From the Book of Concord: Article XII of the Formula of Concord

baby dedication.PNGErroneous Articles of the Anabaptists

We reject and condemn the erroneous and heretical teaching of the Anabaptists which cannot be suffered or tolerated in the churches or in the body politic or in domestic society.  They teach:

  1.  That our sole righteousness before God does not depend alone on the sole obedience and merit of Christ but in renewal and in our own piety, in which we walk before God.  But this piety rests for the greater part on their own peculiar precepts and self-chosen spirituality as on a kind of monkery.
  2. That unbaptized children are not sinners before God but righteous and innocent, and hence in their innocence they will be saved without Baptism, which they do not need. Thus they deny and reject the entire teaching on original sin and all that pertains thereto.
  3. That children should not be baptized until they have achieved the use of reason and are able to make their own confession of faith.
  4. That the children of Christians, because they are born of Christian and believing parents, are holy and children of God without and prior to Baptism.  Therefore they do not esteem infant Baptism very highly and do not advocate it, contrary to the express words of the promise which extends only to those who keep the covenant and do not despise it (Gen. 17:4-8, 19-21)…

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article XII, par. 9-13

The Book of Concord, ed. and trans. Theodore G. Tappert.  Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959, pp. 633-634.

****Note well!

The errors of the Anabaptists condemned above by the Formula of Concord around 1580 are exactly the errors taught by broad American evangelicalism, by 99 percent of preachers on Christian radio and television, by the vast majority of authors sold in Christian bookstores.

Questions:

Why do American Lutherans who hold the faith of the Formula of Concord–or belong to churches that do–read so many books, listen to so many speakers and preachers, buy so much merchandise from preachers, publishing houses, and radio stations that believe and teach these Anabaptist errors?

Why do we read their books instead of showing them why their teaching on infant baptism and infant faith is contrary to God’s Word?

If the Anabaptist error on infant Baptism isn’t a big enough deal to keep Lutherans from consuming their media, why will it be a big enough deal to keep our kids and grandkids from joining their churches, and having their babies “dedicated” instead of baptized?

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Comforting Reassurance of the Holy Supper. Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz

Comforting Reassurance of the Holy Supper (322)

Martin Luther, 1483-1546

 

Be gracious to me, O merciful God.  I am indeed a poor, sinful person and have merited nothing besides wrath.   But even though I have lived however I wanted, I hold on to this: that I know, and will not doubt it, that I am baptized for the forgiveness of my sins and am called as a Christian, and that my Lord Jesus Christ was born, suffered, died, and rose again for me.  His body and blood has been given to me for the nourishment and strengthening of my faith.  Lord Jesus Christ, I am absolved and loosed from my sins in Your name.  Therefore nothing evil can befall me, nor can I be lost; as little as God’s Word can fail or be false.  Because God Himself is to me a refuge and fortress through His Word.  Amen.

God’s Breath. Pentecost 2018

pentecost.PNGThe Feast of Pentecost

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Acts 2:1-21, John 14:23-31, Genesis 11:1-11

May 20, 2018

God’s Breath

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,

And make our hearts Your place of rest,

Come with Your grace and heavenly aid,

And fill the hearts which You have made.  Amen.

 

“And suddenly, there came from heaven a roar, like a violent wind, and filled the house where they were sitting.”  Acts 2:2

 

The roar of violent winds is not foreign to us who have lived in the Midwest most of our lives.  They come every year, just about this time.  They break limbs off of trees.  Some years they tear roofs off houses, steeples off of churches, and some years they raze churches, schools, and whole towns to the ground, like one did in Plainfield when I was a kid.

 

But there are also calmer sorts of wind.  One kind of wind we need to live.  That is the wind going in and out of your nose right now.  It goes in and out of you without ceasing, this wind, for 70 or 80 or 90 years, with no rest, because when it stops going in, going out, you die.  When your breath departs, when your spirit departs, your body is dead.

 

And you need that wind for something almost as important as breathing.  You need it to commune with others, to love them.  You need it to talk.  When you were a baby you let out that breath to let your mother know you needed something.  When you got older you learned to let out your breath in the form of words, not just cries and yells.  But without this kind of breathing you would be cut off in the world.

 

On the Day of Pentecost, the promise of Jesus, the promise of the Father, was poured out on the believers, on the Church.  And to make people know it, there were signs; the sound of a roaring wind filling the house or room where the one hundred fifty disciples of Jesus sat, then tongues of fire dividing and resting on each one of them as they spoke in different languages.

 

Without the miraculous signs, people would not have paid attention.  But when the noise of a violent wind from heaven poured into that room, people looked up.  And when they heard the Christians speaking in a multitude of languages, they asked, “What does this mean?”

 

What does it mean?  It means that breath from heaven, God’s breath, had blown into the Church.  And the breath that entered the believers—God’s breath—now came out of them in God’s speech.

 

God’s breath had entered the bodies of the believers, and God’s speech poured out of their lips, doing what God’s speech and God’s Word does—creating, accomplishing what it announces, giving life.  Just as at the beginning of the world, God spoke, and it came to be.  Let there be light.  Let the water teem with living creatures.  Let dry ground appear.  Let us create man in Our image.

 

The breath of God still is in the Church, the believers, and it still comes from our lips, even though there is no noise like a mighty wind, and no tongues as of fire.

 

And even with no noise, no tongues of fire, no miraculous gifts of speech, the greater miracle still continues in the Church, among us.

 

The breath of God is in those who believe in Christ.  The Spirit of God is in us, having been poured out upon us in our own individual Pentecosts, when we were baptized into the body of Christ, the community in which the Holy Spirit dwells.

 

Whoever has God’s Spirit has God’s breath within him.  He has God’s life dwelling in him, the same way that a normal human body has normal human breath in it, ceaselessly going in and out until he dies.  But this life never ends; this breathing is meant to continue forever.

 

You have God’s breath in you.  You breathe it in when you hear the Word of God preached purely, taught purely, or read, and you believe it.  You breathe out His Spirit filled Word when you speak it to God in confession, in prayer, when you speak it to one another and to the people in your life.

 

The mighty, rushing wind, the whirlwind of God’s breath, rushes into us through the Word of God, proclaiming Jesus, God in the flesh, crucified for our sins, raised from the dead for our justification.  And like a person who has been resuscitated, we begin to breathe in God, believing this message.  We go on breathing it in, breathing it out.

 

The roar of a tornado is too much for us.  We can’t stand in its presence; it destroys homes and lives.  But God, who is a consuming fire, who speaks out of the whirlwind, comes to dwell in us with His life and Spirit.  Jesus promised: If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love Him, and we will come to Him and make our home with Him.  John 14:23

 

In the time after the flood, the people of the world began to build a great tower out of bricks and asphalt.  They wanted its top to be in the heavens.  Then all kinds of people would be in awe and would rally to that tower in great numbers instead of spreading all over the earth, as God had commanded them to do.

 

Human beings love to do things like that.  To build monuments and towers and business empires; to make a name for themselves that will make themselves and others believe they have accomplished something great, to fight off the awareness of death and emptiness that people have within them.  The gnawing hunger that something is missing, that we need more.

 

But these monuments and towers are futile gestures.  At Babel, God confused their languages.  Other times, wind, weather, and age tear down our monuments.  But even while they stand and people marvel at them, they have no breath in them.  They are dead and lifeless, just like the stone idols that the nations used to worship.  Just like the world itself, which is filled with many evil spirits, but has no place for the Spirit of God or His living breath.

 

God’s works are not like ours.  They are living.  The masterpiece of His first creation was Adam, who was created in God’s image when He breathed His breath into him.  And the master work of His new creation is the Church—all who are baptized and believe in Christ alone as their righteousness and salvation.  In this building God Himself dwells in each brick, in each room, in each human member.

 

He breathes His Spirit into the Church, and makes it a living temple and dwelling place for the Triune God.  Through the preaching of the Gospel He breathes His eternal Spirit into us so that we are alive to God, and then the Spirit breathes out through us as we speak His living words back to Him in prayer, and as we proclaim them to those who are dead—families, friends, neighbors, co-workers.

 

The Holy Spirit also speaks within us.  He tells us that through Jesus alone; through His death for us, and His resurrection from the dead, we have peace with God.  Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled; neither let them be afraid.

 

When you have been scared to do something, what do people tell you to do?  They say, “Take a deep breath.”

 

We are scared about our future.  We are scared about what will happen to us in the future.  We are scared about breathing out God’s Word to our family and friends that appear to have rejected it or forgotten it.  Knowing ourselves, our weakness, our sinfulness, we have a million reasons to be scared.

 

So, take a deep breath.  Breathe in the Holy Spirit.  Listen to the Holy Spirit preach in Church.  Come and listen to His Word be taught.  Read it.  Meditate on it.  Learn it by heart.  Take a deep breath.

 

Because in it, the Holy Spirit teaches you all things and gives you Jesus’ own peace.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

The Ascension of our Lord 2018: Heads in the Clouds

jesus ascension angelicoThe Ascension of our Lord

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Acts 1:1-11

May 9, 2018

Having Your Head in the Clouds

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Long ago, when I went with some kids from St. Peter to the Higher Things youth conference, one of the kids said something that might have made some folks back home shake their heads.

 

One of the reasons I took them there was that they used the prayer services from the hymnal for worship.  So every morning, we gathered for Matins.  In the afternoon, for Vespers.  Then Evening Prayer after dinner (I think).  Groups were encouraged to pray Compline privately before bed.  During the day, there was bible study between the prayer offices or sectionals led by pastors.  Then at evening, they opened up the gym or the pool and kids played.

 

How did the kids like it?  Some of them didn’t. But some of them didn’t like the other youth conference with rock bands and motivational speakers either.  Most of them liked it.

 

But one kid told me something like this: “You know, when we gathered for prayer three or four times a day, it was kind of like there was a rhythm to it.  Your day was punctuated by turning to God in prayer.  I feel sad that we won’t be able to do this when we get back.”  I said, “Well, we could!”  (At least, we could do some of them, as often as people wanted to.)  But she got it.  She grasped the reason why those services are in the hymnal, and why Christians through so many centuries gathered together for prayer and to hear the Word of God daily, whether in their homes or at church.

 

Throughout my life people have said that I have “my head in the clouds.”  And they have usually been right.  The girl saying, “Too bad we can’t do this when we get back” is a great example.  Of course we could, but more practical people than I am would realize that the likelihood of getting folks to want to do that here is slim.  But I’m one of those people who is more idealistic than realistic, and also by nature not focused on the little things that need to be done now but instead the grandiose things that probably will never be done.  The older I get, the more I see the importance of paying attention to things closer to the ground, more within my grasp.

 

But there is another sense in which it would be better for all of us to have our head in the clouds, or our hearts.  Or both.  In the collect for today, we asked God to help us ascend into heaven in our hearts and minds with Jesus.  That’s the reason the prayer offices are in the hymnal.  Not because it is a law that you have to pray that way, at those times.  But because a lot of us need help ascending to heaven with Jesus in heart and mind.  We need to be coached to ascend, to listen to our heavenly Father and come to Him in prayer.

 

Even if you are the type of person with your head in the clouds, your nature is that neither your head nor your heart go above the clouds.  They don’t ascend with Jesus to the right hand of God and dwell there with Him.  Not by nature.  Our hearts and minds are firmly fixed on the earth and the ways of this earth.  Even when we dream and float in the clouds, it’s not to God that we ascend.  By nature we [follow] the course of this world…[follow] the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.  (Eph. 2:2-3)  Our nature is to live in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.  By nature we are children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  (Eph. 2:2-3)  It’s not our nature to “lift up our hearts” and our minds and “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).  It is not our nature to believe that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), and to live as if our home is with Jesus at God’s right hand.

 

But don’t believe what you see and feel about yourself.  Believe the good news that Jesus proclaims to you about who you are.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved you, even when you were dead in your trespasses, made you alive together with Christ—it is by grace you have been saved—and raised you up and seated you with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-6). 

 

A little over a month ago Jesus’ suffering was preached to us. We saw Him cast into the dust in the garden asking the Father to find a way for Him not to drink the cup of His anger and judgment on the sins of mankind.  We heard Him cry out in the pains of damnation and hell that He was forsaken by God.

 

There we saw and heard Jesus with us, one with us.  In Him we saw God with us, one with us, not separating Himself from us in our sin.  We saw and heard Him one with us in the defeat and humiliation of death as they sealed His lifeless body in the tomb.

 

Then we heard throughout the next five weeks “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  And the two angels appeared, standing alongside the uncomprehending disciples, saying, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.  He is not here; He is risen.”  (Mark 16)

 

Jesus turned the great humiliation and defeat of human beings into victory.  He was not defeating His own death and sin.  He never had to get entangled with our sin and death to being with.  He destroyed the chains of your sin and crushed your death beneath His feet.

 

And now this day, Ascension, is not just a “going up” that benefits Jesus alone.  The apostle Paul said it; the Holy Spirit said it through Paul.  “He raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”  (Eph. 2:6)

 

Before the Son became man, He was already seated in the heavenly places; He didn’t need to go up.  He came down to meet us in His incarnation.  And when He is raised up, when He ascends, it is us whom He raises to the right hand of God.  It is so that we may ascend in Him.  The eleven apostles saw a man exalted to the throne of God—one of us, one of our kind.  And not just anyone of our kind, but the man whose entire life was in service, in love to us and for us.

 

Where Jesus is now is where our home is.  He is our King, who protects us.  Our shepherd, who leads us.  Our priest, who goes before God for us and wins His favor for us.  He is also our great reward.  So we should claim Him who has given Himself to us and ascend in heart and mind to heaven with Him.

 

That, of course, is not something we are able to do naturally.  And that is why Jesus gives us His Spirit through His Word as it is preached, read, taught, sung.  That’s why the early Christians used to worship and teach the Word of God in their homes daily, and gather together daily to hear God and call upon Him.  They were “lifting up their hearts.”  They were ascending. Through daily hearing of the Word of God, the Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus by faith, and through faith in Jesus we pray and draw near to the Father in heaven.

 

The strange thing, though, is that ascending into heaven in heart and mind with Jesus does not lead us out of the world, to escape the world.  It doesn’t make us people with “our head in the clouds.”

 

Heaven really isn’t “up in the clouds.”  It’s not limited to a place.  God fills all things, and Jesus’ body is not limited to a single place like ours, now that He is exalted.  His divine omnipresence is communicated to His human nature, and He is with us, not only in Spirit, but bodily.  From His throne He works and reigns throughout creation.  He says to His disciples: You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  The Gospel reading from Mark tells us that “the apostles went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.”  When the apostles bore witness to Jesus, He was “working with them” to save people from their sins and everlasting damnation.  The apostle Paul says the very same thing in 2nd Corinthians 5 and 6: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us…Working together with Him we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 5:20, 6:1). 

 

When a pastor preaches the pure Gospel, Jesus Himself works with him.  He makes His appeal through him.  Jesus Himself offers you salvation through him.

 

And so, when we receive Jesus’ Word, and through hearing it with faith ascend with Him, our head doesn’t get stuck in the clouds.  We are drawn down into this world, and are concerned about it and the people in it.  We are concerned for their bodily well-being here, but even more for the salvation of their bodies and souls.

 

Because our King who has ascended and lives in heaven is concerned for them.  He is still making His appeal to the world: “Be reconciled to God,” urging them to believe that He has reconciled God to them by His death.

 

And from His high and holy place He pours out the power from on high through which He assures us of our place in heaven and through which we are able to bring His appeal to the world.  This power is the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.  Just as Elisha received this spirit when Elijah was taken up into heaven, and just as the apostles were baptized and immersed in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, so Jesus the King has poured out this gift, this unspeakably high gift into you.  First when you were baptized.  Now in His holy meal of His body and blood.

 

Through this Spirit we ascend with Him.  We find assurance that our home is with Him through the Gospel.  And that same power that gives us confidence toward God gives us power from on high to go out as ambassadors and witnesses to our world—not to build our own kingdom in our own way, but as witnesses of the ascended King and His Kingdom.

 

Amen.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Exaudi 2018 The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

jesus ascension cavedone.PNGExaudi, the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Mother’s Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 15:26-16:4

May 13, 2018

The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

 

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Proverbs chapter 30: There are three things that are too wonderful for me, four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.  (18-19)

 

I’m not sure I understand the meaning of this proverb.  But I can think of another thing that is “too wonderful for me” and that I “do not understand”—the way of a mother with her child.

 

When the girl carries the little human being inside of her for months, and no one can see it, but she can feel her son or daughter moving inside of her.  She nurtures and cares for her child before anyone else has seen it.  For her the baby that has not seen the world yet is the center of her world.  Nobody else in the world will ever see that child the way she does.  This is too wonderful for me.

 

And then in pain and danger she labors to bring the baby into the world.  And then for months her baby is no longer within her, but almost as close.  She carries him or her on her own body,  feeds the baby from her own body.  This is too wonderful for me too.

 

But what amazes me even more is the love mothers have for their children not only when they are little but when they are grown.  Mother’s love is so tender toward their children, usually, but so fierce toward other people who appear to be a threat to their children.  Mothers are often blind to the faults of their children because their love is so intense.

 

Most of the time, love doesn’t come naturally to human beings.  Most people have to work at loving and showing love.  You seldom hear mothers say they are working on loving their children more.  For the most part God gives this love to mothers for their children.

 

So as we take today to honor our mothers and to show them our love, let us also consider our spiritual mother and the words of our Lord about her today.

 

We have a spiritual mother, and she loves us and cares for us like a mother loves her child.  She give us birth and nurses us like a mother does her child.

 

Learn, then, to understand this article [of the Creed] most clearly. If you are asked: What do you mean by the words: I believe in the Holy Ghost? you can answer: I believe that the Holy Ghost makes me holy, as His name implies. 41] But whereby does He accomplish this, or what are His method and means to this end? Answer: By the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. 42] For, in the first place, He has a [unique gathering of people] in the world, which is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which He reveals and preaches, [and through which] He illumines and enkindles hearts, that they understand, accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.

The Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, according to Martin Luther in the Large Catechism, is “the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God.”  The Holy Spirit works through the Holy Christian Church to give birth to Christians and then nurture them in faith, by which they are holy, set apart for God.

 

Human beings do not build up the Church the way a businessman builds a clientele, the way a politician builds a political party, the way a general conquers a city.  The Holy Christian Church is the mother that bears and gives birth to Christians, to sons of God.  The Holy Church of Christ doesn’t win friends and influence sinners to like her and join her cause.  She doesn’t “sell” herself to sinners like a prostitute.  She doesn’t convince sinners to like her.  What happens to girls that are desperate to have people like them?

 

The Holy Christian Church gives birth to new people.  She gives people “birth from above”, rebirth, new birth, as Jesus talks about in John chapter 3: No one can see the Kingdom of God unless He is born again or born from above.

 

She is involved in a work that no human being has the power to do.  Human beings can build followings.  Gifted leaders can do this and so can gifted salesman and talented liars.  No human being is able to make someone go from being dead in their sins to being alive to God.

 

Only God can do this.  And if He does not do it, a person remains in his sins, and an enemy of God, and perishes forever.  This is why Jesus told Nicodemus: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5).

 

Jesus has been saying for the last few weeks that He was going to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples.  Forty days after His resurrection, His disciples saw Him ascend into heaven; we celebrated this on Thursday.  Before He ascended to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on High, He told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until He had sent the promised Holy Spirit to them.  This Sunday, if we lived around the year of our Lord 31 and were with the disciples, we would be in a house in Jerusalem, praying and waiting for Jesus to pour out the gift of the Holy Spirit on us.

 

Jesus tells them (and us) in the Gospel today what the Holy Spirit will do when He comes—how He will give people new birth so that they become new creatures and sons of God.  The Holy Spirit will testify of Me or bear witness concerning Me. (John 15:26).  Then He says, “But you also will bear witness or testify, because you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:27). 

 

How does the Holy Spirit give people new birth, so that they enter the Kingdom of God and are saved from their sins and everlasting damnation?  He bears witness of Jesus.  He testifies to Jesus.  He tells who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.

 

If a pastor preaches principles from the Bible that will give you a happy life, that is not the proper work of the Holy Spirit.  It will not make you a new creature.  If he is preaching the actual law of God, it will indeed show you what is righteous and pleasing to God, but it will not give you life.  It will bring death and condemnation, because what God commands, you cannot perform.  The Law of God (but not human principles) must be preached, but that preaching is not the special work of the Holy Spirit to give you new birth, and to nurture you as a mother does her child.

 

The work of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness to Jesus.  He tells us what Jesus said and did; He tells us how Jesus suffered and died, descended into hell, and rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God.  And He testifies to the good news of God, that what Jesus did was for sinners and their salvation.  He testifies that Jesus has reconciled you to the Father, if you are a sinner who cannot make yourself righteous, that through Him alone you are forgiven and counted righteous.  That is how the Holy Spirit causes people to be born again as new creatures who love God, hold to His word, who are holy and growing in the image of Christ’s holiness.

 

But the Holy Spirit does not do this testifying alone.  He does it through the mother of Christians, the Church.  He testified with or through the disciples, who received the Holy Spirit.  Then after the apostles died, through the believers who followed them.

 

Now it should be clear to you how much harder this is than building the membership of an organization we call “church.”  It is much harder to give birth to a human being than to get one to join something.  But this is even harder.  To be a member of the Holy Christian Church, you have to be born again of God by the Holy Spirit, and we can’t make this happen for anyone.  We can’t make a person be sorry for their sins and want to be free of them, fear eternal judgment; we can’t make a person who has been brought to that state of contrition believe that their sins are forgiven without their works, solely through Jesus Christ.

 

But we aren’t called to do that.  The Church simply bears witness to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit is called in Greek “the paraclete”, which is translated “Helper,” and sometimes “Comforter.”  But the word implies “someone who speaks for you”.  An “advocate.”  It is hard to testify about Jesus—not because it is complicated, but because it encounters opposition.

 

Our flesh doesn’t want to talk about Jesus.  It wants to talk about ourselves and what we think.

 

But even more, the devil and the world do not want testimony to be given about Jesus.  Jesus warns the apostles: You will be put out of the synagogues.  Even worse, the time is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering God priestly, holy service.  They will do these things because they do not know the Father or Me.

 

To testify to Jesus and His free salvation is also testifying about human sin and helplessness in it.  We are telling the world, “There is nothing you can do to get right with God.  Everything you are by nature is sinful and unclean.  Only through faith in Jesus and His work are you saved.”  The world says, “Who are you to judge me?  Look at all your sins.”  And that is on a good day.  What the devil really wants is to kill us, if he can’t turn us away from Jesus.  Humanly speaking, it makes total sense that we want to find another way to “build our church” besides testifying to Jesus.  The stakes of testifying to Jesus are much higher than we want to believe.  Be sure—it comes with the price of death.  If the world doesn’t kill you outright, you will still have to die daily to remain in Christ and faithfully bear witness to Him.

 

Yet it is sinful for us to be afraid and to try to run away from this.  Jesus has not left us alone.  He sends us the Helper, the Advocate.  The third person of the Trinity lives in us, testifies to Jesus in us and through us.  That is why there is nothing better in the world than to have the Holy Christian Church as your mother.  In this Church that testifies to Jesus and holds to Him and His Word alone, the Spirit gives us new life, comforts and consoles us by pointing us to Jesus, who has made peace with God once and for all for us.

 

Our mother the church no doubt looks ugly and old fashioned to the world.  But in her the Lord and giver of life, the Holy Spirit, is present with power to do what no power in the world can do—to give us new birth by testifying to Jesus who was crucified for you and did away your sins.

 

Now He comes and bears witness that you are members of Christ’s body, begotten of God, by nourishing You with the body and blood He gave for you that you may have life.

 

Come, Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Checks Jesus Signs. Rogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2018. John 16:23-30

jesus ascension.PNGRogate, the 6th Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:23-30

May 6, 2018

“Checks Jesus Signs”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

When I was maybe seven years old my mom took me and my sister down to Danville, Illinois to see my great grandmother.  She was about 90 years old, but she was still a lot of fun because she gave me a black book that looked like a check book to play with.  This is great, I thought.  I started writing checks—Pay to the order of Karl Hess, $1 with as man zeroes after as I could fit on the piece of paper.  Then I gave it to my mom.

 

But she explained to me that writing a check doesn’t magically create money.  Of course, you have to have money in the bank.  Then, when you sign your name on the check, the bank sees your name and sends the money in your name wherever you directed them to send it on the check.  So I couldn’t write checks for a billion dollars in my great grandmother’s name and then sign my name on the check.

 

When I found this out, I didn’t think checks were so great anymore.

 

And a lot of us, or most of us, think like this about prayer.  We find out that we can’t write ourselves big checks for whatever we want, and we lose interest in praying.

 

Amen, Amen, the Lord Jesus promises—It shall be so, it shall be so: whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you…Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  (John 16:23-24)

 

Listen to the promise again.  It is a huge promise that Jesus gives His disciples: Whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you.  (John 16:23)

 

Incredible.  Whatever I ask?  It sounds like Jesus has given us a book of blank checks to draw on God the Father’s account.

 

Maybe you have never listened closely and heard the promise Jesus made here, so you’ve never tried to cash one of these checks.

 

But if you have, you almost certainly have had this experience: You asked God the Father for something, and He didn’t give it to you.

 

You prayed for success in your work, but you were unsuccessful.  You prayed for peace in your house, and the turmoil seemed to get worse.  You prayed for someone you loved to recover from their illness or have less pain, and God appeared to say, “No.”  You prayed God would make your church grow, but it shrank.

 

So you found yourself thinking, “Maybe it isn’t such a privilege to carry / Ev’rything to God in prayer.”  And you began to rely less on praying to God and more on your own work or on human experts to make your home peaceful or your loved ones get well.

 

But if you felt this way—experienced something like this—and I have, as have most Christians, if not all—it is not because Jesus didn’t mean His promise.

 

It’s because we overlook an important phrase in His promise.  He says: Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give you.  Our Lord Jesus doesn’t promise that the Father will give us anything we ask, but only what we ask in His name.

 

If my great grandmother let me have her checkbook when I was seven years old, and write whatever checks I wanted, that would have been a big mistake.  Very quickly we would have ended up with a big pile of candy, and toy cars, plastic soldiers and guns, and no food, the gas and water shut off, and no money in the bank.  Instead, the bank only sent out money if her name was on the check.

 

It’s similar with God the Father.  All His treasure: power, His authority, His wisdom, His glory, He has entrusted to one man only.

 

He has entrusted everything to the man who doesn’t seek His own will and glory, but only the will and glory of God the Father.  God has put everything in the hand of this man, His Son, Jesus.

 

When God the Father gets a prayer that does not come in the name of Jesus, His Son, the righteous one, He rejects it—just as the bank would have rejected a check that I wrote on my grandmother’s account and signed with my name.

 

Yet Jesus promises His disciples who believe in Him: In that day, you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me and I believed that I came from God.  (John 16:26-27)

 

He promises us: My Father Himself loves you because you believe in Me.  It’s not just that I will pray for you.  The Father will hear your own prayers because you believe in Me.

 

*That’s why being baptized, as Elliot is today, is so great a privilege that we constantly remind ourselves of it, everytime we invoke the Name “of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” perhaps making the sign of the cross.  When we are baptized, God places His own name on us.  He gives us His name.  He covers us with the righteousness of Jesus so that we may approach God the Father in that righteousness and be received as God’s sons and heirs.  He cleanses us in our Baptism with the atoning blood Jesus shed on the cross for our sins.  And so we come to the Father as though we were Jesus Himself.

 

From this day forward Elliot may call on God as her own father and be assured God will hear her and not turn her away.  And it will be her parents’ task, along with her godparents and all of us, to teach and encourage her to come with confidence into God’s presence and call Him Father.

 

Those who don’t believe in Jesus can’t do this.  They can’t come to the Father because they do not know Him.  They certainly cannot call Him “Our Father.”  They can’t receive what they ask.  They are writing bad checks, signed with their own names instead of the name of the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

These prayers don’t please God.  They anger Him, because prayers offered without faith in Jesus are all aimed at getting what we want for our own sinful purposes.

 

That’s often the reason why our prayers, the prayers of Christians, receive no answer or are answered, “No.”  Not that God won’t hear us.  If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, God receives you.  He doesn’t look at your long track record of sins and failures.  He doesn’t look at the evil motives that fight in your heart with the Holy Spirit.  He looks at the righteousness of Jesus that covers your sins, the suffering and death that cancelled your sin, applied to you in Baptism.

 

But to ask the Father in Jesus’ name isn’t just to come in Jesus’ righteousness by faith.  It is also to ask for the things Jesus signs his name to.  Jesus doesn’t sign His name to all our desires.  It’s not always Jesus’ will that we escape difficulty, weakness, suffering, death.  Paul prayed that his physical weakness, his “thorn in the flesh”, would be taken away, so that he would be able to labor harder in the preaching of the Gospel.  But Jesus said, My grace is enough for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.  (2 Cor. 12:9) 

 

So how do we pray “in Jesus’ name,” according to His will?  How do we know what that is?

 

We receive His Word.  In His Word, we receive His Holy Spirit who comes into us and teaches us what to pray for.  Just like you eat every day, so you need to feed on Jesus’ word every day, so that the Holy Spirit can teach us to ask not what we will according to the flesh, but what Jesus would sign His name to.

 

Still, when you don’t know how to pray or what to pray for, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask the Father.  He won’t cast you out, because He has already received you through the blood of Jesus and put His name on you in Baptism.

 

And He has given you the Holy Spirit, who prays within you according to God’s will when you don’t know how to pray.  He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God, Paul tells us in Romans chapter 8 (Rom. 8:27).

 

Jesus has also given us the very words to pray with Him to His Father in the prayer He gave us.  When you pray them, you are praying in the Name of Jesus, asking for things God will surely give you.  Look at the Small Catechism when you get home and remind yourself of the great things you are asking for when you pray that prayer together with Jesus.

 

When you pray it and other prayers that are in Jesus’ name—that are according to His will and offered in faith in Him, you have the assurance God the Father will not only listen, but will surely say “Yes” to them.  That is why we finish our prayers with “Amen”.  We are saying, “It shall be so.”

 

And Jesus gives another promise to us—that as you do this your joy will be full.

 

At St. Peter, we are a lot like the disciples of Jesus after He died.  We are full of anxiety, fear, distress.  Much like one of Jesus’ friends, Martha, to whom He said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and distressed about many things, but one thing is necessary.”  (Luke 10:41-42)

We need not be.  Jesus has given us His access to God the Father.

 

Until now you have asked nothing in My name.  Ask, and you will receive, that Your joy may be full.”  (John 16:24)

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Set Your Mind on Things Above. Funeral Sermon, May 3, 2018

ezekiel wheelFuneral Sermon for JoAnn Sallese

Blackburn-Giegerich-Sonntag Funeral Home

1 Corinthians 15:12-26; John 11:25-26

May 3, 2018

Set Your Mind on Things Above

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Tony,

Mary, Margie, and Tony,

All of JoAnn’s loved ones and friends, including her sister Genevieve, who was here only a week ago and is prevented from making the journey across the country again:

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

There are over 43 thousand radio stations across the world.  Each day, they broadcast their message into people’s ears as they work, drive, and sleep.  Each year, they produce 290 million hours of programming, and of that programming, 35 million hours are commercials, ads.

 

Those 35 millions hours of advertisements are designed to persuade listeners to set their minds on obtaining material things so that they will have happier and more fulfilled lives on earth.

 

But what the advertisers advise us to set our minds on is totally opposite what God’s Word, the Bible advises us.  Set your mind on things above, God exhorted Christians through the apostle Paul.  Set your minds on things above, not things that are on earth.  (Colossians 3:2). 

 

Why?  Because however good things are on earth, the things above are better, and the things that God promises us in His Word through faith in Jesus Christ are forever.  But the things on earth are only for a time, both the good things and the bad.

 

According to Bible scholars, one sixth of the New Testament is focused on the joy of heaven and eternal life at the return of Jesus Christ.  It was the hope and the joy that filled Christians throughout the two thousand years since Christ died and rose again.  Because they believed in Him, that He had died for their sins and risen again, they had a hope that extended past the pleasures of this life, and also its pains.

 

Although we live in this world where death still seems to rule over everything, and we are tempted to snatch pleasure while we can, where we can, God wants something better than that for us.  He wants us to have the certain hope of eternal life, of reunion with Him and with all the people we love who were united with Him on earth by faith in His Son.  He intends for that hope to give us joy in the midst of the worst pains of this life, and to give us a pleasure that is greater than the pleasures that may be found in “setting our minds on things below.”

 

It’s hard to think about all that right now.  It’s quite possible today that it’s hard to think or set your mind on anything.  Sometimes at funerals people sob and feel like they are about to break apart with grief.  But just as often there is a blank look on people’s faces, a look of lostness, of emptiness, shock.

 

That is the way people act when their loved ones die.  And also, sometimes, there is more.  Sometimes, guilt—they feel that they did not love or treat their loved one as they ought to have, or appreciate them as they should have.  Sometimes it’s anger—anger at the doctors who may have failed in treating their loved one, or anger at other people in the family for not doing more.  Maybe, even, anger at God for taking someone they loved, or allowing them to be taken away.

 

Christians grieve like this too.  They have the feeling of loss, of being lost.  Going to church doesn’t take that away when a loved one dies.  Yet I have noticed something in a decade of being a pastor in which I have ministered to many grieving families—usually those who are grieving who have stayed near to Christ, near to His Word when it is preached and taught, near to His altar where He gives us His body and blood—as they weep, they are held up, as though there were an invisible rock underneath them.  They are sustained by a life that is stronger than death.  In the midst of their tears they have an assurance, beneath their own weakness, that does not come from themselves.  They have an assurance that they have a gracious God, who is for them, and who loves them, who forgives their sins and takes them and their loved ones to heaven, and who in the end will raise their bodies from the dead so that they are like the glorious body of Jesus after He rose from the dead.

 

JoAnn was a beautiful woman in her youth, as anyone can see from her picture, and her husband of 29 years summed her up using that word: she always did things to appreciate beauty and practicality.  Which is a rare combination.  Quite often the poetic personality that notices beautiful things is not the person you count on to mow the lawn or paint the garage.  But JoAnn was the type who did both; who was ready to do anything the American Legion asked her to do, was willing to do the tasks necessary to have an organization that supports and honors veterans.  She opened her home to her step-children and when her mother was old she cooked her dinner and brought it to her every day.  And she did all this even though she had health difficulties and pain that would have made it easy to think of herself only.

 

Those who received these blessings through JoAnn can rightly give thanks to God for the blessing she was to them.

 

But what now, as you experience the feeling of loss and separation, the feeling of being torn from her or having her torn from you?  What will end that pain, console that pain, that feeling of loss, today, the next time you are confronted by death?

 

Maybe alcohol, temporarily, or getting busy with work or a project.  These can help temporarily.

 

But the only lasting answer is to Set your mind on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  To be able to say, I have a place in heaven with God, where there will be no more crying, no more death, no more grieving.

 

But why don’t people do this?  Even Christians don’t do it well.  Why not?  Because we can’t see heaven.  And even worse, who can be certain that if it exists, they will go there?  Who knows if I have done enough to have a place in heaven?

 

People say this all the time.  “I hope God forgives me, and I go to heaven.”  There aren’t many people who say with confidence, “I am going to heaven, and I know that God forgives my sins.”  And when people do say it, most people think they sound arrogant.  Because we think that such people are bragging about how good they are, or how strong their faith is.

 

But God tells us to set our minds on things above because He has promised the “things above” as a free giftto the world.  He has promised eternal life because He has already taken away our sins.

 

This is what Paul kept saying in the reading we heard earlier.  Because Christ was raised from the dead, we also will be raised from the dead.  Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the proof that God has forgiven the sins of all human beings, beginning with the first one, Adam.

 

Mary told me that she and JoAnn traced JoAnn’s family tree and took pictures of headstones for a genealogy website.  I signed up for that website too, but I didn’t take that many pictures.  But to do it you have to spend a lot of time in cemeteries.  We think of cemeteries as places of the dead.  But the word actually is similar to the word “dormitory”—it refers to a sleeping place.  Christians named them that because of their faith that the dead in Christ would rise again to eternal life.

 

To rise again and live forever means your sins have been forgiven.  When the first man died and was buried, it was not the way it was supposed to be.  It happened because the first man disobeyed God and bought into the lie that if he took the one thing on earth that God had forbidden, he would be happy.  He would be “like God”.  Instead of becoming a god, he became mortal.  But if you rise from your grave, it means that God has forgiven you, set you free.

 

When Jesus rose from the dead, God was publicly announcing that He was forgiven.  Not that Jesus sinned.  But when He died on the cross, He was dying for the sins of the whole human race, from the first man on down.  That’s why Paul says that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, we are still in our sins.  When Jesus was raised from the dead, God was announcing that He had forgiven the sins that Jesus died for.  And if He has forgiven the sins that Jesus died for, it means He has forgiven the whole human race.  And if He has forgiven us, we too will rise from the dead like Jesus and live forever with Him.

 

But this is not the end of it.  The eternal life that will belong to us when Jesus returns also belongs to those who believe in Him in this life.  When Jesus went to visit his friends Mary and Martha, their brother Lazarus had been in the grave for four days.  You heard what He said to Martha: Your brother will rise again.  She said, “Yes, I believe He will rise again on the Last Day, when God will raise up all the dead and judge them, and give eternal life to the righteous and eternal damnation to the wicked.”

 

But Jesus doesn’t let it rest there.  He says, I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me will live, even though He dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.  He is saying, “Whoever believes in Me shares in the life I will have in My resurrection.  On the last day everyone will rise from the dead, but whoever believes in Me shares my resurrection and my life.”

 

That is how we receive a certain hope in this world of death—that one day we will have life and no more crying and no more death, but that even now that life is ours.  We have it through believing in Jesus—not merely believing the fact that He was crucified and rose from the dead.  But believing that His death and resurrection is, as He promises, for us.  He died and paid for our sins.  He rose again as the certification that God accepts the sacrifice of Jesus’ life for our guilt.  That He settled our account with God.

 

It is not possible to make yourself believe this so strongly that you are confident in the face of death.  It takes divine power for anyone to believe it.  But God works His divine power in the word that I am preaching today, in the words of the Scripture when they are read at home and proclaimed and taught in the Church.  Through the preaching and teaching of this Word He makes us recognize that death comes as a result of sin, and that none of us is free from it, no matter how well we live in our own eyes or in the eyes of others.

 

And through the preaching of His Word He also gives us eternal life.  He causes us to believe that through Jesus, and through Jesus alone, our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God and He to us.

 

JoAnn heard this word from God when she was young.  When she was six years old or so, she was also baptized, and God took His powerful word and joined it to the water of Baptism, so that she was joined to Jesus by faith.  She entered into His life.  When she was older, after being taught more of His Word, she professed her faith in Jesus and received the bread and wine that are joined with His Word, and she received the body and blood that He gave on the cross for the forgiveness of her sins.

 

A lot of time has gone by since then.  Those words of Jesus that sustain our faith in Him, that make us believe in Him and share in His life—it has been a long time since she received them last.  That is the favorite trick of the devil and our sinful nature—to separate us from the words of Jesus, because those words communicate to us His divine life as a free gift.  They tell us that heaven is ours when we die, and that God forgives us and gives us eternal life now in the midst of this life.

 

The devil has a long history of this, of deceiving us into setting our minds not on the things above, where Christ is seated, where He suffered to make a place for us, but on things below.  But Jesus overcame Him for us.  He took away our sins.  He gives us life as a free gift, now and forever, through His death on the cross.  He proclaims this free gift to you now in your grief, and encourages you to come with your grief to His house, where He will give you life and wipe away your tears through His Word, until He does so with His own hand when You see Him on the last day.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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