Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (also Feast of St. James)

Readings: Genesis 9:8-17 | Ephesians 3:14-21 | Mark 6:45-56

Text: Genesis 9:8-17

When people hear about the Flood, people in our culture might picture a boat with animals sticking out windows, and several people aboard.  Other cultures record the same event: The Chinese have the story of the family of Fuhi, who lived during the time when the whole land was flooded to the tops of the mountains, and how only his family survived and whose three sons repopulated the earth.  The Babylonian stories recorded by Gilgamesh include a man named Untapishtim, who was instructed to build a large ship and instructed to take a male and female of each type of animal.  The Aztecs record the story of Tapi, a pious man, who was told to take his wife and a pair of each animal. The people laughed at him, but when the waters came, they climbed the mountains but could not escape. After the water had dried, Tapi released a dove which did not return.

The account of the Flood is universal, recorded by ancient people from all over the earth.  In the same way, what happened afterward is universally known: God set the bow in the clouds.  Rainbows are known the world over, a beautiful meteorological phenomenon which display the whole spectrum of visible light.  Even though this wasn’t articulated until the 13th and 17th centuries by Roger Bacon and Isaac Newton, the rainbow is something all people can see and appreciate.

But God tells us more about the rainbow than we can learn from observation:

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

The rainbow is more than a natural phenomenon; it’s God’s sign.  His signs are those things where He joins something physical to His promise.  In this case, the rainbow in the sky is tied to a covenant He makes with every creature of the earth, and especially with every human being who descended from the three families that came out of the Ark.  Even if you don’t know a lick about God, or make it your mission to destroy all things spiritual in the name of reason, you can still see the rainbow in the sky.

But today we will focus on what God says about the rainbow, and the covenant which He makes which every creature, even with every single human being.  Just as the rainbow is universally familiar, God speaks to every single creature: Never again will the Flood happen to destroy the earth.  And why would God need to say that?  Because the Flood happened because, “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” (Gen. 6:11-12)  This is far from what God created the earth and human beings on it for.  Corruption from man’s wicked heart, violence in destroying the beauty of this world and the lives of people precious in God’s sight.  It would be unjust for this to go unanswered.  How could God remain silent?  So, He sent the Flood, and only righteous Noah and his family heeded the warning.  Noah, his wife, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives—eight souls, were the only ones who saved their lives on the ark [1 Pet. 3:20].

And after this great act of judgment, God left the rainbow as a reminder.  It’s a twofold reminder, actually.  First, He says, “When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh.”  When the eyes of men see the bow in the clouds, God will remember the covenant He made that day after Noah and his family left the ark: Never again will He destroy all flesh with water, even though, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21).

The other side of the reminder is for God: “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  When God sees the bow in the clouds, after every time it rains, He remembers this covenant with the earth.  It’s a covenant that assures the all people of the earth that rain will not lead to complete destruction, even though it once did.  It’s a reminder to God to be gracious to a sinful and corrupt earth.

What this teaches us is that a rainbow is far more than a simple, accidental interaction between sunlight and water droplets.  It is actually a personal promise which God makes between Himself and every living creature on earth.  It has personal meaning for every person, because it is God’s sign to every generation which follows the Flood until the Day Christ returns.

By the rainbow, God is preaching to every person: I will be gracious to you, even though you are corrupt from your youth, even though your heart is thoroughly filled with evil.  What people use this for is to put the Lord to the test.  Like teenagers who revel in what they can “get away with” without getting punished, people take the patience of God as license to do what they please.  That’s the dullness of the human heart, and the shamelessness from which we all suffer.  But God tells us about His patience in Romans 2: “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4) 

And it’s not that people don’t recognize how dangerous a worldwide flood can be.  Otherwise, those many cultures wouldn’t have shared the account of destruction from above, and the fact that it was in response to the wickedness on the earth.  Every person can identify the danger of a flood, but the greater peril that the Flood tells us about is the peril of unbelief and the danger of unrepentance—the danger of hardness of heart.  If we think we’re safe because we “believe in God” or Jesus whatever we take Him to be, we’re gravely mistaken. St. James, whom the Church commemorates today, reminds us: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19)  No, a person actually needs to listen to what the One, True God says.  Our sinful flesh wants God to be there, but be silent.  We’d rather have a God who doesn’t speak, because then He cannot call us out for the evil of our hearts and actions.

But the God of heaven does speak, and He calls every single person not just to acknowledge He exists, but to repent of the evil of our hearts, our words, and our deeds.  This is the true peril, not of death by water, but eternal death in the fires of hell. 

What God means by His covenant, signified by the rainbow, is that He desires to all to repent and believe in the culmination of His riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience—His Son Jesus Christ who came as the universal Savior.  God makes no distinction between people, and just like the rainbow, His gracious work goes out for all people, speaking to them while they live and calling them back to fellowship with Him.  When He sees His bow in the clouds, He remembers not only the covenant He made with every person, but the covenant He made in the blood of His Son, and this is the new covenant which He has makes with you.

In Holy Baptism, He also delivers you through the waters: 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, 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. 21 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, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (1 Peter 3:18-22)

His patience and kindness do remain until the Last Day, so that what He wants for all people would come about: that all who hear His voice and fear His judgment also believe that on account of Jesus Christ, He has put away your sin.  This is what His covenant with the earth is meant to lead all people of the earth to: To see His patience as a call to the waters of Baptism.  There, the water is judgment for our sin, putting it to death, and salvation for the Christian.

This is God’s meaning for the rainbow, which supersedes any meaning man can apply to it.  If man should say the rainbow is merely a random process that just happened to come out of chaos, God has taught us better to see Him actually active in His creation and speaking to every person.  If man should use the rainbow as a political and ethical symbol, what God does with it is better: He desires the salvation of all people, regardless of the way their sinful heart bears fruit.  He is patient and kind toward people, no matter how much evil they delight in, because it’s His desire and His power to work to call them away from destruction and to eternal life through His Son.  When you see the rainbow, remember the God who made the rainbow and gave it meaning for Himself, for you, and for every person.  Never write someone else off as a lost cause, because God hasn’t.  Let His Word be on your lips, so that the wicked person sees that there actually is a God in heaven who judges.  And when God works terror in their conscience, be ready to share the mercy God in Christ.  But even if that shouldn’t come immediately, pray for divine patience with them, just as God is patient toward them.  Remember this, when we see the world continuing on its evil course, that despite it, God is still speaking to them[1] with His unchanging Word.  He will continue speaking until the very Last Day, when it’s not the door of the Ark that will be shut, but the door of heaven.  Until then, we pray for God to deliver us from the works of our flesh, the deceit of the devil, and the wickedness in the world.  He truly will.  Amen.

[1] Another irony is that the United Church of Christ, a very progressive nominal Christian group, has the slogan “God is still speaking” which undermines the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.  But even more true is that God is still speaking, with His authoritative and unchanging Word to call sinners to repentance and faith in His Son.

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Jeremiah 23:1–6 | Ephesians 2:11–22 | Mark 6:30–44

Text: Ephesians 2:11-22

Tick, tick, tick, tick goes the rollercoaster as it climbs its way to the sky.  For a moment, there’s the feeling of exhilaration and weightlessness at the top.  But you know that in just a split second, you will be hurtling down—maybe even lower than where you started!

In chapter 1 of Ephesians, we were privileged to receive a glimpse into the heavenly counsel.  From the heights of the highest heaven, we heard, “[The Father] chose us in [His Son] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:4)  But like the Transfiguration, none of us is able to stay for long without being yanked back into our present reality.  Chapter 2 gives such a whiplash to the depths of each person’s earth-born condition: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

It would be no wonder if you screamed at such a drop!  But God does not leave us in the depths of our depravity.  Two words signal us being lifted up out of grave: “But God,” as in, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6)

All of this is apparent from a heavenly perspective, and made known to us by the Holy Spirit speaking in the Word.  It isn’t clear from our experience.  When we go out from this place, we live in the same world as the “rest of mankind,” suffering all the same troubles and mortality.

God’s action to raise sinful people up from the depths of spiritual death also has another effect: Reconciliation and reunion among all who call upon the Name of the Lord:

(From today’s reading): 12 Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Not only was there a drop into the grave, but in sin, we are also separated, far off, alienated, even from God in the world. And this is what our experience is: Blinded by sin, people find reasons to separate from one another.  Whether it’s divisions of class, skin color, or nationality, mankind has shown itself to be an expert at xenophobia, or even xenocide (killing the alien).  But, in fact, the root of it all is that we were strangers from God (the root xeno means alien or stranger).  Without God, we were without hope because we could only look to this broken mess of a world for salvation.

Yet, just as God reached down into the grave to raise us up, He also reached out to us who were far away and alienated from Him to bring us near by the blood of Jesus Christ. 

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

And this division was expressed in the peculiarity of God’s people Israel.  God Himself was the One who set them apart, distinguished by the commandments and ordinances given through Moses.  They were set apart from all the other nations, not to intermix and keenly aware of the foreignness of the rest of the human race.

All of this, however, was an illustration of the divide between a holy God and the corrupt human race.  Our alienation from God resulted in enmity with each other, but God put an end to this with His own kind of violence.  Notice the words used here: “He has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing the law of commandments”…”killing the hostility.”  It was by the violence of sin and rebellion against God that He worked peace with His rebellious human creatures.  God broke down the dividing wall of enmity by fulfilling the promise made against Satan on behalf of our parents, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between her Offspring and your offspring.” (Genesis 3:15)  The Lord abolished the condemnation of the Law by putting Himself under its judgment on our behalf: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21).  By being killed under the judgment of a sinner, He destroyed that enmity for us who in fact deserve the title, “sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). 

In the wake of God’s violence (His Son nailed to the cross), alienation (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” Matt. 27:46), and killing the hostility (“It is finished” John 19:30), the rollercoaster ride is finished because heaven and earth are united, Jews and Gentiles are part of one redeemed human family.  The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. (LSB 644, st. 1)

Now this passage also addresses a concern some have about a topic called “Replacement Theology,” which says that the Christian Church has replaced Israel in God’s plan, so that after Pentecost, anything referring to Israel is allegorized and actually refers to the New Testament Church.  Lutherans are accused of subscribing to this.

But what Lutherans actually subscribe to is what Scripture teaches, and it’s clear from Paul’s explanation that while Israel may have come first in time, the Gentiles who were far off were brought in and made part of God’s holy people.  It’s too simple to say that the Church replaced Israel, as if God didn’t really mean it when He spoke of an everlasting covenant.  Rather, in calling non-Jews by faith, God was fulfilling the promise of the covenant He made with Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3)  Israel is also called Abraham’s offspring, and Paul makes it very clear—when false teachers were confusing covenants—27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal. 3:27-29) God gave the commandments to show His holy will for humanity, but that by itself saves no one; Israel of all people showed just how much the Law couldn’t justify much less fix our sinful condition.  They showed how much they needed the Christ to be the Lamb of God!  They, along with all the families of the earth, are blessed because God has united His original covenant people in the covenant-now-fulfilled in Christ, and people of every nation through the new covenant in the blood of Jesus.

For all who benefit from the covenant in Jesus’ blood, the blessings prove true, so that we can rejoice as the “daughter of Zion” (Matt. 21:5) and citizens of the “Jerusalem from above” (Gal. 4:26).  God has always wanted, and still desires the descendants of Israel to repent of their idolatry and see the Messiah He has sent, but He won’t save them apart from the Way, the Truth, and the Life [Jn. 14:6]—who is Jesus Christ.  So Paul continues,

17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

This is the true reality for the Church: Peace with God, united together as fellow citizen with the saints and members of God’s household.  God preaches peace to us, and assures us of this truth.

While that rollercoaster ride is finished, our experience preaches another story.  For each of us, we struggled against the passions of our flesh which rear their ugly head in addiction, enmity, fits of anger, sexual sins, dissension, and rebellion against authority (to name a few).  Sometimes we are able to restrain our flesh, and other times we utterly fail.

The experience of the Christian Church on earth is similarly fraught with failure.  As one of four churches in town who bear the name Lutheran, it’s pretty clear how much we fail to live in that unity for which our Lord prays in John 17:11: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

If the future of our faith and the future of the Christian Church in the world depended on us, we would all be doomed.  But it is forever God who, out of His great love, saves us from destruction.  “Though with a scornful wonder, the world sees her oppressed/ By schism rent asunder, by heresy distressed/ Yet, saints their watch are keeping/ Their cry goes up, ‘How long?’”  The saints, and fellow members of the household of God rely on God’s faithful work.  His Church is:

20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

We can take comfort in God’s work alone.  It’s Him who pulled us up out from spiritual death and on the road to hell.  By grace we are saved through faith…”and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:9)  Why should we think that once He’s brought us near, that He’s going to leave it up to you to stay?  He has made you alive in Christ so that you know the heavenly perspective, the eternal view, and most of all that He brought you near and made peace by the blood of Christ.  You are baptized into Him.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have peace with God.  We have peace with God, and union with all the saints in Christ who believe this blessed Gospel. This is what God is bringing to pass, but will only be seen on the Last Day.  Until then, we hope in God, who alone is able to achieve this.  Remember, that it is only He who is able to bring people out of unbelief, up from the grave, and set them in the heavenly places to praise Him for eternity.  All glory and thanks be to God forever! Amen.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Amos 7:7-15 | Ephesians 1:3-14 | Mark 6:14-29

Text: Ephesians 1:3-14

What does God want to happen?  Well, get comfortable, because this is going to take a while.

 In all seriousness, God’s will is not an easy topic for us to consider because it’s so much greater than we can comprehend.  The Creator of Heaven and Earth rarely ever tells us what He’s doing in any given moment (He doesn’t post photos on Instagram).  There’s a lot that He does without involving or consulting us.  In response to that, we might say, “Well, God’s going to do what He’s going to do, so our part is just to deal with it.”  But that’s missing what God does make known about His heart and what He’s doing.

This first part of Ephesians is an ideal example of this.  Even though God is “the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim. 1:17), He reveals some tremendous good news to you and me.

The Holy Spirit moved St. Paul to open this letter with this prayer, which is neatly organized around the Holy Trinity: What God the Father does, what God the Son does, and what God the Holy Spirit does (vv. 3-6, 7-12, 13-14).  Each portion concludes with a statement of praise: “To the praise of His glorious grace…to the praise of His glory…to the praise of His glory.”

And in these more manageable chunks, you and I are able to see the tremendous plan and work of God to reach His goal:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

For us, we’re used to thinking about planning and preparation in terms of years. An Olympic gymnast has been practicing since she was 3 years old.   A successful businessman has been building his resume and reputation since his teenage years.  It depends on personal aptitude, decisions our parents made, resources we had or scholarships we received.

But how long has God been working toward achieving the goal of someone’s salvation? “He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.”  Literally from time immemorial, before God even said, “Let there be light,” (Gen. 1:3) His decision was to save you in body and soul through His Son, and that you would be counted as holy and blameless before Him.  Out of His magnificent love, He actually foreordained it all to take place—ancestry, events in world history, your place of birth, forming you in your mother’s womb, decisions of your parents, pastors and others who have shared the faith with you, experiences you’ve had including even some of your mistakes[1]—all of it, behind any scenes men are aware of, God worked it all so that you would be adopted by His grace.  Incredible to think that that and more was all orchestrated by the Almighty, for you to have the right to call Him “Father!”

This incredible accomplishment of God was achieved through the Beloved, His Son, Jesus Christ.  This is the name the Father declared at the Jordan River when all Three Persons of the Trinity announced the mighty divine work: 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matt. 3:16-17)

In the Father’s Beloved Son, Paul continues:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

If the first part of the prayer about the Father’s work blew us away, the awe only intensifies here.  It would be a fine, reasonable thing if God worked to save the right kind of people.  You know, the “diamond in the rough,” those gems who people say restore their hope in humanity.  But that’s not how it really was.  “Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)  And Christ Himself said to the upstanding chief priests, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matt. 21:31) and after He had called a ruthless thief named Zacchaeus to salvation, He said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

So where do you measure up?  There have been those who said that God elected people in view (technical term: intuitu fidei) of the faith they would have in the future.  The trouble with that logic is that either God saves people because of their own merit, or He could be accused of stacking the deck and rigging the whole game.  But the truth is more incredible than that: We are all natural-born slaves to sin, the Devil, and death (John 8:31-36).  None of us could work off our debt or escape from sin which ruled over us.

And this is where we need to realize that this isn’t just a measure of our morals.  Here, the sober person has no advantage over the drunk; the faithfully married over the sexual deviant; the nurse over the abortion doctor.  God’s Word makes it clear: “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:2-3)  Sin has permeated all of us from the heart outward.  It may flare up more in some than others, but it’s “out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-22)  It doesn’t matter how right you feel, or how you compare to the next guy: You and I and every person is liable to the righteous judgment of God.

But God, seeing that, paid the price of your debt, and purchased your release: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”  Completely undeserved, without even the thought of repayment, God in His love, has done this for you.  This He pours out upon you “in all wisdom and insight” because He also knows your heart and when you need to hear it, and how this good news will get through to you.  All of this together is the mystery of His will that He makes known to the Christian.  It was hinted at before, in types and shadows like the Flood, the Exodus, and the Temple, but the real deal when one knows and believes what God has done for him or her in Christ.  This is your treasure today.

But there is so much more to come!

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

Zooming back out to the wide shot of God’s eternal purpose, you learn that God’s children also have an inheritance to look forward to.  It takes our mind away from the present worries and discouragement we feel, and the temptation and weakness we know all too well.  This inheritance gives us the confidence of Psalm 46:2-3: “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

But at this point, you might say, What beautiful words these are, but how can we be sure of this?  These “spiritual blessings in the heavenly places” seem far less concrete than the world in which we live, putting food on the table and meeting the needs of those around us.

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

When you make a big purchase, like a house or a car, you’re asked to put a significant amount of money down. It gives assurance that you will make good on paying for the rest of it.  Well, far greater than even the purchase of real estate (which can burn up) or a car (which can break) is the inheritance of eternal life which God has secured for you.  In order to give you surety about His intention to complete your redemption on the Last Day, He gave you a “guarantee” or more accurately, a “down payment.”[2]  The Holy Spirit is the down payment which a Christian has from God.  Even though the Spirit is compared to a down payment, this is far more than a business transaction.  He seals the Christian with the Holy Spirit.  Seal marks authority and ownership, as it’s described in Revelation 7:3: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”  Your salvation is far too important to God—who created, redeemed, and sanctifies you—to leave up to your own ability.  So He commands His angels concerning you; He preaches His saving Word into your ears; He hold back the Last Day Judgment until all who would believe do. 

Through His work, the Holy Spirit both assures us of the truth of all the Father has promised in Christ (John 15:26), and keeps us in that one, true faith, because “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:8)

All that brings us back to where we started: What is God’s will?  There are many details we’re not sure of.  Yet, from this portion of His Word, He tells us that in every generation, every circumstance, for every person, it is our God’s will that every sinner heed His call to repent and believe, and that He whose eternal plans are fulfilled in your life, will also bring those to completion at last and for all eternity.  Consider this every time you ask the Lord, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” because hopefully now you can better appreciate what He does in answer to our prayer.

With all this our view, hear the benediction from St. Jude: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24)

[1] Consider the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1:1-17, including the twists and turns in the lives of those through whom God preserved and brought forth His Son according to the flesh.

[2] Also could be translated as pledge or earnest money (ἀρραβών, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon)

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 24:1–11 | 2 Corinthians 12:1–10 | Mark 6:1–13

Text: Exodus 24:1-11

In his day, Jesus of Nazareth made quite a name for himself. As being the one who healed those who were sick and afflicted, and casting out demons. At the very worst there were those like in Nazareth, who didn’t receive him, and he could do no many. Not many mighty works were done among them. But crowds were drawn to where He was, and they did follow. They came in great hope and expectation.

Well, as these crowds were gathered around Jesus at the beginning of his ministry in Matthew’s gospel, the beginning of Chapter 5, it says

“Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him, and he opened his mouth and taught them.”

Well, this is the picture of Jesus that we’re more accustomed to. Jesus, the man who is also the Lord God, may be somewhere in the background. But I’m afraid that something is lost If we start our journey with Jesus with a modern caricature of him: Jesus, the man as our role model, or Jesus the man our life coach.  When you struggle to run the race, it’s this Jesus who Pats you on the back and gives you a glass of water and encourages you that it’s OK. You’ve got this.

You can see how absurd this can get when we go in that direction.  Well, thank God we actually read our Bibles and we have a clearer picture of Jesus, don’t we? We know that Jesus was no mere equal among men. He wasn’t just the brother of James and Joses and Judas.

We’ve read Exodus, haven’t we?  And we’ve seen God from a very different angle.

“Then he said to Moses, come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 of the Elders of Israel, and worship from afar. Moses alone shall come near to the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”

This is clearly different from the Jesus who is surrounded by crowds who were thronging about him and who at sometimes he even had to get in the boat to avoid being crushed. Instead, here on Mount Sinai, God is not to be approached, certainly not touched.  The Lord establishes these boundaries around his holy presence. The people could not even touch the mountain lest they die.

The priests could come a little closer. They could handle the holy things of God, but only according to God’s explicit command.  Yet, even Nadab and Abihu, who were there that day, later perished when they offered strange incense before the Lord. (Numbers 10) Only Moses was permitted to see God face to face, and even in that, Moses exposure to God and his presence had to be mitigated, as it says in Exodus 33:

“Moses said, please show me your glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness passed before you, and will proclaim before you my name. The Lord and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy, on whom I will show mercy. But, he said, you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.

And the Lord said, behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock. And while my glory passes by, I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand, until I have passed. By then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

But why was this?

God’s presence is deadly. To sinners, as we’ll sing a little later in Holy, Holy, Holy (LSB 507). The Lord also says in Ezekiel 18, “the soul who sins shall die.”

And part of us knows this in our conscience. But there’s also a part of us that has greater say because of our sinful nature. That doesn’t really believe that we’ll die in God’s presence.  When we’re faced with something that we know is wrong, we put this unbelief into practice. God doesn’t really mind if I fudge the numbers a little bit on my taxes. After all, they’ll only waste it! Right?  How could he care if I made way too much food and had to throw out the rest? It can’t be too important to God.  And what does it matter if I go to a church with a little false doctrine? Maybe it won’t hurt me, or I know better than that.

The things which happened to Israel were written down, so we would know how real this is. From 1 Corinthians 10: “do not be idolaters, as some of them were as it is written. The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and 23,000 fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happen to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction on whom the end of the ages has come.”

God gave all of these very clear warnings about sin and the deadliness of sin. And it didn’t seem to reform the people.

But what God did do is he established sacrifice so that he could dwell in the midst of his people. The covenant that he established through Moses. There was a covenant established through death of a substitute: “Behold, the blood of the covenant, that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

These sacrifices that are described in Exodus and Leviticus, in gory detail, show this. These poor innocent animals, having their throats cut their blood drained out their bowels taken out, their fat burn on the altar. And what did they ever do to deserve that? we might ask. Well, it wasn’t preparation for your 4th of July barbecue!

It was the Lord giving this picture of what it takes for sin to be atoned for. We think in our conscience that we can somehow make up for the bad that we’ve done that we can silence that guilty voice in the back of our head by doing more good or just ignoring it.  Or maybe following someone who says that we’re good who maybe wears a collar and looks official and seems to act for God.

But the truth is, and the truth that our conscience tells us, is that sin demands a just retribution, and that’s what you see in the animals that are offered on God’s altar.

The difference came though when Christ did. John the Baptist looked to Jesus and said, “behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And Jesus himself said later in the beginning of his sermon on the Mount. “I have not come to abolish the law given by Moses or the prophets But to fulfill them.”

So, behold, Jesus Christ. The righteous one. Who was Scourged, who was made to bear his own cross, bleeding, scorn, suffocating and dying. This isn’t some grotesque Netflix movie; this is what your sin and my sin justly deserve.

The Covenant under Moses was established by the blood—blood that was thrown on the altar and blood which was thrown on the people—and the blood, that of God sacrifice sanctifies what it touches. You have been sanctified by the sacrifice of God’s own son, the Lamb of God, who willingly went to the cross and suffered these things for your sake, so that you would not suffer them for yourself.

And his blood has been poured out on you. You have been baptized into his death and resurrection, and so all of that scourging and flogging, and rejection of Christ of Christ, calling from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was for you.

All of those punishments have already been poured out upon the son of God for your sins. And that is how God wants to receive you through faith in this Christ who was offered up as your lamb as the one who was offered for the sins of the world. And that we may approach him believing and trusting in that Word.

God put all of it on him so that we could receive that piece so that we could stand in his presence in the presence that is even greater than what the children of Israel that day saw, it says in our reading that they saw God, “they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone like the very heaven for clearness.”

And while we might want some heavenly vision, we actually have something better because Jesus says in John Chapter 20, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” and that’s us.

God calls us out of our own imaginations to behold the Lamb of God, Who walked in Nazareth, Who ascended into heaven, and Who will come again in glory. We see a greater glory of God there in the flesh of Jesus Christ.

And even better than the presence of the Moses and the priests and the Elders of Israel. They ate and drank in God’s presence, and he didn’t lay his hand on them.

But we have something even greater than that. When Jesus our high priest, “On the night in which he was betrayed took bread, He broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, take eat this is my body which is given for you. And in the same way also he took the cup after supper, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, drink of it all of you. This cup is the New Testament, the new covenant, in my blood, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”

In remembrance of the Lamb of God, who has offered up for your sins. The Lamb of God, who was raised for your justification, who gives you hope when your life is about to end. When the lives of your loved ones end, you know that it’s not actually over, because Jesus says, “whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” And we believe this.

We believe that God has made his dwelling among us in his son, Jesus Christ. And that dwelling place is forever. It will not pass away.

And today we have the privilege of eating and drinking with God in his peace. And receiving that strength that he gives through this blessed sacrament.

And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding. Keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 19:1–20 | 2 Cor. 8:1–9, 13–15 | Mark 5:21–43

Text: Exodus 19:1-20

How do we get to know one another?  Through a common bond at church or school?  That foundation of friendship, or in the case of our spouse of romance and affection, sets the stage for what we know about the other person.

What’s the basis on which we know the Lord?  For Israel it was the covenant.  Each time He introduces the covenant to His people, He starts with what He has done: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”  The way the sons of Israel came to know the Lord was through His saving work.

  • We, like them, come to know Him through His saving work.
    • What’s the first way you came to know Him? Baptism as a child? Becoming acquainted as an adult in need of forgiveness?  Daily reminded of your dependence on His grace?
  • This sets the tone for His conversation with us:
    • But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
    • Just like the people of Israel, we have been called to belong to God, and we come to know Him through His mercy to a scattered human race, lost in darkness.  But in Christ, we have a new identity: Child of God and child of light.
  • Even though we know His saving work more clearly, we still struggle to apply it day to day.
    • The Israelites were quick to say, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”  But did they really know to what they were committing?
    • In our confirmation vows, we pledge—with the Lord’s help—to remain faithful unto death and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall way from the Lord.  What trials we face that we couldn’t fathom ahead of time.
  • What can be done? 
    • The same thing which the Apostles did: “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)
    • When things get hard, should we give up and think we made a mistake by pledging our lives to God?  Or is that the very time in which the Lord wants us to give up on ourselves, our strength, our ways, our plans.  Rather, we ought to commit our lives to the God who made heaven and earth, and who graciously cares for us all.
  • He instructed the Israelites to consecrate or set themselves apart.
    • At that time, it meant to wash their garments, not touch the mountain, and to not go near a woman.
    • For us, we have a better washing, the waters of Baptism to which God called us again today: “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, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God.” (1 Peter 3:21-22)
    • While the Israelites were warned from touching the mountain, through the blood which Jesus offered, we are actually invited near to Him:
      • 18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest… 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24)
      • That’s because the mountain to which we are called is not Sinai, but Calvary where the blood of Jesus was poured out for the sins of all.
  • The Israelites were to prepare themselves by not having intimate relations, and our bodily preparations—while not required—also prepare us to turn our full attention to what He is saying.  The Small Catechism urges us, “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’”
    • Fasting from food may be helpful, but we ought to set aside whatever would detract our hearing of God’s Word.  Sometimes there’s some vocational conflict, like a parent who has to redirect their children in the pew, or a job that occasionally keeps you away from worship but otherwise provides for your family.
    • Bodily preparation is common sense things, which we apply to other areas of our life.  We get sleep before tests or long trips; we put down the phone while we drive.  How much more attention the Divine Service deserves, because this is the very place where heaven touches earth!

In Jesus Christ, we have come to a greater mountain, not one covered in thunder and smoke, but one where the once-for-all sacrifice for sins was made.  That took our sins away and the fear we have that God will condemn us.  Even though we do not see the consuming fire of God, may the Holy Spirit keep us in reverent fear and faithful devotion to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 17:1-7 | 2 Corinthians 6:1–13 | Mark 4:35–41

Text: Exodus 17:1-7

One of the perpetual pains of the Christian is that we must move on from the place where the Lord feeds us.  But it must happen because the place is temporary, and even the green grass (Mark 6:39) upon which the Lord fed the 5,000 withers and fades away.  The journey of this life must move on, and we must be dismissed from the Lord’s Table to go back into the world with all of its troubles.

So also, the Israelites moved on from the place where the manna was first given (although it went with them each day and met their need in the wilderness).  As much as we may look for permanent change, a lasting glimpse of the perfect, it also isn’t found among us.  You would think the people who saw manna and ate the quail which God provided on demand would have settled the matter: The Lord is God, His desire is for our good—to save and not to kill.

But as the people went out tribe by tribe from Sin, they came to a dry place called Rephidim.  But, the very name Rephidim is a reminder of the Lord who spreads His protection over His people, who supports and gives them aid.[1]  Willfully ignorant of what the Lord has already done for them so far, they attack Moses, demanding water, even accusing him of being the one who brought them out of Egypt to kill them.  They choose to attack the Lord’s servant in a way that makes Moses sound like a heartless monster: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”  Moses, you monster! Think of pain you’re causing mothers and shepherds!

This is what’s called an ad hominem attack—an attack against the man—and it’s unfortunately more common in the Church than we’d like to admit.  Before the rabble, Moses looks like a heartless jerk because of how one small part of the story is cast.  But the grumbling is actually just a mask for something else, and Moses puts his finger on it: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”  Surely there is no human prophet, apostle, or pastor who is without fault, but the attacks against the man in the office are more often than not a symptom of a faltering faith.

Many times, people have griped to me about some fault they saw in a previous pastor.  But behind the would-be flattery (He didn’t do it my way, but I’m sure you see things my way), is a challenge not to who is in the office, but a disagreement with God and putting Him to the test.

What does it mean to put God to the test?  Well, first it’s good to mention that tests aren’t always bad.  The Lord often puts us to the test, as I mentioned last week.  He tests what’s in our hearts by the trials He sends.  And faith which trusts in God’s promises and steps out in faith and a desire to please Him puts God’s faithfulness to the proof.  But putting the Lord to the test is when our sinful hearts hold onto the idea that we know better than the Lord in how He has arranged things.  In the Israelite’s case, it’s the Lord who’s made a mistake by bringing them into the wilderness, rather than teleport them straight from Egypt to Canaan’s shores.  How dare He cause us to hunger and thirst!  It’s the same attitude that says, how come God has arranged things this way in the Church and my life?  Why’s it so important to belong to a congregation when I might not like everyone in it?  I’ve worked so hard to live a good life, Lord, why do you keep making things so hard on me?  Why have you brought your faithful people into this time where seemingly nobody cares about your Word and they instead celebrate pride in something which you abhor (June is “LGBT Pride Month in the world)?

But putting the Lord to the test, versus trusting what He says is found in the outcome.  The heart that wants to put Him to the test is already in unbelief (toying with it, or perhaps even well on their way to being gone).  But how great the danger is!  Should we find ourselves in this unbelief, we’re on the precipice over the fires of hell!  And even though we may be unaware of this, the Lord knows full well and is crying for us to turn, lest we die.  Listen to His plea, while we will hear His voice, in Psalm 95:

      Today, if you hear his voice,

          do not harden your hearts, as at


as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

          when your fathers put me to the


and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

     10     For forty years I loathed that


and said, “They are a people who go astray

in their heart,

and they have not known my ways.”

     11     Therefore I swore in my wrath,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

It’s the hard heart which brings so much trouble and spiritual death.  Once the heart is hard, the Word of God, whether it’s in the pages of Scripture or preached by His messenger, the hard heart refuses to hear.  And it comes in a number of forms (let these be a warning to us!): avoiding the one who preaches (plugging our ears to what the Lord would say); choosing a different, adulterated Gospel that tells us that God is okay with us; joining the multitude of other jilted former Christians who can share stories of how they “used to go to church” but moved on.

Despite our unbelief, the Lord’s purpose remains unchanged: To turn us from unbelief to faith.  His Holy Spirit, at work in the Word, is able to save us from this abysmal end.  Today is the day He preaches to you, and if you hear His voice, thanks be to God because His saving work is being accomplished in you!  That day, He did give the people water at Massah and Meribah, but the Lord God refused to help them along in unbelief.  That would be tantamount to handing them the rope with which to hang themselves.

Instead, He sends His Spirit-filled Word to save us from our unbelief.  This is why He gives us His Holy Spirit: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me…I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” (John 15:26—16:1)

The Apostle to the Hebrews explains,

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

                        “Today, if you hear his voice,

                        do not harden your hearts.”

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:6-16)

We can be eternally grateful that God give us over to our times of weakness and unbelief; but with a dedication greater than any on earth, He is always calling to us and calling to all who would hear His voice.

Let us pray:

O God, You justify the ungodly and desire not the death of the sinner. Graciously assist us by Your heavenly aid and evermore shield us with Your protection, that no temptation may separate us from Your love in Christ Jesus, our Lord. O God, protect the tempted, the distressed, and the erring, and gently guide them. By Your great goodness bring them into the way of peace and truth. Graciously regard all who are in trouble, danger, temptation, or bondage to sin, and those to whom death draws near. In Your mercy draw them to Yourself; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

[1] Brown, Francis, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 16:1-31 | 2 Corinthians 5:1–17 | Mark 4:26–34

Text: Exodus 16:1-31

Normally, the sermons follow the theme for the day set by the lectionary.  The lectionary is the schedule of Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel readings for a given day.  It’s a great tool which the Christian Church has used for centuries in conjunction with the shape of the Church year.  But I want the opportunity to teach the whole congregation the lessons which the group has been learning in Sunday Bible study. 

St. Paul teaches us that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)  As we’ve been studying Exodus, it’s become clear that this has application for God’s people in every age—especially ours where Biblical literacy is even worse than English literacy.  What was recorded in the Old Testament isn’t to be forgotten, but rather viewed through the Cross.  St. Paul also explains, “These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Cor. 10:11)  Sadly, many of you have fallen into the habit of minimizing Sunday to the Divine Service alone, and neglecting the lessons of Bible study.  If there is some way we can make it so more of the congregation is present at Bible study, I’m all ears.

But I also don’t want you to miss out on the lessons which our Lord and Savior gives us in these Scriptures.  So, over the next four weeks, we’re going to sit at the feet of Jesus, while He teaches us from how He led the sons of Israel in the wilderness.  Our first stop comes after the Lord has brought out His people from Egypt.  With a strong hand and a mighty arm, with the might of the Ten Plagues, the Lord judged Pharaoh and made distinction between the Egyptians and the sons of Israel.  After the Lord brought them through the Red Sea on dry ground, but drown the host of Pharaoh, they saw their former oppressors dead on the side of the Red Sea and they sang: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:21)

With that refrain two months fresh in their minds, they come to the Wilderness of Sin.[1]  The whole congregation begins complaining: “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  Yes, this is the same group who possibly still had dust from the bottom of the Red Sea on the bottom of their sandals. They are actually thinking that death in Egypt as slaves would be preferable to their current situation. 

How quickly our affections turn away from God!  It’s easy to praise Him while things are going in our favor.  But that isn’t faith (or at least it isn’t faith which is being exercised).  It’s easy to confess that He is our God when He is doing things we like.  But, in order to see what’s really in our hearts, God makes things get hard and painful. Is He still going to be your God, or just an afterthought when your health fails?  When your mixed marriage goes south, are you going to choose to serve Him or please your spouse?  You may have everything you could want right now, but what about when the money dries up?  It’s in these wilderness times when the Lord exposes either the strength—or more often the weakness—of our faith.

We might want to look down on the Israelites and call them foolish because we can look on the facing page of our Bible how God had delivered them.  But never underestimate the weakness, forgetfulness, and fickleness of their sinful flesh and yours.

But listen to how the Lord responds to their grumbling!  No doubt it’s with far more patience that some of us would:

“Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”

Here in the wilderness, the Lord provides for the people in a visible and miraculous way.  He gives this miraculous bread from heaven.   He did this to teach us about His character is as our Father in heaven. Yet how often do we find ourselves doubting that?  We have so much knowledge of the resources we have at our disposal, that we get the idea we’re more in charge of our destiny.  As a testimony of this, we try to control procreation, engineer away scarcity, and trust that medical science can cheat death for us.

God allows this illusion to deceive us for a time, but then the reality hits again.  God hasn’t changed between then and now.  He still is ever the Creator of Life, the One who wisely provides for the needs of all, and Him who keeps our going out and our coming in forever more [Ps. 121]  What changes, like the Israelites, is our attitude toward His provision.  Now, we’re able to know far more about what He provides.  But what we do with that information is the problem: We worry.  We doubt He will provide enough.  We think the future depends on our calculations. 

14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

In order to humble us, God’s provision is a given in a way that we can only give Him glory.  The very name manna comes from their wondering what this bread was.  Try as we might 1make to be masters of our life (piously we call our fretting and hoarding “good stewardship”), God will show us that He is the one who provides what He will provide.  “Give us this day our daily bread” He teaches us to pray.  He puts it that way for a reason: so that every day, we would realize that everything in life is in His care.

The manna was a visual of this: They gathered what they needed each day, and when it came to the Sabbath rest, He provided for that as well.  And God continues truly to provide for all our needs.

Today, we’re no longer tested with not being able to get things on a Sabbath day, as nearly everything is available 7 days a week.  We are still tested, however, on two points, so that the Lord would know what is truly in our hearts:

First is the modern freedom of the Sabbath, that we are not forced to rest or socially pressured to go to church.  When we’re given the choice, the devil and our sinful flesh are right there with excuses.  It’s been a pretty good week.  I’ve got family coming in town and I don’t want to seem a bad host.  I’ve just got so much to get done, how can I stand to lose half the day?  And you can look around to see what that freedom has resulted in.  Our daily life is just so much more satisfying that we want more of it, and lose our appetite for the good portion which will not be taken away for eternity.

So the lesson from God providing double on the day before the Sabbath is that we too ought to plan our week around the rest He gives us on Sunday.  He says, “See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath” (v. 29) because it is actually His gift to provide us with more than the stuff we need to keep this temporal life rolling.  He is saying our lives are built on being children of God for eternity as well as today.

The other test of our hearts is what we do with the daily bread we receive from God, especially the money. There are so many expenses, so many ways to spend money from coffee stands to good deals online, that it seems to us there’s never enough money for everything.  Our deceitful hearts focus on how much money, but don’t notice the priorities we choose.  The Patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, before they were ever commanded, freely chose to give a tenth of what they had to the Lord. For Israel, that translated into sacrifices, temple furnishings, and provision for the priests.  Today, the money which God’s people offer to Him carries on His work in this congregation and the Church at large.  When it comes to giving, St. Paul recalls the manna as assurance that God’s provision is more faithful than we can judge: 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’” (2 Cor. 8:13-15)

And finally, together with all these lessons, the manna itself recalls the full provision of God which became manifest in His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the dialog that happened after the Feeding of the Five Thousand in John 6:

31 tOur fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

In this way, it comes back around so that we see ourselves as those for whom God is providing in the wilderness.  We are just as needy…and prone to foolishness…as the Israelites.  But with the Holy Spirit’s help, He makes us mindful of how desolate this world is in comparison to the glories which are to be revealed to us in the age to come [Rom. 8:18].  He also makes us mindful of true hunger and its remedy. The Israelites had hungry stomachs, which the manna satisfied.  But underlying that is the spiritual hunger we feel.  And in that, we’re not all at the same place.  Some of us are acutely aware of our spiritual hunger and take heart in what the Lord says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6).  Others are more comfortable and feel as though they’re fairly strong.  And to all those called by the Gospel, He gives not just bread, but “The bread of heaven which gives life to the world…I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”  This is what He is doing for you when He feeds you at the altar.  “What is it?” Manna?  “Take eat; this is My Body, broken for you”  “Take drink; this is My Blood, shed for you.”  It is both miraculous and tangible, and in this holy food, He feeds you with what you need for the nourishment of your soul.

From this account of the Bread of Heaven, we learn how our Father in heaven rebukes our grumblings and our doubts, and yet in steadfast love provides for us.  Recognizing this, may we receive our daily bread with thanksgiving!  But still more He shows us the spiritual wilderness in which we find ourselves, and cares for our souls.  In response to His glorious grace, let us stand and sing the prayer, “Feed Thy Children, God Most Holy” on page 774.

Feed Thy children, God most holy;
Comfort sinners poor and lowly.
    O Thou Bread of Life from heaven,
    Bless the food Thou here hast given!
As these gifts the body nourish,
May our souls in graces flourish
    Till with saints in heav’nly splendor
    At Thy feast due thanks we render. (LSB 774)

Text: © 1941 Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110004659

[1] This is a proper name. It’s just a coincidence that it matches the English word.

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Genesis 3:8-15 | 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 | Mark 3:20-35

“The Sin Against The Holy Spirit”

Guest Pastor Bruce Ley

Text: Mark 3:20-35

20Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21But when His own people heard , they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”

22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” 23So He called them to and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25“And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26“And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. 27“No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.

28“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29“but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”; 30because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

31Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. 32And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” 33But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” 34And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 35“For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

Grace, Mercy and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

St. Mark tells us: ‘The multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. But when His own people heard , they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.” ’ This thought of Jesus being “out of His mind” in the eyes of “His own people” surprises and saddens me. We don’t know specifically to whom “His own people” refers, but this very statement indicates it is someone who, by all rights, should have known better.

Now this idea of being “out of His mind” is just another way of saying that the people who have come “to lay hold of Him” are convinced of the need to protect Jesus from Himself. From my perspective this is one mighty fine example of how Jesus’ teaching on “The Sin Against the Holy Spirit” reveals the depths to which any person may fall under the right circumstances. Thus, it is good to heed St. Paul’s warning: “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Well, if the response of “His own people” surprises and saddens us, the response of “the scribes who came down from Jerusalem” shocks and stuns us! I mean, think for a minute about who it is that is saying of Jesus: “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” These are not ordinary people, these are scribes! These are the very scholars and authorities on the OT Scriptures. Many in fact were interpreters and powerful leaders in both parties of the Jews. Truly it is amazing, that the very ones who should know the OT best, say to the one who is the fulfillment of the OT: “[You have] Beelzebub,” and “By the ruler of the demons [You] casts out demons.” These doctors of the Law are literally slandering Jesus by accusing Him of devil-possession. What blasphemy!

What about your response to this God-Man, Jesus Christ? How do you view some of His tougher sayings? For instance, these words from St. Matthew: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. “For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; “and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his household.’ Jesus concludes these tough words with this: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:34-37). Maybe, before we’re too quick to judge the “scribes” in this world, or even “His own people,” we need to take a deep look into our own hearts!

Well, before we dig ourselves into a hole we would just as soon not be in, let’s return to our text and see how Jesus handles the “scribes” comment about Him having “Beelzebub” and “casting out demons by the ruler of the demons.”

Jesus, the master-teacher, shows us how best to handle someone’s illogical questions. Take up their line of reasoning and see where it leads. This Jesus does in a masterful way with these words: “How can Satan cast out Satan? “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. “And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. “And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.” Clearly, the illogical reasoning of the scribes is completely exposed as faulty and futile.

Now before going on to see Jesus completely destroy their logic, think about your household, your congregation, the NW district, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Can households, congregations, districts, or our synod hope to stand if it “is divided against itself?” Maybe you haven’t thought about, but the smaller the unit that “is divided against itself” the greater will be the division at the levels above it. And in a society with a 50% divorce rate — and it isn’t any better in the Church — it is not hard to imagine how difficult it is for congregations, districts and synod to walk together when families don’t walk together, but are in fact “divided against themselves.” Now what I am about to say may not be very popular today, but it is the man of the family whom God holds primarily accountable for harmony in both the family and the Church.

Moving on, we learn that Jesus is not yet done exposing the scribes deficient logic. He immediately adds these words: “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.”

What does Jesus mean by these additional words about “a strong man” having to be bound before anyone can “plunder his house?” The thought here is one of complete victory — and it must be established before any plundering takes place. Now, Jesus’ warnings here is meaningless if Satan is not the personal being he is represented to be throughout the Scriptures from Genesis 3 onward. So, in spite of the worlds jokes about Satan, you need to know that he and his minions are very real, very personal, and very powerful beings with whom we dare not toy — lest we get very seriously burned.

Now the really good news is that we don’t have to. Jesus, in this verse, is plainly saying that the expulsion of demons — which the scribes admit He is doing — is proof of the fact that Satan has already been conquered! How can that be, you ask, when Jesus had not yet died on the cross and rose again at this point? It is a good question since the time of the crucifixion is still several months away. If what Jesus says is true, when did He conquer Satan? Well, as far as God was concerned it already took place in the Garden of Eden when He spoke these words in our OT lesson today: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heal” (Genesis 3:15).

My friends, that is the way God’s promises always are — regardless of how hopeless and impossible it may look to us. What God promises is already accomplished in His eyes, and therefore the result of the promise can already be realized before the fact! That’s good news in light of what Jesus says next: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter.” Now this is one beautiful promise! It matters not how serious your sin, whether it is a sin you commit by doing something or a sin you commit by not doing something. It matters not how grievous the slanderous things are that man says against God and what belongs to God — the promise of this verse is still there and it says two things to those who are repentant over their having committed those sins. First, the sins you commit are very grievous. Second, in spite of their grievous nature, those confessed sins — including “blasphemies” that have been uttered — are forgiven.

The question is, how does that stack up in the face of these words by Jesus? “He who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation.”

Well first of all, remember to whom Jesus said these words. It was to the scribes who had charged Him with casting out demons by demons. That is why He adds these words in the next verse: ‘because they said, “He has an unclean spirit”.’ As a result of this, it must be concluded that “He who blasphemes — that is, speaks evil — against the Holy Spirit,” does so not against the person of the Holy Spirit, but against the work of the Holy Spirit. It means to reject the work that the Holy Spirit seeks to do in your life as God comes to you through His Word and in His Sacraments. Now because God’s promises of forgiveness, life, salvation, peace, hope, joy and the like are part and parcel with God’s Means of Grace it has to be that the cause of rejecting and not benefiting from those promises lies exclusively within each person. We are the problem!

Now Jesus in our text is not actually accusing the scribes of having already committed this unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit, … but He is sternly warning them. Great danger lies ahead for them if they continue down their present path — for in reality they had witnessed the work of the Holy Spirit casting out the demons and have said it was the devil who did it. Oh ever so close are these “scribes” to committing the unpardonable sin. Those who spurn and reject the work of the Holy Spirit are always in the gravest of danger — especially knowing how quickly life can end.

How about you, have you ever wondered if you have committed this unforgivable “Sin Against the Holy Spirit?” According to what Jesus says, there are only two possible results of any sins in our life. Sin is either forgiven — even though it is grievous — or it remains unforgiven because you refuse the work of the Holy Spirit who brings you God’s forgiveness. In the final analysis, the sin against the Holy Spirit amounts to the rejection of forgiveness itself — and that is why it is unforgivable. The truth is, he who has no faith by which the Spirit transfers Christ’s forgiveness to his account, stands unforgiven! Continuing to refuse the means by which God brings forgiveness, with all of its accompanying benefits, into your life means you are rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit. Should you reject that work up until the moment of death you will have committed that unforgivable “Sin Against the Holy Spirit.”

Now here is the point. Anyone who wonders whether they have committed this sin can rest assured they have not. For if you had you wouldn’t care, nor would you be concerned about whether you had or not. Those who are in danger of having done it, just don’t care. Even so, forgiveness is still possible right up to the deathbed so long as the man has not hardened his heart to the point that God would no longer permit him to believe — as happened to Egypt’s Pharaoh in Moses’ day. Bottom line: … receiving God’s Word and Sacraments in faith protects you from committing the unforgivable “Sin Against the Holy Spirit.” This is true because the “stronger one” — Jesus Christ — has conquered and bound Satan who now has no power over those who in faith regularly hear and feed on God’s Word.

Now there are some who may wonder why a Christian congregation would be concerned with “The Sin Against the Holy Spirit” if our very presence here is an indication that we haven’t committed it. The reason is simple — by studying it we get a glimpse of which path we are on at the moment. You see, even Jesus family was guilty of turning down a very dangerous path when Mark tells us “Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.”

Jesus response to this news tells us the danger they faced. Even though they were blood relatives of Jesus they were not at this point accepting His teaching. Rather than embrace Him and His good news that the Kingdom of God has come and He is it, they sought Him. They balked at His revelation — so much so that they desired to take Him out of this place.

Jesus however sets the record and us straight as He asks: “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” He then answers His own question: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, My sister and mother.” Now there are dozens of verses in Scripture that deal with the “will of God,” so how do we know which ones apply?

Well obviously they all apply, but most deal with things totally beyond our control or influence, for they are things that the Triune God alone accomplishes. Several however give us a clue as to what Jesus might mean. John writes: “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life” (John 6:40 NKJV). Paul in Romans gives us another good clue: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom 12:2 NKJV). Paul also writes to the church at Thessolonica: For this is the will of God, your sanctification: (1 Th 4:3a NKJV). Again, he writes: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Th 5:16-18 NKJV). Finally Peter tells us: “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God” (1 Pet 2:15-16 NKJV).

Dear friends we all know God wills us to do much more than these, but even these cause us to squirm in our seats when we realize how far short we fall. Still, the promise of Jesus in our text is irrevocable: “all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they many utter.” With a promise like that in our ears we can truly take to heart Paul’s words in our Epistle today: “we do not lose heart, even through our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). May the “renewal of that inward man” continue to be a reality in your life as you go from this place to your vocation, confident that not only have you not committed the unforgivable “Sin Against the Holy Spirit,” but you are Christ’s brother, Christ’s sister — yeah Christ’s mother as you live out your baptismal faith at the cross of Christ — the one Who crushed Satan’s head once and for all that neither sin, nor hell, nor death, nor Satan has any power over you.

And now may the Triune God keep each of you steadfast and true to that baptismal faith in which He forever marked and chose you to be His own into eternity.

In the name of of the Father, and of the † Son and of the Holy Ghost. [Amen].

“The peace of God, which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ [unto life everlasting].”


The Feast of the Holy Trinity

Readings: Isaiah 6:1–8 | Acts 2:14a, 22–36 | John 3:1-17

Text: John 3:1-17

On this celebration of the Holy Trinity, we encounter a great mystery of the Christian faith—the nature of God.  Many men have sought and still seek to know God, to be part of something greater than themselves and to connect with the unseen.

The 11th century Benedictine monk, Anselm of Canterbury, attempted in his day to write single proof for the existence of God. His idea was that God is the highest thing that human understanding can conceive of. He wrote, “Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.” (Proslogion)  This excited him, because in philosophical terms, he had a handle on the truth of God’s existence.

Writing in the first quarter of the 20th century, Ernest Holmes, devised a philosophy based on the Bible, called Science of Mind, in which his approach to God is this:

“I believe, that Infinite Spirit, God, or whatever symbol is used to denote the All-Inclusive Intelligent Power running the Universe, has always existed—no beginning and no end. Infinite.” (Ernest Holmes, Science of Mind (1926), pp. 4)

Holmes acknowledges that God is infinite, eternal, and running the universe, but man can only make contact with the Infinite through devoting himself to study (a.k.a. buying his books) and contemplation.

The ancient religion of Hinduism believes the ultimate in the universe is the Supreme Soul or Brahman, as explained in a story in one of their sacred texts called the Skanda Purana:

“This knowledge of Brahman can only come to that person who is unattached to anything in the world. It is true that the disciple seeks a guru to gain knowledge. However if all the desires lurking in the heart are eliminated, then this knowledge automatically manifests in the heart. Such a person will attain Brahman.”[1]

So for the Hindu, knowing the Supreme can only come to a person who prepares themselves by eliminating all desire first.

Suffice to say, man has a lot of assertions about God—most of them very complex and open to only the elite who can attain to the “right” understanding.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night with his own kind of assertions: “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.”  Granted, they were assertions based on Scripture: Moses was given signs to prove himself to the Israelites in slavery. Elijah and Elisha showed they were true prophets by providing for a widow, raising the dead, and cleansing a leper.  So the fact that Jesus is doing signs shows He has some link with the Lord God.

But Jesus makes it clear right from the beginning that Nicodemus doesn’t know half of what he thinks he knows.  It’s not because of some notion that he isn’t capable because he hasn’t purged his heart of desire, as the Hindus say.  It’s not that Nicodemus wasn’t intelligent enough to handle logic.

Rather, Jesus explains that the real problem with man not knowing God is a failing on our part:

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. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Ignorance of God (true agnosticism)…is common to all men, and leads us to conclude wrong things about God.  “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14)  It’s not simply a matter of deriving the perfect proof of God so that God dwells in your mind, or growing in spiritual prowess, or reforming yourself so that you rise above this physical existence to reach God where He is.

You must be born again.  Not reincarnated to give it a go with a fresh perspective.  You must be born from above—God’s work.  Our flesh has some deadly flaws in the spirituality department.

It leads us to extremes. On the one hand, saying God is found in this building, this group of people, this Lutheran synod.  On the other hand, saying God is found everywhere, even out on the lake while the rest of the congregation is at worship.  But far be it from God to promise to be both everywhere and specifically in a place like where His Gospel is preached, in the waters of Baptism, or the consecrated Bread and Wine of Holy Communion.

Our flesh leads us to accuse God of being silent in times of need, forsaking us because we can’t feel or see His activity.  God, you failed me when I watched my child die.  I tried reading the Bible, but I just didn’t feel any better when I did, so I just stopped.

We equate our apparent successes with the Lord’s endorsement.  Because this program had tremendous feedback and involved a lot of people, it must be blessed by God; but if very few if any come then it must mean we need to try new measures.  Joshua was tempted to this just before Jericho fell:

13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped.

Our sin-filled flesh wants to get some kind of handhold on God, because if we could just understand a little more, have some window into His hidden work, then we would be more in control of our lives.  But that isn’t the way the true God is. We have been deceived.  Contrary to our experiences and accomplishments, He says, “You must be born again” “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:17) and “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Matt. 11:25-26)

The model which the true God portrays to us is of a newborn baby and a little child.  Flesh has given birth to flesh, and despite mankind’s best efforts for millennia, none has ascended into heaven—not with our morals, not with our mystical experiences, and not with our minds.

Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The knowledge of the true God is a gift bestowed by Him.  Despite what the devil and our sinful flesh might say, God actually does want to be known among us.

But you may ask, what is with the Holy Trinity?  Isn’t that far too complicated for the average child?  It doesn’t make sense mathematically; we can’t picture it except with ornate arrangements of circles and triangles; and when we try to explain it to our friends, they might just side with the Unitarians who say the whole thing was made up to overcomplicate religion.

Yet, as children of God, we confess the Holy Trinity—one eternal God in three distinct Persons—because that is how God has made Himself known among us.  No pope or monk invented this, except Tertullian coined the shorthand name for Three-in-Oneness. We aren’t asked to make it add up, or help God out with flawed analogies.  What the Triune God desires us to know most of all is what He has done for you through His Son, because when He wanted to be known by His human creatures, He came down to us.

13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 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.

It is enough, dearly beloved, humble child of God, to know that your Father in heaven loved you before you were even born.  He arranged your adoption into His family, the forgiveness and removal of all your sins, and to bring you into His Kingdom.  He did this before you ever had your first blasphemous thought, or sin ever bore fruit in your thoughts, words, or deeds.  Here in time, His Spirit has called you by the Gospel and given you His enlightenment.  He has shown you Jesus, the Son of Man, lifted up on the cross—“suffered for [your] salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty” (Athanasian Creed, 36-37).

There is so much more to grow into in this Kingdom—much to dedicate our hearts and minds to learn from His Wisdom, many ways which our flesh must decrease and the Spirit’s work increase in us, and many times when we will misunderstand or stubbornly refuse to hear correction.  But your Father is gracious and patient, and most of all He loves you enough to do everything in His almighty power to keep you in this true faith.

This is what we as Christians confess.  We have three Universal Creeds to explain what we believe, and each has to go into greater detail because of the devil’s subtly and man’s pride in his own understanding.  But above all, we believe in God as He has made Himself known to us.  As holy and mysterious as His nature is, He has put His Name on you.  With His Name put on you in Baptism, this profound adoption took place. He made you His own child, and richly pours out on you all the blessings of His household: ears to hear His Word, eyes of faith to recognize His work, an open audience with the Almighty ruler of the universe, His life-giving strength for everything you must face in this life, and the hope of the resurrection from the dead and the life of the world which is to come.

It’s with good reason that we praise Him this and every day, Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now, and will be forever. Amen.

[1] htt/hinduone.com/rameshwaram-temple-history-story/

The Feast of Pentecost

Readings: Ezekiel 37:1–14 | Acts 2:1–21 | John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Text: John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

The Day of Pentecost often gets a lot of attention because of how exciting it was.  From our second reading, we heard about the events of the day: a sound like a mighty rushing wind which got people’s attention, tongues as of fire, miraculously speaking other languages previously not studied, and so on.

But the impressive outward show is often not the point with God. After He had fed over 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, the crowds followed Jesus all the way around the Sea of Tiberius because they ate bread.  When it came to actually accepting what that sign meant, many of them said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” and went away. (John 6:1-60).  God grant that our faith not be in the fireworks of Pentecost, but in the working and power of the Holy Spirit.

God helping us, if we listen the texts appointed for today with ears of faith, yes, the Holy Spirit is the One we focus on this Pentecost, but what is it that He is doing?

Pentecost isn’t the first time the Holy Spirit shows up.  He has been at work in creation from the very beginning: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).  In the Introit, we prayed together with our ancestors in Israel, from Psalm 104,

27 These all look to you,

to give them their food in due season.

    28 When you give it to them, they

gather it up;

when you open your hand, they

are filled with good things.

    29 When you hide your face,

they are dismayed;

when you take away their breath, they die

and return to their dust.

    30 When you send forth your Spirit,

they are created,

and you renew the face of the ground.

(Ps. 104:27-30)

God’s Spirit is the source of life as we all know it, and all on earth enjoy that gift.  Not only that, but we can see God providing for the needs (not always the wants) of all His creatures. 

But the Holy Spirit has so much more that He does beyond physical life and daily bread.  In the Old Testament lesson, this is what the Spirit does in these last days:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

The word for Spirit and breath is the same (ru’ach), and the double meaning is intentional.  The Spirit (God’s breath) is giving life, but not only a beating heart and respiration.  There’s more: He puts breath into us, and we shall live…and you shall know that I am the Lord. 

This is what we confessed in the Nicene Creed, too.  “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life.”  The Holy Spirit breathes into us and gives us true life.  Anyone who has suffered from asthma or congestive heart failure has experienced breath being stifled.  That’s akin to what sin and death has done to our natural life on earth.  Even though God has breathed into us the breath of life, it is shorted by disease, and robbed from us by death.  But the Spirit breathes into us the true life, even as we can identify with the words, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off,” (Ezek. 37:11) so the Holy Spirit breathes into us and makes us alive through Jesus’ resurrection.

And we also hear how that Breath of God is a Voice which goes out to every nation in the second reading (Acts 2:1-21).  Don’t get caught up on the sudden way these Galileans were able to speak in many human languages; the focus is on what they heard from this Voice of God:

17 “ ‘And in the last days it shall be,

God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,

and your sons and your daughters

shall prophesy…

21   And it shall come to pass

that everyone who

calls upon the name of the

Lord shall be saved.’

That’s what happened to the hearers on Pentecost, that Jews and proselytes from diverse countries from as west as Rome to the east as Persia, north as modern day Turkey (Asia Minor) to south as Arabia—Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” (Ezek. 37:9).  All of these people, from many nations, many things distinguishing them from each other, were called by the Holy Spirit to believe and have life from the world’s Savior.

This is the ongoing work of Pentecost.  It’s not about being overtaken by the Spirit, suddenly speaking in new tongues.  It’s that all people are called to salvation in Jesus Christ, so that at the end of the age, we will see what Revelation 7 records:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and [tongues], standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Taking a cue from the excitement of that day, the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906 marked the arrival of the Pentecostal movement, teaching that we should continue to look for the Holy Spirit to revive the church by causing people to speak in strange languages and manifest miraculous healings.   The prompting for revivals like the Pentecostal movement was because leaders saw the signs of the end times, and yet despite that it seemed faith had grown cold, and separated from the zeal recorded in Acts.  Their response was to look for miraculous healings, and sudden conversion experiences.  The trouble is while God gave this visible sign of what He is doing, He doesn’t promise that this will always be the case.

The things Jesus assures His of are described in the Gospel:

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.

The word for Helper is literally Paraclete, an advocate who is called to one’s side to assist them, especially in a court of law.  Well, as we heard last week, testimony, or martyria, is how the world around us learns of Christ.  Jesus said this in the Upper Room with His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed.  The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, testifies of the Son of God.  Then, in turn, some of the Twelve (and later St. Paul) would be testify of Him—in the Scriptures of the New Testament, all written by or under the guidance of these chosen men.

But the Son must ascend into heaven before sending the Holy Spirit.  This is the start of the age of the Church, where the eternal life and salvation which Christ has brought for all people, is proclaimed with His almighty power.  It isn’t limited to a small group or a certain place, but that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47)  And this is what the Holy Spirit does among all people where His Voice is heard:

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 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. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Nowhere do you hear that the Holy Spirit will cause flashy signs as were on the day of Pentecost.  He does what the Word of God is given to do: convict people of their unbelief in the only Savior, righteousness as the only one worthy to ascend into heaven, and judgment that the Devil has been defeated.  These are the mighty deeds which the people in Jerusalem heard, and which you, too have heard.

You see, the Holy Spirit doesn’t ever focus on Himself, but teaches us to rightly know Jesus as our Savior. He calls us spiritually dead sinners to repentance, teaches us to truly know the Lord, comes to us in our struggles and weakness and guides us out of our error and into all the truth.

The Holy Spirit’s work has continued uninterrupted in the Church, even to our day, because sinners like you and me are called to believe in Jesus Christ, living by the promise, “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).  By this Gospel, good news, the work is accomplished that we know the Lord, that the same Holy Spirit keeps us in this faith in our trials, and actually strengthens our faith through what we suffer.  And then on the Last Day, we await when the Holy Spirit will raise us from our graves and our eyes will behold an amazing thing: 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thess. 4:16-18)

So be it, Lord, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord and Savior.  Amen.