Sunday after Ascension (Psalm 68:1–10)

We long for the end, for God to display His victory over His enemies. The Psalm we spoke earlier brings to mind pictures of God triumphantly establishing His Kingdom, driving out the Devil more and more, and bringing the righteous to shine and become stronger each day.

  God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered;
and those who hate him shall flee before him!

 As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away;
as wax melts before fire,
so the wicked shall perish before God!

But the righteous shall be glad;
they shall exult before God;
they shall be jubilant with joy!

But what we experience right now is more like what Peter describes: 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”…insult…suffering…being humbled and anxious.

It’s not what we want, but what we find is weakness.  So what does that say about Christ’s triumph and His ascension?  What now, while Jesus has left the world, and we are still in the world?  It means that though we wish God would display more of His victory, show more of His triumph in His saints, what we see now is not what will be.

In the Epistle on Ascension Day, St. Paul prayed that the “Father of Glory may give you the Spirit of wisdom…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened.” (Eph 1:17-18)  What do the eyes in our head tell us right now?  The country’s in a terrible position and sliding downhill, people are scared to be around each other, there’s anger, disappointment, and fear about what’s being billed as a “new normal” all over one virus.  There’s a tug of war between churches and governments, with people picking sides and congregation members torn between a concern for safety and their desire to come together again, grateful for worship over distance but realizing it’s a thin substitute.  Pastors trying their best to minister to whole congregations of shut-ins, but finding that there aren’t enough hours in the day to give them the care he wants.

But what do the eyes of our enlightened hearts see?  St. Peter brings it into focus through the cross of Christ:

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

This is not a “new normal”; it’s the way it always has been and will be until the Last.  The trials and sufferings only take on different outward forms, but they are always with us.  These are not strange disasters that beckon us to throw everything we’ve learned aside and react to this latest shock.  But, that’s the way our natural eyes see trials, and we want to rid ourselves of the discomfort as quickly as possible.

The eyes of faith, on the other hand, see that Jesus never really left His Church when He ascended into heaven.  He shares in our sufferings, and we share in His.  He is no stranger to our suffering, and we are most certainly heirs of His resurrection.  In this world of pain and weakness is God Himself is caring for us:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

Our comfort is that Jesus prays for us.  And when He prays, it happens.  Just as when all things were made through Him, when He speaks, it comes to pass.  When we look naturally at how things are, we see impossibilities, failures, and no way through.  That’s humanly speaking—and where there might be a lot we can do—that’s not the heart of belonging to Jesus.  Jesus is glorified in His people, even as we are in the world.  God does not promise to keep us from trouble and pain, but to keep us in His Name; to keep us in the bedrock gifts of our Baptism.

So while being in His Name doesn’t mean the overt victory we wish it would sometimes, no matter what may pass, we have the sure power of God our Savior upon which to rest.  Rejoice in trials, blessing in insult, glory in suffering for Christ—this is what life with the Name of God looks like.  This is what your life is regardless of what’s happening in the world this moment, because inheritance God gives you with His Name is eternal.

We face the fiery trials with a God-given peace, and remember the instructions of Peter:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

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

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Sunday after the Ascension + June 2, 2019

Confirmation Sunday

Text: John 15:26—16:4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R  I do.

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

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

R  I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

R  I do, by the grace of God.

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

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

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

R  I do, by the grace of God.

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

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

R  I do, by the grace of God.

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

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

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

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

[1] United Methodist Church Rite of Ordination, emphasis mine p. 20 (5/30/19)


[3] Matthew 11:28

Sunday after the Ascension (1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Sunday after the Ascension + May 28, 2017
Text: 1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11

Just imagine that you are hearing this as a first century Christian, who has witnessed the horror of crucifixion.  It’s how the world knows that criminals are punished.  Now apply that to your faith, that you believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and that He was crucified, died, and buried.  To add one more offense on top of that (in the world’s sight), you believe that He rose from the dead on the third day and that He comes again to judge the world.
This is what inspired one man in Rome to scribble a figure of a man with a donkey’s head, nailed to a cross.  At the base of the cross is another figure lifting looking up and lifting his hand in adoration.  The caption reads, “Alexamenos worships his god.”[1]
It’s with this in mind that St. Peter writes, 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”  Perhaps the sting of what it means to be a follower of Christ is deadened a bit when we don’t have actual crucifixions to look at on a daily basis.  But sharing in Christ’s suffering remains, even if we can’t visualize it.  Because we belong to Christ and are called Christians, we will suffer for that Name.
The natural reaction is to balk when people hate Christ and His followers.  We might think of the love and mercy which Jesus displayed toward all people and how He uses us in the world today to do the same.  They say Christianity is an excuse to hate people who think differently than us.  We remember how Jesus welcomed the little children and blessed them.  They say Christianity is a mind control program, and that we’re abusing children by teaching them the faith.  We respect the religious beliefs of Muslims, Jews, and Hindus who wear special clothing or only eat certain foods.  Meanwhile Christians are insulted because their conscience prevents them from supporting same-sex unions.
It causes doubts to arise in our mind whether we’re right.  If the whole world says Christians are stupid, hate-filled bigots, maybe they’re right just by popular vote.  But Peter casts our experience in a different light: “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”  When your name is dragged through the mud because you’re a Christian, this isn’t anything new.  Your Lord says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”[2]  When He blessed, He was cursed.  When He healed, they wanted to kill Him.  When He taught, they spread lies about His teaching.  But God vindicated the truth of what Jesus said by raising Him from the dead.  Your faith is not in vain, and God witnesses that it is true.
With all that stands against Christians, who would remain unless they were a masochist?  Who would choose a religion that is so widely opposed and which causes so much dysphoria with the world?  Peter answers, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”   Even in the insults, you are blessed because you have the Holy Spirit.  He has called you believe in Jesus Christ and it is by His power that you remain in this Christian faith.  It’s really not about your choosing to follow Jesus, so much as it’s about what He’s done and how He called you to follow Him.  “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”[3]
There’s the strength and comfort to share in the sufferings of Christ.  To be a Christian is not to hold onto your life with your own strength.  “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”[4]  That’s the paradox, that we let go of our life and “entrust our soul to a faithful Creator while doing good” (v. 19).
Just as Peter steered us away from a personal “Why is this happening to me?” pity-party, he also turns our eyes from seeing the struggles in our lives from merely human eyes.  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  Everywhere around us we’re encouraged to seize opportunity and take control of our lives.  That’s a nice delusion that shatters against the reality that our live isn’t really in our own hands as much as we’d like it to be.  Go out and find a job that you can support yourself and your family, and do it today.  That chronic ailment you’ve had, go fix it.  The deep-seated pain you experience from loneliness, loss, and betrayal?  Just turn your heart around.
No, instead see yourself living by God’s mercy, the mercy of a loving Father.  You days and times are in His hand.  When the time is right, He will bring you out of turmoil and into peaceful haven.  So, instead of carrying worry, doubt, and dread yourself—as if it were all up to you—give it to Him.  Why?  Because He cares for you.  Not only do you worship a God who is victorious over the world and death, but you have a Father in heaven who loves you.
You belong to God.  He has called you to be His own dear child in the waters of baptism and continually in His Word.  Even though you experience suffering for a time, the glory of Christ’s resurrection is eternal.  Therefore, this promise is certain: “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”  He will restore you when you falter.  He will confirm you when you doubt.  He will strengthen you when there is no strength in you.  He will cause you to stand firm, when your knees are ready to buckle.  Behold, this is your God whom you worship. “To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
[1] For more, see
[2] John 15:18
[3] John 15:16
[4] Luke 9:24