St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 14:23-31
May 24, 2015
“The Holy Spirit’s Mighty Work”
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to remembrance all that I have said to you. St. John 14:26
Christians aren’t followers of a philosophy or special religious principles or morality. Christians are believers in Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus is God in human flesh, that He came to earth, preached the Gospel, died for our sins, and rose again on the third day. What is unique about Christians is that we believe in Jesus. We believe Jesus is God. We believe His words to be the true words of God.
But what happens when those who are called Christians no longer believe and teach Jesus’ word? That is a tragic situation. Because among such people Jesus is no longer the authority, the Teacher, the Lord, even though they are called by His name. Instead the world’s wisdom reigns among them, and they have deserted their Lord. The only way we have Jesus is through His Word. Jesus teaches us this in the Gospel reading. “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. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”
On this festival day of Pentecost we rejoice and give thanks to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus poured out on His believers after He ascended to the right hand of God. The Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life, the third person of the Holy Trinity, equal in divine majesty and power to the Father and the son. He comes to the church to do a mighty miracle, although it is not one the world or our flesh regard as great. We think the Holy Spirit’s great miracles are like the ones He did on Pentecost, when He came with the sound of a mighty wind and appeared in tongues of fire on the heads of the apostles. We think it is a great miracle that the Holy Spirit made the apostles speak in various languages, or when, later in the book of Acts, He enabled people to prophesy or picked up the deacon Philip in one town and carried him miraculously to another. Those are indeed great miracles, but these are not the main work of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord tells us the Holy Spirit’s great work in the Gospel reading: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
The Holy Spirit’s great work is to bring the words of Jesus to remembrance. That may seem like a small thing but it is not. The Holy Spirit keeps alive Jesus’ words in this world. He calls and gathers the Christian Church so that we hold fast to Jesus’ word and not the wisdom of the world. And through the word of Jesus the Holy Spirit gives us communion with the Father and the Son.
First of all we need to remember that the devil, the world, and our flesh do not want the words of Jesus to be remembered. The devil, world, and flesh—all the powers of this age—want Jesus’ word and teaching to be buried, just like they wanted Jesus to be buried. Why are they so opposed to Jesus’ word? Because Jesus’ words are powerful. They are not merely human words but the words of Almighty God. They have power to create and power to destroy. They have the power to bring death and the power to give life. When you hear the Scripture read you are not receiving ancient dead letters from a page, but the word of the Lord who created the universe by speaking. The devil, the world, and the flesh want Jesus words to be forgotten and not heard because these words destroy this present age and bring in a new world. The devil, the world, and the flesh do not want this present age to be destroyed so that a new world can come in. So if they could help it they would try to make Jesus’ words be forgotten.
But the Holy Spirit does not allow this to happen. He causes Jesus’ words to be remembered. He brought to the apostles’ minds everything Jesus had said to them, and He inspired them to write the words of Jesus in the New Testament scriptures. Since then He has caused Jesus’ words to be taught and preached and read in all the world. When Jesus’ words had largely been buried in the church under the traditions of men, the Holy Spirit caused the pure Gospel to be proclaimed again from the Scripture alone by Martin Luther. And in our day when the world wants to edit the words of Jesus so that He says nothing politically incorrect, the Holy Spirit causes the words of Jesus to be remembered and proclaimed in churches that are faithful to His Word. But if the Holy Spirit had not been given to the church, Jesus’ words would have been forgotten—not because they are not powerful, but because our human nature is too weak to keep the word of Jesus without the Holy Spirit.
Because the Holy Spirit causes Jesus’ word to be remembered He also gathers Jesus’ church and keeps it in the one true faith. By nature human beings are in darkness. They know there is a God but do not know how they can be at peace with Him. They know there is a God but they do not know how to become free of their sins so that they may have God’s favor. But Jesus came into the world to give knowledge of salvation and eternal life. He says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). And Peter said to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life.” Wherever Jesus’ word goes, the Holy Spirit causes a little flock to be gathered that believes Jesus’ word and holds on to it. Through the words of Jesus the Holy Spirit convicts us that we are by nature sinful and unclean, that our hearts are full of evil thoughts, murder, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matthew 15:19). Through the words of Jesus the Holy Spirit convinces us that Jesus died and atoned for those sins on the cross. He gathers a church that believes in Jesus and listens to His Word and confesses it before the world. Without the Holy Spirit the words of Jesus would not be remembered and there would be no church, because the church lives by Jesus’ word, is called into being by Jesus’ word, and is preserved in the faith by Jesus’ word.
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23) This brings us to the final point about the work of the Holy Spirit and its greatness. The Holy Spirit causes Jesus’ word to be remembered. He gathers a little community that believes Jesus’ word and keeps it. And where He does that, the Holy Spirit creates a little community of people who are the dwelling-place of the Father and the Son.
Think about what an amazing, awesome thing it is to have God make His home with you. Is that something that happens for everyone? Not at all. God is not dwelling with the person who does not believe in Jesus, no matter how good that person mighty appear in our eyes. But God the Father and God the Son do dwell with the person who holds on to Jesus’ word. They make their home with him. God, whose throne is on high and who is attended by host upon host of angels, dwells with the person who holds Jesus’ words. In these frail bodies, doomed to die, stricken by sin, the all-glorious Father and Son are pleased to make their abode. All this happens because the Holy Spirit causes Jesus’ words to be remembered. He caused the apostle John to remember and write Jesus’ saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) He causes preachers to preach that word, and assure sinners that on Jesus’ authority their sins are forgiven. He causes them to hold on to that word and to continue in that word.
When we receive Jesus’ word and hold on to it, god the Father and the Son come to dwell with us. In the midst of suffering and temptation we have the assurance that God is pleased with us and not angry with us. When our sins accuse us we have the assurance that God has not forsaken us in anger but is dwelling with us and making everything work for our blessing. How do we have this assurance? Not in our feelings, but in the words of Jesus, which the Holy Spirit brings to remembrance. He assures us with the name of the Triune God put on us in our Baptism. He assures us with the words of absolution which are spoken to us in Christ’s name; “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He assures us by bringing to remembrance Jesus’ words in the Holy Supper: “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” With the words of Jesus the Holy Spirit brings us into communion with the Holy Trinity, who dwells with us. He dwells with us because through the Holy Spirit we receive His grace; we believe the good news that our sins are forgiven through Jesus’ blood.
So the mighty work of the Holy Spirit is not that He makes people speak in other tongues or heal, or do other mighty signs. He may distribute those gifts as He wills. But the truly mighty work of the Holy Spirit is that He causes Jesus’ words to be remembered. These are the words of the living God that set us free from sin and death’s power. They are the rock on which is built a certain hope of salvation and everlasting life. Through these words of Jesus the Holy Spirit bears witness to the world of sin’s power and our salvation from it. Through the words of Jesus He gathers the church and keeps it in His word to everlasting life. And through the word of Jesus the Holy Spirit gives us communion with the entire Trinity. The Triune God makes His dwelling place with each one who believes in Christ and comforts us in every tribulation until we come to everlasting life. For this work of the Holy Spirit in bringing Jesus’ words to remembrance we give thanks on this festival of Pentecost, because through the Spirit’s work we have become Christ’s church and each individually the dwelling place of God.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 3:1-17
June 15, 2014 (Fathers’ Day)
Isaiah was a priest. The day he saw the Lord in the temple he was probably on duty.
When he saw the Lord, all the confidence you might expect a priest to have before God went up in smoke. “Woe to me! I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the Lord.”
What made Isaiah’s lips filthy? Did he swear a lot? Tell dirty jokes?
That’s enough to make your lips unclean and filthy in God’s sight.
But there are other unclean things that can pass through the lips that are even more unclean. Especially the lips of a priest.
The lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and the people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts, said the prophet Malachi to the priests of his day (2:7-8). But you have caused many to stumble by your instruction.
This is the worst kind of uncleanness to pass from the lips of a priest. To speak false things about God. To set up or strengthen the worship of idols.
And likewise it is the worst kind of uncleanness that can be in the heart to worship idols. To believe false things about God.
This kind of uncleanness was in the heart and mouth of Nicodemus. He didn’t know the first things about how we come to God, and yet he was a teacher of God’s people. Jesus exclaimed, “You are the teacher of Israel, and you don’t know these things?”
Very basic things about who the true God is and how we come to Him. Nicodemus thought the way the flesh always thinks. He knew what the pagans know—there is a God, He is powerful and righteous. So you find God where there is power and other good things that we like. And you please God by doing right things and rejecting immoral things.
Jesus says, “No.” You don’t find God where the flesh expects to find Him. No, you don’t draw near to God by doing good works. “Flesh gives birth to flesh and Spirit to spirit.” You cannot even see God’s kingdom unless you are born again. And you cannot enter it unless you are born of water and the Spirit.
Nicodemus found this impossible to accept. He rejected this testimony of Jesus. How could it be that all of his theological training and all of his moral striving left him with nothing, that he knew God just as little as the Gentiles and the sinners?
Nicodemus was a churchgoing, bible-reading idolater. He didn’t know who God is. God stood in front of Him, and Nicodemus recognized His power, but thought that God must be somewhere else. Because God doesn’t come in such humble clothing. God doesn’t come in poverty, in rejection, with only a few disciples, with the holy and great people of the world rejecting Him.
Does it sound familiar, Nicodemus’ thinking? Because it is the same thinking that you have in the flesh.
In the flesh you expect to find God in power and glory and earthly good things. When those things are missing you also think God must be somewhere else. This uncleanness is constantly cropping up in our hearts. We don’t recognize the true God visiting us in lowliness, weakness, and suffering and we despise Him in favor of the gods of success, power, prestige, comfort.
And then you too expect to stand before God on the basis of your moral life. You can’t believe that your attempts to be good count for nothing in God’s sight in the question of your justification before Him.
This is the worst kind of uncleanness to be on one’s lips or in one’s heart. The uncleanness of lifting up our souls to a false god. And this is what we do in the flesh. We believe that we can know who God is by our own reason and senses. Then we try to please God with our works and win His favor. We refuse to believe that our nature is so corrupt that neither we nor anyone else can know the true God or enter His kingdom unless we are reborn, born again.
But thanks be to God! You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but imperishable. Not by the will of man, but born of God. Not of the flesh, but of the Holy Spirit.
For all of you who have been baptized have received “the washing of rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3) You have been born of water and the Spirit. It wasn’t your will that accomplished this, but Christ’s, who instituted Baptism, commanding His disciples to make disciples “baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is Jesus who “loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26). It is Jesus who made baptism the means by which “we were buried with him…in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
Even though most of us were little children when we were baptized, without understanding, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven belongs” to little children and insists that we allow the little children and infants to be brought to Him, because “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall never enter it.”
How do little children receive the kingdom of God? Those who deny that infants should be baptized say little children do not receive the kingdom of God. But Jesus says they do. And how do they receive it? Passively. They don’t bring themselves to Jesus; they are brought, carried. They don’t use their reason to come to Jesus. Jesus comes to them and opens their eyes so that they see and enter the kingdom of God through baptism into Him.
In the same way our reason and understanding leads us astray. We look for God in the things the flesh trusts in—comfort, wealth, beauty, power, fame. We will not find God there. God is only found in Christ. And Christ is only found in His word and Sacraments, not with earthly splendor, but proclaimed as crucified in weakness and raised by the glory of God.
The Holy Spirit has opened your eyes and caused you to see what the flesh can never see. Jesus is God. The One who was crucified and who comes to us in His flesh and blood under the bread and wine is the Lord of the Universe, the Son begotten of the Father from eternity.
The only-begotten Son of the Father, who was with the Father in the beginning, came in our flesh and blood, in the image of our weakness, fallenness, corruption. He came down to us. We did not rise to Him. And because there was in us no power to make ourselves pleasing to God, since everything in us was corrupt, the eternal Son fulfilled the commandments of God perfectly in your place. And then the Father allowed His Son to be offered up for your sins, and lifted up on the cross and the preaching of the cross so that everyone who believes in Him might have eternal life.
There are many religions in the world and many people claiming that they believe in one God. But no one has the Father unless he believes in the Son, because the Son is the radiance of the glory of the Father, the exact imprint of His nature (Hebrews 1:3). The Son is begotten of the Father, distinct from Him, yet equal in glory, of one substance with the Father.
And no one has the Son unless he has been born again of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son, one substance with them. But the Holy Spirit is not the Father nor the Son. He proceeds from the Father and the Son.
And through the Word He opens our eyes so that we see the Son lifted up for us on the cross. And there we learn to recognize God and His kingdom.
We see that God is not only omnipotent and righteous and glorious, but that He is the God who justifies the ungodly and has mercy on the lost and helpless. Because the Son is the exact image of the Father, and He suffers for us on the cross. Through the Son we come to know the Father, that the righteous God is also the Father of all mercies, who gave up His Son to save those who were bound to perish.
It is the Holy Spirit who leads us to the Son. We would never come to Him on our own. We would be like Nicodemus—so close, yet so far away. Still clinging to our own righteousness.
The Holy Spirit shows us our complete uncleanness and idolatry; He also shows us the Son of Man made an unclean thing for all the uncleanness of our hearts.
Today is Father’s Day. Your Father in heaven has given you every good and perfect gift in Christ. One of his gifts to you in Christ is your earthly father.
Many of us may not feel like our earthly fathers were good gifts from God. Others have fathers who are gone from their sight. But others have fathers on earth that they thank God for.
Whatever your situation is, be sure to thank your Father in heaven for your father on earth. It’s your Father in heaven who gave the commandment “Honor your father and your mother.” Your father on earth is not a good gift of God because he seems like a good father to you, but because God the Father honors him with his commandment and by letting him have the title “Father.” And if God gave you a father you think is good, how much more honor and thanks do you owe to him and to your Father in heaven?
Fathers, look at the love shown by the heavenly Father toward sinners. You will never be able to equal His patience and kindness. But receive the kindness of your Father in heaven toward you. Receive painful experiences as the loving chastisements of the heavenly Father. Receive His Son, whom He gave up to adopt you as His child and heir. Receive Him in the Word, in your Baptism, in His body and blood. And as you receive His Son He will form you into the image of His Son, who is the exact imprint of His being, and you will become a father who is a witness to the heavenly Father.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet, Illinois
St. John 14:23-31
June 8, 2014
“Peace Like a River”
There was a river that had its source in the garden of Eden. From there it branched into four different rivers. Because of this river, Eden was well-watered, lush with fruit and blooms bursting with scent. It was the garden of the Lord.
Into this paradise God placed man.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. It has its source in the throne of God and the Lamb, and it flows through the middle of the Holy Christian Church, clear as crystal. It is the river of the water of life. It makes the city of God bloom with spiritual, heavenly blossoms, fruit, spices. It produces rich crops of gladness, joy, and peace.
We are planted in this paradise when we are baptized.
The water of life proceeding from the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. He is living water that becomes a bubbling spring welling up to eternal life in everyone who drinks of Him. He streams from the Father and the Son to us in the word of Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit the Father and the Son make their home in everyone who keeps Jesus’ word.
What is this word that everyone who loves Jesus keeps? It is His word of peace.
Jesus preached peace. Mary’s relative Zechariah prophesied about Him before His birth that He would “guide our feet into the way of peace.” At His birth the angels sang, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Simeon, when He took up the newborn Jesus in his arms said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace.”
Jesus came to preach peace with God. He is “wonderful, counselor, Mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Jesus sends peace to the city of God like a river; He sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings to remembrance Jesus’ word of peace.
“The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 14. But often righteousness, peace, and joy seem to be in short supply in the Church.
Do people lack peace in the church?
What is it that causes the restlessness and anxiety that seems to characterize so much of our lives?
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 3:1-17
May 26, 2013
Exalted to the lowest place
A happy ending? God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world?
Here comes one of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus—a ruler of the Jews. A Pharisee. What the disciples hoped would happen seems to be happening. Sure, Jesus was opposed and they had some hard times. But everything will turn out right in the end. It has to be, because He’s the Messiah, the King of the Jews. So the rulers hate him now, but look, they’re already starting to come around.
Nicodemus says, “We know you are a teacher from God. Otherwise how could you do all these miraculous signs, unless God was with you?”
Who would be more likely to know whether someone was from God than the students of Scripture, the teachers of God’s Word among the people called by God’s name?
Jesus didn’t deny that the Jews were the people called by God’s name. Gentiles worshipped idols.
We also don’t look for God everywhere. He can’t be found apart from His Word other than as a God of wrath. So all other religions are not the same.
But despite being a teacher of the people of God and a student of the Word of God, Nicodemus didn’t know God at all.
“We know you are a teacher from God…” To say that is not enough to know Jesus.
To say that is not enough to know God either.
Muslims say that Jesus was a teacher from God, that HE ascended to heaven, etc. They believe in one God, and as they will tell you, they believe in Jesus and they love Him.
Most Americans are not atheists. They believe in God. Most of them probably believe that Jesus is God.
But they still do not know God nor Jesus.
No one is able to recognize or perceive God’s kingdom, His reign which is here and which is coming, in which sin and death are destroyed, unless he is born again or born from above.
If Jesus had simply come to have people “accept” Him in the sense of recognizing that God sent Him, or His teaching was true, that He should be obeyed, Nicodemus would have already “accepted Him.”
But recognizing Jesus as a prophet or one with God’s authority is not enough. It is useless.
And no one can perceive God’s salvation and enter into it unless he is reborn from on high, from God.
It doesn’t matter how wise you are, how knowledgeable of Scripture, how pious you are, how long you’ve gone to church or how much you’ve served there.
Nicodemus was the teacher of God’s people. But He didn’t know God and could not recognize God’s kingdom of salvation even though it had come.
Israel’s teachers did not know God and could not see His kingdom because they thought they already knew God and were part of His kingdom.
They had the Scriptures, didn’t they?
They had God’s promise, didn’t they?
God had taken them as His people and dwelt in the midst of them in the temple, didn’t He?
They had circumcision, which marked them as people of the promise.
But without being born from on High or reborn by the water and the Spirit, these things profited nothing. They did not understand the Scriptures or believe them; they did not recognize the Lord who dwelt in the temple when He came in a new house—human flesh. They did not believe in the one who was promised to them in circumcision—Abraham’s offspring.
Nicodemus thought that he was already holy, and now this teacher from God would unfold heavenly wisdom to him—add to what he already had.
You are just like Nicodemus and most of the people of Israel.
You have the Scriptures.
The Lord is present with you in His body and blood.
You are baptized—NT circumcision.
But like Nicodemus and most of the people of Israel, we think that we can come to God without being reborn—dying and rising again.
No. You must be born from above, or you cannot recognize the kingdom of God coming to you and you cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Like Moses we want to see God’s glory. But no one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven.
Only through Him can we know God. He alone knows the Father, and whoever He chooses to reveal the Father.
He reveals God not by being exalted and lifted up on a throne, in majesty.
You see how that affected Isaiah!
You see Him and know God when you see Him exalted and lifted up on the cross of shame the way that Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.
That is what Baptism is
It is coming as a sinner who is unable to know God by nature or see or enter His kingdom
God’s mighty Spirit is poured out on you, brings you into the kingdom of God.
You see Jesus as the one who became sin and is held up before our eyes to save us from deadly poison of sin.
To live in Baptism is to come to God this way—not as someone who knows something and is already holy, but as one who has nothing, knows nothing, except sin and death.
We are baptized into Him who is all-glorious but descended into the depths of sin for us and cancelled it.
All of the church year leads to today, the feast of the Trinity.
The only God who shows mercy like this is the Trinity.
He gives all of Christ to us in Baptism, all that we’ve heard about during the festival portion of the year.
The world does not know where you come from or where you are going. But you are born of the Spirit, which means you are united to Jesus the Son, who came from God and returned to Him.
That is the glory that fills St. Peter now for 156 years—not our own knowledge, wisdom, holiness, but that God lifts up His Son in our midst like the snake on the pole and baptizes us into Him, and He adds another to us today. Let us give thanks for Anthony who today is born again of water and the Spirit.
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 14:23-31
May 19, 2013
The Holy Spirit’s Troublemaking
This week another pastor told me: “You risk being called a troublemaker.”
I know what you’re thinking. “He must have gotten Hess mixed up with someone else!”
I had a bad couple of days after that. It’s not good to make trouble because of your pride or because you always have to be right. There are six things that the Lord hates, says the Holy Spirit in Proverbs, chapter 6: seven that are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6: 16-19)
It’s an abomination before the Lord to stir up trouble and fights among brothers. That’s the same word used by Moses to describe sodomy—homosexual behavior. An abomination. God hates it. It’s a grave sin to stir up strife, to be a troublemaker.
But there is a kind of “troublemaking” that I wish I did far more often. I wish that I would always be known as this kind of a troublemaker. And I wish that each one of you would also make a lot of this kind of trouble.
The Triune God and His servants have always been called “troublemakers” in this sense. The world calls God’s servants “troublemakers” because they undermine the false peace and false unity of the world. The world wants to be at peace and be left alone while it opposes and turns away from the true God, the Trinity.
But God loves the people in the world too much to allow them to have peace and quiet while they do everything they can to shut Him out, silence His Word, and avoid Him.
When the world is most religious and spiritual, when it is most moral, it is still completely opposed to God. At its most religious the world does not know God. At its most moral, it does not understand God’s wisdom but rejects it as foolishness.
At the tower of Babel, human beings were all united. They all worked together at one thing. They decided to build a tower into heaven and “make a name for themselves.” God’s name is how we have access to God. He gives us His name and reveals Himself to us so that we can “call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” But the people of the world tried to come up with their own name, their own way to access God, which made sense to them.
They may have thought that they were doing a very holy and religious and moral thing. Yet they were fighting God. His Word had been, “Go spread out and fill the earth.” But that didn’t make sense to them. Maybe they thought, “We can do more good works if we stick together.” Maybe they even thought that they would atone for the sins of Adam by building this tower. Maybe they thought this impressive work of theirs would bring honor and glory to God.
Whatever they thought, they were still hostile to God, because they did not keep His Word.
So God made trouble for them.
I was thinking of a story I wanted to use in a sermon maybe, and I wanted to see when the last time was that I told it, because I was pretty sure I had told it before. Lo! Apparently the last time was in August, 2007! That was when I had been a pastor a whole year. That was a lifetime ago.
The sermon was not bad. Actually, technically it could well be better than my sermons now. It was certainly shorter. On the other hand it seems to stick closely to the pattern of sermon I heard preached at seminary. That may be why it is better technically, but it also seems derivative.
Yet I can see that I was trying to (even then) communicate with the congregation, not preach over everyone’s head. I’m not sure how successful that’s been over the years.
Anyway, I look at this and think that I haven’t changed much technically or theologically. If anything I’ve gotten worse technically. On the other hand I feel when reading it that it was a different man who wrote and preached it. I hadn’t yet experienced very much tentatio or suffering. The theology is orthodox, but the preacher had not yet suffered much of anything in the ministry. I thought I had though. It will be interesting to see what I think in another decade if the Lord sees fit to have me preaching then still.
I know what it is that strikes me as off about this sermon. Even though it is probably better technically than my sermons now, the difference is that I can tell that when I wrote it I still was naive and thought that all I would have to do is preach it a couple of times and then people would get it. You can also see me banging the drum about “Lutheranism”; that was back when I thought that I could convince people that they should care about being a Lutheran. You can also see me subtly (or not so subtly) rag on the congregation for thinking they know everything and being unwilling to learn, a theme that I have undoubtedly returned to again and again. And it has seemingly had little effect beyond making many people angry.
I post it mainly for myself. But any other pastor who reads this and still feels like he just left seminary but really has been at it over five years may be inspired to go look at a really old sermon.
When you come out of seminary you don’t know that it costs you to preach. I mean, the cost we pay is really nothing if we look at it correctly and don’t whine, considering the exceedingly great glory of the Word that we are allowed to speak.
But I think I didn’t really understand that it was God’s Word then, so I thought my performance in writing or speaking would do something. That was a very painful lesson that I don’t know if I’m done learning–the lesson of running into a ten feet thick titanium wall for years–that it is God’s Word, and He has it work in spite of me (thanks be to God), and not how I want it to work. I knew this theological concept but it was a painful lesson to learn, or begin to learn, in experience.
I didn’t understand that cost associated with preaching the Word of God. And I also didn’t understand a different kind of cost– that it was necessary to experience pain and weakness and failure and utter inability to see anything, to know whether you were doing it right or wrong. Of course I knew, theologically, that if the sermon was Scriptural and the law and gospel rightly divided then you were doing it right. I hadn’t felt what it was like to have the Word rejected and agonize about your failures, to blame your lack of preparation and so forth, and to see your clumsiness in handling God’s Word. I knew theologically that preaching and suffering went together, but I hadn’t experienced it yet. And I am sure that that remains true. Dr. Kleinig said something to us at the Ft. Wayne class about Exodus. He asked whether we had suffered as a result of preaching, whether we had had major conflicts and faced opposition. Then he said, We assume that as we get older, we’ll have fewer problems like that because we’ll gain experience. But, he said, the hardest trials come as you have been in the ministry a long time, and as you approach the end of your years of service.
So, I haven’t experienced anything yet! Quit whining! is the moral of the story.
I wish that I could help someone else escape the pain that comes from preaching God’s Word and having to learn the hard way that it is not your Word, and therefore you can’t make it do anything, and it’s necessary for you to be afflicted by the devil so that you do not “become too elated at the surpassing greatness” of the Lord who is pleased to raise the dead through your lips. But I suspect that I cannot help anyone escape it, except maybe to comfort someone else who is in the middle of it and let them know that it is the Lord’s work when you fail.
The beautiful thing is that it is really the Lord’s Word, even if it is despised and seems to bear no fruit. Even if you have no talent as a preacher or a pastor or an administrator, and you appear to ruin more than you build up, it is Jesus Christ’s word that you have to preach. And He preaches it to us as well as to the congregation.
One of the most shocking things about preaching is when, after years of everyone esentially telling you your sermons are “all right” and everyone else saying they are garbage behind your back, and when even your wife doesn’t like your sermons, somebody in the congregation was edified–maybe even comforted–and it was a person who doesn’t like you.
So it is really the Lord’s Word, and He has to keep us aware of the fact that the treasure is from Him and not from us, and therefore it is driven home again and again that we are jars of clay. In my case more like a potsherd or a broken vessel.