Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sermon for St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles (June 29, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

“A Confession, A Conversion, and a Church Convention” (Acts 15:1-12; Gal. 2:1-10; Matt. 16:13-19)
            Very early in the history of the church, June 29 was set aside to honor the two great apostles Peter and Paul.  One early tradition states that this was the day they were both martyred in Rome during persecution ordered by the emperor Nero.  Whatever the case may be, we give thanks to God today for Peter and Paul and learn from them as we consider Peter’s confession, Paul’s conversion, and a church convention at which they played a key role in preserving for us the freedom we have in the Gospel.
            Peter gave a succinct and beautiful confession of faith when Jesus asked the disciples “Who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  Jesus commended Peter for this God-given revelation.  He promised build his Church on the rock of this confession of Peter.  He promised to give to the Church the keys of the kingdom of heaven so that the same verdict of forgiveness announced on earth would be valid in heaven as well.
            Although Peter gave such a bold confession of faith, he is also well known for his public denial of Christ.  Three times, Peter denied knowing Jesus while Jesus was on trial.  The rooster crowed as Jesus had foretold.  And Peter went out and wept bitterly.  But the Lord Jesus was gracious to him and forgave him.  On the day of his resurrection, the angel at the tomb told the women, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee” (Mark 16:7).  The angel knew that Peter specifically needed some extra encouragement.  Some time later, the Risen Jesus prepared a seaside breakfast for the disciples.  There, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to confess his love for him three times and commissioned him to “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15-19).  That’s exactly what Peter did as a leader in the Church and missionary pastor until the day he was crucified in Rome.  He fed the lambs of Christ’s Church through his preaching and through writing two letters of the New Testament.  It’s also thought that Peter’s eyewitness accounts are behind the Gospel of Mark since Mark was a companion of Peter.
            Now on to Paul.  The story of Paul’s conversion is a dramatic one.  At first, Paul – or Saul as he was known in Hebrew – was involved in hunting Christians down, rounding them up, and having them put them to death.  It’s apparent that he also oversaw the stoning of Stephen, the first post-Pentecost martyr.  But the Lord Jesus was gracious to Paul, too.  Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, where Paul was on his way to arrest more Christians.  He was blinded by a bright light.  Jesus spoke to him and sent him to the house of Ananias who preached to him.  As he did so, scales fell from Paul’s eyes and he regained his sight.  Ananias baptized him. Paul came to repentant faith in Jesus as Savior and the Lord Jesus sent him out as his “chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).  That’s exactly what Paul did through his missionary journeys recorded for us in the Book of Acts.  Paul also is responsible for 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament … or I should rather say that the Holy Spirit is responsible for inspiring Paul – and Peter – to write their letters.  Paul’s letters give us insight into the life of the Church in his day and continue to have application to the Church today.  The four Gospels are the center of the New Testament, no doubt … but it’s hard to imagine what our Church life and doctrine would be like without the writings of St. Paul.
            The lives of Peter and Paul converged in Jerusalem and Antioch, leading up to the church “convention” described in Acts 15 where the first serious doctrinal conflict was hashed out.  Jerusalem was the headquarters of the early church.  Antioch lay around 400 miles to the north.  It became a prominent church and was the sending congregation of Paul’s missionary journeys.
            At Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion, it took some convincing for the disciples to accept Paul.  They were afraid of him at first.  They knew his reputation.  But Barnabas stepped in and defended Paul and told how he “preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts. 9:27).  14 years later he met with the “pillars” of the church again – James, Peter, and John – and they extended the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas.  They were pleased that Paul did not “yield in submission” to those “false brothers” who were demanding that you had to live like a Jew first before you could become a Christian … that you had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses.
            Later in Antioch, some men from Judea arrived who tried to introduce that same false teaching.  This was the issue that led to the council in Jerusalem to settle this once and for all.  The very truth of the Gospel was at stake.  It was a crisis that directly impacted the doctrine of justification … that the person who has faith in Christ is declared righteous in God’s sight, not guilty.  The teaching of these “false brothers” nullified the free gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life apart from the works of the Law.  Peter said that it placed “A yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.”  The Law was a heavy burden because it demonstrated that no one could keep it perfectly and be holy and righteous before God.  Only Jesus kept the Law perfectly, and did so on our behalf so he could be the perfect, holy sacrifice for the sins of the world at the cross.  Therefore, Peter went on to say that “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, just as they will.”  In other words, the Gentiles who have never lived like Jews never have to.  They are saved completely and totally by the grace of the Lord Jesus because of his saving work at the cross.  We all are saved completely and totally by the grace of the Lord Jesus because of his saving work at the cross.  Never for a moment think that you have to add any of your works to what Jesus has already done for you.  Any works we do naturally flow from a heart that is forgiven and produces the fruit that the Holy Spirit plants there … but this is not what saves us.  Jesus already took care of that on Good Friday and Easter morning.
            When Paul wrote to the Galatians, they were being threatened by the same teaching that the Jerusalem Council dealt with.  Paul reflects on his initial encounters with the false teachers and writes, “We did not yield in submission even for a moment so that the truth of the Gospel might be preserved for you.”
            Now, there are times when “yielding in submission” is a good thing.  In fact, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul stressed the importance of submission between Christians.  “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” he says.  Recognize your station in life.  Humble yourself in selfless service to one another.  Paul goes on to talk about how this works in marriage.  Husbands are to selflessly sacrifice themselves for their wives as Christ demonstrated his love for the Church.  In response, wives are to lovingly order themselves under the loving leadership of their husbands.  “Yielding in submission” in marriage is often about compromise and putting the needs of your spouse before your own.
            In our egalitarian society, this makes us uncomfortable.  But even more than that, it’s our hearts that are turned in on themselves that make us squirm and rebel against this word from the Lord.  But remember that Jesus perfectly yielded in submission to the will of his Father.  He yielded in submission at the hands of his persecutors in order to win for us freedom from the condemnation of the Law through his death and resurrection.
            On the other hand, there are times when we should never “yield in submission.”  This is especially true in the Church.  If it’s about what color the carpet should be, compromise is fine.  If it’s about the truth of God’s Word, then there should never be compromise.  When the truth of the Gospel is at stake, there should never be an ounce of submission … only submission to the Word of the Lord. 
            So today, as we recall Peter’s confession, may the Lord enable us by his Spirit to daily confess our sins and daily confess our faith … to each other and to others who do not know the freedom from sin and the fear of death that Jesus won for us.
            As we recall Paul’s conversion, may the Lord daily convert us by returning us to the promises of our Baptism and enabling us to daily turn away from our sin and turn to our Savior.
            And as we recall that first “church convention” where truth prevailed, may the Lord move us to gather often with fellow believers to hear the Good News, receive God’s gifts together, commune with the Lord Jesus and with one another at the altar, seek to be of one mind and one spirit, and never for one moment submit to anything that would obscure or jeopardize the sweet, pure, free, forgiving Gospel of grace.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sermon for the Memorial Service for Jim Newlun (June 28, 2014)

“It Is Well With My Soul” (Mark 4:35-41)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, especially to you Bea, and to all of you family and friends gathered here who loved Jim.
The portion of Holy Scripture I chose for our time together today is from the Gospel according to St. Mark, the fourth chapter. [READ TEXT]
That must have been quite a storm.  At least four of the disciples on board the boat were experienced Galilean fishermen.  They had ridden out many storms before this one.  But this one really got to them.  They were terrified.  They thought for sure they were going to die.  Waves were crashing over the bow.  The boat was filling with water.  This is it guys.  Prepare to meet your maker.  Next stop: Davy Jones’ locker.
The Galilean fishermen were panicking.  The Nazarene carpenter was sound asleep.  No storm was going to keep him from getting some much needed shuteye.  He had found a comfortable niche in the stern where he continued to trust in his heavenly Father’s care.  Moreover, this was no ordinary man.  This was Jesus, the Incarnate God, God in the flesh, true God and true Man in the same person.  But this had not yet been made clear to the disciples yet.  They had seen his miracles.  They had heard his authoritative teaching.  Jesus authoritatively calms the wind and the sea with the words “Peace! Be still!”  And the disciples ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God was still to come.
Jesus asked the disciples, “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  Looking at the storm, the disciples were afraid.  But with Jesus on board, there was no need to be fearful.  Because of the gracious presence of Jesus the disciples could say in the words of the hymn, “It is well with my soul.”
What about you?  Is it well with your soul right now?  If you’re honest, you might say, “No. Not a bit.  Everything is NOT well with my soul right now.  I miss Jim.  There are other people whom I love who have died.  And there are other problems in my life that are troubling me right now.  Life is pretty stormy for me.  And fear?  Sure, I’m fearful.  I’m no different than those disciples on that boat.  I’m afraid of dying.  I don’t know what will happen to me when I die.”
Jesus spoke words of calm to the storm out there on the Sea of Galilee.  Hear these words of calm spoken to you before his death on the Cross of Calvary where he paid the price for the sins of the world with his holy, innocent blood: “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way where I am going.”  At that point, Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Through faith in Jesus you can be assured that your sins are forgiven.  Through faith in Jesus, you can know that you have a place reserved for you in heaven.  Through Jesus, you can be confident that all who are baptized into Christ and who trust in his saving work at the cross will rise to eternal life on the Last Day, even as Jesus conquered death and the grave on Easter morning.  It is only through faith in Jesus that you can truly say, “It is well with my soul.”  “He lives – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought; My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.  Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul.”
There’s a beautiful story behind that hymn.  Horatio G. Spafford was a prominent Chicago lawyer and close friend of the famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody.  In 1870 his four year old son died of scarlet fever.  The next year, the Great Fire of Chicago reduced the city to ashes along with most of Spafford’s sizable investments.  In November of 1873, Spafford decided to take his entire family to England for a vacation, knowing that his friend Moody was also scheduled to preach there.  Urgent business concerns detained Spafford in Chicago, but he decided to send his family ahead on board the steamship Ville du Havre as scheduled.  Midway through the trans-Atlantic voyage, the ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and sank in 12 minutes.[i]  226 people died, including Spafford's four daughters—Anna, eleven; Maggie, nine; Bessie, seven; and Tanetta, two.  Mrs. Spafford was picked up unconscious, floating on a plank of wood, and once safely delivered to Wales, sent her husband the heartbreaking telegram: “Saved alone. What shall I do…”
Spafford immediately sailed for England to join his grief-stricken wife.  As his ship passed the approximate location where his daughters had drowned, his deep sorrow mingled with his unwavering faith in God's goodness caused him to compose his well-known hymn.
The natural tendency of one confronted with such senseless tragedy would most likely be to question, to doubt, to blame, to accuse God.  Yet this hymn reveals a person who had been graced by God to mourn without bitterness, to sorrow without anger, to trust without resentment, to rest in “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:6).  The peace of Jesus enabled Spafford to believe, as God’s Word promises, that – even in one’s darkest hours – “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).[ii] [iii]
“It is well with my soul.”  Before Jim died, he made it clear to me that he wanted Spafford’s hymn sung at his funeral.  Jim had a vibrant, living faith in his Savior Jesus.  He loved to be with his fellow believers in church and Bible Class.  He hungered for the Lord’s Supper where he received the true body and blood of Jesus.  He loved to talk about Jesus.  He loved to engage others in conversation about Jesus.  He knew how much he, himself, needed Jesus.  There were some stormy times in Jim’s life, that’s for sure.  But Jim knew that Jesus was on board for him.  Jesus was his anchor.  The Lord Jesus was the “everlasting rock” to which he clung when the waves were crashing all around him.  Although cancer took Jim’s life, he knew that his eternal life was safe in Jesus.  He knew that although his cancer ridden body would not be healed on this side of the veil, it would be healed once and for all at the resurrection when Jesus returns in glory.  And so Jim was able to say, “It is well with my soul.”
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  His name is Jesus.  The Crucified and Risen Savior.  Baptized in his name, trusting in his finished work at the cross and the empty tomb, you too can say right along with Jim … with Horatio Spafford … with all your fellow believers in Christ, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way; When sorrows, like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sermon for Trinity Sunday and Confirmation Day (June 15, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

The Path of Life” (Psalm 16:8-11)

This is the time of year when you hear motivational phrases like these: “This is the first day of the rest of your life” … “Carpe diem (Seize the day)” … “The sky’s the limit” … “The world is your oyster.” This is the time of year when you hear graduation speeches.

Maybe graduates will also listen to speeches which mention all the paths ahead of them. Each day they will be faced with many choices. How they respond to certain choices will determine what direction their life takes. Whether you have a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder is not a very earth-shattering decision. Deciding who to marry … now that’s a life-changing choice.

While Confirmation Day feels like a graduation, remember what you always hear from me: “Confirmation is NOT graduation.” This is one step along the way in your ongoing growth in your life of faith in Jesus. And for each one of you … whether confirmand or graduate, youth or adult, there really are only two paths from which to choose: the “Path of Life” and the “Path of Death.” The Path of Life is trusting in God and walking in his ways and leads to eternal life. The Path of Death is turning away from God and his ways and leads to eternal death. The Path of Death is the one we naturally choose. It’s very easy to find. “The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction,” Jesus said (Matt. 7:13), “and those who enter by it are many” (Matt. 7:13). The Path of Life on the other hand, is not so easy to find. “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to eternal life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14). Thankfully, God has revealed this path to us in the Holy Scriptures. Psalm 16:11 from today’s Introit says, “You make known to me the path of life.”

Knowing Your True Identity on the Path

Along this path of life, it’s important to know your true identity. Sometimes college students will take some time off and travel in order to “find themselves.” They have a major. They have an idea what career options are before them. But they’re not sure that’s what they want to do with the rest of their life. So they take a trip away from home … maybe Europe … or someplace exotic, like Nepal. They journal. They meet new people. They contemplate who they are and what’s really important to them.

Finding yourself” is not unique to college students. Teenagers do this, too. They experiment with their own personal style … with clothes, hairstyle, music, and so on. They are developing deeper relationships. They wonder how they fit in to all the different subgroups at school. When I was in school, there were the jocks, the preppies, the punks, the stoners, the surfers, the nerds, just to name a few. I’ll let you guess what group I was in. I don’t know what labels are out there now. Maybe you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere. You’re still trying to find your place in the world.

Some adults even struggle with knowing who they are. Certain men my age may have what is called a “mid-life crisis.” They look back on their life and judge their accomplishments (or lack thereof) and think to themselves, “I’m bored with my life. I need a change. I haven’t done what I wanted to. I haven’t achieved the goals I set out for myself.” At best, they go out and buy a motorcycle or a sports car. At worst, they abandon their families and begin to live selfishly and recklessly.

But you don’t have to wonder who you are. You already have an identity. You are a creation of the Holy Trinity. The same God who began to create with the words “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3) is the God who made you. This world did not come into being by chance. Neither did you. You are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). The Lord “formed [your] inward parts” and “knitted [you] together in [your] mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13). The same God who numbers the stars also knows how many hairs you have on your head (Ps. 147:4; Matt. 10:30). He takes a personal interest in you and continues to care for you.

You are also a new creation in the waters of Holy Baptism. You were baptized into the name of the Holy Trinity … Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Your sins were washed away. You were brought into his kingdom. You were marked with the seal of ownership. You belong to God as his own precious, redeemed child. You are an heir of all that Jesus earned for you at the cross … eternal life and the promise of resurrection on the Last Day.

And because you are baptized, this makes you a disciple of Jesus. Jesus sends his Church into the world to “make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). This is how disciples are made. By baptizing and teaching. You become a life-long learner from Jesus and his Word. Led by his Spirit working through that Word, you receive help to make choices along the way on this path of life.

Your Travelling Partner on the Path

Along this path, you also have a travelling partner. King David said, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Ps. 16:8). In royal jargon, the right hand is the place of privilege and honor. The right hand is the one that acts and serves and fights. So when David says, “I have set the Lord always before me,” it doesn’t mean that he’s somehow manipulating God. Instead, David is recognizing the Lord’s constant nearness as the one who acts on David’s behalf, who serves David, and goes before him to fight his battles.

Is this how you and I go about our day? Setting the Lord always before us? Trusting that he is at our right hand? Not usually. Instead, we’re focused on our tasks at hand, the problems we face, anxious, worried, fretting over how we are going to make it through the day because our finances are in a shambles, our health is failing, our job is in jeopardy.

Repent of your sinful worry. Listen to David again: “because [the Lord] is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” The Lord is with you. He holds your hand as a Father holds his child’s hand and walks with you, stands beside you, and cares for you. Listen to Jesus who promises: “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).

Set the Lord before you as your travelling partner. Recognize that he has already promised to be with you along this path of life at your right hand.

Your Destination at the End of the Path

You are God’s creation and new creation in Baptism. The Lord is your travelling partner. Now let’s talk about your destination at the end of the path.

The end of the path of life is not death. Death is not the end. David acknowledged this when he said, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol or let your holy one see corruption” (Ps. 16:10). In death, God does not abandon you. When you depart this life, you will be with the Lord, and the promise of resurrection awaits you.

What’s more, St. Peter explains that in that verse, David was actually prophesying our Lord’s own resurrection here. Peter quotes Psalm 16 in today’s reading from Acts 2 and says that David “foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:31-32). And remember the words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

The joys of eternity await you at the end of the path. “In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore,” David says. And you receive a foretaste of eternity right here at this altar. Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father. In his Holy Supper, his right hand reaches down from heaven and offers you his very own body and blood, the very body and blood that earned for you the forgiveness of all your sins. Here at the altar, you are ushered to the Lord’s right hand. He invites you to eat and drink with him and gives you the place of privilege and honor. Here at the altar there is fullness of joy. Here there are pleasures forevermore. Here you are prepared for a blessed death so you may then partake of pleasures forevermore at God’s right hand, no longer hindered by sin or sickness or sorrow.

Above all else, remember that Jesus already walked the path of life for you. His path took him from heaven to the womb of his mother Mary, to the manger, to Egypt, to Nazareth, to the shores of Galilee, to the temple in Jerusalem, to the cross of Calvary, to the Garden Tomb, and back to the right hand of the Father. But this journey that Jesus took was not to find himself. It was to find you … to rescue you from the path of death you were on and put you on the path of life.

Your path of life now leads you to the altar, back out to the world to invite others onto “The Path of Life,” and on into eternity.

Travel this path knowing who you are. You are God’s creation. You are God’s new creation in Baptism. You are marked with the seal of forgiveness. You belong to him. You are a disciple … a life-long learner and hearer of God’s Word and recipient of all his gracious gifts in Word and Sacrament.

Travel this path knowing the Lord is your travelling partner. He is at your right hand to strengthen you, to uphold you, to care for you.

And travel this path knowing your destination … fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at the Lord’s right hand … now in his Supper … then in the resurrection on the Last Day.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost (June 8, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

“Living Water” (John 7:37-39)
            Think back to a sweltering summer day when you were a kid.  If you didn’t have a pool to swim in, what did you want to do?  Run through the sprinkler!  No matter how hot it was, it was bracing to leap through that stream of ice-cold water coming from the tap and out through the attachment at the end of the hose.  And if you were lucky, you also had a “Slip-n-Slide” … one of those long rectangular pieces of plastic sheeting that you spray with water, then run with all your might, fling your body forward, and you slip and you slide to the other end.  Great fun!  Refreshing!
            But you can’t keep the water running all day long.  Dad won’t appreciate the water bill.  The backyard will be turned into a huge mud puddle.  Eventually, it’s time to turn the spigot off and come inside.  The fun can’t last forever.  Plus, what happens if the reservoir runs dry?  No more water from the hose.  Now, I know that here in the Northwest that’s not likely to happen.  There’s plenty of water here.  But in other parts of the country, drought is always a real possibility.  In California where I grew up, there were some summers where we had to ration water.  Take short showers.  Refrain from watering your lawn.  Cities would stop watering their roadside landscaping.  Everything would wilt and die and turn brown.  As if California isn’t brown enough.
            But Jesus speaks about a source of life and refreshment that will never end.  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  St. John explains that Jesus said this “about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.” Like a cold, refreshing spring of water, the Holy Spirit is a refreshing, never-ending source of life given to the Church from Jesus.  And more than just a spring.  Jesus says “rivers.”  A life-giving source that is refreshing, cleansing, abundant, and overflowing.
            In the Bible, the giving of the Holy Spirit is tied in with two events.  The first is in John’s Gospel, and it’s connected with Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Lifted high upon the cross, crowned as our suffering King, Jesus was glorified there as our Savior, dying for the sins of the world.  This is the “glorification” that awaited Jesus and which had to be completed before the Spirit would be given.  This is not to say that the Spirit was not present and active before this.  He was, but it seems as if the Spirit was only given to certain individuals for particular tasks or commissions, like the men in our reading from Numbers today. But now, with his work of redemption completed, Jesus kicks it up a notch.  The Spirit is not limited to only a chosen few.  Risen from the dead, he appears to his disciples in John chapter 20, breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  And then, this giving of the Spirit is connected to the Word of Holy Absolution that Jesus gives to his Church, when he says “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23).  To the penitent sinner, forgiveness is promised and truly given through the Spirit-filled Word of Christ.
            The other event is the Day of Pentecost recorded in Acts chapter 2.  This is the more common event you and I probably recall when we think of the giving of the Spirit.  Pentecost was a Spring harvest festival, 50 days after Passover.  It was one of the three festivals that all good Jews were expected to attend if they were able.  Therefore, Jerusalem would have been packed to the gills with people from all over the place.  This was the day the Lord chose to pour out his Spirit upon the disciples and empower them to be powerful witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Tongues of fire rested upon them, signifying God’s presence … like the burning bush for Moses or the pillar of fire leading the Israelites in the wilderness.  The Holy Spirit enabled them to speak in the languages of the people gathered there, a reversal of the confusion of languages at Babel.  At Babel, the people were scattered.  At Pentecost, there was a harvest of souls who were gathered into Christ that day – repentant, believing, baptized – about three thousand, Luke tells us.  And as Peter said, this was the day foretold by the prophet Joel, “in the last days … I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”  Sons, daughters, young men, old men, male and female.  And “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” As the rest of the Book of Acts unfolds, the Spirit is poured out through the preaching of the Word of Jesus to Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles.  The Word was preached and the Spirit came upon each group.  The Holy Spirit is truly for all people.  No exceptions.
            But today’s Gospel is from John 7, and here a different festival altogether is described where Jesus takes an opportunity to teach about the Holy Spirit.  Here it is the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths as they are sometimes called.  This was in the Fall of the year.  All around Jerusalem, people would build “succoth” or shelters in which they would live during the duration of the feast.  This was to be a reminder of how their forefathers lived in tents in the wilderness after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  A custom developed where on each day of the festival, a golden pitcher was taken to the Pool of Siloam and filled with water.  Then, the High Priest would carry it in procession with psalms being sung.  Back inside the temple, the water was offered to God and poured out at the altar.  This was meant to remind everyone how the Lord provided water in the wilderness.  It was a prayer for water now, asking the Lord to bring the Fall rains.  And it was an expectation of the coming Messianic age when God would pour out his Spirit on all.  Verses such as these may have been on the minds of the worshippers … Isaiah 55:1 – “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” … or Isaiah 43:19 – “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” … or maybe Zechariah 14:8-9 – “On that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem … It shall continue in summer as in winter.”  No stopping it.  No drying up.  A constant supply of refreshment and eternal life when the Messiah arrives on the scene.  And there’s also the visionary imagery in Ezekiel 47 where the prophet sees water flowing out of the temple, becoming a deep river that flows to the sea and makes its waters fresh, enlivening the creatures that swim in it.
            And so, Jesus stands up on the last day of the feast and says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  In essence, Jesus is declaring, “This is all about me!  I am the fulfillment of all this!  I am the Messiah!  The Messianic age begins with me!  Only I can give you the refreshment that your souls are seeking!”
            The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus inaugurated the Messianic Age.  All that he came to do, he accomplished … dying for the sins of the world and rising to life again to conquer sin, death, and hell.  This is the age in which you and I are blessed to live, even while we await the final consummation at the end of the age when Christ returns visibly as promised by the angels on the Mount of Olives.  This is the age in which the Spirit continues to be poured out upon the Church, creating and sustaining faith in Jesus, even in the face of hardship and suffering around the world.
            A river of living water flows from within all who believe in Jesus as Savior.  However, there is still some stagnant water within us … our old sinful nature.  Our sinful disobedience is like dead, decomposed detritus and other slimy refuse that clogs up a stream and takes the life out of it.  Nothing can survive there.  It stinks.  It’s rotten.  It needs to be cleaned out, pumped out, filtered, purified.  No one would dare attempt to drink it.  A mere sip of this water would be nauseating.  That’s when you need to hear the invitation from Jesus once again: “Come to me and drink.”  He is the one who provides you with the refreshing, cleansing, abundant, and overflowing waters of the Holy Spirit.
            In baptism, your sins were washed away.  You were given new life when you were born from above by water and the Spirit and brought into God’s kingdom (John 3:5).  And although you sin daily, the Holy Spirit works in you to receive and believe the refreshing and cleansing words of forgiveness in Holy Absolution.  The same Spirit whom Jesus breathed upon the disciples is breathed upon you as you hear those words, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  And you ARE forgiven.  The living water of Jesus purges the stagnant water of sin from within you and gives you eternal life.
            Moreover, the living water of Jesus is abundant and overflowing.  It is a well that never runs dry.  There is more than enough for all people.  That was evident on the day of Pentecost.  The Spirit-inspired Good News of Jesus was preached to “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians.”  The point being that the Good News of Jesus is for all people … including “Marysvillians,” “Arlingtonians,” and “Lake Stevians” … both “Everett-ites” and “Snohomishites” … for Tulalips and Stillaguamish … for citizens and sojourners … for ALL whom the Lord calls through the Word of the Gospel.  The work of the Holy Spirit is not limited to a select group of people.  It’s not limited to a certain set of congregations or denominations.  It’s not limited to a particular locale.  The Holy Spirit works where and when he pleases whenever the Good News of Jesus is preached and taught.
            Are you thirsty today?  Does your soul need refreshment?  Then come to Jesus and drink of the water that he provides.  Through his Word, he pours the Spirit into your heart.  His Word of forgiveness refreshes and cleanses.  His Word and Spirit prepare you to eat and drink worthily today of his refreshing body and blood.  And your Lord’s living water is so abundant and overflowing that it pours out from you to others, so you can reach out in love and offer them this living water, giving opportunity for the Spirit to work in their hearts, as well.


Friday, May 30, 2014

A Word I’ve Never Said in Bible Class … Until Now

From Messiah's June 2014 newsletter:

I said a word in Bible class the other day that I don’t think I’ve ever uttered during a Sunday morning adult Bible class. What was that word? “Pornography.” What was the context? It was in the middle of our discussion of the Sermon on the Mount, specifically where Jesus says, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:26).

Whenever the topic of adultery and lust comes up, the elephant in the room is often the topic of pornography. It’s not easy to talk about. It’s shameful. It’s also so much easier to hide nowadays. No longer do you have to drive to the seedy part of town and walk in the back door of an adult bookstore. No longer do you have to ask the person behind the counter of the convenience store for a copy of one of the magazines whose cover is hidden with a piece of opaque plastic, with just the title of the magazine peeking over the top. Now you can view images on your computer in the privacy of your own home and no one will know the difference … unless, of course, you get caught by a family member.

I suppose I’m primarily speaking to men here. Men are much more visually oriented and stimulated than women. One study I read stated that half of Christian men have a problem with pornography. Because of the secretive nature of the issue, I would venture to guess that the problem is even more significant. What constitutes a problem? In the first place, even mere casual viewing of pornography is sinful because it appeals to our sinful lust. It is breaking the Sixth Commandment. It is indeed adultery according to Jesus. In the second place, it can become addictive and can wreak havoc with marriages and other relationships and society at large when women are viewed as nothing more than sexual objects rather than individuals created in the image of God and for whom Christ died on the cross.

And there’s the “crux” of the matter. The cross is the first place to go for those who have been caught in pornography’s evil web. As difficult as it may be, go to your pastor and take advantage of private confession and absolution. As shameful as it is, remember that your pastor is not here to further shame you. As shameful as it is, remember that Christ bore your guilt and shame at the cross, including your sinful lusts and use of pornography to gratify those lusts. This sin is forgiven, too, by Christ your Redeemer. Go to your pastor and hear him deliver Christ’s words of forgiveness personally to you.

Like any addiction, however, you will need further guidance along the road to recovery. Confession and Absolution is a first and necessary step, but other resources will be beneficial. Christian blogger Tim Challies has written extensively on this topic, and I would recommend reading his material and list of resources given at (Disclaimer: Tim Challies is not Lutheran, so of course, when he writes on certain doctrinal topics, I don’t agree with everything. However, his blog has much from which a person could benefit, including the topic of dealing with pornography.)

Above all else, trust in the shed blood of Jesus which covers over our sin, both public and private, both the ones we don’t think are a big deal and the ones we do think are a big deal. With God, though, nothing is private. Every sin is a big deal. But you have an even bigger Savior “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Rom. 3:25 NASB). Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for all sin. He loves you so much that he took your sin all the way to the cross and rose again in victory. In the waters of baptism, you are washed clean. The blessings and benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection are yours. You are declared not guilty. Go in his peace. Trust in his victory for you.

In Christ’s service and yours,
Pastor Onken

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sermon for Ascension Day (May 29, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

“The Coronation of the King” (Psalm 110:1-5)

Americans aren’t necessarily fond of monarchs.  The Revolutionary War was about declaring independence from one.  Yet for some reason, many people are still kind of attracted to the English monarchy.  The lives of royalty find their way into news stories and magazine articles.   Maybe it’s our old family ties.  Maybe it’s the beauty and glamour of the pomp and ceremony that surrounds them.  Although we accord a certain dignity to the office of the president, it’s still not the same as the royals.

The last coronation of an English monarch was in 1953.  That was 12 years before I was born, so I’ve never witnessed the coronation of a king or queen from among our English cousins.  Elizabeth II is 88 years old, so God only knows how many years she has left on the throne.  Perhaps those of us living right now will get to see the crowning of a new monarch before too long.  A great procession of royals, church officials, and other dignitaries will march into Westminster Abbey.  An oath will be taken by the new monarch followed by an anointing with oil.  Following this, a royal stole and royal robe will be placed upon his or her shoulders and two scepters are placed in his or her hands.  Finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury  lays the crown upon the new monarch, and the gathered assembly shouts, “God save the Queen!” or “God save the King!” as the case may be.

The coronation of Jesus was nothing like this at all.  His royal robe was on loan while he was on trial, the fabric sticking to his blood-soaked back.  His scepter was a simple reed.  His crown was made of thorns that painfully plunged into his forehead and scalp.  And there were no cries of “God save the King!” from the crowd that day.  The soldiers sarcastically said, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  The crowd in the courtyard cried, “Crucify him, crucify him!”  And he was led out to Calvary where a cross became his throne.

This was a coronation that was seen with the eyes.  But there is another coronation that is seen by faith.  This is Christ’s Ascension.  This is the Lord Jesus taking his rightful place at the right hand of the Father.  This is the coronation we celebrate today.  The Lord Jesus died with your sins laid to his account.  Three days after his death Jesus rose from the dead, proving that his death was accepted by the Father as the once-for-all atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.  For 40 days he showed himself alive to his disciples.  Finally, he led his select group of disciples to the Mount of Olives.  There he lifted up his hands and blessed them.  Carried up into heaven, a cloud took him out of their sight.

David, writing about a thousand years before this, described in advance this heavenly coronation in Psalm 110, from which our Introit is taken.  At first glance, Psalm 110 seems to be about the coronation of an earthly king.  Yahweh invites the king to sit at his right hand as his representative.  He promises an expanded territory, loyal subjects willingly offering themselves, refreshed and ready to fight for the king.

But something more is being described in this Psalm.  When David says, “Yahweh says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” he is speaking of another Lord, David’s Lord, the Lord Christ.  In fact, Jesus applies this Psalm to himself in Mark 12.  He says that David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was speaking about the Son of David, the Messiah (Mark 12:35-37).  And the right hand of God is not a concrete location, but rather is the position of all power and might in all creation.  Jesus, risen and ascended, now fully uses all his divine power as both God and Man.  His divine power and might are everywhere at all time and all places.  HE is everywhere at all times and all places, including every altar where bread and wine are the Holy Communion of his Body and Blood.  All of our Lord’s enemies – sin, death, hell, and all that are opposed to him – have been defeated in his cross and resurrection.  His ruling scepter goes forth from Zion – that is, from his Church – as the Gospel is preached to all the world and his territory is extended from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In Ephesians 1, St. Paul puts it this way as he writes about

“the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:19-23).

Furthermore, we know that this coronation of which David sings is something quite different because this king in Psalm 110 is also given priestly duties.  He is “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”  Melchizedek is a mysterious figure who appears on the scene in Genesis 14.  He is called “king of Salem” and “priest of God Most High” (Gen. 14:18). He blesses Abram and Abram gives an offering to him.  So how does this relate to Jesus?

The name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness.”  He is king of Salem, which means “peace.”  Jesus, in his office as Messiah, is king and priest for us.  He is the one who rules for us.  He is both the one who intercedes for us and the one who offers himself as a sacrifice for us. He gives us his righteousness.  He brings peace between God and man through his shed blood.  Listen also to what Hebrews 7:3 says about Melchizedek: “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever” (Heb. 7:3).  Therefore, this is a picture of Christ’s eternal kingship and priesthood.  Nothing will ever supersede him.  Again, Hebrews 7:16 says of Jesus that “he has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life” (Heb. 7:16).

Therefore, there is no fear when Christ shepherds us and rules as our king.  There is safety in foreign territory, even when threats from our enemies abound.  Nothing can take away the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that our Lord Christ has won for you.  Because you are God’s forgiven, baptized, believing people, verse 3 of the Psalm is true for you, too: “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments.”  With the Holy Spirit empowering us, clothed in the holy garments of Christ’s own righteousness … not our own … we willingly serve our King.

Knowing that our King is risen and ascended, this changes our perspective on our lives in this world, especially when we feel as if we are not risen and ascended but rather sunk down and in the depths.  This is the perspective Paul commends in Colossians 3: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).  Jesus is with us now in the midst of our troubles.  Our old self died in the baptismal waters.  We are covered in Christ.  Now we await the resurrection of all flesh and the visible return of Christ.  On that great day, we will appear with him in glory … the glory he received at his Ascension.

So, as an American, I realize that you might not be all that fond of monarchs.  This whole king and queen thing isn’t quite for you.  But remember … ultimately, you are a citizen of another land, another country, another kingdom.  “Our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul writes in Philippians 3.  “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20).

God save the King?  No.  God IS your King.  He has saved YOU.  And his name is Jesus. 


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 25, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

Text: John 14:15-21

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day when we remember those who gave their lives fighting for our country.  Why were they willing to do this?  To be honest, some did it because they had no choice.  They were drafted and forced to fight in an unpopular war.  Some were drafted and fought out of a sense of duty and honor in a noble cause.  Others signed up voluntarily.  They were willing to serve because they loved their country and the principles of freedom for which it stands.

What goes through the mind of a soldier in the hours leading up to a battle?  Will I survive this?  Will I live another day to see my comrades?  To be able to go home eventually and see my family?  While soldiers are trained intensively to steel themselves for the horrors of war, I’m sure there is still a measure of fear and uncertainty underneath their courageous visage.

What was going through the minds of the disciples as they listened to Jesus the night before his crucifixion?  Did they fully understand what Jesus was talking about?  Did they know what he was preparing them for?  Today’s Gospel reading is a continuation of the encouragement the Lord Jesus gave to the disciples as he prepared them for his death and departure.  The disciples were confused and uncertain.  They didn’t quite understand what Jesus was doing or talking about.  He acted as a lowly servant and washed their feet.  He foretold that one of their number would betray him and that Peter would deny knowing him three times.  The disciples had followed him and learned from him for some time, but now Jesus says, “Where I am going you cannot come” (John 13:33).  Jesus knows the devastating sorrow the disciples will face in the next few days.  Yet he also foresees the glorious outcome beyond all the suffering he would endure, and so he gives them hopeful promises.  He promises the help of the Holy Spirit and his own enduring presence and life.

The love of country leads a soldier to do his duty.  In a similar way, our love of Jesus leads us to keep his commandments.  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Also, the words of our Introit from Psalm 119 call us to “delight” in God’s Law:  “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.  I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life” (Ps. 119:82-83).

Now, at first this sounds discouraging.  We’re not so skilled at keeping the Ten Commandments.  This leads us to doubt our love for God and God’s love for us.  This is when we need to remember that Christ did not come to be a new Moses, a new Lawgiver.  If that were the case, then it would have been unnecessary for him to bear our sins upon himself at the cross.  Jesus did not come to lay a further burden upon us that we could never bear.  Instead he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).  Likewise, in 1 John 5, the apostle writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).  The word for “law” and “precepts” in Psalm 119 are broader terms that include all of God’s counsel.  God’s gracious promises are included here.  They are the words that give life, not the Law.  The Gospel calls us to faith and brings forth faith in our hearts.  The Law, on the other hand, brings wrath (Rom. 4:15).  It shows that we have not measured up to God’s expectation of holiness.

The commandments which Jesus says we will keep are these:  faithfully preaching about him, carefully guarding and administering his Word and Sacraments, showing affection and harmony for one another, and patiently bearing all adversities that come our way because we belong to Jesus.  Our love for Jesus and his truth will lead us to willingly observe all these commands.  More importantly, it’s what Jesus has done for us that empowers and motivates our love for him.  “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  He gave his life for us and shed his blood for us.  Therefore we gladly live in harmony and friendship with one another, listen and apply what we learn in his Word, and avoid creating division in our midst.[i]  Our prayer in today’s collect is answered as we “think those things that are right” and by God’s “merciful guiding accomplish them.”

Up to this point, the presence of Jesus has given the disciples strength and courage.  Now, he tells them he will soon be leaving.  In his Ascension, Jesus would remove his visible presence from his disciples.  And so, he promises to ask the Father to send “another Helper.”  Jesus had been their “Helper.”  He had been the one who was their constant companion, the one who walked along side them to be their support and their advocate.  But now, he would send “another Helper to be with you forever.”

Jesus calls this Helper “the Spirit of truth.”  He is the Spirit of truth because he points us constantly to Jesus who is “the Truth.”  This is also why Jesus says, “the world cannot receive [him], because it neither sees him nor knows him.”  The world is deceived by the devil’s lies … in particular, the lie that there is no such thing as “truth.”  The unbelieving world has no concept of the Holy Spirit working through Holy Scripture and the preaching of Christ.  But Jesus says, “You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”  For you and me today, we have that same Spirit, given in the saving waters of Holy Baptism and in the forgiving Word of the cross.  The devil will attempt to make you doubt the Spirit’s presence.  He will try to get you to compare yourself to the greatest of saints and make you think “I can never be as faithful as them.  Maybe I do not have the Holy Spirit.”  That’s when you must recall that you are baptized.  God promises that in baptism “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38) and that baptism “now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21).  And consider how “Every bit of faith, love, obedience, every holy motion, delight in God and his Word, its promises, comfort, etc., is both a mark of the Spirit’s presence in us and of our knowledge of who and what he really is.”[ii]

Jesus has promised that he would not leave us as orphans.  In fact, not only did he send the Holy Spirit as another Helper.  He promised that he himself would continue to be present among his disciples.  “I will come to you,” he said.  The world would see him no more, but he would show himself to his followers.  After his resurrection, he appeared publicly only to his disciples until his Ascension.  But then came Pentecost and the empowering of the Holy Spirit.  Once Jesus’ work of dying and rising again for the forgiveness of sins was completed, then the full work of the Spirit commenced.  Now, the disciples would know fully the truth of the presence of Jesus for his Church.  “In that day,” Jesus said, “you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you … He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”  And this is the way you and I “see” Jesus, too.  Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are united together in the love of God … Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Spirit dwells with you and is in you.  Jesus comes to you.  Because he lives, you also will live.  He is in the Father.  At one with the Father, Jesus shares his eternal life with you.  You are in Jesus.  Jesus is in you.  You love him.  The Father loves you.  Jesus loves you.  He manifests himself to you.  You are wrapped up in the love of Christ and his resurrection life and the life and love of the Holy Trinity.  And since this is the case, then death and hell can never claim you.

A small orphaned boy lived with his grandmother.  One night their house caught fire.  The grandmother, trying to rescue the little boy asleep upstairs, perished in the smoke and flames.  A crowd gathered around the burning house.  The boy’s cries for help were heard above the crackling of the blaze.  The front of the house was a mass of flames.  No one seemed to know what to do.  Suddenly a stranger rushed from the crowd and circled to the back where he spotted an iron pipe that reached an upstairs window.  He disappeared for a minute, then reappeared with the boy in his arms.  Amid the cheers of the crowd, he climbed down the hot pipe as the boy hung around his neck.

Weeks later a public hearing was held in the town hall to determine in whose custody the boy would be placed.  Each person wanting the boy was allowed to speak briefly.  The first man said, “I have a big farm.  Every boy needs to grow up around animals and to work outdoors.”  The second man told of the advantages he could provide:  “I’m a teacher.  I have a large library.  He would get a good education.”  Others spoke. Finally the richest man in the community said, “I’m wealthy. I could give the boy everything mentioned tonight: farm, education, and more, including money and travel.  I’d like him in my home.”

The chairman asked, “Anyone else like to say a word?”  From the backseat rose a stranger who had slipped in unnoticed.  As he walked toward the front, deep suffering showed on his face.  Reaching the front of the room, he stood directly in front of the little boy.  Slowly the stranger removed his hands from his pockets.  A gasp went up from the crowd.  The little boy, whose eyes had been focused on the floor until now, looked up.  The man’s hands were terribly scarred.  Suddenly the boy emitted a cry of recognition.  Here was the man who had saved his life.  His hands were scarred from climbing up and down the hot pipe.  With a leap the boy threw himself around the stranger’s neck and held on for life. The farmer rose and left.  The teacher, too.  Then the rich man.  Everyone departed, leaving the boy and his rescuer who had won him without a word.  Those marred hands spoke more effectively than any words.[iii]

The scarred hands of Jesus declare that he is your rescuer.  He is the one who promised, “I will not leave you as orphans.”  He is the one who sacrificed his life for yours.  His sacrifice moves you to love him and love what he commands.  He is the one who is present for you today in an even greater way than he was for the Twelve.  He is your exalted Savior who is seated at the right hand of the Father, yet who also comes to you in the bread and wine.  On this Memorial Day weekend, Jesus gives you more than just a meal to remember him by.  He is truly present for you with his body and blood in this meal of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He is the one who sends the Spirit of Truth into your heart to bind you to the love of the Father so you can face your daily battles with courage, with comfort, and with confidence in Christ Jesus your ever-present Savior.

Alleluia! Not as orphans
    Are we left in sorrow now;
Alleluia! He is near us;
    Faith believes, nor questions how.
Though the cloud from sight received Him
    When the forty days were o’er,
Shall our hearts forget His promise:
    “I am with you evermore”?[iv]


[i] Thoughts in this paragraph borrowed from Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 24, p. 102). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
[ii] Lenski, John, 1001.
[iv] LSB 821:2

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 18, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

“Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled” (John 14:1-14)

            I don’t need to remind you that there are many reasons why our hearts are often troubled.  There are all kinds of things in our lives that cause stress and distress, pain and pressure, guilt and grief.  Think about your own life right now.  If I were to ask any one of you at this moment, “What’s troubling you?” you could probably come up with at least three things.  And three is probably “lowballing” it.  Disease and depression, unconfessed sin and uncontrolled desires, and all kinds of problems at home, work, or school have caused your hearts to be troubled. 
The hearts of our Lord’s disciples were troubled.  They were with Jesus in the Upper Room the night of his betrayal.  And there Jesus said some pretty troubling things:  “One of you will betray me”… “The rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times”… “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”  Jesus was preparing them for the difficult events that were soon to follow…his arrest and trial, their desertion of their Lord and Master, and his horrible crucifixion.  But he was also preparing them for his Ascension which would come after he rose from the dead.  After saying all these things, you can imagine Jesus looking around and seeing the confused, hurt, anxious, and sad faces of the disciples.  And so he turned to them and said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.”  “You trust in God.  So trust in me, too, for I am God in the flesh.  It may soon seem as if everything is going to hell in a handbasket.  You are going to see me led off in chains, falsely condemned, beaten and nailed to a cross.  I will make no defense of myself.  But I will be in complete control the whole time.  It’s necessary for me to suffer, because behind all that suffering I’m winning for you life, forgiveness, and salvation.”
At times it may seem like your life is going to hell in a handbasket.  Or maybe things are just fine.  Outwardly, your life is quite comfortable.  But inwardly, things are not fine.  You have some secret sin that is eating away at you.  Like Peter, you have denied Jesus in your thoughts and actions that only you or a select few know about.  You know that you deserve to go to hell in a handbasket because of your sin.
Then listen to Jesus words in our text today, and believe them for yourself:  “Let not your hearts be troubled.”  Behind all YOUR suffering, Jesus is working for you, and has already won for you life, forgiveness, and salvation through his suffering and death at the cross.
Let not your hearts be troubled … because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  He is the way to the Father.  Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me … Whoever has seen me has seen the Father … I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”  Jesus reveals the loving, forgiving nature of God the Father to us.  St. Paul wrote in Colossians 1, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created … all things were created through him and for him … in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”  And then St. Peter also said in Acts 4:12 says “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
            Jesus is the way to the Father, and he is also the truth.  He is God.  Therefore his words are God’s Word.  Again, from our text, Jesus said, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”  Jesus is God in the flesh … God’s Son sent from God the Father.  Therefore you can trust him and what he says, for he has spoken authoritatively what God the Father gave him to say.
            Jesus is the way to the Father.  He is the truth who speaks trustworthy words.  And he is the life.  Through him, you can have a life of peace of mind and heart knowing you are forgiven of all your sins.  You can have a life of peace and comfort in the midst of pain and suffering.  And you have the promise of the resurrection to eternal life on the last day.
Let not your hearts be troubled … because there are many rooms in the Father’s house.  Notice that Jesus does not say that there are just a “few” rooms.  No, he says there are “many.”  When you get to heaven, you will not see any “No Vacancy” signs.  There is room for you.  There is no need to say to yourself, “How can God love me?  What I’ve done is too bad to be forgiven.  God cannot welcome someone like me into his heavenly kingdom.”  Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven.  He has gone ahead to prepare a place for God’s baptized, repentant children.  And one day he will come again to take you to be with him there.
In the meantime, let not your hearts be troubled, because Jesus is present with his Church to do great things.  In fact, Jesus promises that his Church will do “greater” things.  “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”  Jesus ascends into heaven, but is still with us.  “Behold, I am with you always,” he said, and “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”  And on Pentecost, the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to empower God’s Church to do these greater things.
What are these “greater works”?  How can we do greater works than the works of the Lord Jesus himself?  Well, Jesus is probably not talking here about his miracles of healing or calming storms or raising people from the dead.  He is talking about the way in which His saving Gospel is carried to the ends of the earth.  When Jesus first spoke these words about doing “greater works,” he had never traveled beyond Palestine.  His entire earthly ministry was limited to Galilee, Samaria, and Judea … a distance not more than 90 miles from north to south.  But look what happened in the Book of Acts.  On the day of Pentecost 3,000 souls were added to God’s kingdom.  All those pilgrims returned to their homelands and preached the Gospel.  A former persecutor of Christians by the name of Saul became a believer in Christ and began a series of missionary journeys, and perhaps even carried the Good News about Jesus all the way to Spain.
The ministry of Jesus is no longer limited to Palestine.  The Church is the Body of Christ.  He continues his work in and through us.  The greater works that the Church does is carrying the Gospel message to the ends of the earth, including our little part of the earth called Marysville.  Through that Gospel message, sinners are converted by God’s grace.  Souls are saved for life eternal.  Those are greater works than any miracle, because miracles do not create faith.  Only the Holy Spirit working in Word and Sacrament creates and sustains faith in Jesus as Savior.   
            There is one more thing in our text this morning which comforts our hearts.  Let not your hearts be troubled, because Jesus truly hears and answers our prayers.  “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”  Now that’s a powerful promise.
            Jesus says to ask “in my name.”  That means to ask about all those things that are in accord with the will of Christ, all those things covered by his name.  A helpful paraphrase of this verse puts it this way, “From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it” (Peterson).  To help you think about what that means, think about what the name of Jesus means: “The Lord Saves.”  Therefore anything that has to do with your life of salvation and faith, you can confidently request, and Jesus will answer those prayers.  The Lord’s Prayer can serve as a model for those things that you can be absolutely assured of receiving when you ask “in Jesus’ name”:  daily bread, forgiveness, strength against temptation, deliverance from evil, and so forth.
            “In Jesus’ name” is not a magic formula.  Likewise, many people misuse Matthew 18:19 which says “if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven.”  The fact is, two or more people agreeing in prayer is no guarantee that the prayer will be answered.  You and I can buy 5 dollars worth of lottery tickets, agree in prayer all day long that we will win the lottery, and we’ll still be 5 dollars poorer.  You can’t manipulate God.  God has spoken to us in his Word.  Now he invites us to speak to him.  He invites you to lay out all your needs and concerns before his throne of grace.  “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15).  “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call on him in truth” (Psalm 145:18).  “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17).  What an awesome privilege this truly is.  You can humbly come before your good and gracious God, trusting that he will do what’s best for you.
            Let not your hearts be troubled, because your dear Lord Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  There are many rooms in the Father’s house, room for you, and Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you.  Jesus is present with his Church to do “greater works” in the power of the Holy Spirit.  And he graciously hears and answers your prayers offered in his name.