It's that time again! We will again have a booth for our church at the Viva Vienna festival on May 24th and 25th. We need folks to help man our booth. CLICK HERE to go see what time slots are available and who has signed up already. It's a lot of fun and you won't be alone - we'll make sure a "seasoned veteran" is there every shift. Thanks for your help!

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Easter 7 (May 18-23, 2015)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed.

Verse: John 16:7 - [Jesus said:]“I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #497 “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord”
Hymns for Sunday: 498, 497, 637, 496, 768, 940

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

Monday:  Joel 3:1-5
What is the Lord doing? Why? For who? When will this be? Is there a warning here for you?

Tuesday:  Romans 8:12-17
What has the Spirit of God done for you? What does that mean for your life?

Wednesday:  John 14:15-21
What is the “great banquet” Jesus is speaking of? How does the Spirit call us to it? What is the response of some? Why?

Thursday:  Ezekiel 37:1-14
How does God give life? How is this true today?

Friday:  Acts 2:1-21
What is the first thing Peter and the others do after the Holy Spirit comes upon them? Why? What does this tell us?

Saturday:  John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
What is the work of the Holy Spirit? How does He do this work?

The Catechism: The Creed: The Second Article (Part 2): And [I believe] in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord . . . What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord . . .

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ help, strength, and comfort for those effected by the recent tornadoes in the Midwest.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational financial secretary, Dave Fields.
+ the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, guidance, and provision for the Luther Academy.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Easter 7 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Jesus’ Prayer for the Spirit”
Text: John 17:11b-19 (1 John 5:9-15)

Alleluia! Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

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

In the Holy Gospel we heard today, Jesus is praying. That fact, in itself, is not that unusual. We are told often of Jesus praying. He gets up before the sun and goes off by Himself to pray. He prays before miracles. He goes to the Temple to pray. Jesus is an expert in prayer. In fact, He is the only human being who has ever mastered the art of prayer. We falter in our prayers. We struggle with our prayers. We often do not know how to pray as we ought. But for Jesus, praying is the air He breathes.

That should teach us something. It certainly did the disciples, who went up to Jesus and said: We want to be like that! Like you. Teach us to pray (Luke 11:1-4). In reponse to that request, Jesus gave them - and us - the words of the Lord’s Prayer. He gave us words to say, which, if you understand the depths of those petitions and what they mean, really do pray for everything we need. 

But Jesus didn’t just give His us this prayer, He also then told His disciples a story about a man who needed food for a friend who had arrived on a journey. But he didn’t have any food to give him. So he goes to his neighbor who he knows can help, and begs him repeatedly for what he needs, until he gets it (Luke 11:5-13). And that, Jesus is teaching His disciples, is also how He will teach them to pray - by bringing people in need into their lives, people whose needs they are unable to help, and so they will have to pray. They will have to go to the One they know can help - their Father in heaven. And keep at it! Keep praying. Don’t give up.

And so for us - the people in Nepal after the earthquakes there, the people in the Midwest suffering devastation after tornadoes, the people killed and injured in the train wreck in Philadelphia - what can you do for them? Go to the One who can do all things and provide exactly what is needed. Pray for them. They may not be able to pray. They may not know how to pray. But you do. They are your neighbor in need, to drive you to prayer and teach you to pray.

So today in the Holy Gospel, Jesus is praying because His friends are in need. He is about to leave them. Up to this time, while He was with them, He has kept them and protected them. But now He is leaving and the world is going to hate them and the evil one will be after them. Jesus has already been the object of this hatred and wrath from the world and the evil one, so He knows it’s not going to be easy for them. And He’s not going to be with them to keep and protect them anymore. So what can He do? He prays for them

Now as I said, Jesus praying is not unusual. But what is is that here we are told what He is praying. That we are not often told, so when we are we should pay close attention and consider these words precious. And so here, today, we hear Jesus go to His Father and ask four things for His disciples then and for all time:
(1.) keep them in your name; or in other words, keep them in the faith, believing;
(2.) keep them from the evil one; protect them from his crafts and assaults that seek to pull them into false belief or misbelief;
(3.) sanctify them, holy them, in the truth, in the Word; and
(4.) make them one; unite them with each other and with the Father and the Son, just as they are one.

But though Jesus prays for these four things specifically, He is really praying for just one thing for us: the Holy Spirit. For all these four things are the work of the Holy Spirit. And this is also what Jesus told His disciples at the end of His teaching them about prayer, after the story that I mentioned earlier, when He concluded with these words: If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:13)! Jesus, the master of prayer, is asking for the Spirit for us. 

And next week, we’ll celebrate the answer to that prayer as we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, when the Spirit came upon the Church in all His fullness to do those very things Jesus prayed for. 

For it is the Holy Spirit that gives faith. We confess in the Creed that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith . . . (Small Catechism, explanation to the Third Article). It is the Holy Spirit who puts the name of God upon us in Holy Baptism, gives us the gift of faith, and works to keep us there through Word and Sacrament. If He didn’t, we would be no match for the evil one, who would easily pull us away. So keep them in your name, Jesus prays. Keep them from the evil one. Send them the Spirit to keep them.

And it is the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us, or makes us holy. It’s easy to remember that because it’s in His name: Holy Spirit - the Spirit that makes holy. And He does so by taking what Jesus has done for us, taking His forgiveness, life, and salvation, and giving it to us through the means of grace, the Word and Sacraments. I explain it in my catechism classes like this: in New York City, there are 10 million or so people who need water. Where do they all get it? They actually get it from reservoirs upstate, many miles away; giant reservoirs that are filled with rain and snow melt. That water is carried down to the city through aqueducts built for just that purpose. That’s what the Word and Sacraments are for us - the Spirit’s aqueducts that bring Jesus’ forgiveness to us. His forgiveness that by taking away our sin and cleansing us makes us holy. For this Jesus consecrates Himself and fills the reservoirs of heaven, and the Spirit, then, brings it to us, through the Word of truth, and the Word connected to water, bread, and wine. So sanctify them in the truth, Jesus prays. Your word is truth. Send them the Spirit through the Word to holy them.

And then this too, Jesus prays: that [we] may be one. This too is the work of the Holy Spirit because Jesus is not just praying for people of a certain time and place to be one, but of all times and all places. This is a unity far beyond just putting a “coexist” bumper sticker on the back of your car - this is the Church transcending all times and places and united in Christ. That we be one with the believers of the Old Testament, the martyrs of the early church, the persecuted in the Middle East today, and the little ones baptized somewhere just this morning. That we be part of that “one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-5). That is not a unity we can do or achieve; only the Holy Spirit can. So, Jesus prays, make them one; send them the Spirit to unite them with us, Father. One Church, militant and triumphant, in heaven and on earth. One in Christ. 

Then right after Jesus prays these words, He is arrested. And He departs in joy and peace, for He knows His prayer has been heard and answered. He knows His friends - and those who believe because of the Word they preach - will be taken care of. He entrusts us into the hands of the Father, who does all things well. 

And the Father sends the Spirit on Pentecost. But not only then. Through the preaching of the Word and the water of baptism the Spirit has come to you and is working this work in you: keeping you, guarding you, sanctifying you, and making you one. Which, in a world hurtling toward unbelief seemingly faster than ever, we need more than ever. That we be a people formed not by the truths and teachings of the world, and conformed to the world, but formed by the Word of God and prayer and united in Him. Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy, and so prays for you. 

A prayer which is also answered here, as we come to the Table to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus today. Here we are made one with angels and archangels and all the compnay of heaven. Here we join with the saints who have gone before us and those all around the world who gather wherever they are, for we are all gathered by one Spirit, around one Lord, to be fed and forgiven by Him. A oneness and unity only our Lord could achieve, and does. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for you.

And given all that, we too now pray. Like Jesus. With the same confidence as Jesus. We pray the prayer Jesus taught us and for all people according to their need. What a blessing that we are able to do so, for people we know and don’t know, for those close or far away, for family and friends, for old or young, schoolmates, even for our enemies, and to know this too: that our Father hears our prayer. And so we entrust ourselves and all for whom we pray into His hands, knowing there is no better place to be. And so we, just as Jesus, no matter how or when, can depart in joy and peace. We are in the hands of our Father, redeemed by the Son, and in the care and keeping of the Spirit. Our God, who does all things well.

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

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Ascension of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Even More, Even Greater”
Text: Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53

Alleluia! Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

Leo the Great, an early church theologian who lived in the fifth century, said that in Jesus and all His work for us, we have gained greater things than we had lost through the devil’s malice. That’s quite a statement. For sin has cost us greatly. We lost Paradise. We lost harmony with one another. We lost our fellowship with God. We lost our life. We lost the peace of a sinless world and now live in a world where hate, discord, and destruction are the norm. We live in a world where sadness and pain limit our joy and where things are so bad that many do not even believe there is a God at all. For if there were a God, why is the world like this?

But it is not God’s fault. It is our fault. The fault of Adam, whose sin plunged the world from perfection and life into brokenness and death, and the fault of us, whose sin daily adds to all that. The discord, separation, pain, and sadness we sow, either through our actions or our failure to act. There is a God, but we did not want Him. We thought we knew better, could do better, would be better, and this is what we got. We have truly lost a lot.

And then there is your own life. Who among us has not personally experienced loss? Of health, of a loved one, of a friendship, of that which gives us joy.

But God did not sit idly by. Our pain pains Him - this is not how He created things to be for you. He loves you. And so He sent His Son to clean up our mess, and in all He did, He gave where there was loss. He gave sight, He gave hearing, He gave cleansing, He gave strength, He gave hope, He gave forgiveness. And then when the world rejected Him again, crucifying Him on the cross, He gave life. He rose from the dead as we have been celebrating this whole Easter season, that even this greatest loss of ours be reversed. That we who die might live again.

And if He had stopped there, we could rightly say that Jesus had restored all that we lost. He had undone all that we did - all that was left now was to give this gift to all and abolish sin, death, and the devil to hell forever. 

But Jesus did more than that: He ascended into heaven. And not just as the Son of God He was when He came down from heaven, but also as a man. For that’s who Jesus is: true God and true man. Always both. Not one or the other. He did not leave His human nature behind, which He used for a while but was now done with it. No, our human nature ascends with Him into heaven, restored not just to an earthly paradise, but given even more: a heavenly one. Ascending above and beyond the angels’ ranks and the archangels’ heights to the very right hand of the Father. That just as He came down from the heights to our depths, to be with us where we are, so in the same way we may rise with Him from the depths to be with Him where He is. To a glory far greater than Adam’s; far greater than we can imagine.

And that’s what we sang in the hymns today. On Christ’s ascension I now build the hope of my ascension.  . . .  That where the Head is, there as well I know His members are to dwell (LSB #492 v. 1). And then we sang this too: He has raised our human nature on the clouds to God’s right hand; there we sit in heavenly places, there with Him in glory stand. Jesus reigns, adored by angels; man with God is on the throne. By our mighty Lord’s ascension we by faith behold our own (LSB #494 v. 5).

That’s why the disciples were filled with joy when Jesus ascended. They knew this. When Jesus died they were sad. When He rose they were at first confused and scared. But over the course of the next forty days, He taught them all this. He opened their minds to understand. He opened their minds, cleaned out all the junk, and then filled them with the truth. And they were filled with joy. For as He ascended, they knew He was not leaving them - He had promised to send them the Holy Spirit, and that through His Spirit He would continue to be with them. But also they knew they were going with Him. That as He ascended, so were they, and so would they. He was paving the way and preparing the place for them (John 14)

And so from then on, they went out and proclaimed Jesus, proclaimed His forgiveness, proclaimed His life. And though they were arrested for it, beated for it, and then killed for it, none of that mattered. They had already been given the victory in Jesus. They saw Him ascend, and they knew they were too. Whatever they lost, whatever this world could take away, Jesus had even more for them. 

And so it is for you as well. That’s all true for all who have been baptized into Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Where you go He goes, and where He goes you go. For Jesus’ ascension means not that He is gone, but exactly the opposite - that He is with you. For now reigning from the throne of God, far above and transcending all time and space, He is not just in Jerusalem or Galilee, but here with you, and in every place His Word and Sacrament are. Still providing for every loss, forgiving every sin, and comforting in every trouble and sadness. Until that day when, as we sang, we depart in joy and peace (LSB #492 v. 3) to the joy and peace of His presence in heaven. When what we now believe we will then see.

And so a hymn of glory (LSB #493) we will sing at the end of our service tonight. Practice for later.

For Christ is ascended! [He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!
And in Him, so are we.

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

Monday, May 11, 2015

Easter 6 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Love In, Love Out”
Text: Acts 10:34-48; 1 John 5:1-8; John 15:9-17

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

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

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Our world is filled with partiality, with favoritism, with division. In Peter’s day it was Jew / Gentile. Think of some today. There is no shortage of them. Heterosexual / homosexual, pro-choice / pro-life, republican / democrat, black / white, just to name a few. We make divisions and distinctions all the time, and because of them we tend to look at people differently - it’s hard not to. But God does not. He shows no partiality. Because in God’s eyes, no matter what side of those divisions you’re on, we’ve all got this in common: we’re all sinners; we all deserve nothing from Him. And on that playing field, we’re all equal. Whatever you have, whatever you have been given, whoever you are is gift - all gift - from your God, who gave it to you not because you deserved it, but because He loves you. He loves all people. And He wants all to be His children. Us and them.

And so God sent His child to love us, to befriend us, that we may be His friends and love Him and each other in return. No matter who you are, no matter who they are. And that love is clearly the focus of the readings today. If you were here last Sunday, you heard Dr. Just count certain words in the Gospel and how often they were repeated, so I’ll do the same today. The word love is used five times in the Epistle and nine times in the Gospel. So if you’re going to take one thing away from those readings today, remember that. [Jesus said:] “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 

Which sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it’s not quite that simple. For two reasons. First, we have to know what love is. And second, how can we love in a world as divided and divisive as ours?

I’ll tackle the second one first: how can we love in a world as divided and divisive as ours? John gave us the answer in the Epistle: this is the victory that has overcome the world— that overcomes the divisions and partiality and favoritism of the world - our faith. Not that our faith is so great, because often its not. One day our faith is strong and the next day it’s weak and frightened. One day it’s up and the next days it’s down and doubting. But our faith overcomes the world not because it’s so great, but because the One our faith is in is. Because our faith is in the One who has overcome the world and all the things of the world and the ruler of this world - satan. In His death and resurrection, Jesus has provided us with everything we need for both this life and the next. There is nothing we need that He hasn’t promised and nothing He has promised that He won’t deliver. 

The problem is: we don’t believe it. We do, but we don’t. We do, we say we do, we try to, but the evidence shows otherwise. And the evidence that we don’t is that we keep on sinning. We take because we don’t trust Him to provide. We hurt because we don’t trust Him to protect. We lust because we don’t love Him but the things of this world. We rebel because we don’t trust the authorities He has placed over us. And that’s just to name a few. We take matters into our own hands because we think we can do better.

But the God who loves you provides for you even in this - giving you the forgiveness that you need in Jesus for all that and more, and strengthening the faith He has given you to trust and believe. To know that when He calls you His friend, when He calls you His child, that is not something He takes lightly. Those aren’t just words. Jesus laid down His life for you and traded places with you to make it so. And compared to that, everything else you need pales in comparison.

And to this truth, John tells us, the Spirit, the water, and the blood testify. And so in Peter’s day, in the first reading from Acts, we see this testimony. The Spirit testified as it came upon the Gentiles as Peter preached to them. Through the Word the Spirit worked and came, testifying that yes, these Gentiles were His children and He their Saviour and He loved them. And then the water testified as Peter baptized them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit - just as Jesus had commanded him to do. To baptize all nations in His Name - no partiality or favoritism or distinction - all nations. Jesus sent Peter carefully and specifically to the Gentile Cornelius and his family to show just this - and to testify that His blood, shed on the cross, was for all people. That there is no one on earth that Jesus did not lay down His life for. No one.

And so the victory of Christ’s that is ours by faith enables us to love. Or as a continuation of the Gospel that we heard last week: Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. And so connected to Him and abiding in Him, He abides in us and gives us His love - His no partiality, no favoritism, love - that we may love others with that love.

Which leads, then, to that second point: to love others we have to know what love is. The world thinks, or claims it knows what love is. But does it? 

Jesus showed us what love is when He laid down His life for the life of the world. He showed us a love that wasn’t a feeling, that wasn’t looking out for what it wanted, but an action that does what is best for the other. And then He spelled out specifically what that looks like for us in the commandments, which, if you do them, you’ll truly be laying down your life for others. Both those who agree with us and those who do not. Because love doesn’t distinguish, divide, or show partiality or favoritism. Love just acts. Like Jesus did. Laying down His life for sinners, for criminals, for mixed up and messed up folks like you and me. Not to make us servants or force us into labor or service to Him, but to make us His friends, His children. Willing, united, connected to Him.

And to do that, Jesus was no weak and wimpy pushover. That’s usually the picture of love that pops into people’s heads, isn’t it? Weak and wimpy and easily pushed around. But that wasn’t Jesus. He loved enough to speak the truth (strongly!), and He loved enough to do love - even to those who didn’t love Him - all the way to the cross. 

Now the question is: what will that look like for you and me? Specifically. Because that’s always where doctrine get tough. As long as teaching is just theory, it’s easy. When it gets real and practical, it’s tough.

So let’s frame that love in terms of some very hot-button issues in our world today. Loving by speaking strongly and doing even more strongly.

We will speak and not stop speaking the truth that God created man and woman and that these are the only two genders there are, and that when a man and a woman are united as one flesh, that is a marriage.

We will speak and not stop speaking the truth that God created life and loves life - all life - no matter how small or weak or disabled, no matter who you are, and that for us to kill or otherwise dispose of any life is contrary to His will.

We will speak and not stop speaking the truth that Jesus is the one and only Saviour from sin, that He is the one and only Son of God made man, and that there is salvation in no one but Him.

We will speak and not stop speaking these truths (and others) because it is loving to do so.

But at the same time, for teaching these truths, we will be - and already are -called unloving, bigoted, hateful, dangerous, and not welcomed in society. For these truths Christians are being targeted, persecuted, and killed, and perhaps the day is coming and is not so far away when folks will show up outside of our little church and picket us, or worse. When, like is already happening in other places, pastors or others who speak out are jailed, or a bulldozer will show up and level our church. And this, all in the name of love.

So here’s the question that leads us to: how will we respond? Will we give in and change what we believe and teach? Will we fight back with equal and opposite violence and force? Or will we continue to love? And again, not weak and wimpy love - but love that continues to speak the truth, and at the same time does love. Imagine if we did that. That while continuing to speak the truth, we gave food and water to those picketing us? If we helped to repair the house of the guy who bulldozed our church? If we stood up for those who threw our pastor in jail? It would take a lot of strength and love to do those things! But what message would it send? What love would it show?  . . .  Would some ridicule us? Surely. Would some take advantage of us? Certainly. But would some also take notice of such faith and love, hear of the truth of Jesus and come to faith?

Now those are big things and perhaps hypothetical things right now. But what about the little things that you could do right now? What would such love look like in your life right now? And realize how Christ-like all those actions are. The One who loved though rejected and crucified.

And so the Spirit, the water, and the blood still testify today. The Spirit that has come upon us and lives within us, testifying to the love of Christ for all people, and helping us do that love. The water testifying as all nations are baptized into Jesus - who still wants all to be His friends, His children. And the blood testifying, as the Body and Blood of Jesus are given to us for the forgiveness of our sins. For the favoritism and partiality that we do show, for our lack of love and failure to trust. For when we come up here and stand here there are no distinctions or divisions; it is as equals - no matter who you are - equally sinful beggars, equally unworthy receivers.

But the Spirit, the water, and the blood testify that there is no sin too great, no sinner too far gone. There is no condemnation in Jesus, only outside of Him. And He invites us to abide in Him and His truth - to repent and receive His forgiveness and His life, and live it. To love even those who wish us dead, like they wanted Jesus dead. And they did it. They killed Him. And now risen from the dead, He lives to forgive us and all. That we rise from sin, rise from death, and live with Him, in love, even now. 

So as we sang: Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice! (LSB #556) Rejoice, for you have been so loved, you have been so mercied, you have been thus raised to a new life in Christ. For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] And you are His - His friend, His child. So love one another, and don’t worry about yourself. For with His love, you can never out-love, out-give, or out-care what He has for you.

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

Monday, May 4, 2015

Easter 5 Sermon

We were pleased to have Rev. Dr. Arthur Just with us this weekend for our Good Shepherd Seminar. Listen to his sermon for Easter 5.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Easter 4 / Good Shepherd Sunday Sermon

Jesu Juva

Text: Psalm 23
(1 John 3:16-24; Acts 4:1-12; John 10:11-18)

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

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

I would like to know when David wrote the 23rd Psalm.

Was it after his confrontation with Goliath? Or maybe after he survived that period of time when King Saul was after him, trying to kill him. Those were certainly times when he walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

Or was it was after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then murdered her husband in his attempt to cover it up and get away with it, and then when the son born of that tryst died? That was certainly a time when his soul needed his Saviour’s restoring forgiveness, and when he needed to be put back on the path of righteousness.

Or was it after he survived the mutiny of his son Absalom against his kingship by fleeing to the land of the Philistines and pretending he had lost his mind? That was a time when the Lord was providing for him, preparing a table in the presence of his enemies.

Or maybe it was when Samuel anointed his head with oil as king of Israel. 

Or maybe it was at the end of his life, when he looked back at all of this and perhaps wondered: How did I ever survive? I shouldn’t be here! Either because of my own sins or the sins of others, I should have been dead long ago! Surely I had a Shepherd all along - even when it didn’t seem like it; even when I was being really stupid and sinful. Surely goodness and mercy has followed me all the days of my life.

Now think back on your life. You probably already have been, as I’ve been going through David’s life. And it really doesn’t matter how old or young you are. Think about the sins and stupid things you’ve done, the dangers you’ve avoided or survived, the times you’ve wandered or rebelled. What or who are the Bathshebas, Goliaths, Sauls, and Absaloms in your life? That pepper your past? Should you even be here? Should you still have the privilege of being a child of God? 

And the scary part of it? We don’t even know the half of it! So how good, indeed, to have a Good Shepherd.

David, a shepherd himself, knew something about that and what it meant to be a shepherd. It wasn’t an easy job, just sitting on the hillside and soaking up the sun while the sheep grazed. It meant watching out for the young and the old, caring for the rebellious and the tame, finding good pasture and good water, binding up the injured, looking for the lost, and even killing the beasts that came upon his flock, looking for an easy meal (1 Sam 17:34-35)

Yes, David thought, David realized, that is what the Lord was to him. Watching out for him in his youth and in his old age. Giving him the Law when he needed it, when his sin needed confronting; and then giving him the refreshing food and drink of the Gospel, the forgiveness and life he needed. Searching for him and bringing him back when he wandered and rebelled, and caring for him and binding him up when all seemed hopeless and lost. Standing between him and the satanic wolf looking to devour him, and then fighting the Goliath of death for him. So that in the end David could confidently say not only has goodness and mercy followed me all the days of my life, but this too: and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Now, such confidence might seem foolish when you consider David’s life and our lives. How inconsistent we are, how often stupid and foolish, prone to wander into other pastures where the grass seems greener and the sheep look like they’re having more fun. How sheepy we often are. Knowing ourselves, maybe we shouldn’t be so confident . . .

Or, maybe such confidence seems far away from you and beyond your grasp, when one little word or wrong look from a doctor can make you tremble. When you see what is happening to Christians around the world and to religious freedom in our own country, and you feel timid and weak, like a sheep under attack and without a shepherd. Such confidence, perhaps, seems impossible for you.

And when you look at yourself, at your heart and at your life, that is exactly the conclusion you should come to. Our hearts do condemn us when held up next to the holiness God requires and desires of us, and so we should not be confident at all.

But listen to what the apostle John told us in the Epistle today: whenever our heart condemns us, - as it rightly does - God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Or in other words, your condemning heart doesn’t get the last word; your heart isn’t the final authority - God is. The God who knows your heart and knows your fears and knows your inconsistency and failure even better than you - He is your Good Shepherd not because you’re holy but because you’re not. Not because you canmake it on your own but because you can’t. Because you need the forgiveness and life that only He can give . . . and does give. So that when your heart condemns you, there be another voice that you hear, a greater and trumping word from your Saviour: Do not be troubled. I forgive you.

And so, John can continue: Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; - and there it is! There is the confidence we need. It’s not something we have in ourselves or from ourselves, it’s from Him, from His Word through which the Spirit fills us with faith and hope. The faith and hope that then enables us to live in faith toward God and love toward one another. Which enables us, John goes on to say, to [keep] his commandments - not in order to have Him as our Shepherd but because He is. Keeping them, treasuring them, guarding them, and doing them, because He is keeping and treasuring and guarding and caring for us. For He, our Shepherd, through His Word and life and death, teaches and defines for us what love is, so now instead of being rebellious, we are free to [do] what pleases him - which is not only doing good for others because we know He is caring and providing for us, but repenting when we don’t, and forgiving those who sin against us. And so, John says, whatever we ask - and what do you think you’re going to ask for when God and His Word fill your heart? - whatever we ask we receive from Him! Forgiveness - done. Love - done. Faith - done.

Done. That’s a good word, isn’t it? A confidence word. The same confidence that enabled David to be so sure. The same confidence that enabled Peter and John to stand before the Jewish council and speak the truth they didn’t want to hear. Because they knew it was done. That Jesus’ death and resurrection was done and therefore death was done, their sin was done, and satan and hell were done. And even though this world is still a scary place, they knew and believed in that name - the only name given among men by which we must be saved. And were confident. For that name made lame men walk, and would raise them from the dead, if that’s what it came to. 

And that is the name you know as well, and is our confidence. The name you are baptized into. The name by which you are absolved. The name of your Good Shepherd. Your Good Shepherd who saw the satanic wolf setting upon His flock and did not run away like a hired hand, but who came and stepped in to defend and protect you, letting that wolf sink his teeth into Him instead of you. To fill his belly and howl in delight that he devoured the Shepherd, so there is nothing to stop him from devouring you next. Except that on the third day, as we are celebrating all this season, the wolf received a rude surprise - the Shepherd was alive not dead, and could not die again. His teeth were useless now against the Shepherd, and so the flock He was so looking forward to feasting upon, is safe.

And so you are safe. For I am the Good Shepherd, Jesus says. David’s and yours. I know you that you might know me. That you listen to My voice and follow Me, for in My flock, My pasture is the good food you need, the water that refreshes, and safety from the wolf. My pasture is one of forgiveness and life. In My pasture you shall not want

I will provide what you need and more - your cup will overflow

Though the world is still a scary place and the enemy is all around, I prepare My table right here in the midst of it all - take eat, and take drink, My Body and Blood, the food and forgiveness you need to sustain you. 

My rod and staff, My Law and Gospel, will keep you, and you need fear no evil, not even death. I went through that valley and came out alive, and will take you through the same way. 

Yes, it’s true - My goodness and mercy shall follow you, be with you, all the days of your life, My child. Even in those times it may not seem like it. And yes, you shall dwell in My house forever.

All that, those words of Psalm 23, are the promises of God to you. The promises of your Good Shepherd. There are no maybes in that psalm, no conditional statements - just promises. What He has done, and what He will do for you. And that’s your confidence. Not in yourself; in His Word and what He has done. Not in yourself; in His life and death and then back to life for you. Not in yourself; in His faithfulness and consistency. So hear His voice. Follow where He leads. You have a Good Shepherd.

For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
And you are His lamb.

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

Monday, April 20, 2015

Easter 3 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Raised to a New Life”
Text: Acts 3:1-21; Luke 24:36-49; 1 John 3:1-7

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

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

We don’t know much about this man. We don’t know his name or the names of his parents. All we know is that he had been born lame (Acts 3:2) and had been unable to walk for over forty years (Acts 4:22). And that everyday some kind people carried him to a gate of the Temple so he could beg. So he could, with every person going into or coming out of the Temple, lower his eyes and raise his hands and beg for mercy. That was his life.

I wish I knew how many gave him help. I wish I knew if they were like us, like me, suspicious of those people I see on street corners or Metro stations, with cardboard signs, asking for my help. How many passed by looking the other way? How many pretended not to hear or see? How many thought ill of him, that he would just use their money on drugs or drink, and so justify their lack of compassion? Yet everyday the man was back, eyes down and hands up, begging for mercy. That was his life.

Until one day, Peter and John approached his gate. The lame man did as he did for everyone, but instead of filling his hands, Peter filled his ears and said: I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk (Acts 3:6)! And he did. And from that moment he clung to Peter and John, as the first reading today began. He would not let them go, those who had given him not just healed legs, but a new life.

And soon a crowd gathered, for the man was causing quite a scene. For he was not only walking, but, we are told, he was leaping about and praising God (Acts 3:9). This was not proper Temple behaviour and etiquette, and so people were running to see who or what was causing such a commotion. And so with a great crowd of people now gathered around him, Peter preached. Just as he had preached to the lame man, so he preached to the crowd. They hadn’t done this amazing thing, Jesus did. Yes, that Jesus! Of Nazareth. The same Jesus they had rejected and traded for a murderer, the same Jesus they had crucified and thought was dead, the same Jesus whose grave was empty because - their leaders were telling them - His body had been stolen to perpetuate His hoax - guess what? That Jesus was alive, risen from the dead, and still doing powerful things, like making men lame from birth walk. A dead Jesus couldn’t do that. Peter and John were witnesses of His resurrection, and now these people were witnesses of His living power. 

Now, we’re not told, but I’ll bet you could just about hear a pin drop at that moment . . . because of the lumps in their stomachs and throats. They had Him crucified and now He’s back? What’s He going to do to them? What will be His revenge on them? For that’s what people do; that’s what they were used to. An eye for an eye. But that’s when Peter tells them: no revenge. He has come back to forgive. You! Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. Or in other words: Jesus was raised, Jesus raised this man, and He wants to raise you too. 

Peter knew that and could preach that because not that long ago, he had been in the very same place as those in that crowd. We heard it in the Gospel from Luke today. The twelve had let Jesus down, they had denied Him and run away, and so when He appears to them they are startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost and perhaps wondering what Jesus would now do to them. But no revenge; no chastising or finger shaking that they should have done better, been stronger. No. Instead, there is forgiveness and peace for them. And Jesus then opens their minds, to clean out all the sin and junk, all the fear and despair, all the worldly and wrong thinking, and fill it with His Word and truth and love. That just as He was risen from the dead, and now they had been raised from their sin and fear and doubt, so now they go out and preach, proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins . . . in his name to all nations. That Jesus is not dead, but alive and well, and continuing His life giving work. Only now through men, through words, through Sacraments. But the same mercy, the same forgiveness, and same new life. He will ascend, but the work will go on, when they are clothed with power from on high.

And it has, and it is! For the gate of the Temple is now here, at this font, where perhaps your parents or friends brought you to receive the mercy and forgiveness and new life of Jesus.

The gate of the Temple is now here, at this pulpit, where your ears are filled with the preaching of the living Jesus and all that He has done for you. That by His Word and Spirit your minds be opened and all the sin and junk and wrong thinking be cleaned out and you instead be filled with His Word and truth.

The gate of the Temple is now here, before this altar, where you come with your eyes cast down to the ground in repentance and your hands lifted up for mercy, to receive from Him what you need the most - and given in those wonderful words: I forgive you all your sins.

And the gate of the Temple is now here, at this table, where the risen and living Jesus gives you His own Body and Blood, the new food of the new life that starts now and never ends.

And thus just like that lame man, you have been raised to a new life. He was over forty years old when it happened to him - for some of you it may have been forty days, forty hours, or even forty minutes after your birth; for others maybe more than forty years. But no matter how old or young, it is the same Jesus, the same power of His resurrection, His same mercy and forgiveness given to us sinful beggars, that we may have - and live - a new life.

And that new life is what John is encouraging in his letter, the Epistle that we heard today. He starts out: See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. That’s who you are, he says, so don’t go back. Don’t go back to the old, to the sin, to the world, when you have been given what is better; what lasts not just for a time, but for eternity. You are children of God, the most high God, the creator of all things! You are the dead raised, the sinful forgiven, the old made new. You have been raised from doubt to faith, from despair to joy, from captivity to freedom, from fear to confidence. You may look the same and feel the same but you are not the same. You have been raised, just like that once-lame man, to a new life. To have - and live - that new life. That new life from, and in, Christ Jesus.

And so, John says, don’t abide in sin. No one abiding in Christ abides in sin. 

You know, the first time I read that I got the same lump in my throat and stomach as the people in the Temple when they saw the power of Jesus’ resurrection and learned that He was alive. Because I still do sin, in my thoughts, my words, my deeds, my desires. Try as I might not to, I still do. But John said that no one abiding in Him, in Christ, keeps on sinning. So does that mean . . .

But then I read earlier in this same letter from John: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1:8). And then: If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1:10). And then I remembered the struggle of St. Paul, when he said: For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing (Romans 7:19). And he got so frustrated with himself that he finally said: Ach! Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death (Romans 7:24)

That sounds like just at that moment it was Paul at the gate to the Temple, eyes down and hands up. He was a sinful, spiritual beggar who needed a new life, just like us. And then he points us to the answer, just like Peter and John did to the lame man that day and to the people in the Temple that day: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25)!

The new life that we need Jesus is alive and here to give. Not so that we can abide and remain in sin, as if sin doesn’t matter and Jesus’ forgiveness means I have a “Get out of hell free” card in my back pocket, and so I get to continue to do whatever I want, all the sin I want. No, John says, that’s not who you are anymore. That’s not the new life and new heart and new mind Jesus has given you. We’ll fall into sin, no doubt about that. As long as we have this sinful flesh there will be times when temptation gets the better of us, and even when sin just impulsively bursts out of us. But we’ll not abide there, won’t stay there, ‘cause that’s the stuff of death, not life. 

You see, John’s words there are prescriptive, not descriptive. Children of God, he says, don’t remain in sin, don’t abide in sin. Don’t stubbornly stay there. Instead, when sin knocks us down, once again lower your eyes and put up your hands, and say: Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner. And He is. Always ready to forgive, always ready to raise us up again with His life, always ready to restore and refresh us. To set us free again, that we live the new life He has given us, forgiving, serving, and giving, in the places He has put us, in the callings He has given to us.

And maybe, just maybe even making a commotion once in a while, like those disciples after Jesus appeared to them alive, and like that once-lame man so filled with joy. For your Saviour is alive! His resurrection is powerful, and He has raised you to a new life. Your sin cannot condemn you, satan cannot have you, and the grave will not be able to hold you. Things will not always go your way in this world and life, but you have a God and Saviour who has promised to be with you through it all, to keep and preserve and provide for you, and to bring you to everlasting life. Is that not a reason to leap and rejoice? Is that not a joy to share with others? Is that not a life worth living? Indeed it is! 

For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!
Risen with life for you.

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