Second Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Proverbs 9:1-10 | Ephesians 2:13-22 | Luke 14:15-24

Text: Luke 14:15-24

If it wasn’t true before the pandemic, it is certainly true now: We are a people who are at odds with one another.  Family members alienated from one another, friendships strained and breaking from sharp disagreements, and a media culture that would rather erase the memory of a person rather than seek restoration.  Even in the church, sadly, people have disagreements and in bitterness refuse to worship together even to the harm of their own soul.

We know that God’s ways are higher than our ways.  But today, we have heard about how His way of dealing with conflict and division is higher than ours as well. 

Hear again from Ephesians 2 how God works:

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of 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. 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…

Do you get a sense of the divide?  All of you far off, a dividing wall of hostility, commandments and ordinances, strangers and aliens.  No doubt we have some experience of that.  There are those in our lives who may not live far away but are far off in ideologies.  Dividing walls are shored up by the isolation we erect online and who we don’t even call.  There are many who are strangers (xenos, from which we get xenophobic) to us—whether by nationality, language, or socio-economic class.

But God was not content to leave the greatest divide intact, the root of all of our divisions and pain: the divide caused by the disharmony between God and His mankind.  His ways are not our ways, because His goal is different.  He works for peace.  Notice how many times that word appears in the Epistle lesson.  I suggest you even take a pencil and underline each of the four instances.  This is God’s goal: peace.

You may be familiar with the Hebrew word for peace, shalom.  What you may not know is the root of this word.  It comes from the verb, shaleim, to make complete.[1]  We’re accustomed to thinking of peace merely as stillness, an emotional state, a lack of conflict.  But God’s goal is not to artificially create calm, but shalom, to make complete and restore what was shattered beyond repair: “For he himself is our peace… one new man in place of the two, so making peace… he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.”  So, when our Lord says to His disciples the evening of His resurrection, “Peace to you,” He is enacting reconciliation, bringing the distant near, destroying the animosity.

In contrast, what we see in the world (and if we’re honest also in our intentions), is a different goal.  Rather than peace, the world and our sinful nature seek power.  How can we get the upper hand?  How can we change the world as we think it should be?  The conflicts we see in the world right now are a pursuit of power: “speak truth to power” people demand.  While they talk of “diversity, inclusion, and equity” it turns out that they use coercion to force their vision.  Rather than reconciliation, they demand and exact reparations, giving themselves the advantage to which they feel entitled.  Just ask any teacher, or administrator, or government employee who has dared to oppose a minority’s “personal expression.”

But the way of power is a lie, as old as the Serpent himself who told Eve that she would be “like God, knowing good and evil,” and who “took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’” (Gen. 3:5; Matt. 4:8-9)

Power is a dead end.  Peace is what’s eternal, for peace is from God. And we see this in action in the Gospel lesson.  Jesus says these words while he reclines at table on the Sabbath at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees.  Earlier in the visit, Jesus put all of them on edge by healing man with dropsy on the Sabbath.  After noticing how they arranged themselves at the table, Jesus told the story of the wedding feast, to the effect that, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)  One of those in attendance, surely thinking himself a humble and just man said,

“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But [Jesus] said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.

We think that we have a pretty good handle on God’s ways, but He has a way of shining the light on what’s in human hearts.  “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man”—of all nations and races, languages and tribes, men and women alike, of all opinions, orientations, philosophies, and He saw: “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Ps. 14:2-3)

This parable teaches us about the grace of God, which is meant to win people to salvation not by human power, but by God’s peace—the peace which takes what is broken beyond repair and restores it.  The peace which takes a deluded and darked humanity and restores it to perfect and eternal fellowship with Him.

He teaches us this by the image of a banquet and the invitation.  That is, how does God accomplish His rescue mission of peace for this shattered world?  He does it by a Word of invitation. 

17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man—all those far off, his enemies, the strangers—and loves them.  His invitation is the Word of God.  It tells of God’s work to make peace with His enemies, to raise the dead, to bring near those who are far away, to bind up the injured and destroy the fat and strong.  It is not an inert Word, but comes with God’s power.  In fact, that is the only power that can reach that goal of peace!

This is what evangelism is.  If you need a refresher on the almighty power of God in this area, review Ephesians 1, where it’s clear that none of us contributed to the invitation or accepting it: “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” (Eph. 1:4-5)

There’s a guilt that’s all too often attached to evangelism.  It comes from the Arminian notion that we have the strength to turn from evil to good, to become turncoats from the devil to be reconciled to God.  We’re especially vexed by this in America, because decision theology is the bread and butter of revival movements.  It’s appealing because it lets us have some say our eternal destination.  It’s more appealing than its opposite, double predestination, which says that both salvation and damnation are in God’s hands, and we’re no more than clay.  But Scripture teaches neither of these.  Listen to the rest of the parable:

21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’
22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ”
published by John Garrett, line engraving,
mid 17th century

If God were a Calvinist, who taught double predestination, then why should He be angry or surprised at those who refuse the invitation?  If God were an Arminian, He would just spread the dragnet further, hoping that He might catch a few more fish; try new flypaper until something sticks.  But neither is the case.  As Luther beautifully explains about the 2nd Petition: “The Kingdom of God comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.”  God is good, and He desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).  He sends out His Word, the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ Name throughout the world—

Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
                        In them he has set a tent for the sun,
                 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
                 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat. (Psalm 19:4-6)

The Gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe.  So the Church is entrusted with this living and active Word.  Nevertheless, it is not our human effort that will fill the seats at the heavenly banquet; that is God’s work.  It’s our old craving to do it by our own might that leads us to pride or despair—pride that our programs could give God a hand, or despair because we see human failure to mathematically reach every person.

But keep the Lord before your eyes, trust in Him who says, “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.” (John 3:8)  That voice will go out on our lips or others—not to excuse complacency, but to assure us that God is mighty to save the lost.

Yet, also know that there are many who choose to remain on the broad way that leads to destruction.  Do not let their unbelief cause you to stumble, so that you flog yourself for not doing something more.  If you have shared the invitation with them, that is where the powerful Word of God is.  Love your neighbor as yourself, pray for them as your Lord commands, and heed the invitation to the banquet yourself.

Come to the foretaste of that banquet today, you who have heard His voice.  And, no doubt, there are people you know who have thus far rejected the invitation—“I have bought a field…I have bought five yoke of oxen…I have married a wife” or a myriad of other excuses.  But remember that God has made each of you members of a priesthood.  Priests intercede before God, and you priests have access to God’s throne: “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph 2:18)  So I would suggest, as you come to the Lord’s table to taste of His banquet, bring a name or names of people you know of whom you are afraid.  

Remember the example of those in the Gospel who brought others to Jesus that He might bless them: the paralytic who was healed and forgiven, the daughter freed of demons, the servant released from his affliction (Matt. 8, 9, 15).   Those who loved them interceded for them, and Jesus did not fail to have mercy and bring His blessing.

In this way, the Kingdom of God comes among us.  He brings those who were far off near by His blood.  He removes the dividing wall of hostility.  He creates one new man, reconciling and removing the hostility.  God will accomplish His work of peace among us, in our age, in our city.  He will give the increase and build us together into a dwelling place for God by His Spirit.  In the Name + of Jesus.  Amen.

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

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

Readings: Isaiah 6:1–7 | Romans 11:33–36 | John 3:1–17

Text: John 3:1-15 (Isaiah 6:1-7, Romans 11:33-36)

Trinity Sunday is a feast day to remember that God is transcendent, and in many ways for us, unknowable.  He’s greater than us, and not just in the way that a king is greater than his servant, because He is “ruler of kings on earth” (Rev. 1:5).  He’s stronger than us, and not just in the way that a body builder is stronger than a computer geek, for He is rightly called Pantokrator[1] or All-Powerful, Almighty.  He is infinitely stronger than any human being—“Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?”[2]  He is also beyond all human understanding.  His thoughts are not our thoughts; nor are his ways our ways.[3]  No matter how we may apply our reason to Him, He is beyond us.  That’s why every analogy for the Trinity—apples, sun, or clover—ultimately cannot encompass the mystery of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But in our egalitarian society, we have a hard time comprehending the greatness and otherness of God.  We’re told from childhood that, deep down, everyone is the same.  We all have the same aspirations and fears.  And we see this in practice when presidents invite common citizens for a beer, celebrities are seen at Wal-Mart, and the pope chooses to go for a walk rather than ride in the bulletproof motorcade.  With so much equality among men, it’s hard for us to remember that God is always above us.  The singer Joan Osborne wrote the anthem for this sentiment when she sang decades ago, “What if God was one of us?”

And yet God is far from unknown to us.  How can this be?  We know Him from Holy Scripture.  He calls Himself our heavenly Father.  Now with our earthly fathers, when we were kids, we thought of our dads as invincible and infallible.  But as we grew to be an adult and especially when we had kids of our own, we saw that our fathers were people just like us.  Not so with God the Father.  It’s more than an flawed analogy; rather, God is the originator of all fatherhood, but He will always be greater than us. He is truly the One “from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.” (Eph. 3:15)

But in an attempt to deal with our fear of God, we like to convince ourselves that God isn’t as scary as He was in the Old Testament.  Remember Uzzah, whom the Lord put to death, while the Ark of the Covenant was being carried into Jerusalem:

“Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.”[4] 

The God we have come to know through Jesus Christ is the same holy God whom we worship today.  But our fleshly security is uncomfortable with the truth that “our God is a consuming fire.”[5]  We prefer a Heavenly Pushover, who is impressed with our clever decisions and cheers us on from the sidelines.

This Sunday is also a time to consider what the Holy, Transcendent God does.  Many man-made religions recognize that God is “Immortal, Invisible,” and “Only Wise”[6]  But if that’s all there is, then we’re toast.  Woe to us! For we are lost; for we are people of unclean lips, and we dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.[7]  God has more to show us than His omnipotence.

The Gospel from John 3:

3 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “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.” 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.

No matter how we peer into heaven, we are incapable of grasp God—“no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matt. 11:27)  In fact, what Jesus says here is that that’s the wrong direction.  Stop trying to ascend to get a glimpse into the divine.

            Instead, God makes Himself known to us.  Even though “the eye of sinful man His glory may not see,[8] the Holy One has come down from heaven.  As John says in His prologue, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father.”[9]  We aren’t the ones who ascended to know God, but as Jesus says, “No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” So, right after explaining that no one can know Him except by His choice, He invites you, “Come to me…and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)

            All too often, we approach God with our own ideas—ideas about who He is, how He works, and what He should do for us.  But that all gets turned around: “You must be born again!  Flesh gives birth to flesh, and the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  You must cast away your fleshly thinking about God, and receive Him in humility.  “Be born again by water and the Spirit” and you will not only see God, but you will also be brought into His Kingdom!

            The Son of God—“true God, begotten of His Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the virgin Mary” (Small Catechism, 2nd Article)—has come down from heaven, but He didn’t come down just to give us supernal thoughts about the divine.  The Lord whose Name is majestic in all the earth,[10] came down to earth to be lifted up from it.  Jesus explains, “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.”  This is what He came down from heaven for: to be lifted up in weakness, the humility of death.  The King of Heaven Himself was lifted up on the cross to save us lowly, sinful creatures.

            In our experience, those who are great don’t help the weak.  When we, who have comfortable homes and stable jobs, see someone who is homeless and unemployed, we turn our eyes away.  Some of their misfortune might rub off on us!  It might cause us to have to sacrifice some of our comfort to aid them in their suffering.  But praise the Lord, who is not miserly and selfish like we have been!  In 2 Corinthians 5, St. Paul writes, “For our sake He was made sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”[11]  The Holy God in human flesh became unholy and a sinner.  It was pure gift to us, who are unholy from our very hearts!

            Thinking of the Old Testament lesson, how was it that Isaiah could stand in the presence of God?  Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’”[12]   God’s holiness would have consumed Isaiah, yet with what came from the altar, his sin was atoned for.

Now, where did those coals on the altar come from?  Were they offered by us?  If this had been the altar of the Levitical priests, it would have been the remnant of the sin offering.[13]  No, those coals were of a sin offering which the Holy One Himself made on our behalf.  “So must the Son of Man be lifted up.”  And through that sacrifice alone can we stand before the face of the thrice-holy God.

The Transcendent One has come down so that we might be raised up.  He was raised up on the cross, “that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”  We like to boast about ourselves and our lives.  When we have a bad day, we feel better when we see others having a worse time.  But in truth, we are poor and needy, lowly, and afflicted.[14]  Our transgressions and the evils that happen to us bring us very low, sometimes even to the point of death.  But He who is Almighty is also merciful and compassionate toward us.  We have a great High Priest who is like us un every way, except without sin, one who invites us to draw near with boldness to the throne of grace (Hebrews 2, 4).  Thus, He comes to us, like the disciples on the mount of Transfiguration, touches us, and bids us to rise and have no fear.  “Your guilt is taken away; your sin atoned for.” (Isa. 6:7)

God has taken our humanity into Himself so that we would truly be raised up.  Jesus takes away the shame that covers us.  He heals our bodies and souls by His own wounds.  When death looms over us, we have eternal life though Him.  We live confident of all of this, hoping for the End of all things, when He will exalt us completely.

In that Day, we will still be creatures.  But we will be restored from the pitiful state we live in now.  The perishable will be raised imperishable, and we who are mortal will put on immortality.[15]  Our longing to be free of evil will at last be satisfied and all the faithful whom we have lost will be restored to us.             God is unknowable by human ability.  But God’s light shined in our darkness.  The Triune God made Himself known in the womb of the Virgin, in His human life from infancy to adulthood, in His passion and death, and gloriously in His resurrection and ascension.  He bore our death so that we might live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  “What if God was one of us?”  The glorious Son of God has made the Trinity known, in a way that we are left to cry out, “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:22)  The Lord God Jesus became one with us, and He has given us a share of His divine life.  So, we do indeed praise God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

[1] Rev. 1:8

[2] 1 Cor. 10:22

[3] Isaiah 55:8-9

[4] 2 Samuel 6:5-15

[5] Hebrews 12:29

[6] LSB 802, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”

[7] cf. Isaiah 6:5

[8] LSB 507:3

[9] John 1:14

[10] Psalm 8:1, 9

[11] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[12] Isaiah 6:6-7

[13] Lev. 4:10

[14] Psalm 70:5, 138:6, 69:29

[15] 1 Corinthians 15:42:57

The Feast of Pentecost

Readings: Genesis 11:1–9 | Acts 2:1-21 | John 14:23-31

Text: John 14:23-31

We often think of the Day of Pentecost in the past tense.  Around May 11 in the year 33 (or 29),[1]

“they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”[2]

That day, there were miraculous signs at which the people wondered.  Peter stood up and gave a miraculous, multi-lingual sermon, and that day 3,000 people believed and were baptized.  Such an event catches our attention, but nobody has seen it since.

Many Christians are misled by teachers who claim to recapture the wonders of that day.  They claim the Holy Spirit always causes people to speak in new tongues.  But as one pastor noted, it’s like children who get so distracted with the wrapping paper that they ignore the gift itself.[3]  The great miracles that accompanied Pentecost are just wrapping on the gift of multitudes believing in Jesus and being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.  So, the real center of Pentecost is not the impressive signs, but the last verse Peter quotes from the prophet Joel: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”[4]  That’s of course, why the selection for the Second Reading ends at that verse.

And if that’s the main point of Pentecost, it’s certainly not just a past event that we long for or try to recreate.  If you think about it, isn’t it interesting that the charismatic movement claims to recreate the events of Pentecost, even though this was the once-in-time birth of the Christian Church, but nobody thinks to recreate the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord, which was accomplished once for all.  The Holy Spirit is a very present help, because Pentecost is about the peace which the Holy Spirit delivers to souls from every nation.  To you, He brings the peace with God of your sins forgiven.

In fact, the Holy Spirit has always been God’s messenger of peace.  The newly formed creation fell through the unfaithfulness of Adam and Eve.  By just the 10th generation of the human race,[5] people had become so corrupt that God said, “I am sorry that I have made them.”  So God planned judgment against all of sinful humanity in the Flood, but “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”[6]  God showed mercy by delivering sinful Noah and his family from the “torrents of destruction.”[7]  The Lord called them into the safety of the ark while the rest of the unbelieving world was judged.  Then at the end of the flood, Noah sent out a dove.  At first, the dove returned because she “found no place to set her foot.”  But 7 days later, Noah sent the dove out again, and “behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf.  So, Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.”[8]  The dove returned as the messenger that God’s judgment was complete.  She proclaimed a new peace between God and man for all who believe.

Then there was the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (chapter 37).  “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.”[9]  They were the bones of sinful, dead people.  In their despair, they said, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.”[10]  They had fallen under God’s just condemnation.  But the Lord also said, “Why will you die, O house of Israel?  I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn and live”[11]  So the Lord commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath:  “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.”[12]  The breath of God, which is His Spirit, proclaimed peace and resurrection to those slain by sin.

Finally at the banks of the Jordan, the Spirit appeared again.  God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus, came to the river and was baptized by John.  “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.’”[13]  Just as the dove on the Ark announced the end of judgment, the Spirit announced the end of God’s wrath in His own beloved Son.  Just as the Spirit raised those dry, slain bones of sinners, the Spirit preaches peace and resurrection in Jesus, the Christ.

In the Gospel, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  In the scope of all time, Jesus was with us for a tiny fraction of that time, just over thirty years.[14]  If salvation only happened for Jesus’ contemporaries, all the people before and all of us after are lost.  But in that short period of time, Jesus accomplished foretold, everything necessary for the salvation of the world.  He was born and shares in our flesh, yet without sin.  He was perfect in His fear, love, and trust in God above all things and He perfectly loved His neighbor as Himself.  He was also the perfect atonement for our sins.  God raised Jesus from the dead, never to die again.  Finally, as true God and true Man, He ascended to God the Father to blaze our way to heaven, and serves as our heavenly High Priest.  All of that took place over the course of 33 years, but the results are eternal.

Just before the Gospel reading starts, in verse 16, Jesus tells His disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.”  The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is the one who draws people—past, present, and future—to call upon the Lord Jesus and be saved.  He does this through the powerful Word of God, which He “brought to the remembrance” of the Apostles.  In the Spirit, they wrote the New Testament as the trustworthy record of God’s Word.  Now, the same Spirit calls you to believe through the Scriptures.

And the Holy Spirit is more than simply a memory aid.  What the ESV translates as “Helper” is literally Paraclete—an Advocate, or Counselor.  Luther said this about the Spirit’s title:

[It] designates a person who acts as counsel for one who is accused or charged with some crime, and who in that capacity undertakes to defend him and win his case, to advise and aid him, and to admonish and encourage him as occasion may require.[15]

The Holy Spirit takes an active role in bringing the word of Christ to our minds and hearts.  And we desperately need His aid!  The devil, the world, and our flesh are also busy trying to make us forget Christ’s Word and substitute it with some man-made imitation.  Like the Catechism says, “God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature which do not want us to hallow God’s Name or let His kingdom come.” This work is not as simple as forgetting God’s Word.  The work of God’s enemies is so that we profane God’s Name by not taking Him at His Word and making the Gospel into a new burden.  Rather than, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (period),” they would have us add our own works to prove we’re genuine, true Christians.  In a dreadful wavering between doubt and pride, souls are harassed to think they have never truly achieved such a wondrous gift as being called children of God.  Instead of proclaiming the Gospel, as we hear Peter and the Apostles in the New Testament do, it’s always listening to that hissing accusation, “Yes, but are you really a Christian?  How many people have you told about Jesus?  How many hours did you spend reading the Bible this week?”  Sorry to say, even though this sounds like good guidance, and may come with plenty of Bible verses to recommend it, but actually it’s confusing the Gospel and turning it into a burden.  The Church and her children are born out of the preaching of the Gospel to the undeserving, the weak, the failures, the thoroughly sinful.  Out of that new birth comes the joy of salvation, the impetus to tell others of the great things God has done for you, the delight in His Word, the free spirit which loves to serve God and neighbor.  But the Gospel which the Holy Spirit proclaims is always Peace in Christ.

God the Holy Spirit comes to us in our weakness.  When the world and the devil call us unworthy, delusional hypocrites, the Holy Spirit preaches, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”[16]  When we see our sins washing over us, so that we think there’s no hope left for someone as awful as me, the Spirit consoles us with the words, 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[17]  So, the Spirit truly does advocate for us and counsel us with God’s living Word.

In the Spirit’s comfort, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  It is the peace which He gained for you by all of His work—His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and His coming again.  It is a peace beyond that of the world, because there is no perfect peace on earth.  Many have promised it, but none have delivered.  All of them are either failures or tyrants. If we look for that peace anywhere besides Jesus, we will always be left troubled. 

But your Lord gives you peace beyond the fleeting comforts of this world.  His peace stills all fear because your life now belongs to the eternal God who rules over all.  Are you troubled by what you’ve done or failed to do?  His blood covers all of your sins.  Are you afraid of what will happen in the future, or that you won’t be able to handle it?  Your days belong to His loving care[18] and there is “nothing in all creation that is able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”[19]

This is the peace which the Helper, the Holy Spirit gives to you.  The peace of God is yours through good and evil times, because it’s built on the sure foundation God only-begotten Son, given for you.  So, believing this Word of God, and His power at work through His Word, The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] 50 days after the traditional dating of Good Friday as March 25.  33 based on the length of Christ’s earthly life.  The date of His birth is debated because of calculation errors, and is likely to be 4 BC based on extra-biblical history.

[2] Acts 2:2-4

[3] Pastor Rolf Preus, Sermon for Pentecost 2012 –

[4] Acts 2:21, Joel 2:32

[5] Genesis 5:3-29

[6] Genesis 6:7-8

[7] Psalm 18:4

[8] Genesis 8:11

[9] Ezekiel 37:1-2

[10] verse 11

[11] Ezekiel 33:11

[12] Ezekiel 37:5

[13] Matthew 3:16-17

[14] Luke 3:23

[15] Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 3, p. 300 (ed. John Nicolas Lenker)

[16] Luke 19:10, Matthew 5:6

[17] Matthew 11:28-30

[18] Matthew 6:34

[19] Romans 8:31-39

Sunday after the Ascension

Exaudi – Answer

Readings: Ezekiel 36:22–28 | 1 Peter 4:7–11 | John 15:26—16:4

Text: John 15:26—16:4

From ancient times, this Sunday has been known as “Waiting Sunday”—the time in between the Lord’s Ascension into heaven, where they were commanded to wait for the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49)  But before His passion, the Lord gave this teaching to His disciples:

26 “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. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

The disciples are waiting for the Helper, the Paraclete, sometimes called the Advocate.  Why do they need an Advocate?  Because the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bear witness about Christ.

First, the Holy Spirit bears witness about Christ to the Apostles, the very first messengers of the Gospel.  These are the eyewitnesses who are sent:

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48) 

And that is what they did in their preaching, in the Evangelists who wrote the four Gospels, in the Epistles which they sent to the Churches, and the prophecy of encouragement and perseverance in John’s Apocalypse.  The Holy Spirit bore witness through the authors of the New Testament, which remains with us to this day.

This preaching of Christ’s death and resurrection, as God’s plan for the fulness of time, salvation for all people is what the Advocate empowered.  The Acts of the Apostles are replete with mentions that the Holy Spirit added to their numbers, and that,

“the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:31)

So it was for the succeeding generations after the Apostles, for the Holy Spirit would continue this work, for the Church is

“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.” (Eph. 2:20-22)

The witness to Christ would continue, based upon these genuinely inspired (Spirit-breathed) Scriptures of the Apostles.  That is how the true Church has continued down through the centuries.  It did not continue because of political power or ability for social control of populations, which is a mistake people often make when they think of Church history.  They see fallible human institutions, inquisitions, and abuses and conflate that with the work of the Holy Spirit.  Rather, the Holy Spirit’s witness continues despite human and diabolical opposition.

The witness of the Advocate continues into our own generation.  It is a necessary calling of all who know the true God by faith to also become witnesses, or martyrs, for Him.

And that brings us to the next thing Jesus says about the witness:

16:1 I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”

This witness of the Helper, the Holy Spirit, will be opposed.  This opposition started in the most unexpected of places—in the very synagogues where the God of Israel was supposed to be worshiped.  It’s sometimes imagined that the Christians broke away from the Jews because they wanted a fresh start without all those old vestiges.  But you can see in the Book of Acts that they do not want to leave the synagogue or the Temple:

“[Jesus] parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Luke 24:51-53)

That’s not the action of people who want to cut ties with their brothers.  They embraced the continuity between the faithful worship of Israel and the fulfillment in Christ.

But they were driven out of the synagogue, as Jesus had said, by those who “neither knew the Father, nor me.”  It was so intense that they even thought they were offering worship to God by putting what they considered heretics to death.  Yet, the witness of the Advocate continued.

It continued into the Middle Ages leading up to the Reformation.  The bulletin cover picture illustrates the execution of Jan Hus, a Bohemian church reformer who was burned at the stake in 1415 at the Council of Constance.  Hus had questioned papal authority, and campaigned to draw all doctrines from Holy Scripture alone.  But eerily, on July 6, 1415, after the High Mass and Liturgy—”the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God”—Hus was led out to be burned at the stake as a heretic.  This kind of opposition would sadly continue a hundred years later during the time of Martin Luther and the Reformation as we know it.

The witness to Christ, and the animosity continue in our own day, by those who “have not known the Father, nor me.”  This age may consider itself secular, but its fervor and zeal betray that it is actually very religious.  It’s just that they have a different god, a different “creation” narrative, different “redemption,” different “sins,” different “penance.”  This religion is the one which rules the scientific world and that of higher education.  By faith, they believe that the world was formed billions of years ago by impersonal, material forces.  They believe that human beings are the eventual successors of more successful animals, and taken to its logical conclusions, even exterminations like that attempted by Hitler really can’t be regarded as wrong.  After all, morals are a social construct, derived from our “selfish genes” [Richard Dawkins] who just want to survive to reproduce.  The sins of our day are closed-mindedness, holding to antiquated notions of gender differences, and failing to view the world through the lens of Karl Marx.  For such sins, you will not be burned at the stake, but you will become a target of varying degrees of retribution—as mild as losing your account on social media but potentially as much as violence against your worship service.  They will think they are offering an act of worship to their “god,” believing they will be “on the right side of history” marching toward the progress of the human race.  (At least, until a meteor comes and blows up the planet.)

By this point, you might be nearly as despondent as an atheist contemplating the afterlife.  But the Lord told us that we will be witnesses, or martyrs, about Him.  The Church is the witness of God’s love for a twisted human generation, and His power to save.

Hear how St. Peter teaches us to live in the Epistle:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace

We are witnesses with a blessed purpose: in order to show the love of God.  We do this by praying for this world and the people we know.  This is what it means that Christians are a Kingdom of priests, that you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5)  Christians are not just punching bags for the unbelieving world; they are emissaries of God’s salvation to the world, declaring that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (2 Cor. 5:19)  So, one of our God-given duties is to intercede for all people in prayer—even when they are hating us.  Remember the prayer of our Great High Priest when His enemies’ hatred was doing its worst, nailing Him to the cross. Yet He was there being offered as sacrifice for their sins, so He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

It’s with this love that we are to love even those who hate us: “love covers a multitude of sins.”  St. Peter is not saying that human love covers our sins in God’s eyes or that it overcomes death. Human love is not an atoning sacrifice. It does not reconcile us to God apart from Christ the mediator. No matter how deep and pure or even perfect human love might be it can only ever be a righteousness of the law and not of the Gospel. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s love in Christ for man, can truly promise and deliver reconciliation and righteousness. It does so when we believe that on account of Christ the Father is gracious to us. He gives to us the merits of Christ and counts them as our own. That is the foundation of our faith.

That is also the foundation of this love for the world, even when they hate us.  So, what has it been that has kept the Church, Jesus’ disciples conscious of their calling?  What has kept us in eager expectation, looking for our Savior’s return and the consummation of His promises?  Sunday after Sunday the faithful have gathered and remembered the words which He also spoke that night in the Upper Room:

“He took bread, and when He had given thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples and said, ‘This is My Body, given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.’ And He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, gave it to them saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the New Testament in My Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.’”

In this sacred meal, the faithful are fed with His forgiveness, His love which covers the multitude of our sins—our failure to love as He has loved us, our laxity in prayer, our insisting on our way rather than our Lord’s way.  And we once more encounter the immense love of God toward the undeserving.  He commanded us to do this in remembrance, not because our minds forget, but in order that the fruits of His sacrifice would be brought to the present.  If we don’t have His love for sinners, how can we do anything but show human forbearance and forgetfulness?  But when we have the pledge of God’s grace in Christ on our tongues, then we are well-equipped to be His priests, His ambassadors to a world that has tragically watered down love to a parody of what God shows it to be.

In our waiting for our Savior to return, we are not left without Comfort.  We are far from being left without what we need to live out the life and the vocations God has assigned us:

10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Rogate ~ Ask

Readings: Numbers 21:4–9 | James 1:22–27 | John 16:23–33

Text: John 16:23-33

This Sunday differs from the other ones in Easter, with the Latin names that we’ve been seeing, Quasimodo Geniti and Jubilate and things like that, because in this one it doesn’t come from the first verse of the Introit. It actually comes from a word in the Gospel that Jesus says several times Rogate, or ask.

This word runs all through the lesson. Just listen to the first 2 verses: “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you whatever you ask of the father in my name. He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive that your joy may be full.”

So what does it mean to ask?

First of all, I think, as I was mentioning to the children during the Children’s Catechism lesson that the word pray is actually just a fancy word for ask. Just ask. It happens to be in in usage in Christendom that it has come to mean that you are offering a petition to our God. Because it is a prayer to God, it often takes on this this aura of asking petitions of a more powerful human party. Like when you’re at the DMV and you need to ask them to take something off of your record. It’s something you’re not really sure that you’re going to get.

Then, you combine that with the centuries of Christian history and a lot of baggage has been added to the act of asking God, and sometimes we might even become intimidated because of written prayers like the Collect of the Day. The formulated Collect of the day is no better than the prayers of any Christian. The only difference is that it’s written out in a systematic way.

Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give it to you.”

So what does it mean to ask specifically in Jesus’ name?

Unfortunately, “in Jesus name” is often taken to be a stamp of approval or the prayer is ending, a magic formula. I asked in Jesus name, so I should expect whatever my heart desires! How come God didn’t give me a Mercedes?

Asking in his name is actually much simpler than we think. It simply is the same thing as being in Christ in his Name is to live in His baptismal promise to you as a New Testament Christian. It is a reminder of whose we are, of who God has made us to be—His children! How He has adopted us in the waters of Baptism, when He put His Name on us. We bear the Name of God as adopted children through Jesus Christ.

So as his beloved children, we come to him asking him in that family name that God has given us.

To pray in his name is to ask under the shelter of the cross (so to speak) under the death and resurrection of Jesus because Paul teaches that we are baptized into his death and his resurrection (Romans 6:3-4).

Jesus continues, “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly about the Father.”

In that hour, He will not be speaking in proverbs or parables as he did for those outside of the church, or as he did for the disciples in the Upper Room. He will show them plainly what God the Father is up to. His passion is the hour where He showed the Father to us plainly was not a proverb or a parable, but it’s where the Father offers up His only-begotten Son to reconcile the world to himself, to adopt sinners like you and me into his family, to draw sons and daughters to himself through faith. That is where we see God pulling back the curtain so that we can see his heart.

What can we ask the Father in Jesus name, in that baptismal Name He gave us?

First of all, just to be clear, we do address prayers to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit and all of them are right. We have been given, that name of the Trinity, and while each Person may have a unique work and relationship to the others, the unity of the One God remains.

As far as what to ask, here it’s helpful to understand there’s two kinds of asking and I made reference to it with the with the children. In the original Greek, there are two different words translated “ask”– ἐρωτάω (ero-TAH-oh) and αἰτέω (ay-TEH-oh). In the first verse of the gospel lesson, “In that day you will ἐρωτάω nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you αἰτέω of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”

ἐρωτάω is to request someone where the outcome is uncertain. There’s not a guarantee that they’re going to do what you asked. For example, in Luke 7, “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.” (Luke 7:36)

But αἰτέω has a completely different expectancy to it. It is where you were asking someone with the promise that, or the reasonable expectation that they are going to do what you have asked. An example that I’ve heard of this is where you go to the bank, not today ’cause they’re closed, but say you go to the bank tomorrow and you ask for money from your account, you would expect that they would give it to you. In Luke 11, Jesus gives an example of this asking: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-12)

The asking that Jesus is saying about prayer is this later one. You’re not trying to convince the Sovereign Lord on High of your puny petition. You are just like Luther taught us in the Small Catechism asking as dear children ask their dear father. And that’s why Jesus emphasizes it by saying in verse 26 and 27, “In that day, you will ask in my name, and I do not say that I will ask the father on your behalf, for the father himself loves you. Because you have loved me and had believed that I came from God.”

Faith is at work in you who believe. Back to this promise of Jesus, “truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the father in my name, he will give it to you.”

That could be very broad. It could be misunderstood if it comes unhinged from who God has revealed Himself to be. He is not the heavenly sugar daddy who gives us whatever our spoiled heart’s desire. No, what we are able to ask is everything according to what God has revealed, He made his desire and his disposition to hear us clear on the cross: He desires all to be saved. He desires to care for his children. He desires to take care of every earthly need that we have.

But we shouldn’t ask and can’t expect that he’s going to do something contrary to his will. This is why it’s wrong for us to say God d*** you. We shouldn’t say something like that. It’s not our place because it’s not God’s will, but it would be better for us (as those who justly deserve to be damned), to instead say “God save you” or “God have mercy on you.”

Even though it just doesn’t satisfy that that intensity we have when we’re flying off the handle. Remember last week’s lesson from James (James 1:16-21) where he says, “the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.”  Thanks be to God that he’s put his anger away in His Son.

We can ask for God’s help in every need we can ask even in times where we are tempted. We cannot ask for something that is completely against his will, but we can ask, when we see that we are being tempted to break his commandments, we should by all means pray for His help! “Call on me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15)  We can also ask for someone else who is being tempted, “Brothers, if you see anyone who is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)  We can ask for forgiveness when we have failed, and we can trust that he answers our prayers. We can ask for justice to be carried out for him to save people.

We are free to ask for anything in the faith that he has given us, from the inconsequential to the profound. Faith receives abundantly: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16)

The Lord has already given us a starting place: The Our Father (Lord’s Prayer) is a great place to start.

It’s not something that’s meant to be thoughtlessly rattled off, but something that Jesus has given us to ponder daily. These are things that he teaches us to ask for and to expect from God.

That his name would be hallowed, that we would live lives that reflect that name that he has given to us, that we would reflect Christian lives. And that he would have mercy on us when we fail, where we fail to do that. That his Kingdom would come is the prayer of the church in in our day, where numerically it is declining. We pray that his Kingdom would come because we see more of the population of the Earth going the way of their own delusions. We pray for his will to be done, trusting that it’s not our own wisdom and learning our own powers that are going to go the best way, but we entrust those things to our Heavenly Father. We ask him to provide for all of our needs that we ask him to not only forgive us, but enable us daily to forgive those who have wronged us. We ask to be protected against temptation and more on that when we get to the end of the text and that. Finally, we ask to be delivered from every evil that we suffer day to day, and the evil of everlasting death. All of these things Jesus has taught us to ask for because God has promised to answer us in those needs.

Another place than Scripture that is so valuable is in the Psalms. The Psalms are filled with every manner of prayer. Every situation that a Christian will find themselves in is in the Psalter, all 150 Psalms. If you just want the brief tour, I’d recommend looking at the prayers in Responsive Prayer 2, page 285 in the hymnal.

There are things that can prevent us from asking, from praying. “I don’t know if I’ll say the right words!” We could feel unworthy to ask for such great things (and we are, but He has offered them!) 

We could be distracted, and often are. Our minds are like kittens. They can go crazy. Our thoughts can be so busy when we have a moment to pray. (Speaking from experience) You quietly fold your hands and close your eyes to take away the distractions and keep your hands from doing the million things on your To Do List. And what do you do? You obsess or you plan, or you think about all the things that you failed at this or that. That’s not prayer; that’s worry. So, there are many things that can distract us from prayer.

But the Lord has given us his Holy Spirit to keep us asking, to keep us focused on Him and His work, and so the things that encourage us in our prayers that don’t have to be formatted, they don’t have to be any more than, “Lord, have mercy.”  He has adopted us as his children, so we should picture him being on the edge of our edge of his seat to hear from us whenever we put our feeble trust in him. He’s commanded us several times in these verses to ask him, and he’s promised to hear every single last request, even those prayers that don’t even have words.

In the last part of the reading today reminds us of what we will be driven, what will drive us to prayer?

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise to us when bad things happen. Jesus has said that it will happen. Our own experiences have shown that it will happen. But the thing that is unique for the children of God is that we have a Father in heaven, who has promised to hear us in our tribulation and who has promised to love us, save us, protect us, and deliver us! We have an Almighty Father who has given His Son nailed to the cross and raised from the dead is the guarantee that he will answer every request of his children. As St. Paul writes in Romans 8, “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32)

So don’t be intimidated by the word “prayer.”  Be encouraged to talk to your Heavenly Father constantly in your heart, inwardly, in public, wherever it is. Asking him in faith, trusting His Word, where he has shown you what you can ask for and expect from him, and he will surely do it.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Cantate – Sing

Readings: Isaiah 12:1–6 | James 1:16–21 | John 16:5–15

Text: James 1:16-21

The text is the epistle reading which we’ve heard where Saint James teaches the church, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Over the past two years, and especially at various times before that, trust in various institutions and occupations has been greatly challenged.

Since the pandemic, we have lost our trust and our patience with one another and with businesses, with governments, with scientists, with media outlets.  And if we had trouble trusting them before the last two years, have only made it worse.

What this has done for us as Christians is that it has exposed—actually for all of society, I should say—is that it’s exposed our many idols.  It has reminded us of the fact that we should not “put our trust in princes in a son of man in whom there is no salvation.” (Ps. 146:3)  But, that we should fear, love and trust in God above all things, and any human agents that God appoints, are just as human as we are.

But that problem of trust, and that fear of being deceived can even creep into the church. It can be tested by greed, by pastoral abuse, by affairs that pastors fall into, or infighting within the church.  All of these things can lead us to conclude, even with people like Joseph Smith, “Which church should I join?”

In the midst of this human bog of deceit and changing opinions, God speaks. God does not lie. There is one place where we will never be deceived, and that is in His holy word.

There in the word of God, it’s like a sanctuary, a sanctuary from all the failures of the world of other people, and even of ourselves in the ways that we have been deceived and misled, even if it wasn’t into great shame and vice.  Even the little ones are enough.

His Word will never mislead us. It will never deceive us even if Satan should take portions of it and cherry pick it as he did in the wilderness [Matt. 4:1-11] when he tempted our Lord with the words of Psalm 91 but conveniently left out the part about, “guarding you in all your ways.”  God’s word will not mislead us, and it’s for that purpose he has given us his Holy Spirit so that we know him who is true. We know His Word. That is true.

And so, if there is one place in this world of disappointment and lies and deceit and just plain ignorance, we should be glad that there is one place where we can go a rock to which we can continually come where we will be fed, where we will drink pure spiritual milk of God’s word. How much should we delight in it and take this word to heart!  Especially when we’re disheartened by the things that we hear from scientists, from governments, from the media, and any other deceit, including any human.

“Do not be lead astray” is one of those chief aims of the Church.  The words that the Holy Spirit inspired James to write here are a letter to the church.

And while we have the word of God written for us, we are also sheep who are so easily lead astray.

1839 Methodist Camp Meeting

The past several months we’ve been studying several Restorationist movements of the 19th century, and in each of those movements there seems to be a common theme that they want to “just get back to the Bible.”  Whether it was Barton Stone wanting to just have no creed but the Bible, many were trying to boil things down to the word of God, but they ended up going in such a strange direction. Even William Miller, who many people followed, ended up giving birth to a number of other groups that reacted based on his false prediction of the end of the world.

But the Lord knows the needs of his sheep, and so he actually—in the midst of this potential mess of human teachers who could get the word wrong—and by the guidance of his Holy Spirit He does keep his sheep.  He tends them and nourishes them.  He leads them to the waters of eternal life.  What a paradox this is, that God uses men who are also fallible to accomplish this, entrusted with His Holy Word, so that by His Holy Spirit’s aid, we are not led into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.  God has preserved his church as he promised to [Matt. 16:18].

James continues, “Of His own will, he brought us forth by the Word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

God has done that through his word.  He’s done that through his word in the 20th and 21st centuries just as much as he did in the 1st century.  Lest you think that our church today has more problems and more heresies, just read the book of Acts. Just read the annals of the early church and all of the heresies that they had to stamp out, which are refuted in the Nicene Creed.

But for our part, because it is the word of truth that gives us birth, we can be confident that our birth is from above.  It is from God. It is not just someone’s idea. It’s not that we’re holding to an antiquated idea or holding to some tradition, trying to hold with all of our might to see that it’s passed down to the next generation. This is God’s work. God worked through his word through the Holy Spirit whom Jesus has sent to his church.

And so, there’s also a reminder there because we are born of this word of truth that we have been brought forth, we have been birthed birth from above as Jesus taught Nicodemus in John 3:1-8.  The opposite of that is that we ourselves do it.  How can anyone give birth to himself?  It’s absurd.

It is not our strength. It is not our wisdom or our works that can save ourselves or others. Today, the church is troubled by many notions that it is just a human idea, and if other human philosophies come in, if wokeism is given free rein to our children or in our institutions.  Several years ago, I watched in a video from Bill Nye the Science Guy that stated he believed that Christianity will probably fade out in the next 100 years.  This view is held by many of the neo-atheists.

But the Gospel of our salvation is not a human work. It is not human effort that preserves the church. It is Jesus work, and so we hold to this.  We hold that it is not our works that save.  As Protestant Christians we say, “Of course our works don’t save.”  But sadly, I think that because we live in a time when Christianity is challenged by the wider culture and those who hold to the word of God have to work harder to hold to it, we think that something we must do—some business model, some clever explanation, some the next silver bullet, so to speak—is going to win the world for God.

And so, in light of that, James continues to say, “Know this my beloved brothers, let every person be quick to hear, slow, to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Sadly, we are very quick to speak, especially in our day when we have so many different platforms upon which to speak.  We’re happy to lend our opinion and our wisdom. But as Peter was reminded on the Mount of Transfiguration, there is a time to speak and a time to be silent [Ecclesiastes 3:7]: “[Peter] was still speaking when behold a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud said, this is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” (Matt. 17:5)

Man is all too happy to lend his opinion of the situation to lend his fixes.  God is the one who needs to speak to us first, and constantly, because of that tendency for us to be lead astray.

But another way that we try to help God out is by using the way that gets results on earth: the way of anger.  You know what’s really going to help Christ mission? A little manipulation, a little turning the screws, yelling at people will get results.

But this is not the way of God. Again, because the church is not a human institution, not a human idea. The gospel is not something that was cooked up by people in the 1st century.

God works righteousness through his word, and so Saint Paul writes to the Corinthians in his second book, Chapter 4, “But we have renounced, disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word. But by the open statement of the truth, we would commend ourselves to everyone, conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Cor. 4:2)

Wouldn’t it be easier if we did use the ways of the world?  Maybe the pews would be more packed.  They certainly seem to be at churches that turn God’s word into something else that it’s not, something that appeals to the current culture.

James writes to us in light of the fact that we are not to be deceived into thinking that the righteousness of God comes from us.  It comes from above from the father who does not lie or deceive.

He says, therefore, for our part, “Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

The Lord’s instruction here is to turn our back on our old Adam, the sinful flesh that clings to us. Our sinful flesh doesn’t die easily.  It says back to God, “But I had such a good idea! Oh, I had such good intentions.  Doesn’t that make sense?” But God calls that evil. He says, as Saint Paul writes, “Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you.”–lumping our ‘good intentions together with–“sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these things, the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked when you were living in them, but now you must put them all away.”

A Christian faith that is ruled by human error by the deceit of the devil by man, working by man fervent effort, is liable to fall because it has given up hoping in God to do his work, and thinks that somehow, someway, we do something or do all of it. But such a faith turns out to merely be a construct, a so-called theology.  What you will find under the surface is that rampant wickedness that filthiness and call it “freedom in the Gospel.”

Even if we find this at work in us, urging us on toward these things that “make sense” and give us what our itching ears want to hear, they only lead us to death. They will deceive us. But the Lord’s work in us is to put all of that away from us away from us. He puts our old Adam to death.

And then—only then—are we ready for the Lord to be the only one who can save us.  He is the only one who can sustain his church.  The only one who can help parents train their children in the way of the Lord, so that his testimonies are proclaimed from generation to generation.

So, if this is what the Lord says that He will do it for those who are not deceived, how do you explain the state of the church today?  One way to explain it is, of course, the unbelief that is well at work in people’s hearts and in the world.  The Lord tells us that his word is going to accomplish his work. But what do we see in churches?  That those who actually faithfully hold to his word seem to be on the verge of failure.  Why is it that the Orthodox churches are the ones that are struggling?  The ones that are small, the ones that have trouble supporting a pastor?

This is what leads people into the ideas that we need new measures.  Incidentally, it was tried in the mid-1800s when the LCMS was founded, when people who called themselves Lutheran were calling for doctrine that was more appealing to the American religious scene—rewrite that dusty, old Augsburg Confession, minimize baptismal regeneration, downplay the bodily presence of Christ in the Sacrament.

The idea that the church which is faithful to the unchanging word of God is a failure, is a lie of the devil.  And the reason that he uses that tactic is because we should be faithful to the word. We should devote ourselves and pore over God’s word. But, if the devil can convince us that the word is not enough, then he can easily offer counterfeit alternatives.

But where does that leave us?  It leaves us as the people of God in a place of lament.  WE have remained faithful to the word of God. We have desired this for ourselves and for our children. Yet what we see around us is contrary to that, as if we were on the wrong path.

But it also leaves us hating the world lies hating what the devil and our sinful flesh have done to ourselves and to those we love.  Yet over all of this strife, we continue trusting that God’s word is true and powerful to do what God says.

And so I’d like to close today’s sermon with praying Psalm 44 together.  It’s a Psalm of lament.  We’re going to pray it as a prayer for Christ’s Church in our day:

1O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old:
2you with your own hand drove out the nations, but them you planted; you afflicted the peoples, but them you set free;
3for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them.
4You are my King, O God; ordain salvation for Jacob!
5Through you we push down our foes; through your name we tread down those who rise up against us.
6For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me.
7But you have saved us from our foes and have put to shame those who hate us.
8In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name forever. Selah
9But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies.
10You have made us turn back from the foe, and those who hate us have gotten spoil.
11You have made us like sheep for slaughter and have scattered us among the nations.
12You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them.
13You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us.
14You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples.
15All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face
16at the sound of the taunter and reviler, at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.
17All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant.
18Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way;
19yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death.
20If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
21would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.
22Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
23Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
24Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
25For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground.
26Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!

And we can trust that God hears the cry of his faithful people.  Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Jubilate)

Readings: Isaiah 40:25–31 | 1 Peter 2:11–20 | John 16:16-22

Text: John 16:16-22

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

There is a caricature of Christianity that says because Christ is risen, we should always be happy, always be looking up, and seeing the bright side of everything.  It’s backed up by dreadful platitudes like, “God has a plan.” And “He never gives you more than you can handle.” This is a deadly lie, because it is dishonest both to our Lord and His suffering, and because it is woefully out of touch with reality.

Yes, Jesus has won salvation for us and forgives our sins, but He has not yet moved us to paradise. St. Paul teaches us to rejoice always, but also to endure suffering. We know that Jesus lives. But the cross we bear is unavoidably real.

This is the lesson our forefathers in the faith have taught us. Adam and Eve had sorrows even after they were spared death and nakedness by God’s intervention and promise; they had to bury their son, Abel. King David had sorrows and horrible consequences for his sins, even after he received the absolution from the prophet, Nathan. His first son by Bathsheba still dies. Even after the events of Easter, the personal appearances of Jesus, the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the apostles still had many sorrows.  Despite that comment Jesus made to Peter, ““If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” John had to carry on the apostolic ministry after all the others had died.

We have sorrows even after Baptism—and the more we bear the Name of Christ and strive to live by His Word, the more we will be attacked and hated by this world’s prince. Jesus predicted this He said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”  He told us this ahead of time, so it would not be a shock.

The salvation which our Lord Jesus won for us is real.  We are not saying a platitude to affirm that Christ is risen. I know that my Redeemer lives, what comfort that sweet sentence gives.  This truth gives us joy now. It changes us and puts all the world into perspective.  It’s far from being the once-and-done solution we wish it would be, but it’s what St. Paul describes to us in Romans 5:

“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” (Rom. 5:1-5)

But this salvation is not fully realized before the Christ’s return. Until that Day, we have sorrows and our faith waits for the fullness to come.

These sorrows come upon us simply from living in this broken and unjust world. Misfortune and tragedy happen to us and to our loved ones. We are often victims of injustice at the hands of the powerful and sometimes even at the hands of our friends and families. We cry out to God and ask why this happens, but He does not give us that answer.  Rather, we all go the way of the cross—“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)  The disciple is not above his teacher [Matt. 10:24-25].  Yet, unlike our Teacher, we are not completely innocent. We complicate these sorrows by our sinful choices and our reactions to what God allows or sends. The old man in us is not yet fully crushed. We act in anger, pride, short-sightedness, and selfishness that is not from our heavenly Father, but is as James says, “is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (James 1:15)  None of us is a completely innocent victim.

Our Lord compares all of this to a woman in labor.

21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.

His primary point is that our suffering is temporary. The reward of eternal life with Him which follows our suffering will be so great and joyous that we will forget, in a sense, the suffering which we endured. St. Paul makes the same point when he says “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)  He goes on there to explain how the creation is subject to futility, groaning the day when Christ returns.

There is also a hint in our Lord’s illustration of childbirth that our suffering is a consequence of our sins. It is a holy chastisement from our Father. The pain and danger of labor is the explicit a punishment and consequence for Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden:

“And 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 heel.” To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:15-16)

The pain and danger of childbirth are a curse upon us. Yet human birth under the Law is the means by which God became a Man for us and saved us—“Yet she will be saved through childbearing,” the Apostle says to all of Eve’s daughters (1 Tim. 2:15). Our Lord Jesus Christ is that Seed of Eve, born of Mary under the Law, with sorrow and pain. His heel was bruised by Satan on the cross until all of the Father’s wrath was appeased and every last accusation of Satan against us disappeared from his mouth and death itself lost its sting.

Only when all of the Law had been completed, did our Lord say, “It is finished” (John 19:30) and so it was. There was no more ransom left to pay, no more that needed to be done to Satan to pry us loose from the strong man’s house. Jesus then submitted to death in obedience to His Father. His Body and His Soul were rent apart. Then, on the third day, He rose again. Even what men in this evil and unjust world had done, God worked for good. The curse of the Law in labor led to the Gospel of peace in resurrection.

Mary, the blessed Virgin and mother of our Lord, is the prime example to us of faith. The angel Gabriel foretells her honor by God, an honor that will bring pain and shame among men. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” In response she says, “Let it be to me according to your Word.” (Luke 1:27-38). She accepts the honor and willingly bears the burden. She is the most blessed of women, and even still, as Simeon said after the Nunc Dimittis, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” (Luke 2:35)  Mary must watch her innocent Son be brutalized and slandered and killed in the most horrific way imaginable. She has sorrow. Then she sees Him again. He rises. But again, His visible presence is removed from her and He ascends to the Father. Until she is transferred to glory, Mary gets her Son no differently than we do. She has Him by His promise in His Word and in the breaking of the bread. Until God delivers her from every evil of body and soul, she must wait, she must live in this evil place, in the midst of sorrow, by faith, learning to rejoice in all things.

And so it goes for us as well.  We are truly children of God, born from above in the Baptismal waters, and forgiven of all our sins.  In this, and all of God’s promises, we rejoice always. Yet we also have sorrows now. Our sins deserve punishment, and our flesh will fight against the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. In all this, Christ’s grace is sufficient. We endure all this in faith, hopeful and expectant. We look to His Word for comfort and we look for His return in glory when we will be complete, when our hearts will rejoice and our joy no one will take from us.

Because of this, Christians have a much better reason to celebrate Mother’s Day.  It’s far more than a celebration of human achievement. After all, we know the frailty of that—the broken ties, wombs that cannot bear, and children who have been taken by death.  No, far greater than a celebration of motherhood under the Law and death, we rejoice in the fruit of Mary’s womb.  For by Him, all of you have the gift of eternal life.  You have the joy which no one can take from you. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Third Sunday of Easter (Misericordias domini)

Readings: Ezekiel 34:11–16 | 1 Peter 2:21–25 | John 10:11-16

Text: John 10:11-16

The Lord Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  This Sunday in the Church year has come to be known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.”  So, let’s to dig deeper into what this statement of Jesus means.  Let us not just pass over this, and adopt a picture of Jesus that spends the day nuzzling cute little sheep.

I. “I am” – Greek: ego eimi

Jesus is saying that He is true God, together with all that implies.  John’s Gospel is known for seven such “I am” statements.  This is more than your typical metaphor.  It goes back to way God revealed Himself to His people of old.  Most notably, with Moses in Exodus 3, we read:

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

The translation which we see in our Bibles, “the Lord” (small caps) is the Hebrew traditional way to render this covenant Name of God, “I am” (especially see Gen. 2:4 creation, Ex. 13:21 deliverance)  It means that this is the living God; the God who is without any qualifiers, who created all things ex nihilo (out of nothing, John 1:3), and He depends on no other.

It’s not apparent from the English, but this is why Jesus gets into such hot water with the Jews in John 8.  If He were nothing more than a raving lunatic, saying He lived before Abraham, they could have overlooked that.  But He says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am…[and] before Abraham existed, I am.” (John 8:28, 8:58)  He is saying that He is truly God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

II. “Good” – Greek: kalos

The word “good” gets thrown around like an old t-shirt in our day.  “How are you?” “I’m good.”  Jesus caught the rich young man off guard when He replied to the address, “Good Teacher” in Mark 10 by responding, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:17-18)  Well, when you put it that way, it contracts all our measure of good against the “gold standard” which is God Himself.  So also here in the Gospel:

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Since Jesus is the Lord, the “I am,” we should also recall in creation where the Lord God saw what He made and said, “It is good.” (Gen. 1:10 ff.)  But to teach us what this means in action, He contrast what the good Shepherd does compared the hireling.  There’s no personal stake in the sheep’s welfare for the hireling; they are not his sheep, and if they perish, he’ll simply move on to another gig.

Also, lest we think “good” is talking about the quality of His shepherding, what actual shepherd, seeking a livelihood, would lay down his life for the sheep?  This is not a lesson in how to successfully make a living by owning sheep.  If anything it’s the sheep who ought to be shorn and to die so the shepherd and his family have something to wear and eat.

But that is the stark difference with the Good Shepherd, who is Himself God. And this is what God the Shepherd does: “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” (Ezek. 34:11-13)

III. “Shepherd” – Greek: poimein, pastor

God makes clear His definition of a shepherd.  It’s something like David, who wrote the inspired Psalm 23, which we prayed today.  It’s much more than what the spiritual leaders were doing which occasioned the strong rebuke in Ezekiel 34.  It’s more than any person could claim, for, as Isaiah and Peter said, For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Pet. 2:25)  Only this Good Shepherd, true God and true man can fully fit the bill.  All others are flawed reflections at best.

But, then why do we use the word, “Pastor,” (which is simply Latin for shepherd) to address those men whom the Lord calls to His service?  Having anyone call you “pastor” s hould make you quake in your boots.  I could take a cue from the Lord and say, “Why do you call me pastor? There is no shepherd but Jesus alone.”

Here to wrap up the discussion of the Good Shepherd, it’s beneficial and necessary to understand the similarities and the differences between the Good Shepherd and those who come in His Name.

Thankfully Scripture does give us other ways to conceive of this office.  Jesus in Luke 12 and St. Paul in 1 Corinthains 4 compare the pastoral office to that of a steward who is in charge of the household: Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” (Luke 12:42-43) and “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” (1 Cor. 4:1-2)  The holy things don’t belong to the steward at all, but to Christ.  In both passages, the measure is not how “nice” or “personable” or “clever” he is, but “faithful” to His Master.

This past week at both our Synod’s seminaries, 101 candidates [45 from Fort Wayne and 56 from St. Louis] for the pastoral office received calls into the Lord’s harvest.  This is an exceeding gift for so many men to be willing, well-equipped, and tested to tend the Lord’s flock.  It’s a tradition, at least at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, is for the seminary president to send the candidates off with this charge:

“Go, then. Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with his own blood. [Acts 20:28] Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being an example to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. [1 Pet. 5:2-4]

The Lord bless thee from on high, and make thee a blessing unto many, that thou mayest bring forth fruit, and that thy fruit may remain unto eternal life. [John 15:16] Amen.”[1]

“Amen,” because we can only but trust that God will accomplish what He has promised to do through the Office of the Holy Ministry.  Here, the portion of 1 Peter gives another description of the shepherding office: Feeding the flock, overseeing their welfare, willingly devoting yourself to God’s heritage and—though they themselves are just as thoroughly a sinner—being an example above reproach.  Their commendation comes not from the praise of men who call them reverend or gush over their sermons, but from the Chief Shepherd (Archshepherd, literally).  Because of this, many use the term, “Undershepherd,” but it’s a little clunky for daily use.

Jesus alone is the One who lays down His life for the sheep, and requires nothing in return.  He relies on nothing from the sheep to accomplish this work.  But, the men who serve Him do.  These men and their families have to eat, and so, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” and the laborer deserves his wages” (1 Cor. 9:14, Luke 10:7).

They need their own Sabbath rest, sleep, and time off.  These undershepherds also have other vocations—that of husband, father, son and brother.  These vocations cannot be neglected any more than they can in any Christian’s life.  But of the Good Shepherd, we can be sure from Psalm 121, “Behold, He who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.” (Ps. 121:4)  Only our Immanuel can promise, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)

The undershepherds are also, every one of them, fallible men.  They serve a Church which is comprised of fallible people.  This Church together is gathered around Christ, who washes these servants and the flock they serve in His holy, precious blood.  These undershepherds will have faults, they will need to recant of things they’ve said in error, repent of their vanity, apologize for their hot temper, and so on (just think of the example of Peter).  And yet the Lord has been pleased throughout time to accomplish His work through sinful servants.  It is a proof of His power and goodness that He shepherds His people though wicked men. 

Imagine this!  That with this ordering of the Church in mind—with Peter standing right before Him—that He would say, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:18-19)  What treasures are handled by human hands, and what potential there is for abuse and corruption.  But what an Almighty Good Shepherd we have, that He, who laid down His life for His sheep, would continue to enlarge His fold in our midst:

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.


Second Sunday of Easter (Quasimodo Geniti)

Readings: Ezekiel 37:1–14 | 1 John 5:4–10 | John 20:19-31

Text: John 20:19-31

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Everything in the Bible from cover to cover hinges on Jesus Christ.  Without knowing His birth, His life, His suffering, His death, and His resurrection, the Bible never quite adds up.  From the creation and promised redemption of the first man and woman, to the countless multitude who forever stands around the throne of God, everything depends on what God has done for His human creatures in Christ.

Because of this, what God tells us in the Bible is positively the most important thing for all people to know.  Everyone is a descendent of Adam and Eve, and all are corrupted by the same sin.  And just as all became sinners through Adam, Jesus Christ is the Savior of all [Romans 5:12-14].  When the Father sent His Son into the world, it was not to help just a select group of people; He has loved every person He has made.  Therefore, the blood of Jesus was shed for every single person.

When Jesus rises on that “first day of the week,” this is the message He announces.  Every one of His disciples who saw Him preach and teach, suffer and die, He encounters with the outcome of His suffering and death: Peace.  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15)and that is exactly what He sets out to do with the marks in His hands and feet, and the spear mark in His side.  He goes out proclaiming to the sons of Adam that the gate to paradise has been flung open for them!  The seal of the grave has been burst!  He has conquered sin and death!  For everyone who believes in Him, sin and death are powerless, empty forms of their former tyranny.

This is the glorious news proclaimed in verse 23: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  To every sinner who feels their guilt and the weight of God’s anger against their sin, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.”  But to everyone who thinks himself better than lost and condemned person, who answers back to God, You fool, you don’t know what you’re saying!, this person has no forgiveness and no peace with God.  They remain in their sins and the wrath of God burns against them, because they have despised the very One who freely takes their sin away.  Yet, even if that is the case, it is still in God’s heart that such a person turn from their hard heartedness and live!

Jesus lives to breathe life back into to sinners.  When God first made mankind, Genesis 2 tells us, “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”3  God’s breath (which is His Spirit[1]), gave that dust a soul and made him a living being.  This is why we confess in the Creed that the Holy Spirit to be “the Lord and Giver of Life.”

But when these souls, Adam and Eve, turned away from God, they asphyxiated themselves from the life He had given them.  Their first reaction was to cover their shame with their own work of fig leaves and hide from God among trees.  Flash forward to the Upper Room on Easter evening. “The doors [were] locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews.”  They were afraid, so they hid themselves—not just from Jesus enemies, but from God Himself because they all had all betrayed Him by what they had done and left undone.  And there’s Thomas too, who made his ultimatum that he would only believe in a Savior he himself could see and touch.

It’s the same thing that we are quick to do when we know we’ve done wrong.  We hide ourselves away from God, even though we probably wouldn’t call it that.  We lock ourselves away behind the diversions of life like our job, or shopping, or countless things we take pleasure in that keep us from having to look at it.  But in our guilt-ridden state, we also—like Thomas—refuse to believe the messengers the Lord sends to bring peace.

This is the double tragedy of our sin.  First, that when we know we’ve sinned, we hide ourselves and try to cover up our mess.  We use our God-given reason and ability to either patch up or ignore our guilt before God.  Second, by trying to deal with our sins ourselves, we show how broken our trust in God is.

But God would not have us stay in this tragic state.  The risen Christ passed through the stone that blocked the entrance of the tomb.  Despite the locked doors, He appeared in the midst of His frightened disciples.  Perhaps even more amazing is when the walls of the hard human heart are penetrated by Him.  Yet, He does not force anyone to believe.

The eleven disciples, less Thomas, stood locked away in the Upper Room.  They would hear no strange message from the women.  They were perplexed at what they had seen at His tomb.  They were each ashamed of their part in His death, and they were afraid they would suffer the same as their Lord.  Into the prison of sin they had locked themselves in, Jesus enters.  He stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Through locked doors and numb hearts, the Lord brought them what they needed most.  They needed exactly what He had gained for them by His death and resurrection.  He gave them the only thing which could truly deal with their sins—the peace of God.

This is the same way He comes to us, when we are guilt-ridden, doubting, and hopeless.  Our reaction to our sin and the evil around us is to shut out everything but our own voice and that of the devil:  You’ve failed!  You deserve to be punished!  How could you even think of being in heaven?  Heaven is for good people.  But into that spiritual nightmare, Jesus enters.  He stands in your midst—even here today.  He brings you exactly what you need to answer those pangs of guilt and silence their voice.  He gives you the fruits of His passion and resurrection.  He gives you forgiveness for all of your sins and He raises you from death to live with Him.  And He does this by speaking.

In the beginning, the Holy Spirit breathed life into Adam so He became a living being.  But since we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, we need to be breathed into again.  In the Old Testament lesson, Ezekiel saw the valley of dry bones, and how the breath of the Lord made the slain ones live.  The risen Lord Jesus brings that vision to reality when He says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  The Holy Spirit breathes new life into the dying, burdened souls of Jesus’ disciples through the Word of forgiveness.

St. Paul wrote those memorable words, “the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 1:16)  And it’s true.  God places the life-restoring Word of Jesus’ death and resurrection on human lips.  As it reaches human ears, it comes with the power of the Giver of Life, the Holy Spirit. 

And this is how it is for you as well.  Jesus places His Word of forgiveness on human lips.  But, in that Word, the Holy Spirit is breathed anew into you.  It is truly a new genesis [Titus 3:5] as the breath of God takes away your guilt and puts it on the cross of Jesus. 

It is God’s will for the whole of humanity to be breathed into anew with the Gospel of Jesus full atonement for sins and His resurrection victory over the grave.  In sinful rebellion, many will harden their hearts against the Spirit and choose to deal with sin by their own devices.  But God grant you here today ears that hear, and hearts that believe, because Jesus is your life today and forever.

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

[1] Hebrew Ruach means both wind and spirit; Greek pneuma carries the same double-meaning (John 3:8)

The Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Day)

Readings: Job 19:23–27 | 1 Corinthians 5:6–8 | Mark 16:1–8

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (1 Cor. 5:6-8)

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

On Good Friday, I made the point that when Jesus was crucified, it was a change to the entire Cosmos.  Everything about how God relates to this world has changed.  On this holy day, we rejoice in what happened next.

“When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.”

The Jewish Sabbath is now passed—not just in terms of the passage of time, but in that it has now been fulfilled.  Under Moses, the Sabbath connected back to the first creation

“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.” (Ex. 20:11) 

On that particular day, God commanded—even with threats—that His people stop their labor to keep the Sabbath.  But it was fulfilled when the Son of God, Jesus, took His rest from all the labors He had done in salvation…by resting in the tomb.  “And he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” (Gen. 2:3)  He truly made that Sabbath holy by entering it Himself, and fulfilling its true significance.

What’s left to the people of God is an even greater Sabbath—a true rest from Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath [Matt. 12:8].  “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)  Your works, no matter how long and arduous, no matter how obedient or disciplined you are in God’s Word, can save you.  Our labors cannot save; Jesus’ can and do.

Quoting from Psalm 95, the Apostle to the Hebrews writes:

11             As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’ ”
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end… 4:9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 3:11-14, 4:9-10)

All who believe in Christ have that promised rest, and the salvation that He has worked for them.

“2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”

With the close of the Sabbath is also the close of the command for a specific day—the seventh day—as the designated day for worship.  Many in the early Church, including the Apostles, took this as a cue to worship on the first day of the week, Sunday.  After all, while the Lord completed the first creation and rested on the seventh, He rose from the dead on the first day. 

As one hymnwriter so aptly put it:

This day at earth’s creation

The light first had its birth;

This day for our salvation

Christ rose from depths of earth;

This day our Lord victorious

The Spirit sent from heav’n,

And thus this day most glorious

A threefold light was giv’n.[1]

The first day of the week signifies the beginning of the new creation.  As we heard from St. Paul on Good Friday, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)  This is reminiscent of the words of Isaiah and of Revelation:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” And, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Isaiah 65:17; Rev. 21:1) 

For us who are in Christ, we have the first taste of this new creation.

For the Christian, the first day of the new week signifies the beginning of eternity.  The Christian’s life is not only marked by weeks and years, but in a the rendering of time in the new creation—of endless days.  Why, then, insist upon certain days of this passing world?  In the words of St. Paul,

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17)

How we are to live as the people of God in Christ does not sever our roots with the sons of Israel.  Some accuse Christians of preaching a “replacement theology” that would discard all that God has done before for Israel and consider it utterly obsolete.  But this is far from true!  Consider the words of the Epistle, where Paul teaches us the fulfillment of the Passover:

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:7-8)

The Passover has been fulfilled in Christ. The Lord, by His true Passover, though, goes deeper and wider to save.  He goes wider in that this is not simply for Jews and no alien; it is prepared for all people.  He goes deeper in that it is not an outward change that the Lord does, but one in the heart.  He doesn’t just want to see you in church or at Bible study.  He wants all of you to redeem you.  Cleanse out all that is contrary to His will in you.

No longer see God through Moses; but through His only-begotten Son.  Cleanse out the old leaven as God has cleansed out the old.  Ridding your house of leaven and painting your doors with lamb’s blood were certainly fine outward training—at the time.

[1] “O Day of Rest and Gladness” by Christopher Wordsworth (1807-85). Cited from LSB 906, st. 2