Sunday, July 9, 2017

Jesus Loves the Little Children

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. [7] 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:25-30 (ESV)
Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
This is how Jesus describes the little children to him the Father in heaven has revealed the kingdom. They are those who labor and are heavy laden.
The wise and understanding, these are the people who think they have it figured out. In Jesus day these were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The learned, the upper crust of society. Today you find these types in every stratum of society. They are people who find God immoral. They know better than him.
That one is always sort of strange to me. The Ten Commandments have had quite the impact on our society. Jesus Christ has had quite the impact on society. Here we have a man who died for the sins of the world. He shed his blood for people of every stripe. Jesus died for the cultured and the uncultured. He died for the rich and the poor. He died for blue collar and white collar. For the healthy and the sick. The Albert Einsteins of the world, and for those suffering every form of mental illness, or downs syndrome. “Red and yellow, black and white they are precious in his sight,” I remember singing those words as a four-year-old in Ft. McMurray and simple understandings like that have transformed society’s notions of right and wrong, of justice and of mercy. Oh, it hasn’t put an end to racism and try as I may to understand another person’s culture and concepts of polite, I can still find it awkward, or rude. But when people think that Christianity is the problem, I find most often they are not aware of just how much Christianity is responsible for even what is left of their morals, even shaping the problem. Sure the Bible didn’t outlaw slavery. It can be hard for us today to read what the Bible has to say about such things. But I will tell you this, we wouldn’t have any qualms with slavery if it wasn’t for the Bible, if it wasn’t for the fact that Jesus died for the sins of the world. We would care less about racism if it wasn’t for the fact that we could teach our kids to sing “Red and yellow, black and white they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
The little children of the world, to whom the Father has revealed these things. This was a phrase Jesus would use for his disciples. Little children, oh how society has changed in that department. In the first century, little children were synonymous with heavy laden, this was before child labor laws. My parents knew of no such legislation. I remember being excited when I first learned my mom and dad were buying lake property until we pulled up to the three acres of thick woods bordering the swamp and learned that my brother and I would be helping my dad clear it. I thought fire made sense and would probably be the best way until I learned you actually had to control the burn. Ten or eleven, those five-gallon buckets were about half my size but they were the only way to get water to the property line, two at a time. I was lucky, I mean it wasn’t the way I really wanted to spend my weekends, but at least my dad was too busy during the week to make us work like that on a Monday. Though my dad did know how to farm me out to old timers in need of firewood. Kids in the first century were pretty much slaves. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It sounds so nice. But the truth is anyone in the village could lord it over the children of the village, make them watch the cows in the noonday heat, fetch the falling figs in the midst of a rainstorm, and in general do anything an adult sees needs to be done, but doesn’t care to do himself. And the kid would be paid in room and board if he or she was lucky.
Oh, Jesus really and literally meant that the kingdom, the mystery of Jesus Christ, was revealed to little children. The little children that were brought to him to bless, when the disciples were enraged. But he also meant it figuratively to mean the simple in the land who simply saw who Jesus was. They weren’t so invested in their theories as to who God should be, or what God should do to miss seeing what it was God was doing.  These were the type of people who most often didn’t have time except perhaps on the Sabbath to study God’s word. The Pharisees, the Scribes, the Sadducees represented a lifestyle of leisure. They had money, they wore fine robes and looked down on the rags other people wore. They could sit around and study God’s word and pay someone else to plow their fields and make them breakfast. I mean when I think about this I think about waitresses at restaurants, the single mom who can’t hardly afford not to work on a Sunday morning when all the people like to go get breakfast after church. And then the good majority of those same people complain that a person shouldn’t work on the Sabbath, but aren’t you glad they do, if at no other time than when you are on vacation and there isn’t any other option? It was that kind of relationship these people had with one another. You couldn’t be a Pharisee if you were poor. But it was to the little children, the overworked and heavy laden to whom the Father revealed the kingdom in Jesus Christ. They were the one’s who flocked to see John the Baptist at the Jordan. They were the ones who gathered to hear the Beatitudes when Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount. They humbled themselves like little children before their Father in heaven, and then they saw what the Father was doing, then they found the rest they were looking for.
So it is that the kingdom is one of rest. No not the kind of rest the Pharisees had from physical labor, but rest for the souls of those who have tried their hardest to live up to God’s law and have failed. This was the chief difference between the little children and the wise and understanding. The “wise and understanding” used here with a bit of tongue and cheek, had thought they accomplished God’s law. The little children could not afford such luxurious delusions. They knew their sins, and the Pharisees piled on more. The yoke of the law can be heavy if you are going to try to earn God’s favor by pulling it. But the yoke that Jesus has is light. It isn’t a matter of earning God’s favor, but experiencing his love, his grace, his mercy, that which he poured out upon you as little children at the baptismal font. It is there that he assures you of his favor so that you no longer have to worry about it. Then we live in his love and living in his love we learn to love as he loves, even as he loves all the little children of the world.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Persecuted for Righteousness Sake

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant [4] above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign [5] those of his household.
26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And 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. [6] 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? [7] And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:21-33 (ESV)
“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake but the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Jesus gives his disciples a pep talk. He is sending his twelve out to preach in his name. He was hated by the world. He is hated in this world. He exposes our sin. He destroys our delusions of grandeur. Even in his day, he was hated. He warns the disciples. “It isn’t going to be any easier for you.” “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher and the servant like his master.”
This is why Christians can find a certain amount of comfort amidst the persecution. If no one hated us, would we really be Christian? Of course, today we live in a culture that is still greatly influenced by Christianity. Much more so than one would think. Sometimes the influence is a little twisted and confused, but it is still there. Things people take for granted today are developments that would not have happened in any other society. Freedom of Religion is one of those things. We take it for granted. We know that no one can be forced to believe the gospel. So we don’t try to force it. We preach it. We shout it from the rooftops as it were. When this was being written the rooftops were often used as pulpits in small villages where perhaps there was no synagogue. Somewhat the same way the pope will often address crowds gathered at the Vatican from a window on the second floor. Jesus taught the disciples in the dark. He preached to the crowds, and then he explained what he had said to them as they walked. He instructed them concerning the gospel as they walked, as they gathered around campfires, as they sat by the roadsides. He instructed them in the way that fathers were commanded to teach their children in Deut. 6. And he regarded them as his children, as he does all his disciples including you. What they had been taught on a personal level they were now to proclaim to the world, but just as their teacher was hated, so they would be hated.
But it can be an odd thing to take comfort in your persecution. A person has to be on guard against a persecution complex, like Jehova Witnesses who think they are doubly blessed by the stranger slamming the door in their face. Peter says it:  “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:15-17 (ESV) I had a professor for missions once, Dr. Douglass Rutt. He once said it to the class like this. “You will be hated for the gospel’s sake. But make sure it is for the gospel that you are hated and not because you are just a jerk.” That’s probably a paraphrase, but it hit home.
We can often just be jerks even when it comes to the gospel. It comes about when we have no patience with others who may not understand the faith the same way we do. Or perhaps in overzealous enthusiasm, we rush out to get into a fight or a debate about some particular article of faith. Perhaps we argue Creationism vs. Evolution with little to know understanding of the church’s own historical teaching concerning the nature of creation, and even less concerning current scientific research. It’s not anything new, Augustine in the fourth century complained about Christians doing that very same thing. Maybe it is that we try to force other people to live in the manner we think we should be living, even though we ourselves fall way short of that goal. Of course, we can’t help that people will judge us based on their past experience with Christians either. But there was a time when Christians were actually persecuted because they believed in the forgiveness of sins. Now, this is something it seems only garners persecution from other so-called Christians. The world hardly knows that Christians believe in such a thing because about all they experience from Christians is judgment. And they know there is something a bit off about this when Jesus is known for having said don’t judge. That you will be judged by the same measuring stick with which you judge others.
But let it be known, the world will still persecute you for believing in the forgiveness of sins. You don’t have to be a jerk to be persecuted for Christ’s sake. It will come. It will come from those who refuse to understand how a sinner like you can go to church on Sunday. They don’t believe you should judge others, but they will call you a snob for having sinned all week long, perhaps absentmindedly snubbing them at work, or losing your temper, maybe you gossiped and slandered them, and you still have the gall to get up on Sunday morning and act as if your toilet smells of roses. When in fact, the reason you come is the complete opposite, or at least it should be, it isn’t because you think you have been perfect, but because you know you have fallen short of the glory of God in life, you haven’t reflected the love of Christ for sinners in your life, at least not as perfectly as you would have liked. And you know there is only one answer to that, to confess your sin to God, and receive the forgiveness of sins from Jesus, that you may grow in faith and love having been nourished by his word, and being strengthened in the faith and the forgiveness of sins, would even be able to forgive those who persecute you for the sake of righteousness, praying with Jesus himself from the cross, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” And then it is because you are the body of Christ, the disciple of Jesus, that they persecute you as they persecuted him. But hold fast for in him alone is their salvation.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Laborers for the Kingdom

Matthew 9:35-10:8
35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
10:1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; [1] 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, [2] cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. (Matthew 9:35-10:8 (ESV)
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
It’s at this time of year, when the school year is finished. The leases on the apartments in Ft. Wayne and St. Louise are up for renewal that the Lord sends laborers into his harvest. He does it at other times and in other places too. But I imagine that the reason this text comes up here today is that in our church body, in our Synod this is one of the more common times for the harvest to receive new laborers. It will be good to remember them in our prayers as we pray “thy kingdom come.” His kingdom that “comes when he gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe his holy word and live godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” It is this kingdom that Jesus Christ refers his apostles to, telling them to go to the Lost Sheep of Israel and proclaim that “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It is through this proclamation that the Lord gathers his sheep into the fold. The people who are now like sheep without shepherds, that is they are lost, without hope, without peace, harassed and helpless.
Perhaps we even feel that way from time to time. Today there are many who believe they can live just fine without the gospel, without the forgiveness of sins, without God. There are many more who don’t even know that this is what they long for. It’s often easy for us Christians to be critical of the culture we live in, to look around in horror at what society looks at as normal, to cringe at the things they laugh at. I’m always left with this thought; “false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice,” “lead us not into temptation.” These are the things encompassed by temptation, false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. And it is this temptation we are spared when from the Father and the Son the Holy Spirit proceeds, enters our lives, causes us to believe his holy word, his gospel the forgiveness of sins, peace with God and good will toward men, that we are led to repentance a true repentance that is faith in God who has led us into his kingdom of forgiveness and love, and out of our spiritual Egypts, out of our slavery to sin death and the devil. A slavery that kept us ignorant of our Creator, our Savior, our Sanctifier, ignorant of the love of our Father which far surpasses that of any earthly father who knows how to avoid buying scorpions and serpents for their children. A slavery that kept us bound in false belief that led to despair and then caused us to perform so many shameful acts like circus monkeys for the evil trio of sin, death and the devil in their three-ring show. This is what we see in so many sectors of society today. These are the temptations that plague our own children. And even when we have the gospel, even when we know the love of the Father for us children, even when we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins, we have a hard time avoiding the temptations and traps of the devil, to avoid taking center stage for his amusement. We know the law, so does everyone around us. They know right from wrong. Listen to them. Most of the time it is with the law that they accuse Christians relentlessly with the accusation that we are hypocrites, and not without reason. I’ll leave the disputed things out, like why there aren’t more Christian environmentalists as Louis C.K. chastises us for. I mean he’d be right about what our actions should be if in fact, the claims of the green movement were entirely true. But then he doesn’t quite seem to get the nature of sin.
See that is the problem for most of us. We tend to think of sin as something we can overcome. Sure we might be able to avoid this or that particular sin. We can avoid being rapists, murderers, we can perhaps avoid reviling our parents, at least on Mother’s day and Father’s day, or can we? “The good that I would that I do not, the evil I would not that I do.” The apostle Paul wrote that. He was aware of his own hypocrisy. And when we think of sins of society that we cringe at? Do we even contemplate the fourth commandment? Honor your Father and your Mother? Does that even make sense in a society whose gospel, whose path to contentment for your soul and everything you wrestle with is little more than “blame your parents.”
Jesus has another way. He didn’t blame. He obeyed. He obeyed his Father even to death on the cross. He chose to love God even more than Mary and Joseph.  He followed the will of our Heavenly Father, from whom he was begotten before all worlds. But it was there on the cross that he won forgiveness for the world. And it was there on the cross that he showed what this forgiveness was like when it came to parents. He forgave his mother and entrusted her care to one of his Apostles. He didn’t shun her for thinking he was crazy early in his career, for showing up with a delegation of brothers to take him home. He forgave her. Even as he forgives you, that you might be able to do the same with your parents, and with your children. They are human like you, sinners in need of forgiveness. They don’t do everything right, and they have a hard time forgiving one another too. But these are all tricks of the devil by which he harasses helpless sheep who have no shepherd. We have a shepherd, the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep and even now cares for them by sending in laborers for the harvest that they might know forgiveness, peace and the love of their heavenly Father.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trinity Sunday

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in [2] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
It’s Trinity Sunday. The whole Sunday revolves around a doctrine. It is the only Sunday in the church year to celebrate a doctrine rather than an event that teaches a doctrine. But the Trinity is important enough to merit this because without it there is no salvation for mankind. It is essential that Jesus be both God and man if there is to be forgiveness of sins, life and salvation found in his blood. Thus it was the great controversy of the early church as it debated with the Jews over the divinity of Jesus, over and against the gnostics and other concerning his humanity, and with each other as to just how it was possible for both the Father and the Son to be God, and what about the Holy Spirit.
Careful reading of the Scriptures show that all three of these persons are to be regarded as God. Perhaps the biggest clue is a careful look at Christ’s words, go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To understand this you have to understand the meaning of the name of God in Scripture. It was more than a moniker or a label. It was he himself. The temple was built as a place for His name to dwell. So the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, all three mentioned by name here share one name into which we are baptized. This is the divine essence and being of God. And it is because Jesus Christ shares this divine essence and being that all authority on heaven and earth can be given to him.
He has it now. He had given it up to take on our flesh, to bear responsibility for our sins. Yes, he was certainly still able to do the miraculous, and show that he was God in the flesh, but he did not make full use of his divine powers. He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but took on the form of a servant to be obedient to the Father even onto death. Well that is the other place you start finding the Trinitarian formula and its relation to Christ and our salvation hammered out. Philippians chapter  2.
He was equal to the Father, but he gave it up for our salvation. It is the exact opposite of our sin. In our sin we want to be equal to the Father. This is the sin with which the devil tempted Eve, you will be like God and know good from evil. That is you would be able to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong, and not only in the moral realm. The problem, the greatest problem man has with the Trinity, the idea that Jesus could be God, is we think we are too smart for that. It doesn’t jive with all the other things we think we know about God, his omnipotence, his omniscience, his omnipresence. How could God take the form of a man? Take the form of a servant. It runs counter to everything. It is a repudiation of everything we think we know. We think the greatest good is to have power and authority, to rule the world and make others our servants. We dream about this in childhood fantasies, or perhaps as we walk to the store to buy lotter tickets trying to imagine what it would be like to have 484 million dollars! And that is just earthly riches. It doesn’t compare to what Jesus gave up to save man. But this he did. For you for me. And then he as God, and as man died. This is really at the root of the trinity, the deep divine mystery that the God who created this world, and made you and I would be able to die. God died. It’s absolutely incredible.
But now Jesus who won salvation for us. He resumes his divinity, receives all authority in heaven and on earth, that he as God and Man could continue his work of salvation among us. That he who won salvation for us, would keep winning us for salvation. That he would be able to continue making us disciples by baptizing us into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Resumes all authority in heaven and on earth that he could continue to be God with us, in and through or baptism, guiding and directing our ways to life everlasting, now and forever, Amen.

Now the peace of God that Surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

River's of Living Water

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as [6] the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39 (ESV)
As the scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)
Generally, water that is moving and thus the waters flowing in a river are considered to be living. The waters of the numerous creeks and mountain brooks feeding the Sea of Galilee in the mountainous area of Galilee where Jesus grew up. In the spring you could see them bubbling up, and feeding the lush mountain meadows where the sheep would graze in the mountains of Bashan and Gilead. It was living water because it brought life.
We don’t know exactly which verse Jesus was speaking of when he said that out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Perhaps paraphrasing this one from Jeremiah, or perhaps summarizing the Biblical concept that that God is the source of life and salvation shall flow from his own being.”
“If anyone thirsts let him come to me and drink.” He says here at the feast of booths. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” This was really the point of this last day of the feast, in which gathering water from the pool of Siloam they would dance around the altar in the temple and pour the water out upon it, singing the words of Isaiah, “With Joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Jesus has the audacity to claim that the whole feast is about him. The wells of salvation are in him. He is the source of living water, the Holy Spirit that proceeds from the Father and the Son.
“He had said this about the Spirit whom those who believed in him were to receive. For as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Jesus was not yet glorified. He had not yet been crucified to shed his blood on the cross for the sins of the world. He had not yet been raised from the dead, for our Justification. He had not yet ascended to the Father. But it was 50 days ago that he rose from the dead. It was 10 days ago that he ascended to the Father. And now he sends the Holy Spirit, the living waters of salvation, and the Spirit is poured out upon all flesh, and in just that day 3,000 are saved. This is what we celebrate today. And without a baptism, we rejoice as two young men of this congregation affirm the faith that was given to them in Holy Baptism. Can we know a greater joy than this, to see brothers and sisters in the faith drinking from the wells of salvation, Jesus himself, and the word of God through which he sends to us the Holy Spirit? To see the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the young and old alike?
I’ll tell you it is easy to forsake the well of living water, God and his word through which the Holy Spirit comes. It’s easy to do this as an individual when you think you don’t need God, and life gets to busy and frantic. Church seems to be one more source of stress in life. Just another thing you are supposed to do, but can’t seem to find the time for. Something to feel guilty about. It’s easy to do this as a congregation when we are looking for “results” and are blinded to the work that is being done. We want to see three thousand baptized! We want tongues of fire dancing on our foreheads! We associate the Spirit all too often with feelings that come and go. There was a day after Pentecost. The new disciples gathered to worship in the temple, and then they broke bread in their homes. Or as it says in Acts 2:42 they devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, to prayer and the breaking of the bread, a euphemism for the Lord’s Supper they shared together. Why? Because they knew that here was the source of Living Water. Here was God himself. Here was Jesus the source of their salvation. He was among them when they came together in his name to drink and receive their righteousness. Here they received the work of the Holy Spirit the forgiveness of sins, and it sustained them in their faith as they met the hardships and tribulations of this world, and life together in the church.
It wasn’t really any easier for them than it is for you. They didn’t see explosive growth either. Not everyday anyway. 3,000 on the day of Pentecost was spectacular. It was nothing compared to the tens of thousands that would have been pouring into the city that day for the Jewish holiday known as Pentecost. And the next day? Well there isn’t any record of how many were or weren’t converted. But the people had joy in that they saw the Spirit at work anyway, when Joe who couldn’t make it yesterday, came back today.
Do we see the Spirit at work today? Yes. If you have eyes to see. I see it in the nursing homes when in the midst of agony and the face of death, the only thing wanted is for me to read another psalm, sing another hymn, and pray another prayer. I see it when a mother, who perhaps hasn’t been in church for a while, brings a new born child forth to receive the Spirit in Holy Baptism. I see it in the old familiar faces who wouldn’t know what to do with their Sunday morning if there wasn’t church for them to go to. I see it in a congregation that just continues, when the world around them looks and compares them to this and that church over there, and says why do they bother? Why? Because the Spirit is at work? Don’t believe it? Just attend confirmation class with these kids. Oh, we have our moments when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Perhaps I’m tired and worn out, and they more so. But then I can’t tell you what a joy it is when I look back over the three years I’ve had these kids in class with me. When out of nowhere they have the right answer! Or better yet, they have the right question and just want to hear what God has to say. Today they will make a confession before us. That is the work of the Holy Spirit apart from whom no one can say that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep Your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Jesus Glorifies the Father

17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:1-11 (ESV)
“The hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may Glorify you” So Jesus begins his pray in John 17. The High Priestly prayer. He prays this with the disciples just after telling them that the world will you tribulation, but take heart I have overcome the world. He prays this in front of the disciples before crossing over the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. It is to prepare the disciples for this time, when we remain in the world as the body of Christ, even as he returns to the Father to take up the glory he once had had with the Father before the world existed.
“Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” The rest of this High Priestly Prayer will deal with what that means, in just what a way the Son will be glorified, and how in turn this will glorify God. The High Priestly Prayer. It’s an awkward sounding name for the 17th Chapter of John. Sometimes I try to come up with a better name for it, one that still captures the essence of the prayer but doesn’t call it High Priestly. The idea of it is that here Jesus shows his work as our High Priest. This is one of three offices attributed to Jesus, one of three offices in which people of the Old Testament would be anointed into with oil, and one of the three offices Jesus was anointed to with the Holy Spirit who fell upon him in the form of a dove when he was baptized. These are the offices of Prophet, Priest and King. But the emphasis of this prayer is his office as High Priest in that here he does what a priest does. Prays and consecrates a sacrifice. He prays first and foremost for his disciples, the apostles that must remain in this world, and then for us that we too would be comforted by his word. Then he consecrates himself as a sacrifice for them and for us, that our sins would be atoned for before the Father, and that we would be given eternal life. And this is eternal life: “that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom your have sent.” Jesus refers to himself in the third person, or John modifies the speech of Jesus to make it clearer for us. Either way, to know God is to know Jesus, because it is Jesus who glorifies the Father, by sacrificing himself for us on the cross that we may have eternal life.
This is why Jesus came to glorify the Father. It doesn’t look glorious. It looks like death, pain and suffering.  Jesus speaks of it as if it already happened, but it is still yet to take place. He knows the outcome already. He knows he has already overcome the world. He overcame it precisely in this that he has determined to let the world take him, to crucify him, to sacrifice him that his blood might sanctify you and me. It will be in this that we come to know the Father, through the Son, who is the way the truth and the life, apart from whom know one comes to the Father. This isn’t head knowledge. This is to fear, love and trust in God, to let his will take over our lives, to rejoice in him even as the Son feared, loved and trusted in the Father above all things that he was even willing to die for the Father that you and I might be given eternal life. To know the Father, the only True God and Jesus Christ whom he sent is to know God as only a forgiven child of God can know the Father. To be restored to a right relationship with Him. To trust in him and his promises. It is for this reason Jesus came. And it is this reason that his death is a great glorification of the Father. Because in his death we are given eternal life, we are given to Know the Father, and in his death a glorious kingdom is born full of praise and joy, even joy that lives in the midst of suffering.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Spirit of Truth

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, [6] to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15-21 (ESV)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
It’s a strange thing that Jesus switches from a present tense, he dwells with you, to a future will be in you, as he speaks about the relationship of the disciples to the Holy Spirit. It’s one of those strange things. We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, the day he appeared like a rushing wind and lit flames of fire on the heads of the disciples. Yet, we know that the Holy Spirit was already with the disciples before then. When Jesus visited them in the upper room he breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. And already here he says that the Holy Spirit dwells with them. But when Jesus leaves, the Holy Spirit will come to them with a new task and purpose, and new gifts to help them in achieving that mission. So it is even today that the Holy Spirit is with us, and yet still comes to us ever anew through the word and sacraments to give us what we need in this life to accomplish the will of Jesus our Lord and savior. It isn’t always a fantastical thing, but then again always a miraculous thing. The Holy Spirit is given to us in Baptism, he takes up residence within us at that time. And yet throughout our Christian life, the Holy Spirit will continue to come to us through the work of the church in the word and in the sacraments to keep us in the one true faith, to constantly forgive our failings, and sustain our faith, to give us the gifts we need to continue the work of Christ in this world.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Love is the fulfillment of the commandments. The greatest two of them being to love the Father with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. But here the commandments of Jesus are so much more than all that. But to keep his commandments is to hold fast to his word even despite our failures.
It’s an odd thing today. Many interpret having the spirit as reason to ignore the words of Jesus and his disciples. “The Spirit is leading us” they say. I’m not sure what Spirit it is they are talking about. But it would not be the Spirit of Truth which Jesus speaks of here, the Spirit of Truth that dwells in the words of Christ because his word is Truth. And Truth is Truth. What is true is true for me and true for you. It is objective and not subject to change. God’s word is truth. And the Spirit is not in conflict with God’s Word. The World however is, and the World is in conflict with the Spirit of Truth whom they cannot receive. So it ought to give us pause when we hear fellow Christians saying that the Spirit is leading them in what seems to be justifying a change to accommodate the world and the world’s viewpoint, to follow along with the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the day. Say for instance that without biblical warrant and despite biblical testimony, that which we have received as the word of truth, the Spirit is invoked to justify women’s ordination, or to condone the homosexual agenda and lifestyle, indeed to even bless it. Or perhaps on an individual basis, the Spirit is invoked to justify any sort of sin we might be tempted to. There is a world of difference between condoning and forgiving, by the way.
It should be noted that all too often that just as the Spirit can be invoked and the word of God ignored to justify all sorts of libertine behavior, there is also a danger that we ignore the Spirit and play loose with God’s word to justify purely legalistic matters. Our church body in the past has been subject to rather faulty Biblical interpretation following legalistic patterns popular in the day, the zeitgeist of that period. For instance, 40 years ago, the women of this church would have been invited to cook for our potluck, but asked to remain silent during the voters meeting. I have skimmed through old Walther league journals and have seen condemnations written concerning dancing and playing cards, and sort of like the Mormon Church and Pepsi, we were at one time not allowed to buy life insurance until we decided to have the AAL. This is why we must keep the commandments of Jesus, to hold fast to his word. We must always be searching his word and making sure we are interpreting and applying it correctly in our lives. We must always be ready to repent as individuals and as the church when we are lead astray into legalism or libertinism. It is in the word that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. When we lose sight of his word, then we lose touch with the Holy Spirit.
We dare not confuse the Holy Spirit with our conscience or feelings, nor especially feelings of guilt. This is a danger I see all too often today. “I felt the Spirit.” Feelings of calm, feelings or ecstasy, burning bosoms, liver shivers, being at peace. These things are not necessarily the work of the Spirit, and there is really no way of discerning the Spirit based on feelings, at least not feelings alone. It should be noted here that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Comforter, the Helper, the Paraclete. Thus he is not a fear monger, and when fear is guiding our lives we ought to take a moment to reassess. When we are reading so-called Christian material and it is causing us to despair, we might question which Spirit it is we are listening to. There are other spirits at play in the world, and they love to torture a Christian’s soul, even with the word of God. But the Holy Spirit, he points to Christ. We call him the Holy Spirit because he makes us holy, and he does that by washing away our sins and constantly forgiving them that we might grow in the Love of Christ and keep his commandments, hold fast to his word.
The Spirit allows us to do this, it is the Spirit’s work in our lives. To show us the word of God, the commandments of Jesus and to bring us to repentance when we stray. And this we can do in bold, confidence realizing that with him there is forgiveness, so to admit guilt is to banish guilt and receive forgiveness. And to walk in forgiveness the newness of life being guided by the Spirit in the word, is to walk in repentance, and in the love of Jesus who is the truth, the way and the life who asks the Father to send us the Spirit that we would walk in Truth.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus Our Lord. Amen.