Sunday, May 29, 2016

Pentecost 2 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Authority to Mercy”
Text: Luke 7:1-10 (1 Kings 8; Galatians 1)

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

When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

What exactly was it that made Jesus marvel? Whenever I heard this story before, I always thought it was the centurion’s statement about authority, and his faith that Jesus has that kind of authority. That just as the centurion has the authority to issue orders to the soldiers under him, so Jesus can issue orders - but not just to soldiers or people, but to diseases, sicknesses, demons, and death. Jesus has an authority that is even over these, and the centurion knew authority when he saw it.

I think that’s part of it, but not the main part. Not the main part because it seems like the elders of the Jews who went to Jesus on the centurion’s behalf to ask for help also believed that. They may not have been able to put it as eloquently as the centurion did, but they asked for Jesus to come and heal the servant - apparently believing that He could. For He had. Jesus had healed many of all kinds of afflictions. Clearly there was a power here, an authority here, though they may not have known exactly what it was; that Jesus was the true God in human flesh.

So the centurion’s belief that Jesus had that kind of authority is significant, but not what set him apart from the Jews and made Jesus marvel. 

Yet there is something very different about the centurion; something very different in his statement from what the elders of the Jews said when they went to Jesus. For the Jews said: He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue. He is worthy of your help because of what he has done. But the centurion said something very different: Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. It is not fitting, it is not right, for you to come to me. 

But if the centurion is not worthy, why ask at all? Why ask for what he does not deserve and has not earned? 

The answer, and what makes Jesus marvel, is in the first half of the centurion’s statement about Jesus’ authority - the neglected half. For the centurion, before saying that he has servants under him that he can order around, first says this: I too am a man set under authority. He too has superiors and he must obey the orders given to him. But notice carefully what he said there: I too. I also. I as well as you . . . am a man set under authority. He doesn’t see Jesus just as one who has authority, but as one who has been set under authority as well, with orders that He must do; must carry out. And what is the order Jesus has been given? Well, this: to have mercy. Not to give what is deserved, but to give what is not deserved.

Now that sounds funny in a couple of ways, doesn’t it? For first, we usually don’t think of Jesus as one under authority - He’s God, after all, and there is no higher authority than God! And yet the Scriptures do speak in this way. In Hebrews, Jesus is called an apostle - that is: one who is officially sent by another to act with a certain authority (Hebrews 3:1). And what that authority is Jesus Himself explains in John, when He says things like this: 

When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me (John 8:28)

No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father (John 10:18).

For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak (John 12:49).

And then finally: The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works (John 14:10).

Clearly, then, Jesus is one who has been sent and under the authority and orders of the Father. With the authority and orders to have mercy. And so the centurion is asking Jesus to do what He has been sent to do. Not because he’s worthy, but because this is why Jesus came. To use His authority to have mercy. 

But that’s the second thing that sounds funny, isn’t it? We usually don’t put authority and mercy together. We usually think of them as being in two different categories. Almost like mercy is when you have authority over someone but don’t use it. 

But I think the reason we think that way is because our view of authority has been warped by sin and perverted by our sinful nature. And so, we think, authority isn’t mercy, it is telling other people what to do, bossing them around, and getting what we want. So while authority isn’t bad, the way we use it often is. And while it is necessary and needed, we don’t like being under it - all the way back to Eve, when the Lord said to her, that now, because of sin: Your desire shall be for your husband [to have authority over him], [but] he shall rule over you (Genesis 3:16).

So this is what made the centurion so marvel-worthy - he saw Jesus’ authority rightly. As a good authority, a mercy authority, an authority untainted by sin. That Jesus was sent not to reward the deserving, but to have mercy on the undeserving. That He came not to commend the good, but to forgive the sinner. That He lived not to demand that we lay down our lives for Him, but to lay down His life for us. And so Jesus marveled. Here was a man who got it. His own people didn’t get it - not even in Israel have I found such faith, Jesus said. But this centurion did. He was the fulfillment of Solomon’s prayer, for a merciful God to mercifully hear and mercifully act. He is an example for the Jews, and for us today. 

For still today, we have a merciful God who mercifully hears and mercifully acts. For you. The “gospel of worthiness” is the “other gospel” of which Paul said: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. Because that’s not good news at all, if you have to make yourself worthy of God and worthy for Him to act for you. And it’s not who God is at all. It is a gross false witness about God. Yet one we often think. A trap that is easy to fall into. To think that if I just do this, then God will like me better. Or that if things are going bad for me in my life, then God is liking me less. You see how we make God and what He does and what He thinks dependent on what we do? No. We need to repent of that thinking.

For the reality is that you received the Gospel, as Paul said, and quite apart from anything you’ve done. In fact, for most of you, it was when you were so small that all you could do was cry, eat, and soil your diaper! And yet a merciful God baptized you and made you His child. 

You received the Gospel, in fact, quite in spite of all that you’ve done. For if you indeed got what you deserved because of your sin, then not one of us could have stood here this morning and confessed that we are sinful and unclean. The consequences would be too much for us. But we can, and did, because a merciful God mercifully hears our prayers and mercifully acts with His absolution.

And you will receive the Gospel again as you come to the altar today to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, who by the authority He received from the Father laid down that Body and Blood into death, took it up again in His resurrection, and now lays it upon this altar, places it in your mouth, and pours it over your lips. Not because you’re worthy, because you love our church and helped build it - but exactly because your not. It is to make you worthy; to give you worthy; for Jesus to be your worthy.

In fact, the centurion’s prayer is one that some pastors pray during the liturgy. Lord, we are not worthy to have you come under our roof. But say the word and your servants will be healed. Say the Word. Your merciful Word. Your gracious Word. And He does, and we are.

That’s who God is. And the centurion got it. We talked about that last week, but get another story today to drive that point home. Which is good, and needed, because satan and his false gospel keeps trying to drive it out and make us believe what is not true - the gospel of worthiness; the gospel of what we do; the gospel which is really no gospel at all.

And so today we see authority as it was meant to be - at least in the kingdom of the right, in the church. In the kingdom of the left, in the world and government, authority is about law and order - as it needs to be, to keep sin in check. It is exercised by sinners and so often times used wrongly and in ways it was never meant to be. But in the kingdom of the right, in the church, authority is not about law and order, but all about mercy. It is the authority to lay down your life not for God - He doesn’t need it! - but for others. And not to make yourself worthy, but because Jesus has made you well.

And what does that look like? It looks like living under the authority placed over you for your good, and being respectful and obedient, even when that authority is misused by sinners. It looks like exercising the authority you have been given in mercy - not to get what you want, but to give what those under you need. It looks like husbands laying down their lives for their wives, and wives submitting to and loving their husbands. It looks like parents not exasperating their children, and children honoring their parents. It looks like helping those in need, forgiving those who hurt and wrong you, repenting to those you’ve hurt, receiving the good others have for you, and praying for all people, even your enemies. And that’s just a few examples. But if you did just those, would not people today marvel? 

And marvel not just at you, but at the God you have, and who has you. Who shows and teaches us the wonderful truth that authority and mercy really do go together. And He uses that authority, that mercy, for you.

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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Holy Trinity Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Not Logic, but Grace”
Text: John 8:48-59 (Proverbs 8; Acts 2)

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

The Jews didn’t get Jesus. They couldn’t figure Him out. This son of Mary and Joseph, conceived and born before they were even married, was making Himself out to be God. But surely God would not have come from such poor folks and from such an illicit union. So He must be a Samaritan and demon possessed. A Samaritan, because the Jews knew all Samartians were liars, and demon possessed would explain the things He was able to do. It was the only logical explanation. 

So how does Jesus respond to such accusations? Well, He doesn’t retreat. I do not have a demon, He says. And then He doubles down! He doesn’t just make claims for Himself, but truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.

Now they know He has a demon - that’s crazy talk. Everyone dies. Abraham died, the prophets all died . . . and they were going to make sure He died! He was too dangerous to let live. So they would make sure He tasted death. And not just any death, but a horrible one, an agonizing one, a humiliating one. They would see Him hang . . . on a cross. Then we’ll see what becomes of His words . . . making Himself out as greater than our father Abraham.

Ah yes. Father Abraham. They staked everything on the fact that they were physical descendants of Abraham. For that’s how inheritances work - promises are passed on from father to son - and they were sons of Abraham and therefore inheritors of the promises God gave to him. So Jesus pushed that button, too. My Father, He says, is not Abraham, but the one of whom you say, “He is our God.” That is the Father who glorifies me, not just father Abraham. In fact, while you rejoice over Abraham, Abraham rejoiced over me!

Well the Jews are completely flabbergasted now! This all just keeps getting crazier and crazier. Jesus wasn’t even fifty years old, and He’s talking about Abraham seeing Him? . . . And then Jesus throws the bomb: Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. I AM. The divine name. The name no Jew would ever speak. It was too holy, too sacred. And for Jesus to not only speak it, but put it on Himself . . . there was only one way to respond to that! And it wasn’t with words, it was with stones.

That’s how the conversation in the Holy Gospel went. It went the only place such a conversation could have gone. Because applying worldly, scientific, logical, reasonable, human arguments to God doesn’t work. God is above and beyond such categories. He created them, but is not limited to them or bound by them. Who God is and what He does doesn’t fit so neatly into our boxes. And, I would argue, that is good. Very good.

And today we are celebrating one of those humanly-illogical truths: that God is three persons in one God, and one God in three persons. The Holy Trinity is the name the Church has given to this reality that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each 100% God, and yet there are not three gods but one God, as we just confessed in the Athanasian Creed. 

Just as humanly-illogical is the truth that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God in human flesh - the same God that was before all things and created all things, as the reading from Proverbs described. The same God who was before Abraham and who chose Abraham is walking among them as a man. 100% man and 100% God, yet only one person. The Jews didn’t get it, couldn’t figure Him out, and so thought Him crazy at best and demon-possessed at worst.

But if who God is is tough to figure out, what He does is even more. That the holy God would come and hang out with sinners. Even more, that He would love sinners. Even more, that He would die for sinners. And even more, that He would forgive sinners. And not just little sinners. Big sinners. Prostitutes. Murderers. Drug dealers. Adulterers. Pornographers. Thieves. Rapists. Terrorists. Child abusers. There is no sin too big, no sin too small. He bore them all, took them all, paid for them all, to redeem all. To purchase these kinds of men and women to be His own. 

What kind of God would do that? Only the true One. No God of human devising would. No, our god would make them earn it, do something to deserve it. Redeem themselves with some good work first, something to show they have some redeeming quality, show some hope, show that they’re worth it. And then there would be those just too bad, too evil, to be redeemed. A special place in hell for those really, really bad folks. You know the ones. That’s how we think. 

And that’s why God is so utterly, humanly illogical. ‘Cause He isn’t like that at all. There is no special place in hell for those really, really bad folks - there is a special place in heaven for them. Not because of what they’ve done, of course, but because of what God has come and done for them; because that’s where God wants them - yes, with Him, in His kingdom. And so He sent His Son to descend and redeem them, and then ascend to prepare a place for them (John 14). The really bad ones. And that’s good, because that means there’s a place in heaven for you, too. And me.

If you don’t get that, as the Jews didn’t get that, stop thinking so humanly-logically and start thinking graciously. Because that’s the key to understanding God - who He is and what He does: grace. That He gives what we do not deserve. He gives us life, He gives us His Son, He gives us His forgiveness, and He gives us family, talents, vocations, joys, and even discipline to keep us close to Him. All gifts, from Him to you.

So that’s what Peter preached that first Pentecost, the first Christian sermon we have on record. That Jesus was God’s gift. Yes, they killed Him, but that was part of the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. So the gift was not just the man Jesus and the miracles He performed (that’s human-logical thinking) - His death and resurrection were the gift. That’s grace thinking. That God’s gift was exactly in the slaying of His Son to give life to the world. Life, for He did not stay in the grave. Life in the forgiveness of sins - even for those no-good, hate-filled scoundrels who crucified Him. And life not just here and now, for a while, but life with Him forever. God had spelled it all out in the Old Testament, Peter said, and He did it. Gift promised, gift delivered. Gift so far above and beyond what human beings would ever do.

And now gift here for you. Jesus here for you. The Father still giving life through His Son and by His Spirit. To make you His child precisely because of who you are and what you have done. Not because you’re so good or at least better than most, but because the big ball of sin sitting in your seat has no other hope. And if Peter were here today, that’s what he would point out, like he did in his sermon on that first Pentecost. That you are like Old Testament Israel, grumbling and rebellious. That you too often think of God with human-logical thinking instead of grace thinking. That you like grace when you get it, but don’t like it when others do. That you think too little of what God has given you and think too much - and too highly - of what you do for God. That your faith too often crumbles into doubt and throwing stones at God, and your love for others too often runs cold and resentful and throwing stones at them. And that these things are not out of character for you, but who you truly are if you drill down to the bottom of your heart.

Once you realize that, then you begin to understand how wondrous the gifts here are. And how wondrous that God has a special place in heaven for you too. How wondrous that in baptism, you are made not just a child of father Abraham, but a child of our Father who art in heaven. How wondrous that the simple words of Absolution really do take away your biggest sins. How wondrous that God speaks to you here through His Word; that He is not a God too high for you or too busy for you but here for you. And how wondrous that the Body and Blood of Jesus that did not see corruption are now given to you, to give you an incorruptible and eternal life too. And how wondrous that this is all here . . . for sinners like us. 

Human-logical thinking thinks that a bunch of hooey - that we must be Samaritans and demon-possessed to think and believe such things. But God gives us a heart and mind to think graciously, not logically, and so know Him as He is. A giving Father who gives us life and forgiveness. Who gives us His Son and His Spirit. Who gives us His very self. That as Peter said, all the world may know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

And such giving has very practical implications. For imagine such a world where not human-logical thinking but grace-thinking ruled the hearts and lives of all people. Where the norm was forgiveness not revenge, giving not demanding, service not selfishness, you not me. That is the life graciously given and begun in you. The life of Christ. The life of a child of God with His Spirit. 

And that’s what we confess this day. Not just who God is, but what God does - for the two always go together. For us, they don’t always - we don’t always do as we are; we act out of character. But not so God. So if you know Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then you know that He is your Father, you are His son, and He has given you His Spirit. And you will say as we did in the Introit today: Blessed be the Holy Trinity [the three] and the undivided Unity [in one]. Let us give glory to him - why? - because he has shown his mercy to us.

And let us give glory to Him by being who we are, who God has made you; and showing that mercy to others.

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

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Vigil of Pentecost Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Like Father, Like Son”
Text: Romans 8:12-17; John 14:8-21

Parents and their children are sometimes very alike and sometimes very different. You have probably seen a father and son together and thought that the son looked just like his father or had the same mannerisms and speech. Or, perhaps you looked at them and thought: How could that son come from that father? They couldn’t be more different! The same holds true for mothers and daughters - sometimes they look and act alike, and sometimes they are polar opposites. And this all changes sometimes too. Children who rebel against their parents early on sometimes turn out just like them in the end. 

This shouldn’t be a surprise to us. Children learn from their parents and imitate them - for better and for worse. Habits are formed and traditions passed down. Like it or not, our parents form and shape who we are.

The readings we heard tonight spoke of this kind of relationship - both of Jesus, the Son of God, and of us, as sons and daughters of God. We’ll start with Jesus first. One day, Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father.” And Jesus responds: Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. But this is much more than learning and imitation, with the Father and Jesus - Jesus says that He and the Father are one. He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. Here is the mystery of the Holy Trinity - that the Father and the Son are different persons, yet one God. Jesus has come to show us the Father - to make known to us His love and mercy in His words and in His works, that we may truly know Him. With Jesus, “like father, like son” is true in the fullest sense. Jesus’ words are the words of God. Jesus’ works are the works of God. 

And most especially is this true when Jesus is hung on the cross. There we see the love and mercy of God in full bloom - that the almighty God allows Himself to be weak, that the eternal God dies, that the Creator over all descends to the depths of His creation, in order to save it. That’s who God is, and Jesus shows us that truth. Many people think many things of God, but if you really want to see and know God, there He is; that’s what He does. How serious is your sin? That serious. How great is His love for you? That great. How committed is God to you, your salvation, and your life? That committed. And so in Jesus, we see and learn that we have not a God who is demanding and mean, an overlord and a tyrant, but a God who loves and serves and wants the best for you.

And what is best for you is for you to be His child; to be adopted into His family. And so as Paul said, you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” You received that Spirit in Holy Baptism, where you were born again, born from above; reborn, a son or daughter with a new Father. And, as Paul goes on to say, when you are adopted in this divine family, you receive the full inheritance as heirs of God - all that is His is yours. He holds nothing back. You’re not a half child or a step child - you are His child, 100%. And what a great gift that is.

But that’s not all; that’s not the only gift. Your Father continues to speak to you and teach you; He continues to help you understand what it means to be a part of this family. That as sons and daughters, you begin to look and act, speak and do, as He does. Your new Father shaping and forming who you are.

That, too, is the work of the Spirit - His ongoing work. The Helper, Jesus calls Him. To help you. And this Spirit from the Father will not be seen as Jesus was seen, but will dwell with you and be in you. That you live no longer according to the flesh, according to your old spirit and its sinful urges and desires, which lead to death; but that you live according to the new Spirit you have been given, with its holy desires, which leads to life. For the Spirit you have been given is God as well - the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Lord and Giver of life, as we confess in the Creed. And the Spirit teaches you and forms you as children of God, that you be sons and daughters of God who look like the Son of God. That it may be true for us as well: like Father, like sons.

That’s why Jesus tells His disciples, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. That’s not so much a command as a statement of reality. With the Spirit, the Helper, children of God live as children of God. Like Father, like son. We speak as He speaks, speaking the truth in love; and we do as He does, living lives of mercy and love.

But there are times, also, when we are those children who are unlike their Father and couldn’t be more different than Him - when we sin. When we do live according to our old sinful flesh, when we follow its urges and desires, when we listen to the words and temptations of the world and satan instead of the Word and truth of our Father in heaven. At those times, people may look at us and wonder: how could he (or she) be a child of God? And for those times and actions, we need to repent. To turn back to our Father in sorrow that we have reflected poorly on Him and lived not as who we are.

And the Spirit helps us do that as well. For He is the Helper not only to live a godly life, but to help us repent when we don’t, and then give us the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross. Jesus has not left us as orphans, on our own. He did not ascend into heaven and then say: Hope to see you there! No. He gave us His Spirit to be with us always; to help us. The Spirit by whom we cry “Abba! Father!” By whom we know we have a dear Father and a forgiving Saviour. By whom we know who we are - no longer children of the world, but children of God . . . even if we don’t always show it in our words and deeds.

And then as Paul also said, that’s going to mean suffering with Jesus in this world and life. For even as we are sons and daughters of God, there are also sons and daughters of satan, who live as he lives. And the conflict that has been in this world from the beginning will continue. And we often get caught in the crossfire.

But Paul then adds a promise: that if we suffer with Him, we will also be glorified with Him. For the Father will not forsake His children. He who sent His Son to save us and His Spirit to keep us will bring us in the end into His kingdom, and we will be glorified with Jesus and live with Him forever. One grand and glorious family reunion, in His kingdom, which will never end. 

So Philip, you have seen the Father, in the face of the Son. And the day is coming when you will too. Until that day, we have been given the Spirit of the Father and the Son, to know our Father, to receive His goodness and love in the Son, and to live like father, like son. We are not orphans. We are children of God. Now and forever.

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

The Feast of Pentecost Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Tower of the Cross”
Text: Genesis 11:1-9; John 14:23-31; Acts 2:1-21

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

The Tower of Babel is one of those cool Bible stories you learn about in Sunday School. It’s easy to teach, on one level. Simple and understandable. The people at that time, all speaking the same language, decided to build a tower with its top in the heavens to make a name for themselves. God, on the other hand, decided this was not a good idea, and so confused their languages so they could no longer speak to one another. The building project stopped, the Lord dispersed the people over the face of the earth, and that’s how all the different languages of the earth came to be.

But if that’s all we get out of this story, we haven’t understood it. Because as Jesus taught His disciples after the resurrection, and as we heard in the some of the readings this past Easter season, the Bible isn’t just about giving us cool information - like how all the different languages came to be - it’s all about Jesus. And so we need to try to understand how this story teaches us about Jesus. Then it will be more than just a cool story; it will be a helpful one. A saving one.

And the key, I think, is to look at what God said about this project, when He said: and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Or in other words, they will think they can do anything. They will think they can do everything. They will think they do not need God. Engineering, science, and a bit of ingenuity is all the help they will think they need. For look at what we can do! Man is supreme. Man is God.

Which sounds very much like the way so many people think today. We can do it. Nothing is impossible. We put a man on the moon. We hold in our hands computers which are amazingly powerful and can connect us to people all over the world. We are doing things today our ancestors never dreamed of. Surgeons transplant organs. Medical technology has created artificial limbs and 3D printers are even beginning to print out replacement body parts. Mankind keeps improving and getting better. We know more now than ever before. And there seems to be no limit to what we can do. Nothing is impossible for us. It seems as if the dream of Babel is finally becoming a reality - even with our mixed-up languages. 

Except the picture is not all that rosy. Science and technology may be advancing, and new discoveries are being made, but are we better off? Is all the help we really need in our own two hands and in our minds? Yes, computers connect us but they also separate us. People are living longer but not necessarily living better. When a cure is found for one disease, another - and often worse one - mutates to take its place, or a new one comes along. And what about peace in a world where hostilities never cease, fear is the currency of terrorists, the comment sections on social media sites are among the most brutal places on earth, and even our own consciences accuse and torment us.

And then there’s death. Some people deny it, some people hasten it, some people postpone it as long as they can. But if there really is one thing that unites all people in this world, that’s it. We’re all going to die. One day. Sooner or later. And no tower, no achievement, no name we make for ourselves, can stop it. In fact, that name we make for ourselves will just be chiseled onto our tombstones.

That was the trajectory of the people in the land of Shinar who built that tower. But God wanted more for them than that. And so He stopped them, to help them. He stopped them, to save them from themselves. He stopped them and scattered them, so that one day He could gather them around a different tower and give them what they need; what no tower into the heavens or effort of man could give them - a way to life. A way to Himself. 

And that’s exactly what we’ve been celebrating the past fifty days, the Easter season - that Jesus has provided that way. That not by a tower into the heavens, but by a cross; and not by man, but by God, the unbridgeable gap between the earth and the heavens has been bridged. That as God and man in one flesh, one person, the sin that separated us from our Father in heaven has been atoned for by Jesus’ death, and the death that robs us of life has been overcome in His resurrection. That’s Easter.

But still, that was not enough. The tower of the cross has been built by God, but we need to be gathered back to it and around it. For the peace of mind and peace of heart that we need, we need someone to teach us about that tower, to point us to the cross and to Jesus. We need the sin and wrong trust in our hearts to be overcome, that we not be like the people building the tower and trust in what we can do, and wrongly think nothing is impossible for us, butrepent, confess, and turn away from that, and trust in the One who bridged the gap for us, in Jesus, and correctly believe that nothing is impossible for Him. We need a Helper.

And that’s who today, Pentecost, is all about. The Helper. The Holy Spirit who, we heard Jesus say today, the Father will send in His name. The Spirit who will teach us of Jesus, and point us to Jesus, and give us the peace of heart and peace of mind that comes with the forgiveness of sin and the promise of a life that not even death can end. The gifts that Jesus won for us on the cross, are now given to us by the Helper, the Spirit. 

And so when Jesus spoke of the gift of the Holy Spirit, He said this as well: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. With the gift of the Spirit comes the gift of peace. A peace that doesn’t come from the world, or from you and what you do, but only from God. From the Father, who sent His Son to build a heaven-reaching tower, and His Spirit to then gather all people to it and back to Himself.

And we heard that impressive list of folks who heard and were gathered on that first Pentecost - they were from all over the place: Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians. But it didn’t stop with them. The Spirit sent the apostles out even further to proclaim the Word through which the Spirit would work and continue to give His gifts of forgiveness and peace. For as the prophet Joel said, in the last days God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh. Men and women, Jews and Gentiles, young and old. A pouring out and gathering that started on the Day of Pentecost, and hasn’t stopped.

Because you are here. You wouldn’t be here were it not for the Spirit. The Spirit who is still being poured out and still working and gathering people to Jesus and His cross through the Word of God - the Word preached and the Word joined to the water of Baptism. The Word which points us to Jesus and connects us to Jesus. The Word through which the Helper is teaching you, forgiving you, and pointing you to the tower of the cross and testifying to you: There is your hope. There is your confidence. There is your peace. Peace in life and peace in death. That our hearts not be troubled, nor be afraid.

And so He has gathered us today in the midst of a world fraught with danger, sin, trouble, change, and much to be fearful and worried about. He has gathered us here today around the cross that is planted here - on this altar. For here is the Body and Blood that hung upon that cross, and the Body and Blood that then rose from the dead, that receiving this gift, our bodies too rise from the dead to life again, finally and fully free from all that troubles us here. Fully at peace in Jesus.

So by teaching us of the past and giving us confidence for the future we can deal with the present, and know that whatever is happening is not such a big deal after all. The world may be going crazy with its politics, political correctness, divisiveness, new kinds of wickedness and evil being invented every day, and false gods a-plenty, but none of that can win; none of that can conquer a child of the Father, in Jesus, with the Holy Spirit. Our God has conquered all our foes and provided us with a sure and certain future. We may not know how we will get to the future - the twist and turns in the road, the challenges and obstacles that face us - but we will get there. We have our Lord’s promise. So there is peace, for we have certainty in our Lord. And we can rejoice, for we are not on our own, but have a Helper. 

And so one day, Jesus will say to us what He said to His disciples, as we heard at the end of the Holy Gospel today: Rise, let us go from here. When He spoke that to the disciples, Jesus was going to the cross to defeat sin and death for us there. When we hear Him speak those words, it will be from the places where our bodies lay, when we will rise and go from the dust to which we returned to life again - sin and death defeated and nothing but life ahead for us. Life, with our Saviour, with His name, and in His Kingdom, which will have no end. And the only tower we’ll need to get there, we have: the cross

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

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Easter 7 Sermon

We were pleased to welcome into our pulpit today the Rev. James Bushur of Concordia Theological Seminary, who was with us for our Good Shepherd Seminar over the weekend.  Click here for the audio of his sermon this day.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Ascension of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Not Left Behind”
Text: 2 Kings 2:5-15; Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53

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

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

It’s no fun being left behind. If everyone goes on vacation, but you have to stay home and feed the dog. If everyone goes to a movie, but you have to stay home and finish homework. If there’s a holiday and everyone gets the day off, but you have to work. 

The kind of what Ascension Day feels like, isn’t it? Jesus ascends into heaven and the disciples get left behind. Jesus ascends into heaven, and we’re still here in a world filled with struggles and work, sin and death. Good for Jesus, no fun for us.

That’s how Elisha felt. His master, his teacher, the great Elijah was taken away from him, and he was left behind. He saw the fiery chariots and horsemen of Israel, and then a whirlwind taking Elijah up to heaven - and then in the blink of an eye it was all gone. It was still and quiet and all that was left was the cloak Elijah had been wearing. He picks it up and slaps it against the water of the Jordan, and with great sadness and mourning wails: Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah? He had never felt so empty and alone.

But then something happened . . . the water Elisha had slapped, parted. Just as it had for Elijah, so now also for Elisha. He wasn’t alone after all. And it wasn’t just a double portion of Elijah’s spirit that was with him - the Lord was with him. The Lord who divided the waters of the Red Sea, and had divided the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel to cross into the Promised Land, and who had divided the Jordan for Elijah just a moment ago, was also now with him. He wasn’t alone. He wasn’t forgotten. He wasn’t left behind. 

That must have been one of the stories Jesus taught the disciples when He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures; when He showed them everything in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms that was written about Him. That He was going to ascend, like Elijah. But like Elisha, they would not be left alone; they would not be left behind. He, the Lord, was still going to be with them. He would be with them always (Matt 28:20). They would receive the promise of the Father. They would be clothed not with a cloak that Jesus left behind, but with power from on high. They would receive the Holy Spirit.

The disciples must have been taught that by Jesus because when Jesus ascended, they were not sad, as we might expect. Instead, Luke tells us, they were overjoyed. They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple blessing God. And as we will hear in ten days from now, they did receive the Holy Spirit, poured out in full, on the Day of Pentecost.

So while Jesus ascended into heaven, we are not left behind, alone in this world filled with struggles and work, sin and death. That’s what satan wants us to believe - and sometimes we buy into it. We feel forgotten, forsaken, neglected, alone, left behind, like our Lord is a million miles away and doesn’t see our trouble, our need . . . or doesn’t care. 

But it isn’t so. Yes, Jesus in enthroned in His ascension. Yes, He has returned to the right hand of the Father. But He hasn’t left us behind - He has taken us with Him (Eph 2:6).

You see, when the Son of God came down from heaven and was made man and named Jesus, He took our humanity into Himself. He united Himself to us in an everlasting bond. He didn’t just use His body for a while and then shed it like snake shedding it’s skin when He was done with it. No! He is always and forever God and man together - in His birth, in His life, in His crucifixion, in His burial and resurrection, and now in His ascension. He took you and your sin into Himself, and put Himself and His life into you. He couldn’t leave you behind if He wanted . . . and He doesn’t want to. He wants you with Him in His kingdom. And so He ascends to make it so. That where He is, you may be also. One small step for Him, but one giant leap for mankind.

But until that day of our own resurrection and ascension, when Jesus returns in the same way [the disciples] saw Him go into heaven, the Lord is also with us here, for the Spirit is with us. The Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son (Nicene Creed), and who leads us back and connects us to the Father and the Son. The Spirit poured into you when you were baptized and crossed through those waters. The Spirit who gives you the forgiveness of Jesus through the Word of the Gospel. You may feel left behind and alone, but as Elisha realized, it is not so. Don’t trust your feelings. Repent, and believe the Word. 

It’s not easy. Elisha had a rough go of it, and the apostles had their share of suffering and martyrdom. But we are also told, they rejoiced at being counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41). They rejoiced even in suffering. For if Jesus is ascended and enthroned, and you are joined to Him, and you have the Spirit as a guarantee of your own resurrection and ascension, what can this world and the prince of this world do to you? Your life, your future, is safe with Jesus on the throne.

So Ascension Day really is a day to rejoice as we receive a glimpse of our future, when Up Through Endless Ranks of Angels (LSB #491) is where we will go as well. The endless ranks of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven who join us here around this altar everytime we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. For where He is, they are. And He is here for us, to feed us and strengthen us, to forgive us and keep us. The Lord who has taken you into Himself puts Himself into you. So you are not alone. Never alone. Never left behind. 

So struggle on, like Elisha. And rejoice, like the disciples. And if you’re looking for the Lord, do not gaze into heaven, but come to the altar, for here is your Lord for you. Here, until the day when He comes again in glory, and will no longer be hidden behind the clouds of bread and wine, water, and words, but we will see Him as He is. And then it is we who will stay in the city - the city of God, the new Jerusalem - forever.

For Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!] And so are we.

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