Monday, May 22, 2017

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Easter 6 (May 22-27, 2017)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: 1 Peter 5:6-7 - “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #462 “All the Earth with Joy Is Sounding”
Hymns for Wednesday: 493, 494, 821
Hymns for Sunday: 564, 462, 640 (tune: 637), 491, 469, 829

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Monday-Wednesday are the Scriptures for Wednesday’s Ascension Service. The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Acts 1:1-11
What promises were made to the apostles? Why did they need them? 

Tuesday:  Ephesians 1:15-23
What does Paul do for the Ephesian people? What things does he want them to know? How is Jesus able to do all that?

Wednesday:  Luke 24:44-53
Why were the disciples joyful when Jesus ascended? Shouldn’t they be sad? What did it mean for them?

Thursday:  Acts 1:12-26
What did the disciples and the women devote themselves to after Jesus ascended? Why? Is this true for you? Why?

What should Christians expect in this life? Why? What should Christians then also expect after that!? Why?

Saturday:  John 17:1-11
Who is Jesus praying for? Why? For what?

The Catechism - The Commandments: The Ninth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ the Word of God to be proclaimed to all people everywhere.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Sunday School teachers.
+ the Lanka Lutheran Church (Sri Lanka), for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and provision for our Synod’s Soldiers of the Cross assistance program.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Easter 6 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Forever Helper”
Text: John 14:15-21 (1 Peter 3:13-22)

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia! And He is sending you another Helper.

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

I will not leave you as orphans, Jesus says to His disciples. It kind of sounded like that last week, though. For, Jesus said, I am leaving. I am going to prepare a place for you. And while, yes, He said But I will come back for you . . . what about in the meantime? What are we going to do until He returns? the disciples were probably wondering. It’s a cold, harsh world. It’s a dangerous, deceptive world. It’s a world that crucifies, beheads, and persecutes. We might not make it.

And they probably were wondering that because, even though it doesn’t say it here, what often happens with Jesus is that He gives answers to what people are thinking before they speak. He gives answers to what people are thinking but are afraid to say. We read it over and over in the Gospels: Jesus knew what they were thinking and so said . . .  

So here, too. Yes, I am leaving, going to prepare a place for you, but until I come back you won’t be on your own; you won’t be orphans. You will have another Helper. To be with you forever. Who will never leave you. And who is it? The Spirit of truth. You know Him as the Holy Spirit (v. 26). The third person of the Holy Trinity. And He will not only dwell with you, Jesus says, but in you. Wherever you are He will be. To help. To help you

Now to be sure, we have other helpers in this world. But they will all fail us. Sooner or later, they will not be there when we need them. Or they will be there but let us down, or not be able to do what we need. And often at the worst possible times. Friends (both real and virtual), family, spouses, doctors, government, teachers, professors, even pastors, district presidents, and synodical presidents - they’re sinners, all, and so they will all let us down; they will all fail. 

And they will not be with us forever. Nothing in this world is. Sin has seen to that, too. The sin that has brought fallenness has also brought separation and death into this world. And in fact, things in this world seem to be passing away now faster than ever. Things that are here today are either gone or obsolete tomorrow.

But it’s not even just people - other things in this world that we turn to as helpers will also let us down. Whether that helper is found in a bottle, a pill, or an injection; on the internet, or anywhere else. 

And as if all that’s not bad enough, there’s this too: you will fail you, too. And you will fail others. You cannot even depend on yourself. Maybe least of all yourself. For consider the first sentence of the Holy Gospel we heard today, when Jesus said: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. How ya’ doin’ with that? We say we love God, but honestly, how many times in a day do you even think of God or keeping His commandments? How often are you too busy to pray or gladly hear and learn God’s Word and live by it? How often are you too busy or too self-absorbed to help the people you run into every day? How often are you not even worried about the good you fail to do, the words you could have spoken but didn’t, the fact that - as the liturgy of Private Absolution puts it: I have lived as if God did not matter, and as if I mattered most? That’s all I need to say. That line right there convicts me every time.

Put that all together, and you know: we need help. We need a Helper.

And today, we hear that we have one. I will ask the Father, Jesus says, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever . . . I will not leave you as orphans. That’s not a maybe; that’s a promise. A promise that came to pass for the disciples at Pentecost, which we will celebrate in just a couple of weeks now. And it came to pass for you when you were baptized. There in that water, you received a Helper, the Helper, to be with you always. 

Now, you may not understand how the Holy Spirit helps you very much. He doesn’t put food on your table or money in your pocket, right? . . . Or does He? But maybe there’s something we need even more . . . something we need first . . . something without which all the food and money in the world really doesn’t do much good . . .

And that’s Jesus. The first way, the most important way the Helper helps you is by pointing you to Jesus and giving you Jesus. That once you realize that If you love me, you will keep my commandments isn’t true for you, to see that it is true for Jesus. That because He loves you, He did keep all the commandments. Perfectly. For you. In your place. All the time. What you couldn’t do, He did for you. That in the end your account not come up short, but be filled with His good. And then also because He loves you He laid down His life for you - all your sins, misdeeds, and failures held against Him and not against you. And that we call forgiveness. 

And the picture of that is what we are celebrating all this Easter season. The cross is the picture of your sin, the empty tomb the picture of your forgiveness. The cross - bondage and death - what you deserve; the empty tomb - freedom and release - what you’re given. Given by the Holy Spirit. For what Jesus did for you and earned for you is given to you by the Holy Spirit. For He is the Lord and giver of life, we confess in the Creed. And if Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (as we heard last week), then if the Holy Spirit is the giver of life, He is the giver of Jesus. Jesus’ good, Jesus’ forgiveness, Jesus’ life, Jesus’ love, Jesus’ sonship - all given to you. The Holy Spirit taking what is Jesus’ and giving it to you. 

And so you’re really not orphans. With the Holy Spirit you are sons and daughters of God. Born from above. With a Father who’s not going anywhere.

But we do, right? Go somewhere. Depart from our Father. That’s what sin is. Not just doing something naughty. It’s worse than that. For when we live as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most - to use the picture of the grave again - what we’re doing is crawling back into the tomb again and making our home there! Satan making us believe that’s a better place to be. That’s what sin is, really. It is us choosing life apart from God; life on our own; life as I want it. . . . But there is no life apart from God. Because you know what life apart from God is called? Death. Just ask Adam and Eve. 

But that’s not what our Father in heaven wants. That’s not why He sent His Son. That’s not why He gave us His Spirit. He doesn’t want a world full of orphans, living to die; but children, dying to live. Children of God, raised from the death of sin to life again. And Jesus promises that here, too. Because I live, you also will live, He says. The tomb is not your future, life is. Love is.

And the Holy Spirit, the Helper, who raises us to that life, will also then help us live it. We’ll begin to keep the commandments not because we have to, not because we’re afraid we’ll get caught, but because that’s who we now are. And we’ll begin to see them not as rules that take away our life or make it less than it could be, but as a description of what real life looks like. What real love looks like. Not the distorted and deadly picture our world gives us today - find you life here, find your life there. Bread crumbs leading us back into the grave. No, the Spirit of truth teaches us the truth. That we live. A life with Christ now, and a life with Christ forever.

And the love you need? That’s from the Spirit, too. He’s the divine channel, the connection, to all you need. That you be who you are. Not an orphan trying to find your way through this world, but a child of God, knowing whose you are and where you are going. Knowing that you have a home your Saviour and brother has gone to prepare for you. Knowing that He has given you His Spirit to keep you until that day of His return, when all is ready.

And to keep you when the world does not appreciate you living this life and love. Peter talked about that today - suffering for doing good. It doesn’t sound right, does it? Suffering, being punished, for doing good. But those living in the grave and those living outside of it have different understandings of what good is. And when we live and act and speak in ways that the world thinks not good, which runs up against what the world values and holds sacred, there will be resistance and backlash. Maybe severe. It may cost you your life.

But Peter then points us to Christ. To give us confidence in the midst of that. To know that what they may do to you, they already did to Him. But they could not take His life. They could not hold Him down. He rose, and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. And so it will be for you and all who are in Christ. He rose so that you rise with Him. He lives so that you live with Him. And you do, even now. For as many of you have heard me say before, your eternal life isn’t just something far, far away in the future - it is the life you are living now. Because the life you are living now isn’t going to end. Death is simply that moment when it will continue in a new way - when we will finally see what we now believe. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me, Jesus says. That’s a promise. That we will see what we now believe.

I will not leave you as orphans, Jesus says. How could He? He who has your nail holes in His hands and feet. He who here gives you His own Body and Blood to eat and drink. He who has prepared a place for you in heaven. 

He is sending you a Helper. How could He not? For He knows, better than we, how much we need Him. And so He continue to provide. Here He is for you. Here is His life for you, His forgiveness for you, His food for you. That you live. 

And that’s your answer, your defense (as Peter said), to all who ask you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Your answer, your hope, your confidence is that Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] And that because He is risen, so are you. To a new life. An eternal one. Not an orphan, but a child of God.

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Easter 5 Sermon

“Gone to Prepare a Place for You”
Text: John 14:1-14

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia! 
And He is going to prepare a place for you.

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

Jesus is going to prepare a place for you. Mothers do that. When I would go home for a visit, my mom would do all sorts of preparations and get all sorts of things ready for me. Things I didn’t think I needed, but she was pleased and excited I was coming and wanted to do all that. And now the mother of my children does the same thing. Our house is full again this weekend with my kids home from college - but not for long. Soon they’ll leave again, because they’re growing up and doing new things. But there’s something about a full house. It’s a good thing. It’s the way things were meant to be, even after our kids grow up and start filling their own houses.

Jesus is going to prepare a place for you. Maybe you don’t have a place here. There are homeless people, whose numbers seem to be growing. People in prison. Folks whose homes have been ripped apart by sin, so they’re no longer full, or where they’re no longer welcome. But whether or not you have a place here, and whether that place is large or small, luxurious or simple, Jesus is going to prepare a place for you. And His rooms, the rooms of life, are far more spacious than our abodes of death. And will last forever. 

This is the home satan is trying to take away from you. Maybe by making you want your place in this world, and to feel at home here, rather than look to that place that Jesus is preparing for you. Or maybe he will use persecution to try to make you turn away; to make you think all that you’re going through now isn’t worth it. I remember talking to the bishop of the Lutheran Church in Sudan. He said what the Muslims do there to Christians is take away their houses - both their homes and their church. They’ll bring a bulldozer to town and say the government is building a road - coincidentally, right here . . . right where your church or your home is. So it has to go. And they’ll bulldoze it right then and there. And, of course, the road never gets built. 

But Jesus is going to prepare a place for you that cannot be bulldozed, that cannot be taken away. For He is happy and excited that you are coming; that you will be home with Him forever. 

Jesus is going to prepare a place for you. The disciples needed to know that, because things were about to get messy. Things were about to happen that would shake them to the very core of their being. Jesus wants to lift up their thoughts and inspire them with courage and comfort, so that when they see Him arrested, taken away, and crucified in mere hours, they would not despair or lose hope. He is going to prepare a place for them. That’s what all this was about, He is telling them. His whole life and work. Yes, they had left father, mother, house, home, and job for Him, but they would not be homeless, and they would be rewarded. A hundredfold. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3) is the very first Beatitude.

So let not your hearts be troubled, Jesus says. Trust. Believe. I am going but I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life

Jesus is going . . . to the cross. He is going to the grave. To prepare those places for us as well. He goes to the cross so that the crosses placed upon us in our lives be not for our harm but for our good; not for our death but for our life. He goes to the cross to transform it for us, that the suffering, pain, persecution, hardships, and struggles you have not overcome you or be of no purpose, but join you to Jesus and draw you closer to your Saviour. And focus you on the place He has gone to prepare for you

And He goes to the grave to prepare that place for us as well, that it be not the end but a passage; that it be our resting place until the day of resurrection to life again. Jesus goes to the tomb to sanctify it; He goes to the place meant to destroy us, to transform it, too, into a bed, so that we may go to the place where He is - to the place He has gone to prepare for you.

And so having gone to those places with us and for us, He will come back. He came back in His resurrection, and He will come back again when all things are ready, the place He has gone to prepare - ready. And He will bring us up out of our graves to live in that place, with Him. He wants you there. He is happy and excited to welcome you home. Finally.

Jesus is going to prepare a place for you - all these places, actually. That we always have hope and never be homeless, no matter our situation in this world and life. And He is the only way to it. He is the way, the truth, and the life. The only one. No one comes to the Father except through [Him].

That offends some people, though it really shouldn’t. Think of riding the Metro. If you live in Vienna and want to get home, you have to get on the right train. Only one will take you where you want to go. You could argue that all the trains are alike, so what difference does it make? You could argue that those new ones are nicer, so you’d rather take one of those. But they won’t take you where you want to go. Only one will. 

No one comes to the Father except through Jesus. If you want to get home, to that home Jesus has gone to prepare for you, He’s the only way there. You may think there are other ways, ways that look nicer, that seem better, or that they all look alike - but they’re not. Jesus is the only one who died for you and rose from the dead for you. He’s the only one who can take you to where you want to be. He’s the only one. He is the way, that is the truth, to the life He wants you to have. A life free from sin, a life in abundance, and a life that will never end.

It’s not easy, though. Think of Israel going through the Red Sea. Think of how hard that first step must have been when they began to go through the Red Sea. Or think of what they must have thought halfway across - with all that threatening water on both sides of them! It’s not easy. You began the journey through water also, the water of baptism. And there’s lots of danger on the way for you, too.

But Jesus has gone before you. The waters you pass through, He has already passed through. In fact, they did overcome Him; the guilt of all your sin and all your death came crashing down upon Him, and yet He came out the other side. And now He is preparing a place for you there. For when you come out the other side, too. Or maybe better to say: when He brings you out the other side with Him, risen from the dead, to life.

Jesus is going to prepare a place for you. The disciples, as usual, don’t quite get all this. And I wonder where Peter is? He’s there, of course. But he’s unusually silent! He’s usually the one who speaks up and puts his foot in his mouth. This time it’s Thomas and Philip, though. And Philip who says: Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also, Jesus says. They thought they did know Him. They were with Him for three years now. They had seen things, they had heard much. But they still didn’t know Him? But, Jesus says, from now on you do know him and have seen him.

Well, what are they now going to know that they didn’t know before? What would they see? What was going to change? The cross. That is going to change everything. From now on, they’re going to know Jesus, they’re going to know the Father, like never before. For on the cross it would not be miracle-worker-Jesus, great-teacher-Jesus, man-of-unparalleled-compassion-Jesus, or mighty-Jesus - they’re going to see how much Jesus loves them as He lays down His life for them. They’re going to see and know a love they never knew before and could never imagine - even after all they had seen and heard. That’s the first thing.

But part of their wonder here is the same as our wonder - for what Jesus is speaking here is part of the mystery of the Trinity. Jesus is going to the Father, yet, He says, if you’ve seen Jesus you’ve seen the Father. These statements seem to contradict one another, and yet are both true. There is only one God, so when you’ve seen Jesus you’ve seen the one and only true God in the flesh. But this one true God is at the same time a trinity of persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is simply no analogy or example, no parable, to help us understand how this can be, this reality of God. God is distinct and separate and far above and far different from everything else we know or can understand. So we can understand Philip’s statement here. Maybe we even think the same thing sometimes. This is confusing. So show me, Jesus. Show me something, that I can believe.

Well, what He will show you is Himself, on the cross. What He will show you is Himself, laid in the tomb. What He will show you is Himself, alive, on the third day. That you believe. That He did this for you, and that now He is going to prepare a place for you, that where [He is] you may be also. That though you die, yet shall you live.

That’s the faith Stephen had when He looked up to heaven and saw not a strange and unfamiliar God - He saw His friend, His Saviour. 

And so will you. For Jesus is going to prepare a place for you, and will come again and take you to Himself. He will come again for you, maybe as you lie in the hospital, maybe at home, maybe when you’re young or when you’re old, maybe in the midst of turmoil and tragedy, maybe at peace. But He will. He is faithful. For God didn’t just create you to be a momentary blip in the history of the world, but to have life with Him forever. And so Jesus came, and so He will come again. The one who is the way, the truth, and the life. The way to the Father. The Father who wants His children with Him, in His house. And not just for a visit, but forever.

And so now He comes here to this place that we have prepared, to prepare us - to feed us with His Body and Blood. That our sin be forgiven, that our faith in Him and His promises be strengthened, and that His resurrected life live in us. That when we live as if this were our home and we cling to the things of this world and life, we be forgiven. That, as we prayed, He direct our hearts to where true joys are found. And we live like it. And that we be ready for when He comes for us - whenever and wherever that may be. Ready for the Lamb’s High Feast (LSB #633).

And so we pray: Come, Lord Jesus! Come for us. Come for me. And He will. For as He said: If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. So we’re askin’! And He will do it. 

For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] And will come again, to take you to that place He has gone to prepare for you. 

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017