Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Lord has opened His house for you.



Grace to you and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Luke 14:16-24  Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.  17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'  18 "But they all alike began to make excuses.  The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it.  Please excuse me.'  19 "Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out.  Please excuse me.'  20 "Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'  21 "The servant came back and reported this to his master.  Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'  22 "'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'  23 "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.  24 I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'"

The Lord has opened His house for you.

Dear friends in Christ,

            If there is any text in the gospels that can terrify complacent Christians, this one should do it.  You and I have been invited to the most magnificent banquet ever prepared, yet it is obvious from the parable Jesus told that many of those who are invited do not value the host’s generosity.  Instead, in pursuing the concerns of life in this world, they reject God’s gracious invitation.  Dear friends, lest we be so foolish, our Savior calls for our attention for The Lord has opened His house for you.

Jesus had been invited to eat at the home of a prominent Pharisee.  A series of events at that dinner led to Jesus instructing the host and his guests concerning humility and generosity.  One guest seemed to take exception to Jesus’ teaching, and this parable is Jesus’ answer to that man’s boast.  The Pharisees assumed that they would be prominently honored at the Lord’s great banquet in heaven.  They fully expected that God would reward them for their diligent observations of the laws, for their piousness, and their dedication to being the best they could be.  There is only problem with their assumptions, they rejected the One Savior who could make them right with God, which leads us to the parable. 

Jesus told the story of this great banquet to get the attention of those who rejected Him.  The Pharisees along with all of God’s chosen people were the first and most prominent people invited to God’s banquet.  They had the Law and the Prophets.  They had been served by prophet after prophet.  God had sent judges and kings to rule over that people in His place.  They had the Word of God’s testimony showing them how salvation would be accomplished.  The invitations had been sent.  Now, the Son of God was reaching out to them inviting them to come to the banquet for all things were now prepared, but those folks with long-standing invitations haughtily refused.

Jesus’ parable lists three different types who rejected the great invitation.  The first rejector said he had just purchased a field and needed to check it out.  He pleaded a necessity to do something other than partake of the great banquet.  The second rejector said he had recently purchased five yoke of oxen and he was going to see how they worked.  He pleaded inconvenience.  The time of the banquet just didn’t fit his schedule.  Finally, we meet the third rejector.  This one didn’t even ask to be excused but simply said he couldn’t attend because of pleasure.  He had a new wife to take care of, or to enjoy, so he just couldn’t be bothered with something so trivial as honoring the great man by attending his banquet.  Whatever their excuse, we hear Jesus condemn those who turned away as He says, “I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'"

In Jesus’ parable, every person initially invited chose something else over partaking of the banquet.  As we hear Jesus’ words, it could be easy for us to look back at those Pharisees with almost a mocking eye.  How foolish they were to reject God’s gracious invitation, but before we begin to boast, let’s ask the question, what about us?  How often do we spit in God’s face when He invites us to come in and eat?  It is easy for us to think of this parable as an invitation to heaven, and it is that, yet there is also a more immediate application, so before we start to look down on those other people who rejected the invitation outright, we are well-advised to remember that we too have received invitations to partake of God’s feast.  But how often do we turn God away?

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (John 6:51) John began his gospel by writing, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In him was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)  I am in danger of mixing metaphors here, but you and I have been invited to partake of forgiveness and salvation leading to everlasting life through faith in Christ Jesus, and that faith is worked in us through the hearing of the word and by receiving all that the Holy Spirit offers through the Sacraments. 

This is God’s invitation to the banquet of heaven, and this is the feast of His victory!  Yet, how often do we turn away to pursue other interests?  How often is taking care of our crops more important to us than sitting at Jesus’ feet in worship?  How often is a television show, a hobby, sport, or recreation more important to us than reading our Bibles?  How much more would we rather spend our time glued to our phones, our Facebook accounts, or the gossip of social media and the news than to fall on our knees in prayer?

If anyone here thinks he is without sin in this, then you are a better man than me, because we all stumble this way.  Martin Luther confessed that he sinned three times before he got out of bed in the morning, and don’t worry, it wasn’t because he slept late or was any worse than anyone else.  It is simply true that our sinful natures always find our own lives more fascinating and more important than the banquet of God’s Word.  So, what is the solution for sinners like us?

The solution is found in what the master of the banquet did when rejected by the invitees.  He sent his servant to “bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”  When that didn’t fill his house, he sent his servant out to the highways and byways telling him to “make them come in, so that my house will be full.”  Now, this last command doesn’t mean that the servant would force anyone to attend.  He would compel them with the glories of the banquet that the others had so foolishly rejected.

But, what does all this mean for you and me?  What it means is that The Lord has opened His house for you.  Yes, for you.  I know we have been invited, and I know I said we have all been guilty of rejecting God’s invitation, but the Lord in His mercy sent Jesus to open the gates of heaven for sinners.  There is no other kind of people.  Still, that doesn’t mean everyone will enter God’s heaven.  But by word and Sacrament, you are continually being invited by the Servant, the Helper, the Holy Spirit to come in from the highways and byways of life to partake of the banquet of heaven.

Like those Pharisees of old, we are guilty.  But, just like those Pharisees, we hear Jesus calling, pleading with us to believe His message, urging us to believe in Him as our Savior, the Promised One of the Almighty.  Yes, we once were blind to the living Savior.  Yes, we are poor in our works.  Yes, we are crippled by sinful natures and weak wills.  Yes, we limp in everything we do.  But, we are the people Jesus lived and died to save, and He sends His Holy Spirit through word and Sacrament to compel us to partake of His feast of salvation.

Dear friends, why are you here today?  The answer is found in the work of God’s Servant, the Holy Spirit.  At your baptism, or whenever you were brought to faith in Jesus, the Spirit turned you from rejecting God’s invitation to gladly feasting on the message of Christ’s salvation.  And, it is the power of the Holy Spirit working in you that makes you glad to come into this house to partake of the living bread of Jesus Christ, to feast on the banquet of forgiveness and salvation that the Lord God of heaven and earth has prepared throughout the ages and completed in the work of His Son.

Now, for some people, this is hard to hear.  Some want to claim that they decided for Jesus.  Some want to believe that they are working to earn their place in heaven.  Others want to believe that everyone will be allowed into the feast of glory no matter the faith.  But, those people are often walking away with the Pharisees, rejecting the gracious invitation of Almighty God. 

Whenever we think we can do something to gain our salvation, we are really rejecting God’s gracious, undeserved invitation.  Yet, when we fall before the Lord in humble repentance and grateful thanksgiving, then we are welcomed into the feast, but we don’t come dressed as beggars, we don’t walk in with the filthy clothes of the working man.  We were washed clean in baptism, and there we were given new life and were dressed in the precious wedding clothes woven together on our behalf by the holy, innocent life of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus.

Now, what excuses do we still want to make when God calls us to partake of this heavenly feast?  Does work drag you away from eternal salvation, does it call you away from your place at the banquet?  Does fun and leisure entice you to walk apart from the Bridegroom of heaven?  Do the burdens and cares of this life steal away your joy at receiving God’s invitation?  Whenever these kinds of temptations come your way, return to the mercy you are given in Jesus who said, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.(Matthew 11:28)

The hardships and temptations of the world seek to drag all of us away from the celebration of the marriage feast of God’s Son.  But, that Son lived and died and rose again so that you could be welcomed in.  He gave His all so that you can be dressed for the greatest celebration ever.  Jesus calls you today, just as He calls you every time you hear His Word and every time He feeds you with His body and blood in His Supper.  Partake in this feast of everlasting life.  Enter the heavenly banquet by hearing the Word made flesh as He calls for you to come and eat.  The Lord has opened His house for you.  Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore.  Amen. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Love in the perfect love God has for you.


Sermon for Trinity 1, June 3, 2018

From God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, grace, mercy and peace is with us in truth and love.  Amen.

1 John 4:16-21  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.  18 There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  19 We love because he first loved us.  20 If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  21 And he has given us this command: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Love in the perfect love God has for you.

Dear sons and daughters of the heavenly Father,

            Some people wrongly assume that having many blessings from God is proof that they stand in God’s favor and therefore have no further responsibilities.  However, our lesson from Jeremiah dispels that notion, for the prophet warns against boasting in earthly possessions or accomplishments.

            Other people wrongly assume that God gives earthly riches to individuals so that they might enjoy personal pleasure in those things without regard to the needs of one’s neighbor, as the rich man of our Gospel lesson assumed.  However, whether rich or poor, healthy or ill, slave, free, or master, no earthly status denotes approval before God.  Neither should we assume that the gifts and talents God has blessed us with are to be used selfishly.  Rather, whatever talents or riches are put in our possession as we travel through life are given to us so that we can love God and our neighbor just as God has loved us.  Therefore, we are to Love in the perfect love God has for you.

            The subject of our sermon text is a difficult matter for us to comprehend and to live.  We tend to think of love in romantic and emotional ways, but the love spoken of here is far more comprehensive than romantic love.  Certainly, there is an element of this love in our romantic relationships.  In fact, this self-sacrificing, priority concern for the other person love should be the chief element in every relationship we have.  That may be the hardest part, because our sinful nature finds it far easier for us to make our personal needs and desires our priority.

Jesus repeated God’s chief commandments for us when He said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' (Matthew 22:37-39)  Likely most Christians of our time would say they love God.  However, it is almost equally likely that precious few spend much time examining what that means. 

To love God means to put our complete hope and trust in Him, alone, and to serve Him unquestionably in every detail of our lives.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a great theologian, to realize that we often fail to love God as we should.  Our failure to love God perfectly is the first and chief reason we need a Savior. 

Our sermon text, though, is really addressing that second command to love our neighbor as ourselves.  The apostle wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”  We who claim to love God must love our brother, and this doesn’t mean just our close family member.  Nor does it mean just our brothers in the Christian faith, though certainly both of these should have first priority in our love.  In fact, the Bible declares, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)

So, if we are to love all these people, what does that love entail?  We all realize that there is a need for physical help required.  James wrote, “If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:16)  Therefore, believing Christians will be concerned about our neighbors’ physical wellbeing. 

However, even more than helping with physical needs, truly loving our neighbor means showing them love in spiritual things.  We must be always true to God’s Word if we would serve our neighbor spiritually.  We must show proper concern for how our neighbor is living if we have the relationship to help.  That means we dare not approve of sinful lifestyles.  We dare not pretend that what God calls sin will be overlooked in the judgment just because modern society approves of it. 

Rather, when we see a brother or sister whose eternal salvation is in danger, it behooves us to do whatever we can to help that person see the error and to receive forgiveness and healing from the Lord.  True love doesn’t turn away when sin must be confronted.  But true love also requires that we share the full counsel of God in every situation.  You see, this type of love is what God has shown us.

Dear friends, “We know and rely on the love God has for us.”  This is the Christian faith.  For our eternal salvation and for help in every trouble, we rely on the love God has shown us in Christ Jesus.  God the Father shows us what real love is for He gave His own Son, the Only-Begotten of the Father, the One whom the Father praised from on high—God gave Christ to live and die so that you and I might live and never die.  God withheld nothing from the business of saving sinners.  Jesus withheld nothing, but set aside His throne and crown to live in poverty and meekness, to suffer and die for sins He didn’t commit, so that you and I could be counted righteous by His Father in heaven. 

God shows His love by providing for believer and unbeliever alike.  The sun shines and the rains fall for everyone.  The same is true with the forgiveness won for us by God’s Son.  Jesus lived and died and rose again for everyone.  That’s where our love comes in.  The Holy Spirit works through regained children of God to share His love with fellow troubled souls.  John wrote, “God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.”

Wow!  What an amazing statement John makes in this last phrase: “in this world we are like him.”  In this world, we are like God!  Now, of course, that doesn’t mean we no longer sin.  What it means is that through faith and the love of God, we have been given the ability to forgive sin.  Not by any means to approve sin, but by the light of God dwelling in us to grant release from the darkness and chains of Satan’s delusions so that the penitent sinner may enjoy the peace we have in Christ Jesus.

Through the power of His Word, and the gracious gift of Baptism, God made us a part of Himself.  Whoever believes in the God of love has God in Him, and with Him, and is empowered by God to love others unselfishly.  That love becomes complete in us immediately upon receiving faith by the power of the Holy Spirit, but it is manifested upon the world by our acts of love which God put us in position to do.  St. Paul wrote, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Now, many people, even many unbelievers, want to do good works, but maybe most people do them for the wrong reasons.  Works done because we think God is watching over our shoulder and will judge us if we don’t do them are done out of fear.  Works that are done seeking to win God’s favor aren’t considered good works at all by God because they are also based on fear.  Works done because of fear may well help people here on earth, but they certainly count for nothing when Judgment Day comes.  Why?  Because works that originate in man, and works that seek to appease an angry god, are not works of faith, “and without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)

But, dear friends, consider what John wrote.  He said, “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us.”  Fear comes from the old sinful nature that wants to hide from God, both from His judgment, and from His mercy.  But, Christ Jesus has removed our fears, even our fears of failure, because through Him, God has removed our sins as far as east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12)  Therefore, for the Christian believer, works come naturally by the Spirit working God’s perfect love in us. 

Perfect love brought the Son of God to earth in the form of an infant Child laid in a manger.  Perfect love led Jesus to live according to the Law and His Father’s will in every thought, word, feeling, and deed.  Perfect love put Jesus on a cross on the hill outside Jerusalem with all the sins of the world on His shoulders.  And, perfect love rose from the grave on Easter morning as Jesus rose alive to live and reign forever.

Today, I am reminding myself, and all of you, of the love we are commanded to show to a world of sinners who don’t deserve it.  They are all the same as you and me.  None of us deserved God’s love.  God loved us anyway.  None of earned God’s forgiveness; He gave it regardless. 

Now, will we fail to love our friends and neighbors as God as loved us?  Undoubtably.  But, Jesus never failed, and it is His love and His righteousness that God credits to us.  At the same time, it is Jesus’ love for us that encourages us to be brave in loving others and empowers us to love in ways we couldn’t dream up on our own.

As you go about your daily lives, remember the love God has shown you.  You are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.  You have life everlasting through faith in Christ, and you have been given the rare privilege of sharing God’s love and forgiveness with any and all you meet.  Remember that your neighbor needs that love too.  We all have children, relatives, friends, neighbors, and maybe even enemies that need our daily prayers, our encouragement, and our invitations to return to the God of love.  Make your life a living testimony to the faith you have been given, not because you must or because you need to satisfy some angry power, but because God’s love is living, active, and growing in you by the power of the Spirit in Word and Sacrament.  Because of God’s love for you in Word and action, you have peace with God, and you have power to be God’s love to others.  Go out in the merciful kindness and total forgiveness of God above.  Love in the perfect love God has for you.  Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

God wants to give you life; repent and live!


Sermon for Trinity Sunday, May 27, 2018

Grace to you and peace from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Ezekiel 18:30-32  "Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent!  Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.  31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.  Why will you die, O house of Israel?  32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent and live!

God wants to give you life; repent and live!

These are the words of our Lord.  We pray:

O Lord, our Lord; how excellent is Your name in all the earth!  According to Your promise, show your mercy to us and make us holy by the words of Your truth.  Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed,

            On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate God as He really is in the three persons of the Trinity.  But, how do you picture God?  And along with that question, how do you see yourself in relation to God?  Throughout time, people have had various ideas about who God is.  For some, God is a nice guy who wouldn’t hurt anyone.  Others think God is asleep, or doesn’t exist, or is too far out there to have any impact here on earth.  On the other hand, many people view God as a fearsome being, and some assume God is bound and determined to cause them harm.  But perhaps the most common idea, today, is that God is often unfair, unreliable, or unpredictable. 

            Now, maybe we don’t usually think God is unfair.  However, as we look around, we see that most people consider themselves pretty good people, so it is common for us to expect that everything should always go well for us, because we feel like we deserve that.  Thus, when a person experiences trouble or pain, he tends to look for someone to blame, and often, the someone blamed is God.

            The Children of Israel, at the time Ezekiel lived, were blaming God for their exile in Babylon.  They accused God of punishing them, unfairly, because of the sins of their forefathers.  They claimed that they, themselves, were pretty good, so God must be punishing them, mostly, for their parents’ godlessness.  Through the prophet, though, God makes it very clear that He punishes no one for anyone else’s sin.  Each sinner will suffer God’s judgment only for his own works.  But the Good News, for Israel and for us, is that God shows His mercy as He calls sinners away from their path of death so that He could give them life.  My friends, from this bit of Scripture, we see the True God as He truly is—perfectly just, yet always loving—we hear both God’s desire and His earnest plea: God wants to give you life; repent and live!

            After hearing Israel’s complaints, God announced to them, “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways.”  Here we see God’s perfect justice.  No one is freed or condemned based on the sins of another.  Rather, each person will stand before God to be judged based on his own thoughts, deeds, and faith.  We must note that the Israelites thought they were already suffering God’s judgment, but the truth is God was using their captivity mainly to call them to repentance.  His final judgment was yet to come.  It’s a common misunderstanding.  Whenever we experience some serious trouble, we might start to wonder, “What did I do to deserve God allowing this bad thing to happen to me?”  In reality, however, all we’re really doing is blaming God for our guilt.

Blaming God is nothing new.  Adam and Eve tried it after they disobeyed God’s command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It wasn’t their fault they said; they each blamed their partner, or the devil, or God Himself as the fault. 

The devil likes to whisper in our ears that God is not treating us fairly.  He convinced Eve that God was withholding something good from her and her husband.  If they would only eat from the tree, the devil assured them, they would become like God.  But by listening to the devil, Adam and Eve went from being the image of God, to reflecting the image of the liar and murderer, and their sin affects you and me.

Like Adam and Eve and the devil, you and I tend to make gods of ourselves when we try to judge God’s providence.  Does that sound too harsh?  Did you ever cry out “Why God, why me?” when some great pain came into your life?  When we are afflicted with cancer or some other serious illness, it’s very easy to wonder if God really cares about us.  When a loved one is called away from this world, it’s very tempting for us to accuse God of stealing away from us the blessing He has been giving us in that person.  When people treat us poorly or cause us harm, we are tempted to wonder, why does God allow their evil?  Thus, some ask, why doesn’t God destroy evil people before they afflict our world?  But then, aren’t we, in fact, asking God to destroy us right along with all the other sinful people?

It is foolish and sinful to blame the Lord God for the evil, and the troubles, and the sorrows of this world.  Those who do so merely show that they are rejecting God’s divine authority.  Yet, here in our text, we see God’s unlimited love and mercy, for even though we sometimes fall into the devil’s evil trap, God continues to call to us, Repent!  Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.  Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.”  As we hear these words, some will be tempted to make it law, “Thou shalt repent!”  But remember what Paul wrote to Timothy: “God our Savior… wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)  Here, therefore, God is imploring His people to turn away from foolish desires and false idols to return to His loving embrace.  Three times God calls to us with a passion to save: throw off your offenses, turn away from your sin, and return to Him, the God of mercy and grace. 

Rather than being determined to destroy us for our sins, our Lord wants us to have every good blessing He can give.  Especially, God wants to give you and me eternal life with Him in heaven, so He calls for us to leave sin, rebellion, and arrogance behind to return to Him.  St. John tells us how much God wants us to live when he says, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

God pleads with His people, Why will you die, O house of Israel?”  God doesn’t punish our individual sins here on earth, and He certainly doesn’t want to punish us with eternal death in hell.  It wasn’t His plan that we should sin, but in His righteous justice and holiness, He had to punish sin.  So, in His love for us, Jesus became our substitute, and God poured out all of His wrath for the sin of the world on His own beloved Son on that cross outside of Jerusalem.  Because He punished Jesus for all our sins, God doesn’t want us to suffer eternal death.  Rather, because He wants us to live, He invites us to give up our stubborn rebellion to return to Him for total forgiveness.

Today, we are entering the Trinity season of the Church year.  During the festival half of the church year, we heard of all Jesus did in His life and death to heal the rift between God and the human race.  Now, in the Trinity season, we will focus a little more on how we are to live in response to Jesus’ salvation.  But before we can start living for Jesus, we must be turned away from living for our sinful flesh.  Because God wants to give you life, He sends His Holy Spirit through His Word to call us to repentance, and through the Gospel, God heals our souls.  Therefore, repent and live!

Ezekiel wrote down God’s words, Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.  If we want to carry the burden of our sins, we can do that, but we will carry them into eternal punishment in hell.  Here, God tells His people that there is no need for us to do that.  Your sins were paid for by God’s Son on the cross.  Therefore, God invites rebellious souls to return to Him in faith so that their sins are not held against them, but are put off them onto Christ their Savior.  Then, by faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives us new hearts and living spirits.  God wants us to be forgiven and live forever.  He made that possible through Christ Jesus.

I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD.  God wants nothing more than to give you and me and every other person who ever walks on this planet, a new and holy life.  God wants nothing more than to share His home in heaven with us.  There’s only one thing that stops that, and that is rejection of His mercy and grace.

In Ezekiel’s writing, God told Israel how He planned to give us life for the sake of His holy name.  He said, “I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)  By nature, our hearts were as dead as stone.  We were born with no ability to come to God, no willingness to believe in Him, and no desire to serve Him.  Therefore, God tells us how He, He alone, as each person of the Trinity, works to do everything necessary so that He can give you life.

I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent and live!  As we go about our lives here on earth, we like to think that we make good choices.  In reality though, on our own, we always chose wrong.  God doesn’t want us to make the wrong choice, so He sends His messengers with the words that can change stone dead heats into living hearts that believe in the salvation He offers.  God put the power of His word in the water of Baptism through which He brought you to faith.  He puts His flesh and blood in the bread and wine of the Sacrament through which He strengthens your faith and assures you of the salvation won for you by Christ.

Each day going forward as believing Christians, you and I will have a choice.  We can continue to believe the God who redeemed us through the death of His Son and trust the God who brought faith to us through Baptism and the preaching of His Word.  Or, we could trust in ourselves which leads to suffering forever in the pit of hell.  It doesn’t sound like much of a choice, does it?  Therefore, hear the Lord God as He cries out to you with an earnest plea, “Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” 

My friends, the Lord God is calling you to spend your life letting Him give you that new heart and new life through the saving power of His Word.  We all know there will be difficult times or sad days that come our way.  There may be times when you feel like questioning God, but it is far better to turn away from rebellion and to trust in the Triune God alone.  Through the apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit assures us that God works all things for our good, even those things that seem so hard for us to bear. (Romans 8:28)  Through good days and bad, God provide all the good things we need for our lives.  True, sometimes He allows us to experience difficulties, and even some tragedies.  But always, He calls us to turn again to Him; for help in any trouble, for forgiveness of all our sins, to let Him be our salvation, to let Him give us life.

God didn’t create the world to cause us pain or death, and He certainly doesn’t want you to suffer death in eternity.  He wants you to live.  He wants you to enjoy the heavenly home He is preparing for you.  Therefore, He calls you through His Word and enlivens you and strengthens you through His Gospel and Sacraments.  In His love for you, God wants to give you life.  God grant that you always hear Him as He calls to you, “Repent and live!  Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus

unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Peace—Jesus gives it; the Spirit brings it.


Sermon for Pentecost, May 20, 2018

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

John 14:23-31  Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.  These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.  25 "All this I have spoken while still with you.  26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  28 "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.'  If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.  29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.  30 I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming.  He has no hold on me,  31 but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.  "Come now; let us leave.”

Peace—Jesus gives it; the Spirit brings it.

Dear friends in Christ,

            Peace seems to be in short supply in our world.  That’s nothing new, I guess, yet when you read about school shootings almost daily, and graphic suicides just as often, when our politics and social media are filled with mudslinging, flat out lies and distortions, when people in power take advantage of their situations, when it feels like danger lurks around every corner, and so many want to be viewed as victims of one thing or another, it makes one wonder just what is going on?

            Of course, we can look closer to home for vivid examples of someone wanting peace.  Maybe it’s a young mom overwhelmed by taking care of a colicky baby, or a parent wondering if all the hours he or she is putting in at work is worth the sacrifice of family time.  Maybe it’s a farmer feeling guilty for missing church a Sunday or two during planting or harvest, a new graduate wondering what the future holds, a teacher or coach who feels like he or she can’t do enough for the children that need extra help, or a retiree who is worried about what the doctor will say at the next appointment.  Maybe we all just want to get away from the worries and troubles that so abound in this present world.  Maybe we all want to ask, “Where can we go for peace?”

            Many in our world will use the troubles of our times to push for more laws, or more government involvement.  Many will decry the unfairness of life in general, even though the complaining solves nothing.  Today, I would like to offer you a better answer, a peace that no one can take away from you, a peace that won’t end at the next bad news you hear.  Today, let me tell you about peace from God, and let our theme be Peace—Jesus gives it; the Spirit brings it.

Shortly before He was betrayed by His friend, and therefore, shortly before Jesus suffered and died on our behalf, He spoke the words of our text in response to a disciple’s question about why Jesus was revealing Himself to His followers and not to the whole world, Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”  Earlier, Jesus had said to His disciples, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but division.(Luke 12:51) 

What this shows is that not everyone will enjoy the peace that Jesus gives.  Like that questioning disciple, many people want to ask why this is so.  The reason many people won’t have the peace Jesus gives is not found in God, but the cause is people refusing to accept His teachings.  Those who reject Jesus and His word are guilty of not loving Him.  There is no one to blame for that except the one who refuses to hold to what Jesus taught, and Jesus emphasizes that His message doesn’t come from Him alone, but it is exactly what God the Father sent Jesus to teach.

Here too, we must admit that none of us deserves to be loved by God.  The lack of peace in the world is caused by sin in people, by the curse of sin, and by the devil’s manipulations.  And, we also sin.  Therefore, the peace Jesus gives isn’t earned by anyone.  Rather, solely because of God’s amazing love and mercy, Jesus entered this world to win peace between us and His Father. 

As Jesus spoke these words, the conclusion of His salvation mission was drawing near.  These final instructions to His disciples were preparing them for the days and weeks ahead.  In a few short hours, Jesus would be arrested, put on trial, condemned, and finally nailed to a cross until dead.  Nothing about that weekend seemed peaceful.  In fact, the men who had followed Jesus for three years, fully committed to His cause, suddenly found themselves alone and terrified.  And still, they had the peace that only Jesus gives.

Now you might ask, how can this be?  How could they have peace yet be so troubled?  The answer is in this—the peace was not in them, but in Jesus, in His life and death on their behalf.  The Father already loved those disciples because of their trust in Jesus.  The Father had already forgiven them of all sin by the time Jesus died that Friday afternoon, just as the Father forgave us for Jesus’ sake.  Jesus was leaving their physical presence for a time, but He wasn’t abandoning them.  He was going to the cross to save them, and as we heard at Ascension, Jesus returned to His Father after completing His mission of bringing peace between God and mankind. 

That night before Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for the sinners of the world, He said to His followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  Jesus knew every detail of what was to come for Him.  He also knew that He would not fail at carrying out His Father’s plan.  Peace, everlasting peace, was as good as won because God’s Son was carrying out the mission.

The disciples would go through a roller coaster ride of emotions over the course of the next weeks.  That likely didn’t change as they were sent out to tell the world about Jesus.  But one thing did change—a Helper came to them, and that’s what we are celebrating today on Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit was sent to those disciples with a rushing wind and flames of fire on their heads.  But the real difference for them isn’t those outward signs, but rather, what Jesus promised them the night before He died: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

In our world, some people want to focus on those signs.  They want to know when they will be able to speak in tongues, when will they be able to withstand snakebites, and when they might receive the other signs that those first apostles were given, but the real gift of the Holy Spirit is to know God’s Word and to trust it, and from that Word comes true faith and true love of our Savior.

When the Spirit rested upon them, everything Jesus told His disciples before He died finally made sense.  It really is the same for you and me.  God forgiving us for the sake of a Man who died almost two thousand years ago doesn’t make any sense to a rational mind.  It isn’t something we can dream up or understand on our own.  But this too is why Jesus left the physical world to reign above.  It isn’t His work to change our hearts.  That job falls to the Holy Spirit who works through the Word (But remember, John also called Jesus the Word). 

The Spirit works through the Word in exactly the way God promises.  He uses the Law to terrify us and to show us our sin.  Then, He uses the Gospel to transform us from spiritually dead, rebellious, God-haters, into a people chosen for God’s own household.  By the Word of our Savior, the Holy Spirit makes us alive, makes us acceptable to the Father, makes us willing servants of the Most High God, and having put love for Jesus in us, the Spirit brings us the peace of knowing that we have the love of the Father forever.

That same night, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)  Here, Jesus also declares, Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.'  If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.  I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.”  Everything Jesus did was for the purpose of completing God’s mission of saving you and me.  But, it wasn’t to give us a perfect life here in this crumbling world.  Rather, Jesus restored us to peace with God in order that we could enjoy His gift to us all—the certain hope of everlasting life in heaven.

Jesus continued teaching His disciples as they walked toward the Garden of Gethsemane where the betrayal would take place, but in the upper room where He had instituted the Lord’s Supper, Jesus spoke these final words, “I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming.  He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”  The outcome of the battle between Jesus and the devil was never in doubt.  Because of the righteous justice of our God, Jesus did exactly what His Father planned.  You and I need to know this, because this is the truth that sets us free from the devil’s snares.

Because of Jesus’ perfect life, and substitutionary sacrifice, His love for the Father was complete.  Because of Jesus’ perfect love for the Father, you and I are credited by faith with perfect love for the Almighty God.  This is the message of the Gospel, the message the Spirit instills in us, that because of Jesus we have peace with God.

Therefore, whenever the difficulties of your life begin to overwhelm you, if a deadly diagnosis should come your way, if life seems too uncertain and too dangerous to face, if you are feeling guilty about anything, then hold on to Jesus’ word.  In Christ, we have forgiveness and redemption that the world can’t take away.  In Christ, we have peace with our Creator.  In Christ, we have a High Priest interceding for us day and night.  Yet, God hasn’t stopped even there.  For in the Holy Spirit, we have God building up our faith in Jesus and our love for Him.  In the Holy Spirit, we have a Helper who works through the Word to wash away our sins and lead us ever closer to our Father’s eternal home. 

Dear friends, know that no matter what happens here on earth, you have real peace—peace with God: Peace—because Jesus gives it; peace because the Spirit brings it to you.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Celebrate Ascension for its true and certain hope.


Sermon for Ascension / Easter 7, May 13, 2018

"Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths." (Isaiah 2:3)  Amen.

Acts 1:1-11  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach  2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.  3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.  He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."  6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"  7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

Celebrate Ascension for its true and certain hope.

Dear brothers and sisters of our risen Savior,

            Imagine for a moment that you have a brother who has been elected president of this great United States of America.  Imagine the excitement in your family at his inauguration since you enjoy such a close relationship with the most powerful man on earth.  Now, imagine that a horrible civil war has broken out, and the whole nation, you and I included, is being misled by a wicked traitor to fight against your brother, and in the final deciding battle, your brother, the president, fights in bloody, hand to hand combat against that chief, evil traitor.  Finally, your brother wins the victory.  The traitor is destroyed.  Yet, your brother has suffered awful, deadly injuries no one could be expected to survive.  Imagine your sorrow and the shame you would feel for your part in the rebellion.

Now imagine that by some unexpected miracle, your brother has fully recovered from his wounds and has declared amnesty for all!  Imagine your relief and the celebration that would take place on the day he returns to his rightful place as the head of this great nation that has been freed from rebellion by the suffering your brother endured.  There would be parades and dancing in the streets like no other day in our history.  That is the way one could expect Christians would celebrate the Ascension of our Lord Jesus. 

You see dear friends, the Prince of all creation, God’s only begotten Son, came down from heaven and made Himself your dear brother as He took on human flesh.  Through the Virgin Mary, God’s Son was born in a stable at Bethlehem.  At Christmas, we celebrated the Savior’s birth.  On Palm Sunday, we celebrated His taking up His crown as King over all.  On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, we commemorated the awful, bloody battles through which Jesus won our freedom by His suffering and death.  Then, on Easter morning, we rejoiced that though Christ gave up His life to win our freedom, He has taken up His life again.  Today, as we celebrate Jesus’ Ascension, we see Christ’s return to His eternal throne, from which our dear Brother reigns over heaven and earth for all time, and for our good. 

As we celebrate Christ’s Ascension, we celebrate the fullness of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and Satan, and we rejoice in the fact that because our Brother reigns forever, we now share in His victory.  If you think Christmas is a great day to celebrate, and if you think Easter is the penultimate event, then remember that Christ’s Ascension is the day of final triumph.  The war is over; Christ’s work on earth is complete.  The time had come for Jesus to return to His throne of victory from which He will reign until the end of time.

            But, what does Jesus’ Ascension mean for you and me in our everyday lives?  Well, it answers the question, have we been left alone to face the dreariness of this war-torn battlefield in which we live?  The ascension shows us that Jesus has not abandoned us at all!  Luke writes, “While he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’"  Jesus would not leave His people alone in this world.  Rather, Christ ascended to His Father’s side to send His Helper to teach, lead, and empower us for the work we are given to do.  The Gift Jesus promised is His Holy Spirit. 

In our sermon text, St. Luke tells us much of what our Brother is doing for us from His throne in heaven.  First though, Luke re-affirms all the proofs of the life Jesus gave, and His resurrection from the grave, before Jesus returned to His heavenly throne.  After his suffering, he [Jesus] showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.  He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”  Other writers, too, reported the numerous times Jesus showed Himself visibly alive and fully functioning after rising from the dead, including over five hundred eye witnesses at one time. (1 Corinthians 15:6)

            Jesus used the days between His resurrection and His ascension to further teach and strengthen His disciples who were chosen to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ traitor-crushing victory to a world of rebels.  Jesus had told His disciples, earlier, that He needed to leave them before His Helper would come to them, (John 16:7) and we can easily see how important it was for the Holy Spirit to come and teach them, for Luke reported, When they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’"  It’s a little bit amazing isn’t it, that after three years of being daily led and taught by Jesus, His disciples were still looking for a kingdom of glory on earth.  They were still ruled by fear, but the Spirit was coming to take away their fears.

But, what about you and me?  Do we ever desire to have Jesus be with us personally on earth, to have Jesus take charge of everything so that our lives would be a little better here?  Maybe even make His followers—Christians like us—be the ruling authorities?  It’s a temptation all of us might feel as we observe the breakdown of society, the slaughter of innocents, and the persecution of believers by unbelievers.  However, the Bible makes it clear that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.  Furthermore, rather than just to make our lives here less troublesome, Jesus’ true mission was to rescue us from this desolate, dreary wasteland and return us to the Paradise from which our first parents were driven.

            With patience far greater than I have ever been able to show, “Jesus said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’"  In other words, we and all of Jesus’ disciples need not be concerned about the things that God Himself controls.  Whether God plans for us to live on earth for a few moments, or a full century, shouldn’t be our concern.  Whether our lives here on earth are troubled, or relatively easy, also shouldn’t be our worry.  God has a plan for us, and it is good. 

Jesus’ ascension to heaven assures us that God has a home waiting for us in His heavenly mansions, a place that far exceeds any good thing we can understand right now, a place prepared for our eternal dwelling at no cost to us.  At the appointed time, the Father will indeed bring this world to an end, but our job, while we are living here, is to be witnesses proclaiming to the world everything Jesus has done for us.  And as we do that work, Jesus assures us that we will never be left alone.

            A few days after the event of our text, the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ disciples.  We will celebrate that day next Sunday as Pentecost, for you and I haven’t been left out.  The Holy Spirit was sent to each of us to bring us to faith.  In the waters of Baptism, the Spirit was there cleansing us from all sin and raising up new life within.  Whenever we hear His Word, the Spirit is there strengthening us for daily life.  In the eating and drinking of the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, God is there feeding us the rich body and blood of our Lord Jesus to strengthen our faith and our spirit.  And because our Savior and Brother is with us through the work of His Holy Spirit, we are never alone no matter where we walk on the lonely roads of this troubled world.

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”  It was a moment in time with little ceremony; our humble Savior demanded no great pomp or circumstance.  Jesus simply rose up from the midst of His disciples and returned to His throne in heaven.  Dumfounded for a moment, the disciples stood there watching Jesus rise and wondering what would happen next.  Where did they fit in?  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’"

There is something we should notice here: Luke no longer says anything about the disciples being afraid.  All of their uncertainties and fears had disappeared.  Never again would the disciples have doubts about Jesus or their work on earth.  Just as Jesus had instructed them, they returned to Jerusalem and remained there, mostly in prayer, until the day of Pentecost.  And then, after being fully equipped by the Holy Spirit, the disciples went about the work Jesus had given them.  In the meantime, those men trusted the words of the two angels: that Jesus would be returning to take them home with Him.  They didn’t know when—when no longer really mattered to them.  Because of all they had seen Jesus do, they had full confidence that Jesus would always do exactly what He had promised them. 

That, dear friends, is the message of the Ascension.  You and I can, and should, have complete confidence in Jesus.  Jesus completed everything He came to do for you and me.  Because our Brother, Jesus, took all the punishment and death we each deserved, there is nothing left that we must do to escape eternal punishment for our share in the devil’s rebellion.  And because of what Jesus did for us, His Father in heaven now counts us as His restored, dearly loved children who will share in an everlasting inheritance right along with our Brother and Savior, Jesus. 

From that day forward, also, our dear Brother has resumed His rightful reign over heaven and earth, for His Father “Put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23) What this means for us, in the here and now, is that as King over heaven and earth, Jesus controls all things for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)

So, why do we celebrate Ascension Day?  We celebrate because, dear friends, your Savior rescued you from the rebellion of Satan and this wicked world, and you have been made members of the family of God through faith in Christ.  We celebrate because your dearest Brother lives and reigns as King over heaven and earth, and His ears are open to your prayers.  Because of His great love for you, Jesus lives as your High Priest, interceding with the Father on your behalf for all eternity.  Furthermore, we celebrate because your dear Brother, the King of all creation, will return at His Father’s appointed time to take you home to live and reign with Him forever. 

Thus, because of Jesus’ ascension to His Father’s side in heaven, and the Spirit’s action of giving you faith in Christ, you and I have a sure and certain hope of life everlasting in paradise.  We Celebrate Ascension for its true and certain hope.  Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore.  Amen.