Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pentecost 3 and Presentation of the Augsburg Confession Sermon

Pentecost 3
Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

Jesu Juva

“Confessing the Truth”
Text: Matthew 10:5a, 21-33 (Jeremiah 20:7-13)

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

John, Duke of Saxony, Elector
George, Margrave of Brandenburg
Ernest, Duke of Lüneberg
Philip, Landgrave of Hesse
John Frederick, Duke of Saxony
Francis, Duke of Lüneberg
Wolfgang, Prince of Anhalt
Senate and Magistracy of Nürnberg
Senate of Reutlingen

Recognize those names? Most of you probably do not. But they are very important people. They are the rulers who signed the Augsburg Confession and presented it to the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, on this day, 487 years ago. We’re celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 theses this year; the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. But that event led to this one - the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, when these princes and cities of the Holy Roman Empire literally put their necks on the line and confessed: this is what is taught in our churches.

You see, the Emperor, Charles V, had called for this meeting at Augsburg. He called for this meeting because he wanted to put this silly religious disagreement behind him so he could get on with the important matter of the day: uniting the empire for a military battle against the Turks - or, as you know them better, the Muslims. Their army was on the doorstep of the Empire, hungry for battle, thirsting for blood, and eager for conquest to expand their territory through all of Europe. This silly religious dispute couldn’t get in the way - there was too much at stake! So figure it out and let’s go fight the real battle.

It’s not hard to translate that same idea to our day and age. There are those today who would say: stop arguing about theology, stop worrying about silly religious disagreements, about right and wrong, and how one is saved, and by who. That stuff doesn’t matter. Let’s all just get along and do what’s really important. (Whatever you think it is that is really important. The current issues of today. Whatever battles you think are worth fighting.) That’s kind of what the emperor was saying all those years ago.

But those Lutheran princes, cities, people, and theologians heard what Jesus said in the Gospel today, and so had a different opinion of the whole thing. Have no fear of them, Jesus said. The “them” for the disciples were those persecuting them, threatening them, and maligning them. The “them” for those German princes were the Turks, the Emperor, and the Roman Church who were threatening them. Have no fear of them, Jesus said. Do not fear those who rise up against you. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. So for those German princes, the truth could not be compromised. God knew what was happening. Their heavenly Father could take care of them. And does.

For look, Jesus continued, at the birds. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of the millions or billions of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Apart from Him seeing it. Apart from Him knowing it. So what about them? Well, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Or in other words, your Father in heaven knows you and your situation and your troubles better than you know yourself! So do not fear. He sees. He knows. He cares. He got this.

Rather, Jesus says, confess. Confess the truth. Do not be afraid to do so. For everyone who [confesses] me before men, I also will [confess] before my Father who is in heaven. The English translation we heard today used the word acknowledge there - everyone who acknowledges me. That’s okay. But confess is better, and more literal. Those German princes were being called to confess, and confess they would. That’s why what they presented this day 487 years ago is called the Augsburg Confession.

Now, some of you have heard me explain this in Bible class or in catechism instruction - what does that mean? What does it mean to confess? The word there is homologeo. Homo = the same, and logeo = speaking. So, same speaking, or: to say the same thing. And so to confess God, to confess Jesus, is to say the same thing as He says. God speaks, and we respond. God says something, and we say: truth! That is confession.

And that is done in three general ways. God says you are a sinner. And we confess; we say the same thing. We confess our sins. Yes, I am a sinner. Truth.

God tells us who He is - the Holy Trinity, as we celebrated a couple of weeks ago. And we confess; we say the same thing. We confess the creed. Yes, you are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Truth.

And then God tells us all that He has done and is doing for us poor, miserable sinners; for us and for our salvation. And we confess; we say the same thing. We speak of His wonderful, saving deeds in praise. Yes, you have done it. Your cross, Your water, Your Body and Blood, Your forgiveness. Truth.

This is the confession those princes made before Emperor Charles V, and it our confession still today. Not because it’s our tradition - that would be a mistake. It is our confession still today because it’s the truth. This is who God is, who we are, and what He has done for us. This is the truth that matters more than anything else in this world. The truth that leads to eternal life.

Now, some of what they confessed the Roman Church agreed with, some of it they did not. Charles did not get his agreement. But God protected, preserved, and provided for His Church anyway. The God who knows the hairs on your head and the birds that fall can do it. For the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell can also save that same soul and body here and now, in this world and life. That’s why we need have no fear. Not even of death. 

But honestly, that’s not what you fear, is it? Most of you sitting here today are not thinking about death - you fear other things. Maybe ridicule or dishonor. Maybe losing your job. Maybe suffering or persecution. Maybe what will come before death - disease, weakness, shame, dependency. Maybe you fear what it really means to live out the Christian life, a life of love and giving yourself for others . . . because you really don’t want to do that. You have goals and dreams and wants and desires that you usually put first. You don’t want to say no to yourself or your children. You fear loneliness, not being liked. You think first of yourself, not others; this life, not the next.

So it is time to confess. 487 years ago those German princes were called to confess, and so are we. But today, not an Augsburg Confession. We still confess and believe what they did, yes. But I think our confession, your confession, will be a bit different. Because the issues of today are different. But it will still be a confession of God’s Word and truth. In word and deed. So what do we need to confess today?

Well, we confess that sin is sin. That what God says is sin, is sin. The world doesn’t want us to do that. The world wants us to accept what they think is right and wrong. Their truth. What they want. But we will confess and live a different truth, though it bring persecution. And we will confess our sin.

We confess the value and sanctity of human life - from the very youngest to the very oldest and everywhere in between. We will throw no life away, but love and cherish each man and woman as Jesus did. No matter their mental capacity, physical ability, or inconvenience. We confess all life as a gift from God.

We confess the one true God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - and that there is no other God against a world that wants to make all gods and all religions equal. For there are many Charles V’s out there who think that any religious disagreement is a silly one. Get over it and start doing what really matters. But what could matter more than knowing God and the life He has come to give?

And so we also confess Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God - His virgin birth, His perfect life, His death on the cross, resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven. That all this matters because it’s all for you, so that you too can have life, now and forever. No one else can give you life after death because no one else ever had life after death but Jesus. We confess that He is our only hope.

So when you refuse to go along with the crowd, when you care for someone others think disposable, when you ask for forgiveness, when you forgive, when you stand up for marriage, when you come here and bring your children here and invite others here, when you come and say “Amen!” to Jesus’ Body and Blood, when you reach out to the lowest and the least, when you live as if this life is not all there is and the treasures of this world not what to hold onto - in all those ways, you’re confessing. You’re sticking your neck out. You’re confessing life, your life-giver, and where your life is. You’re confessing your Saviour. Maybe not before an Emperor, but that’s not where you’ve been sent; that’s not where you’ve been given to confess. Like Jeremiah and the prophets, like Paul and the other apostles, like those German princes at Augsburg, you confess where you’ve been sent to confess, to those people around you, and to the issues of the day.

And for that, Jesus says, there may be persecution, there may be hardship. It won’t be easy. If they have called the master of the house - if they have called Jesus - Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. How much more will they malign you.

But have no fear of them, Jesus says. Have no fear because the one you are confessing is greater than all. The one you are confessing is able to save you from every foe. And not only is able, but has, and will. Or as the prophet Jeremiah put it - who himself was quite a confessor and faced a lot of opposition - Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.

And so we sang, as Jeremiah said: God of Grace and God of Glory . . . Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour . . . for the living of these days (LSB #850). And He does. The wisdom that you need, the faith that you need, the love that you need, the forgiveness that you need, is all here for you. For Jesus is here for you. Come eat His Body and drink His Blood. And the mouth that does will confess. The life that does will love. And the one who does will live, now and forever. That’s what Jesus has promised you. And so we confess it. Yes. Truth.

Those German princes didn’t think there was going to be 487 more years of life on earth before Jesus came again. But there was, and their names lives on and their Confession continues to make a difference in the lives of so many. And your confession will too. I don’t know if there will be another 487 years after today before Jesus comes again, but however many years are left, your confession will make a difference. You may never know how, or how many lives it will touch down through the generations. Through your children, through the children we will teach in Vacation Bible School this week, through your friends and neighbors, or those people you just meet for a moment. But the Word you speak and live to others, your confession, will bear fruit. And whether or not anybody here on earth remembers your name, Jesus will. For when you were baptized, it was written in His book of life. It is engraved on His hands. And as He said, He will confess you before His Father in heaven. He will speak you before His Father in heaven. And what will He speak? What will be His confession? Well, the same word you hear here, now, you will hear spoken there, then. I forgive you. You are mine. Welcome home.

That’s a confession to live for. And to die for.

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

Monday, June 19, 2017

Pentecost 2 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“He’s Not Kidding, but Giving”
Text: Matthew 9:35-10:20 (Exodus 19:2-8; Romans 5:6-15)

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

You’ve got to be kidding! I think that had to be one of the first thoughts to race through the minds of the twelve when Jesus told them what He was sending them out to do. Because did you hear that list? Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Sure, they had seen Jesus do these things, but . . . we can’t do that!

Well, they were right. They had to learn what every pastor has to learn and what every Christian has to learn: to get over yourself. It wouldn’t be them doing these things. For it would not be anything in them that would qualify them or enable them or empower them to be disciples or apostles. Not their learning, their scholarship, their leadership, their charisma, their strength, their skill, or anything else in them. Those things have their place, but it is only the power and authority of Christ that would or could accomplish these things. The very power and authority Christ had given to them. But this they had to learn. To get over themselves, their doubts and fears, and do what had been given them to do . . . and have Christ work through them.

And so as if to emphasize that point, Jesus continues with a description of how they are to go, and what its going to be like out there. Don’t take any supplies, He says. Rely on what you are given. I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. You will be dragged into courts. You will be flogged. It just keeps getting worse and worse! First, a list of impossible tasks to do, and then do them in the midst of an impossible situation. What had they signed up for? Discipleship never seemed so . . . so deadly.

Precisely. For if they are to be followers of Jesus, where are they following Him to? To the cross. They too must die. They must get over themselves (or in other words, die to themselves), so that they live in Christ. In Him and His Word alone. Relying solely on Him. For it is His work, not theirs. His Word, not theirs. His authority, not theirs. His mission and harvest, not theirs. And the less of them and the more of Him, the better. And so Jesus sends the twelve out with nothing, to do what they themselves are unable to do, to teach them. That it will be Christ and His Spirit working and speaking through them. They need only go.

Pastors need to learn this as well. To get over ourselves. For we are not in control. The Word and work and power is Christ’s. Pastors need simply to do what they are given to do, speak what they are given to speak, and give what they are given to give. God alone grants the growth, gives faith, and changes hearts and lives. No pastor can do these things. 

For only the Word and power and authority of Christ can use water to cast out demons and raise a person dead in sin to a new life. 

Only the Word and power and authority of Christ can heal those who are leprous and sick with sin through the word of absolution and forgiveness. 

Only the Word and power and authority of Christ can make bread and wine the body and blood of Jesus to feed and strengthen us Christians with the faith and forgiveness we need for this life. 

Only the Word and power and authority of Christ can fill preaching with the power to grab hold of a hell-bent sinner on the road to Sodom and Gomorrah and turn him (or her) in repentance. 

Pastors need to learn I can’t do that! Any of that. And no amount of learning, scholarship, leadership, charisma, strength, or skill will be able to change that. Those things have their place, but cannot take the place of the power and authority of Christ.

But not just disciples, apostles, and pastors need to learn this - as we begin this second half of the church’s year, the long green Pentecost season, with its focus on the church and life and growth - it’s not just pastors who need to learn to rely on Christ, so do you. You as the priesthood of the baptized. You have not been given the same task list as the disciples or pastors, but what has been given all Christians to do? Well, it sounds something like this: Love your enemies (Matthew 5:44)Pray for and do good to those who hate and persecute you (Matthew 5:44)Be perfect (Matthew 5:48). Be a perfect father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, boss, worker, friend, neighbor, and citizen. 

To which your response should be: You’ve got to be kidding! We can’t do that! Or maybe, in our zeal, we answer like the Israelites did at Mt. Sinai: yes, we will! . . . and then we don’t. Not even close, right? We hate our enemies, forget to pray, do good mostly to those who can do good back to us, and demand perfection from those around us, even as we fall far from the same standard. And the kicker: that despite our sin and failure, how often do we have the audacity to look around, filled with pride, and think: I’m not doing so bad! The road to Sodom and Gomorrah is a crowded one indeed.

We too need to get over ourselves. And if pride is to be full of ourselves, then it is repentance that empties us of ourselves. Repentance is the road of discipleship that takes us to the cross and kills us. To confess that we are that bad. We are the persecutors, not just the persecuted. We are the wolves who bite and devour one another. We put people on trial in our own courts with laws and standards of our own making, and sit as our own one-man judge and jury. We don’t drag people before kings – but how often do we take on that role ourselves, with our condemning thoughts and words, assuming the worst about others, and taking delight in our superiority. Yes, it’s true that Jesus sent the disciples out as sheep among wolves because He sent them to people like us. 

But if He sends apostles and pastors to people like us, it is because He came for people like us. He sends them to us to give Himself to us. For He is the Lamb of God who came into the midst of a world of sinful wolves. He is the One hauled before Governor Pilate and King Herod. He was the One flogged by men and then devoured by death on the cross, that in His resurrection from that death, He defeat all that defeats us. Our sin, our enemy satan, and our death, all swallowed up in His victory. That His life become our life. To make us wolves into sheep and sinners into saints through the resurrecting forgiveness of our sins. To be for us what we could never be for ourselves: a perfect son of God. And then to give that perfection to us. A free, undeserved, gift of grace. 

And while some hear this gift talk and say: You’ve got to be kidding! It can’t be that easy - this is what St. Paul was talking about in his letter to the Romans. That while we were still weak – or in other words, powerless, unable to do anything for ourselves; while we were still sinners, ungodly and unrighteous; while we were facing a future of death, physically and eternally . . . God sent His Son, who took our place and died for us. Not because we were good people, or righteous folk who needed a little help, or because we had any redeeming qualities in us at all - human reasons all, why someone might do this for us. But God does for none of those reasons, because of anything in us. But simply because of who He is; solely because of His love. Because He wanted us, and we needed Him. And so Jesus came to undo what Adam did. He came to undo his sin, his death, and his expulsion, so that for us there is forgiveness of sin, life from death, and a home in Heaven.

That is the gift Jesus sends His disciples to give. That is the gift through which the kingdom of heaven is at hand. All those other gifts - the healing, cleansing, casting out demons, and raising the dead were not ends in themselves, but signs that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Signs that the forgiveness of Christ was a full and complete forgiveness and triumph over all that effects us in this body and life. Little pictures of, and pointers to, the resurrection and new life that is ours in Christ. 

And so the disciples went, following in the footsteps of Christ. And so we go, following those same footsteps. And you know what? The disciples did those things they thought they couldn’t do. Because they were not alone. And as we go, it is the same for us. And as you live in Christ and Christ in you, you begin to do those things you thought you couldn’t do. Those things Christ has given you to do: helping, praying, forgiving, serving, loving. Even to those who sin against you. Even to those who hate you. Even for crazed gunmen who shoot up baseball fields. The love of Christ living in you. Never completely perfectly in this life (to be sure!), and so also always following in the footsteps of your Saviour to His cross, to die and rise with Him daily. As often as you need it, repent and receive His perfect forgiveness. To grow in faith, and hope and love. For that’s truly the Christian life.

So follow those footsteps now again today to this altar, to your Saviour, where He is for you, to eat and drink His body and blood; to live in Him and He in you; to receive the faith, forgiveness, and resurrection, you need to live this new life, this Christ life, you have been given to live.

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Commemoration of Elijah Sermon

Jesu Juva

“My God is Salvation”
Text: 2 Kings 2:1-15a; Luke 24:36-53; Psalm 139:1-12

Losing someone is hard. Someone you’ve relied on and who has been there for you - maybe for a long time - suddenly isn’t there any longer. That’s a difficult and life-changing thing.

Today we heard when Elijah left Elisha. Elisha knew this separation was coming. Sons of prophets after sons of prophets told him, but he didn’t want to talk about it. He probably didn’t even want to think about it. You know how that goes. Ignore it, and maybe it won’t happen after all.

But happen it did. The chariots and horsemen of Israel came and separated the two, and a whirlwind took Elijah up into heaven. And then Elisha was alone. His prophet-father was gone, the chariots and horsemen of Israel were gone - there was just a sudden, deafening silence . . . and all those sons of the prophets on the other side of the river looking at him. 

But there was something else - the cloak that Elijah had been wearing fell off of him and was lying on the ground next to Elisha. It was perhaps the same cloak that Elijah had put over Elisha’s shoulders when he called him to be his assistant all those years ago. Maybe just then, Elisha remembered that day that had changed his life. He had taken the yoke of oxen he had been plowing with and sacrificed them. He took the wooden yoke and used it for the fire to roast the oxen (1 Kings 19:19-21). He had given up everything. And now, what?

But though he seemed utterly alone, he was not alone. Rolling up the cloak just as Elijah had done and striking the waters of the Jordan just as Elijah had done, the water parted for him just as it had for Elijah. And the sons of the prophets said: The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha. Not quite. Elijah was not with Elisha, God was. The Spirit of God that had rested on Elijah was now with Elisha, and would be with him from now on. Elijah was gone, but Elisha had received something, someone, even better.

It is much like what happened with the disciples. Jesus had called them from their work, too. While Peter, James, and John were fishing, while Matthew was collecting taxes, Jesus called them to new work. They gave up everything and followed Him (Matthew 19:27). For three years they listened to His teaching, they watched His mercy and compassion, they saw His miracles. Then He was taken away from them. Not by the chariots and horsemen of Israel, but by a Roman cross. They felt Elisha’s sadness and aloneness. When Jesus came back, when He rose from the dead, there was joy, but then He was gone again - He ascended into heaven. But before He did, Jesus made them a promise: that they would be clothed with power from on high. Or perhaps we could say it this way: they would be cloaked with power from on high; with Jesus’ cloak that would fall from Him. Not a literal piece of clothing - they would receive His Spirit. And not just a double portion, but the fullness of the Holy Spirit. 

And that indeed is what happened. Just as Elisha saw Elijah taken up, so the disciples saw Jesus taken up. And perhaps that story of Elijah and Elisha is one of the Scriptures from Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms that Jesus opened up for them and helped them understand. That it wasn’t just a cool story, but a story that pointed forward to Him and what was now happening; what was now being fulfilled. That this is how they should think, and the Spirit that they should expect. That would explain why after Jesus left they were not sad, but returned to Jerusalem with great joy. They knew they were about to receive something, someone, even better. And that gift was given, the fullness of the Holy Spirit poured out on them ten days later on the day of Pentecost.

And that is the gift, that is the power, that you too have received. When you were baptized. That was your personal Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was (literally!) poured on you through water and the Word. You were clothed, or cloaked, with Christ and His Spirit and with the promise that you would now never be alone. For as Jesus also said when He ascended: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

And so He is. People in this world come and go. Jobs, new opportunities, and infirmities can cause separation. Sin can cause hurt and bitterness that can divide us from those we were close to. Death robs us of those we love. But none of those things, and indeed, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). Or as the psalmist penned:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me (Psalm 139:7-10).

Our sins cannot separate us from Christ - He joined us here in this sinful world, took our sins upon Himself and atoned for them. We are forgiven. Death and the grave cannot separate us - He went there, too, and shattered them. He faced satan in the wilderness and won. Even in your darkest days and darkest moments . . . the psalmist said this too:

even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you (Psalm 139:12).

So while there may be times when you feel alone and abandoned, Elisha, the disciples, and the Word of God teach us it is not so. You have been cloaked with Christ, you have received His Spirit, your sins are forgiven, you are a child of God. And one day, it will not be the chariots and horsemen of Israel coming for you, but Christ and His angels, to take you up with them, and with Elijah, Elisha, the twelve, and countless others who have gone before us, to live in the unveiled presence of Christ forever.

Until that day, we are Elishas, for his name means: my God is salvation. That is your confidence each day, your hope at all times, and your joy no matter what comes upon you in this life. My God is salvation. And He is your God, and you are His child. For the Spirit of Christ rests on you.

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Festival of the Holy Trinity Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Words Matter”
Text: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 2:14a, 22-36

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

Words matter. We’re hearing that phrase a lot these days. Whether it’s because of someone’s testimony before congress, a president’s tweeting, hurting someone’s feelings, or speaking an unpleasant truth. Words matter. And while that’s certainly true, know this as well: the words that matter most of all are the ones we hear here - God’s words. The words we heard today, and will consider today.

That in the beginning, God spoke. Words that matter. Let there be. And there was. Life. A careful, deliberate, well-planned creation. Nothing left out, nothing left to chance. Complete, all the parts working together. Light and darkness, water and air, seas and land, plants and seeds, stars and planets, fish and birds, animals, and somewhere in there also angels. And then man. When Luther taught about this he said that God created this wonderful place, this wonderful house, furnished it and got it all ready, and then created man and put him into it. All this was for them, the man and woman. To use and enjoy. They had dominion over it all - not to dominate it and abuse it - but to care for and tend this wonderful gift God had given them. For they, unlike all the rest of creation, were created in the image of God. And it was good. Each piece was good, but all of it together, working together in harmony, with nothing else needed - that was very good.

Words matter. 

At His ascension, Jesus tells His disciples to speak. But not just any word. Not words of their own thinking, wisdom, or imagination. But His Word. The creative Word of God. The Word that comes from God and the Word that speaks of God. This Word of God which in the beginning gave life, and now through the mouths of the apostles would give life still. New life. They are to take the words of the triune God and speak them to the world, pour them on the world, feed them to the world. They are to teach them what this word means - both what it teaches us about God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and what He does for us; and what it teaches us about ourselves and what we are to do. And in this speaking there would be life. For from the beginning, that’s what God and His Word does. He is life and gives life. Life from nothing in the beginning, and life for those born dead in sin. Go and speak, Jesus says. This Word. This life giving Word. His Name. For where He is, where His Word is, where His Name is, there is life. And speak, Jesus says, not as lords but as servants. Not dominating, but caring for all people. Speak, as God speaks.

Words matter.

So Peter and the eleven speak. They preach. And right after the words from Acts, their preaching, that we heard today, they would also baptize. Three thousand persons. They not only doing what Jesus told them to do, but Jesus fulfilling what He promised them He would do: give life through these words that they speak. And not just a little life. A lot of life.

For God’s words do what they say in this way, too. Not only does God’s let there be happen, but when God makes a promise, that happens, too. He promised a Saviour. He promised that this holy one would not see corruption in the grave. He promised that David’s divine Lord would become David’s human son, and then become David’s Lord again as both God and man. And that one was the one they crucified - God using their evil plans and purposes for His own good. No, for their good. Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified, Peter said. Promise fulfilled. When God says something, you can count on it. Even if it might happen in a way we do not expect, or could not ever imagine.

Words matter.

The words spoken today matter. The Athanasian Creed. Lots of words there. Words we maybe think don’t matter so much; that maybe we could shorten that creed a bit, huh? But these are words carefully chosen; words bled and died for; words that we might speak the truth of who God is and what He has done for us. Because it matters. 

It matters that God is Father. The Father. Not just a Father. I am a father. And I would still be if I were not a father. But Father is who God is. The Father of the Son. He was Father before He was Creator. Creation is what He did. Father is who He is. For if not Father, then no Son. And if no Son, no Saviour. No word going forth from God to give life; no Word going forth from God to save us from the death of sin. And the Spirit, too, true God. Proceeding from the Father and the Son, to take us to the Father through the Son. To give us God and bring us to God. To make us, too, not just creatures, not just a part of His creation, but children of the Father, in the Son.

This is who God is. And apart from this triune God, there is no God. He reveals Himself to us that we might know Him, believe in Him, and love Him. For you cannot love what you do not know. You fear a Creator, a King, a Sovereign; you love a Father.

Words matter.

This is the catholic faith, the creed said. Little c, meaning universal. This is the truth not just for some people but for all people. The truth that saves not just some people, but all people.

Words matter.

So we should look at our words. Are we speaking the word God has given us to speak, or another word? Our own words? Do you speak truth or falsehood, even if it’s just a little white lie? Do your words build up or tear down? Do they comfort or make bitter? Do they honor or demean? Do they seek to make others think well or think badly of another? Do they corrupt or purify? Do they excuse or forgive? Do they confess or mislead? Or have you failed to speak when you should have? Your silence condoning error, declining the chance to love, or missing the opportunity to forgive. If you’re like me, you have plenty to repent of here.

Words matter.

For we live in a world that seeks to silence God’s Word. To silence the Word of God made flesh by His crucifixion, and to silence us. Just this week, in fact, the confession of Jesus by a nominee for government office tried to be silenced. If he wants this job, one senator said, he has to recant. Confessing this truth about Jesus, it was said, disqualified him for a job in the government of the United States of America. Maybe. It also brought death to eleven of the twelve apostles, and many more after them. And maybe it will to you, too. A job or life lost because you speak the Word of God.

But the life that God gives cannot be taken away by the world. Jesus rose from the dead and by His Word, so will you. His Word spoken on the Last Day, telling you to rise from the sleep of death, and you will. But also his Word spoken to you now. Because everywhere the Word of God sounds, it brings forth life. For the creating God is creating still. The speaking God is speaking still. The giving God is giving still. Giving Himself, and so giving life. 

And so you are baptized and the Spirit gives you new life as you are born again, born from above, born sons and daughters of a heavenly Father. Your sins slay you and you hear the Absolution where the Spirit gives you life in the forgiveness of your sins, the forgiveness the Son won for you on the cross. You hunger and thirst for a better life, a righteous life. You eat the Body and drink the Blood of Jesus, and the Spirit satisfies your hunger and thirst, giving you what you need, strengthening you in faith toward God and love toward your neighbor. You hear the words of the world and maybe are swayed by them, but then you hear the Gospel where the Spirit gives you life as you hear the truth of God and all that He has done for you and is doing for you still. You receive confidence and faith to face another day of assaults and attacks from the evil one.

So do words matter?

What would Adam and Eve have done without the Word of God? Noah would have perished with the rest of creation without the Word of God. Abraham would have no promise to believe, Moses no word to speak to Pharaoh, no forgiveness to give the people of Israel after they had bowed down to a golden calf. There would have been no forgiveness for David after his sin, no prophecies to give the people of Israel hope, no promises of a Saviour. No angel Gabriel speaking the Word of God through which the Spirit conceives a Saviour. No John the Baptist, no apostles, no hope. We born dead in our trespasses and sins would die dead in our trespasses and sin. Which is what God told Adam and Eve in the beginning, saying: the day you eat of that tree you will die dead. That’s the very literal translation of the Hebrew, which is not usually put into the English because it sounds funny, doesn’t it? For how else can you die? Well, you can die dead, dead in your trespasses and sins and be lost forever; or you can die alive - alive in Christ and by His Spirit to live forever with Him. The first - to die dead - you do apart from the Word of God. The second - to die alive - you are given with the Word of God.

So do words matter?

The opening hymn today said it well. Thy Strong Word (LSB #578) created all things. Thy Strong Word came to live with us in the flesh. Thy Strong Word bespeaks us righteous. Thy Strong Word shined the wisdom and might of God from the cross. Thy Strong Word gives us lips and tongues, throats and mouths to speak Thy holy name. The Strong Word of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who speaks and it is so. The triune God who speak to you and for you, that you too may speak. To Him in prayer, and to others. To others, to confess who He is, to speak the truth, and to give His forgiveness. Because words matter, and those words matter most of all. Words that speak life. Words that speak God for you.

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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Feast of Pentecost Sermon

The Confirmation of Jonathan Skura
Farewell and Godspeed to Neely and Martha Owen

Jesu Juva

Text: Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39; 
Numbers 11:24-30; Romans 10:10

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

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

That is what today, the Day of Pentecost, is all about. For, as Jonathan has learned in his catechism instruction, that is what the Holy Spirit is all about. His job is to point us to Christ. His job is to connect us to Christ. His job is to give us Christ. If you want to see signs and evidence of the Holy Spirit today, do not look for tongues of fire, mighty rushing winds, speaking in tongues, or other spectacular or unusual things. Look for this: those calling upon the name of the Lord. Where that is being done, there is the Holy Spirit. There the Holy Spirit has worked and is working still. 

And calling upon the name of the Lord is far greater than those other things. For while spectacular and unusual signs might be cool, they cannot save. But this we can say for certain: that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Jonathan will make that confession in a few moments now. And we will rejoice. But we will not rejoice that Jonathan is doing such a great thing, but rather in what the Holy Spirit has done in him. We will rejoice that Jonathan has come to know that he is a far greater sinner than he ever imagined! But that he has come to know this, too: that he has a far greater Saviour than he ever imagined as well. A Saviour who baptized him and made him his own. A Saviour who absolves him. A Saviour who feeds him with His own Body and Blood. The Holy Spirit has pointed Jonathan to Jesus and said: Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Who takes away your sin, Jonathan. And today, Jonathan really will say just this: Amen. Truth.

So today we don’t rejoice that Jonathan has memorized all his catechism: he hasn’t. And we don’t rejoice that he knows all he needs to know: he doesn’t. We rejoice that he has learned to say amen. Truth. That he is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. That he is a poor, miserable sinner. Amen. That I forgive you all your sins is Jesus absolving him. Amen. This is the Word of the Lord. Amen. This is My Body. Amen. This is My Blood. Amen. Truth. All this is the Holy Spirit giving you Jesus. Amen. Truth. Gift received.

And so true is this, so sure is Jonathan’s amen, that he will stake his life on it. Twice, in fact, he’ll say that - that he would rather suffer even death than fall away from this truth. But he’ll say this, too: by the grace of God. That is, by the gift of God. That is, by the Holy Spirit. Jonathan cannot make that promise on the basis of the strength of his own faith, will power, or determination. If so, he will fail when the insults are hurled his way. He will fail when the threats come his way. He will fail if, one day, the cold steel of an Isis knife is held against his throat. He can only say that because the Holy Spirit has shown him and given him the one who is more powerful than death. The one who broke the power of death and the grave in His resurrection. Because the Holy Spirit gives him Jesus. He doesn’t have to cling to his life in this world because the Holy Spirit has given him a life this world cannot take away. Because Jesus is clinging to him! And to that Jonathan says, as we say: amen.

And thus confirmation. Learning to say amen. The Holy Spirit working amen in you. To confirm with your mouth: this is the truth. For as was sung in the Gradual, words from the apostle Paul: With the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Even when that confession ends your earthly life. For you confess the one who is more powerful than death and the grave. And whenever that happens, it is a reason to rejoice.

And it is the reason we rejoice on this day of Pentecost. For the reason the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church was not just to do cool and unusual signs, but for Peter and the eleven to do what they did: to stand up and preach Jesus. To stand up and point to Jesus as the Lord through whom comes salvation. That the Lord who worked in the Old Testament has now worked through the cross. That the Lord who made promises in the Old Testament has now fulfilled them in Jesus. That what Moses had wished for and Joel had prophesied has now happened. It is finished. And that all those people who had gathered in Jerusalem that day, from every nation under heaven and speaking all those different languages, might believe and confess and say amen. Truth. Jesus is Lord. For this gift is for all. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

And that’s also why we’re rejoicing as we bid Farewell and Godspeed to Neely and Martha today. For Neely desires to stand up with Peter and the eleven and preach Jesus as a pastor. 


Now, before I go on here, I have to tell you that Neely and Martha aren’t here today. We were planning on bidding them Farewell and Godspeed as this was going to be their last Sunday with us before leaving for the Seminary. But God had other plans. Instead of us bidding farewell to them, they bid farewell to Martha’s mother, who passed away yesterday. So we’ll keep them in our thoughts and prayers . . .


So Neely and Martha will leave this week for the Seminary, as Neely desires to stand up with Peter and the eleven and preach Jesus as a pastor. But you don’t have to be a pastor to proclaim Jesus. All Christians do that. You do that whenever you speak Jesus at home, at school, at work, to your neighbors and friends, or wherever you are. But Neely desires to do this also now as a called and ordained servant of the Word. For the Holy Spirit now to use him in this new way. That through the Word preached and taught, to young and old, many more might say amen. Truth. Jesus is Lord.

So while we will miss him and Martha, we rejoice also that the living water that has been poured into their hearts by Jesus will also continue to flow out of their hearts to others. For the Holy Spirit poured out upon you in Holy Baptism (Titus 3), satisfying your thirst for forgiveness and life, works not just in you but also through you for others. For this river of living water is no small trickle, but rather more like a tidal wave, working to drown the Old Adam in you and raising to life a new man, a new woman, to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. That you die and rise with Christ to a life that starts now and will never end. That the amen you proclaim now you will proclaim forever. Now before the Lord who is hidden; then before the Lord you will see.

So next week Neely is going to begin learning a new tongue: Greek. He’ll begin ten weeks of intense study of that language, and probably not a few times in those ten weeks he’ll wish the Holy Spirit would just come to him and give him that language like on the first Pentecost. But as he plunges in and begins to read the Scriptures in their original tongue, he will be blessed; the Holy Spirit will be working in him; he will drink deeply of the living water of Christ. 

And yes, he will be filled with new wine, as the amazed and perplexed and mocking onlookers thought of the apostles that first Pentecost. But he won’t be drunk, as they supposed. The new wine he is filled with is the same new wine you are filled with here: not just the Spirit, but also the new wine, the Gospel wine, you receive at this altar. The Blood of your Lord first shed on the cross and now poured over your lips, which, as Jonathan has learned, is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. And that whoever believes these words has exactly what they say. And he and you will say: Amen.

So consider what will happen here today: a new confirmand, a new seminary student, a pastor and people, visitors and members, a Church, gathered as one, gathered around font, pulpit, and altar, to receive Christ, His life, and His forgiveness. That’s what happened on that first Pentecost. That’s what this day is all about. And that’s what will continue to happen as this day fades in our failing memories and new days and new challenges rise to meet us. But Christ and the work of His Spirit will remain. Christ and His Spirit will continue steadfast. Christ and His Spirit will come to you and work in you to gather you to Himself and keep you with Him. For this is His very work. For as Jonathan also learned: 

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true (Small Catechism, Explanation of the Third Article).

Or, instead of that last sentence, simply this: AMEN! True. Gift received.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love (Introit).

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