Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve

Luke 2:21- New Year’s (Eve) - December 31, 2012
According to the Law

It’s the last day of 2012.  Another year is passed.  For better or worse, this mile marker measures the accomplishments and events of our lives.  But I suppose we could use any other day as a mile marker.  Think of all the other calendars that measure the year.  There’s the fiscal year.  That’s important to some people.  There’s the academic year.  This is engraved in the mind of anyone who’s been a student.  There is, of course, the church year.  This is the one that governs what we celebrate here in church.  And finally there is the legal year, the one we’re all about to celebrate tonight, which runs from January 1st – December 31st. 
Legal year.  That makes it sound kind of unexciting.  But I call it the legal year, because that’s exactly what it is.  What else is it?  Tomorrow is legally, according to the law, 2013.  2012 will legally be over.  There’s no avoiding or undoing the passage of time.  We know that.  The law, however, with its legal years, makes sure that we don’t forget it either.  That’s what the law does in all of its forms.  It doesn’t make anything so.  It just tells you what’s what.   2012 will soon be over and it will be too late to make 2012 anything other than what it was.  That’s the law. 
Tonight we close a year lived under God’s grace by commending a new year into His care.   But consider what else brings us here tonight.  January 1st just so happens to mark that day when the legal calendar intersects perfectly with the church calendar.  It’s really kind of neat.  Consider the theme.  Just as the year begins on January 1st, according to the law, so also, for the church year, it is on January 1st that we celebrate how Jesus placed Himself under the law.  In His birth, God submitted to our physical limitations.  That’s Christmas.  Eight days later, in His circumcision, God submitted to our legal restrictions.  That’s New Year’s. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas 1

Luke 2: [22-32] 33-40 - Christmas I - December 30, 2012
Remembering and Waiting for Christmas

Simeon was just and devout.  Of course, his justness—his righteousness he got in the same way that we get ours.  He believed the Gospel.  That’s what it means to be devout: To be devout is to make faithful use of the Means of Grace.  It is to go to church and hear the word of God, knowing and believing that that is where you receive the righteousness of Christ.  Being just and being devout go hand in hand.  Simeon waited for what God promised in His word, and God counted this faith to him as righteousness in His sight. 
Simeon waited for God to redeem Israel.  He waited for God to bring salvation to the Gentiles.  He waited for the Temple once again to be filled by the Glory of the Lord.   He waited for what God had promised.
But, unlike his fathers who went before him, to Simeon the Holy Spirit actually revealed that before he died, he would see with his own eyes the promised Messiah.  And he finally did.  And when he did, he gave two blessings.  He blessed God.  And he blessed Mary and Joseph.  I’d like to consider both of these blessings this morning. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Day

John 1:1-14 - Christmas Day - December 25, 2012
The Word Remains Flesh
In Jesus Christ, God Has Come to Stay

At the risk of spoiling whatever rhetorical force these opening words might have had, I would like to encourage you all to pay close attention and learn – learn about Christmas.  This will not be a fluffy sermon.  But it will be true …
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 
 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee. How much less this temple which I have built!” 
So said Solomon, the son of King David when he dedicated the first and greatest Temple in Jerusalem that was constructed under his peaceful reign.  It was beautiful.  It has been called the eighth wonder of the ancient world.  If the gold and silver and other precious materials used in its construction were valued today – just the materials – it would amount to as much as $200 billion.  The nations gathered to hear Solomon’s wisdom and to marvel at the Temple he built as a dwelling place for the Lord God of Israel.  Heaven and earth couldn’t contain Him – hence Solomon’s exclamation of marvel – yet God chose so kindly to be available exclusively there where He said He would dwell. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

Luke 2:11-12 - Christmas Eve - December 24, 2012
Word & Sign: Finding God’s Glory

There is something very peaceful about the image of the shepherds watching their flocks by night.  How relaxing.  What opportunity for contemplation.  What time for staring at the stars and considering those words of Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.”  Ah, the glory of God.  So gentle.  So sweet.  There’s something kind of romantic about the scene.  Peaceful. Uneventful. But then the sky cracked.  An angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around him.  And they were greatly afraid.  And they should have been.  The glory of God, the thing of thoughts and musings turned out to be terrifying.  But what did the angel say to them?  “Do not be afraid.”  
They needed to hear that word.  The glory of God seems to be synonymous in our minds with, maybe beauty, or amazingness.  But the glory of God reveals man’s unworthiness.  The glory of God causes fear in man, because it reveals how far we have fallen.  Only when God assures us that His glory is present for a peaceful purpose can the heart take courage.  The Gospel tells us not to be afraid. 
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent 4

John 1:19-28 - Advent IV - December 23, 2012
Rejoicing in the Power of Our Baptism

Last week our Introit began with those words from Philippians 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  And now today these same words serve as our Epistle Lesson: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  It’s the same theme.  That’s OK.  It’s fitting that two Sundays in a row address the theme of rejoicing, because both these Sundays’ Gospel lessons deal with the same theme of faithful Gospel proclamation.  Again and again the preacher preaches what needs to be heard.  Again and again you gather to hear the same thing.  You don’t fill your quota for the month or season.  No.  You gather regularly to hear the good news that brings you to heaven where true joy neither dims nor dies.  You come to receive Jesus – because in Him alone we rejoice.  And again, and again, we rejoice. 

John the Baptist was teaching who Jesus was, and what He came to do.  And his instruction can be summarized under three topics: 1) He preached repentance.  2) He baptized.  3) He pointed to Jesus.  Now all of these three, of course, go together. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent 3

Matthew 11:2-11 - Advent 3 - December 16, 2012
What We Come to See and Hear

John was a preacher.  Faithful preaching can have various effects on people.  Some people love it.  Some people put up with it.  Some people hate it.  It’s not the fault of the preacher.  The preacher’s job is to preach.  They’re not his words – at least not if he’s doing his job.  They’re the words of God.  A faithful preacher preaches the message of another.  He is a steward.  A steward is one whose job it is to administer his master’s goods.  It is not the preacher’s job to avoid offense in his preaching.  It’s his job to preach clearly what God gave him to preach.   It’s not the preacher’s job to figure out what his hearers want to hear.  It’s his job to preach what God wants his hearers to hear.  It’s not required of a preacher that he be likeable, handsome, or good with the youth.  It’s not required of a preacher to smile when he preaches or to engage lazy minds with clever rhetoric or trite illustrations.  No.  Of course, God can and just may use any number of a preacher’s personal strengths in order to further His kingdom.  But they are God’s to use.  It is God’s kingdom. 

But what is required?  What does God require of His preachers?  He requires that they be servants of Christ.  He requires that they be stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.  That's what God tells us.  It’s the job of the preacher to preach the kingdom of God and to do it faithfully. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent 2

Luke 21:25-36 - Advent 2 - December 9, 2012
Our Redemption Draws Near
In the news lately, I’ve read, and maybe you’ve read also, that there’s been some roused concern over the end of the world (as we know it) supposedly predicted by the ancient Mayans.  Maybe you haven’t noticed the stories.  It’s not like it’s really big news.  After all, how many kooks rise up here and there claiming to know when the end of the world will be, even being so bold as to set dates and times?  We know it’s a hoax every time.  Doesn’t Jesus Himself tell us? “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”   Now if not even Jesus, according to His humbled human nature, is privy to the knowledge of that exact day, certainly no other man will be either. 

This Mayan prediction, though, is a little different from that.  It’s no less ridiculous – don’t get me wrong.  But it doesn’t really predict the end of the world per se – it doesn’t say that judgment day is coming or that Jesus is returning.  It’s just that their calendar, prepared centuries ago, which spans 5,125 years from beginning to end suddenly, on December 21, 2012, just stops.  Why?  Why so precise?  Weird, huh?  It’s allure, I suppose, lies in the fact that so much is left to the imagination.  Could it be the end … of something?  Could it be a meteor?  Could it be economic collapse?  Could it be the fall of America?  Could it be the rise of another superpower?  Could it be some sort of catastrophe that the devil has been brewing up and saving for December 21 of this year for a really long time now?  Could it be?   It doesn’t matter.  And there’s a couple of reasons why it doesn’t matter. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent 1

Jeremiah 23:5-8 - Advent 1 Midweek - December 5, 2012
  The Lord our Righteousness

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ gathered here this evening, grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

We are gathered in Jesus name.  We are gathered in Jesus’ name because it is Jesus Himself who gathers us.  He is our Shepherd.  We hear His voice, and follow Him, and no one will snatch us out of His hand.  Scripture frequently compares Jesus to a shepherd tending his sheep.  Psalm 23 comes to mind.  So also, because our Lord leads us by speaking His word, Scripture also calls those men shepherds who speak God’s word on His behalf.  This is where we get the word pastor.  A shepherd’s job is to lead sheep away from danger and into safety – to make sure that they have what they need to live.  If trouble is near, the worst thing for shepherds to do is to pretend that all is safe. 

In the context surrounding our text this evening, God, through the prophet Jeremiah, chastised the shepherds/ pastors, of the day who led the sheep astray by preaching peace when there was no peace.  God said He would destroy these lying pastors.  And He did.  They now await the resurrection of all flesh when they will be judged by the stern pronouncement of Christ whose advent they failed to preach.  Think of that.  What made them unfaithful, what incited God’s wrath against them, was the fact that they did not preach Christ.  They preached about a peace with God apart from Him who reconciles God to sinners: Jesus.  Woe to the preacher who does not preach Jesus.   

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent 1

Matthew 21:1-9 - Advent 1 - December 2, 2012
  Blessed is He who Comes in the Name of the Lord

Christmas is coming.  But it’s not Christmas yet.  The church here is decorated for Christmas.  Your homes are probably decorated for Christmas, and I’m sure ours will be looking pretty Christmassy soon as well.  Our favorite department stores have been decorated for Christmas since like October 20th, I think.   Christmas is coming.  But it’s not Christmas yet.  It’s coming.  That’s what the word “Advent” means: “coming”. 

Today is the first day of Advent.  We shouldn’t forget about this season, because during this season of the Church year, we Christians prepare for the celebration of our Savior’s birth.  Preparation is a good thing.  It’s necessary in fact.  And so I’d like to say a few things this morning about the season of Advent, because in order to know what it means to prepare for Jesus to come to us, there are three comings or advents of Jesus that we first need to consider. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Trinity 27

Matthew 25:1-13 - Trinity XXVII - November 25, 2012
Faith’s Anticipation

Anticipation is half the pleasure.  There’s something true about this.  When you’re looking forward to something, not only do you feel like each day is filled with that much more meaning, but also in those moments of waiting you have the opportunity to ponder and reflect upon whatever it is you’re waiting for.  And that’s nice.  It kind of keeps you energized in a way.  But you know that with whatever pleasure that you’re looking forward to, nine times out of ten you end up spending more time looking forward to it than you do actually enjoying it.  It’s funny how that works. 
Just think of thanksgiving guests coming and leaving … and now they are leaving again.    
But this isn’t how it works when it comes to eternal life.  It’s eternal, after all.  It lasts forever.  No amount of waiting will outlast or match what God has prepared for us there.  We wait for heaven by waiting on God who gives us heaven.  We wait on God by listening to His word that saves us.  We hear and believe the promises that He makes to us in Christ, and, although we can neither see nor feel any evidence that He will deliver on His promises, we wait, because God’s word is true.  His reliability is not determined by what we are able to see or feel.  No, but God swears by Himself that all who wait on Him shall not be put to shame.  And so, in Jesus’ name we pray with the Psalmist:
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.
For you I wait all the day long
(Psalm 25:4-5).
In other words, we pray that God teach us the Gospel.  That’s how we wait.  That’s what it means to wait – that’s what it’s always meant.  To wait is to believe the Gospel.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Reformation Sunday

Matthew 11:12-19 - Reformation - October 28, 2012
Preaching the Kingdom

A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon.  Those who trust in Him will not be disappointed.  God cannot suffer violence, after all, and so nothing can happen to God that could possibly render Him unable to keep His promises. 
We find God, that is, we flee to God, not by figuring out where He’s hiding, but by knowing where He comes to us – where He reveals Himself as our mighty defender.  God comes to us in His word and sacraments. And so we flee to Him by fleeing to these.  This means that when trouble comes, when sickness strikes and cancer spreads, when children worry us and cause heartache, and when money runs out – whatever it is – we flee to God precisely by fleeing to the forgiveness of sins.  It may not seem like the answer at the time, but that’s because we’re sinners.  And so, like the paralytic lying stuck on his back, it is the answer we need from Jesus: “Child, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven.”  And that’s what we need: good cheer, boldness and confidence toward God.  When we know the God who forgives us our sins, then we know the God who concerns Himself with all our earthly problems as well. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Trinity 20

Matthew 22:1-14 - Trinity XX - October 21, 2012
The Christian’s Robe of Righteousness

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.”   It’s interesting here that Jesus speaks the way He does.  No one asked Him about the kingdom of heaven: what it was or what it was like.  Instead they asked Him by what authority He did the things He did (Mt. 21:23).  Who gave Him this authority?  That’s what they asked.  And Jesus responded to their insolent inquiry by telling them parables about the kingdom of heaven.  The word kingdom tends to incite images of a static government with castles and towers and a throne.  But the word for kingdom is perhaps better translated as reign.  It is an active, dynamic thing.  The kingdom of heaven is not a power structure built far away.  No, it is the day-by-day ruling and governing of God over His dominion.  More specifically, it is the reign of Christ who governs and rules our hearts and consciences by the forgiveness of our sins. 
This is the authority of Jesus.  This authority He received from His Father.  He earned this authority by bearing the sins of the world on the cross.  Jesus rules us because we are His.  He owns us.  He has purchased and won us, not with gold or silver, the way the rulers of this world buy favor and obedience and by which they manipulate their subjects.  No. But Jesus made us His by buying us with His own holy and precious blood – by becoming our servant – by paying our redemption price with His innocent suffering and death.  All this He did in order that we, as we confess in the Small Catechism, “may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Trinity 19

Matthew 9:1-8 - Trinity XIX - October 14, 2012
God’s Authority on Earth

What’s easier?  To say to a sinner, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say to a paralytic, “Rise and walk”?  At first, I suppose we might think that it’s easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” since no one can really tell if it’s true or not.  There’s no way of determining whether or not someone’s sins are truly retained or absolved when somebody says that they are.  Such a thing is invisible.  What does it look like, after all, to have your sins forgiven? 
But to heal someone – oh, that requires a power that can be scrutinized. Or to put it quite simply, you can see it.  If someone tells a paralyzed man to get up and walk around, you’ll know immediately whether the guy has any power to heal.  And who has such power, but God?  And so I guess it seems that “rise and walk” would be the harder thing to say.  We know what it looks like, after all, not to be paralyzed.  But what does it look like to be forgiven?  You can’t see the forgiveness of sins. 
But God can. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Trinity 17

Luke 14:1-11 - Trinity XVII - September 30, 2012
Christ Our Sabbath Rest

Let us pray:
Come, O Christ, and loose the chains that bind us:
Lead us forth and cast this world behind us.
With Thee, the Anointed,
Finds the soul its joy and rest appointed.  Amen.
Jesus was invited to the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees.  It was the Sabbath, the day of rest.  Although it appeared to be a simple meal on this occasion, the Jews would often throw great feasts on the Sabbath so long as the food was prepared the day before—keep this in mind: they prepared their meal the day before.  Who, after all, would prepare anything that took more work on the Sabbath? 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Trinity 16

Luke 7:11-17 - Trinity XVI - September 23, 2012
Jesus Encounters & Conquers Our Death

God said to Adam and Eve, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  Death is a bad thing.  People will try to call it a part of life.  But it’s not.  It’s the end of life; and we know it.  When God created our first parents male and female, He did not create them to die.  He created them to live.  That’s why God made them male and female.  That’s why God makes us male and female.  When God joins man and woman together to be one flesh he joins them together for the express purpose that they might be fruitful and multiply, that is, that God might through their life-long union create new life.  Life is a good thing.  But, of course, sin affects what God made to be good.  And its corrupting effects are disastrous.  It’s sad to say, and it’s sadder to see, that it is within marriage where the most devastating results of sin are found. 
Just consider. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Trinity 14

Galatians 5:16-24 - Trinity XIV - September 9, 2012
Working Works or Bearing Fruits
The central teaching of Holy Scripture is that a sinner is justified before God by grace alone through faith in Christ.  This is to say that God forgives us our sins and declares us righteous on account of the holy life, the innocent suffering and death, and the glorious resurrection and ascension of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  All this God does by grace alone apart from any of our own merits or works or preparations.  We are saved from sin, death, and hell by faith alone, that is to say, when we believe that for Jesus’ sake God receives us into His favor.  This is the resounding and consistent message of the whole Bible.  St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is perhaps the clearest of all testimonies in Scripture to this precious doctrine of justification.  
The occasion for which Paul wrote what he wrote was that this doctrine was being challenged and perverted by false teachers in Galatia.  They were teaching that after people came to faith, they had to do something beyond just believing in order to perfect their righteous standing before God.  This was an error that could not be tolerated because it totally contradicted the whole Christian religion.  It denied the very definition of grace by saying that the righteousness faith received in the forgiveness of sins was not good enough.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Trinity 13

Luke 10:21-37 - Trinity XIII - September 2, 2012
Seeing Jesus with the Eyes of Faith
The parable of the Good Samaritan is a great story.  It is impossible not to be moved by what it relates.  It’s a tale of compassion and mercy, of over-and-above service and help all coming from the least likely of characters – a social outcast.  This story puts to shame hypocrisy, self-importance, and the false pretense of holiness—all while exalting such rare and godly virtues as humility, self-sacrifice, and true kindness.  If more people were to take this lesson to heart, the world would be a better place!  It’s true. 
But Jesus did not tell this story simply in order to give us a moral lesson. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Trinity 5

Luke 5:1-11 - Trinity V - August 26, 2012
God’s Word Is Powerful toward Sinners
Jesus had been preaching in the Synagogues of Galilee; he had been healing many sicknesses, and casting out demons.  Jesus was doing what we all picture Jesus spending his time doing.  But everything he did served one central purpose: he taught.  In the miracles that Jesus performed, he always taught something.  And likewise, when he taught, Jesus often accompanied his instruction with miraculous signs to confirm his teaching.  And so the two went hand in hand: his teaching and his acts of divine strength.  His miracles were never just to wow the crowds, but always indicated and revealed who he was, what he had come to accomplish, and how these things made known the Father’s will toward them.  God doesn’t reveal his strength just to flex his muscles for his own sake.  No, he shows his strength in order to teach us that he intends to use his infinite power to save us.  And so Jesus’ miracles teach us the same.  That is, they teach us to listen to his word, because it is there that we learn the reason and purpose for everything God does. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Trinity 10

Luke 19:41-48 - Trinity X - August 12, 2012 
What Makes for Our Peace with God

Jesus was drawing near to Jerusalem.  The Lord almighty approached his holy city chosen from eternity to be his dwelling in order to ascend his throne and rule.  The people, right before our Gospel begins, cried out those familiar words that marked his triumphal entry into the city he loved: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”   The Pharisees rebuked them.  “Jesus,” they said, “do you hear such blasphemy?  These people call you God.  These people treat you as though you were the greatest thing to have visited Jerusalem since the Temple was filled with smoke, and when the prophets prophesied in the days of our fathers.  Rebuke them, Jesus! Silence them, Good Teacher!  Rabbi, you are not who they say you are!”  But Jesus did not rebuke them.  Instead, he responded: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”  
…. And this here sets the context for where our text begins this morning.  Jesus came to Jerusalem for the very purpose of eliciting praise from those whom he would redeem.  And what could possibly silence the praise of God’s people?  Well, in our text this morning we learn exactly what does: sin; self-righteousness; the refusal to repent.  And we learn as well what it is that rekindles in our hearts the praises of God our Savior. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Trinity 9

Luke 16:1-9 - Trinity IX - August 5, 2012 
Forcing Mammon to Serve Our God

There are two religions in the world.  People either believe and trust in the one true God, or they believe and trust in a false god.  People either worship the God who made them and who gives them all that they have, or they worship false gods who have no power at all to provide lasting satisfaction.  The essence of idolatry, that is false worship, is the worship of creation instead of the Creator.  True worship, on the other hand, is not simply an intellectual recognition that God exists or that he is the Maker of all things.  To know that there’s a creator is not to know God.  It’s not simply a matter of admitting that there’s a higher power out there, or that this higher power is ultimately good that one worships God.  Even unbelievers, who see no use for God to become man, or to shed his blood on the cross for sins, are able to figure this out – that God is good.  So what of it?!  So God is good because he gives to people what they love more than him?  That’s a fine way to define God’s goodness, isn’t it?  Yet we see this all the time as the insatiable world chases after all the stuff that fills the earth. 
But no, true worship that is not by nature idolatrous requires something much more than this. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

John the Baptist

Luke 1:57-80 - Nativity of John the Baptist - June 24, 2012 
Serving God Without Fear

Six months before Jesus’ birth, John the Baptist was born to prepare his way.  Six months from today is Christmas Eve.  And so today, on June 24, we celebrate the nativity of the greatest prophet and preacher who ever lived.  Of course John’s ministry didn’t begin until he was much older, but even before he grew and became strong in spirit the events surrounding his birth tell us quite a bit about his mission as the prophet of the Most High.  These recorded events also teach us about our duty always to listen to what God says. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Trinity 1

Luke 16:19-31 - Trinity I - June 10, 2012 
Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart

The parable of Jesus that we just heard is the only parable that Jesus ever told where he named one of the characters.  The name Lazarus means, “My God helps.”  There’s no way of knowing for sure, but perhaps the reason Jesus chose to name this particular character was because of his friendship with the brother of Mary and Martha.  His name was Lazarus too.  Consider how Jesus helped him.  And what greater need for help could there have been than his?  He was dead.  Out of love for his friend, Jesus wept.  And, out of the same great love, Jesus raised his friend from the dead. 
The Lazarus in Jesus’ parable died too.  But he did not have to wait until his death to become acquainted with his need for help.  He was a beggar.  His very livelihood daily required him to come to full grips with how much help he needed from others.  And even then, he was afflicted with public scorn, with infection and hunger, and with utter loneliness.  It seemed as though even God had rejected him!  The filthy dogs who ate the crumbs he desired from the rich man’s table were his only companions as they licked his open sores for dessert.  Disgusting, yeah.  This man was the lowest of the low.  There was nothing he had to call his own on earth.  He was not worth knowing.  But here is the beauty of the fact that Jesus gave him a name.  God knew him.  It is as Jesus said to his disciples, admonishing them not to place their confidence in what they can see, but in what remains hidden: “Do not rejoice in this,” he said, “that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Trinity Sunday

John 3:1-15 - Trinity - June 3, 2012
Where The Spirit Blows

Today is Trinity Sunday.  The word Trinity is not found in the Bible.  It’s a word that was created by Christians in order to express what the Bible teaches about God.  The Bible teaches clearly that God is three distinct Persons in one divine Essence: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  That’s what Trinity means: tri + unity = Trinity.  The only true God is the Triune God.  All true Christians believe this.  Every true Church confesses this.  The Christian Church has learned to articulate her faith in the three ecumenical creeds – the Apostles, the Nicene, and the Athanasian – not by thinking really hard about God – not by sitting down and figuring out his mind – no, but by learning from Holy Scripture who God is and what God does, and by defending the doctrine they learned when controversy arose.  Our creeds are not extra words that we impose upon the word of God.  They are concise expressions of the holy Faith that God’s word teaches us. 
We are saved by faith.  St. Paul writes, With the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  The word creed simply means I believe.  When we confess what we believe, we are confessing two things: First, we confess the content of our faith – that is, who God is, what he has done, who we are, and how we are saved.  Second, we confess that this is what we ourselves personally believe as the body of Christ and as individual members of it.  The two always go together: the objective truth, and our subjective commitment to it. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012


John 14:23-31 - Pentecost - May 27, 2012 
Keeping Jesus’ Words

When you can’t understand another person’s language, there is very little from that person that you can learn.  Once you understand the language, the learning can begin.  But what do you learn?  A few years ago, Monica and I and our son James spent ten months in Germany.  I was there as a student of theology, but I spent most of my time trying to learn as much of the language as I could.  Although I was still very far from mastering the language, I do remember the first day in Germany that I was able to completely understand a long, compound German sentence.  For weeks I had been listening in the classroom, and concentrating so hard, trying to catch as many words as possible.  When I finally understood, I was so proud and excited at my progress, that with a big smile on my face, and sitting high in my chair, I could hardly contain my delight.  It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard, for no other reason than that I could finally understand it – I had figured it out! 
Here’s an English translation of what my professor said that made me so happy: “In my personal opinion, there’s nothing wrong with ordaining women as pastors.”  He continued, “Those passages in Scripture, where the Apostle Paul said that women cannot be pastors no longer apply to us today because Paul wasn’t aware of our contemporary situation.”  My professor was wrong.  What he said was contrary to the word of God.  And yet it made me happy simply to understand what he said.   Now, although there is satisfaction in figuring things out, there’s not much benefit to understanding something, if what you learn by it is not true.  But that’s life. Typically, we have to figure things out and come to understand them before we are able to determine whether or not they are reliable. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Easter 6 Rogate

John 16:23-30 – Rogate – May 13, 2012
Hearing, Praying, & Living in Jesus’ Name
Jesus, in Thy cross are centered
All the marvels of Thy grace;
Thou, my Savior, once hast entered
Through Thy blood the Holy Place;
Thy sacrifice holy there wrought my redemption,
From Satan’s dominion I now have exemption;
The way is no free to the Father’s high throne,
Where I may approach Him in Thy name alone.  Amen. 
We approach the Father in the name of Jesus.  We approach him in order to worship him.  Jesus said in John chapter 4, “Believe me…the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”  The Father seeks true worshipers by sending us Jesus.  Only Jesus teaches us how to worship God because it is only through Jesus that we are able to approach God.  True worship consists of true faith.  We worship the Father in Jesus’ name, because it is Jesus who reconciles us to God—it is for Jesus’ sake that God forgives us our sins and accepts us as his children.  Jesus shows us the Father by dying.  There on the cross Jesus both satisfies the Father’s wrath against sin and reveals the Father’s love toward sinners.  By considering his great pain of body and soul, we learn not only to consider the true weight of our disobedience, but also the great love that God has toward us.  And so it is to this that the Holy Spirit testifies.  We worship the Father in spirit and truth by believing what the Spirit of truth teaches us in Holy Scripture.  The hour has come, and now is, that we Christians worship God in Jesus’ name. 
Worshiping God consists of three things.  First, we listen to God.  We gather together to hear his faith-creating word in Jesus’ name.  Second, we pray to God.  We present all of our petitions to our faithful Father in Jesus’ name.  Third, we live our lives to God.  We not only sing his praises with words, but we live our praises with deeds.  We do this in Jesus’ name. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Easter 3 Misericordias Domini

John 10:11-16 – Misericordias Domini – April 22, 2012
What Makes Our Shepherd Good
If someone were to say that he is a good cook, we would expect him to be good at cooking food.  If someone were to say that he is a good athlete, we would expect him to be coordinated and quick.  To say that someone is a good this or a good that is to say that he does this or that well.  For any given discipline, there is a specific set of criteria to distinguish the mark of excellence.  So then, what makes a good shepherd?  What are the criteria?  Well, he must tend the sheep.  This means he needs to lead them to green pastures and still waters; he needs to keep them from straying; and above all, lest it all be for naught, he needs to be equipped and willing to fend off predators that would snatch the sheep and scatter the flock.  A shepherd who does this is a good shepherd. 
It doesn’t make any sense to call a shepherd good apart from saying what the shepherd does.  And so when Jesus calls himself the good shepherd, he immediately follows up his claim with his qualifying credentials.  “I am the good shepherd,” he says. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  Who Jesus is and what he does always go together.  His sacrificial suffering and death sum up for us all the duties of the good shepherd.  The tending, the feeding, the leading are all found wrapped up in his dying on the cross. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Good Friday

John 18-19 - Good Friday - April 6, 2012
(Adapted from a sermon prepared by Christian A. Preus)
What is Truth?

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray:
O Son of God, eternal Word,
Divine Redeemer, dearest Lord,
We marvel at Thy suff’ring;
For Thy disgrace, and pain, and shame,
We'll ever magnify Thy name,
And praise Thy glorious off’ring. 
Amen.  Jesus teaches us to say Amen.  Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer, which we have been considering during our evening services this Lent, and so we say Amen to it.  Jesus teaches us to say Amen not simply by telling us to say Amen when we end our prayers.  But He Himself also sets the example. 
Jesus says Amen when He wants to affirm that something is true. How many times throughout His ministry here on earth did He say this word!  Amen is the word of one who is confident of the truth.  And Jesus was very confident of the truth.  In fact, He was the very truth of which He spoke.  Jesus declared to His disciples shortly before He went to the cross: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; nobody comes to the Father, except through Me” (John 14:6).  Jesus is truth, and His words are truth.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Maundy Thursday

John 13:1-15 - Maundy Thursday - April 5, 2012 
Here Is Where We Learn of Love

Jesus loved His disciples.  He spent three years teaching them what He had come to teach us.  He taught them that the Son of Man must be betrayed and suffer many things, and that He must be lifted up and draw all men to Himself.  He taught them what it meant to love by teaching them what it meant to be loved by God.  Jesus is loved by His Father.  This love extends before time and into eternity.  But it is grounded in time in the hour that Jesus had waited for.  “Therefore My Father loves Me,” Jesus said, “because I lay down My life that I may take it again.  Think of what this means!  This means that the love that the Father and the Son had shared from eternity was from before all time wrapped and bound in that singular act that Jesus had been born to do.  God’s boundless love that knows neither beginning nor end cannot be known at all apart from what happened once and for all on the cross.  HERE ALONE IS WHERE WE LEARN OF LOVE.