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Archive for June, 2019

God’s Scattering and Gathering. Pentecost 2019

pentecost tower of babelThe Feast of Pentecost

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 14:23-31 (Gen. 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21)

June 9, 2019

God’s Scattering and Gathering

 

Iesu iuva!

 

In the Name of Jesus!

 

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.  Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen.

 

They shall repair the ruined cities, it says on the sign outside.  Do you remember that?  It was the theme for the stewardship series last fall.  This is what God promises He is going to do through His Church.  They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations (Is. 61:4).  God creates, and He restores creation.  It has been His will since the beginning to restore man to his former glory.  And when the crown of creation, man, is restored, we then go out and repair the ruined creation.  The Holy Spirit works in and with us to restore the face of the ground (Ps. 104:30). 

 

The problem has always been that human beings always resist God’s promise to restore and gather them, because human beings want to repair themselves, gather themselves from where they are scattered.  In the Old Testament reading we have an example of this.  Noah’s descendants refuse to do what God commanded and spread out across the earth.  God’s will didn’t make sense to them, so they decided to stay together in one place and build a tower to make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth (Gen. 11:4). 

 

How it was that they thought a tower with its top in the high heaven would keep God from scattering them, its hard to say.  But then again maybe it isn’t so strange.  If we drive into Chicago we can see many towers stretching up into the heavens.  Many people gather around them because they indicate commerce, money, culture will be found there.  And in cities like it around the country similarly marvelous things have been accomplished.  In some they have mapped the human genome.  In others they have developed computer systems that have brought the whole world together.

 

People imagine that our skyscrapers and our airplanes, our computers and knowledge will keep God’s judgment at bay.  Many people even think that our striving, our knowledge that we accomplish by working together as human beings will enable us to return to the paradise from which we have fallen.

 

But it is folly.  No amount of achievement that we can build with our own hands can restore the glory we have lost.  We are born enemies of God, devoid of His love.  And since He who does not  love remains in death (1 John 3:14), human beings die and are dead even while they are alive.  And they remain in death forever.

 

When God scattered the people at Babel He was actually being kind to them.  As long as they were together, doing marvelous things like setting up a tower into the heavens, they were never going to be raised up to the glory God meant them to have.  They were never going to return to God that way, because their trust was in their own power and effort and skill and intelligence.  Their trust was in an idol.  God tore down their tower, confused their language, and scattered them, because until they lost these idols they could never know the true God.

 

God does the same thing today.  He shatters our idols through the preach of the Law so that we realize that they won’t save us. Those who do not believe in Christ have to give up the idol that they are going to go to heaven while doing what pleases their flesh, while following the world’s values and clinging to sin.  Those who truth their good moral life to save them have to be brought to confess that it is not enough for God.  God makes us give up these idols when He reveals His will in the Law and His judgment on sinners.  He destroys their work and scatters them, just as one day those who persist in their own works will perish with them, spending eternity alone in their anguish.

 

Churches often follow the way of Babel.  They are tempted to trust in the number of people they have gathered together, and they try to gather people into their buildings by any means possible.  They think that if there are a lot of people in church they will be safe.  They won’t have to worry about the church closing; they won’t have money problems.  They think having a big growing church is a sign of God’s presence and favor, and so they do whatever they have to to create that big, growing church.

 

It’s of course not wrong to seek to bring people to Christ and therefore into church membership—we should od that.  But it is idolatry to trust that God is with you because your church is growing.  The idolatry is imagining that you can gather God’s church and build it by your own strength, wisdom, and talent.  When we start doing that, we impose our own agendas on the Church which is the creation of the Triune God, and His dwelling place.  We oppose God and fight against Him.

 

 

Have you done this?  To the extent  that you don’t understand the will and the ways of God, you are sure to have done it, just as I have.  When we proceed by the wisdom of our flesh, we start building a tower of Babel instead of the church of God.  And God judges us.  He knocks down our idols and declares that we who build them will become like them (Ps. 115:8)—we become helpless, deaf, dumb, devoid of wisdom.  We perish with out idols.

 

But it is not God’s will that you perish.  His will is to raise you up to glory and have you united to Him as He repairs the ruined world.

 

He raises us up by proclaiming the good news to us by the Holy Spirit.  He tells us that HE is with us not because our church is growing in numbers but because He died for our sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God.   And with this good news the Holy Spirit comes and raises us up so that we say, “Yes, Amen.  God is true and therefore my sins are forgiven.  God is with me and I have peace with God.”

 

What is true for an individual Christian is true for the Church.  God is with us not because we have no sin but by His Gospel that declares our sins forgiven.  The believers at St. Peter have sin, but it is forgiven.  There are also those who do not believe, but God does not abandon St. Peter because of the unbelief of some even of many.  He sends us His Holy Spirit who continues to tell us the good news, that we are raised up and restored to fellowship with God through the blood of our Savior.  Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  (John 14)

 

Jesus’ peace with God and His peace within came from His righteousness.  He always pleased the Father.  Jesus gives us that peace as a gift.  He covered our sins.  He sends us the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the Word and in the Sacraments to make this known to us and to strengthen us in the faith that this is so.

 

When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost He cam in the form of tongues as of flame.  The Holy Spirit raises up fallen sinners and gathers them into one church through speaking, through the tongue.  Through the preaching of the ministry of the church and the witness of its members.  But not simply through our talk; the Holy Spirit comes upon us and speaks through us in fiery tongues that scorch and purify but also transfigure and empower us.  God speaks through us.

 

And He speaks not in human eloquence, according to human wisdom.  He speaks divine wisdom.  He makes known Jesus Christ and His teaching.  That is how the Holy Spirit builds up the church.

 

Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14:26).  He doesn’t say the Holy Spirit will teach you “some things” or the “most important things”.  He will teach the apostles, and the Church that follow them all things.  The church is not left to make up its own message to give the world.  The church does not say, “We have a message from God to bring you, but you’re free to not believe parts of it as long as you believe the main parts.”  It is not a human message you may accept or reject.  It is God’s witness when it shows your sin, God’s message when it declares you righteous—God’s message in all that it teaches.

 

Because we have been given the Holy Spirit we reach out with the Gospel to our neighbors with confidence that He works with us and through us.  And that He with His divine power will raise us up to glory, and through us repair the ruined cities.  Even if we cannot see how He is doing these things now we are confident that He is working among us and that in the world to come the work He has done through us will endure forever, and we will see it when we enter into the city of God.

 

But we do not merely trust; we ask God to continue to pour out on us individually and on one another this wonderful gift, the Holy Spirit, so that our lives and our work may not be our own, but God may be living in us and working in us.

 

This week our dear sister Eunice Frenk was called to the Lord.  Both she and her father and brother lived their lives in communion with the Triune God, who lived in them and worked through them.  Through them God brought many people to salvation.  Now they have gone to their rest from their labors.  Yet God has promised us the same Spirit.  Let us pray that God would pour out this heavenly gift upon this congregation, that He would gather many into His church and raise up many people to glory through us.

 

Come, holy Light, guide divine, Now cause the Word of life to shine.

Teach us to know our God aright, and call Him Father with delight.

From ev’ry error keep us free; Let none but Christ our master be

That we in living faith abide, In Him our Lord with all our might confide.

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  (LSB 497 st. 2)

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Regeneration. Trinity Sunday 2019

jesus nicodemus.PNGThe Feast of the Holy Trinity (Fathers’ Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 3:1-17

June 16, 2019

Regeneration

 

Iesu iuva!

 

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

I am not going to preach about the divine calling of being a father, as important and necessary as that topic is today, and today being Father’s Day.  I’m not going to preach about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, even though I wanted to do that today, and that is even more important.  Instead I felt it necessary to preach on the doctrine of regeneration or of the new birth that Jesus discusses in the Gospel reading with Nicodemus.

Let me begin by saying: there is nothing sadder, nothing more pitiful than to be called by God’s Name, and yet be cut off from God’s power.  There is nothing sadder than to bear the name of God and yet to not know Him.  That is the situation Nicodemus is in in the gospel reading.

 

St. Paul warned in second Timothy chapter three: In the last days difficult times will come….[people will have] a form of godliness, but [deny] its power. (2 Tim. 3:1, 5)

 

Try to imagine a more miserable situation than to be religious at least in your outward bearing and activity—but it is merely a “form”, an empty shell.  There is no power in it.  It is just the outward trappings of churchiness and “acting religious”.  Imagine having that and denying that there is any more power to it.  Denying that there is such a thing as God changing a person, recreating him or her, giving him a new heart, a new way of thinking.  Denying that there is power in God’s Word to save and to recreate human beings.

 

Let me say it again: How sad it is to outwardly confess the Triune God, the true God, and yet deny that His power is at work in true Christians—that His power is necessary to make us Christians!  How sad it is to be ignorant of His power, the power Paul describes in Ephesians chapter 1: [I pray] that you may know …what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…(Eph. 1:18-20) To be ignorant of it and to not live by it!

 

But that isn’t us, is it?  It could be.  Ask yourself if you know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power that is at work in believers?  Do you live by this power or by your own power?

 

The truth is that most Christians are not aware of it.  They may understand the doctrine that the power of God is necessary to make us believers in Christ, Christians, but it is rare that Christians consider the greatness of the power of God that is given to them when they believe in Christ, so that they depend on it and live by it.

 

Then there are many who despite having the name “Christian” are not Christians at all.  Whatever faith they have in Christ is not a faith that will save a person.

 

It is a faith like we see in Nicodemus in the Gospel reading.  He comes to Jesus at night and says, Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who comes from God (John 3:2).  This seems like a pretty high compliment to Jesus.  Nicodemus is part of the ruling council of the Jews.  He is a man of authority, high standing, probably learning, probably wealth.  Jesus is just a poor laborer from backwater Galilee, who has just recently become a wandering preacher.  It appears to be high praise that a leader of the Jews would come out and find Jesus and call Him “Rabbi,” a term of honor, and say, “We know you have come from God.”

 

But Jesus cuts him off and says, Amen, Amen, Truth, truth, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.  (John 3:3) 

 

You can see how shocked Nicodemus is by this response.  He says, “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he go back into his mother’s womb a second time?”

 

It shocked Nicodemus to hear that nothing in his life till then was any help to make him enter the kingdom of God.  That is a powerful miracle, a divine miracle, if someone is born a second time.  The word translated “again” can also mean “above.”  But either way we are talking about something that no human being can do for himself.  It must be done for Him.  God must cause a person to be born from heaven, or must make a person be born a second time. If God does not do it, a person will not be saved, and he will be separated from the power of God.  He may be a member of a church in an external way, even a right-teaching church, but he will not be a member of Christ’s church.  He will be like a blind man, a man chasing after the wind, who neither understands God or His work.

 

What is this second birth that we need to be saved, to have God’s power, to be in His Kingdom and participate in its blessings and in its work?

 

The Lord makes that clear at the end of the reading.  As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.  (John 3:14-15)  Being born again is coming to faith in Jesus.

 

Many people will hear that and breathe a sigh of relief.  “Well if that’s all it is, believing in Jesus, then I am safe.  Then I am born again.”  But pay attention!  Jesus doesn’t say that faith like Nicodemus had is being born from heaven—where you say, “Jesus is a teacher from God.”  He isn’t talking about the faith either where a person only intellectually assents to the teaching of the Apostles’ Creed—that Jesus died, rose again, ascended into heaven, and so on.

 

Our Lord uses the example from the book of Numbers, where the people of Israel complained against God and Moses, and God sent fiery serpents among them who bit them and they died.  Then the people of Israel cried out to God for forgiveness, and He told Moses to make a bronze serpent and attach it to a pole and lift it up so that all the people who were bitten by snakes could see it.  And whoever looked at the snake on the pole would live.

 

That is the kind of faith Jesus is talking about.  When a person has that kind of faith, he is born again.

 

It is not an intellectual understanding about the basic doctrines of Christianity that one holds in a more or less disinterested way.  Saving faith in Jesus looks to him the way those Israelites bitten by snakes looked to the snake lifted up on the pole.  They looked to it trusting God’s word, and they looked to it as if their lives depended on their looking.  They looked while their wounds were inflamed with poison, in great pain, with death working in them.

 

This is how Christians who are born again look to Jesus.  This is what faith in Jesus that saves you is like.  You know that you are infected and poisoned with sin, and that it is working in you to make you an enemy of God and carry you down to hell.  There is no fighting this poison with your own power.  You are bitten with it, you are dead.  It is as simple as that.

 

But the Gospel shows Jesus lifted up on the cross and dead.  Like the snake, the source of the poison, Jesus has become sin for us on the cross.  And He who became sin for us is put to death.  If you believe that as sin’s poison rages inside of you and you feel it, then you have been born again, born from above.

 

Of course Jesus says more about this; He tells Nicodemus that Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  He is referring transparently to Baptism, in which the Holy Spirit joins Himself to the water to give us the new birth, to bring us to faith in Jesus.

 

Now everyone who is a member of St. Peter has received this bath through which the Holy Spirit gives us the new birth and works faith in Jesus.  But not everyone who is a member of St. Peter has remained in the new life that was given in Holy Baptism.  Many fall away from faith in Christ.  They grieve the Holy Spirit, and He departs.  Christ must be formed in them again, as St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!  (Gal. 4:19)

 

When that happens, we become like Nicodemus.  We may be very religious, but we do not have Christ, the wisdom of God and the power of God (1 Cor. 1:30).  We have a certain amount of knowledge.  We may have human virtue.  But we do not have love, and so we become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal ( 1 Cor. 13).  We become blind guides, who lead others into a ditch; whitewashed tombs, who look religious on the outside but inside are full of the uncleanness of sin.

 

But the Gospel tells us today that God wants you to be reborn.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:16-17). 

 

Jesus came into the world so that every person might be saved.  Might be born from above, and believe in Jesus like the Israelites who looked to the snake on the pole and lived, even though they were bitten and death was at work in them.

 

Jesus came into the world so that we might have eternal life.  Not when we die, but now, through faith in Him.  And so that we might be confident and assured that we are saved and righteous before God.

 

That is why He baptized you and gave you the new birth of water and the Spirit.  It is also why He sends you His Word—in the preaching on Sunday morning—in the teaching of it in Bible Class—in the bible sitting on your dresser or your bookshelf.  Through His Word, if you receive it and use it and do not resist it when it comes, the Holy Spirit comes with power to reveal your sin and your helplessness.  He makes you realize you are bitten like the Israelites—that you are by nature God’s enemy, and sin’s poison is coursing through you every day.

 

And then the Holy Spirit leads you to see Christ lifted up and made sin for you.  Through that, the message of the Gospel, He makes you sure that your sin cannot harm you, because it has been put to death in Jesus.  And with this certainty comes not empty religiosity but joy, love, power.

 

If you have this faith, even if it is just a yearning to be able to believe this, you have been born again.  And along with this faith comes a new life.  The Holy Spirit lives in you.  Christ lives in you.  Immeasurably great power is at work in us who believe.  It is a miracle.  This power and this new life is the life of the church.  Like the hymn says:

 

We thank You Christ, new life is ours,

New light, new hope, new strength, new pow’rs.

This grace our ev’ry way attend

Until we reach our journey’s end. (562 st. 6)

 

Thanks be to God, the Christian faith and life is not without power.  God’s mighty power begins it in us in Holy Baptism.  He begins it again when it has faltered through His Word.  And He sustains it and makes it grow through the same Word.  May this mighty power of God’s Spirit in the Word be known among us and sustain us.

 

Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The New Has Come. Funeral Sermon Eunice A. Frenk. June 6 2019

June 6, 2019 1 comment

In Memoriam + Eunice A. Frenk

St. Peter Lutheran Church (Carlson)

2 Corinthians 5:13-21 (Is. 65:17-24; Luke 2:36-38)

June 6, 2019

The New Has Come

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Friends in Christ,

 

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

 

The other day I read a sermon from almost five hundred years ago, preached by the pastor in Wittenberg at the funeral of Martin Luther.  He started off by saying, “I’m supposed to preach a sermon at the funeral of our beloved Dr. Luther, which I am glad to do, except I’m not sure how I will be able to since I will barely be able to get through two words without crying.”  And he goes on and says, I will probably cause more crying by my sermon, because how can we not mourn sincerely when ”God has sent us this sorrow and has taken from us this noble and dear man…”?

 

Well, that is the way it is for us today who knew Eunice Frenk well.  We are at the funeral of a woman who touched so many people. It is remarkable to me how many people spent a little time with Eunice and received love from her and they never forgot it.

 

For us as a church at St. Peter it is especially difficult, because she was a powerful influence and an example of Christian faith and love.  She influenced people to hold to God’s pure Word, to go to church, to study the Scriptures.  She was a dedicated worker in God’s house and she motivated other people by her example.  And she was the living link to the pastors from whose mouths and hands so many people in Joliet became Christians and remained Christians, as they were baptized and preached to and fed the body and blood of Christ by Rev. Erdmann and Martin Frenk, Eunice’s father and brother.  Now that she is gone, it is like the end of an era, and that is a source of grief.  And many people at St. Peter will feel like the people in Wittenberg must have felt when Martin Luther died—what will become of us now?

 

One way to answer that question might be in the words of Eunice’s favorite verse, from Psalm 46: Be still, and know that I am God.  Or in the words of the hymn Martin Luther wrote based on that psalm: The Word they still shall let remain, Nor any thanks have for it.  He’s by our side upon the plain With His good gifts and Spirit.

 

Eunice gave me a wood carving with that hymn on it at my ordination, I think; it hangs in the wall of my office.  She sang that hymn with Sandy a lot of times in the last days she was on earth.  Her hymn and her verse tell us: God will not forsake those who cling to His Word.  He is faithful and strong.

 

But there is another word from God in the reading from 2 Corinthians 5 that stands before us as our comfort today: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  (2 Cor. 5:17)

 

Talking about Martin Luther as I have been doing is not “new” and up to date.  It is old.  What Martin Luther did and what he taught mattered to Lutherans in Eunice’s generation, and it mattered even to Christians in other churches.  But in our day fewer people care about Martin Luther and what He said and did.  It’s seen as ancient, irrelevant history by many.

 

But Eunice did care.  She cared what Martin Luther taught not just because she was raised a Lutheran, but because she believed in and cared about the good news that Martin Luther proclaimed from the Bible.  Eunice cared about God’s Word, and she believed that God’s pure word was taught by Luther and by the teachers that confessed the same faith.  I know this is true because this is what I came to St. Peter preaching, and Eunice encouraged me to continue in it, and to be bolder in preaching it.

 

And she also told me not to worry about how long it took to preach it.  She might have been the only one who felt that way.  But she said one Sunday that if I succeeded in whittling my sermons down to ten minutes like I was saying I was going to do, that it “almost wouldn’t be worth getting up on Sunday morning and going to church.”

 

That was the other thing about Eunice.  She didn’t just care about Luther, doctrine, and her church.  She also cared about people; she encouraged people.  Now this I doubt I have to tell any of you about, but I will anyway.  When I came here, and Pastor Jany retired, we had funerals all the time.  Sometimes it seemed like there would be one almost every week.  Eunice came to every one—even the people who had long since ceased being members of St. Peter, even the people no one else knew.  She cared about everyone who had ever been a member here, almost as if she were their pastor.  Not that she in any way horned in on the pastoral office—there was not even a hint of that.  She just loved people like a Christian.  Not only that, but she sent Christmas cards in which she would type up a Christian message to everyone in the church and I think everyone who had left the church and probably everyone she had known in Joliet who never went to St. Peter.  If you are here today you probably got one.  She sent out birthday cards too.  But I never got the faintest impression that Eunice was doing this to be holier than thou, or because she was the Pastor Erdmann’s daughter.  She did it out of genuine love.  She loved people.  She cared about their eternal welfare.

 

That is in addition to serving on nearly every board or committee at St. Peter—except, as she joked, the men’s group.  She was a Sunday School teacher, leader of the Mission society, member of the ladies’ aid and the altar guild.  And she taught Spanish for 30 years at Joliet Township High School and at the junior college.  The testimony to her excellence at her work is that 2 years in they made her head of the foreign language department.  But an even greater testimony is how many of her former students I have met who had a lifelong bond with her because of the years they spent with her as a teacher.

 

So how do we not get emotional, how do we not grieve to lose her?

 

Well, we can’t avoid grieving.  But we should not fail to thank God for her, because she was like Anna the prophetess, who was in our midst pointing us to Jesus Christ as our redeemer.  And we should be glad for her, because the Scripture says: If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  And that means that Eunice, who was in Christ and is in Christ, has a place in the new heavens and earth that God will soon make visible, about which Isaiah said: For behold, I create a new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind…I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. (Is. 65:17, 19) 

 

That is over for Eunice—the tears we are shedding now, and the many we will shed in the rest of our lives.  She belongs to the new creation God is preparing, where there are no more tears and pain and death, where the griefs of this creation aren’t even remembered.

 

The way she lived on earth testified that she belonged to the new creation and not to this old one.  The reading from 2 Corinthians contains her confirmation verse:  and He (Jesus) died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Cor. 5:15). 

 

Eunice lived this verse.  That was why she cared about Jesus’ pure Word.  That was why she loved and served people so faithfully and diligently in church and in every area of her life.  She didn’t live for herself; she lived for Jesus.

 

Will people be able to say that about you and me when we die?  Is it true of us?  Some of us, if we are honest, will have to say, “No, I have not lived for Jesus who died for me.  I have lived for myself.”  Others will say, “I have tried.  I have wanted to, but I fail and fall down over and over again.”

 

The good news for us is that Eunice’s confirmation verse rests on the verse before it, on something God has already done for us.   For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died (2 Cor. 5:14).  And that is wonderful news for all of us who are not Eunice, but who are sinners who believe in the same Lord as Eunice.  One has died for all—we know what that means.  Jesus died for all people.  He died for the sins of the whole world, and for all of my sins, and yours.  All of our failures to live for Him.  All of them died with Jesus.  They no longer stand against us before God.  They are blotted out of His book.  The only people who have sins before God are those who want to keep their sins—who refuse Jesus because they want to go on in their sins.

 

But 2 Corinthians 5 tells us: One died for all, therefore all have died.

 

Even though you are still alive, apparently, and worse than that, even though your sinful nature is alive every day, kicking and screaming and wanting to live for yourself, before God, you have died.  That is not you anymore.  It is not counted to you.  Jesus died for your sins and for that old self.  That means, before God, you died.  You are not the old you.  You are alive from the dead.  You have a new life, and everything from your old life no longer stands before God.  The old has gone, the new has come!  You don’t belong to this old world because your sins are forgiven and blotted out.  You belong to the One who died for you.

 

So did Eunice.  She was a new creation living in the old one.  She believed Jesus had died for her, and that meant she had died to her old nature and arisen to live before God as a new creation in Christ, as the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).  And she was right to believe this, because it did not depend on her doing and striving.  It depended on the one who died for all.  And He pledged that what He had done in His death was for her.  He pledged it when she was baptized, and she was joined to Christ, covered with His righteousness as the pall covers her casket now.  Filled with His light and life, as the paschal candle stands at the head of her casket.

 

He pledged it to her when she came down to this altar and received the body that Jesus gave into death for her and the blood He shed for her.

 

Jesus gives us the same pledges.  Through them God makes His appeal to us—in the sacraments, in the preaching of the Gospel.  He says, “I am reconciled to you.  All your sins have died with my Son.  The old has gone, the new has come.”

 

Paul says, because this is true, we don’t regard people according to the flesh—according to who they are by nature.  Just as when you looked at Jesus you couldn’t see He was the Son of God—so Paul says we should not look at Christians according to their outward appearance.  If you believe in Christ, you are a new creation.  The old has passed away.  Everything old about you, and the power of this fallen world has passed away.  Behold, the new has come.  You belong to the new world, where tears are no longer remembered and joy alone remains.  When you look at Eunice now, you should not judge her according to the flesh, but according to the Word of God that says this old world of death and sin has passed away for her, and the new world of eternal life is ahead.

 

That is the hope for us now that we have no Eunice and not many shining examples of Christ’s life among us.  And in a world where the Word of God is cast aside as something old and useless.

 

The old has gone, the new has come.  One died for all, and we all died, and we have a new life that comes from Him as a pure gift.

 

Let us rejoice for Eunice, that all that remains for her is the new.

 

Let us hope in God who calls us a new creation.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

How Jesus is Seen. Exaudi, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, 2019

martyrs.PNGExaudi, the Seventh Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 15:26-16:4

June 2, 2019

How Jesus is Seen

 

Iesu Iuva

 

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The Paschal candle is no longer burning.  Since Epiphany it has been by the altar, but at Ascension Day, Thursday, it moved to the Baptismal font.  After the Gospel reading its flame was put out.  That’s because, after the ascension of our Lord, we no longer see Him.  He is alive from the dead, but no longer visible to our eyes.

 

That is hard for us, but even harder for the world.  The world needs to see Jesus so that the people in the world may know God.  Apart from Jesus no one can know God or be saved.  But we have to come into contact with Jesus to know who He is.  We need to see Him, even if we don’t physically gaze upon Him with our eyes.  The world needs to see Jesus that it may come to know Him and be saved, but we Christians also need to go on seeing Jesus so that we may not fall away and lose heart.

 

Since Jesus has ascended to God’s right hand and we can no longer see Him, He has left behind a witness to Himself in this world.

 

In reality Jesus speaks of two witnesses to Him in this reading.  And in a certain sense you could say He even describes three witnesses to Himself.  The first witness Jesus calls, “the Helper” and “The Spirit of Truth.”  The second witness is the apostles themselves, who have been with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry.  And the third “witness,” so to speak, is the suffering and persecution the apostles and those who believe after them endure because of their witness to Jesus.

 

First of all, the apostles.  They had been with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry, and so Jesus says, “You will bear witness to Me.”  They would testify to all they had seen Jesus do and teach on earth.  They would show people who Jesus was by His actions and His teaching.  That He was the eternal Son of God, with the Father at the beginning, through whom the world was made.  That He had become a man, humbling Himself and taking on our weakness and mortality in order to be our servant.  How after preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins to the repentant, His enemies nailed Him to a cross, and He died for our sins, and how He was raised from the dead, showing that our sins were forgiven by God forever.  They would bear witness that they saw Jesus ascend into heaven and that He is returning to judge the living and the dead.

 

This witness of the apostles is not unfamiliar to you.  You hear it and say it in summary every week in the creed.  We hear the witness of the apostles about Jesus every time the Gospel is read.  They bear witness to us: this is who Jesus is.  This is what Jesus did.  He is the Savior of sinners.  He is your Savior.  Their witness guards us from being led astray to a false Jesus.

 

Yet Jesus doesn’t mention the apostles first when He talks about the witness to Him that will happen after His ascension.  He says, When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father…He will bear witness about Me.  (John 15:26) 

 

The apostles weren’t left to their own faulty memories to be witnesses of Jesus.  Otherwise no doubt they would have mixed up things Jesus taught, or misinterpreted things He did.

 

If all we had to go by was the apostles’ memory of Jesus—even as eyewitnesses—no doubt we could not rely on it with absolute assurance.  But Jesus promises that He will send them the Helper, who is also the Spirit of Truth from the Father.  He will ensure that the witness they bear of Jesus is accurate, that the picture they give the world of Jesus is true.

 

Jesus tells them that this Helper is going to bear witness with them.  He is not just any kind of helper, but one who helps you to speak, or who speaks on your behalf—an advocate.  He is able to convince people and to comfort people where the apostles by their own power of speech and personality will not be able to.  This Helper, the Holy Spirit, Jesus is going to pour out on the disciples when He ascends to heaven as His gift to them.  And the Holy Spirit will witness with them and convince people that what they say about Jesus is the truth.

 

This is comforting news for us.  We in the Church are witnesses to Jesus also.  We didn’t see Jesus first hand like the disciples, but we believe the witness of the apostles of Jesus.  And what if it depended on us to convince everyone that Jesus is the Son of God?  It doesn’t.  We are merely witnesses.  And in the Church we have a great helper who speaks to us and bears witness to Jesus so that we rest in Him.  But He also speaks through us and convinces the world that our witness to Jesus is true.

 

And this Helper also brings it about that the third time of witness can happen, which is when we endure persecution and hardship because we bear witness to Jesus, and yet we do not fall away.  Jesus said: I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away.  They will put you out of the synagogues.  Indeed the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God (John 16:1-2). 

 

The apostles and the Church bear witness to Christ.   The Holy Spirit bears witness to Christ.  And finally, the persecution and suffering of the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, bears witness to Christ.  Wherever a church believes in the real Jesus and bears witness to the real Jesus and holds to the real Jesus and His real teaching, there will be hostility from the world and the devil.  This is a necessary part of being a witness in this world.

 

What is it that Christianity wants to tell the world?  What is it that the Holy Spirit bears witness to among human beings, as long as the world remains?

 

Isn’t it that God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life?  (Jhn 3:16)  And what does the love of God the Son look like?  It looks like Him suffering for us, to impart this great gift to us—that our sins are taken away.  Suffering when people ignored Him and treated Him with contempt during all the years He taught.  Suffering when even His apostles didn’t listen to Him.  Suffering in the garden as He prayed and prepared to offer Himself up.  Suffering on the cross when He endured God’s fierce wrath against the world’s sins.

 

So when we suffer because we bear witness to Jesus, the world not only hears the church confess the faith and talk about Jesus and preach Jesus.  It not only hears the witness of the Spirit.  It also sees us following the one we preach.

 

Suffering for witness to Christ will happen, and when it does, the Holy Spirit enables us to witness to Jesus’ love for us not only with our lips but with our wealth, our good name, our sweat, our tears, and perhaps our own lives.

 

We haven’t endured a lot of this for our witness to Jesus.  Of course we have all suffered, because this is a world where everyone suffers.  Everyone loses loved ones.  Everyone gets sick.  Everyone dies.  But not everyone bears witness to Jesus and suffers for it.  Only faithful Christians and faithful churches do that, and not in the same degree.

 

If we faithfully learn Jesus’ Word and are serious about bearing faithful witness to Him, it will not become easier for us.  Not in a human sense.  Rather, we will gain enemies.  People will say we are intolerant, arrogant, and so on.  And much worse could happen, up to and including losing our very lives.  It’s strange to imagine such a thing happening in this town, at this church, but no longer impossible to imagine it.

 

But there is great joy in bearing this witness to Jesus.  First of all because of who Jesus is that we witness to.  He is not a hard taskmaster, an enemy of human beings.  He is the all gracious, all merciful Lord who died for our sins.

 

Secondly because Jesus has given us a great helper who comforts us beyond all telling as Luther’s hymn puts it.  He speaks to the world with power and helps us.  But He speaks to us in the still small voice that Elijah heard on the mountain and consoles us and tells us that when we suffer, we show ourselves to truly be Jesus’ disciples.

 

The paschal candle is put out because we can’t see Jesus.  We light it when we baptize someone, and then we light a little baptismal candle and give it to them.  It means—you have now become a participant in the life of Jesus.  And then when a Christian dies, we light the paschal candle and put it at the head of the casket.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.   (Colossians 3)  When we bear witness to Jesus, that hidden light of the life of Christ illuminates us.  We become the candle.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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