Sunday, June 25, 2017

Jesus prepared a feast of salvation for you.

Sermon for Trinity 2, June 25, 2017

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.  Amen.

Isaiah 25:6-9  On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines.  7 On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations;  8 he will swallow up death forever.  The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.  The LORD has spoken.  9 In that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.  This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation."

Jesus prepared a feast of salvation for you.

Dear sojourners in a troubled land,

            What do we do with the problem of guilt?

            This past week I saw the picture of an accident near my home town in which a sixteen-year-old driver somehow drifted onto the shoulder of a road and struck and killed a man riding a bicycle.  Viewing that picture, I found myself wondering, how will she be able to live with herself knowing that in a moment of neglect, she has killed an innocent man?

            Another day, I read of a grandmother who backed her car out of her garage and over her grandchild, and again, I found myself wondering, how could I live with myself if I did that to my grandson?  So, I wonder, what will that teenage driver, and that grandmother, do with their guilt? 

As terrible as these two incidents sound, though, the truth is I am also guilty of these things, because the Bible says that “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.(James 2:10)  Thus, since I have, at times, forgotten to look out for my neighbor, and I have been careless on occasion, I am just as guilty.  And, so are all of you.

So, what do we do with our guilt?  Do we sweep it under a rug like some lazy housekeeper?  Many people try to hide their guilt.  Much like Adam and Eve, we don’t want anyone to see how bad we are, and we certainly don’t want God to notice. 

Sometimes, as consciences grow dull, people try to put their sin on a balance scale so they can compare it to someone else’s, and that way, it doesn’t seem so bad: “Well, I only hated for a moment, so I’m not as bad as someone who actually pulled a trigger.”  “I only looked at the pictures, so it’s not like I cheated on my wife.”

Others try to rationalize their guilt: “Well, he kind of had it coming.”  Or, “If I didn’t take advantage, someone else would have, anyway.”  Or, do we say, “Well, if that person wouldn’t have hurt me, I wouldn’t have done what I did.”  Other times, we try to bargain our way out, “I’ll do better next time.”  Or we try to buy a pass, “I’ll get her some flowers and that will smooth things over.”

The truth is, guilt troubles us a lot.  Depression can often be traced to guilt that gets bottled up inside.  Guilt makes me wonder whether I am worth someone’s love.  Guilt makes us worry about what will happen if, or more likely when, someone catches our mistakes. 

Guilt can even drive a wedge between us and God.  That is perhaps the devil’s favorite scheme.  The devil likes to make us sin, but he doesn’t really care if we sin.  Rather, what he really wants is to separate us from God’s love.  He knows he can’t make us sin so bad that God won’t forgive us, but as soon as Satan gets us to sin, he turns on us and becomes our accuser.  Satan tells us that we can’t make amends, and he tells us we’re worthless since we fell for his trap.  Then, the serpent even slanders God and tells us that our sin is so bad that maybe God won’t forgive it, and that sometimes grows into a worry that God can’t forgive us.  When that happens, the devil is winning, because a guilty sinner who doesn’t think God can forgive will only try to avoid Him.

The people of Israel had a lot of guilt.  That’s why God sent Isaiah to proclaim against them.  They were guilty of many things but especially of idolatry, and lest we think we are better, remember that we too are guilty of that sin if we have ever worried, or wondered if God is really in control and whether we will be okay.  We are guilty of idolatry every time we think we can handle everything by ourselves without turning our problems over to the Lord.  So, yes, we carry a lot of guilt.

However, when God sent Isaiah to preach to Israel, God didn’t just give the prophet a message of judgment; God gave us all a message of peace.  Along with the threat of condemnation, Isaiah was to tell the people, On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines.”  God told His people about a banquet He was preparing for them—a banquet that would feed them the very best of the very best.  In fact, it is a feast of grace, love, forgiveness, victory, and peace with God.

We heard another tidbit about that celebration God promised in our Gospel lesson this morning.  In His ministry, Jesus gave several glimpses into that magnificent marriage feast of God’s Son.  The point isn’t to show us exactly what foods will be on that heavenly table, but that God was preparing the very best of things for those who heed His invitation.  And, perhaps most important for us, it shows that this feast is prepared for all people—people of every tribe, nation, color, or occupation.  Not that all will eat of that heavenly feast, but that is what God desires.  The New Testament affirms this for us promising: “God our Savior…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

Isaiah was not only shown that God would give a banquet of peace, but he also tells us how and where the LORD would do it: On this mountain he [the LORD Almighty] will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.  The LORD has spoken.” 

Isaiah describes a woven cloth that covers all the people of the world.  That shroud separates us from God.  It keeps us from truly knowing God, keeps us from knowing God’s goodness and mercy.  Honestly, this shroud is sin.  Sin keeps us separated from God.  Sin keeps us from truly knowing His love.  Sin causes all people to suffer death.  Sin causes all our suffering, pain, tears, and guilt.  But, the Lord Almighty was swallowing up sin forever, swallowing along with our sin the curse of death that goes with it.

Our English translation makes God’s actions future events, but Isaiah saw them as already completed because God had spoken and God’s spoken word is all powerful; therefore, whatever God says will happen.  Later, looking back, St. Paul would rejoice, saying, "Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?"  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

On the night Jesus was betrayed into the hands of His tormentors, He prayed in the garden, "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done." (Matthew 26:42)  In that moment, Jesus was fulfilling the promise given through Isaiah.  The Son of God who had never known sin was drinking down the sins of the whole world.  That horrible cup, that awful shroud of darkness and unbelief, became Jesus’ sin and Jesus’ death.  The separation that had kept us from God because Jesus’ separation from His everlasting Father.  No wonder Jesus pleaded with His Father for another way.  No wonder Jesus trembled, when God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Yet, in that dreadful moment, Jesus faithfully took what the Almighty had planned from the beginning.  And, that dear friends, is the Good News that brings us together here today.  Because there on that mountain of peace, known as Jerusalem, Jesus drank down sin and death for you.  There, Jesus prepared a feast of salvation for you.  All the sins you have ever committed, all the guilt you have ever felt, and far more, was charged to Jesus, and Jesus carried your evil to the cross and bore the punishment you deserved, and threw your guilt into the bowels of hell, paid for in full, because that is the only way God could justly say to you, “Friend, come into My house and celebrate with Me.”

By His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus became righteousness for you.  By dying on that cross, Jesus destroyed what the devil had planned, and Christ’s victory is for you, dear friends.  For you and me, Jesus took away everything that could separate us from God’s love.  That day, Jesus literally opened the gates of heaven for us.  And from that moment on, we have the joy of celebrating just as Isaiah foretold when he wrote, In that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.  This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation."  This is the song we will be singing for eternity after eternities long after this world passes away, because life has been restored to those who were dead.  Forgiveness is given to sinners who hear God’s proclamation of redemption.  Holiness is put on those who had been unclean, but through faith in Christ Jesus are now washed clean and dressed in the perfect holiness of Him who never sinned yet drank down all sin so that we could be made holy.  “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.(Romans 8:1-2)

What do we do with our guilt today?  We take it to Jesus in repentance.  We hear Him say, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.  Go in peace.”  The devil keeps trying to lead us into displeasing our Father in heaven.  The devil keeps trying to torment us with the guilt of our sins.  He’ll try anything to get us to think that God doesn’t love us, or God won’t forgive us, but God has already loved you with an everlasting love.  He gave His own Dear Son to live and die and rise again so that you can be called holy in His sight, so that the Almighty Lord can welcome you home as His dear children.

That, dear friends, is what Christianity is all about.  It isn’t us satisfying God with perfect obedience.  It isn’t about worshipping God with the exact right ritual.  It isn’t us jumping and dancing and feeling good about ourselves.  It is Jesus bearing the sins of the world and crushing the devil’s head.  It’s the Holy Spirit coming to us in Word and Sacrament to give us this blessed faith that connects us with our Savior in an unbreakable bond of love that removes the shroud of sin and death, cancels our guilt, and makes us welcome in His Father’s presence for all eternity.

Rejoice, my fellow believers, heaven’s gates have been opened for you.  Your invitation has been sent through the apostles and prophets.  The banquet feast is ready.  Forgiven and cleansed by God’s grace, and dressed in the pure righteousness of His Son, enter God’s presence with thanksgiving and praise; Jesus has prepared a feast of salvation for you.  Amen.  

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Enter eternity trusting only in Jesus.

Sermon for Trinity 1, June 18, 2017

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father's Son.  Amen.

Luke 16:19-31  "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores  21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table.  Even the dogs came and licked his sores.  22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side.  The rich man also died and was buried.  23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'  25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.  26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'  27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house,  28 for I have five brothers.  Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'  29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'  30 "'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'  31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

Enter eternity trusting only in Jesus.

Dear redeemed children of the living God,

            It is quite common when one considers this text to make judgments based on personal assumptions.  Many people decide that this rich man must have been greedy, or guilty of ignoring the needs of poor Lazarus.  Others assume that Lazarus was worthy of heaven simply because he was poor and had suffered so much in his life.  Yet, most of our assumptions concerning these two men are simply that—assumptions not backed by Jesus’ words.  Instead of making assumptions, we should learn that we must Enter eternity trusting only in Jesus.

            It must be admitted that, like many of the various commentators on this text, we too are often guilty of judging people by outward appearances.  The assumption is often made that the rich must be greedy and unconcerned about the poor simply because they are rich.  At the same time, the poor are often misjudged to be lazy or foolish in their choices which causes them to deserve such sad conditions.  On the other hand, some judge the poor and ill to be more noble, and therefore, more deserving of unlimited charity.  Yet, who of us can look into hearts and see what is actually there? 

            Now, of course, sometimes assumptions are validated by the reality, but a person’s eternal destination cannot be determined by the outward appearances man sees.  Only God can judge who ends up in heaven or hell.  Only God truly sees what fills the heart.  But take note, the Bible declares, “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7) 

The typical teachers of Jesus’ day, the scribes and Pharisees, would have assumed that because this rich man possessed such great wealth, he must have deserved God’s blessing.  Jesus shows us that wasn’t the case.  While God gives some people abundant blessings, others receive very little, and some must endure great suffering through no one’s fault at all.  Yet, salvation isn’t determined by riches, or effort, or even desire as St. Paul writes, It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.(Romans 9:16)

Now, some might ask, “Then, does it really matter what we do or how we live?”  Well, of course, it matters.  But it matters not in the way we might naturally expect.  Rather, what we do as Christian believers serves God’s purpose for our lives to benefit those around us.  That rich man should have been helping Lazarus according to his ability to do so, and he may have been doing that.  It is possible that Lazarus was placed at that man’s gate simply because he received some help there.  I will admit, though, that this isn’t strongly hinted at in the picture.  However, the point of this account is not that we can earn God’s respect by our outward actions.  Rather, it points to salvation being given solely by faith and by grace.  In spite of his seriously troubled life, Lazarus believed God’s promises, and he received his glory. 

The rich man on the other hand felt no need to seek God’s forgiveness and mercy, for he was plentifully endowed with riches here on earth.  Why worry about tomorrow when today is so blessed, seems to have been his attitude.  However, that type of arrogance ignores God’s sovereignty which allows Him to bless, or burden, individuals at His discretion.  To some, God gives many good things.  To others, He at times allows hardship and pain.  It is not for us to complain either way.

We should understand, rather, that Jesus meant this text as a warning for us as well.  Our attentions shouldn’t be focused only on earthly things, even when God blesses us so richly, but rather on the Word of our God.  We need to heed the Law with all its terrible warnings and judgments and realize that God means it when He says.  “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)  And, Jesus warns everyone, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)  Thus, whomever enters eternity without faith in Christ Jesus will experience the same horrible eternity as the rich man.   Furthermore, as this real-life example shows us, there is nothing anyone will be able to do to change the experience of those condemned to eternal torment.  There will be no second chances after our time on earth.  And, denying the reality of hell leads only to the most horrible fate.  Therefore, it is imperative that we Enter eternity trusting only in Jesus.

It is certain from this account that the rich man didn’t respect the means by which God chooses to bless us eternally.  That man’s days were spent enjoying the exceeding abundance of God’s providence.  Yet, in his pampered existence, seeking God’s mercy hadn’t felt important.  While still in this life, the rich man couldn’t be bothered with the spiritual blessings God desires to pour out on all people.  We might well conclude that the rich man had no understanding of the Means of Grace God provides for us. 

Even after he was consigned to torment, the rich man still didn’t think to beg God for forgiveness (not that it would have changed anything for him at that point).  Rather, he asked only for a drop of water to cool his tongue.  He still only wanted some brief relief from his everlasting torment.  Thus he asked, could Abraham make that happen?  Finally, only after entering eternal torment, did the man want help.  Earlier, it hadn’t been important to him. 

Does that sound at all familiar to the way people treat the Lord and His mercy in our world?  How many people among us don’t prefer the physical blessings to the spiritual?  How many of us wouldn’t rather pamper ourselves than go out of our way to help others?  How many of us actually devout all of our spare time to hearing, studying, and treasuring all of God’s amazing promises?  Even the best, most diligent among us would have to plead, “God, be merciful to me, as sinner!” (Luke 18:13)

But, dear friends, this was the point Jesus was making.  All of us, spiritually, were in Lazarus’ position.  We had no riches to buy our way into heaven, no works by which we could pull ourselves up by our bootstraps into God’s grace.  Our lives were fully engulfed by the sores of sin.  No, we can’t always see the effects of sin outwardly, but we too are on a slow journey to death and judgment.  However, with the medicine of His Gospel, Jesus offers us healing and relief. 

Unlike the rich man who had no cure for Lazarus’ condition, Jesus effected the perfect cure for us.  The putrid sores of laziness, selfishness, idolatry, and all our other sins that lead to death were wiped off of us and put on Jesus.  The wealth of perfect trust and absolute obedience to God that Jesus rightfully possessed as the Son of God and lived as a perfect Man, was granted to us by faith. 

Can you imagine what it must have been like to lie in the gutter, starving, hoping to fill your belly with the stinking scraps thrown out to the dogs, and having the dogs lick your open sores?  What a revolting, horrifying picture!  But, that is how God found us. 

Thanks be to God for the faith He put in us that was also given to Lazarus.  Lazarus was part of the old covenant of God’s grace—circumcised into God’s kingdom following the covenant given to Abraham and received by faith.  You and I were brought into God’s healing care through the new covenant, baptized and led to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Word of God’s grace.  It’s all the same faith—all granted by God through the work of the Holy Spirit in the Means of grace—the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.  This is what we need to hold on to whether blessed abundantly with earthly goods or impoverished and sick in the world’s dirty streets.  We too Enter eternity trusting only in Jesus.

Dear friends, eternity is forever, but our acceptance there is determined only by the faith we possess.  Heaven is granted only to those who believe in Jesus and have been baptized.  Heaven is granted to all those who believe in Jesus. 

On the other side of the coin is the reality that whoever does not believe stands condemned already.  Furthermore, whoever might stay in that state of unbelief in this life will suffer dreadfully for all the ages to come. 

Therefore, trust in the forgiveness Jesus won for you.  Trust that God’s promises are true—that Jesus lived and died and rose again for you.  Share that saving medicine with every sinner you know.  Lazarus has been enjoying his eternal rest for thousands of years now.  To him it probably seems like only a day.  That blessing is yours as well through the faith you were given when the Holy Spirit washed you clean in baptism.  Believe it.  Treasure God’s grace—Enter eternity trusting only in Jesus.  All glory to His name.  Amen.

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

You have the unimaginable: the gift of God’s grace.

Sermon for Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017

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

Romans 11:33-36  Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  34 "Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counselor?"  35 "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?"  36 For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever!  Amen.

We have the unimaginable: the gift of God’s grace.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

            What I am about to tell you is unreasonable.  In fact, to much of the world, it makes absolutely no sense at all.  The news I have for you is so inconceivable that today—the day we celebrate the Holy Trinity—might be the most important Sunday of the Church year.  It is so important, because without the Trinity doing what was necessary for us to believe and making it known to us, we could not be saved.  Christmas would mean nothing.  Easter would be incomprehensible.  Everything about the Christian Church would mean nothing to us, just as it means nothing to billions of people across the planet.

            We live in a strange paradox.  What we believe with our whole heart as Christians cannot be known apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.  Yet, once the Holy Spirit works in us, everything about Jesus and what He has done for us becomes not only logical but a tremendous relief and joy.  Thus, we may rightly say that the Bible makes perfect sense to the believer, while to the unbeliever it remains simply a complete mystery and gobbledygook.  However, St. Paul reminds us that there is Good News, and We have the unimaginable: the gift of God’s grace.

            As Paul was concluding His explanation of God’s grace for all the sinners of the world, both Jew and Gentile alike, he wrote, Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”  What this means is that there is much about God that the world simply can’t comprehend.  Paul isn’t alone in making this statement, of course.  The Bible makes it clear that God is before the world was created, that “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 12:3) and many other clear passages explain the greatness and mystery of our God.  Yet, these truths remain hidden to the unbeliever.

            The deepest trench in the ocean goes down further than the tallest mountain on earth is high, and still, the full depth of the mystery of God’s greatness is deeper than that.  Modern man, in his human wisdom, has assumed that God doesn’t exist, and yet, in a twisted pantheism imagines that the universe created itself and that mankind will either help or destroy this planet.  Evolution is foolishness to those who believe God’s Word just as His Word is foolishness to the sinner.

            Therefore, if we question why God does something, we are actually sinning against Him.  If we demand that we must understand God’s judgments, commands, or actions, we set ourselves up for condemnation.  In other words, if we assume the right to question God, we violate the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me!” (Exodus 20:3)  Now, I suppose, this could be pretty terrifying stuff, but for believers it isn’t. 

Dear friends, Paul had no intention to scare us with these remarks.  Rather, he was encouraging us concerning the greatness of God’s grace.  You see, man’s frail and faulty understanding doesn’t stop God from doing what He does.  With no help from us, God created the world and keeps it going.  The full scope of its history would befuddle us, except God tells us how He created the world and everything in it.  The Bible also explains the initial perfection of God’s creation and how it fell into ruin when the first two people rejected Him.  No one could know any of that without God telling us. 

Even though natural man centers everything on himself, he is afraid of whatever is out there, terrified that he will be found lacking worth by whatever, or whoever, determines the fates of the various people on earth.  Because of that terror, mankind has often developed worship rituals to try to appease imagined gods.  Really, every religion except true Christianity falls into this category of demanding your participation in fixing the rift between you and God.  Some religions have even demanded human sacrifices, whether it was hiding yourself from the world’s influence, or offering a virgin to some fire god of the mountain, or a self-destroying blast attempting to wipe out infidels.  All of these are the result of natural man’s terror of the mystery of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge” of the Creator of all things.

Adrift in unbelief, no sinner could come to God.  In fact, the Bible says that at birth we were spiritually dead, blind, and enemies of our Creator.  The best guess of our natural man for dealing with God is to hide from Him or to try to come up with ways to mollify His just wrath.  Natural man assumes that bad things happen in this world because whoever put us here is angry with us. 

Now, we have to admit that we, too, came into this world with as much love and knowledge of God as a dead chunk of stone.  Like every other person ever, we started out dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1), hostile to God (Romans 8:7), and hopeless (1 Corinthians 2:14).  But, God wasn’t about to leave us in that lost condition.  This is why I said that this celebration of the Trinity might be the most important Sunday of the year.  Not one of us helped God decide to create the world or bring us into it.  Not one of us helped God develop a way to save sinners.  Not one of us went forth on a grand search and found God hiding in some distant land of earth.  The Lord is beyond complete comprehension and understanding.  He is beyond what we can see, or feel, or know from experience.  Yet, God, in His great love and mercy, changed our future. 

Responding to the glory of God’s mercy, St. Paul wrote, "Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counselor?"  "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?"  For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever!  Amen.

The Lord God created the world for you and me to have a place to live.  And when we fell into sin, God kept doing what He does—loving the world’s unworthy recipients of His kindness.  Furthermore, God wants to share His love and forgiveness with every person ever born on earth.  Therefore, throughout the centuries, God promised a Savior, His own dear Son, who would come into our world of sin to live perfect sinlessness on our behalf.  For all the sinners of the world, Jesus made the substitutionary sacrifice that freed us from the curse of sin.  Bursting the jaws of death, Jesus rose from the grave alive again for our victory.  For our everlasting good, Jesus then ascended to God the Father’s side so that He might send His Holy Spirit in return, that we might hear the Good News God has prepared for us over the centuries and the Spirit’s power in the Word might work the faith in us that gives life everlasting.  In this way, We received the unimaginable: the gift of God’s grace.

As we celebrate the Trinity, we admit that none of this makes sense to human reason.  Everything about God: His unchallengeable power, His love for sinners, His willing sacrifice, and the humble methods He chooses to redeem and save us is all above and beyond what we could have imagined or dreamed on our own.  However, this is the true God we are talking about: unlimited in power, abundantly merciful, and the very definition of love. 

Human reason expects an economic transaction: if you want something from God, then you have to give something in exchange.  However, God’s Word reminds us that everything already belongs to God by the nature of His creation, and out of love He gives us everything we need. 

Human reason says that if we have offended God, then we have to pay.  God, on the other hand, says He has made the payment for us and for all.  Human reason says go and find God, but though we could never find Him, God comes to those who cannot see, and reveals Himself through the means of grace in Word and Sacrament.

We have the unimaginable: the gift of God’s grace.  As it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him’—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)  A substitutionary atonement and resurrection from the dead seems impossible, especially in light of our earthly experience, but the Bible declares, Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18) 

To the outside world, the biblical record seems far-fetched and Baptism just a quaint ceremony, but the Holy Spirit declares,God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.  In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.  It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.(1 Peter 3:20-22)

Today, even many Christians doubt the blessing that God gives in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, but Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’  Likewise, He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.’(Luke 22:19-20)  And St. Paul reminds us,The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16)  All of this seems nuts to the world, but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:23-25)  Therefore, dear friends, know without a doubt that because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

My friends, live in God’s peace.  Your sins are forgiven.  Your faith in Christ Jesus has saved you.  Like the whole company of saints in the past, and hopefully many more in the future, we are “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16)  To God alone be the glory!  You have the unimaginable: the gift of God’s grace.  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.  Amen.

Monday, June 5, 2017

By the work of the Spirit, the Lord delivers.

Sermon for Pentecost, June 4, 2017

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Son through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Joel 2:28-32  'And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.  30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.  32 And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls.

By the work of the Spirit, the Lord delivers.

Dear friends blessed by God’s Spirit,

            When reading this prophecy the Lord gives through Joel, many people immediately wonder, when will this happen?  And, as they read of the seemingly strange happenings Joel writes about, people wonder, when will we see these things come true?  However, the important thing isn’t the when but the what.  You see, this portion of God’s Word isn’t trying to tell us when God will send His Son to judge the world but that He will.  Furthermore, the what of this brief text concerns how God brings salvation to the world.  Thus we learn that By the work of the Spirit, the Lord delivers.

            If per chance you are still wondering about the when of this text, well, we can set your mind at ease, for we have known for almost two thousand years that the when is now.  We are celebrating Pentecost today, which means that we are remembering the Pentecost Day so long ago that is commonly considered the birth date of the Christian Church. 

On that historic day when the Lord sent a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon His disciples, Peter told the crowds in Jerusalem that this revelation in Joel is about the era in which we live—an era that began when Jesus had won our salvation with His perfect life and sacrificial death on the cross.  Having won that everlasting victory, Jesus declared His triumph over death, the devil, and the grave by His resurrection to life again.  Then, after a time of appearing among His disciples, teaching them much more to share with people throughout the world, Jesus returned, ascending victorious to rule over all things from His Father’s side in the glories of heaven.

So, the time is now, but what about all of those supernatural signs Joel foretold?  First, we must understand that all of these things have already been happening.  As Jesus hung on the cross enduring the punishment for our sins, the sun was darkened, and likely the moon was turned red.  Could there be a greater fulfillment than that yet to come?  Well, assuredly so, for Jesus will return in judgment, and in various places of the Scriptures, that day is described with great signs and terror.  Joel is confirming that there will be a judgment, that no one will escape its wrath, but there will be survivors, and not just survivors but those who will enjoy victory with their Savior in eternity.

Now, I said the important thing about this prophecy is the what.  In the Old Testament times, only a few people were prophets, and even they didn’t fully know God’s plans for saving the world.  Rather, they had questions about the things the Lord was revealing through them.  In his first letter, St. Peter tells us, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” (1 Peter 1:10-11)  In fact, Peter says, Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12)  But Joel gives us the answer.  Here, the Lord told His people that this mysteriousness would change.  God would reveal His whole plan of salvation and empower His followers to proclaim it.  Furthermore, dear friends, you and I are the beneficiaries of the fulfillment of this prophecy.

The New Testament tells us that “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3)  When the disciples mourned because Jesus told them of His impending return to heaven, He told them, “If I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.(John 16:7)  This is all part of God’s plan to save sinners like you and me.

But, dear friends, let’s get to the meat of the matter; we needed a Savior, and God was sending one.  We needed to know about this Savior in order to believe in Him and be saved from eternal death and destruction, and God was sending His Spirit to be our teacher.  For the benefit of many others, God intends that we be a part of spreading His Good News that saves, therefore, He makes use of those who believe in His Word to spread salvation across the world. 

The Lord declared, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”  Now, this doesn’t in any way mean that everyone on earth will speak in strange tongues.  What it does mean is that in these times after Jesus lived and died as a Man, the Lord has given us the full revelation of His will and mercy for mankind, and He has shared His mercy with us equally, as St. Paul confirmed when he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)

People living in Old Testament times only knew a part.  On the other hand, God has given us the full quantity of what we need to know to be saved.  It’s called “the Bible”.  This is how God has poured out His Spirit for all people.  And, today, there is no difference among God’s people.  This time, it is Peter who explains: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)  People!  You who have heard God’s Word and believed it—you have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  You have been given the privilege of knowing salvation and of sharing that saving word with others.  God made you His own dear family and opened the gates of heaven for you, and He invites and commands us to lead children, and all other people, to His forgiveness and salvation.

In Old Testament times, the priests offered daily sacrifices for the people.  However, Jesus sacrificed Himself once for all, so we no longer need to sacrifice animals, or grain, or anything else at a temple on earth.  That is all done with, because of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Thus, our role as priests is to proclaim the Good News—continually, faithfully, night and day, both by our words and our actions.  We are to live in this new righteousness we have been given, and God promises to hear our prayers.  Thus, as we live as God’s people, forgiven and forgiving; empowered by the Holy Spirit, ready and willing to share His grace, we bring salvation to others, for By the work of the Spirit, the Lord delivers.

Now, of course, this doesn’t mean we are all to serve in the public ministry.  As the body of Christ, the Church is made up of many parts working together to live for Him.  Yet, that doesn’t mean we needn’t participate as the Lord gives us the means.  To refuse to serve the Lord in sharing the Good News of salvation is to reject the work of the Holy Spirit which leads to one’s destruction.

Most important though, Joel tells us, “And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls.”  The remnant of Israel is all those who have believed God’s message of forgiveness and salvation.  If you have heard about Jesus living and dying and rising for you, then you can know with absolute certainty that God wants you to believe it and be saved.  If you have believed in Jesus as your Savior and Redeemer, then God wants you to know Him as your dear Father who eagerly waits to hear your prayers and to welcome you home to His mansions in heaven.  On the other hand, if you have heard this Good News but don’t quite know if you believe it, stop rejecting the Holy Spirit!  Instead, treasure your baptism and believe God’s promises that give forgiveness, salvation, and life everlasting.

This morning, we have a confirmation.  Actually, it’s really appropriate that this happens on Pentecost since Pentecost celebrates the birth of the Christian Church and in confirmation, we confirm and celebrate the rebirth that God has given to an individual at Baptism.  Through careful instruction, this confirmand has learned the basics of the Christian faith, and by his answers and statements of faith, Carson has confirmed that he believes the promises God poured out on him at his baptism, that he trusts the beautiful gift of forgiveness and welcome the Holy Spirit offers to him as a redeemed child of God, and that he eagerly desires to serve the Lord with his whole life.

Dear friends, that is what each of you has promised the Lord in response to the gifts of the Spirit poured out on you at your Baptisms, which many of you, have confirmed before God at your confirmations.  May God in His mercy, through the sanctifying power of His Holy Spirit, enable you to keep these promises, willingly and joyfully, until the day the Lord calls you to reside in His mansions in heaven forever!  By the work of the Spirit, the Lord delivers.  Amen.

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The rejected Lord sends a Helper for you.

Sermon for Easter 7, May 28, 2017

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

John 15:26 - 16:4  "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.  27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.  All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.  2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.  3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.  4 I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.  I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.

The rejected Lord sends a Helper for you.

Dear fellow witnesses for Christ,

            Not many people like being alone.  Furthermore, even those who claim to prefer a solitary life usually feel that way only because of a bad experience with loved ones.  Of course, there are some who live the hermit lifestyle because of a misguided idea that living apart from others is somehow better, but most of us prefer enjoying the embrace of family and friends.

            The Lord God who created this world also desires loving relationships with His people.  In fact, that is why God created the world and everything in it—so that He could have the company of man and the worship of those He would provide for.  However, that loving relationship was shattered as the devil misled Adam and Eve into rejecting the Lord.  From that point, we lost all ability to go to the Lord or to seek His face.  In response to our loss, though, The rejected Lord sends a Helper for you.

            Now, maybe that sermon theme strikes you as a little bit odd.  Maybe you wonder why I call Jesus the rejected Lord.  But, since the fall into sin, rejection of God is humankind’s natural state.  You and I were born into this world also rejecting our Creator and Lord.  Thus, we needed rescue from that state of rejection or we, too, would be lost to the fires of hell.  Talking about that consequence of unbelief makes many people uncomfortable, but that merely proves the point that we are by nature wary of a relationship with the holy God who has the power, both, to save or to condemn.

            Of course, it isn’t just that people naturally reject Jesus; many people also reject Jesus even after hearing clear testimony of His saving work and in spite of clear evidence of His divine being.  Therefore, there are two reasons that The rejected Lord sends a Helper for you.

            Just a short time after speaking these words, Jesus would leave this earthly realm to work on our behalf in heaven.  Therefore, Jesus told His disciples, "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about Me.”  Jesus was comforting those who were hearing again about His imminent departure from this world.  Jesus knew the world would battle against His followers.  He knew that none of us can come to believe in Him on our own.  Therefore, promising to send the Holy Spirit accomplished two goals. 

First, those disciples who had so recently been devastated by Christ’s death on the cross, would be strengthened as they waited for the Helper to come.  They were assured that they would not be left alone.  They would not have to face the persecutions Jesus was warning about without His aid.

This also shows us how much Jesus cares for you and me.  Like those first disciples, we have not been abandoned to the fate of this world.  Jesus was mere hours away from His return to heaven, and He will not be seen again on earth until He returns in glory on Judgment Day, but He keeps His promise to be with us always through the work of the Holy Spirit.  This is how God builds a relationship with us—not by demanding action on our part, but by coming to us in the Word and Sacraments empowered by His Spirit.  The Spirit testifies to the world concerning everything Jesus has done, and His testimony in the Word gives us new, spiritual life, salvation from sin and death, freedom from the devil’s chains, and a new relationship with Almighty God.

Jesus said, “And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning.  All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.”  The disciples trust in Jesus was already testifying to the world about His true nature and work.  Their testimony would continue because God wants His salvation to come to all people.  The Holy Spirit drives believers to speak the good news that saves.  The Spirit then works through this testimony of truth to give new life to dead souls. 

Jesus told His disciples these things because the world was going to fight against them tooth and nail.  This world ruled by Satan doesn’t want anyone to be saved.  No unbeliever asks for God’s intervention.  We come into this world, just like our fathers did, either believing we don’t need saving or imagining that we can save ourselves.  Therefore, God had to intervene even here on earth.  He had to convict us with the law and give us life through the proclamation of the Gospel.

The disciples were being sent out into a world that was hostile to the love of God.  Their life would be hard.  Their work would often be frustrating.  Jesus knew that most of those men would die because of their trust in Him.  At the same time, Jesus promised that a home in heaven was waiting for them because He Himself had prepared their place there.  Again, because He loves us, Jesus was letting His followers know what was coming so that they couldn’t be snared by the devil or the world—so that we are not snared by the devil or the world.

That same purpose continues here in our times: The rejected Lord sends a Helper for you.  Since you were brought to faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace, Jesus wants you to know that you are never alone.  You and I face a world that is growing ever more opposed to God and His plan to save.  Like He did for those first disciples, Jesus warns and promises us, “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.  They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.  I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.  I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.”

Day after day, we hear news about Christian martyrs losing their lives simply because they have believed in God’s promise of a Savior.  Perhaps, we once thought that couldn’t happen here in our free land, but more and more, the opposition rises up against us here at home even as it does in one place or another across the planet.  Believers are mocked and slandered in various social media, by the press, and in the homes of those who reject Jesus.  In our times, God’s Word is often removed from public use.  Sometimes, the most outwardly religious people piously seek to destroy Jesus’ followers, which they do because their piety is wasted on something other than the one true Savior of the world.  And, by rejecting the Savior God sent, they also reject the Father.

However, Jesus doesn’t leave us alone when we are dealing with these tough and trying situations.  Along with the Father in heaven, Jesus continues to send His Spirit through the Gospel—to bring us to faith, to encourage us to action, to defend us from evil, to help us remain faithful in the hope He has given us, to enable us to spread His Good News, and then, the Spirit empowers the Gospel’s transformation of souls from death to life.

Dear friends, just this past Thursday, we celebrated the anniversary of the ascension of our Lord Jesus to His Father’s side.  Jesus didn’t leave His disciples behind because the world had rejected Him.  Instead, He left to intercede for us and to manage all things in heaven and on earth so that we could hear the Good News and be saved.  Still to this day, we are not left alone as we navigate this planet.  While we continue in His Word and Sacraments, our God remains with us, because The rejected Lord sends a Helper for you. 

Those first disciples had to wait ten days for the Helper to come.  You and I didn’t have to wait at all.  The Spirit has been at work in our lives since Baptism made us children of the heavenly Father.  Out of all the refuse of humanity, God established a relationship with us as He adopted us into His heavenly family.  By the power of the Spirit in the Gospel, He connected you and me to His holy Son. 

Rejoice, dear friends, through Jesus’ sacrifice, your sins were washed away.  By the never ending mercy of the Creator, your eternal life has been restored; your God has saved you.  Rejoice, and proclaim to family, friends, and neighbors, God has loved you from the beginning—God is alive and giving everything needed to rescue you from darkness and death.  Knowing this Good News, all worry and fear should be put away.  Jesus has you in His care.  Praise God, dear rescued believers, The rejected Lord sends a Helper for you.  Amen.

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