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Trinity 3, 2018. Lost in a Different Way.

lost coinThe Third Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 15:1-10

June 17, 2018

Lost in a Different Way

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

Psalm 26: I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites.  I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked (Ps. 26:4-5).

 

Psalm 139: Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?  And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?  I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.  (Ps. 139: 21-22)

 

The Pharisees, as usual, were partly right.  You can’t be friends with sin and friends with God.  And if you are close with sinners, friendly with sinners, are you actually being friendly with God’s enemies?  Isn’t that treachery toward God?

 

How would you feel if you saw your friend having coffee and laughing with a person who was in the process of cheating you out of your business or life’s savings, your enemy?  You’d feel betrayed.

 

This is how Pharisees thought Jesus should deal with the tax collectors and sinners, if He was truly from God.  If He didn’t kill them, He should at least have nothing to do with them—shun them.  And they were right, as far as the Law of God goes.  God’s Law does not make excuses for sinners.  It tells us that God is a jealous God, and will punish sinners in this life, then with physical death, then with everlasting punishment in hell.

 

But what is a sinner?  Who is a sinner?  That needs to be clarified, doesn’t it?  Who today calls anyone a sinner and means it seriously?

 

The Pharisees had in mind people whose sinful life was obvious.  Tax collectors, who collected taxes for the government, and then collected more for themselves.  Then also people whose life was disreputable, so decent people didn’t associate with them.  Prostitutes and adulterers and people who had sex outside of marriage.  People who openly worshipped idols.  Thieves and criminals.  If there were open homosexuals in Roman Judea, they would have definitely been among those called sinners.

 

On the other hand, God defines “sinner” more strictly.  A sinner is a person who breaks the law of God in thought, word, or deed.  Sin is lawlessness, says John (1 Jn. 3:4).  Anyone who has desires contrary to God’s law, who accidentally speaks words contrary to God’s law is a sinner, according to God.  The one who does [the laws of God] shall live by them (Gal. 3:12); but everyone who fails to do them, or breaks them at any point, is under God’s curse: Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to do them (Dt. 27:26). 

 

This is a problem for the Pharisees.  It was a problem for monks like Martin Luther, who managed to live lives that were outwardly righteous, and avoid adultery, theft, and so on.  It isn’t to say that we should make no distinction between people who commit sins out in the open and live in them without repentance and those who don’t.  We should and we must.  Civil authority must punish murderers even though everyone who is angry with his brother is a murderer.  The church must discipline those who openly despise God’s Word even though all Christians sin against the third commandment in their hearts.  Moses had to discipline the Israelites who openly worshipped idols even though he himself did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

 

But the problem is that keeping clear of open, public, obvious sin does not make you righteous.  If your sin only remains in your heart or on your tongue, you are still a sinner, subject to all of God’s threats in the Law on those who break His commandments.  In fact, you may even be in worse danger, because you, like the Pharisees and scribes, think that by keeping clean before men, you are actually righteous before God and need no repentance.

 

Those who live outwardly righteous lives and those who don’t have this in common—they are, as Jesus says, lost.  They are lost from God and cannot find their way back to Him again.  They are like a coin that has fallen out of a purse into the dustballs underneath the fridge, or like a sheep separated from the flock that can no longer hear the voice of its shepherd.  Sinners are lost to God.  They are no longer under His protection.  They are no longer His.  They are under the power of the devil, and share the devil’s fate of destruction, torment, despair.  And they cannot bring themselves back.

 

But Jesus teaches us and the Pharisees something that we can only know from the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures.  He teaches the Gospel—the good news of God—that God looks at sinners of every sort as lost in a different way.  Not just lost—doomed to destruction; but as lost possessions that God wants to reclaim and find again.

 

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, St. Paul tells us in the epistle (1 Tim. 1: 15), of whom I am the foremost.  None of Paul’s Pharisee friends would have called him a sinner.  Outwardly, he lived a dedicated, zealous life.  He was zealous for God’s Law and the traditions handed down by the rabbis and teachers that had come before him.  But Paul says not only “I was a sinner then”, but “I am the foremost sinner.”  His zeal to serve God and keep His Law didn’t change the fact that he was a sinner in the slightest.  He wanted to serve God and uphold His law, but Paul didn’t know God, despite having read the Scriptures and studied the rabbis!  Why didn’t Paul know God?

 

Because He didn’t know the Gospel, even though the Scriptures taught it clearly in passages like the one from the prophet Micah: Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?  He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.  He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot.  You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19). 

 

If God’s Law were the only teaching in the Bible, Jesus would have never told this parable.  Nor would He have sat at the table with sinners. God’s Law says: Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, to do them.  End of story.  If you are a tax collector and a sinner, or if you are a zealous Pharisee, the Law says, if you do not abide in everything written in the Law of God, you are cursed to everlasting death.  That is the reward for being God’s enemy, even if you were born into it.

 

But the Gospel says something more.  It says that God passes over transgression; He casts our sins into the depths of the sea; He forgives our lawless deeds, covers our sins and does not count them against us (Rom. 4:7-8).  This is what we confess in the creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

 

That’s why God and the angels see sinners—all sinners—as lost in a different way.  Not simply lost to eternal fire, like when you drop a coin down a storm drain and it’s gone forever.  But lost like a lamb that has gone astray.  Lost like that orange fish in the movie “Finding Nemo”, where the clownfish dad goes on an impossible journey to find his son because he loved him too much to give up on him.  Lost like a rare coin that you drop down the drain, so you shut off the water and take the pipes apart in the sink and do whatever it takes to get that coin back.

 

The Gospel declares that God has found you who were lost in sin.  He has pardoned you and the whole human race through His Son.

 

The Gospel declares that God does not excuse our sins; He does away with them.  God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness because His Son rescued us from the Law’s judgment that we are lost.  All our sins were charged to Jesus.  He became lost and condemned with them.  God has counted and imputed our sin to Him and condemned Him; He imputes His Son’s keeping the Law to us.

 

Why did He do this?  Because He is merciful and gracious and abounding in steadfast love, just as Moses and the Prophets continually declared.

 

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  He came to find those who are lost.  Rather than try to convince ourselves that we are not sinners, or at least not as bad as others, we should confess ourselves to be what we are and not try to escape it.  Jesus came to find sinners.  He came to move the fridge and sweep out the dustballs and find you.  He came over a thousand hills and into the dark valley to snatch you from the jaws of the wolf.  If you could do it, if you weren’t really lost and dead, He wouldn’t have needed to come into the dark valley, to sweat in the garden and cry out under God’s curse on the cross.  He wouldn’t have needed to move the heavy stone of death away from the door of the tomb if you could move it yourself.

 

Let yourself be the sinner you are, because Christ Jesus came into the world to save lost sinners. 

 

This is why we can and should be certain that we are found, even though in ourselves we are lost—because Jesus has another word besides that of the Law to speak to us.  He says we are lost like a sheep, or a coin, or a son, that He wants to find.  And He has found us.

 

This is why we should never despair over the sinners we see around us, or become cynical that they cannot be brought to repentance—that God cannot find them.  He has already found them in His Son.  Though few may believe it, we cannot stop preaching it, for the sake of those who are lost—because our Lord does not stop seeking them, and rejoicing with the angels of God when one sinner repents.

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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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

 

He Will Convict the World. Cantate, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2018.

peter preachingCantate, The Fifth Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:5-15

April 28, 2018

He Will Convict the World

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Last week Pastor Chehab preached to us, and many of you were excited by his message.  Which is good.  It should be exciting to us to hear how the power of God rescued a man who did not know Jesus Christ from the worship of an idol, from the everlasting darkness that is the only future for those who do not believe in Jesus Christ.

 

There was another message in Pastor Chehab’s sermon too, though, for those with ears to hear.

 

He told about how in 20 years growing up in Lebanon, which he said was 50 percent Christian then, he had never heard the Gospel.  In his experience the Lebanese Christians had mostly kept Jesus locked up in their families and churches, as though He belonged to them only.

 

What a terrible indictment of the church in Lebanon when he was growing up there, don’t you think?  I think of myself with this: how sorry I would feel in front of my Lord, if someone were to say to Him about me, “I never heard Him talk about you, Jesus.  I never got the sense that Karl wanted to talk to me about You.”  I would grieve if that is the impression people got about Jesus from me: that they never sensed the greatness of His love for them, the joy of His salvation, the freedom He gives through freely giving Himself to pay for our sins.

 

Yet I have no doubt that there are people who would say this about me—that I was content to keep Jesus as though he were only for me and people like me, instead of the one who gave Himself for all people.

 

It would also cause me pain if people were to say about the congregation that I pastor, “They don’t really care about bringing Jesus to others.”  And yet people do say this; I’ve heard them say it.  Many times.
Are they totally wrong?  Aren’t we more scared to tell the gospel to others than we are joyful to do it?  Don’t we expect people to come to us rather than we go to them?  And when they do come, even then don’t we expect them to get on board with what we’re doing rather than going to them and showing them?

 

 

My prayer is that each one of you will take to heart what I am saying, and that I will also take it to heart.  Because Jesus, the Son of God, loves all men.  He loves sinners, even though their hearts are made of stone.  He loved Pastor Chehab and called him out of darkness.  Jesus loves the youth that have disappeared from our church and gone to follow the world and the devil.

 

He loves sinners, and He has the power to save them.

 

He has the power to save them even through the weakness of the people in His Church, even through you and me.

 

And He has sent this power of God that breaks stony hearts, that pierces the darkness of our hearts, to dwell among us.

 

This is what He told the disciples in the Gospel for this Sunday: But now I am going away to Him who sent Me, and none among you ask Me, “Where are You going?”  But because I have spoken these things to you, pain has filled your heart.  But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go away.  For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go away, I will send Him to you.  (John 16:5-7)

 

Jesus was sitting at the table of the last supper, talking to His disciples after the meal, before He went to the Garden of Gethsemane.  When He told them He was going away, they were so full of pain they didn’t even think to ask Him where He was going.  But we know where He was going.  He was going to ascend to the right hand of His Father.

 

But you might not know why He was going to ascend.  Paul tells us: He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things (Ephesians 4:10). 

 

Jesus was not going to the right hand of God to escape from us and the sin and suffering we have here.  It was to fill all things.  Listen to me.  It was to do the work He was doing in Galilee throughout creation.  To preach the gracious, free forgiveness of sins.  But He would do it through His disciples who received the Helper, the Holy Spirit.

 

All the disciples could see as they sat at the table with Jesus was their own pain that they wouldn’t have Jesus with them anymore.  They could not see that Jesus was going to spread His Kingdom of salvation throughout the whole world, to all people.  That He would bring salvation to many people, all over the earth, and that He would do it through them.

 

This is what Jesus is still doing at the right hand of God.  By sending the Holy Spirit on His believers, He spreads the good news of righteousness and a completed salvation.  People believe and are added to His Kingdom of righteousness.  And He will do this whether or not we try to help Him.  He doesn’t tell the disciples, “If you are obedient, the Holy Spirit will convict the world.”  He simply says, “When He comes, He will convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.”

 

This solves one of our problems, one of the reasons why we are afraid to speak about Jesus to others.  Many of us are afraid we will offend people and drive them away.  But Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will do the convicting.  We simply open our mouths and deliver Jesus’ Word.

 

It also answers another problem that we have, which comes from a false idea about how Jesus saves people.  Many of us think that people should just come to church because it’s part of what good people do.  The third commandment and the first commandment tell us that we are supposed to worship God and listen to His Word, so people need to just do it.  If they don’t, maybe we need to make worshipping God more appealing to them.  But Jesus doesn’t say people will be saved that way.

 

He says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world.   The word means “rebuke, convince someone of guilt, show someone or something for what it is.”  For a person to be saved and be a Christian, they must be convicted. 

 

They must be convicted of sin.  They must be convinced that they are not good in the eyes of God, but sinners on their way to everlasting damnation.  That in God’s eyes they are sinners even when they do what the world calls good.  That if they do not believe in Jesus they are sinful in the sight of God because they despise His beloved Son.

 

A person will not accept this because I say it or you say it.  The Holy Spirit must speak it to them with divine power and authority and drive it home into their hearts.  But Jesus tells us clearly that the Holy Spirit will do this—and He will do this not from heaven, but through the word of the apostles, through the apostles.

 

The apostles were not supermen, were they?  Moments after this supper they went with Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane.  They fell asleep while He suffered.  When they woke up they all abandoned Him.  They were not glorious, holy men—not in themselves.  Jesus had to pick them up from their fall.  He had to bear their sins on the cross.  Then He had to convince them they were forgiven, they were righteous, so that they would be able to speak in His name.

 

That is the other thing that the Holy Spirit must do to the world through us.  After He has convinced the world of sin, He must convict the world of righteousness.  Think of how hard it must have been for the disciples to believe that they were righteous in God’s eyes after they denied Jesus.  How hard is it for you and I to believe that God’s verdict on you and me is, “Righteous?”  Today, tomorrow, every day of our lives?  It is very difficult to believe if you are conscious of the sins of your past, and if you look into God’s law and see the sins of your heart today.

 

In fact it’s impossible.  No one believes this by their own free choice.  It is a work of God’s power, a work of the Holy Spirit.

 

Yet it is a fact; Jesus has reconciled the whole world to God.  He has justified the entire world by His death.  The world does not believe in Jesus and so it pushes righteousness away and remains in its sins.

 

But this is what the Holy Spirit says to you and to everyone who hears the Gospel: You are righteous before God because Jesus, the Son of God, made fully payment for your sins on the cross.  Even your lack of zeal to see your neighbor saved, and your own weak faith.  They are not counted to you because they have been counted to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit convicts us that this is true.  That is why the preaching and speaking of God’s Word is the only way people are saved and His Church is built.

 

Pastor Chehab talked about “the dynamite”, the power of God in the Gospel.  It does not always happen that we see explosions.

 

But this power is present with us, no matter how big a bang it seems to make.

 

It convinces us that Satan has been judged and condemned, so that we go forward into the world confident of victory, even when it seems that the world and the darkness will swallow us whole.

 

And it is also what gives us love and zeal to tell the Gospel of Jesus to people around us.  There is no one whose heart is too strong, too hard for the Holy Spirit.  There is no one who has sinned too much, for whom the blood of Jesus will not atone.  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to us in the word and sacraments and He convinces us that with all our ongoing weakness we are righteous in God’s eyes.  As often as we fall and as deep as the fall has scarred our hearts, the Holy Spirit proclaims the same Gospel, that we are righteous through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Since He does this for us, we cannot lock him in to stay with us only.  What He does for us, what He says to us, He wants to say to everyone around us.  That is why He ascended on high—to give this gift to men.

 

Not just in foreign mission fields, but also very near, where our neighbors and relatives are worshipping idols and are bound for hell.  That’s why He sends the Holy Spirit to you. He wants to use you—us—to speak this gracious, joyful news, and give the gift of righteousness.

 

And though that can be hard, it is also exciting.  Because the Holy Spirit will not only rescue Pastor Chehab and followers of Islam’s idol, but also those who are in just as deep a darkness in our own families and neighborhoods.

 

It will be so, because the prince of this world has been judged.

 

Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

And Was Buried. Holy Saturday Tenebrae 2018

jesus burial.PNGHoly Saturday Tenebrae

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Matthew 27:57-66

March 31, 2018

..And Was Buried

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

There are two parts of the Creed that almost never get preached.  “And was buried.  He descended into hell.”  How often are these preached?  Almost never.

 

That’s why we are observing Holy Saturday today.  Because, surely, of all years, this one for us at St. Peter is one where we would benefit from hearing Christ’s burial preached.  And you who are here today are mostly members of the altar guild.  This year two of the altar guild’s saints died and were buried.  Others who we loved and who were pillars of this congregation also died and were buried this year.

 

How do we deal with this?  Apart from Christ, we just do it.  Death is part of life, and you have to go on as best you can, soldier through it.

 

You women on the altar guild have a lot in common with those women who were the only ones left with Jesus when He died on the cross.  The disciples fled.  Only John was left.  But none of them had the authority to bury Jesus.  You could not take someone off the cross and bury them unless Pontius Pilate gave permission, because part of the penalty of crucifixion often was that the person crucified was not buried.  His body was left to become food for the birds and to serve as a warning and an example.

 

So the women watched as two members of the Sanhedrin buried Jesus, wrapping His body in a linen cloth.  But they went home that evening and prepared spices and ointments to anoint His body on Sunday.  They would have to wait, because they still believed that it was against God’s Law for them to give Jesus the common honors of burial on the Sabbath day.

 

But you are like them.  Because it falls to you to make sure the house of Jesus is adorned, treated with honor, treated with dignity.

 

There are no doubt many people who say or think, “What is the point of all the work the altar guild does?  The point is that God’s Word is preached, that we receive Holy Communion.  What does it matter how the linens are arranged, whether there are lilies on Easter, whether there are flowers and candles?  These are all just decorations.”

 

That is what some people said when a woman broke open an alabaster jar of expensive, perfumed ointment and poured it on Jesus at the beginning of the week of His death.  “This is a waste.  We could have sold that and given the money to the poor.”

 

And today people say, “What difference does it make whether you bury me after I’m gone?  You can just throw my body in a ditch.  Or just cremate me.  It’s much cheaper.  What’s the point of the ceremony of a funeral?”

 

Perhaps people who say these things would be right if there was no resurrection of the body.  But Jesus rebuked the people who criticized the woman who anointed Him.  “She has done a beautiful thing to me.  She did this to prepare me for burial.”  So Jesus commends her for preparing His body for burial.  It may seem like a waste to us.  After all you don’t need to be perfumed and embalmed to be buried, since your body is going to return to dust regardless.

 

But the people of God hoped for the resurrection of their dead loved ones.  By their actions they said, “These bodies matter, because God will raise them from the dead.”

 

And Christians did a new thing that the Old Testament saints did not.  The Jews typically had tombs, like Joseph of Arimathea—family burial places.  That is what we see throughout the Old Testament.  The kings from David’s house were buried together, but not with everyone else.

 

But from the earliest days of the Church, Christians buried their dead together.  Christians were buried together in cemeteries—which means “sleeping places.”  That’s what the catacombs under Rome were.  Imagine the danger involved in having a Christian burial place when your religion is illegal, and if you are caught practicing it you could quite likely be tortured and finally sent into the arena to be torn apart by lions or bears.  And yet the Christians did it anyway.  And when Christianity became legal, they began to bury the dead Christians in the church yard—around the church.  Even our church has its cemetery, even though it is full and it is a distance from the church.  The old church books call it Gottesacker—“God’s Acre.”

 

Why did the Christians for so long think that God needed an acre in which to put the bodies of dead Christians together?

 

Because, as St. Paul says, 7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

 

If we were not Christians, we would die alone and to ourselves, just as we also live for ourselves alone.

 

But we live and we die in Christ, who lived and died for us, in us, so to speak.  In our life, in our humanity.  He entered into our sin and wretchedness and died in it.  That is why the women had to watch Jesus suffer and die on the cross.

 

And He also entered into the grave.  He entered the grave that human beings began digging and placing their dead in.  And human beings began doing this—Adam and Eve did it with Abel, no doubt, and Seth did it with Adam and Eve—because they believed God’s promise, given long ago, that Eve’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head.

 

A son of a woman would destroy Satan’s power, would destroy sin.  And having destroyed sin He would also destroy death and conquer the grave.

 

So Jesus is placed in the tomb to conquer it.  Later tonight, with the smell of lilies in our nostrils, the church will light up and alleluias will sound from our throats, the bells will peal.  The ancient darkness, we will sing, has been forever banished.

 

When we bury our dead, we do not bury them as those who have died alone.  We bury them in Christ.  They go into God’s acre because their dead bodies are the Lord’s. They are His planting for the resurrection, and He will raise them from their graves in the glorious freedom of the sons of God.

 

They have died not to themselves but to the Lord.  They are not their own.  They are the Lord’s.  He bought them with His blood.  He placed His seal of ownership on them when they were baptized, His Name, and He sanctified their bodies.  Their bodies, though still sick and corrupted by sin, are nevertheless holy.

 

When they are buried, their graves are not unholy places of decay and death.  They are sanctified and holy because Jesus’ body rested there first and then rose in life.

 

He purchased them to be His own and to be united to Him as members of His body.  So, with Him we die and are buried.  And with Him we will rise.  He is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead.

 

We are not waiting for God to fulfill His promise.  His promise has been fulfilled.  The resurrection of the dead has come, because Jesus has risen from the dead.

 

That is why Christians buried their dead together.  They are not so many separate people who have died alone with their separate graves.  They are members of one body—the mystical body of Jesus, who died and rose again.  They are members of the same body that we are, who come together to eat His body and drink His blood; so they were buried together, preferably near where we who still live gather as the body of Christ.

 

Today, unfortunately, it is not so.  We do not have this picture before our eyes when we bury our dead.  Increasingly funerals are no longer in church, but private family affairs.  That is too bad.  It is sad, because have seen more than one person who stopped coming to church because a pious loved one died, and the pain of remembering them in church was too much to bear.  Or they didn’t have a loved one’s funeral in the church because they were afraid that if they did, they would break down every time they came.  They could not put the death of their loved one together with the church and with Jesus Christ.

 

That is unutterably sad to me.  On Holy Saturday we see that Jesus has entered fully into our death.  He has been placed in our tomb.  When we die, our tombs will be Jesus’ tombs.  For we are the members of His body.

 

The women who followed Jesus spent the Sabbath in pain, longing to go to Jesus’ grave and anoint His body.  But when they went they did not find Jesus’ body there.  He was placed in our tomb, but He conquered it, and left it empty.  Death was swallowed up in life.

 

So it will be for those who rest in the tomb with Jesus, who are baptized into Him.

 

Jesus, my Redeemer, lives;
I, too, unto life shall waken.
Endless joy my Savior gives;
Shall my courage, then, be shaken?
Shall I fear, or could the Head
Rise and leave His members dead?  (TLH 206 st. 2)

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

What We Deserve. Wed. After Judica, 2018

Wednesday after Judica

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Passion History: Calvary

March 21, 2018

“What We Deserve”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

They lead Jesus away to Golgotha, the place of the skull, the place where they crucify Jerusalem’s criminals.  Even on this occasion a great crowd follows Him.  And is usually the case with the people who follow Jesus, they do not understand Him.  The crowd of women who follow Jesus and the North African visitor to Jerusalem, Simon, who has been made to drag Jesus’ cross, weeps.  Jesus turns His face toward them, bruised by fists, cut by thorns, and says to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but for yourselves and your children…for if they do these things with a green tree, what will happen with a dry one?”

 

If they do these things to the Son of God, green with everlasting life, what will happen to you, who are by nature dry wood, dead in trespasses and sins?

 

Jesus did not come so we could feel sorry for Him.  He did not come for our pity.  He came to save us from what we deserve.

 

And so, about nine in the morning, they arrive at the place of execution.  They give Him wine mixed with gall, which is a poison, which perhaps deadens the pain of what comes next.  Another evangelist tells us that there was also myrrh in the cup, which is a painkiller.  Long ago David foretold this, though the passion history does not quote him: I looked for sympathy, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none.  They also gave me poison for my food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.  (Ps. 69: 20-21) Whether it was meant in mercy or malice, Jesus refuses the drink.

 

And they crucify Him.  As the nails are driven through His hands and feet, Jesus prays to His Father to forgive the ones who pierce Him.

 

In case we are forgetting why this is all happening, the enemies of Jesus, standing beneath His cross and mocking Him, remind us.

 

The people say, “Aha!  You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!”

 

Then the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees: “He saved others; He cannot save Himself!”

 

And the soldiers: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 

 

And finally, at the bottom of the barrel, one of the two criminals crucified with Jesus: “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”

 

Saving is on everyone’s mind at the death of Jesus.  The four groups of people all tell Jesus, “Save yourself!  Then we will see that you are the Son of God and the King of the Jews!  Then you will be worthy of our allegiance!  Then our opposition toward you will change into admiration.  We will cast our vote for you.”

 

Jesus is taunted because all they believe that if Jesus really is the Son of God, worth loving and trusting, He should show it by saving Himself from the cross.  And the criminal adds that Jesus should also save him from the consequences of his deeds.

 

The world’s mind hasn’t changed at all in two thousand years.  Jesus isn’t worthy of our attention—unless He can provide us with a path to bliss and power right now in this world order.  Unless He can save us from dying, or pain, or the feeling of insignificance, poverty, and emptiness that still gnaws at us who live in the greatest material comfort history has ever known.

 

You can be so close and yet so far away.  It is right when people expect Jesus to save, especially here, at Golgotha.  Jesus is here to save.  He is here to save us from our sins.  And because that is why He is here, He cannot save Himself from the cross.

 

The other criminal grasps this as he hangs on the cross near Jesus.  Imagine hanging from your pierced hands and your pierced feet, dying slowly, in agony, like this man does.  What realization are you likely to come to then?  At that time people have a hard time thinking or concentrating on anything.  But this man realizes what most people never realize—We are getting what we deserve for what we have done.

 

He tells the other criminal, hanging mangled and pierced from the other tree: Look at us.  Look at where we are.  You and I are here because this is what we deserve for our lives.  We deserve to have this be the final verdict on us and all we have done in this world.  Don’t you fear God?  We’re here because we deserve this. But Jesus has done nothing wrong.  He is innocent, and suffers the same death as we do.

 

Can you imagine experiencing the pain and shame this criminal did and saying, This is what I deserve?  Is that what we here from parents and relatives when a kid murders classmates or shoots a cop?  No.  They say: “He was a good boy.”  And we probably would too if it were our kid.  Because we love them and cannot bear to face that the one we loved is evil.

 

Is it what we say when people criticize us, suggest we have failed, suggest we have done wrong?  I am getting what my deeds deserve?  No.

 

Of course, the criminal on the cross next to Jesus had probably beaten people, robbed them.  Left them lying bloody in a ditch.  Perhaps he murdered someone.  Probably none of us have done those things.

 

But we have stolen from God.  We have wasted the heartbeats and breaths he has given us to gather for ourselves, to hoard for ourselves gifts He gave to be used in thankfulness and trust in Him.  We have demanded that people treat us with honor and respect that we have no right to claim when all our lives we have thought and done what we know God has declared is worthy of death.

 

This is what we have deserved for our lives too.  This is how our lives ought to be summed up.  Not that we die looking back with pride and contentment.  But that we die condemned, in pain, in shame, in regret.  And after that, to be forsaken by God forever.

 

Otherwise, why is God’s Son, who has done nothing wrong, experiencing this agony?  Is God so unjust that He would allow this to happen to His Son, who never once displeased Him?  That He would even forsake His Son while He died cursed and mocked by men?  After His only Son had lived a life of perfect obedience to Him?  We don’t deal with our children this way even when they have turned out to be no good by human standards.  Would God deal this way with His faithful, ever-obedient Son?

 

No.  This man who has done nothing wrong, who is truly the Son of God, is dying to save us from what we have deserved for our deeds.

 

He isn’t dying to save the criminal or us from the pain with which God corrects us.  The pain of God’s correction is to spare us everlasting pain.  He lays His rod on us so that having been chastened, we become better.  So that we turn from our ways of straying like an errant sheep and direct our steps to walk with Him and His flock in the way of eternal joy.

 

No, He has come to save us from eternal pain, eternal shame, from an eternity of being abandoned.  From a condemnation that does not end.

 

This is the saving we need.  And that is what Jesus is accomplishing.  When you see Jesus’ agony and shame, you see your own.

 

He was right in what He prayed while these sinners pounded nails through His innocent hands: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

 

When the people, the priests, the soldiers, the criminals all said, “Save yourself, and we will believe you are the Messiah”—and when the world demands that Jesus prove Himself, and we also demand it—they, we, do not know what we are saying.  We think that if Jesus saved Himself from the cross, He would prove that He was the Christ, the Son of God.

 

But if He had saved Himself, He would not have saved you.  He would have been no Christ at all if He had saved Himself.  He would have done a miracle that would leave us unsaved, still in our sins.

 

We too have pounded in the nails in Jesus’ body.  We have spoken and thought what we wanted, without considering the consequences, like Jesus told Peter: When you were young, you dressed youself and went where you wanted.  But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will lead you where you do not want to go.  We went where we wanted.  We injured and insulted and hated the people Jesus bore on His own body.  And then we demanded, “Save yourself and us!  Get down from the cross and get us down too!”

 

Jesus did not save Himself from our hands.  He gave Himself into our hands, and while we did what we wanted, He went where we did not want to go.  He was numbered with the transgressors and died as one of the guilty, though He had done nothing wrong.

 

So when you come to Jesus with your life that can only come to this, to the place the criminals found themselves—rightly under God’s condemnation—and you dare to ask, “Remember me, Jesus, when you come into your kingdom,”—when you come to this church the next time asking, “Be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being,” Jesus says to you, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 

It is a bold thing this criminal asked the man he knew was dying on a cross though He had done nothing wrong, when he himself had lived a life even other mere men condemned as evil.  “Let your innocent suffering benefit me.  Let my stealing and murder be at your expense.”  But that is what we say when we ask Jesus to forgive our sins.

 

And in response He says, “All my suffering is for you.”

 

“Today I save you by not saving myself.”

 

“And by the price I payed for you on Golgotha when I was forsaken by God, I declare the grace of God to you, and forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

You Have The Holy Spirit! Pentecost 2017. Acts 2:1-21

Dorffmaister_Istvan-Pentecost.1725-1797Pentecost

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Acts 2:1-21

June 4, 2017

“You Have the Holy Spirit!”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

  1. Introduction: You have the Holy Spirit!

 

A few years back I went to hear a speaker named John Kleinig, a professor from the Lutheran Church in Australia. Some of you have heard of him because he wrote a book on Christian spirituality called Grace upon Grace that I have recommended many times.

In that book, Dr. Kleinig emphasizes the gift of the Holy Spirit in teaching us to pray, etc.; how prayer, meditation are received from God rather than obligations we have to fulfill

I went up and talked to him during a break and told him about the difficulty I had in some part of living the Christian life. Maybe difficulty with being faithful in prayer.  Maybe it was difficulty in knowing how to effectively do the work that needed to be done as pastor at St. Peter.  I don’t remember. What I remember was his response: “That’s why you have been given the Holy Spirit!” he said.

It silenced me.  At first, it seemed like he was dismissing me with too easy an answer.  Of course I have been given the Holy Spirit, I thought.  But that hasn’t solved my problem.

But as I thought about it more, I realized how foolish it was to think so little of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  After all, the Holy Spirit is God.  He lives in me.  He has all wisdom and knows how to solve every problem.  He is the Lord and giver of life; He is able to create, and raise the dead.  Surely He has the power to make me holy and overcome sin.

Our Savior’s name is Jesus Christ.  The second part of His name, ”Christ”is a title that means “anointed one.”  The catechism published by our Synod says that Jesus is called “Christ”, anointed one, because he has been anointed with the Holy Spirit without limit to be our Prophet, Priest, and King. If I have received the same anointing of the Holy Spirit as Jesus did, how can I worry that I don’t have what I need to live like Jesus and participate in His work?

This Pentecost, in the 2017th year of our Lord Jesus, in the 500th year of the Reformation, I know that you at St. Peter have the same kinds of worries I spoke to Dr. Kleinig about. Today, by the power of God the Holy Spirit, I would like to remind you of the same thing Dr. Kleinig reminded me.  Don’t be afraid.  You have been given the Holy Spirit.

  1. History of Pentecost: How Peter Received Power to Speak

The reading from Acts tells us how the Holy Spirit was first given to the disciples of Jesus.  It tells us that when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in a house.  Pentecost was one of the 3 holy days that God commanded the Jews in the Law.  It was fifty days after Passover, when Jesus had been crucified and buried.  In the Old Testament it is referred to as the Feast of Weeks or the Day of Firstfruits, because the Israelites were commanded by God to bring the firstfruits of the wheat harvest to the temple on that day.  It was also the day when they remembered how God had given the Law to Israel on Mount Sinai.  After the first Passover and God delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, Israel was led by God through the desert to Mount Sinai.  That journey took about 50 days, a little over a month and a half.

On that Pentecost after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven forty days later, a sound came from heaven like a mighty, rushing wind and filled the house where the disciples were.  Divided tongues that looked like fire rested on each one of the disciples of Jesus, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages, each one speaking the language the Holy Spirit gave them to speak.

The record from Acts tells us that there were people in Jerusalem from all over the world who had come up for Passover.  They had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover at the temple, and they had stayed for Pentecost. A crowd of people heard the sound and came to see what it was.  And when they arrived, they heard the disciples of Jesus declaring the marvelous works of God.  They were amazed because the disciples were by and large uneducated men from Galilee, the north of what had been Israel, and yet every person who gathered heard the disciples speaking in the language in which he had been born and raised.  So they asked, What does this mean?  There were also people there who sneered and said that the disciples were drunk with new, sweet wine, the wine that had just been made at the recent grape harvest.

Then the text says, Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words (2:14). 

There is something for us there.  See how Peter speaks: Let this be known to you; give ear to my words.  Peter speaks like he has authority over this crowd! Where does Peter get this bold speech?  Did Peter speak that way fifty days ago, when some serving girls asked him if he was one of Jesus’ disciples?  No.  He was afraid.  He swore an oath that he did not know Jesus.  Now he speaks to the crowd like a man who has authority, and is confident that he should be heard.

And notice: Peter was standing with the eleven.  Before he denied that he knew Jesus.  He didn’t stand with the disciples of Jesus.  When he thought his life was in danger, he denied being one of Jesus’ disciples.  He didn’t stand with the other disciples.

But now St. Peter stands with them, and speaks for them.  He tells the crowd that no one is drunk, but that this is what was prophesied long ago by the prophet Joel.  God promised that in the last days He would pour out from His Spirit on all flesh.  In the days of old, only the prophets were given the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit enabled them to proclaim God’s Word: to prophesy.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit gave visions and dreams to the prophets.  But in the last days, God foretold that He would pour out His Spirit on all His servants: male, female, young, middle aged, old.

That is what is happening now, Peter tells them.  And he goes on to tell them why: because Jesus had been crucified for our sins, raised from the dead, and seated at God’s right hand to reign.  You crucified Him, Peter said.  But everyone who believes in Him, calls on Him, will be saved and will receive the Holy Spirit.

  1. The Holy Spirit Gives Knowledge of Christ

What we see learn from this is this: the Holy Spirit makes us new people.  He gives the knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. And He makes us, who are naturally weak and selfish, like Peter was, different beings: bold, faithful, courageous.  He gives us the power to speak and proclaim Jesus to others.

You’ve all been in a room that was stuffy, damp, or moldy, and someone said, Let’s let some air in here!  They opened windows, and fresh air came into the room.  You could breathe; the room became more liveable.  That is something like what God did at Pentecost with the disciples; but the air, the mighty rushing wind, was His Holy Spirit.  “Wind” could also be translated “breath”.    God’s breath breathed into the disciples with power, vehemently.

And what does breath do?  Breath gives life.  In the beginning, when God created Adam, He breathed into His nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  Through the Holy Spirit God breathes His life into us. Without His breath we do not have life before God.  We live physically, but spiritually we are dead.  We don’t know God.  Our attempts to serve Him only drive us farther from Him. But He breathes on us in the Gospel, and we believe that Jesus our God, who died for our sins and took them away. The breath of God that makes us alive to Him by faith also renews our minds, hearts, and bodies.  We start to have confidence in God’s Word.  We start to fear God instead of human beings.  We start to have joy in the face of suffering.  We start to rely on God instead of our own strength.  We start to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Breath also does something else.  Breathing in gives us life. Breathing out is how we talk.  God’s breath, His Spirit within us, enables us to speak His Word.  It enables us to do what Peter could not do fifty days ago: confess faith in Jesus, even when we might have to suffer or lose something to do so.  The Holy Spirit also gives us wisdom and skill to speak the truth about Jesus to our neighbors for their salvation.

On Friday, the group that is working on revitalizing our congregation’s outreach with the Gospel met. One of the things we talked about was how we have a small percentage of the congregation that engages in the work of the church.  And someone said, I think what keeps a lot of people from volunteering is the fear that they aren’t really qualified. I think that is true.  People have also said that about other things.  Some people don’t come to bible class because they are afraid that they won’t know enough and will look foolish.  They are intimidated.  And I think nearly all of us worry that if we try to tell our neighbors about Jesus, tell them the Gospel, we might not say it the right way. We might say it in a way that offends people.  Or we might be challenged and will not be able to answer their questions.

Brothers and sisters, I promise you: if you are a Christian, you are qualified to speak and to serve in the Church. You have been given the Holy Spirit.  You had your personal Pentecost when you were baptized.  The Holy Spirit will speak through you and work through you to benefit the church and your neighbors.  And the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, leads us into the truth and reminds us of what He has said; the Holy Spirit teaches us to speak Jesus’ words and not our own.

  1. The Holy Spirit is Received through Keeping Jesus’ Word

One thing remains to be said, about how we receive the Holy Spirit.

You notice what the disciples did to receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  They didn’t do anything. God simply poured out His Spirit upon them.

The Holy Spirit, God in us, is not a prize that is earned.  He is given freely as a gift, the greatest gift that can be given.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us more about how the Holy Spirit is given.  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. (Jn. 14:23)

The Holy Spirit is given in and through the Word of Jesus; and He remains where Jesus’ word is received and kept by faith.  When you hear a sermon that proclaims Jesus alone as our Savior, His blood alone as our righteousness, the free gift of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus, the Holy Spirit is both offering the gift of Jesus’ death for your sins, and the gift of Himself.

So whenever we hear preaching that is faithful to all that Jesus said to the apostles, that is the Holy Spirit, the breath of God.  Whenever we receive the Lord’s Supper, when it is celebrated according to His institution, we are receiving the Holy Spirit along with the body and blood of our Lord.  Whenever we are absolved, forgiven, according to Jesus’ command, by His authority, the breath of God is rushing upon us, letting the breath of God into our bodies and souls, rooms that are naturally closed, foul and corrupted.

But we are not given the Holy Spirit all at once. It’s a gift that God gives as He wills. Jesus says that as parents know how to give good gifts to their children, even more the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.

But we need to ask for the Holy Spirit, and receive from Him.  Neglecting to do that means we try to get by on our own power as we carry out the work God has called us to.

We need to keep His Word.  That means: learn it, and go on learning it.  Read the Bible.  Learn the teachings of Jesus, not only in a 20 minute sermon once a week, but also making sure we know what we were taught when we were confirmed, that we not only stay where we were when we were fourteen, but that we grow to maturity in God’s teaching, asking God to make it alive in our hearts by His Spirit.

That is why Christians often lack the Spirit’s power and wisdom.  We try to improve our lives or reform the Church or build the church by our own wisdom and strength.  That is so hard, and it doesn’t work.  The Holy Spirit enables the church to live and to confess and to speak and to believe in Jesus, of Jesus.  We wear ourselves out trying to do what the Holy Spirit alone can do.

That’s what Luther supposedly said about the Reformation; he said, we didn’t do anything.  The Holy Spirit did it all.  We just preached, wrote, and drank good Wittenberg beer.  The Spirit worked through His Word and reformed the Church.

Oh, may God grant us to be able to say this!  That God would teach us to be like children at Christmas, eager to receive the gifts given by our Father!  That we would see the chief task of our Church to be to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through hearing, reading, and learning the Word of our Lord!

May the Holy Spirit also teach us to focus on receiving Him through God’s Word and Sacraments; to receive the good news of Christ.  Then our speaking and working will not be in vain, because He will be speaking and working in us.

Amen.

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

Soli Deo Gloria

The God We Know. Catechetical Sermon, February 2015

Most Holy TrinityCatechetical Vespers

St. Peter Lutheran Church

The Apostles’ Creed (Matthew 3)

February 27, 2015

“The God We Know”

Iesu Iuva

Most people, if you ask them, believe in some kind of a god, even today. But if you ask them who their God is and what he is like, their answers become sketchy. Ask them what his name is, and they probably won’t know.

It’s not that way for you, because you are a Christian. You know God’s Name. He has made Himself known to you in the teaching of the Scriptures, in your catechesis into the mysteries of the Christian faith. You know what He requires of you, because you have learned His Ten Commandments. And you know who God is and what He does, because He teaches you in the Creed.

In the Ten Commandments you learned what God wants you to do, how He wants you to live. In the Creed He teaches you to know Him and what He has done. He has given you life and protected you. He has redeemed you from your sins. And He has made you holy and continues to make you holy.

Who is God? You can answer out loud.

The Apostles’ Creed confesses faith in one God who is three distinct persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These are not three Gods, but one. But they are not one person, but three.

This is a great mystery that is beyond our ability to understand. But we believe it—that God is triune—three persons in one eternal God. People outside the church don’t know or believe this. They know there is some kind of a god, but they don’t know who He is. We know God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

What does the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do? He creates, redeems, and sanctifies us. He makes us, saves us from our sins, and makes us holy.

The first article of the Creed teaches us about God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. The Father created us and all the universe out of nothing. He not only created the world a long time ago, but He continues to preserve the world so that the sun shine and the earth gives food. He provides us everything we need for this body and life. We don’t see Him doing it. We see the farmer grow the food and the sun shine on the plants to make them grow. But God is the maker of the sun, the food, and the farmer. And by His command the sun, the food, and the farmer continue to carry out their work and be the instruments through which the Father feeds us our daily bread. He also watches over and protects us so that we are shielded from many dangers and troubles we would otherwise experience. We can put the 1st article of the Creed to work in our daily lives by thanking God every time we are provided with what we need for life, by thanking Him whenever we are shielded from danger, and by calling on Him for help in every need we have in earthly life. God the Father cares about our bodies, our physical and emotional needs, because He made them and gave them to us, and He takes care of them.

Just for this alone, that God the Father made us, provides for us, defends us and watches over us—for this alone we owe Him all thanks and praise and to serve and obey Him with our whole heart.

But as you have learned from the Ten Commandments, we do not serve and thank God with our whole hearts. In fact, every day we sin much and really deserve nothing but punishment.   Our hearts are always desiring to do what is against God’s commandments. This is something that people outside the Holy Christian Church don’t know. They think we are not perfect, but as long as we try pretty hard to do what’s right God is satisfied.

They don’t know that to be righteous in God’s eyes we must keep His commandments and love Him with all our heart and soul. And they don’t know or believe that we are unable to do it because we were born sinful and unclean, by nature dead spiritually and enemies of God.

Because we are this way and could not make ourselves righteous, God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, redeemed us. He paid for us to be regarded or counted righteous. He justified us. How? God the Son was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, was born for us, lived under the commandments of God, fulfilled them for us, and then suffered and died on the cross to make atonement for our sins, to pay their penalty. He became a human being like us and offered Himself as the substitute for the whole human race. God’s anger and punishment for all our sins and failure to serve Him fell on Jesus, and Jesus took it out of the way. He redeemed us, bought us back from sin, death, and the devil. He paid for all our sins in full so that we no longer have any sin to pay for. We are regarded as righteous because of Him.

And He rose from the dead on the third day, showing that our sins have been forgiven and that we no longer belong to death but to life, because He has freed human beings from death. He ascended into heaven, where He prays to the Father on our behalf, rules the universe for our good, and preaches His saving Word and gives His body and blood through the ministers He sends. And on the last day God the Son will return to judge the living and the dead, to give eternal life to us and all believers in Christ and to condemn to eternal death those who do not believe in Him.

But we could never believe in what God the Son had done for us unless God worked in our hearts, because we are by nature sinful and enemies of God. So the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, does His work of sanctification, or making holy. He proclaims what Jesus has done to take away our sins through the preaching of the Gospel. He says, “Jesus has died for your sins, and all by Himself, without any help from you, has made you right with God.” He says that when the Word is preached. He also says it in Baptism—“What Jesus did on the cross is for you.” He also says it in the absolution through the pastor after we confess our sins: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And the Holy Spirit speaks and tells us that Jesus’ death on the cross is for us in the Sacrament of the Altar, when the pastor says Jesus’ words—“This is my body which is given for you…This is my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

And through these things, the Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit not only tells us our sins are forgiven through Jesus. He also works in our hearts so that we believe it and say, “Jesus died for me too, so my sins are surely forgiven.” No one can believe this on their own. When you believe it is because God the Holy Spirit has worked on you and in you to make you holy.

And when He brings us to faith in Jesus so that we are justified, counted righteous, He also begins to work in us so that we do the righteous works that please God. We begin to hate our sins and want to be forgiven and freed of them. We begin to want to do what pleases God. And we begin to keep His commandments out of thankfulness to the Father who made us and the Son who redeemed us.

The Holy Spirit sanctifies us, makes us holy. He creates faith in Jesus in us and a new man who begins to do the good works that please God. And the Holy Spirit does this for the whole Holy Christian Church. He gathers the believers in Christ together into one body, one communion, where we all share together in the forgiveness of sins. He keeps us together in the one true faith. He preserves our faith until we die, and then on the last day He will raise us and all the dead and give eternal life to all believers in Christ.

This is how the Creed teaches us to know our God. We are not in the dark about God. We are His people—created and fed by Him, redeemed by Him, made holy by Him and growing in holiness. We are called by His name because we have been baptized in the name of this one true God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we know Him. He is the God who made us, who saved us with His blood, who declares us Holy and is making us holy.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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