Sunday, June 20, 2021

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost


Jesu Juva

“Learning about Immanuel”

Text: Mark 4:35-41

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

Disciples are learners. So it was with the twelve. So it is with us. They were not disciples, and we are not disciples, because of what we know, but rather because we need to learn. And grow. And we have much to learn.

As did the twelve who were in the boat with Jesus that day, crossing the Sea of Galilee. They had learned a lot already; yet they still had a lot to learn. 

So far they had heard Jesus teach in the synagogue with authority, and not how the scribes taught, relying on the authority of those who came before them. There was something different with Jesus and His teaching, that He didn’t need to rely on someone else’s authority - He was the authority! And then He demonstrated that authority that same day when He rebuked an unclean spirit and commanded it to come out of a man. And it did. Jesus was a man with authority (Mark 1:21-28).

Then they saw Jesus the healer. First healing Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever, and then also healing the many who were brought to Him of many and various diseases and casting out demons. Jesus is the great physician of body and soul (Mark 1:29-34).

And no disease was too much for Him - not even dreaded leprosy. For that’s who came next. And Jesus - unafraid of this man who everyone else was afraid of - touched him! And cleansed him (Mark 1:40-42)

The disciples were learning, who Jesus was. Teacher, healer, cleanser. And next: forgiver! For next came a man who was paralyzed, and to him Jesus said: Son, your sins are forgiven. That caused quite a stir! Only God can forgive sins! So Jesus then heals the man to show that His words are not empty but have such authority (Mark 2:1-12). Or as the psalmist said: Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases (Psalm 103:2-3). Certainly the Lord was with Jesus.

But even that wasn’t saying enough, they would learn. Jesus claimed more than that - that He was Lord of the Sabbath; that the Sabbath wasn’t over Him, He was over the Sabbath! The Sabbath wasn’t given to Him, He gave the Sabbath, for working good. And so He worked good on the Sabbath, healing a man with a withered hand, and not bowing to His opponents who demanded that He not do good on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-3:6). No, this is exactly what the Sabbath was for. For God to give, for man to receive.

The disciples were learning. The demons and unclean spirits were crying out in fear of Him: You are the Son of God! (Mark 3:11) Others, though, began to question His sanity. They said: He is out of his mind (Mark 3:21). They knew that wasn’t true! No one’s mind was more right than His!

Then Jesus switched gears and began to teach about the kingdom of God in a series of parables (Mark 4:1-34). He talked of seeds growing - the parables we heard last week - and that we don’t know how the seeds grow, and we can’t make them grow, they just do. And that small seeds can even produce large plants. It is part of the mystery of nature. Nature, which so often seems to have a mind of its own. When it rains and when it is sunny. How things grow. And the storms that so often seem to pop up out of nowhere . . .

Like the storm that popped up that very evening when they took leave of the crowd and got into a boat to cross over the Sea of Galilee. One of those terrifying and out-of-nowhere Sea of Galilee storms began to swamp the boat - and so much so that sinking became a very real possibility. Nature was raging . . . and Jesus was asleep. And apparently very asleep to sleep through something like this! 

So they wake Him up. Don’t you care that we are perishing? And maybe, under those words, was an accusation. Don’t you care about us like all those sick people you healed? Don’t you care about us like all those people you cast out demons from? Don’t you care about us like the lepers and the paralyzed? What about us?

The disciples still had much to learn. It is one thing to learn by watching Jesus provide for those in need; now they were the ones in need! Now they know something of the desperation of those who came to Jesus. And Jesus does not fail them. We’re not even told He spoke to them or answered their question - He simply speaks to the winds and waves. Winds and waves that have no ears. Winds and waves that are part of wild and uncontrollable nature. But winds and waves that obey Him. Peace! Be still! And all at once, nature is still and at peace. With Jesus.

Then Jesus speaks to them. Not in the midst of their frenzied fear, but when they were filled with another kind of fear - fear of the one whose presence they were in. Who is this? Did they think they knew before? Did they think they had it figured out? But there is only one who the winds and waves obey . . . who told the waters in creation here and no farther . . . who commands floods to come and go . . . who orders the Red Sea to divide and it does . . . who causes plagues of locusts, flies, gnats, and darkness . . . who stops the Jordan from flowing . . . 

Who is this? He was a man. He was tired, asleep. He got hungry, ate, and prayed. God was with Him, to be sure. But to command winds and waves?

Well, why did they wake Him, if they didn’t expect that? 

And if they did, why were they surprised and in fear afterward? 

They were still learning, and had much to learn. Yes, there is God and man [hands apart] and there is certainly a great distance between them. But here, in Jesus, the distance is not so great [hands closer]. He’s a man who also acts like God, speaks like God, does what only God can do. Is this God Himself? God in human flesh? God and man as one? [hands together]

They were learning, growing. Did they have faith? Of course they had faith! They had faith in God, and they had faith in Jesus [hands apart]. But they were learning to bring those two together. To have faith in Jesus as God [hands together]. God in the flesh, come into His creation, to save it. To save them. To save us. To save all.

Which we, too, are still learning. 

Oh, we know, right? We know who Jesus is. We know how He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and all God’s promises. We know what He did. We know He died on the cross and rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. We know. We confess it in the Creed. And you believe that. That’s why you are here.

And yet . . . we have our moments. 

Like the disciples in that boat that night, we, too, have our “what about me” moments. You healed that person, what about me? You provided for that person, what about me? You answered that prayer, what about mine? Don’t you care? Don’t you care about me? About my family? About my prayers? About my troubles? Wake up! What about me?

And like the disciples, maybe we, too, wonder what God will do, if some problems just too big, some people too far gone. Some waves too big, some winds too strong. Some sins too deep, some troubles gone on too long, some grudges too hard. Yeah, we’ve seen God do a lot, and we know, our head knows God can do anything, BUT . . . but this? And will He even be willing? For someone like me? Whose faith is so weak. Whose life is so bad. Whose prayers falter and fail. Whose life isn’t what it should be.

Like the disciples, we, too, are still learning. Growing.

Learning to trust that Jesus does care, even when He seems not to; even when He seems asleep. Even when others - even other Christians! - tell us differently.

Learning to trust every word and promise of God, that if He speaks it, it is true. That if He promises, it will come to pass.

Learning to trust our baptism, that those waters combined with the word of God really did make us His children, really did forgive our sins, and really did make us heirs of eternal life. We can rely on that! And that God is not going to renege on that promise.

Learning to trust the forgiveness of our Lord, that we really are cleansed, that God is not punishing us for our sins, that He doesn’t look at us as others do, or even as we look at ourselves; that God really is pleased with us.

Learning to trust the cross of Jesus. For that’s what all of this really is. Learning to trust that all our sins were put there on Jesus - there are none for us to still make up for. Learning to trust that all the wrath and punishment of God was poured out on Jesus - He is not now punishing you for those same sins Jesus already atoned for. Learning to trust that Jesus has traded places with us - that He took our rightful place there, and gave us His rightful place as sons and daughters of God. Learning to trust that as sons and daughters of God, He disciplines us in love, for our good. Learning that He is for us in all things, and not against us in anything

Learning not to believe the lies and lures of satan, who wants you to think otherwise. That there is still something you must do. That you have to make yourself pleasing to God. That all God’s words and promises are not certain and sure, but dependent on you, how well you do and how strongly you believe. 

No. Like in the boat that day, Jesus is here, among us in this boat, standing here and saying to you: Peace! Be still! The peace that comes with His forgiveness that calms our doubts and fears, and the stillness that comes with His love. Stillness. That it’s not what you do, your activity; but what He did, His activity. What He gives and you receive. What He did in His life, in His death, and in His resurrection. And what He is giving to you here, in His Word, in His water, and at His altar. That here, there is not God and man [hands apart], but God and man [hands together]. The Body and Blood of the one who was both God and man in one flesh, that we be one with Him and live in Him and He in us.

So each week we come here and learn and receive. And then Jesus says to us, let’s go across to the other side. We go out in faith, and He goes out with us. And we get knocked down and tossed about. Things happen we didn’t expect and come out of the blue. BIG things, satan trying to sink our faith. And then, as we sang in the Introit: Then we cry to the LORD in our trouble, and he delivers us from our distress. Maybe by ending the trouble. Maybe by strengthening our faith in it. Maybe not as quickly as we like. Maybe not the way we thought. We’re learning. That our Lord is with us, and He is faithful. And one day, when we die, when the storms of sin and death overtake us, even then - especially then! - His care will not cease. He will be with us then, too, and take us safely to the other side. To life eternal.

Who is this? the disciples wondered. And they learned who this is: The one who does care. The one who saves. Yes, the one true God. The promised one. Immanuel. God with us.

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

Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Pentecost 4 (June 21-27, 2021)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Psalm 30:4-5 – “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #552 (vs. 5-6) “O Christ, Who Shared Our Mortal Life”

Hymns for Sunday: 684, 552 vs. 5-6 (tune: 754), 620, 664, 809, 794

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday]

Monday: Psalm 30

What reversals does this psalm speak of? How are these true for you? Why? When?

Tuesday: Isaiah 40:1-5

How is the way prepared for the Lord? Why is this necessary?

Wednesday: Luke 1:57-80

Why did the people make a big deal about John’s name? What new name has Jesus come to give all of us? How?

Thursday: Lamentations 3:22–33

Waiting for the Lord – hard or easy? Why? Why is this good?

Friday: 2 Corinthians 8:1–15

Poverty becomes generosity – how can this be? Why does this teach us about true riches and the work of the Lord in us?

Saturday: Mark 5:21–43

Sin and death invaded a perfect world. Jesus invades a world of sin and death. Who wins? Why? How? So where is your hope?

The Catechism - The Prayers - Meal Prayer: The eyes of all look to You, [O Lord,] and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. Psalm 145:15-16 . . . Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .

+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).

+ all children in our world to have a family with both a mother and a father to love and raise them.

+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Church Technology Council.

+ the Lutheran Church of Guatemala, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.

+ God’s blessing, guidance, and strength for Pastor Douthwaite in his role of Circuit Visitor.

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! 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost


Jesu Juva

“His Seed, His Kingdom, His Growth”

Text: Mark 4:26-34; Ezekiel 17:22-24

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

Have you ever planted a seed and hoped it didn’t grow? That’s ridiculous, right? 

So it is with God and His Word. He wants those seeds that are planted by His pastors preaching His Word and by His people speaking His Word to grow and to bear fruit in the hearts and lives of those who hear. But how that happens, and when, and where, and how much, and how big, that is out of our control. And out of our understanding. 

Sometimes we know why those seeds and plants do NOT grow and produce fruit. That was the point of a parable Jesus told right before the ones we heard today. Sometimes the cares of life choke the seed of His Word, or the trials and troubles of life scorch it, or the temptations of satan and the world pluck it out. You’ve probably experienced all those things in your own life. You’re sitting in church and hearing the Word but your mind is a thousand miles away, worrying, obsessing, preoccupied. And the seed of the Word just bounces off your ears, heart, or mind, or is plucked or scorched.

But that’s not the focus of the Word Jesus speaks to us today. Today it is rather how and where and why it DOES grow. And it does quite apart from us and our efforts. 

Oh, to be sure, there are things we do to help. We plow the ground, we try to plant the seeds properly, we try to control the weeds and the pests, we apply fertilizer. But none of those things make the seed grow. That happens quite apart from us. In fact, you can do everything right and have nothing grow. Or, you wind up with some seeds that come up and some that don’t. And wonder why?! Same seed, same garden, same care - why didn’t it all come up? And then the plants that do . . . some produce a lot of fruit, while others produce very little. Why is that? 

It is out of our control and beyond our understanding. 

And so it is with the kingdom of God and the seed of His Word, Jesus says. And so these parables spoken to us today are not a call to action - what to do and how to do it to get the kingdom of God to grow; but rather a call to TRUST. That it’s God’s kingdom and God’s seed and God’s growth. Only He can do it.

Which is hard for us. It’s hard to trust when what we really want to do is roll our sleeves up and get to work! To make things happen when and where and how we want them! And while, as Christians, we don’t do nothing - we still speak God’s Word and plant His seed, as we are called to do - but we also can’t make it grow. So we are called to patience and trust. That maybe, just maybe, God knows what He’s doing. And maybe, just maybe, it’s not necessarily what we want or think.

Luther spoke to this. Just a couple of years after posting the 95 Theses, things were moving in Germany - but certainly not how Luther thought they would! He thought posting those Theses would lead to a theological debate among the theologians and faculty of the University - not to the movement that was spreading through Germany and not to His being called before the Emperor and then being excommunicated! The seed was working and growing far differently than he thought or ever could have imagined. And certainly more than he ever could have done himself.

And yet it wasn’t moving fast enough for some others, including one Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt. Karlstadt was trying to lead the churches in Wittenberg while Luther was in protective custody in the Wartburg Castle after the Diet of Worms. But Karlstadt wanted things to move faster. He was trying to force the issue. But his actions weren’t helping, but hurting. It was as if he was trying to help that little seedling - like the one on the cover of your bulletin today - grow, by pulling up on it to make it bigger! But you know what that does! That just kills it.

So Luther left the safety of the Wartburg and returned to Wittenberg and preached a series of sermons to try to calm things down. And he gave kind of a German twist on Jesus’ parable that we heard today, saying: I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; [that is, I just planted the seed] otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word [did the work]. I did nothing; the Word did everything.

But what about today? It certainly doesn’t seem to be working like that today. Maybe that’s frustrating, or disappointing to you. If you’re like me, you’d rather be in control; have the kingdom of God grow how and where and when I want it to. Like here! I came here to this church 19 years ago and I thought, and if I had my way, we would have had more folks and our own building a long time ago. But here we are. Not as I planned. Not as I thought. Maybe we blame ourselves - we didn’t do things right, or enough, or well enough. But while there is surely much we didn’t do right or could have done better, it may just be that God’s time is different than our time, and His ways different than our ways.

For the kingdom of God has grown here. Many people have come and gone and heard the Word. Maybe they grew here. Maybe they will grow more someplace else. But the growth of a church is not the same as the growth of the kingdom of God. Individual churches grow and shrink, open and close, come and go - but the kingdom of God lasts forever; is bigger than any one church.

Or country. For think about the United States. The church and its influence seems to be declining here. But in Africa - where it flourished in the early church and produced some of the church’s great theologians, but then suffered under the smothering and conquest of Islam - it is growing again. In South America it is growing, while in Europe it is largely ignored, and many huge, beautiful, glorious churches sit empty. How hard for us to understand that. Why some, not others. Why there, not here. Maybe impossible.

The seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 

So we are called to TRUST, to HUMILITY, and to PATIENCE. That’s it’s God’s seed, God’s kingdom, and God’s growth, not ours. To pray in the Lord’s Prayer THY kingdom come, and mean it. How and where and when He decides.

Which is hard. It’s always been hard. We heard from the prophet Ezekiel today, words that he spoke while many of the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon, in the midst of their 70 years of exile there; when they hadn’t been there very long and still had a long time to go. Not what they had in mind. 

But Ezekiel preaches what God was going to do. He was going to take a young, tender branch from the top of a tall, majestic cedar tree, and plant it. And it would grow, large and noble and produce much fruit. That tall, majestic cedar was King David, when Israel was at its greatest and most glorious. That young, tender branch, Jesus. But He would not be planted now, and not as soon as the people wanted. Only after Israel had been chopped down. Very few of the people who heard Ezekiel would be alive to go back to Jerusalem at the end of those 70 years. And none of them would be alive when that branch was planted in Jerusalem. They were called to TRUST. To trust the Word of the Lord. To trust their heavenly Father, that He would do it. And by such trust, that is, faith, in God their heavenly Father and His promises, they would be saved. Their sins forgiven, not held against them. And while they wouldn’t get to see earthly Jerusalem again, they would get to live in the heavenly Jerusalem.

In fact, it took almost 600 years after Ezekiel spoke these words for that seed to be planted! God REALLY doesn’t think and do as we do! And how little and insignificant that seed, that little branch. A young, unknown, virgin nobody from Nazareth, who wasn’t even married. The little backwater town of Bethlehem. That birth didn’t make the front page of the Bethlehem Post - Caesar’s census and taxation was surely the headline that day! And the injustice of it all! That baby in the manger didn’t catch anyone’s attention . . . not at first; just a few shepherds, and who cares about them? Later King Herod noticed - that was news! When he killed a bunch of babies for seemingly no reason other than his madness. 

But what turned out greater? What still impacts the world today? What man did for his own kingdoms? Caesar and his tax? Herod and his insanity? Or that baby and what He did? When that Seed was planted and grew. When that young tender branch turned into a deadly cross. And when that Seed planted in the grave then grew again, into a tree spanning centuries and continents, and in which men, women, and children of every nation, tribe, people, and language find rest and refuge. A kingdom in which men, women, and children find forgiveness, life, and hope.

And into that kingdom, HIS kingdom, each of you have been brought. The seed planted by a faithful mother or father bringing you to be baptized. Or by a faithful mother, father, friend, or spouse speaking the Word to you. A seed that grew. That God caused to grow. 

Maybe you’ve planted those seeds and haven’t seen the growth you want; it doesn’t seem to be working. But the how, the when, and the where is not up to you. We are called to trust, humility, and patience. 

We are called to TRUST, that our heavenly Father wants all those seeds to grow, and is always working for the good of all people, and to repent that we don’t always believe that. 

We are called to HUMILITY, that we don’t know and don’t understand all that our heavenly Father is doing, and to repent when we think we do, or insist that He do things our way, or complain when He doesn’t. 

And we are called to PATIENCE, that maybe, like Israel, we’ll never get to see the growth, that it will only happen after we are gone, and to repent of our impatience, our impulsiveness, our now or never thinking. 

And to confess that God’s Word is true. God’s love is sure. And God’s ways are best.

But also do not underestimate what you do, the seeds that you plant, and do not to give up. It may seem pretty small and insignificant, what you do, as small as, well, a tiny mustand seed in a pretty big world. But with such tiny seeds God is able to accomplish much. It is for us to plant, to speak the Word. It is for God to grant the growth.

And He has. And He will continue. As we drink deeply of His forgiveness and Word here, as we eat and drink the Son’s Body and Blood. God is tending us and granting us growth. Maybe you don’t feel it, see it, or understand it. But we’re not called to those things, but to trust, to humility, and to patience. The seed, the Word, does its work. The Word that called all things into being in the beginning, the Word which became flesh and redeemed all of creation from sin, the Word proclaimed, poured, and fed to us here, and the Word that will call us out of our graves on the Last Day to everlasting life. 

That Word is living, active, and powerful. And working. We may not know how. We may not understand. But your Father in heaven does. And He is working. In us, and in the world. The kingdom of God growing. That as we just sang:

That in these gray and latter days,

There may be those whose life is praise,

Each life a high doxology

To Father, Son, Spirit (LSB #834 v. 4).

To the King, the Seed, and the Grower. 

He is working, dear Christians. 

Rest and be confident in Him.

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

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost


Jesu Juva

“Unite and Conquer”

Text: Mark 3:20-35; Genesis 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

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

Divide and conquer is the devil’s strategy.

Unite and conquer is God’s way.

Divide and conquer. It’s what satan has been doing from the beginning. He divided Adam and Eve from God and then from each other. He divided Cain and his brother Abel, Isaac and his brother Ishmael, and Esau and his brother Jacob. He divides families, friends, neighbors. He pits us against one another so that we see each other as people we are competing with, people to be overcome and conquered, rather than as fellow redeemed. 

It is said that our nation is more divided than it ever has been before. Perhaps. But should we be surprised? It is satan’s way. Get us to see each other as evil and so ignore him - the true evil one - as he goes about his work of further dividing us. And not just dividing us into small groups, but all the way down to ones, a world of individuals. The hyper-individualism, the me-first, the truth is whatever I think it is, that we see today.

But it actually goes even further than that, as satan is not satisfied with dividing us from one another, but even within ourselves, as people now divide their minds from their bodies - their minds can be one thing while their body is another. That’s actually been going on for quite some time; an ancient heresy that satan has recycled and is using in a newly modified way.

But he’s just up to his old trick. Divide and conquer. That’s the history of a world plunged into sin. 

So we heard today of some scribes who accused Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, and casting out demons by the power of the demonic. They made that accusation because they’re trying to divide - divide Jesus from the church, divide Jesus from respectable people, divide Jesus from those who were following Him. But Jesus shows the absurdity of that. Satan is not going to cast out his own. Satan is not going to divide himself or his own kingdom and so hurt himself and his efforts. Why would he do that? He’s not going to divide and conquer himself! His target is the kingdom of God. So their accusation doesn’t hold water; doesn’t make sense. They’re just spouting off.

And then Jesus says two things about what He is actually doing. First, He is not working in league with satan, He is actually plundering satan. He has come into this world, He has come into satan’s house, to bind him and take back the people He created. That’s what He’s doing when He casts out demons. He is binding satan and his minions and taking back His own, one person at a time. It is the same thing that still happens today in Holy Baptism. For there, in that water combined with the Word of God, the Word of God made flesh is casting out unclean spirits and making children of God. Uniting us to God. Every time a person is baptized Jesus is plundering satan - from child of man to child of God, from sinner to saint, from dead in trespasses and sins to alive in Christ, united to Christ. Then and now this is not satan plundering satan, but God plundering satan. The stronger one binding the one stronger than us to set us free from our bondage to sin and unite us in God. God uniting to conquer.

Which is the second thing Jesus says here. When the people said that His mother and brothers had come and were looking for Him, looking about at those who sat around him, [Jesus] said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus wasn’t dissing His family by saying that, but expanding it. For Jesus came to bring all people into His family. To re-unite what satan had divided. In Himself. And how? Well, He says, whoever does the will of God and so part of Jesus’ family, are those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. For the will of God is that we believe in the one He has sent (John 6:29). And so we are children of God, not because of what we do, but by grace through faith. By grace through faith we are united as brothers and sisters in Christ. And so again, Jesus is uniting to conquer - uniting us in Himself, to conquer satan and his kingdom.

And maybe where we see that in its greatest and highest is on the cross. For there is where Jesus hangs in the place of all people. There Jesus hangs with the sins of all people - everyone who ever lived and ever will live. There Jesus hangs as all of humanity, all united in Himself as He takes the wrath and punishment of all, to redeem all. There, on the cross, is where every person can look and say: there is God for me. Bruising satan’s head while being bruised Himself. Because Jesus was there giving Himself for each and every person, including you. That each and every person be His brothers and sisters. All united to Him in His death, that all be united to Him in His life from the dead. The cross is God uniting to conquer.

Which is why Jesus also includes words about the Holy Spirit in this context. At first listen it sounds like Jesus died for all the sins of all the world . . . except one: blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. That seems to be the worst sin of all, sometimes called “the unforgiveable sin.” But it is unforgiveable not because it is worse than any other sin and every other sin, but because it is the sin that refuses and shuns forgiveness. It’s not that it will not be forgiven; it’s that it cannot be forgiven. For without the Holy Spirit we cannot believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Without the Holy Spirit we cannot confess that Jesus is our Saviour (1 Corinthians 12:3). To say that Jesus has an unclean spirit is rejecting the uniting work of the Holy Spirit to point you to Jesus as the Son of God in human flesh. And so that divides you from Jesus. Only the work of the Holy Spirit unites you to Jesus and His work of forgiveness and life. 

So in that house that day, in Jesus’ hometown, we see both division and unity. The division worked by unbelief, and the unity worked by faith. Divison and unbelief that are the tools of satan; unity and faith that are the works of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So what about this house here today? What about your houses and homes? Your families, friends, neighbors, workplaces, and schools? Are there people you are divided from? People that you avoid? Hard feelings, grudges, or feuds? Divisions that you know of but really don’t want to address? Because it’s easier not to, right? To just ignore them and hope they will go away, or get better by themselves. But they rarely do. We just remain divided . . . and grow farther apart . . . and become hardened in our positions. 

So how important for us to remember . . . 

Divide and conquer is the devil’s strategy. 

Unite and conquer is God’s way.

And so it is when we come to this altar. Jesus says that if you know your brother has something against you, go reconcile, and then come. Come in unity and peace. Come in repentance and receive forgiveness, the healing medicine that we need. Forgive one another as you have been forgiven. See each others not as people we are different from or divided from, but as people for whom Jesus died; people He wants to unite to Himself and so unite with us in Himself. 

It’s hard to look at people that way, isn’t it? Maybe we just see what we want to see. See good in ourselves and something less than that in them. That would be something we need to repent of, wouldn’t it? And ask the Holy Spirit not only for forgiveness - which He has promised! so yes, you are forgiven! - but also to change our hearts - to see ourselves rightly, and to see others as those for whom Jesus died in love.

I always think that the readings for this first “regular” Sunday in the Pentecost season set the tone for the whole season. And today that would be the unity we have in Jesus, that by grace through faith He has made us His brothers and sisters, and that He desires this unity for all people in Him. And to think about how He might be using you to that end. Using you in His work of uniting, reconciling, and forgiving.

This is what St. Paul was encouraging the Corinthian Christians. A church that needed uniting, if any any did! We believe, and we speak, he said. Certainly pastors do that, preaching and teaching. But you speak, too, in the places and in the vocations where your heavenly Father has put you. You believe and you speak. You live what you believe. 

You believe that you are a sinner and speak - confessing your sins here, but also asking forgiveness from those you have wronged.

You believe that you are forgiven - you hear that here in the Absolution, and you live that forgiveness in joy and freedom, and in speaking it to those who have sinned against you.

You believe that there is a unity among us in Christ, and so you strive to maintain that unity in the bond of peace, and speak to others, that they, too, have this unity with us.

And that while this outer nature is wasting away, and divisions remain among us - sometimes because of us, and sometimes in spite of our best efforts - we do not lose hope! Because in the midst of this world and all that we can see, there remains what is unseen; what is eternal. And the afflictions we are going through now, Paul says, are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. And notice: preparing for us. Plural. Together. Not me, separate, individual. But us, united together in Christ. United here in our afflictions, and united in eternity in joy. The Body of Christ, suffering together, rejoicing together, but always together. In Jesus. The stronger man who has come to bind the strong man and set us free. Free in the forgiveness of our sins. Free to live as children of God, and brothers and sisters of Christ.

Which is just as true today as it was when Jesus spoke those words. And if He were here today, Jesus would look out over this congregation and say: Here are my mother and my sisters and brothers! And you are. Baptized, forgiven, fed. United by Christ, united in Christ, your Saviour. A kingdom that is united in the one risen from the dead, victorious over death and the grave and all the powers of hell, and so a kingdom that will never fall. 

United in Christ. 

Unite and conquer

That’s God’s way.

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

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Sermon for the Festival of the Holy Trinity


Jesu Juva

“Mysterious but Good”

Text: John 3:1-17; Isaiah 6:1-8 

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

We worship the trinity in unity and the unity in trinity

That’s what we just confessed in the Athanasian Creed. We worship this God. This God that cannot be explained, only proclaimed. All attempts to explain the mystery of God the Holy Trinity have failed. How God can be one yet three, three yet one. One God in three persons, three persons in one God. Finite, limited minds cannot fully understand an infinite, limitless God. All attempts to explain the Trinity (and maybe you’ve heard some of these) - that God is like a clover, one plant with three leaves; or like an apple, one fruit with three parts, the core, the flesh, and the skin; or that God is like water which can exist three different states: solid, liquid, or gas - all fail because they either divide the three persons of the Trinity, collapse them together, or limit each person in some way. Better instead is to be like the prophet Isaiah and just stand in wonder and awe before this Lord, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all co-existing, all 100% God, and yet one God, and confess that we have no right to do so. That sinners like us have no place before a holy, sinless God - and yet He wants us here. He wants us to come before Him to receive His forgiveness. Like Isaiah did.

Now, that doesn’t work for some people. For some who will only believe what is logical to them, what they can figure out, what makes sense to them. A God who fits their categories, checks their boxes, fits their expectations, thinking, and understanding. The next step then is that what this God does must also fit their expectations, thinking, and understanding. And if God doesn’t do or command or approve of what they want or think is right, then He is rejected. 

There are a couple of problems, of course, with that. First, making God fit us rather than us fit God is to put ourselves above God and make ourselves God. But also this: there then will be as many gods in this world as there are people, each person fashioning his or her own god based upon their own expectations and thoughts and dreams, which all are different for just about everyone. Which is, when you think about it, not far from where our world is today, with its abundance of gods and religions and denominations. There is Tom, Dick, and Harry’s god, Oprah’s god, this god and that god, but not one true God. Which is exactly what satan wants. For if everyone has a god, then no one has God.

But God is not so easily tamed; not so easily controlled. We may want a God who is domesticated and behaves how we think He should, but as CS Lewis once famously said: God is not tame, but He is good. So if we change Him and tame Him, then we will also be losing His good.

So we are left with a God we cannot fully understand, because He is so different and above us, but one we can trust, because He is good. And that is far better.

And that is what Jesus was teaching Nicodemus that night when Nicodemus came to Him seeking answers. He knew Jesus knew something about God, that God was with Him. So Jesus teaches him about God - about a God who is mysterious and beyond our understanding, but who is good and trustworthy. That while Nicodemus may not get all the answers he was looking for, he get what he needed - the gift of faith in the God in the flesh that was sitting right in front of him.

So first Jesus says to him: Truth. Unless one is born again, born from above, born of God, he cannot see the kingdom of God

And that leaves Nicodemus befuddled. He cannot fit what Jesus says into his own thinking and understanding. This teaching does not fit his earthly categories. It’s not logical. He knows something of birth, perhaps having children of his own. So based on his own knowledge and experience, being born again just isn’t possible. You want me to climb back up inside my mother? No, but Jesus wants him to think of God differently - as Father. Not as a God he serves, but as a God that serves him and cares for him. A God who fathers, who begets life - and not just physical life or in a physical way, like his children at home. That it is not good enough to be a child of Abraham, a physical descendant of Abraham - he must be a child of God. Born. Born of God. Born of water and the Spirit. Okaaaay. Nicodemus is going to have to chew on that a while . . .

So Jesus then moves into phase two of His teaching, and starts talking about the work of God the Spirit like the wind. And that just as you cannot control the wind, so you cannot control God. God cannot be tamed to fit how we want Him to be.

Now that makes a little more sense . . . because we know something about wind and that it doesn’t always blow where you want it to. A sudden gust of wind messes up your perfectly combed hair. The wind blows the leaves you worked so hard raking into a pile all back over your yard. There is the hard and devastating winds of hurricanes, and terrible and unpredictable winds of tornadoes. But there is also the cool breeze on a hot summer day, and the refreshing breeze that comes off the ocean. 

The work of God is like that, Nicodemus. Not according to our thoughts, wishes, desires, and control. Sometimes He comes and messes up things in your life, because sometimes things in your life need messing up! Sometimes He needs to grab our attention and turn us back to Him. But there are also times when He will be that refreshing, cooling breeze to give us the relief we need. And just as birth pains come upon a woman quickly and often unexpectedly - earlier than was expected or much later - so it is with God and the children He fathers. It is His doing, not ours. When and where it pleases Him. When and where He says it will be, not us.

Well this is so completely different than what Nicodemus was expecting! From what he thought he knew and the way he thought things were. His mind is blown, blown wide open. His finite, limited mind blown open by an infinite, limitless God. To think on things in such a new way . . .

Well, yes. But Nicodemus, Jesus has saved the best for last! The best, but also the most mysterious and hardest for us to comprehend or understand. That God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. That is, that God the Father would send God the Son into a sinful world filled with sinful and rebellious people to die for them, so that they could be His born again, born from above, born of God, children. And that God would consider this a good thing - to trade His life for yours. His life of limitless value, for your life of what value? Of nothing close to that, that’s for sure. To love a world that doesn’t love Him. To save a world that turns away from Him to sin. 

Who does that? What category of this world does that fit into? That’s who God is, Nicodemus. That’s what God does. He’s not a God of laws, rules, and demands, but of fathering, caring, and saving. And you’ll see that when you see His Son lifted up like that bronze serpent in the wilderness was for Israel - the Son of God lifted up on the pole of the cross. Look at Him, see your God there for you, believe that He is there for you and your sin, and you will live. Eternal life.

I wish John would have told us more of their conversation! What Nicodemus said next. But maybe he didn’t say anything. Maybe he was just in awe of all that he had just heard, how utterly different and mysterious and beyond anything in this world. But John does tell us this - that Nicodemus saw Jesus on the cross, that he helped to take Him down and bury Him (John 19:39), and that Nicodemus actually defended Jesus a bit (John 7:50). Like maybe by water and the Spirit he had been born again, born from above, born of God, without having to climb back into his mother!

And so it is with us. The Spirit, who like the wind, works when and where God wills, has worked in you. And the when and the where is where God has told us: in His Word, in His Word combined with the water of Baptism, and in His Word combined with the bread and wine of the Supper. How that works is mysterious and beyond our understanding - like the wind. How the Word and Spirit works in hearts, how the Word and Spirit works as we proclaim the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins, how the Word and Spirit works as we pour the water of Baptism and eat the Body and Blood of Christ in the Supper - but work He does. Begetting children of God, sustaining us with His life and forgiveness, and keeping us in His care. Probably not how we would do it, if it were up to us. But good. God working His eternal good in and through these ordinary ways and means.

Which - like with who God is - all we do is proclaim these things, His works and ways, and stand in awe. That we can stand in the presence of God, and that God wants us here with Him! That while we cannot tame or control God, we can trust Him and His Word. In all parts of our lives. Following His will and His ways, loving, forgiving, and serving, giving and helping generously and sacrificially and confidently. For if He sent His only-begotten Son for us to die for us - if He would do that for us, will He not along with Him give us everything else we need (Romans 8:32)

So that’s what we proclaim this day we celebrate the Holy Trinity. And what we proclaim, we live. That’s why, as the Athanasian Creed said, it is necessary to think of God as Trinity. Not just so we know the right answer on a final exam we have to pass to get into heaven! But so we know what God has done for us - God the Father, who sent His beloved Son, who gave us His Spirit, to save us and give us this new kind of life to live. If God is not a Trinity, then that didn’t happen, couldn’t happen. But it did. A mysterious, not-like-this-world God, acting in a mysterious, not-like-this-world - but GOOD - way. Being good, giving His good, for you. To raise you with His Son to a new and eternal life.

Which is also mysterious. For what is an eternal life like? How can we think of life without end? We can’t. But again, we can trust. That as the one who gives it is good, so will it be. And so we are. Good, not because we’ve done it, but because He has. 

So this we proclaim. This we trust and believe. This we live. And this is our joy! A good God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, working and giving His goodness to us.

So this day we joyously proclaim: 

Bless├Ęd be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity.

Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us (Introit).

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