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Archive for May, 2019

Jesus’ Ascension, Our Hope and Life. The Ascension of our Lord, 2019.

jesus ascension.PNGThe Ascension of our Lord

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Acts 1:1-11

May 30, 2019

Jesus’ Ascension, our Hope and Life

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

 O wondrous Conqueror and great,

Scorned by the world Thou didst create,

Thy work is all completed!

Thy toilsome course is at an end;

Thou to the Father dost ascend,

In royal glory seated.

Lowly, Holy,

Now victorious, High and glorious:

Earth and heaven,

To Thy rule, O Christ, are given. 

–Walther’s Hymnal 116, E. C. Homburg, 1658

 

God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet!  Jesus our brother in blood and flesh has gone where no child of Adam has ever gone—all the way down the velvet red carpet, through the blasting horns, up the sapphire steps to sit down on the throne of God at the right hand of the Father.

 

The Son of Mary, the Son of Adam, our brother—ascended so high!

 

And the Father has put everything under His control.  And now Jesus, the one born in a stable and laid in a manger at His birth, gives His Word, and the angels and the creation itself carry it out.  He gives His Word and His people chosen out of all the earth, the Holy Church, hears and keeps it, until all His enemies are subdued and lie beneath His feet (1 Corinthians 15).

 

Now why has a man received such honor, that the angels are put in subjection to Him and the Father has committed all things into His hand?  Because God the Son, who is our flesh and blood, has finished His course.  He entered into our life and did the will of His Father; He made atonement for our sins with His blood and tasted death for everyone.  He has been victorious over the devil, over this evil world.  And now He completes the final leg of this journey that He began for you and for me—He goes before us to the Father and brings our flesh and blood to the throne of God.

 

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast.  It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus our forerunner has entered on our behalf (Heb. 6:19-20).  Jesus’ ascension is the anchor of Christians.  When storms break on this little boat of His church, and the rains of depression and fear and tribulation pound on us, and winds of the world’s hostility toss us around, we have an anchor.  He is in heaven.  It is Jesus.  He has won the victory on our behalf.  He has conquered all our sins, smashed all the power of the devil, even torn the belly of death wide open.  Where He has gone, so will we.

Even more, where He has gone, there we are as well already.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus  (Ephesians 2:5-6).  Elsewhere the same apostle writes: Set your minds on things that are above, not things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:2-3).

 

While we are still on earth, our place is with Jesus at God’s right hand.  But while we are here, we share in His life already.  The great power that God the Father exerted to raise Jesus from the dead and bring Him to sit on His throne—that same power is at work in us.  It is the power that Jesus tells His disciples they are going to receive on Pentecost.  John baptized with  water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).

 

The ascension of Jesus is the beginning of the witness of the Christian Church, the martyria of the Church.  That was the apostles’ task—to be witnesses to Jesus.  Not in their own power—that had already failed miserably when Jesus was crucified.  But now they would have the power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus would pour it out on them as His gift from the throne of God.

 

Witness to Jesus is our task too.  Not in Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth, but in the place where God has put us.  That, right now, is here: in our families, in our work, in this neighborhood.  We may not have the position of the apostles or the glory of their office, but we have the same calling—to bear witness to Jesus.  Not just in some parts of our lives or at certain times, but in all we do.

 

We bear witness not to ourselves, but to Him.  That He has won the victory over sin, the devil, the world, and sits at the right hand of God.  That He has won us to be His people in this world.  That He has set us free from the devil and death and our sins.

 

We strive to be witnesses to Jesus in what we say to our neighbors, but also in the way we live.  In being gracious and forgiving to one another as He has been to us.  In loving other people sacrificially as He loved us, being prepared to surrender our comfort and happiness in order that others may be blessed here in time and there in eternity.

 

To be witnesses to Jesus and His victory is of course not easy.  The word for witness in the bible is “martyr.”  When you are a witness to Jesus there is suffering—from an ungrateful world, from the devil, even from people within the church sometimes.  It’s only natural.  Our life is in Christ.  We were baptized into Him and received the Holy Spirit, the power He promised the disciples.  And it is the Holy Spirit who makes us able to witness—not only to speak the truth about Jesus, but also to bear witness to Jesus’ cross by our own suffering.

 

But suffering doesn’t make us despair.  We have hope.  Jesus won the victory.  It is finished.  He is seated on the throne.  And He is with us, working in us and working through us.  Did you hear what Mark said: So then the Lord Jesus…was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.  And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs (Mark 16:20).  Did you hear how Luke put it: In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up…(Acts 1:1).  Jesus began to work and to teach when He was on earth.  But He continued to work and teach on earth after He went up into heaven.  He worked and taught through the apostles.  And He works and teaches through me, His minister, and through you, His believers, when we hold to His pure Word and Sacraments.

 

So we know that our work in the Lord is not in vain.  And we bear witness to a firm hope—that Jesus has gone ahead of us to the throne of the Father.  And where our forerunner has gone, we will follow after.  Today He comes to give us His body to eat and His blood to drink.  He pledges to us that we are still after all, members of His body, cleansed with His blood.  We are joined to Him who has won the victory and who is at the right hand of God, and joined to all the martyrs and saints who have entered into His victory.  So let us not cast away our hope, but encourage one another, and all the more as the day of His return approaches.

 

Be now our joy on earth, O Lord,

And be our future great reward.

Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Then, throned with You, forever, we,

Shall praise your name eternally.

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia  Alleluia!  (LSB p. 493 st. 5)

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Boldness in Prayer and Preaching. Rogate 2019 The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Rogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Memorial Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:23-30

May 26, 2019

Boldness in Preaching and Prayer

 

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

In the temple in Jerusalem a curtain hung between the main part of the temple building and the Holy of Holies.

 

This curtain was there to protect the priests, not to protect God.  Externally the priests were clean and holy, and they had been given a high position among the people of God—to stand in the presence of God on behalf of the people.  But they could not look upon the glory of God, because no one can see God’s face and live—not even Moses, the greatest of the prophets in the Old Testament.  To see God’s face and live only belongs to those who are without any stain of sin, because God is holy, a jealous God.

 

But on Good Friday the layout of the temple changed.  Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His Spirit, and behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”  (Matt. 27:50-51)  The veil that was there to hide God’s glory from everyone but the High Priest—the protective covering—was torn open.  Why?  Because Jesus’ death had made it possible for those who believe in Him to go boldly into the presence of God’s glory.

 

In the 16th chapter of John Jesus tells His disciples that they will soon enter into the Father’s presence with this kind of boldness.  They will, so to speak, walk right up to God the Father on His throne, and ask Him for gifts.  And instead of destroying them for their brashness and boldness, the Father will give them whatever they ask in the name of Jesus.

 

If you think about this in light of the Scriptures, you will realize what a stupendous promise this is.  Consider how God appeared to the people of Israel when He brought them out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai.  He came in fire to the mountain and set it ablaze.  The mountain billowed with smoke.  And when God spoke the ten commandments out of the fire, the people were terrified and begged Moses to tell God not to speak to them anymore because His voice was so frightening.  Then Moses climbed up the mountain to meet God—into the fire and the deep darkness.

 

Do you think you would be bold to go up with Moses into the presence of God?  Imagine trying to be bold as the trumpet blared and you climbed into the fire and deep darkness where God was!

 

Who can be bold when they enter God’s presence, if this is what God is like?  You can’t come into God’s presence on your own initiative with boldness.  In fact, as a sinner, you really won’t come into God’s presence at all.  It is dangerous for sinners to come into God’s presence.  And even if you could be sure you could enter His presence safely, you can’t be sure in yourself whether you will pray in a way He will accept and listen to.

 

But in the Gospel reading Jesus tells the disciples: 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 or boldly about the Father.  In that day you will ask in My Name… (John 16:25-26)

 

Jesus says the day is coming when He will take off the covering that is over God’s glory—not just the physical curtain in the temple, but the veil that lies over people’s hearts.  When that day comes, when He speaks boldly and plainly about the Father, then they will also pray boldly to the Father.  They will not go to Jesus with their prayers and then He will pray to the Father for them; but instead they will go with Jesus to the Father as sons of God who please the Father, with the same boldness with which Jesus enters His Father’s presence.

 

Now, this is risky on Jesus’ part, at least it seems so.  What happens if Jesus tells the disciples plainly about the Father, and doesn’t speak in figures of speech?  Won’t the disciples take this great treasure of the knowledge of God lightly?  Won’t they be tempted to misuse this knowledge for their own purposes?  And won’t many of the people they preach to misuse this bold preaching about the Father—either by ignoring it and treating it with contempt, or by using it as an excuse for sin?

 

Yes, these are all real possibilities.  This is why, in the Old Testament, the promise of Jesus was hidden under pictures—sacrifices, the worship of the temple.  The people were hard and wouldn’t listen, so God constantly had His law thundering in their ears, declaring their sin, and His requirement of a sacrifice to take their sin away.  Until a person is driven to despair of his own strength and goodness by the law, he can’t receive the plain and bold preaching that shows the grace of God the Father.

 

Nevertheless, Jesus made the Father known to His disciples with great boldness.  He made known the Father as the God who sent His Son into the world to fulfill all of God’s Law and to win the Father’s favor for us by suffering and dying for our sins on the cross.  He showed to His disciples how His Father lifted up His only Son on the pole of the cross and made Him to be sin for us, so that everyone who is bitten by the ancient serpent, and everyone who is suffering from the poison of sin, might do nothing else than look in faith to Jesus and have eternal life.  Jesus made it clear to the sinners in Israel that God the Father wanted them to come into His presence with boldness, like the prodigal son.  He has prepared everything.  The fatted calf has been slain, the prodigal has a ring on his finger and a robe placed on his back.  All there is for him to do is sit down as a son at the Father’s table.  Jesus revealed plainly that this is what the Father is like; then He sent His disciples to unveil the Father through their preaching.

 

When the grace and glory of the Father is preached with boldness and plainness, people believe that they are sons of God.  They don’t say, “I hope I’m good enough for God,” they say boldly, “I am God’s son and heir.  I am baptized into His Son.”

 

And with that same boldness we do what Jesus said we would do: we pray to the Father in Jesus’ name.

 

On our own initiative this would be totally impossible.  But Jesus brings us into the Father’s presence.  When we pray, we don’t come on our own.  We join Jesus in His prayer at the Father’s right hand.

 

We are already in the Father’s presence, wrapped up in Jesus’ righteousness in our Baptism.  Jesus brings us to the Father and Jesus joins our prayer to His.

 

This means: God receives you as a child and an heir.  He wants to hear you pray, just as a father wants his son to come to him.  And he wants to give you everything you ask in Christ.

 

And it means that, when you do not know how to pray correctly, your prayers are also wrapped up in Jesus’ prayers.  If you pray the wrong thing, if you fumble and don’t know what to say, Jesus is praying with you, and His prayer carries your prayer wrapped up in His into God’s ears, and He is pleased.

 

If you have tried to pray you may have noticed it isn’t easy for you.  Frankly, your flesh doesn’t want to pray at all.  And once you start praying, you often get tired of it pretty quickly (unless you have some huge problem weighing on you.)  You may feel awkward and don’t know what to say.  This is just like everything else in being a Christian.  It doesn’t come naturally to us to act like God’s sons and heir.

 

We have to learn to pray.  We have to grow in it, just as in every other part of being a Christian, from learning God’s Word to loving our neighbors, to faithful giving and service in the Church.  We learn to pray in Jesus’ name from learning His Word, and also from suffering and affliction.  There’s a reason why God keeps letting hardship come to us—it’s because without it, we often don’t pray.

 

But even while we are still learning to pray in Jesus’ name and to come with Him as sons into the presence of our Father, we know God hears us.  Jesus gives us the very words to pray in His prayer, beginning with the first words, where we call God the Father “Our Father.”

 

Since the covering is taken away, let us then with boldness draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).

 

Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Cantate 2019

paraclete.PNGCantate, the Fifth Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:5-15

May 19, 2019

The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Church

 

Iesu iuva!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

During the weeks of Easter, Jesus our Lord is continually teaching us about the Holy Christian Church.  We need this more than ever because we live in time in which people are confused about what the Church is and what it is supposed to be doing.

 

Jesus says in the Gospel reading that the Church is going to receive the Holy Spirit when He ascends into heaven, and His Church is going to be the place where the Holy Spirit does His work.  Jesus describes in this reading three parts to the work of the Holy Spirit: the work of conviction, the work of instructing the Church in all truth, and the work of revealing what is to come to the Church.

 

Today, increasingly, we find people saying that the church is unnecessary to being a Christian.  Even more you hear more and more people claiming to be believers in Jesus who say that it is actually harmful to salvation to be involved with most churches, because the churches are not serving Christ but their own agendas.

 

Sadly, it’s not hard at all to see the truth in this criticism.  We see pastors all the time who are driven by a desire to further their own careers and prestige.  And we see churches where the members treat the church as their own possession, set up to carry out their desires instead of the desire of Christ, where people are driven off when they get in the way of “the way we’ve always done things.”  This is such a common story about churches that it is proverbial.

 

But Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is not going to conform to the will of a pastor or of a congregation—the Holy Spirit is going to convict.  Where you have the Holy Christian Church you will find the Holy Spirit carrying out that work.

 

And Jesus says that His Church is not going to be a human organization gathered around what pleases this or that group of people.  He says His Church is going to be guided or instructed by the Holy Spirit in all truth.  Wherever you find people who deny that it is possible to have all the truth, or where there are people who completely refuse to be instructed in all the truth, you have people who are acting like they are not Christ’s Church.  And if they persist in this sin of denying the truth, despising the truth, the Holy Spirit will depart from them and leave them, as they desire, without the truth.

 

Christ’s Church is the assembly which is led by the Holy Spirit in all truth, and in which the Holy Spirit does the mighty work of convicting people, changing their minds from human wisdom to the truth of God.  This work of the Holy Spirit is what makes the church live.  When this is not happening, or when the work of the Holy Spirit is resisted, the Holy Christian Church dies in that place, even if the organization that is called church has many people in it.

In the reading today Jesus describes the work the Holy Spirit does through the Holy Christian Church and in the Holy Christian Church.

 

When He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.  This is the first work Jesus says the Holy Spirit will do through the true church.  He will convict, which means, He will convince us of things that we were wrong about and did not understand.  He will overturn the wisdom of the fallen nature of human beings.

 

First He will convict concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me (John 16:9)—that is, they do not believe in Jesus.  The Holy Spirit convinces unbelievers that they are guilty of sin.   His work is not to convince us that we have sinned here and there, when we chose to do things that we knew were wrong.  But that even when we are trying our best to be good people, decent and moral people, we are not good in the sight of God.  All over the world, in every culture, in every religion, there are many people trying to be good.  Paul describes in Romans 2 how pagans who do not even have the ten commandments live their lives trying to obey the law of God inscribed in their conscience: the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse… them (Rom. 2: 15).  By nature human beings with a wavering conscience that commends them when they do well and condemns them when they do what they know to be wrong.  But most people live with the nagging suspicion that they have not done good enough.  The Holy Spirit comes with an unwavering clear voice and convicts us with the firm, unmistakeable judgment of God.  He tells the world through the Law: You are condemned.  You are sinful and unclean in all that you do in the flesh, even when you try to keep the Law of God.  It is not enough.  You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.  This includes those who manifestly break the law: fornicators, blasphemers, liars, thieves.  And it includes those who live a blameless life before men.

 

Second, the Holy Spirit convicts us of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer  (John 16:10).  Just as surely as the Holy Spirit convinces us that we are sinners and cannot stand before God on our own, He convinces us that we are righteous before God with a righteousness that comes from outside of us.  The Holy Spirit convinces us that Jesus has ascended to the Father where He appears before Him as our righteousness.  This is a beautiful conviction by the Holy Spirit. It is a firm and sure assurance that we are going to heaven because we have the righteousness that avails before God. It is sure and certain because it doesn’t concern your work or mine but Jesus’ work.  The Holy Spirit convicts believers through the preaching and sacraments of the Church that their righteousness is Jesus Christ and Him alone.  If you look in your heart you find sin, don’t you?  You don’t find a righteousness that can stand before God, not even if you are the most sanctified, holy Christian in the world.  But the Holy Spirit convicts us that we are righteous before God in heaven because we have one who stands before the Father for us—Jesus who died for our sins and rose with sin conquered, and ascended as our intercessor.

 

Third, the Holy Spirit convicts concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (John 16:11).  We might wonder whether the world believes in the last judgment anymore.  People don’t go to church anymore like they used to; they don’t learn to fear judgment day and hell like they once did.  So it would be easy to think that people don’t believe it anymore.  But according to a study by Baylor University, about half of Americans are convinced that there is a hell.  25 percent more are not convinced but think it might be possible.  And even more surprisingly, 13 percent of Americans think they themselves will go to hell!  (Lutheran Witness May 2019, p. 5).

 

The Holy Spirit comes to convict the world that the ruler of this world, the devil, has already been judged when Jesus died, rose again, and ascended to heaven. He has been cast out of the presence of God and can no longer accuse us before Him.  God has given His verdict—all who believe in Christ are righteous.  So if you believe in Christ, you have passed out of death into life and you do not come into judgment (John 5).

 

These are the wonderful things the Holy Spirit convicts the world of through His church.  They are so wonderful and amazing you would think that we would pray daily for Christ to send us His Holy Spirit—not only so that He may convince the world of these things, but also that He would continue to convince us!  Who would want to stand in the way of God convincing the world of this happy news?

 

Nevertheless, even without our prayers the Holy Spirit continues to do this work.  He does it even when the sinful flesh of Christians opposes it.  He does it even when, in stubbornness and unbelief, we oppose or ignore His conviction, or we allow things in the Church that interfere with the Holy Spirit’s work.

 

But we should not do this.  We should not allow the Holy Spirit’s work of convicting to be obstructed either by our own sinful flesh or by others in the church, because we fear offending them.  The church is not the place for people to pursue their own desires and agendas—it is the place where the Holy Spirit brings the conviction that saves people, and where He leads us in all the truth.

 

The way we do not obstruct the Holy Spirit’s work is first of all that we recognize that it is our fallen nature’s way to do so; and we allow ourselves to be turned to faith in Christ.  Then we pray that the Holy Spirit would, as Jesus promised, lead us in all the truth.  And we let Him lead us.  We let ourselves be taught the Word of God until we know it so thoroughly that we can teach others; and when we have gotten to that point, we keep letting the Holy Spirit lead us into God’s Word until we live in such a way that others, when they see us, say, “Whatever they believe must come from God, because they are so loving, generous, and joyful.”

 

Dear Lord Jesus, who sent your Holy Spirit to convict the world, to guide us into all truth, work in each member of this congregation such a heart, so that we may not fight against Your Spirit.  By your body and blood strengthen us in the conviction that you are our righteousness and in your love that enables us to testify to your blessed truth in this world.  Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Belonging to Christ instead of Belonging to Ourselves. Funeral Sermon May 20, 2019. John 10:27-30, James 4:13-17

In Memoriam + Eleanor Rousonelos

St. Peter Lutheran Church (Dames)

St. John 10:27-30 (James 4:13-17, Is. 35:3-10)

May 20, 2019

Belonging to Christ instead of Belonging to Ourselves

 

Iesu iuva!

 

Tony and Jan, Patrick,

Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren of Eleanor,

Frances, her sister,

All Eleanor’s friends and family,

Members of St. Peter:

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

 

God’s Word for our comfort this morning is drawn especially from these words of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel:

 

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  John 10:27-28

 

These words of Jesus contrast with the stern words we heard from James, the relative of Jesus: Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and…trade and make a profit.’  Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  (James 4:13-14)

 

James’ description fits the way everyone lives and thinks apart from God’s grace.  It is the way of thinking and living that believes that we are in control of our lives.  Even when we know better we live this way.

 

Most people live as if they are much more important than they really are; we behave as if we have a lot more power over our lives than we actually do.  We are actually a mist that appears for a little while and vanishes, as St. James tells us.  We are not really in control of our lives.  It is given to us by God.  It is, as we say, a gift—and a gift that after a time, He takes away.

 

Since we are so impermanent, it doesn’t make sense for us to make confident boasts about what we will do today and tomorrow, what we will accomplish for ourselves.  We ought to recognize that God has given us our lives and that our purpose each day should be to spend that little bit of life to please Him.

 

But even if we acknowledge that this is true, it’s not how we live and think.  We might live conscious of these facts during times of great crisis or grief, but soon enough we go back to our old way.  What is natural for us is to think and act like James describes—as if we are in control.  To live as if our life is our own, to do with as we wish, instead of as we were meant to—offering it to God.  This is the way all people are since Adam.

 

This is also the reason our lives come to an end, and then we are judged by God.  James calls it “sin.”  When Eleanor was confirmed her pastor taught her that sin was not just bad choices but a condition into which we are born—“original sin”, she would have been taught.  And this state into which we are born is a state of death that continues into eternity in hell.

 

But Jesus describes another future, a much happier one, for those who are His.  My sheep hear my voice…they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  (John 10:27-28)

 

Truly a very different outcome.  A much happier one; one that gives hope on days like today when we are forced to see that we are not really in control.

 

If we are our own, we are a mist that perishes with the sunrise.  But if we do not belong to ourselves, but to Jesus, He gives us eternal life, and we shall never perish (John 10:28). 

 

The downside—at least it appears this way to our fallen self—is that to have eternal life you have to be a sheep.  You have to belong not to yourself but to Jesus Christ.  You don’t stand on your own but you are part of a herd, His flock.  And frankly not a herd of respectable creatures but a herd of animals that are totally helpless unless guarded and led by a shepherd.

 

This is why many people are not really interested in Jesus or in the eternal life He promises.  They want to get up in the morning and say, “Today I’ll do this, tomorrow I’ll do that.”  They want to be in charge of themselves and have something to boast about.  They want to be strong.  And we think of this as freedom.

 

But it’s really a delusion.  We aren’t really this way.  We depend on others all the time.  All of you here today received things from Eleanor.  Many of you received life itself through her.  Others of you love and support.  To some of you her love and friendship was so important and powerful you may be sitting here in church wondering, “How am I going to live without her?”  Others of you will be able to live but it will be a life where you remember her every day, wish you could talk with her and show her what is happening in your life.

 

See how much we depend on other people to live and be happy?  Yet our fallen nature wants to maintain independence when it comes to God—not knowing that if God gives us what we desire we will be independent from life and everything that makes life good.

 

Yet if we belong to Jesus and not to ourselves, He freely gives to every one of His sheep everlasting life.  He doesn’t give everlasting life to everyone (because those who are not His sheep don’t want it).  He gives it only to His sheep.

 

How do you recognize the sheep that belong to Jesus?  The same way you find a shepherd’s flock.  Sheep gravitate to the voice of their shepherd because they know His voice and they trust Him.  So Jesus’ sheep listen to His voice.

 

Jesus’ voice calls out in the preaching of the Gospel.  When we heard James rebuke our arrogance, that was Jesus’ voice calling us to return and repent of our self-sufficiency.  But His voice is most clear in the Gospel, the good news of the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus is the good shepherd, the kind shepherd, and His voice is the voice that declares good news to the poor, the sinful, the lost and dying.  His proper message is a message of God’s free and unconditional mercy.  He says to those who have gone astray and know it that their sins are forgiven.  Not just those who have turned away from Him for a long time, or who perhaps have never believed in Him—but also those who have believed, who have been following Him.  The voice of Jesus proclaims the same good news to both—that He died that we might have life.

 

He gives His sheep eternal life not because they have earned it but because He has earned it for them.

 

Jesus’ sheep have sinned and gone astray the same as everyone else; we go astray the day we are conceived.  But the good shepherd died for His sheep.  He was condemned for our sins.  So He calls out in faithful preaching and in the Holy Scriptures, urging us to receive the free gift of eternal life.  And His sheep hear His voice.

 

They hear Him; they believe Him.  They are baptized or they return to their Baptism and its promise.   In Baptism they put on Jesus and His righteousness and holiness like a wedding dress.  Then they follow Jesus, together with His flock, His church. He leads them through death to resurrection, into a world where there is no more death and no more sadness.

 

Eleanor’s body is all covered up now in that pall that is a symbol of Jesus’ holiness and righteousness.  She was given that white robe to wear first when she was baptized.  All those years that she came here and heard the voice of Jesus in the sermon He was placing that garment on her again.  When she came to His table and received His body and blood, He was doing just as He says in John 10: I give them eternal life and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  In His body and blood He was giving her eternal life while she still lived in this temporary life.

 

She was not her own, appearing for a little while and then vanishing.  She was among Jesus’ flock.  And He gave her what He gives His flock—eternal life—just as He wishes to give to each of You in His holy church through His Word and His body and blood.

 

Because He gave Eleanor eternal life in Baptism and His holy supper, we believe that now she is not dead but among His flock that is with Him.  They are lying down in green pasture but waiting to rise up again at the resurrection with all of His sheep who are still alive.  So we comfort ourselves that her shepherd has given her eternal life.

 

But we pray to this same Shepherd to keep us among His sheep, hearing His voice that proclaims the forgiveness of sins.

 

Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The King of Grace. Palm Sunday 2019

Palm Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 12:12-19 (Mt. 26-27)

April 14, 2019

The King of Grace

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Not by human flesh and blood

By the Spirit of our God

Was the Word of God made flesh,

Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.  (LSB 332, st. 2)

 

This is an Advent hymn, but the teaching it presents is just as appropriate for today and the next week as for Advent.

 

God the Son became human by the Holy Spirit in the virgin’s womb, not by a man’s flesh and blood.  He also established His Kingdom not by human wisdom but by the Holy Spirit.  He went to Jerusalem on a donkey with the cross before Him not by the wisdom of the flesh but by the Holy Spirit.

 

And for us to enter Jesus’ Kingdom it is the same.  It can’t happen by the flesh but by the Spirit of God.

 

You can’t see Jesus’ kingdom with your own wisdom; you can only see Jesus’ kingdom by the Holy Spirit.

 

You can only enter His kingdom by the Holy Spirit.

 

You can only serve in His kingdom by the Holy Spirit.

 

Peter found this out the hard way.  Even though Jesus told Peter he would deny Jesus three times, Peter insisted that he would die before doing so.  And he still denied his Lord even after being forewarned.  The reason?  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. 

 

We can’t do the will of God in the flesh.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God, says St. Paul in Romans chapter 8.

 

Many of you made pledges to God on Palm Sunday years ago.  For others of us it was not Palm Sunday, but the promises were the same.

 

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

 

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?  I do, by the grace of God.

 

Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?  I do, by the grace of God.

 

When some children and parents make these promises before God they are lying to Him from the beginning.  They never intend to be faithful to Christ.  They are just glad catechesis is over.  They are like Judas, when all the disciples ask Jesus at the Lord’s Supper “Is it I, Lord?”  Am I the one who is going to betray you?  Judas knows he is the one who is going to betray Jesus, but he pretends to be a disciple anyway.

 

Maybe there are some here this morning and this is the state of their heart.  You are going to communion, but you have no intention of following Jesus to the cross.  You are anxious to be done with Him already.

 

Many of us meant these promises we made.  But like Peter, we were faithless.  Maybe we stopped coming to church or fell into a way of life that wasn’t pleasing to God.  Maybe we kept coming, but yet we were negligent in prayer.  Our work in God’s kingdom was half-hearted or ineffective.

 

Why?  Because like Peter, we did not keep our promises by the power of God, by His Spirit, but we tried to live in God’s kingdom by the power of our own flesh and blood.

 

It seems likely to me that many of you feel great sadness because you have not just done what Peter did once or twice, but many times.  You went out to serve Jesus and you fell, not once, but many times.

 

Well, look upon and hear the good news today.  Jesus your king comes riding on a donkey to establish His kingdom of grace, to give You His Spirit and a new life.

 

Jesus our King goes to Jerusalem to offer Himself unblemished to God by the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14).  When we try to reconcile God by our works or keep His law in our flesh, we fall, like Peter.  But when our King goes in the Spirit into Jerusalem to set up His Kingdom, no one can stop Him.  Nothing in all creation can stop Him.

 

See how the Pharisees recognized this!  We are getting nowhere, they said, as the crowds waved palm fronds and shouted to Jesus as the conquering King, rejoicing in Him with great joy.  We are getting nowhere—look, the whole world has gone after Him!

 

They were right.  The crowds kept following Jesus despite their efforts.  It wasn’t because of Jesus’ fleshly qualities, because he had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, no beauty that we should desire Him.  It was by the Spirit of God, by which Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb after he had been dead four days.  The crowds came out to meet Him and called Him the King of Israel.  They waved palms before Him, and palms are a symbol of conquerors.  Jesus is the conqueror of death.  He had already shown His power over death, and they couldn’t keep the crowds away from Him.

 

But Jesus was coming to Jerusalem to establish a greater Kingdom than one in which the Pharisees or even the Romans were replaced.  He was coming to establish the Kingdom of Grace and to overthrow the rule of sin, death, condemnation.

Everyone thought Jesus’ Kingdom was fake, that it never got off the ground.  The soldiers put a crown of thorns and a scarlet robe on Him as they made long furrows in His back with the whips.  They laughed at Him claiming to be a King.  Pilate put a sign over His head: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.  It seemed like a sick joke, as the sky grew dark, and Jesus cried out, forsaken by God.  Even His disciples lost hope as He was placed in the tomb and the stone was sealed.

 

How final it seemed.  And it was.  That was the end of our sins and our old life.

 

But his kingdom had begun—His kingdom of grace.  Because it is a kingdom of grace, Peter who had proven unfaithful was sent out to preach the good news.  It was as if his fall had never happened.

 

Because it is a kingdom of grace, Peter went on to be victorious also, and to confess Jesus all the way to his own cross.

 

According to the flesh, Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t look very appealing.  A cross and suffering in Jerusalem.  And after?  A small band of believers among whom Jesus was preached, and people were baptized in water, and ate and drank bread and wine.

 

These are not the ways flesh and blood builds a kingdom.  They are the means of the Holy Spirit.

 

They are the means in which the Holy Spirit gives you a new life, set free from your falls and your failures, a new life as a son of God.  A life of grace in which not your sins, but only Jesus’ righteousness are counted to you.

 

Let us greet our King who comes to give us this new life of grace in His body and blood.  Hosanna in the highest!

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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