The Holy Trinity (Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3:1-17)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

The Holy Trinity + June 16, 2019

Text: Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3:1-17

In the course of our lives, there are people we come across who are worthy of respect, who we look up to.  One that comes to mind for me is the technical director at my community college.  As I was just getting started in theater, he was an influential mentor.  He taught me the value of teamwork, dedication, and attention to detail.  He handled the logistics of getting performances in motion, and he was a teacher at heart.  I looked up to him and even aspired to the same work when I was done with school.

You have your own examples of role models—teachers, supervisors, or commanders whom you have respected and have inspired you.  It’s a privilege to learn from them and work for them.  Sometimes their influence can even change the course of your life.

While we all have different examples of those respectable leaders, there is One whom all of us “work for” and who inspires and teaches us: He is the Lord of Hosts.  Here’s how the prophet Isaiah met Him:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

                      “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

                      the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Isaiah got immediately dropped in the boss’ office (so to speak)—and he was rightly terrified at the sight!  Even the holy angels who serve in the Lord’s presence cover their faces!  How much less does a impure man of dust belong!  But in response to Isaiah’s terrified, true confession, the Mighty One made peace with Him and declared Him worthy to be in the presence of the Most High:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

The fear of condemnation and destruction is removed, so that this man can stand in the presence of the Holy, Triune God.  But then there’s an amazing turn!  And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”  Isaiah—who just moments before feared eternal destruction—now eagerly volunteers to serve the Lord!  And that, even before he finds out what the job is!

This is the same awesome, holy God we worship here.  He is Thrice Holy, and He dwells in unapproachable light.[1]  Yet, He has cleansed us by His Word and washed us in body and soul.  This is the God who has come down to us in the flesh and said, “You are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you.”[2]  Not only be safe in His presence, but abide in him, the Holy One of Israel!

Having been cleansed, this is the same God we serve in our various vocations—husbands and wives, children and siblings, employees and managers, citizens, hearers of the Word.  All that we do is in service to our Lord, as St. Paul explains in Colossians: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”[3]  Where ever and whatever He calls us to, the one on whom His peace rests replies, “Here am I! Send me!” 

Yet, we serve a God who is beyond our understanding.  Being in His service, we may begin to think we understand Him better than others.  As the saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  Maybe not always contempt, but a lack of fear.  In the Gospel for today, we hear of Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee and teacher of Israel: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”  He was sure he knew the things of God.  After all, he was a Pharisee who studied the Law of God day and night.  He knew the Torah and the Psalms by heart!

However, he was humbled by the Lord to learn he didn’t know as much as he imagined.  Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  So much for being an expert on the things of God!  Not only did he have to go back to school—he had to go back to the womb and be born again!

It’s ironic that they issue pastors a “Master of Divinity” degree.  One lesson we should take from Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, is that God has no Master and He cannot be studied and dissected.  He cannot be fit into nicely organized categories or domesticated for our fulfillment.  Whenever we, the creatures, think we have a leg up on Him, we find that we are the ones who are under His gaze: “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.”[4]

It’s true for every Christian when we find ourselves thinking we have a handle on “our religion.”  It’s about going to church, living a good life.  You support the good causes and oppose the bad.  Basically, we learn how to talk the Jesus talk and walk the Jesus walk.  We know more about God than unbelievers.

But do we really?  If we think we’re so wise, why don’t we explain the Trinity to someone?  Go and explain God’s justice to people who have lost everything in a tornado.  Try to argue exact dates for the age of creation, when the flood is, where the dinosaurs are, and how the Grand Canyon was formed.  When we try to tackle things like that, we run into the fact that God is infinite, immortal, omnipotent, and we are dust.

And that’s just the way it should be, because we are His creatures: “He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the sheep of his hand.”[5]  There’s nothing greater that we can be!  This great and awesome Triune God we serve has all knowledge and upholds the universe by His powerful Word.[6]  But this same God who has spoken to us by His Son.  And of all majestic and sublime things He could tell us of, this is what He says: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  God speaks and the world is created; He speaks and you are forgiven and given victory over death and eternal life with Him; His Spirit brings you to believe this good news and will raise you on the Last Day.  We truly serve an awesome God, here in time and hereafter for eternity.  Amen.


[1] 1 Timothy 6:16

[2] John 15:3, see also John 13:7-10

[3] Colossians 3:23-25

[4] Psalm 11:4

[5] Psalm 95:7

[6] Hebrews 1:3

Day of Pentecost (John 14:23-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Day of Pentecost + June 9, 2019

Text: John 14:23-31

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” When Jesus says this, sometimes it makes us feel pretty good about ourselves. After all, when we look at what we’ve done, we might find that we make a pretty convincing case that we’ve kept Jesus’ Word. After all, we’re here at Church. We do good for our families and in our communities. We are good people. And we like to hear that Word of God proclaimed. Therefore, it means that we love Jesus.

Sometimes we feel good about that. Sometimes we don’t. Because we all have, at times, found that we failed to keep Jesus’ Word. We ignored it. We got angry with it. At the time, it didn’t give us what we wanted. It told us not to fall into that sin that we like so much. It told us that we had rebelled against a good God by being evil. And since we did, we do deserve death and hell. When it suited us, we did not love Jesus. We did not love the Father. We did not love the Holy Spirit. All because His Word was not our word, which is much more enjoyable to keep.

Our own word—the word that I came up with. The word that makes sense to me. The word that we think everyone else foolish for not listening to. We turn to that instead of Christ. My word looks out for me. My word lifts me up.  My word tears down those against me. My word speaks my reality, what I want. And my word can take me where I want to go, by any means necessary. My word doesn’t have time to be patient when the Lord says wait on Him. My word doesn’t rely on the Lord to provide for what I need. My word looks out first for myself, and others I’m not too busy. And that’s why my word is sinful. My word is evil. My word must end.

In our Old Testament lesson from Genesis 11, there were a whole group of people gathering around their own word in the land of Shinar. Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly…Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”  You notice how much that sounds like a twisted version of the Creation?  By their own word, they were going to build a tower, and by that tower they were going to reach heaven. They were going to make a name for themselves. A name that was over every name. The Lord took their words, and confused the languages. And He did it for their sake. For if their word remained united, there would be no sin impossible for them to inflict on themselves, each other, and the world

The same is still true today. Have you ever found the people you disagree with the most seem to be talking a different language than you do? They say one thing, but you know those words mean something else than what you mean? The Lord is still at work, protecting both us and our neighbor from our sin becoming even worse than it is. We may dream of what it would be like if congress could get along, or the world didn’t have so much division.  But the trouble isn’t in the disagreement; it’s in our sinful hearts.  The Lord has set a limit on the sin of Man. And anything that exceeds it never lasts long.  History shows us that again and again. The Lord is patient, but He is also merciful. Our own word never goes as far as we think it should. And that’s good news.

But there is better news than that. Because there is a Word that breaks through the barrier of language and confusion. A Word that breaks through our sinful desires, and the plans of our neighbors. A Word that breaks through sin and death to deliver life, and light, and forgiveness, and salvation. Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, the Word of God was spoken in Jerusalem. Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians heard them telling in their own tongues the mighty works of God. Telling of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus told His disciples, “…the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” What Jesus said, His Word: That He was crucified, died, and was buried, and that he rose from the dead on the third day. In this, He brought peace. Peace for the rebellious, evil sinner. Peace with God. Not peace as the world gives. Not peace according to my own word, which is a peace that only lasts until I can get something better for myself. Jesus gives an eternal peace. The peace of sins forgiven. The peace that comes from a sacrifice that pays for everything. The sacrifice of the Son of God. Jesus, the Lamb, who died for your peace. So now, you can stand before Holy and Almighty God. No longer as an enemy awaiting their sentence. But now a beloved child with a home, and a place forever.

The Word of peace from your Lord, of your Creator, settles your heart in a way that human words could never do.  In the face of overwhelming loss and deep suffering, human words evaporate like mist.  When the “earth gives way…and the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea” human words are empty.  But the Word our Lord speaks, and plants home in our heart, that Word alone can support us.

Yet Jesus still said to His disciples, “You heard me say to you, I am going away.” Although He ascended into heaven, it is better for us that He went away. Jesus is here differently, but absolutely still here. He’s here by means of His Word. Wherever that Word is proclaimed, there is Jesus. He even gives us His body and His blood. So His presence is not just in spirit only, but physically as well. 

And still, Jesus is bold to says to them, and to us, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” The world’s word, our own word will still lead us into sin and evil. Even when we think that it’s for our good. The sinful nature is that strong. And fighting against it feels overwhelming. It always sounds so much easier to let that other word sweep us away, into where we believe it will take us, good or bad. Yet, Jesus dares give us hope. Jesus dares give us assurance. Just like He did to the disciples. Just like He did for those on the Pentecost after His resurrection: The sin and evil of this world, the sin and evil festering inside our own hearts has been overcome. That His cross and His sacrifice are sufficiently powerful to overcome it all. That His Word is stronger than our deepest-felt pain. That His Word is stronger than our loneliness. That His Word is stronger than our loss. That His Word is stronger than our sadness. That His Word is stronger than our sin. That His Word is stronger than death. That the Word of Jesus Christ is more powerful than all the other words in the world, because He has already overcome the worst that sin, death, and the devil can dish out. And He died, rose, and ascended for you, and He will come again in glory. 

This is the Word that we treasure. This is the Word we keep close to our hearts. This is the Word we love. The Word-Become-Flesh, who made His dwelling among us. The Word through whom we are loved by the Father. The Word that forgives us, raises us from the dead, gives us eternal life. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday after the Ascension (John 15:26—16:4)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Sunday after the Ascension + June 2, 2019

Confirmation Sunday

Text: John 15:26—16:4

In the Creed, why do we confess “I believe”?  In the original Nicene Creed, it said, “We believe in one God,” because it was the confession of the 318 bishops gathered at the Council of Nicaea.  It was the shared faith of all those gathered, and the believers they came to represent. 

But today, we say, “I believe” because no one can believe for another.  We all must stand before God with our own faith.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us how this happens.  “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.”  The Helper, the Holy Spirit is the one responsible for creating that faith in each hearer, and keeps us in that faith day in and day out.

Before that ever happened for us today, the Apostles did bear witness, and their witness has been Spirit-breathed and written in the New Testament.  They’ve fulfilled their role, as Jesus said, “You also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

But when it comes down to it, each person must believe for himself.  Pastors do their part by faithfully and thoroughly preaching and teaching.  Parents, though, have a bigger role because their part begins earlier in life and continues throughout the week.  They do their part to impart the faith to their children—yes, by bringing them to church but that’s just a fraction of the week.  They also set an example by how they make the Word of God a priority, they talk about these things throughout the week, leading their family in prayers at meals and before bed.  This is what the Lord describes in Deuteronomy 6: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (vv. 6-7).

Even so, each one of us must receive this faith for himself.  This is what confirmation is.

And the time of testing is coming, and has come.  The vows you will take in confirmation are all the more serious, because they are harder than ever to keep.  Unless you’re especially blessed with an unusually strong Christian family, being in the Word is second fiddle to all the other activities of life.  Many of your friends come from families which have never had God at the center, much less even at the edge of their lives.  When you go to them for advice down the road about marriage, for instance, they might just tell you it’s better to cheat or divorce than to stick through it and work through problems with your spouse.  The generations today are seeing unprecedented anti-Christian “religious” fervor against the sanctity of life, moral decency, and the value of family (to name a few).

So today as we are witness and brothers and sisters who stand with these young women, I think it’s good to consider what vows we take as confirmed Christians:

P  Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God?

R  I do.

Many church bodies that talk about how important the Bible is, but only in theory.  In practice they will run rough-shod over what that Word of God says when it conflicts with what we or the loudest crowd wants.  The difference with their vow is subtle: “Are you persuaded that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ…?”[1]  Notice the difference?  We believe, teach, and confess that the Old and New Testaments are in their entirety the inspired, inerrant Word of God, that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” and “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Peter 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:16).  We believe this not because it’s the die-hard conservative view, but because that’s what God says about His Scriptures.

P  Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?

R  I do.

Many of us are familiar with scam calls—claiming to be from the IRS, or Microsoft, or some legal entity.  But every month they get sneakier and harder to distinguish from legitimate calls.  One recent one simply says, “Can you hear me?” and if you say “Yes,” they use that recording to authorize transactions with your stolen information.

Well, it’s not getting any easier to tell legitimate churches from counterfeit.  There’s of course the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but then part of them rebranded as Community of Christ.  The old traditional divisions of church bodies are no longer a sure indicator. There are Reformed churches that teach decision theology, and Baptists who believe in the real, bodily presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

You can’t even depend on the name Lutheran anymore.  The vow concerning the doctrine of the “Evangelical Lutheran Church” confuses people because there’s a group called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA. Even though they’re called Lutheran they make the hair-splitting distinction that the Bible contains God’s Word and it shows in several practices.[2]  When Reformers of the 16th century were forced to go separate ways with the Papists, they needed to identify.  Since “Catholic” was already inextricably linked with “Roman,” they chose “Evangelical” or the church that preaches the Gospel of the Bible.  But, as is typical, Evangelical in the 21st century means something different—usually a non-sacramental, Reformed-leaning Bible church.  “Lutheran” was a title first applied by Luther’s opponents, but since we needed some distinction from Zwingli, Calvin, and others, the name stuck because Martin Luther and the first Evangelicals did confess the unadulterated faith of the Bible.

All that the “Evangelical Lutheran Church” believes, teaches, and confesses from Scripture is written down in the Book of Concord for anyone to read (www.bookofconcord.org). It gives a faithful explanation of God’s Word and painstakingly sticks to Scripture alone as the only authoritative rule for faith and life.  But as far as most Christians are concerned, Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism to explain the most important aspects of the Christian faith, so that “the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.”

The next three vows are promises we make to live out the calling to follow Christ in whatever place He puts us:

P  Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?

R  I do, by the grace of God.

“Do I have to go to church?” is usually the way you hear it phrased, as if it were an unbearable burden to get out of bed, wrangle the kids, and turn off your distractions and chores for an hour and fifteen minutes (or longer if you come to Sunday School).

But if you have this faith in God, believe what He says about your need, and trust the invitation, “Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,”[3] then you would do whatever it takes to get to the Divine Service and try to rectify it whenever something kept you away from this Sabbath rest.

P  Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?

R  I do, by the grace of God.

As often as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be Thy Name,” we are asking for this to happen in our lives, and the lives of our brothers and sisters here and scattered through the world.  We are pledging ourselves and asking God to help us be His children inside and out, in public and in private, on Sunday and the rest of the week.  And we’re not just signing a 5-year contract with God, we’re pledging ourselves until death.

P  Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?

R  I do, by the grace of God.

Finally, there’s a vow to remain true to God, even under spiritual attack, the sloth of our sinful flesh, and the hatred of the world.  Basically, will you continue to be a Christian even when the road is long and hard, when it comes to pass that “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:36-37)  This is no joke.  You are vowing that you are willing to leave everything for “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” (Phil. 3:8-10)

But when over half of all husbands and wives can hardly keep their vows to live with each other, how can we take such bold vows?  “I do, by the grace of God.”  Yes, by the grace of God, because it is His will to keep you in this faith.  “I have said these things to keep you from falling away” our Lord says, and His apostle Paul writes to us, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13)

How was it possible for the martyrs of old to remain true to the Lord even when threatened with loss of property and life?  It wasn’t simply a human determination; it was the Lord Himself.  The Lord has done His part, and that’s no small thing—He fulfilled the Scriptures, offered up His life, rose from the dead, and continually sends His Holy Spirit.  All of this keeps you from falling away.  You have a strong help, so by God’s grace use it.  It’s not just your parents, or your pastor, or the brothers and sisters gathered here today that make it possible to keep Jesus as your own Lord and Savior.

Will you always be a bold confessor? Will you have doubts?  Will your sinful laziness keep you scrolling Facebook when you could be doing a quick devotion, or in bed when you should be out the door to church?  Quite likely.  But the God who called you is faithful to the good work He has begun in you.  He will surely bring it to fulfillment on the day of Jesus Christ, and God help His people to always cling to His promises. Amen.


[1] United Methodist Church Rite of Ordination, emphasis mine https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/2017-2020_Ordinal-FINAL.pdf p. 20 (5/30/19)

[2] https://www.elca.org/Faith/ELCA-Teaching/Scripture-Creeds-Confessions

[3] Matthew 11:28

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Rogate) (John 16:23-30)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Rogate) + May 26, 2019

Text: John 16:23-30

Sunday after Sunday, there are many parts of the liturgy that are the same.  These parts are repeated, not because it sounds religious to repeat stuff, and not because the congregation is dull-witted and has to be told over and over.  Every Sunday, we repeat these things because they’re important to always hold before us.  One of these parts of the service is the Creed.

            Week after week, we rehearse the words:

I believe in Jesus Christ…

who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven

and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary

and was made man;

and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.

He suffered and was buried.

And the third day, He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven

and sits at the right hand of the Father.

This is actually why we gather for worship at all—because of what God has done through His Son.  It is the foundation of our faith and our hope of eternal life.  It’s also the bedrock upon which all true prayer is built.  Jesus says, “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”  Sounds like the Creed, doesn’t it?  We pray to the Father on the basis of what His Son has done to make us children of God.

            We know that the world is often looking for help.  Whenever there is a tragedy, like the tornadoes and floods in Texas and Oklahoma, the fires in the summer, or a senseless act of violence, many offer the comfort that the victims are in their prayers.  And it’s absolutely true that we need God’s help to recover from such disasters.  On a personal level, people will pray for someone who is sick with a serious illness.  And who better to ask for help than the Author of life?

But when people of the world ask for help, they’ve got other helps besides Jesus.  For them, prayer is just a way to hedge your bets in case all other options are exhausted—medicine, science, and intoxication.  It’s a last-ditch effort.  In our pagan-infused society, prayer is one option among many—prayer along with horoscopes, tea leaves, psychics, reiki,[1] and sweathouses.  It’s good to have a full toolbox, it seems to the world.

But prayer in the Name of Jesus is not just one option for help; it’s the only place that godly hearts look.  Sometimes we come to it early, like the centurion whose servant was ill: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”[2]  Sometimes we come later when we see God has taken everything away, like the woman with the flow of blood, “who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse” and who said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”[3]  The godly realize what Paul wrote to Timothy, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”[4]  As the hymn “Abide with Me” beautifully says, “When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.”[5]  So Jesus promises, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”

God will not tolerate our hearts being divided.  He is a jealous God, because He is the only One who delivers us.[6]  Are we struggling in our creaturely lives?  He is the Creator who loves us and remembers that we are dust.[7]  Do we grieve what has been taken from us?  He is the God who can restore what is lost and give abundantly more.[8]  But we cannot have it both ways—the way of the pagan world and the way of God’s children.  “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”[9]  In our daily struggles of waiting, wanting, and longing, He refines us like silver so that we confess, “From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”[10]

            A Pew Research study in 2012 found that 76% of Americans agreed with the statement “prayer is an important part of my daily life.”[11]  This shows how much people want divine help.  So, there are outlets for prayer—a National Day of Prayer, the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, and community prayer services in times of trouble.  People come together in droves, and they pour their heart out in prayer.

With all the focus on prayer, the verse 2 Chronicles 7:14 is often quoted: “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”  If just enough people would get together and pray, what amazing things would happen!  And it’s true…in part.  But prayer is not effective because of our humility, or how sincerely we seek His face.  It isn’t any more powerful if 1 or 1,000 pray for it.  Prayer is about Who we are praying to.

The Lord said in 2 Chronicles, “My people who are called by My Name.”  These are the ones He has called out of the nations and placed His Name upon them.  Praying isn’t a privilege given to just anyone.  It’s a gift given to those who bear God’s Name on their foreheads—the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  So, when Jesus says, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my Name, he will give it to you,” He’s saying that you have access to God as Father because you bear God’s Name.  You are praying in your Baptism.  You are children of God, which is why you can pray to Him and He answers.

There are three things that Jesus teaches us about prayer.  “The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”  First of all, God is not angry with you.  “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  This verse from Romans 8:1 is familiar but very important to remember.  God’s Son has borne the wrath of God against all of your sins.  All of God’s anger was on Him, so that a sinner like you would have God’s love forever.

So, when you pray, you don’t have to tiptoe and say, “Father, I just want this or that,” like He’s going to kick you out for asking too much.  Think of this: He loves you more than even your earthly parents ever could.  You will never annoy Him by praying too much.  (In fact, He’d be tickled to have you call on Him so much!)  “Love keeps no record of wrongs”[12]: He won’t hold a grudge against you for past sins.  Remember, He has taken His anger and your sins away—as far as the east is from the west.[13]  So, go right to Him with your prayers.

The next thing to remember is that your prayers don’t have to be anything fancy.  “The Father himself loves you.”  Simple or complex prayers don’t make a difference to Him.  They don’t need to be crafted ahead of time like the Collect of the Day.  One author explained it this way:

Instead of fearing and dreading God, we can approach God in prayer with confidence and love. Imagine that your child approached you and asked for the car keys. Which request would you listen to: “O Head of this house, you alone have the keys to the car. I humbly beseech thee to share them with me …” or “Daddy, could I please use the car?” Certainly, God is deserving of high and holy praise, but He also wants us to approach Him in love and intimacy.[14]

Sometimes our prayers don’t even have words, as Paul tells us in Romans 8, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”[15]

Finally, Jesus teaches us to pray for anything and everything.  Pray when you’re going to the doctor’s office, and pray when you’re looking for a parking spot.  Pray during a job interview, and pray when you’re looking for your lost keys.  Your heavenly Father is listening.  It doesn’t matter if other people think you’re foolish for praying for such things.  They aren’t listening in!  “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”  Ask even for your loved ones back from the dead and He will answer.

Finally, our Lord tells us that we will be driven to prayer by what happens in life: “Do you now believe?…I have said these things that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  The tribulations that happen to dear children of God prompt us to run to our heavenly Father.  In the fire of those trials, He wills peace for you.  Even if there’s no sign of peace outwardly, He will strengthen your faith so that it becomes mature.  It matures from being a faith in the mouth to being a firmer faith in the heart.  Yes, we confess our faith week in and week out, and that is good and right, because in every change and chance of this life, the God we go to in prayer is always the same, always loving, and always faithful.  Amen.


[1] http://www.reiki.org/faq/whatisreiki.html – A pagan healing technique based on pagan beliefs about the human body

[2] Matthew 8:8

[3] Mark 5:26, 28

[4] 1 Timothy 2:5

[5] LSB 878, stanza 1

[6] Psalm 33:16-18

[7] Psalm 103:14

[8] Job 42:10-17

[9] Matthew 6:24

[10] Psalm 121:1b-2

[11] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/05/01/5-facts-about-prayer/

[12] 1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV

[13] Psalm 103:12

[14] Engelbrecht, Edward A. (2010-07-02). The Lutheran Difference: An Explanation & Comparison of Christian Beliefs (Kindle Locations 2291-2294). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.  (p 96)

[15] Romans 8:26

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cantate) (John 16:5-15)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cantate) + May 19, 2019

Text: John 16:5-15

The Sundays of the Easter season remind us how it’s possible for Jesus’ disciples to continue to be in fellowship with Him and to glory in the resurrection for the long haul.  For four Sundays in a row, from John chapter 16, we hear our Lord speak reassuring words to us, His disciples of this day:

Now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, 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.

Parting is never easy, and nobody wants to.  Early on Easter morning, Mary wanted to cling to Jesus and treasure that moment where she was delivered from the tragedy of losing her Lord (John 20:16-17).  But in all love, Jesus tells us not to cling to that part of His ministry.  He has a bigger plan in mind: He must go away and ascend to the Father.

Now, in human movements, when the leader goes away, things fall apart.  After Martin Luther’s death in 1546, the Evangelicals started being led in different directions about fundamental parts of the faith.  Phillip Melanchthon, who wrote the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope[1] (refuting the pope’s claim to rule the church unquestioned and invent new doctrines), wanted to start compromising on worship and Communion practices to make peace with his catholic neighbors.  Andreas Osiander started teaching that we aren’t actually declared righteous on account of Christ, but that Christ’s divine nature dwells in us to the point that our sins are like a drop of water in the ocean.  It sounds like a sermon illustration gone terribly wrong.  But the point is when a human leader leaves, things usually fall apart.

But when Jesus leaves His disciples in the Ascension, it’s actually the greatest thing that could happen for the disciples—and for the world which will hear the Word of God through them.

I will send [the Helper] to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

The Holy Spirit—who was there in the beginning of creation, hovering over the waters—will begin His work of a new creation through Christ.  It’s a new creation that will require judgment and destruction of the old, but it will bring everlasting restoration for all who receive Him.  The Holy Spirit goes to work in those very areas that need the most desperate attention: He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement.

He will condemn men not simply for thinking and doing the wrong thing (because if He did that, He’d have to wipe out the whole human race[2]).  He will condemn men’s refusal to believe in who Jesus is and what His coming means.  The Spirit will condemn all human righteousness as worthless, because Jesus is the only man worthy to go to the Father: “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart” (Psalm 15:1-2). The Spirit will also convict the world concerning judgement. While men are busy passing judgments on each other and cursing God for what they perceive as sleights and neglect toward the world, Satan seems to slip out the back door.  It was Satan’s temptation that brought this world of sin, death, and lifelong subjugation.  But God has not forgotten what He promised in the Garden after the Fall: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).  Satan, the instigator of all evil must be judged and all his works destroyed, especially rebellion in men’s hearts and false teaching.

This is the ongoing work of the Triune God, reclaiming and restoring His creation to Himself.  The work wasn’t over when Jesus died, or when He rose victorious over the grave, or even when He ascended into heaven.  His work will not be finished until the Last Day when the faithful are gathered around Him, singing blessing, and glory, and honor, and might to Him forever.[3]  The Lord Jesus continues:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

It’s the Holy Spirit Who continues God’s saving work.  He came at Pentecost, He came each time the Apostles and Evangelists wrote (2 Pet. 1:21), He comes in Holy Baptism (Acts 2:38), and He comes every time the Word of God is preached (Gal. 3:5).  And His work is done through the Word of God.  This is immensely important to understand—God wills to be found through His Word.  Everywhere else is a gray area.  For example, people might tell you about a dream they had, or an inspiring thought that came to mind.  They might even talk about a miracle that they witnessed.  But that is not where people are to seek God, because if those extraordinary experiences are from God, they are not for everyone.  If we have a dream or an idea, it must agree with Scripture.  If we see a miracle, that’s not the thing that will convince a person to believe (otherwise everyone would need miracles to believe, and Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.” Matthew 12:39)

From the beginning, Almighty God has chosen to interact with creation—with humanity, with you and me—through His Word.  Anywhere else you think you find God, you may well have found the devil.

God does it this way because He wants us to have certainty about Him.  Sin and the devil have only brought confusion, hearts that are afraid when they shouldn’t be, and at ease when they ought to fear God.  But when the Spirit guides us into all the truth, we can be sure of God’s heart and will for us.

One of the debates that plagues our time (and has for a couple centuries) is the question of whether the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God, or if it contains human errors that need to be sifted out.  A Lutheran professor from the early part of the 20th century, Franz Pieper, cuts to the chase: “The Jews [in John 8] heard Christ’s Word, but since they were not children of God, they could not recognize Christ’s Word as God’s Word, but revolted against it.  Christ here established the fact that acceptance of His Word as God’s Word is confined to the Christians.”[4]

The Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Christ and declares it to the world.  The Word of God glorifies the Son.  But that Word is only received by Christians.  If you hear someone arguing that you can’t trust the Bible as God’s Word, they are serving the devil, the Father of Lies.  Every branch of Christianity that has allowed for errors in the Bible has quickly lost what is Christ’s—the condemnation of unbelief, the righteousness that counts before God, and the exposure of the devil’s lies.  False teachers, under the banner of Luther, thought they were liberating the Church from stodgy, old-fashioned ways soon had lost the true Christ.  In His place, they had to put a message of social justice, tolerance, and equity on earth.  The Bible became nothing more than a patchwork of sayings to be mined for a given agenda.  But in the message of such false teachers, there is no salvation to be had, because they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit and spat in His face.  God, preserve us from such a terrible fate!

Jesus has ascended into heaven, and the Church commemorates this on the 40th Day after His resurrection.  But what He left us with is far greater than His local presence.  He has given us His Holy Spirit, Who brings us out of unbelief into faith, and who guards against the deceitful schemes of the devil and unbelieving men.  Yes, He has gone from us (for a time), but He is truly with us.  With the Holy Spirit’s aid, we hear His voice today just as clear as if He stood here Himself.  We receive His Body and Blood today in that same confidence, because as God and Man, He is able to fill all things—even this humble bread and wine.  How do we know?  The Holy Spirit has taken His Word and declared it to you.  Amen.


[1] http://bookofconcord.org/treatise.php

[2] Psalm 14:1-2, Psalm 143:2

[3] Revelation 5:13

[4] Christian Dogmatics I, 299

Fourth Sunday of Easter (1 Peter 2:11-23)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Fourth Sunday of Easter + May 12, 2019

Text: 1 Peter 2:11-23

Two words describe the Christian: a sojourner and an exile.

In the Old Testament, these were freighted terms.  The idea of sojourning in a foreign land began with Abraham who was a foreigner in the land of Canaan, meaning he had no blood or legal claim to the place where he was dwelling—the land which God had called him to and promised to his descendants.  He was a temporary resident.  As a sojourner, that status got handed down to his children, Isaac and Jacob.  Even though they had influence and great possessions, they had no lasting claim to the place where they lived.  When his wife Sarah died, Abraham even pleaded with the native people, “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; ggive me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” (Genesis 23:4)

This condition of sojourning expanded when the sons of Jacob went to live in Egypt.  Even though they were gifted the region of Goshen, it was clear they had no permanent claim on that.  After the favorable Pharaoh died, they became slaves.  “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, ewho did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, fthe people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 gCome, hlet us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them ito afflict them with heavy jburdens.” (Exodus 1:8-11)

Later, when Israel crossed the Jordan and received their promised inheritance, the Law of Moses reminded them of where they came from, and commanded, “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

Sojourners had a place near and dear to God’s heart because that was the condition of his people—temporary residents of a place, putting down tent stakes, but only for a time.

Then there’s “exiles.”  This isn’t exile with the sense of judgment that 587 BC brought with the destruction of Jerusalem.  The word used (parepidemos), which means someone who is “passing through” but who still makes relationships with the people they live along side.[1]  While sojourner refers to legal status, exile or pilgrim (1 Pet. 2:11 KJV), has the sense of destination.  You are here today, but one day you’ll move on toward your goal.

But there is a similarity to the Babylonian exile in what the prophet Jeremiah told the Israelites in chapter 29: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

nBuild houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and opray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare…

10 “For thus says the Lord: tWhen seventy years are completed for Babylon, uI will visit you, vand I will fulfill to you my promise vand bring you back to this place. 11 wFor I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare2 and not for evil, xto give you a future and a hope. 12 yThen you will call upon me and come and pray to me, yand I will hear you. 13 zYou will seek me and find me, when you seek me awith all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, band I will restore your fortunes and cgather you from all the nations and all the places dwhere I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jer. 29:4-7, 10-14)

To be a sojourner and an exile means belonging to God, even while you live among those who do not.  It would be natural to want to isolate oneself and wait it out, but that is not what God’s desire was for the Israelites living in Babylon.

It’s with this in mind that St. Peter addresses us: 11 Beloved, I urge you has sojourners and exiles ito abstain from the passions of the flesh, jwhich wage war against your soul. 12 kKeep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, lthey may see your good deeds and glorify God on mthe day of visitation.”

As sojourners and exiles, Christians are resident aliens in the present world.  We do not have any lasting claim on it (in fact, we know that any such claims will be superseded by the Day of Christ’s return).  All buildings of stone, contracts among men, nations and wonders, even the stars of the heavens—are passing away and will one day be laid waste.  As for us, we have no permanent claim even upon our place in this world that we work so hard to sustain.

So, while the people of the world around us scramble and fight and toil to get every last penny they can, we know that what we have, we have today, but our present and future belong to God.  As the Apostle encourages us, Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

We are just “passing through” this world.  And like the Jews in Babylon, we are to make homes, take spouses, multiply and live.  We are to pray for the welfare of the nation in which we live, even while our benefit from it is only for a time.  It’s not that we live fatalistic lives, unmoved by the evils around us, focused only on escaping this evil world in the end.  Together as the people of God, we live lives that are built on the bedrock of promises from the almighty, eternal God.  When the world suffers, we suffer with it.  When our fellow human beings suffer tragedy, it’s right to feel it with them and to walk alongside them.

In fact, this is the witness that we still have to our family and friends who have drifted away from their faith to follow the course of this world.  They go without the means of grace God gives in this place, because their friends told them retirement was about finally living for yourself; because the basketball coach told them their kids wouldn’t qualify for a scholarship if they didn’t dedicate everything to the team; because someone told them “nothing happens in Church” and it was all empty ritual and after all you only have so much free time on the weekend.  But the hope of the world is empty, and its rewards are fleeting.

Sometimes in our status as sojourners and exiles, Christians are reminded of how little we belong to this world.  Just as Abraham had no legal right to the place where he was dwelling, and just as the sons of Israel had their freedom taken from them, so it sometimes happens to Christians that they are mistreated—even though they belong to the God who desires the salvation of all people.  Case in point is the bombings on Easter which took place in Sri Lanka (which is featured on the front of the bulletin).  These Christians were celebrating the triumph over sin and death of their Lord, and yet they were treated like enemies.  And that’s just one particularly bloody and gruesome example of the world’s rage against those who belong to Christ (one that happened to make it on the news).

St. Peter writes to us because he doesn’t want us to be surprised when we are treated unjustly, discriminated against, or hated for our faith.  When we are (and it will happen more and more in our own borders), Peter reminds us that this is the calling of one of who follows Christ—“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

When persecution happens, it is wrong, it’s not fair, it’s painful.  But if the Lord is your helper, what can man do to you?  “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife,

Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.”[2]  Persecution tests the genuineness of our faith—do we believe that our hope is not in this world, but in the world to come?  It’s a palpable way that God is teaching us to renounce the things of this life and look forward to eternity.  As our Lord said in Mark 10, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)  May God preserve each of us in the true faith unto life everlasting! Amen.


[1] Strong’s Greek 3927 – https://biblehub.com/greek/3927.htm

[2] “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (LSB 656:4)

Third Sunday of Easter (John 10:11-16)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Third Sunday of Easter (Misericordias Domini) + May 5, 2019

Baptism of Lincoln Thomas Vorderstrasse

Text: John 10:11-16

Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” But what is meant by “good”?  When you want to find out more in Holy Scripture, you go to the original languages—Greek in the New Testament and Hebrew in the Old.[1]  In His wisdom, God chose these languages to record His Holy Word for generations.[2]  So, to learn what is meant by “Good Shepherd,” we go to the Greek.

In Greek, the Holy Spirit directed John to use kalos in this passage.  Kalos means noble or virtuous.  There’s another word for good, agathos, which is more descriptive of qualities or moral convictions a person has.[3]

But kalos—noble or virtuous—is used here.  It’s also what describes the wine at the Wedding in Cana (2:10), and later in chapter 10 of Jesus’ good works.  Kalos is about meeting an objective standard, a code of conduct, of someone fulfilling the highest and best he can be.

It may seem pretty rudimentary to be analyzing what “good” means, but we live in an environment where anyone is free to make his or her mind about what is good.  Good could mean pleasurable, helping me meet my own personal goals, or having qualities that are popular at moment.

As a result, people can’t agree on what is good or evil, virtuous or base.  The argument goes that pleasure is good, so you should pursue whatever is pleasurable to you as long as it doesn’t immediately impact other people.  Whether its to use drugs or not, who to pair up with and how long, whether to provide for yourself or mooch off others—all such things are left up to individuals and no authority dares to call their bluff.

It sounds much like what the Lord said through Isaiah about the people of his day: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (5:20). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were an objective, unchangeable standard for good, an ideal to which we strive and model our life?  From God there is a template of what is noble and virtuous versus what is depraved and gross.

Today, into this foggy human mess of selfish ambition, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  He first establishes who He is, the I Am.[4]  He is God who made all that exists—visible and invisible—including us as creatures.  “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” (Psalm 95:6-7)  He is our Maker, and He has every right to determine what those made in His image ought to be like.  It’s sad proof of our wretched hearts and minds that we question and ignore the very Word by which we exist and have life.

Good Shepherd”—We must learn from Him what good is, because our fathers and us have believed the Serpent’s lie—“you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).  It’s not just the corrupting influence of unbelievers; the evil lies within.  We say we have “good common sense” but all too often our Creator finds us fighting for and making excuses for seems right to us, but is evil in His eyes.

The very reason you are here, gathered into the place where God and His Good are known is by the powerful working of His Spirit.  “Where shall I go from your Spirit?” the psalmist wonders, but truly, “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.” (Psalm 139:7, 12).  God shines through the darkness of your heart.

So if we are to learn anew from our Creator what truly is good, let us look to Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  This is the perfect act of devotion that it took to bring us back to God.  This is what we just meditated on in the death of Jesus—from His agony in the garden, betrayal, cruel mockery, pain, to His death—for Him it was all intentional, done for our sake.  This is the cause for great joy, the alleluias, the hymns of praise, because Jesus our Shepherd has done this for us and gathered us into His fold!

Remember how kalos is the word for virtuous?  In contrast to this virtue is the self-serving cowardice of the hired hand.  He has no dedication because he has nothing to lose.  But the Good Shepherd holds nothing back and places everything on the line, becomes one with us.  He refuses to let His creation be debased by Satan, sin, and death.  He counts them enemies for the sake of saving His creatures and He tackles them head on.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”  Not only does He sacrifice all for the sake of gaining life for us, but He knows us.  Here again, the original languages are helpful.  Know in Scripture means more than head knowledge of facts.[5]  It means to have an intimate, shared bond.

“Adam knew his wife, and she conceived a son.” (Gen. 4:1)  Husbands know their wives (or they should), and wives know their husbands.  Sure it includes what to get her for mother’s day or her birthday, but it’s really about thinking of and acting in the way that best serves the other’s needs, setting aside what would serve your needs for the sake of theirs.

When our Good Shepherd says knows His own, our human knowing only gives us a faint glimpse.  He knows us intimately, incarnationally—“Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” (All of Psalm 139 is a beautiful meditation on this knowing.)  He has intimate knowledge of each of us—our joys and pains, how we think, what our strengths and weaknesses are, our past and our future.  Nothing escapes His notice. What an incredible wonder that this doesn’t make Him forsake us!  Instead, because He laid down His life for the sake of His sheep—for you—He draws all the closer because He earnestly desires for you to have life eternally.

He also says, “My own know me.”  His Spirit has enlightened your minds and hearts to know Him with that same intimate bond.  It’s not too much or blasphemous to say you know what God thinks of you.  Yes, He sees all your sins which make you unworthy to stand before Him, but you also know His extraordinary, divine love which atoned for your sins and sought you out!  You know how God thinks, what God delights in, and what is pleasing in His sight.  Pore over His Word, leave behind the laziness of your weak flesh, so that you can know Him better each day of this life!  Look forward to the Day when God’s enemies and yours—sin, death, and Satan—lie in ruins. “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

This morning, we witnessed a beautiful thing in God’s sight.  Before it, we sang, “Dearest Jesus, we are here, Gladly your command obeying; With this child we now draw near In response to Your own saying That to You it shall be given As a child and heir of heaven.” (LSB 592:1)  This is truly a good thing—a noble and virtuous thing—for parents to bring their child to Jesus in faith, trusting the Word He has spoken: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15 NKJV)  It is also a noble thing for parents to raise their children in the faith—what the world calls brainwashing and empty tradition, Jesus calls good.  It is a noble thing to sacrifice time and love to drag oneself out of bed on the weekend, because however good sleep seems, the faith that is created and strengthened here is better.  It’s the easier thing to stay home, but it turns out that’s the basest thing, because it results in your children being swept away by the Devil and the unbelieving world.

So repent and bear noble fruits.  Let the good shepherd gather you into His fold.  Hear His voice of forgiveness, and be made new for noble and good things in the sight of your Creator.  Amen.


[1] Portions of Daniel and Ezra are in Aramaic.

[2] Hebrew was the language of Eber and his descendants (Genesis 10:24, 11:14-15)

[3] Agathos is used in Nathanael’s snarky comment about Nazareth (1:46), the judgment (5:29), and human opinion of Jesus (7:12).

[4] Exodus 3:14

[5] Hebrew is YDA (yadá). This was brought into Yiddish as “yadda” and the phrase “Yadda, yadda!” means “You know the rest.”  Ironically, this phrase is usually used to brush off insignificant details.

Second Sunday of Easter (John 20:19-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Second Sunday of Easter + April 28, 2019

Text: John 20:19-31

“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you,” Jesus tells His disciples on the evening of the first Easter.  He wants His ministry to continue, for the Gospel to be preached to every town throughout the world.  And history has shown this calling to be true.  The Lord has preached, and continues to preach in every corner of the world.

The rub in that is that he sends men to do this—with all their flaws, their backgrounds, their quirks, their fears, their sins.  But as is true anywhere there are people, it gets complicated.   The apostles were behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, they were still behind locked doors a week later.  They were uncertain, small in faith, weak in resolve, small in vision of what the Lord was asking of them.

Take Thomas for instance.  In perpetuity, he has been dubbed, Doubting Thomas.  The court of public opinion and years of pastors’ ink has been spilled either defending or defaming this man.

But like any of the other apostles, Thomas was a man.  He had praiseworthy moments, like in chapter 11:16 at the death of Lazarus, it says, “So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’”  If only that were a constant or regular state for his faith and conviction.

No, today, we see Thomas at one of his low points, putting a rash condition on the Resurrected Lord—“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”  But then there’s another high point when Thomas returns to his faith and confesses, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus instituted His Church.  He founded it on the rock with the promise that not even the gates of hell can prevail against her (Matthew 16:16).  And in that church, He instituted the Office of the Ministry.  He did this because it’s all well and good that there were eyewitnesses to the resurrection, and that’s great for the first generation.  But the Lord’s will is that “Repentance and forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47) and He will not return until “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

That word is carried on through this Office of the Ministry, populated by men who are officeholders.  They aren’t the power or the authority, and more than a police officer or a soldier has the right to become a vigilante and take justice into his own hands.  He acts in the stead of the state.  So also, the pastor in the office doesn’t have authority in himself to forgive or retain sins; it is Christ who is the power behind the words the pastor speaks.  That’s also why, in the liturgy, the pastor says, “The Lord be with you”—because He is sent to speak the Lord’s Word to you.  The congregation then replies, “And with your spirit” or “And also with you.”  Both are an acknowledgement that it is the Lord who sent this man, and the congregation is also asking that the pastor be kept faithful and strong to carry out that divine Office.

Scripture speaks many different ways about these servants (literally slaves) of the Lord: house managers who give the proper portion (Luke 12:41-48), shepherds (John 21:15 ff.), stewards of the mysteries (1 Cor. 4:1-5).  But their sufficiency for that office is not a matter of charisma, or managerial acumen, or what family they come from.  As St. Paul, the man who had a history of persecuting the Church wrote, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:5-6)

And Jesus says the same thing multiple times: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I sent receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (John 13:20) and in a warning tone, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)  It is the will of the Lord for His congregation, gathered around Him, to hear His Word through these men, even though they are weak and fallible.

At this point, you might be saying, Pastor, you’re just tooting your own horn.  If I am, it’s meaningless because I am no more than an officeholder.  Although I might want accolades for my labors, the glory really belongs to God alone.  There have been pastors before me who have tended the flock here, and—God willing—there will be pastors in years to come.  The point is that Jesus called even Thomas, even Peter, even James and John the sons of Zebedee, even Saul (Paul), even Martin Luther, even Pastors Caruana, Barkley, Rehley, and Rummerfield, and Miller.  All of them men, all of them sinners.  But it was the will of the Lord to make their feet beautiful with the good news of salvation.  It is out of love for you that Jesus continues to send these men to tend you.

Jesus says to the Eleven: “Peace be with you” on both occasions that He comes to them.  He declares this because, as men, they need the peace of the Lord just as much as the people they will proclaim to.  Even as Thomas was sent with this good news, he needed it himself.  All pastors need to receive forgiveness from the people they serve.

And you and I are blessed through this Office of the Ministry, because “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15)

So what does the Lord do with these men and His Church?  He makes their feet beautiful with the good news of His Kingdom.  He blesses us still with His good news: Peace be with you.  The Word Jesus speaks is always aimed at forgiveness, but sometimes needing to preach a firm word of repentance.  In those times, where the servant is sent to preach rebuke or correction, that’s when it gets complicated again.  We can’t just accept the pastor as God’s called servant when he tells us what we want to hear.  He is God’s servant for our spiritual and eternal good, whether it’s a word of Law that He speaks or it’s the glad tidings of peace with God.

So, on this Second Sunday of Easter, we rejoice that we still hear the voice of Jesus.  Yes, it’s complicated because we don’t see him in just one place and with our own eyes.  But blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.  We will see, but for now, the order of the day for now is hearing.  As St. Paul continues about those who are sent with good news: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)  Blessed are you who hear those who faithfully serve you in the Office of the Ministry.  Amen.

The Resurrection of Our Lord (Mark 16:1-9)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

The Resurrection of Our Lord – April 21, 2019

Text: Mark 16:1-9

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

As Americans, we are used to having options to choose from.  If you were going to buy a car, you wouldn’t want to be told that there was only one model that ran; the rest will break down in a year.  If you were going out to eat, you wouldn’t want to be told that there was only one restaurant to eat at; the rest will make you violently ill.  If you were going to find a church, you wouldn’t want to be told that salvation was only to be found in one; the rest are leading people to hell.  While the first two examples are not true, the third is.  There is only one church, and one Jesus in whom salvation is found.

JESUS OF NAZARETH, WHO WAS CRUCIFIED, IS NOT HERE; HE HAS RISEN.

  1. Which Jesus are you coming here to find?
    1. “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint [Jesus].” (v. 1)
      1. These women had been with Jesus for much of His ministry.  They heard Him teach.  They saw Him cast out demons, heal the sick, and heard how He had raised the dead.  At the cross, Mark tells us “When Jesus was in Galilee, [these women] followed him and ministered to Him” (Mk. 15:41).  They saw Him die and be placed in the tomb.
      1. But in all of their hearing, seeing, and ministering, what did they perceive?  Did they see the “valiant One whom God Himself elected”? (LSB 656:2)  Did they see “the Son of Man” who “has authority on earth to forgive sins”? (Mk. 2:10)  Did they hear His words when He said, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise”? (Mk. 9:31)  Or was it another Jesus they perceived?
      1. The Jesus they bought anointing spices for was still in the tomb.  He had been overcome, defeated, eliminated.  He wasn’t powerful enough after all to be a savior.  Just like everybody else that they knew, this Jesus had died.  He was just a charismatic guy with long hair, a beard, and a robe—just like they always show him on television—nothing more.
    1. Which Jesus do you think you’ll find?
      1. Now that we’ve gotten up early this morning, perhaps put on something special, eaten some excellent food…which Jesus did we come here to find?
      1. The Jesus of pop culture?  Long hair, beard, white robe, chiseled features…  This is the Jesus who is acceptable to all, even Hindus, but you’re never quite sure what He teaches besides a generic message of love and tolerance.  He gets dragged into attacks against Christians who have biblical convictions.  His Word gets used as a weapon to support your opinion with Scripture taken out of context.  This Jesus came to bring peace, but when men were done with him, they killed him and left him in the tomb.
      1. The Jesus of the Spiritual-but-not religious?  This Jesus is popular with those who want to call themselves a “Jesus follower” or a “Christian” but would rather go their own direction.  They’re upset that the Church of Jesus doesn’t meet their expectations, so they don’t associate with others.  This Jesus doesn’t tell you how to live your life.  Yet, in not warning you to repent, he’s going to let you stand naked before the judgment seat of God.  This Jesus died, and can’t find his way out of hell.
      1. The Jesus of Conservative Values?  This Jesus stands up for what he believes is right.  He campaigns against same-sex marriage, he’s at all the right-to-life rallies, but he also puts up billboards bashing the godless left-wing.  He doesn’t say much besides that.  In this Jesus’ mind, loving your neighbor is fulfilled in telling them that they’re wrong and they should agree with him.  This Jesus is all Law and no Gospel, and unfortunately for him, the law always condemns the sinner.  He’s not getting up after Good Friday.
  2. “And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.  See the place where they laid him” (v. 6)
    1. Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and Salome did not find the Jesus they were seeking.
      1. It’s a good thing that they were wrong.  They were ready to despair that not even God could save them from the power of sin, death, and Satan.  Mary Magdalene, from whom the evangelist later says Jesus cast out seven demons (v. 9), was ready to have them come back knocking.  But the Jesus they followed was not the limited Jesus of their imagination.
      1. No, the young man clothed in white brought a message that they could never imagine for themselves.  They were lost and couldn’t find themselves.  They were guilty under the Law and couldn’t forgive themselves.  They were dying, and they couldn’t keep themselves alive.  But these are the very things which this Jesus of Nazareth was crucified for!  His being delivered into the hands of men, His painful crown of thorns, His being crucified under Pontius Pilate, His shedding of blood, and His dying—were to bring eternal salvation for all!  His ministry had been about more than cleansing a few lepers, healing a few sick people, and raising a few dead people.  And this is the message which the young man proclaimed to them when He said “He has risen, He is not here.”
    1. The Jesus of our imagination is not what we find here either.
      1. All of the ideas about Jesus that people come up with cannot compare with this Jesus of Nazareth.  If left to our own understanding, we cannot know anything except law and God’s judgment.  We cannot find forgiveness for ourselves, and we are unable to offer it to anyone else.  That’s why Pop Culture Jesus has no true comfort to offer.  Spiritual-but-Not-Religious Jesus never leaves the confines of his own imagination and knows neither his own sin nor the life-giving power of true forgiveness.  And Conservative Values Jesus has forgotten what the name Christian means in his pursuit of a “Christian nation.”  Thankfully, none of these Jesuses is what you will find on Easter.
      1. The proclamation of Easter of Jesus of Nazareth is this: He is not here in the grave where you think He is.  He is risen from the dead, never to see death again.  And that’s where there is true comfort and good news for you, a sinner.
      1. Because He is risen, Your sins cannot stick to you.  You have been crucified with Him, and you died there with Jesus of Nazareth.  And if you are crucified with Him, then you are not dead; you are risen with Him.

The women who ministered to Jesus thought they would find no more than a reason to weep, but they left with astonishment because the Jesus of Nazareth who they knew was their God and Savior.  He had borne their griefs and carried their sorrows; He left them there on the cross and rose to new and eternal life.

No matter which Jesus you may have thought you’d find this morning.  Jesus of Nazareth is the one who is not in the grave.  He is risen from the dead!  He risen for you to rise with Him.  Truly, Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia! Amen.

Easter Dawn (John 20:1-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Easter Dawn + April 21, 2019

Text: John 20:1-18

MARY MAGDALENE COMES TO THE GRAVEYARD TO WEEP,

BUT THE LORD HALLOWS THE GRAVE AND FILLS IT WITH NEW HOPE.

When you wake up, you usually come up with a plan of what to expect that day.   Mary was expecting to go to the tomb, numb to what had happened and finish giving her Lord a proper burial.  What she found was worse than her expectations could have told her: The tomb was open and his body was gone!

“So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’”

After they go home, Mary remains behind, weeping.  Weeping not only because Jesus has died, but now because there is something else that’s happened.  Something terrible!  Her mind goes to all the worst scenarios, like one of His enemies in a fury took His body and did some awful thing with it.  She is in the utter pit of despair.

There is a reason that Easter begins in a graveyard, in the deepest place of loss.  If you walk around a cemetery, the tombstones tell a story.  If you look at the date of birth and the date of death, a picture unfolds in your mind.  It may have happened in old age, it could have happened in middle age, or it could have happened to a child (even a miscarriage or a stillbirth).  No matter the cause or the time, it’s still the same because they’re gone, and they will never be back.  You will never hear them speak again, except perhaps in a recording.  You’ll never be able to share new memories with them or call them on the phone when you want to share something.  You’ll never be able to hold them again.  All that seems to be left is memories.

Imagine Mary’s anguish at the tomb.  That is where God came to her.  First, He sent two angels: “Woman, why are you weeping?”  But then God comes to her personally and says, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”  Still grasping for answers, she implores this man to tell her where Jesus is, until He calls her by name—remember that voice you never thought you would hear again?  Oh wonderful surprise!  She wanted Him to stay, to revel in this moment.  Can you blame her, after being spared from such excruciating emptiness?  But He says, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”

Easter begins in a graveyard as a proof to who God is.  There, in the place of death, He doesn’t stand far off, or shy away from comforting us.  He is compassionate toward all of our loss and pain.  He’s no stranger to it, because Jesus, the Son of God, also shares our mortal life.  He is acquainted with us in the way only our Creator could be, but He also became our brother.  Don’t think God does not understand your pain.  He feels it in His own body.

Here in the place of death, He shows His great power to save.  We think of death as final because that’s what our heart and our experience tells us.  No scientist (mad or otherwise) has been able to reverse when someone dies.  But God the Father did by raising His Son from the grave.  He breathed into His nostrils His Holy Spirit and Jesus lives forevermore.  He is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, the God of the living.

Even standing amidst other tombs, this God is the one who proclaims and delivers hope.  Many can talk about hope and silver linings at the time of death, but so much of it is just platitudes—they’re in a better place; God needed another angel.  The Word of Jesus proclaims and delivers that hope, because it is the Word that formed the heaven and earth, and it is that Word which will bring a new heavens and earth.  Jesus did not rise for Himself, but for us, that by believing in Him we might have life. He rose so that you could laugh at death and say, “This person is not dead, but sleeping”[1] and it’s no euphemism; it is the truth because God Himself has made it true.

There, in the graveyard, at her lowest point, Mary learned what St. Paul later wrote for our benefit:

34 Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

                  “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But Jesus was not done with His work as He stood outside the tomb: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  He destroyed the power of sin and death, and He ascended to the Father, there to intercede on our behalf with His holy wounds.  There, He goes as a forerunner, so that as Jesus stands before God the Father, so we who are in Him will be able to stand in the presence of a holy God.  He goes there to rule over all creation, where by His almighty power, He indeed works all things for the good of those who are called by His Name.

The Almighty God, the Victor over Death comes to you today.  Amen!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


[1] Mark 5:39