Sermon for Trinity 1

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Faith bears fruit. A sermon about that.

God created mankind for a specific purpose. So that we would look to him for every good thing, and so that we could help our neighbor in every need.

If you go through the commandments one at a time, study them closely, that’s the summary – love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

We’ve covered in detail the life of Christ – the redemption from sin. Starting with his birth, we’ve followed through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. We’ve heard how he died on the cross to save us from our sins.

And now, in the season of Trinity, we look at the life of the Christian – how we respond to this good news of Jesus death and resurrection for our salvation. What we as the people of God are to do with our time and efforts, now that we have been made children of God through the washing of water and the word in Holy Baptism.

We start off pretty abruptly. Lazarus and the rich man. Take care of your neighbor – fulfill the fifth commandment that we should not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body but help and befriend him in every physical need. That’s the message that comes through loud and clear. The Rich man did not help Lazarus – not even the crumbs that fell from the rich mans table. And the rich man ends up in eternal torment. He did not use his time and efforts – to say nothing of his money – for the good of his neighbor. He turned away from God and His Holy Word, and inwards to his own selfish desires. And so, he is abandoned by God. His name isn’t even mentioned. But then, that’s the norm for parables. In fact Lazarus is the only one ever named in a parable. His name means “God helps”. His life didn’t look that way. In life he was just dumped at the man’s gate, pathetically begging for crumbs.

In Lent we hear of the woman who refuses to go away. The foreigner of great faith who is turned away with “It is not right to give the children’s food to the dogs” and responds with “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” Lazarus was hoping for those crumbs. But the rich man doesn’t even give that. Instead, it is the dogs who show him pity; licking his sores.

This isn’t a parable against wealth. And it isn’t a parable in favor of works. The deciding factor is that the rich man did not hear Moses and the prophets, and neither do his brothers. It is a parable of faith. But faith has consequences. It has fruits.

There’s a lot of talk about income inequality. But today, a machine can create wealth. In Jesus day, you were limited. How much you could mine from the ground depended on how much a person could physically dig out of the earth. How much you could farm depended on how much your oxen could physically drag a plow. There was a limit to productivity, and so there was a limit to wealth. The rich man having so much meant that it had to be at the expense of others. Yes, we have greater income inequality today – because there is no longer a theoretical limit to how much can be produced. So, there is no limit to the wealth that can be acquired. In Jesus day, as it was for almost all of human history, that limit is based on how much work a man can do in a day. He didn’t get rich inventing new more efficient fidget spinner. He got rich taking the food others had produced and calling it his own.

And with that wealth he bought clothes, the best foods, all the good things that life has to offer. What he didn’t do was look around at his neighbor in need. It didn’t even occur to him that what he had been given was to be used to help others. He thought his business was wealth and power, but mankind should have been his business.

But that’s what his wealth was supposed to be for. As with anything we are given –it is only given to us by God as a gift, so that we can use it  to praise God, to support the work of the Gospel. And to help our neighbor.

But, as the lawyer asks – who is our neighbor. A neighbor is anyone God has placed in our life that we can help. There are neighbors all around in our community, in your family. God puts us in certain stations and places in life, and would have us fulfill those callings. Whether it is as a child to obey and honor and respect parents as long as they live. Or whether it is as husband or wife, loving and honoring a spouse till death do us part. Or whether it is as father or mother, caring for children in a family, raising them in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. Or whether it is as a citizen of this nation and state, or of some other nation or place, living honestly and faithfully where God has placed us, and attending to our calling. It doesn’t matter where we are, what we are doing – God has called us to love him and serve our neighbor. That’s the word we hear in Moses and the prophets, that’s the word we hear from Jesus in the Gospels, and from the Apostles in their writings.

And the rich man is not interested in that word until it is too late. He waits until after the appointed judgement to try and work his way to salvation. But there is no salvation for those who die condemned. It is too late. And his plea that Abraham send Lazarus to at least warn his brothers falls on ears that are as deaf to his cries, as he was to Lazarus.

The odd thing about this parable is how specific it is about the poor man. The rich man is just a rich man. The poor man isn’t a poor man. He is Lazarus – the one whom God helps. And there is a Lazarus in scripture – though not in Luke’s Gospel. But in John we hear that Lazarus was the great friend of Jesus. His sisters Mary and Martha send word to Jesus to come and heal him. But it is too late he has already died. After four days of dead, Jesus raises him from the grave. Now, that’s certainly a great miracle. But the amazing thing is that the leaders of the people still don’t believe that Jesus is the Christ – they not only plot to kill Jesus, they even plot to kill Lazarus (again) in order to silence the crowds. Which is to say, they did not believe even when someone rose from the dead – and that’s just what Abraham tells the rich man. Even if Lazarus were to go back, if the rich’s man’s brothers will not listen to the Word of God when it comes from the mouth of the prophet, they will not hear it even if it is spoken by one who is raised from the dead.

In John’s Gospel, Lazarus resurrection is just a prelude. Jesus resurrection is coming. And for Jesus, there is no wonder-worker standing outside his tomb telling him to come out. Lazarus had Jesus calling him forth. But for Jesus, the wonder-worker had died. He cried out in a loud voice and gave up his spirit. He was placed in the tomb. Physician heal thyself – possible. Dead man, raise thyself. Not possible. And yet, Jesus does exactly that. He is raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father. Death itself is undone by this one. Because there was no powerful voice outside the tomb calling him out. Jesus is raised because death can not hold him. It’s power is broken. So much so that at the end, there will be a resurrection of the dead. All those who hear the word of God, who believe that word, who grab hold of the promise by faith will be given life. And that new life is a life turned outward to God and neighbor, not turned inward to self. To repent of sin is to turn away. But it is also to turn toward the things of God. To leave behind the self-interest, and self centeredness of the old Adam that seeks only personal gratification. And to receive the word of God that would seek the kingdom of God, that would show godly love to a neighbor.

Not that we are saved by the works we do. But rather, the faith God gives produces fruit in our lives even in this world. That we no longer cling to our own self-interest, but we receive the gifts God gives in worship, that we are forgiven our sins, trust that for Jesus sake they are taken away, and that we serve our neighbor as we attend to our calling.

In Jesus name and for his sake, may God grant it.

 

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The Forgiveness of sins…

In the creed we confess our belief in the forgiveness of sins. There is a great little passage in G.K. Chesterton about that. It’s spoken by the funny little priest he tells stories about, Father Brown. And it summarizes the church’s position on the forgiveness of sins so well, that even I, a Lutheran, am willing to say that this pretty much hits the nail on the head. I especially like the bit about ” leave us in the darkness, vampires of the night, to console those who really need consolation”. Of course, the world won’t just leave us to do that. They world will harass and harangue us from morning until night. But we still forgive the sins of those who repent. It’s what we do.  Here’s the full quote: (For the whole story, click HERE)

“There is a limit to human charity,” said Lady Outram, trembling all over.

“There is,” said Father Brown dryly; “and that is the real difference between human charity and Christian charity. You must forgive me if I was not altogether crushed by your contempt for my uncharitableness to- day; or by the lectures you read me about pardon for every sinner. For it seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. So you tolerate a conventional duel, just as you tolerate a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.”

“But, hang it all,” cried Mallow, “you don’t expect us to be able to pardon a vile thing like this?”

“No,” said the priest; “but we have to be able to pardon it.”

He stood up abruptly and looked round at them.

‘”We have to touch such men, not with a bargepole, but with a benediction,” he said. “We have to say the word that will save them from hell. We alone are left to deliver them from despair when your human charity deserts them. Go on your own primrose path pardoning all your favourite vices and being generous to your fashionable crimes; and leave us in the darkness, vampires of the night, to console those who really need consolation; who do things really indefensible, things that neither the world nor they themselves can defend; and none but a priest will pardon. Leave us with the men who commit the mean and revolting and real crimes; mean as St. Peter when the cock crew, and yet the dawn came.”

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Pentecost

Red. Most years, it’s the least used color of the year. As we go through the life of our Lord each year, there are four colors – blue for Advent – a time of preparation, Purple for Lent – a time of penitence, Black for Good Friday – a time of death, and White for Christmas, Epiphany and Easter – a time to celebrate the fulfillment of the promise. The Holy Spirit only gets one color – red.

We devote nearly half the church year to the life of Jesus, and one Sunday to the Holy Spirit. And we re-use that color for things like ordination, Reformation, anniversaries, and so on. Some churches are all about the Holy Ghost. They talk about him a lot more, they focus on his work a lot more. They seem so on fire. And on Pentecost, we hear of the mighty rushing wing, the tongues of fire, the mighty preaching of Peter, and three thousand baptized, and it sounds like a pretty good idea. Maybe if we focused on those things, we could have powerful sermons, exciting events, and if not tongues of fire on our heads, then at least some extra baptisms here and there.

But, even the apostles didn’t get to live on Pentecost Day forever. The tongues of fire happen in chapter two. In the following twenty-six chapters, there is no more mighty rushing wind, no tongues of fire, no thousands baptized on a single day. Even in the wonder-filled life of the apostles, Pentecost is a dramatic and very different day.

Today is the day that the disciples stopped cowering in fear, and began preaching, teaching in the temple. The same men who were behind locked doors, were suddenly standing up to the Sadducees and Pharisees. They received the Holy Spirit, and they boldly confessed. But do not think that the Holy Spirit just made everything rosy and easy for the early church. It would be misreading scripture to say, “If we had some extra spirit, then it would be easy to go out there, evangelize, convert thousands, heal people,” and so on.  As the book of Acts makes clear, while Pentecost was a turning point, there were still good days and bad. Not everything was suddenly easy. There were controversies, and disagreements, difficulties, cash shortages, poverty, persecution, more persecution, people arrested and killed for the faith, believers scattered, imprisonments, beatings. But, all of this was in service to the Gospel. And so, Acts constantly talks about how – regardless of the reverses or the difficulties, the Holy Spirit continued to work, the Gospel continued to be preached, the people continued in the doctrine, and the church continued to pray, praise, and give thanks.

The Gospel is not the story of the Holy Spirit working among the twelve on Pentecost. The Gospel that is preached on Pentecost, and whenever the apostles gathered, is the good news of Jesus death, resurrection and ascension. God becoming man for the forgiveness of sins. That is the substance of the Peter’s preaching on Pentecost. It’s what St Stephen preaches just before he is martyred for the faith. It is what Paul preaches in every town on his missionary journeys, yes, even the ones where he had to leave suddenly or face a lynch mob. Jesus reconciling us to God is what the apostles preach. Today does not mark the birth of the Spiritian church, but the Christian church. We are of Christ. He is the one who died to save you, and rose again so that forgiveness of sins could be given to you.

The day of Pentecost is the day of the Holy Spirit. But what does the Spirit do? Luther says, “The Holy Spirit, as his name implies, makes us holy.” That is, he claims as God’s own, set apart for his work, our bodies now not for the lusts and passions of the flesh, but temples of the holy spirit. How does the Holy Spirit do these things? Through the Holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus explains the work of the Spirit this way, “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Spirit works not by amazing feats of daring-do on the part of Christians, Not by a constant stream of miracles, but by teaching us what Jesus says and does. That is the work of the Spirit. It seems so ordinary, so everyday. Jesus doesn’t even mention the tongues of fire. Why not?

Because as amazing and exciting as that is, it’s an extraordinary event. It is not the ordinary way of working. And even in the lives of the apostles the ordinary way of working is different than what happens on Pentecost. Small numbers, faithfully working, teaching, preaching, worshipping, and praying. This is what we see and hear about. The Gospel goes to every corner of the world, it is true. And after Pentecost we see the church explode with Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and so on. Paul takes the Gospel even to the City of Rome itself – where there is already a church preceding him. Exciting times, great stories of conversion, of faith, of laboring in the fields of the Lord and reaping a bountiful harvest. And yes, it is the spirit working through the apostles that does this. But it happens most often through the ordinary, everyday things.

And the work of the Spirit in all of this is not the dramatic Spirit-filled Pentecostal vision, but bringing Jesus to people. That’s what starts happening on Pentecost. The work of Jesus continues through his Holy Christian church – as the salvation he won for us is given out through the preaching, through the baptizing and feeding.

The change of Pentecost is that no longer is there the fear of the law – the Holy Spirit brings to the apostles the everlasting joy of the good news about Jesus. That’s what the spirit does – teaches – teaches what – Jesus. He brings to remembrance all that Jesus has said. That is, he keeps the church focused on Jesus. Because Jesus is the way – the only way – to the Father.

The forgiveness you receive is earned by Jesus, but the Spirit gives faith to grab hold of the promise and receive the gift. It is his work to bring you to repentance and to change your heart of stone into a heart of flesh so that you would believe the Gospel.

When Paul goes into a new town, he tries the synagogue first. When that fails and he is kicked out, he takes a few who follow his word, and proclaims to the Gentiles. And then, it often doesn’t take long for the rest of the town to get upset at this man who is saying stop buying idols from the idol makers. Stop offering sacrifices in our wealthy pagan temples. Stop supporting the tourist attractions that bring in visitors and money. And so, off he goes to another town. But the small persecuted group that he began is blessed by the Spirit, and continues in the faith.

The world sees it all as so much foolishness. The idea that Jesus forgives our sins by his death!??! How is death anything other than weakness. We need someone who can conquer Satan in a glorious epic battle. But of course, that’s what the cross is. By faith we see the glory, the salvation of the cross.  That’s why it’s posted here and there. And Jesus is on both of them. It’s easy to see on the processional cross. It’s a little harder to see on the altar cross, but the letters IHS are there. They are the first three letters of the Greek word Iesus. Jesus is on the cross because Jesus saves us from sin. And the work of the Spirit is to teach us about Jesus.

And that brings us back to Red. The Anchor – the sure and certain hope of we have in Jesus. Hebrews 6:19 “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf” The inner place behind the curtain is the holy of holies, which Jesus went into at his crucifixion. He offered the sacrifice in the holy of holies with his own blood. That was the cleansing sacrifice.

The boat – a symbol of the church in Baptism. 1 Peter 3:20 “When God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” That is why the main part of the church is called the Nave – The same as Navy – boat. You are in the ark of the church by virtue of your Baptism, when you were washed with the new birth of water and spirit.

And the dove, as we have in our Baptism window – the spirit descended as a dove on Jesus when he was baptized, and the voice of the Father came from the cloud.

So why do we have red for things like ordination, confirmation, martyrs of the church? It is not the Holy Spirit shares his color. It is because without the Holy Spirit there is no church. Without the Holy Spirit there is no faith. There is no confession, there are no pastors, no martyrs.  The Holy Spirit calls by the Gospel, enlightens with his gifts, he makes you holy, keeps you in the faith, just as he does all those things as he gathers the church around the word, around the gospel, the good news, the promise of forgiveness for Jesus sake. That is the feast of Pentecost, rightly understood. The Spirit coming to you to bring you Jesus, through the water and the word. It is by the spirit we confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord” to the glory of God the Father.

Amen.

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Sermon for Exaudi

Jesus has been lifted up in triumph above the heavens. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to him. To him belongs the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.

And yet, we are told that, if we follow him, we will be persecuted. Put out of the synagogues. Even killed for the faith. And as we look at the headlines, it seems as if that is true. Islamic terrorists killed 28 Coptic Christians in a bus attack this week. Thousands of Christians have died at the hands of Isis in the last year. The attacks keep coming. In our own nation, we have not had the shedding of blood for the faith, but people have been denied jobs or have been removed from them for stating the simple truth that God created them male and female. Suggesting that as sinners, all humanity violates the 10 commandments, that we are deserving of God’s wrath and eternal punishment, and that all must repent of their sin is barely tolerated in the church, to say nothing of polite society.

Jesus words to the disciples are true. Those who follow him will be persecuted. And that persecution is done as if it were in service to God. Those who commit these acts think they are serving their god – whether they worship Allah, or random chance, or their own works. How is it possible that such things happen to faithful Christians? Hasn’t Jesus Christ been raised above all things? As we just sang, he is Lord of the nations. Glory and honor, praise adoration, now and forever more are his.

But the world does not know him. The world refuses to recognize his authority. And so the world also does not know his Father. The world fights against God and His holy word. We must expect that. Jesus tells us that it will be this way – so that when it happens we will remember that he told us. So that we will not be scandalized and fall away. So that we will not shrink from such things as if he did not prepare us, as if it were too great a scandal for the Gospel to be rejected. He told us that very thing.

And yet, though we are pressed on every side, we do not despair. The world does not recognize him, the world does not know him. But, by the grace of God, the Spirit has been given to us, and we recognize him. We know him, and so his Father is our father who art in heaven. Through the waters of Holy Baptism we have been made his children. We are torn from the grasp of Satan and death and have been brought into the kingdom of Christ. Now, we are beloved children of our heavenly Father.

That is what the Holy Spirit gives us – faith to grab hold of the promise. Faith so that we would receive the gift of Jesus, and in receiving him, also receive his heavenly Father. By the grace of God, the Spirit makes us holy. Even in this world of sin, even as we struggle daily, we are declared holy and righteous in the sight of God for Jesus sake. As God has declared it, so it is.

Next week we hear Jesus again predict the coming of the holy Spirit – and in the Epistle reading we hear of the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles on Pentecost. The festival of Pentecost – a wonderful day in the church. But this week, the week after the ascension and before the Holy Spirit comes –  Today the prediction seems a little bit desperate. It’s almost like it isn’t Easter anymore. As if the ascension has made things worse. The Apostles weren’t being killed before the ascension. Jesus was no longer in danger from the leaders of the people. He was able to appear, disappear, walk through walls at will. It seems like this is a better state of affairs than what was to come. And yet, Jesus told the disciples, it was for their good that He ascends to His Father. What is the result? Jesus says, persecution, cast out of the synagogue, eventually some will be killed, then more and more. Widespread persecution, Peter and Paul themselves would become martyrs for the name of Christ. How is that better than what the disciples have?

And yet, before Pentecost the disciples were still hiding in the upper room for fear of the Jews. They were still afraid. That’s the state of our hearts on our own. As God says through the Prophet Ezekiel in our Old Testament reading– we have a heart to stone, and we need him to give us a heart a flesh.

Our situation in the world isn’t all that great. That’s just the truth. We are strangers, foreigners, pilgrims. Even as citizens of a nation, even as we still live in the world, we are not of the world. Our land, our home is not where we live in this world – it is with God in Christ Jesus. We are, first and foremost, defined by our Baptism into Christ. We are his, and now God the Father Almighty is our heavenly Father. We are of the family of God – reborn into a new life. This past Thursday, we have Jesus, ascended into heaven – liturgically, the paschal candle, which was lit on Easter morning for the first time, is extinguished. Today we have Easter, sort of. Still white. Still Alleluia. Resurrected Jesus, but now the attention turns to what is coming – the Holy Spirit the Comforter on Pentecost. And we wait. And we are in anticipation, but we aren’t there yet. Boldness to confess the Gospel. 3000 baptized instead of just a few hiding in an upper room. That sounds good – we want to be there, but we aren’t there yet.

Just as we want the kingship of Jesus to break through the clouds again with a shout, with a trumpet. We want all knees to bow to him, all authorities to be subject to him. But we aren’t there yet either. We’re still waiting. We still live in this world of sin, that can not accept the word of Jesus. That refuses to recognize him as he is. That will turn any direction except that one – to the extreme rigor of Islam, or the extreme libertinism of our secular society – any lie is better than the truth. Consistency doesn’t matter to the world – as long as the truth of Jesus lordship is denied.

And that is why the world hates us. Because we speak the truth. We refuse to back down on this – that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, The He was crucified for our offenses and raised again for our justification. This the world can not accept. This is the scandal that causes the world the reject the church. This is the scandal that causes the world to reject those who speak the truth. Because a lie – any lie – is more loved by the world than the truth, that we are sinners, and Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins.

That truth just won’t do. And so the world removes the Christians from the polite places, and refuses to hear us. But even we who have heard, who have been reborn into Jesus can only hear because God himself has placed in us a new heart – a heart of flesh in place of our heart of stone. We have no innate ability or divine spark that would save us. On our own we are just as dead in our trespasses. And even renewed, restored, brought back to life by the power of the Spirit, and given a new life in Christ, we still struggle. We still must fight every day to subdue the old Adam in us, to hear the world of life which he gives us, to respond to that word as we aught, and to raise our prayers to our heavenly Father. We still struggle because we are still joined to the sinful human flesh in this world.

We must be always on guard, always watchful that we do not reject that Word of our Lord Jesus – for we can certainly turn away from it. The world rejoices when we do. Our sinful human flesh is eager for it. But the Spirit gives us strength every day to hear and believe the word. To return to the house of the Lord so that we would be fed with the food that does not spoil. To continue in his word, so that we would be strengthened in the true faith, and put to death the old Adam in us. Our Lord has promised that he will not leave us alone. He will not leave us without consolation. And so we come humbly to hear again, the receive again the implanted word, that is able to save our souls. Thanks be to God.

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Ascension Day Sermon

There is a typo somewhere that makes a sentence say the opposite of what I meant. I fixed it while preaching, but couldn’t find it when I read through it again before posting. So, when you get to that, make it right in your own head. Otherwise, enjoy. 

Update: The Typo was found by Helen J. Thanks! 

This is one of the few days in the year when the Epistle and Gospel reading both contain a record of the deeds of our Lord. Usually the Gospel is a record of the words and deeds of Jesus – that’s why we stand for it – and the Epistle is commentary on those deeds. Today, the Epistle contains a record of Jesus ascension. It’s one of the few times outside of the Gospels where we have the words of Jesus himself in the Epistle reading. Both readings record the same events. The Epistle reading has more detail. The Gospel reading offers encouragement to us as well.

Jesus goes out from Jerusalem with the disciples. He speaks to them. He is taken up into heaven. He is hidden from them. Two angels tell the disciples that he will return. In the Gospel reading, Jesus promises them miraculous deeds. The sick healed. The demons cast out. He does not say that those gifts will continue forever. They are given to the apostles specifically. But the whole creation will have the Gospel proclaimed to them. Salvation will be given to all who believe and are baptized. And then, we are told, “Jesus was taken up unto heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.” The Lord worked with them.

He had not abandoned them. He has not abandoned us. We are tempted to think that today is the day we celebrate Jesus going away. But that’s not true. He is hidden. He has not gone away from us. He is in heaven – seated at the right hand of the majesty of the Father. But that is not a location, as if he has gone to Omaha. It is a position of power and authority. When Jesus walked the earth, he was in this place or that place. He moved from here to there. But He could be in only one place at a time according to his human nature. Now his Human nature has been glorified – raised from the dead in his body, he has ascended in that body to heaven. And so, he is now without restraint. He is not only here or there. But he is everywhere he has promised to be. His body and blood are even offered here for you for the forgiveness of your sins, so that you would take eat and take drink of his body and his blood. Jesus is nearer now than he was before he ascended.

The Lord continued to work with the disciples. He continues to work in his church today. Even here, far away from Jerusalem, far away from the mount of ascension. All these years later, and he continues to come to us. The miraculous signs as the apostles did them may have ended. But the Word is still preached. Jesus is still present where he has promised.

We can not see him as they once did. We see so little with our eyes in this world The disciples looked up until they no longer saw him. He was hidden from their sight. They, like us, see only what God has made visible to us – and that is precious little. We don’t see the angelic hosts attending and guarding Christ’s church. We don’t see Christ enthroned in glory. Oh there are brief moments – scripture records a few cases of the heavenly breaking through, and our earthly brethren being given a glimpse of that glory – Saint Stephen as he was stoned saw Christ enthroned. Saint Paul as he was on the road to Damascus saw the light of Christ break through. Saint John the Evangelist saw Christ enthroned, he was granted visions of Christ and the angels and the entire church, and the heavenly conflict with Satan. But for the most part, we see only the ordinary with our eyes. We have to see the rest with the eyes of faith. And that is not easy. It isn’t easy to see the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven singing with us, even though we are few in number. It isn’t easy to see the glory that will soon be revealed when we look around this world of change and decay. It isn’t easy to see the spiritual struggle that goes on in this world between the Word of God and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. But that is what is going on around us at all times. Satan knows his time is short, and so he rages, and he foams, and he works to destroy all that he can, while he can. The sinful world, and even our own sinful flesh, are his agents of destruction. They would destroy all that God calls good. It seems as if we, weak and few in number, can not overcome the wealth of resources that Satan has at his command. The church is old and shrinking. The world doesn’t even bother ridiculing us anymore. We are a non-entity to most of them. Christ seems so very small compared to all that we see around us. The worldly powers are so great, so wealthy, so well armed. What can we do against that?

And yet, do not be fooled by your eyes. The lifeless body of God hanging on the cross was actually the victory (over) Satan. The scared women running from the tomb was actually the announcement of that victory to His chosen apostles. And now, he has ascended into heaven. Christ reigns. There is no crisis, no emergency, no panic for those who hear and receive the word. Christ rules over all, what can the world do to us? Christ has defeated death, what can the grave hold over us. Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, he has died and been raised for our salvation, and now is exalted above all other names. What more can the world offer, what can our own flesh seek that is not placed under him and his authority? What can happen that would separate us from his love?

Even with the rampant immorality all around, with gross violations of God’s Law allowed yet for a time, with the idolatries of the age swirling around, seeking to overcome Christ and his church, threatening to drown us, our Lord reigns. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There is no defeat for those who are saved by the lamb who was slain. Even in death, we triumph, for we follow in his footsteps.

The Lord has been crucified, he has been raised. Now he is exalted above all other names. Now, the kingdom, the power and glory, are His, forever and ever. Amen.

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Sermon for Rogate / Commemoration of Constantine

Jesus tells the disciples, “whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” “Whatever you ask…” sounds good. Health for loved ones, better job, bigger bank account, troublesome neighbor moved away… there’s all sorts of things we could pray for under that system. And this verse has led some false teachers to claim that, if you pray for something and don’t get it, then your faith wasn’t strong enough. That’s what happens when you take verses out of context. Yes, Jesus says “ask in my name and he will give it to you…” But just a few verses later he says, “you will be scattered, each to his own home… in the world you will have tribulation…” No one would pray, “Lord, give me trouble in the world”. So which is it? Do we get everything we pray for? Or do we get trouble? Well, yes.

To understand how prayer fits into the life of the Christian, we need to know what prayer is.

First, it’s commanded by God. He commands that Christians are to pray. The church is a church at prayer. To pray faithfully is to call on God in every trouble, to praise him, and to give thanks to him. But to what end? Why do we pray? Is it just because God commands it? If he had commanded that we whistle all hymns while standing on our head, instead of singing them right side up, that would certainly be enough reason to do it. And yet, God is not a God of disorder, but of order. And he does not give commands solely so that we can carry them out mindlessly. As Jesus says, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. God gives his Law for our good. It is actually good for us to Love the Lord God with all our heart, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And so, when God commands that we pray, he does not just want us to pray out of compulsion. He wants us to pray out of love for him. He wants us to come to him in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks because of his love for us. He wants us to come to him with our petitions in time of trouble, our thanksgiving in good times.

Do our prayers make a difference? Well, on their own, our prayers are not powerful. They are just words we speak. But that doesn’t mean that, if we get a lot of people together, they somehow become more powerful on their own. Prayer isn’t a democracy. We don’t get bonus points for more prayers. In scripture, Elijah summons fire from heaven with a single short prayer. He even raises someone from the dead – and again, it is with a single, simple prayer. Scripture says that the prayer of the righteous man is effective.  Prayer is us, coming to the seat of mercy of our great king. We may not be powerful. But we pray to one who is powerful. Who promises to hear and answer our prayers. Who has promised to give us every good thing.

This does not mean the answer to our prayers is always yes. Sometimes, in his mercy, the answer is no. But we see in Scripture on several occasions that God changes course because of the faithful prayers of his people.

Luther says about prayer, “In a good government it is not only necessary that there be those who build and govern well, but also those who make defense, afford protection and maintain it firmly.” That is what prayer is. We confess the faith, we teach it. But we must also be defending in our doctrine and our life from the attacks of Satan and the world. And of course, we must always keep watch over our own weak flesh. Your sinful nature does not want the things of God, and would lead you astray from that word into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. We pray that God would grant us faith, and that he would keep us faithful. That he would keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Jesus is the one who has overcome the world. By his death he has destroyed death, and by his rising again, he has restored to us everlasting life. We pray that he would keep us in that true faith.

Today is also the commemoration of Saint Constantine. He was the Roman Emperor in about 300 AD. The church had been illegal from the time of the apostles until that time. Various persecutions would break out, and Christians would be arrested, tortured, and even put to death for the crime of confessing Christ.

In 314 AD, Constantine declared that Christianity was no longer illegal. The tradition says that Constantine was about to go into battle and had a vision of the Cross, with the words, “In this sign, you will conquer…” He won the battle, and became a Christian. After hundreds of years of persecution, the prayers of the faithful were answered, the prayers of the emperor were answered as well. And in the sign of the cross, he found not only victory on the battlefield, but victory over death as well. As our nation and culture now return to a secular and non-Christian status, we are returning for the first time in 1700 years to that pre-Constantinian world. To a world that is largely unchristian, unconcerned with the things of God. To a world that does not know even the basic facts of Jesus life.

We know that the saints stand as examples of faith toward God and love to fellow man. But learning the history of the church can also serve to encourage us to be faithful, to strengthen us in times of trouble, and to warn us against false teachers. The time of Constantine serves all of those. The church never fought a battle. It was persecuted, and persecuted, and persecuted, it was driven underground, those who were Christian often suffered greatly. And then, after centuries of The Roman Empire killing, torturing, and punishing those who were faithful, the Empire yielded to the church. So it always is. The world persecutes, the world tries to crush the things of God – his holy church for example. The world wins, and wins, and wins, and then, it has lost. This is the pattern we see in the death of Christ himself. One of the twelve betray Jesus. He is condemned to die. He is put to death on the cross. And then, that very act of defeat becomes his victory, and the devil is crushed. The church is driven underground until the very moment is conquers Rome – not by strength, but by weakness.

So, we can take comfort in knowing that God continues to watch over and bless his church – even in times of trouble. In times of persecution. In times when the world rejects the word of God, and would try to force us to do the same. In just those times, when it seems from the perspective of the world that God has abandoned us, we see the hand of God working most clearly. Not always right away – not even always in our own lifetime. But God is working – he continues to work through his holy word and his Blessed sacraments. His Word continues to bring forth the fruit that he decrees. The sign of the cross is our sign of victory.

And so, whether in times of praise, or thanksgiving, whether in times of plenty or times of want, in times of strength and in times of weakness, in times of great blessing, and in times of trouble, we pray, giving thanks to God for his many gifts – especially for the victory which is ours through Jesus Christ, for the gift of the church to bring us the salvation He won for us by his death on the cross. We pray for the church and for ourselves, that we would be strengthened and preserved in the true faith, unto life everlasting. And that we would depart this world in the peace of the Lord, and so receive the crown of victory.

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Sermon for Cantate

The sermon isn’t Mother’s Day themed – Mother’s Day not being a church festival. We did give thanks for faithful Christian mothers in the prayers, because we love giving thanks to God for his many gifts, and throughout the year we try to name as many as we can. But sermon time is Gospel reading time. And this week the Gospel is Jesus promising the Comforter. We need comforting, so this is an excellent Gospel reading.

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We pray that our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found. Jesus tells the disciples that sorrow has filled their hearts. Big difference between the two. We pray for Joy. The disciples are filled with sorrow. So what is the difference between the joy that we pray for, and the sorrow that Jesus sees? The word of Jesus. It’s the Word of Jesus that brings joy to our hearts. But it’s also the word of Jesus that brings sorrow to the disciples. Jesus is going away. We understand good bye. We know that it’s a moment for sorrow. And Jesus isn’t just going to Galilee, or Rome, or Denver. Jesus is going into death. The big goodbye. This is it. And, even after he is raised from the dead, there will only be 40 more days. Then he will ascend to his father. We don’t get to see him as the disciples did. They knew him face to face. They loved him. And now, he will be gone for the rest of their lives. We know what that is like as well. It’s a time of great sorrow.

But Jesus doesn’t tell them this so that they will be filled with sorrow. He tells them this so they will be comforted. He even promises to send the Comforter. That’s what Jesus calls the Holy Spirit. The Helper or Comforter. Jesus doesn’t want them to be filled with sorrow. He wants them to receive the peace that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, brings. He wants them to have joy.

If you have a bucket filled with water, it is weighed down. That’s what sorrow does. It weighs down our hearts. You can actually feel the heaviness. But Jesus came to lift that burden. To remove the weight of sorrow. And yet, his words only cause more sorrow. That’s because Jesus is telling the disciples this before the crucifixion. Before they understood all that would happen. Continue reading

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