginning with the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the spiritual is made physical for us. Life and death given through the physical, through touching, through eating. And then through circumcision and the sacrifices and eating of the Tabernacle and the Temple - life and death are attached to the physical.

And then, of course, God Himself became flesh in the mystery of the incarnation. He came into our world not only to show us the way, but to BE the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). To defeat the death that had overcome us, and give us the life we had lost. To teach us the truth about both what can be seen and what cannot be seen. And to give us what we do not have and cannot get for ourselves - peace with God in the forgiveness of our sins.

And having accomplished that through His life, His death, and His resurrection, and having ascended into heaven (to prepare a place for us), He sends us what we are celebrating this day - the gift of His Holy Spirit. For while we are living in a very spiritual world, not all spirits are good and holy. Many are evil and demonic and working to mislead us and deceive us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice (Expl. to the Sixth Petition, Small Catechism). Only the Holy Spirit is given to make us holy. That we have the spirituality we were created to have and be. And so we prayed for this earlier. We prayed: Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love (Introit Antiphon).

But wait a second, Pastor! Fill the hearts . . . fire of Your love . . . don’t those words direct us to our hearts and feelings where you said before all this confused spirituality comes from?  . . .  Well, no - though I admit it may sound like it. For still today, the spiritual is connected to the physical. That didn’t change from the Old Testament to the New, from the Temple to the Church, once Jesus came. For on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was connected to and came in the physical - fire and wind, and today He comes in the physical - water and words. Same Spirit. And He comes not to point us inward, to our hearts, to judge our spirituality by what we feel, but to point us outside of ourselves; to point us to Jesus; to point us to His cross and to point us to where Jesus comes now for us in the spiritual made physical - in His Word and in His Sacraments. And so the Holy Spirit comes to us and turns us - from Babel to the cross, from ourselves to God, from inward to outward, from what I think and feel to the truth of God’s Word. To rely on our Saviour and what He has done, and not on me and what I can do.

That’s the Holy Spirit’s job, and so what Pentecost is really all about. It’s not really about cool tongues of fire and fishermen being able to speak in foreign languages - this day is about the Holy Spirit being our Helper, our Comforter, by pointing us to Jesus. By pointing us to the spiritual made physical; to the Word of the Word made flesh! - who says: I put my Spirit here for you, my forgiveness here for you, my life here for you. I achieved it, I accomplished it all on the cross - but I put it here for you. The spiritual made physical, so that you don’t have to wonder where it is, but you can see it, touch it, taste it, receive it.

And so are Jesus’ words fulfilled. For He said: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word. “Keep” there doesn’t just mean to obey (as it is sometimes translated). It is a much bigger word than that. It means to guard, to treasure, to keep as of great importance. For through that very Word the Holy Spirit comes to us and connects us to Jesus, our Saviour. And connected to Jesus you are children of the Father and at home with Him. Connected to Jesus you have the peace of the forgiveness of your sins, and the peace of knowing that death is not the end for you. A peace the world cannot give. A peace that your heart cannot give. But a peace that Jesus can and does give. To you.

And so Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to reverse our Babel. To cut through all the spiritual clutter and confusion of this world and be our Helper, our Comforter. That we know the truth that sets us free (John 8:32). That, as you will hear once again this day after receiving the spiritual made physical, the Body and Blood of our Lord and His forgiveness, life, and salvation, that you depart in peace. Both depart this altar and go out into the world in peace, and depart this world - whenever that may be - in peace. For just as Jesus said to His disciples: Rise, let us go from here, so He will speak those same words to you, when you die and when you rise, to be with Him forever.

But until then, we have a whole lot of living to do, in a world that is not always easy to live in. Where sin tramples us and our sin tramples others. Where troubles challenge us, situations change, and worries and doubts can overwhelm. And we need a God who’s not just out there, spiritually, somewhere, and who I hope sees me and I hope knows what I’m going through and I hope helps, though I really don’t know if any of that’s the case. We need a God who’s not just a cheerleader, or waiting for us at the finish line, or a coach yelling at us to keep going. We need a God who’s here to help; who’s here to forgive, who’s here to save. Who knows need, who knows sadness, who knows temptation, who knows death, who knows the clutter and confusion of life in this world. 

And we have such a God. Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit coming to you and pointing you to that God - to Jesus on the cross and pointing to the empty grave and saying: peace. Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit coming to you and pointing you to that God - Jesus in the font and on the altar and saying: peace. Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit coming to you and pointing to that God - the Jesus who came for you and says to you: I got it. Your sin? I got it. Your life? I got it. Your need? I got it. The God you need is the God you have. Here. A flesh and blood Saviour, for flesh and blood you. So go and live. Not in sin, but in Him. The spiritual made physical in you, for His Spirit lives in you.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Vigil of Pentecost / Lutheran Haven 65th Anniversary Sermon

Note: The Lutheran Haven is our SELC District’s Adult Care Community in Oviedo, FL. I am currently serving on the Board of Trustees. During our meetings there last week, we commemorated the 65th anniversary of its founding. This homily was preached for that event, using readings for the Vigil of Pentecost.


The Lutheran Haven is 65 years old. Thanks be to God for His goodness and grace, and for all who have been cared for here over the years. I wonder what that number is of all who have been here and been helped here through the years, both young and old, orphans and church workers in need.

65 years old. That number means something else too: retirement. A lot of changes happens to us in 65 years of life. Changes I am still discovering - the gray hair, the aches and pains - but most of you know. The Haven has changed much over these 65 years as well, though she is not retiring. And as you well know, after 65 the changes keep coming. It reminds me of the line from a hymn you will surely remember: change and decay in all around I see, in life and death, O Lord, abide with me (LSB #878).

And He does. For, you see, He is the constant in the midst of all change. For He is the changeless One. The One who is always the same. Steadfast, sure, and reliable, even when all else fails us. Our Lord Jesus, His Father, and His Spirit. The One who created you, redeemed you, and sanctifies you. The One who comes and makes you His own through water and the Word. And He promises: you are mine (Isaiah 43), He says. Nothing will snatch you out of my hand (John 10), He says. I have gone to prepare a place for you (John 14), He says. A place even greater than the Haven. And nothing in this world is more sure than those words. Nothing. 

And today, we heard another promise, spoken by Jesus in His last hours with His disciples, just before going to the cross. He says: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth . . .  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Orphans. That’s part of the reason the Haven was begun - to show the life of Christ to the least of these. The Scriptures tell us that God always has a place in His heart for the fatherless and the widow. But not only them. With these words, Jesus is telling His disciples - and us - that because of Him, we will never be without a Father, and the Church will never be without her Bridegroom. In Christ, we will never be alone or left alone.

It is not so in the world. We are often bereaved of loved ones. Parents die, spouses die, friends die. Jesus knows what that’s like. When his father died, when his cousin John died, when his friend Lazarus died. He knows the tears. So He knew that when He died, when He was arrested, abused, and then hung on the cross as a trophy of hate - He knew what would be in the hearts of His disciples. And so He tells them, He assures them: I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Yes, the One who is going to die will come to them! How can this be? You know the answer. It is what we have been celebrating this whole Easter season now drawing to a close. It is because Christ is risen! Because the One who died our death rose from the dead to break the power of death. Because the One who was wounded for our transgressions and was crushed for our iniquities (Is 53:5) - His chastisement has brought us peace; peace in the forgiveness of our sins. And so there is really now nothing that can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:39). And so Jesus did come to them - the resurrected and triumphant Jesus - in that room where they were huddled behind locked doors, beside the Sea of Galilee, on the Road to Emmaus. 

And then He ascends, as we celebrated last week. The conquerer mounts in triumph! Yet still we will not be orphans; still we will not be alone! He sends His Spirit, another Helper, to be with us. The Spirit who was sent to the Church on Pentecost, as we will celebrate this Sunday. But also the Spirit given to you as Christ baptizes you. The Spirit who comes to you as Christ speaks to you through His Word. The Spirit who brings you His gifts, who works in you His fruits, and who is not only the gift of your Saviour but who connects you to your Saviour. There is nothing you need that He does not give, for He brings the forgiveness, life, and salvation won by your Saviour on the cross.

For 65 years now, these gifts have been given here, at this Lutheran Haven, by Christ’s servants. Indeed this is why you came, to this Lutheran Haven - this Haven of Lutheranism in the midst of a world that says it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you believe. To that you have said NO! You are here because it does matter! It matters because who you are is not what you have chosen to be, but who Christ made you. And what you believe isn’t what you think is true, but what has been given to you as true by God in His Word. And you treasure that. Embodying what Jesus said, and as we heard earlier: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Keep there doesn’t mean just obey, though that is a part of it. It is actually a military word, meaning to treasure, to keep, to stand guard over like a sentry. Because you love your God, His Word does matter. His life does matter. His gifts do matter. And so you want to lose no Word, no gift, nothing that He has given. And so you have come here. You could have moved and lived anywhere, but you chose here. To a Haven of God’s gifts given and His life lived.

For it is as God said through the prophet Isaiah: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.  . . .  And I will heal him.

Healing has been in the news a lot lately, what with the changes that Obamacare is bringing, and the advances science keeps making. Yet people are still dying. That is not the healing God is speaking about here. His is a greater healing than that. Jesus healed many with every disease as He walked our dusty globe. He even raised a few from the dead - the son of a widow and Lazarus come to mind. But what happened to them after that? They died, or died again. Sin will reap its awful wages - the wages we all owe. And so if only for this life, this kind of healing, we have hope in Christ, then we are of all people most to be pitied, Paul says (1 Cor 15:19).

But our hope is greater than that, for God’s healing is greater than that. It is life from the dead. It is forgiveness for the contrite. It is the lifting up of the lowly. The lifting up - the resurrection! - of those who are dust, and to dust they have returned. For nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). It is why He took our flesh, to raise it. And it is why He gives us His flesh and blood now - to raise ours. To a life beyond death. To a life where all sin, all sorrow, all tears, are no more. And He gives us His Spirit as a guarantee (2 Cor 1:22). That we live in Him. That we live in hope.

And that, it seems to me, is what this place, this Lutheran Haven, is all about. It is a place of hope. This is not a place where the living wait to die, but where the dying live and wait to live even more. The world doesn’t see it that way, so that is our message to them as well. There is more to this place than meets the eye, just as there is more to the water, words, and bread and wine. The greater is the healing that cannot be seen. The life that is ours, but not yet. When the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest (LSB #644 v.4).

On this foundation, The Church’s One Foundation (LSB #644), the Lutheran Haven was begun 65 years ago. A long time for us; a blink of the eye to God. 

I’ll end now with more one “65” in the Bible. When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah, who then lived 969 years (Gen 5:21-27). Does the Haven have another 969 years? Only God knows. But this I know: you do. For our great Enoch, our Lord Jesus Christ, has ascended into heaven for you, to take you to be where He is. To live not in the cottages, but in the mansions, He has prepared for us. Where we with all the saints who have gone before us, will see Him face to face (LSB #644 v.5).

65 years years of grace we celebrate this day. Thanks be to God!

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Easter 7 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“United IN the Word BY the Word”
Text: John 17:20-26
(Acts 1:12-26; Revelation 22:1-6, 12-22)

Alleluia! Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers. I remember my mother saying that when it came to raising her children: we did the best we could, and prayed a lot. All in all, I think that’s a pretty good theology for raising kids. We do the best we can at fulfilling the vocation of father or mother that our gracious Lord has given us, but always knowing how sinful and failing we are, and so entrusting our children to the Lord in prayer. There is no better thing, no more important thing, a parent or anyone else can do that that. Sometimes, I think, we underestimate and so underuse the gift of prayer. We must learn to not do that. It is the best thing, the most powerful thing, we can do. To join our Lord in prayer. Jesus Himself was praying all the time, all over the place in the Gospels. It was the air He breathed. And so for us too as Christians - as little Christs. There may be lots of people you cannot do anything for, but you can pray for them. And even for those you can help, don’t rely on what you can do! Pray for them too! To the One who is almighty and can do all things. To the One who does far more than we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20). To the One who has promised to hear and answer the prayers of His children. Your prayers and mine.

Today in the Holy Gospel we heard again Jesus praying. A prayer very much for you and me. For Jesus is praying, as He says, not for these only - not only for the twelve - but also for those who will believe in me through their word. Through their word. You see, the words of the apostles are important. They are the eyewitnesses of all Jesus said and did. Jesus taught them. Jesus showed them. Jesus revealed to them. And now, they report their eyewitness testimony to us in the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament. That’s why - as we heard in the first reading from Acts - the one who replaced Judas in the apostolic band had to be an eyewitness. He had to be one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us. And so the words we hear today from them are not just pious thoughts or spiritual reflections, but the eyewitness testimony of those who were there. Testimony that got most of them killed. But now, to us, testimony through which the Holy Spirit works. We hear and believe.

That is what Jesus prays for here. That, through the word of the apostles, we may all be one with God. It is no mere earthly unity that Jesus is praying for here. That we all just get along. That is too small. And Jesus is not about earthly unity. We could all get along and be united separate from Christ, and we would be lost. That would not fulfill this prayer. But this unity for which Jesus prays here is different. This unity may, in fact, cause division on earth, as Jesus said before: Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53).

That’s not a very good Mother’s Day verse, is it? But the truth is that even more important and vital than our family ties is our tie to our triune God. To be united to Jesus and so be united to His Father. For with Jesus, blood in not thicker than water - water is thicker than blood. The water of baptism trumps all. Families are important, don’t get me wrong. God invented and created them, and all God does is good. But they can become idols in the hands and hearts of sinners, too. Far more vital is to be united to Jesus in His death and resurrection. United with Him as sons of God. And thus united to Him, united to one another. And that kind of unity comes only by the Word and Spirit of God.

For Jesus wants all the world to believe not just anything, but to believe in Him; that He is the One sent from God to be our Saviour. That all trust in Him with their life - our eternal life. To receive forgiveness from Him. To know Him as the One who went to the cross for us. To know how greatly He united Himself to us. Uniting Himself to us in our flesh in a birth like ours, and then uniting Himself to us in our flesh in a death like ours. All so that we be united to Him in a resurrection like His, and live with Him forever. That’s what Easter and this whole Easter season (now concluding) has been all about.

And this unity, this life, this proclamation, this faith, this forgiveness, will come through the word of the apostles. A truth which cause some to laugh, for aren’t those words the problem? Isn’t it the words of the apostles that divide us and cause schism? Does “is” really mean “is” when Jesus said “This is my body,” or only signify, or symbolize? Does “all” really mean “all,” or did Jesus only die for some? Does “I forgive you” really mean “I forgive you,” or is there something we must do? Should babies be baptized? The altar be open? Tongues be spoken? The rapture be looked for? And about a thousand other disputes over the words of the apostles invented over the years . . . even: Is Jesus really our only Saviour from sin, death, and hell, or aren’t there really some couple other ways? So the words of the apostles, their testimony, is often sadly set aside in the name of unity.

But that is not Jesus’ unity. Jesus’ oneness. For the problem is not with the words, but with us. When we do not believe the words. When we doubt and question them. When we do not live by them. When we do not love them, gladly hear and learn them, and cling to them. When we pit word against word, and our thoughts and desires against God’s Word and will. When Bibles grow dusty and hearts grow hard.

But as Jesus prays, it is exactly through their words - which are really Jesus’ words - that we are united. United to Christ and one with God. The words in Holy Baptism that unite us to Christ; that place the name of the Holy Trinity upon us and claim us as His own; that wash us clean from our sins. Yes, His Word says, you are His child. The words in Holy Absolution that not only assure us that our sins are forgiven, but give us the very forgiveness proclaimed. Yes, His word says, you are forgiven. The words of the Holy Supper that make bread and wine the Body and Blood of our Saviour who is then placed into our mouths and poured over our lips as heavenly, holy food; food that isn’t just holy but that makes us holy. Yes, His Word says, Christ in us and we in Christ. And the words of the Holy Gospel telling us the story of Christ and that this is not just the story of others, but our story as well. We too are the ones given sight, healed from our spiritual leprosy, given ears to hear, and raised from the dead. These words, the words of the apostles. These words, Christ’s words. These words, now our words. 

These words which are trustworthy and true. That’s what the angel told John, as we heard in Revelation. Which words? The words of Christ. All of them. We can depend on them. You can stake your life on them. Many did. And testified to their truth through their martyrdom. The words of the world, the thoughts of the world, not so much. But the words of Christ you can take to the bank. No, more than that, you can take them to heaven. NO - they will take you to heaven, even as they bring heaven here to you as Jesus comes to you through His Word and Sacraments.

That this would all be true FOR YOU . . . that’s what Jesus is praying for. That what we now believe we would then see. With our own resurrected eyes. That the glory of being sons of God - a glory which Jesus has already given to us here - we may see as we see Jesus in His resurrected glory. A glory hidden in His incarnation, but which now shines forth fully in Jesus resurrected and ascended.

And with that glory comes also His love; comes also His Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God drawing us into the eternal love of God. To know as we are known. To love as we are loved. To glorify God with the whole company of heaven forever as the Bride of Christ. And what is in this heaven - did you hear? The tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit. Twelve, the number of the apostles. The apostles whose word now feeds us with the Word of God, washes us with His forgiveness, and puts in us His Body and Blood. Their word, their testimony, through which our Lord makes us one. One with Him. His work. Not ours. A gift. A blessing.

That’s why Jesus came. And so what He prays for: for us and for our salvation.

When my mother prayed for her children, it was because she knew the dangers of the world. She knew there was much she could not do, and so she entrusted her children to the loving hands of the One who can do all things. A great gift she gave to her children, her prayers.

When Jesus prays for you, however, it is not bcause there is much He cannot do, but rather because He came and DID all things. All that is needed. All that is necessary. And gives it all to you, by grace through faith. And so He prays that you may believe it. And believing, be one with Him. And one with Him, then one with each other. And truly one with each other, that the light of His love and life shine in you now, as it shines in eternity over all who are Christ’s. All whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Your name. For you are Christ’s and Christ is yours. 

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ascension of our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Great Joy!”
Text: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Alleluia! Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

Forty days. That’s how long Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection. And they needed every one of them. The horror and grief of those three days, when Jesus was crucified and sealed in the tomb left a mark in their heads and in their hearts. And then to see Him resurrected! It is not so easy to believe. And so Jesus comes to them. He appears to not only the twelve, but also to James, His brother, to Paul, and to more than 500 brothers at one time (1 Cor 15:5-8). And they not only see Him and hear His voice, they touch His body and watch Him eat with them. This is no ghost. Jesus is with them. He is risen, just as He said. These are the eye witnesses - over 514 of them! - and they would give their eye witness testimony to the truth of the resurrection. And as any attorney would tell you, if you have 514 eye witnesses testifying to the truth of something, you pretty much have a slam dunk case.

But now the forty days are up, and it is time for Jesus to ascend to the right hand of His Father. Forty days: the same number of days it rained on Noah’s ark. Forty days: the same number of days Moses spent on Mt. Sinai. Forty days: the same number of days Jesus fasted in the wilderness being tempted by satan. Forty days: God’s number of days. So Jesus is taken up from them. A cloud hides Him from their sight. They will not see Him again until He returns in glory. 

They lingered a moment, though. They stood there, staring up into the sky, taking it all in. Two men in white robes - angels - ask them why. We’re not told what their answer was - or maybe we were. For Luke tells us that they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God

They were not sad that Jesus had left. They were filled with great joy. Do you remember the only other time Luke used that phrase “great joy?” He speaks of joy many times, but of great joy only one other time - when the angel told the shepherds that Jesus was born. When Jesus came down from heaven in His incarnation. Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people (Luke 2:10). Now Luke uses it again, for now those words have been fulfilled. Now there is great joy for all people. For Jesus’ victory is for all people. Jesus has triumphed over sin, death, and hell for all people. Jesus has paved the way to heaven for all people. For you. So how could the twelve not be filled with great joy? 

And so that we may understand and have this great joy too, we sang a moment ago of what Jesus has done for us in His ascension: He has raised our human nature, On the clouds to God’s right hand; There we sit in heavenly places, There with Him in glory stand. Jesus reigns, adored by angels; Man with God is on the throne. By our mighty Lord’s ascension We by faith behold our own (LSB #494 v. 5).

Or in other words, Jesus came down from His throne as the Son of God, but now He returns as both God and man. It is not only His divinity that ascends but also our humanity. And with that, the honor and dominion of man, forfeited by Adam, has been restored by Jesus. Man is back where he belongs. With God. No longer divided from God by sin and death. For now sin is forgiven and death is defeated. And as Jesus ascended, so will we ascend. We will not be reincarnated to another life on earth, as some would have us believe. No, as Jesus is risen from the dead and ascends into heaven, so will we. In Him. By our mighty Lord’s ascension We by faith behold our own.

And so filled with that great joy, the disciples are continually in the temple blessing God. No private, mumbled prayers are these! They are proclaiming for all to hear. That there is forgiveness in Jesus. That there is hope in Jesus. That we have a Saviour in Jesus. And when the Holy Spirit came upon them on that first New Testament Pentecost, ten days later, this was the message they carried into all the world, to the end of the earth. The message that has now come to us. The message that now gives us great joy.

Which we need. For how often does the toil, tribulation, and tumult of this world rob us of our joy? This world that seems to be coming apart at the seams, that seems to be plunging deeper and deeper into sin. And the sin that we can’t seem to shake, that keeps erupting out of us no matter how we try to stop it. Where is our Lord’s great joy for us?

It is still in our Lord’s ascension. That’s what Paul explains to the Ephesians; the words we heard earlier. Seated at the right hand of the Father, Jesus is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. Our Jesus is in control. The rulers of this world may think they are, but our Lord has been setting up and taking down rulers and kingdoms, powers and dominions, longer than any of us have been alive.  And all for the sake of His Church. For all things are under Jesus’ feet for the sake of His Bride. And you can be sure Jesus is still taking care of His Bride, His Church, you, that the Gospel may be proclaimed to the ends of the earth and to the end of the earth. From our limited point of view it may not always seem like it, but we believe it. We confess it. Just as Jesus’ cross did not seem good at the time, but evil, yet turned out to be the greatest good of all, so it is with the crosses we must bear in our day. For while a cloud hid Jesus from the disciples’ sight, it has not hid us from His sight

In fact, Jesus’ ascension means that He is more present with us now than He was before. Jesus is not ruling from some far away and unknown place named heaven, but is the one who now as both God and man fills all in all. He is no longer present only in Zacchaeus’ house, or at the table of Simon, or in the home of Mary and Martha, but now is present in fonts, pulpits, and altars all over the world. Speaking to us, washing us, feeding us, and forgiving us. The disciples go out to the ends of the earth not only to speak Jesus but to bring Jesus, to give Jesus. To bring that message of great joy that is for all people: that God is here for you.

Yet even here and with us still, so too has Jesus gone to prepare a place for you, and will come back to take you to be there too (John 14:2-3). For He did, in fact, restore the kingdom to Israel - not the old, earthly Israel, and her old earthly kingdom, but the new Israel, the Church, and a heavenly kingdom. When that day will come when Jesus returns, all flesh is raised, and we will be taken - body and soul - to that kingdom, is not for us to know. But to know that He will is enough.

So today is a day of great joy. The disciples had it right. And so A Hymn of Glory We will Sing (LSB #493), to our risen Christ, ascended Lord. For we are now the ones in white robes, baptismal robes, waiting for Him to come again.

For Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!]

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Easter 6 Sermon

Sorry! No sermon to post today as we were privileged to have Rev. Richard Resch as our guest preacher.