Sunday, June 23, 2019

Galatians 3:23-4:7; 2nd Sunday after Pentecost; June 23, 2019

Galatians 3:23-4:7; 2nd Sunday after Pentecost; June 23, 2019
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 3:23–4:7, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
St. Paul uses the metaphor of adoption. It may not be exactly what you think. In ancient Rome, the context of Paul's letter to the Galatians, the heirs of the household were adopted by their parents to receive the inheritance. Before being adopted they were under the control of the guardian. This guardian or pedagogue was a servant who is entrusted with the care and especially protection of the child who would become the heir. They would oversee the comings and goings of the child. They would watch over everything the child did. The child was not free but under the control of the pedagogue. Then, at the discretion of his father, a date would be set for the child to "come of age". The age was usually somewhere between 15 and 18. As Paul says, "he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father" (4:2). On that date the child was officially adopted by the father and was formally recognized as the son and then received full inheritance rights. Until that date the child was no different in the eyes of the law than a slave. He had no freedom and no power to make decisions. But on the date of his adoption, the date set by his father, all that changed. He had the full responsibility and freedom of the heir.
The reason that St. Paul uses this metaphor is because the Galatian church, the recipients of this letter, had fallen into the trap of accepting the teachings of the Judaizers. These false teachers had convinced the people of the congregation that in order to become "heirs" more was necessary then only faith. They falsely taught that there was the necessity of becoming circumcised, following the dietary laws of the Old Testament, and doing and not doing certain things. Unless these were done one could not be a "true" Christian. This is the false teaching of adding our works to God's grace. It is the danger the church must always be on guard against.
Paul lays out the truth in clear and certain terms. You are justified only through faith in Jesus Christ. Through faith we receive God's promised inheritance. The promise is "for you and your children". There is no male or female, slave or free but all are one in Christ.
That's when Paul uses the metaphor of the pedagogue. He says this is what the law does. Those who are under the law have their freedom restricted by the law. They are constrained by the custodian. They are no different "then a slave". However, when we are "in Christ", our status is changed. The Father has set the date. "In the fullness of time". It is the time of Jesus. The time when God sent his son into the world to redeem those under the law. This is what Jesus does for you when you were under the law. He removes the restrictions and the punishments for disobedience. God, in human flesh, is born of a virgin so that the law applies to him. As a human being he is required to keep the law perfectly or suffer the just punishment of God for disobedience. This is what it means to be under the law. Jesus is therefore under the law. And yet, he does not break the law but fulfills it. He keeps it perfectly in every respect. Jesus lives in a perfect relationship with God the Father. And he lives in perfect relationship with his fellow human beings. And then he is sent to the cross to receive the punishment that is deserved for breaking the law, even though he did not break it. This is what Jesus does in "the fullness of time". He lives a perfect life so that it may be given to you for you to put on in Holy Baptism. And he takes the punishment for your sin setting you free from the curse of the law.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5, ESV)
Jesus makes you the heir. You are adopted by God the Father. You have full rights of inheritance. That is exactly what Paul talks about when he speaks about your adoption. And make no mistake when St. Paul talks about adoption into faith he is speaking about Holy Baptism. When he speaks about being in Christ he is pointing to what happens in Holy Baptism. Martin Luther agrees:
What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. (From Luther’s Small Catechism © 1986 Concordia Publishing House)
It is in Holy Baptism that the "fullness of time" that was brought by Jesus comes to you. Your adoption happens when water is poured on your head along with God's name. And all that Jesus did in the "fullness of time" is yours. Luther makes the point that the most important words in baptism are "for you". This is what it means to "put on Christ".  Listen to Martin Luther and the large catechism:
In this way one sees what a great, excellent thing Baptism is. It delivers us from the devil’s jaws and makes us God’s own. It suppresses and takes away sin and then daily strengthens the new man. It is working and always continues working until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory. For this reason let everyone value his Baptism as a daily dress [Galatians 3:27] in which he is to walk constantly. Then he may ever be found in the faith and its fruit, so that he may suppress the old man and grow up in the new. [1]
And what a privilege we have today to see such a great picture of the inheritance in Jesus Christ. Almost a whole family young and old (well old-er). It's an adoption of sons. God is taken these four men to himself. They have put on Christ. They are full heirs of God's promises. From this day forward they will live "in Christ". And through faith in what Jesus has done for them here today they will join us with Jesus forever.
And so we are all today, one in Christ. There is neither slave nor free, black or white, male or female, young or old, rich or poor. We are one because we are in Christ. We have put on Christ's righteousness. That is all that he did in his perfect life is ours. We are free to live that way. Free from the worry of punishment for our sin even though our sin plagues us every day. Jesus death on the cross removes our punishment for it. And so, "in Christ", we walk constantly in the daily dress of Jesus Christ. Growing up in him to be like him every day. Doing the things that God would have us do in help to our neighbors. And every day living in the forgiveness that he won for us. Every day knowing that we are indeed heirs of eternal life. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (P. T. McCain, Ed.) (431). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Apostles' Creed, June 16, 2019

The Apostles' Creed, June 16, 2019
Festival of the Holy Trinity, June 11, 2006
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
The Apostles’ Creed
It’s Trinity Sunday and that means we’re talking about this great mystery that is difficult for us to understand. After reading together the Athanasian Creed at the beginning of the service I was tempted to just give this sermon…
The Holy Trinity: Three in one, one in three. Got it? Amen.
Or maybe the tweet from Rick and Ted: The Dad the Son & Spirit are God; God is Dad, Son and Spirit; Son ≠ Dad; Dad ≠ Spirit; Son ≠ Spirit; Spirit ≠ Son; Done;
The real problem is, in spite of Ted says, that we really can’t understand what it means that God is one in three, and three in one. It’s a mystery beyond our understanding. We just don’t have anything we can compare it to. We don’t have language to express it. I’ve read the book 3-in-1 to the children and although it helps us to understand the Trinity a little better it’s not perfect either. God isn’t like anything we know. He’s the most unique thing in the whole universe. He’s totally outside of it all, and yet he’s everywhere in it all. How do you explain something like that so that we can understand?
Well, I’ve found, when trying to understand the things of God, it’s best to remember and talk about what we’ve been told already. That’s what it means to confess our faith. To say back to God what he has told us about himself. One good place to find what God tells us about himself is in the Apostles’ Creed. Turn to page 322 in the front of your hymnal. There you’ll find the Apostle’s creed and Martin Luther’s explanation of each article. This creed (or confession) is an important document for Christians. It’s how we’ve been confessing what we believe about the Trinity for millennia. It gathers together in one place what God tells us about himself in his Word in a form that’s easy to remember and easy to speak. So today, on Trinity Sunday, let’s do just that. It’s a good time to review. Let’s read the first article together.
The First Article - Creation
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
What does this mean?
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
First, we should notice that we confess together, and call God our Father. Father’s Day is coming. The Creed reminds us that God is our Father. It’s the first way we must get a handle on what the Trinity is. We may not understand exactly what it means that God is a Trinity, but we can understand what it means that God is our Father. This links the Apostles’ Creed closely to the Lord’s Prayer, where our Lord invites us to call God, Father. Just as our earthly fathers are supposed to provide for us, we confess that we believe that our Heavenly Father provides us with everything we need: Body, soul, eyes, ears all my members, reason and senses… etc. clothing shoes, food drink… I really don’t think Luther left anything out. God has provided all these things to us, everything necessary for us to live, and work and play. I think the important phrase here though is “and still take care of them.” God is not the kind of Father that gives and forgets. He’s the Father that gives and keeps on giving! In fact, God is the kind of Father that never stops giving. He gives everything, and then He gives more. One of my seminary professors said you can’t understand God unless you begin to speak in mathematical impossibility. God is three in one. That’s a mathematical impossibility. God gives us everything, and then He gives us more. Just think, the bed you slept in last night, the food you ate for breakfast, the pew you are sitting in right now, all gifts from a loving Father. He gives you all that and there is still more to give.  It’s impossible but that’s what He does. He gives us complete forgiveness through the all that Jesus has done. We have full and complete salvation right now, and yet there is more to come as we look forward to the end of time, when God will give us even more. We have the complete forgiveness of sins, and yet God gives us even more through the Word of forgiveness spoken through the lips of your Pastor, and even more when we open our mouths and he puts forgiveness into us through the Body and Blood of Christ. We also confess that He protects us from harm and danger. God does what our earthly fathers are supposed to do and more. It is a picture we can come close to understanding.  So maybe this Trinity isn’t completely beyond our understanding after all.
What about the second article? Let’s read it.
The Second Article - Redemption
[I believe] in Jesus Christ, His-only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
What does this mean?
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
This article is at the center of the creed and it’s also the center of our faith. It is the center of our faith. It’s about the second person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ. We are Christians. Christian means “Little Christ.” We are believers in Jesus, the Christ, followers of Jesus Christ. Our faith is in the life death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. That’s the big gift given to us from God, the Trinity. And right here in the creed we have the whole story about what He has done for us: He was born, lived, suffered, died, raised again to life, ascended into heaven, and coming again. And Luther doesn’t waste any time when he tells us, he uses an economy of words to get right to the point. Thru Jesus Christ, “God has redeemed me a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and the power of the devil;” Think of John 3:16 (which one could consider the most famous passage in the whole bible). We could all even say it together even if we’ve never memorized a single verse of the bible I’ll be we know this one “for God so loved the world…” This is the heart of everything we confess here in this church.
Notice how it doesn’t talk about what we do, but only about what God gives to us through faith.  And because of all that Jesus has done, He is my Lord.  Jesus is born of the Virgin. Jesus has redeemed me.  Jesus has purchased and won me from sin that lives in my heart, death that is my just reward for that sin, and Satan who tries to uses that sin to drive me away from God. And he didn’t do it with gold or silver, as we would try to do it. It wasn’t bribery; the gift that God gives was earned.  It was purchased by His holy and precious blood of Jesus Christ. He let out his blood on the cross where nails pinned him as a payment for your sin. His willingness to die for you and me is the price that He paid. That I may be his own and live under him…  The gift that he gives through his life and death is real life: a life of righteousness, innocence and blessedness.
And there’s one more thing to talk about here. It’s the resurrection of Jesus. All the gifts God gives through Jesus are secured through His resurrection. As the creed says just as he has risen from the dead, so these things are also true for us. The resurrection is the proof of Jesus perfect life and death. The resurrection is the promise of God’s gifting us more in the future. Life here can be good with God’s gifts, but if there was nothing after death it would all come to an end. But that’s God’s addition again. He gives all there is to give, all that we need to support this body and life, and then He gives more yet; eternal life, life that goes on and on forever; a perfect life with Him every day. All that He has to give is beyond our thinking. Just as the Trinity is beyond our thinking, just as the forgiveness of sins is beyond our thinking, just as Jesus resurrection as a promise of our resurrection is beyond our thinking, so God’s giving is beyond our thinking.
That’s what the Christian faith is all about. That’s what we confess when we talk about the second person of the Trinity.
But there is still one part left. You see, after all that God has done, He still does more!
Let’s look at the third article and read it:
The Third Article - Sanctification
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
What does this mean?
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
Finally, we talk about the Holy Spirit, the third person in God’s Trinity, but we also talk about more than the Holy Spirit, too. We talk about ourselves. Look at how Luther begins his description talking about whom we are. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; You see, despite what many Christians believe (even some Lutherans!) our faith isn’t due to anything we do. It isn’t something that we have to figure out. It’s not something we have to become accept by asking Jesus into our hearts. In fact, it has nothing to do with anything we do at all. I cannot by my own reason or strength.  Luther says. That just goes against all our American pride. We want to be self-sufficient. We don’t want to be dependent on anyone. That’s one of the things that makes Christianity so difficult to swallow here in the US these days. It goes against our national grain. But God makes it very clear in his word, and Luther simply confesses what God has said. Faith is totally and completely a gift of God, worked out in us completely by the Holy Spirit, through Word and Sacrament. It’s God’s math again. He gives and gives and keeps on giving. We don’t deserve what He gives. We can’t earn what He gives. God is a gracious giver.
Some Christians insist that we must “accept” Jesus or “decide” to follow Him. “He has done his part and we do our part.” But we confess here in Luther’s explanation to this part of the creed that we are totally reliant on God for our salvation. When we say these words of the Creed, when we say these words that echo what Scripture tells us, we confess that we don’t meet God part way… the Holy Spirit gently calls us to faith.
These days, too, many people are focused on the Holy Spirit. They look for churches where they think they can “feel” the Spirit working. It’s a part of that idea that we’ve got to have a part to play… at least we must feel the Spirit working. But unfortunately, what they find may not be the Holy Spirit at all. You see, He’s a background player. He works behind the scenes. Just look at the list of things he does: He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. He keeps the church with Jesus Christ.  If a church focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit, they are really missing the point. His purpose is to point to Jesus. Often, we think of the Spirit in the form of a dove, but I think another picture would be a hand pointing to the cross. When the Spirit is working people are looking at and thinking about Jesus. Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… That’s a picture of the Spirit working right there. We get the work of the Spirit mixed up when we equate it with feelings. God, The Holy Spirit, works in our hearts through His Word, and Sacraments weather we feel him working or not. God, the Holy Spirit, works through the miracle of Holy Baptism even if we don’t feel clean afterward. The biggest testimony of that is when we bring infants here to the font. They don’t even know what’s happening and often cry with the water. Yet, we believe God, the Holy Spirit, gives them faith just as he promised. God, the Holy Spirit works when we hear His Word preached, when those words tell us of our sin and God’s gracious gift of forgiveness in Jesus, even if we don’t feel moved by the words that are spoken.  God, the Holy Spirit, is at work strengthening our faith through the really present Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, even if we don’t feel any different walking away from the altar than we did when we walked toward it. If our faith was dependent on our feelings, then we’d all be in trouble, because our feelings are so fickle. If our faith was based on feelings, we’d never be able to say, this is most certainly true, because the only thing we can know about our feelings is that we can’t depend on them.
So, if you can’t depend on your feelings to show you that the Spirit is at work, how do you know he’s at work? We look to what we can know for sure, God’s Word, God’s promises. That’s what the creed is all about confessing God’s promises that are given through His Word. You want to see the Spirit at work? You don’t have to go very far. He is working right now, right here! All you have to do is look and listen and taste and feel where God promises to be. Right here in God’s word, right here in Holy Communion, right here in Baptism. Anytime your attention is focused on Jesus Christ crucified for your sins, any time find yourself dependent on Jesus alone, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is at work in you. Any time you find God giving it all, and giving some more you can be sure the Holy Spirit is at work, daily and richly supplying…
So that’s the Trinity. Do I understand what it means that God is three-in-one and one-in-three? Not really. If you get it figured out let me know. It’s God’s math. The truth is that it isn’t surprising that we don’t understand it, because we are trying to describe the God who was powerful enough to create this whole universe, that we struggle to understand, and God is bigger than that. It’s OK not to understand the Trinity. What’s important for us to know is just what’s been given for us to know. What’s important is for us to confess what we’ve been given to confess about God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is how God works in our lives. The Father – Creator, preserver, provider, protector; the Son, Jesus – Savior, the Holy Spirit – Faith giver. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Luke 24:44-53; Ascension of Our Lord; June 2, 2019;

Luke 24:44-53; Ascension of Our Lord; June 2, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:44-53, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“You are my witnesses of these things.” Jesus said to them.
Well, it was easy for them to be witnesses wasn’t it? After all they had seen Jesus, right there in the upper room. He miraculously appeared standing in the middle of them, even with the doors locked. It was easy for them, they had walked and talked with Jesus for 3 years, seeing all that He did, great signs and wonders, healing, multiplying food, casting out demons, walking on the water. It was easy for them, He told them about all about what would happen, in fact, He told them just how it would happen. It was easy for them because they were eyewitnesses. They were there with Jesus the whole time. It was easy for them, wasn’t it?
It’s not easy for me. I’m afraid I’m not a very good witness. I sweat just thinking about it. I can’t mention Jesus to my neighbors; I’ve already had a fight with them about the trash in their yard. I’ve already called the cops on their dog. It’s not easy for me; I’ve known my friend for years and we’ve done some things together that I can’t talk about in church. Now I can’t mention Jesus to him, he wouldn’t believe that I believe. It’s not easy for me. I don’t know what to say. My tongue gets tied up in knots and what I do say doesn’t make sense. It’s not easy for me. I don’t know the bible well enough to tell the story. I haven’t cracked the pages of it for years. I haven’t seen Jesus like the disciples did. It was easy for them. It’s not easy for me, is it?
When it comes to being a witness of these things, we often think that the disciples had all the advantages. It’s easy to think that they were good witnesses because of what they had seen, because they saw Jesus in flesh and blood. It’s not unusual for Christians to think that their faith would be stronger if they could just have a boost, if something miraculous would just happen to them. We can all think that if we had seen Jesus our faith would have been strong. It must have been easy for the disciples to believe. They had seen Jesus. The lived then and there when it all happened. But St. Luke really tells us a different story. Throughout his book he makes it very clear that the disciples had a very difficult time believing. They failed Jesus. The abandoned him when he was arrested. And on Easter Sunday when he rose from death, they seem to forget all the times that he said he would do just that. Right before this text for today, in fact, several people have seen Jesus, and they hurry to tell the disciples. But, instead of being filled with faith, they were filled with fear and doubt. On the day we remember as Jesus great victory over death and the grave, the disciples weren’t joyful at all. They were hiding in a dark upper room. Doubting the stories they were being told. Jesus appeared right there in the middle of them when they were talking about Jesus appearance to the disciples on the Emmaus road. He offered them peace, but peace wasn’t what they were thinking about. They were afraid: startled and frightened the text says. They were afraid of the very thing they were just talking about. They thought they were seeing a ghost. Here they were followers of Jesus, not believing that He was alive even though He stood right there in front of them. Jesus asks them why they were afraid, why did they doubt. “Look it’s me!” He says, “but don’t believe your eyes, touch me, and handle me. I’m here. Here are my hands. These are the very same hands you saw heal the sick; the very same hands you saw raise the dead; the very same hands you saw pinned to the cross.” And even though they wished it to be true, still they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Jesus even ate some fish to show that He was there and not some kind of vision. As if to say “See, Ghosts done eat fish!” The disciples had all the advantages we sometimes wish for and yet on that first Easter Sunday, the disciples of Jesus had trouble believing.
We don’t see Jesus like they did. And sometimes we have trouble believing. It’s easy to have doubts especially when we are wracked with troubles. “If Jesus is really God, why do I have to suffer?” We say. “God if you’re really out there, help me through this!” “If I really believed what Jesus did for me, I be a bold witness in this community.” We think we that our doubts are because we don’t have Jesus to touch and feel. We think we have doubts because Jesus doesn’t seem real to us. He’s only a story that we’ve heard. We want to see Jesus, like the disciples did. But despite the popular saying, seeing isn’t believing. Remember Easter Sunday, the disciples had all the seeing they could handle. Yet, doubt reigned there. We need more than seeing, the disciples needed more than seeing. And gracious giving God gives us exactly what we need.
Listen to the Witness, St. John’s words about Jesus:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4, ESV)
Notice how he uses all the senses. He heard, he saw, he touched… But that’s not how he says that we can believe. It’s the Word that we hear that brings us faith. In fact, that’s what Jesus told the disciples that Easter Sunday, too. Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, (Luke 24:45, ESV) Jesus taught them how to read and understand the Word of God. “It’s all about me and what I have done to bring forgiveness of sins to people.” We come to faith by the work of the Word of God, not by seeing but by hearing. It’s comes to us through witnesses telling the story of Jesus Christ. We just heard that again a moment ago.
But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17, ESV)
Jesus told the disciples they would be His witnesses of these things. That’s the word that we have heard that brings us faith. It’s the word that tells us that Jesus Christ died to bring us forgiveness of sins. That He lived and died and rose again to bring us Peace. You see, seeing isn’t believing. But hearing is believing.
“You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:48, ESV)” Jesus didn’t just say that to that room of frightened men that first Easter. He says it us you and me. But… it’s hard for me… we say… because I haven’t seen Jesus, like they did. But we aren’t called to witness to things we’ve seen; we are called to witness to what is written. “These things” are right here in God’s word. That’s the things that we are to witness about. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17, ESV) That’s the way that God works to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. You see our witness isn’t about who we are or what we’ve done, you don’t have to have some miraculous event in your life to take about, because that’s not what our faith is about. It is about Jesus Christ. It’s about who He is and what He has done. It’s about proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins just like Jesus told the disciples. It’s about telling people that Jesus lived, died and rose again for them.
But still we think it would be easier if we had seen Jesus. We think we don’t have the advantages of the disciples. But is it true that we don’t see Jesus? I’m not sure about that. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him all over the place… in you. Aren’t we, God’s baptized children of God? The body of Christ? Just look around you and you see Jesus. He’s here in the physical touch, friend to friend at the hospital bed. He’s here in the less than confident teaching of a Sunday school teacher. He’s here in the warm handshake for first time visitor. So maybe you haven’t seen Jesus exactly the way the disciples did but you’ve seen Him here in your brothers and sisters in Christ. And on top of that, ever time you hear God’s Word in this very room, Jesus promises to be there present in it.  He comes to you in that Word, telling you again and again of His great love for you. It’s that story of forgiveness of sins that Christ won for you! To take care of your sins, your failures, and your shortcomings. And just when you think God has given you all there is to give he gives even more. His addition is to give you everything and then give you even more. Jesus comes to you in his Word connected to water. Holy Baptism is encountering Jesus. You are connected to all that Jesus did. His life and salvation are given to you, and your sin is given to him, washed away. He also comes to you in, with and under bread and wine. It is Jesus way of saying to you “Look it’s me!” Jesus says, “This is my body. This is my blood. Touch me and handle me. I’m really here for you, for the forgiveness of your sin.”
Really when you think about it, we’ve got all the advantages that the disciples had. Jesus does appear to us in miraculous ways every time we gather here in this place. These might even be bigger miracles the disciples saw.
There’s a piece of art that I really like. It’s a picture of the crucifixion. Jesus on the cross, his body bloody and beaten. In the foreground is John the Baptizer. What I really like about the picture is what John is doing. He’s a witness, holding a lamb and pointing to it. It’s simple. Without saying a word he’s pointing to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  That’s how you and I are to be witnesses, too.  We don’t have to be eloquent. We don’t have to point to great big changes in our life to prove Jesus is working. We just point people to Jesus.
Is it easy to be a witness to Jesus? Not always. But you don’t have to be walking down the street screaming it at the top of your lungs either. You can start small in the ways and places that God has given you. Can’t tell your friend about Jesus? Well, maybe you can invite him to church, where God’s Word can do what God promises it will do. Can’t witness to your neighbor? Well, maybe you can change your relationship from antagonism to friendship. Start by lending a helping hand. Maybe that will lead to an opportunity to share what Jesus did for them. Don’t feel comfortable telling the story of Jesus? Start by tell the story to children, perhaps your children or grandchildren. You see, the power isn’t in you. It’s in God’s Word. You aren’t supposed to witness to you anyway. You are witness of these things that God has done and is doing right now.  Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Luke.11.1-13; The Sixth Sunday of Easter; May 26, 2019;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:1-13, ESV)
Lord, teach us to pray…
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This text from St. Luke is the account of Jesus teaching his disciples to pray.  It is, in fact, a unique thing.  Not that Jesus is teaching but it’s the only place in the bible where Jesus is asked to teach.  The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray as John the Baptist taught his disciples.  They ask and Jesus answers.  Notice, too, what Jesus says:  “When you pray say…”  He doesn’t say here’s a pattern for your prayers, here’s what they should sound like, he says, “Pray these words.”  So very often we think that prayers from our hearts are more valid than written prayers.  Or that that spontaneous is real prayer and the Lord’s Prayer is just a beginner’s prayer.  But the truth is there is no better prayer than this one.  A Christian could pray this prayer every day of his life and never exhaust the importance or the depth of this prayer.  Now I’m not saying there isn’t a place for prayers from the heart, God loves those prayers too, but often we tend to think that the Lord’s Prayer is a “beginning” prayer, and that our prayers will get beyond the Lord’s Prayer as more spiritually mature.  Or that the Lord’s Prayer is just a pattern prayer that we use until we know how to pray.  Well, Jesus doesn’t say that he says, “pray this prayer.”  It is the very best we can do is to say back to God the very words that he gives us to say.  Our Church services are full of the very words that God gives us to say back to Him.  We can take great comfort in knowing that whenever we pray the prayer that He gave us to pray we have prayed for everything that we need and everything that our neighbor needs.  A Christian who knows and prays the Lord’s Prayer every day should never be heard saying, “I don’t know what to pray for.”  When you ask, “Lord, teach me to pray.”  He answers by saying, “here’s the prayer to use.”
Remember also that prayer isn’t an option for a Christian.  God commands us to pray just as much as he promises to answer our prayers because of Jesus.  The Second Commandment says, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  God gives us his name, that is, he makes us his children through faith in Jesus.  He adopts us through the Word and Water of Baptism and puts His name on us.  We are to use His name that He gives us as He tells us to use it.  … call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”(Psalm 50:15, ESV)  Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!(Psalm 118:1, ESV) … whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.(John 16:23, ESV)  We pray because God is our Father, because He commands us to pray, and because He promises to always listen to and answer the prayers of those whom He has given faith in Jesus.
Of course, many of you will recognize that Jesus words here in the Gospel of Luke are just a little different than the words He used to teach the disciples in Matthew’s Gospel.  There Jesus starts the prayer with “our Father,” here he just begins with “Father.”  Either way means the same.  The word “Father” sets our prayer in its proper context.  God is our Father.  He loves us and cares for us by giving us we need.  In fact, of all the words in the prayer “Father” may indeed be the most important one.  The whole rest of the prayer, and the little parables that Luke records for us, are really expanding on the idea that we pray to “Our Father in heaven.” 
I find it difficult to say it better than Martin Luther did.  Turn to page 302 in the front of your hymnal.  Let’s read the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer together. 
The Introduction
Our Father who art in heaven.
What does this mean?
With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father
Listen again to some of the words… God tenderly invites us.  That’s Jesus teaching his disciples to pray.  “Say this prayer.”  Use these words that God tells you are true.  He is your Father; your true Father and we are His true children.  Jesus explains what it’s like in a way that we can understand:
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
He’s saying, “You know what it means to have a loving father.  No loving father is going to give his son poison when he asks for food.”  God is our true father.  He is God over all things. He will give us everything we need, because He alone knows exactly what we need.  And as Luther said, “God tenderly invites us to believe” this.  When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are confessing that we believe that God is our Heavenly Father; that He loves and cares for us beyond our understanding.  We pray that He will do what is best for us, no matter what.  And because of Jesus, that’s God’s promise to us, God’s Children.
But exactly how is it that we are God’s children.  How is it that we dare call God, “Father?”  It’s easy to lie ourselves into thinking that because we sit in our pew every week that we earn it.  We haven’t murdered our sleeping spouse and dumped the body in a dumpster.  We haven’t planned terrorist attacks.  We haven’t been attending dogfights lately.  We always think that while other people aren’t worthy of God, we are, because we give more than our fair share to the church or other charities.  We strive to not be wasteful of our possessions.  We have worked hard to earn a good long retirement.  We are clean, well kempt, non-drug users and respected in the community.  Naturally we want to think that because of these and many other things, God calls us his children.  We look like his children; we act like his children, so we must be his children.  But as I said, all of this is a lie that we tell ourselves because we really want to save ourselves.  We want our hard work, all the “good” things we do in our live to account for something more than just a nest egg, and a good reputation in our community.  But God makes it very clear.  all our righteous deeds,” He tells us through the Prophet Isaiah, “are like polluted garments.”  And as far as our relationship to God, all the good things we do, all the hard work, and self sacrifice, mean nothing.  Did you notice that God didn’t say our evil deeds?  No, He said that all the good things we do are polluted.  You see, when we hold up our good works to God as signs of why He should treat us like His children, it’s like a child offering their dirty diaper as a precious gift to their parent.  We are not God’s children because of anything we do.  Everything we do is polluted by sin.  Everything we do is for our own benefit.  Everything we do is to build our own reputation.  None of what we do makes us God’s Children.  We are God children because of what God does.  We are God’s Children because of what God has done in Jesus Christ.
The fact that Jesus calls God, “Father” is very significant for us.  Where God tells us, our good works are filthy rags, He says to Jesus, “This is my Son; in Him I am well pleased.”  What Jesus presents to God, all His good works, are perfect and perfectly acceptable to God.  The life He lived every day, the prayers He offered every day, and especially His self-sacrificing death on the cross; His whole life was good and perfect in His Father’s eyes.  His life is what ours should be, but can’t be because of sin.  But remember, Jesus invites us to believe that God is our Father too.  He invites us to believe that we have the same relationship with God the Father that He has.  He invites us to believe it.  He also promises us that it is true.  Jesus has made sure of it.  That is what his life, death and resurrection are about.  Jesus didn’t come to show us how to do good things that are acceptable to God.  He didn’t come to give us a pattern to follow for our live, just as He didn’t give us a pattern of how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus came to do acceptable things for us.  Jesus came and lived a perfect life for us.  Jesus loved our neighbors beyond our ability to love them.  His righteous deeds are perfect, so Jesus establishes a perfect relationship with God.  And then He gives that relationship to us by removing the thing that makes all the things we do unacceptable to God.  Jesus perfect life was sacrificed on the cross for our sin.  His perfect life makes our imperfect life, perfect in God’s eyes.  God makes that exchange for us in Baptism.  His perfect life is ours; our perfectly deserved death is put on Jesus.  His righteous deeds are given to us, our un-righteous perfectly polluted deeds are put on Him.  What He takes from us He takes to the cross and puts to death.  When He rises from the dead, He proves that what He gives to us is perfect.  Everything that He came to do, he came to do for us.  In the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus says, “when you pray say, ‘Father’,” He’s saying that, everything that he came to do makes God our Father, too.  Sin is removed, God is indeed our Father.
The last thing I want you to notice about Jesus teaching about prayer is this.  Do you know what the most common word in this text is?  It’s “friend.”  That’s Jesus way of assuring us that we are God’s friends and more than that even, as Luther said, “true children who in all boldness and confidence ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father.”  You see, we don’t pray to God for the things we need and want because we deserve anything.  We don’t ask for anything from God, our Father, because we earn it.  We ask because He is Our Father.  We can indeed ask boldly.  We can indeed ask with confidence.  We can do that because of Jesus, because of what God does for us through Jesus.  What God wants to do for us doesn’t have anything to do with our polluted rags.  He gives it because of our relationship with Him, He is our Father.  And so we pray, Our Father, in heaven…  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ, Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Acts.11.1-18; Fifth Sunday of Easter; May 19, 2007

Acts.11.1-18; Fifth Sunday of Easter; May 19, 2007
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:1-18, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Once in a small-town church on a Sunday morning as the worshippers were gathering almost ready to begin there was a huge roar outside the church.  It was the deafening and unmistakable sound of machinery, motorcycles.  The windows of the church rattled as the engines roared, and then there was silence.  The congregation all looked at the pastor who was standing in front ready to begin.  The silence was very loud.  It seemed to last for a lifetime.  The doors of the church opened and in walked two bikers.  They were dressed in leather, unshaven, dark bandanas on their heads.  The usher froze.  He didn’t know what to do.  One of the men grinned at him and took two worship folders.  Still in shock the usher moved aside, and the pair found a seat near the back of the church.  For everyone the service felt odd.  They did everything just as they had always done, and yet, it seemed different.  When everything was finished, the bikers left greeting the pastor on the way out the door.  “Thanks,” was their only comment.  The others waiting to greet the pastor stood still until the sound of engines roared again and began to fade in the distance.
“Well, what do you think of that?” said one of the faithful, lifelong members.  She was an elderly woman.  “Pastor,” she said, “why do we let people like that into the church?”
“Well,” came the answer, “we let you in didn’t we?”
This is exactly what St. Peter is describing to the Christians in the church at Jerusalem. 
“Peter, why do we let folks like that into the church?  Those are gentiles!  They are unclean.  They do things that we don’t understand.   They don’t bathe like we do.  They ride scruffy donkeys.  They wear weird cloths.”
Peter gives a simple answer.  “When I preached the Word of God to them and told them of Jesus life death and resurrection, they received the Holy Spirit.  They believed it.  They trusted in Jesus for their forgiveness.  They have faith.  I had to baptize them.”
To understand this completely I think we could think a bit about another account from the bible.  Way back in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, there was a prophet named Jonah.  He was called by God to go and preach to the Ninevites.  Now, in case you’ve forgotten, the Ninevites had a problem and it was more than just sinful behavior.  They weren’t Jews.  They were Gentiles.  Oh, they were sinful alright, and very much so.  They were blood thirsty warriors who piled up the dead bodies of their enemies at the city gates so the body could be witnessed by everyone passing by.  They defiantly had that strike against them.  But more to the point, and probably more important to Jonah, they were Gentiles.  They didn’t deserve God’s love and forgiveness; they only deserved his wrath and anger.  He didn’t want them to be saved.  So, he jumped on a boat in Joppa and headed out to sea as far from Nineveh as he could possibly get.  God had other plans.  He sent a storm to sink the boat.  When the sailors found out it was Jonah’s fault the prayed that God wouldn’t hold them accountable and tossed Jonah overboard.  I think it’s important to note that Jonah agreed with them.  He would rather die than go to Nineveh.  A great big fish (probably created for this very purpose) came and swallowed Jonah whole.  And after three days in the belly of a whale, Jonah had a change of heart… mostly.  He agreed to preach.  The fish spit him out near his destination and he reluctantly walked into the city.  “Forty days and Nineveh will be overturned.”  It was a very Lutheran sermon.  It had both law and gospel.  The law: Nineveh will be overturned.  The Gospel: forty days.  In other words, God’s giving time to repent.  And repent they did.  From the king right down to every dog, cat and rat.  They all dressed in mourning clothing and pleaded with God to forgive them.  And that’s just what He did.  He couldn’t way to forgive.  In fact, as Jesus says, God answers our prayers even before we are finished asking.  Nineveh wouldn’t be destroyed after all.  No just to show how deep the distrust of folks who are different can go, Jonah wasn’t so sure.  He sat outside of town waiting for the earth to open and swallow it whole.  It didn’t happen and Jonah wasn’t happy.  A tree grew up over night and gave him shade while he waited, but he still wasn’t happy.  The next day the tree died, and Jonah went into a tirade.  But God put him in his place.  Jonah!  You care more for that tree than you do the people of Ninevehwho I died to save…
Wait a minute!  Hold the phone pastor; I thought you said this was in the Old Testament?  Jesus didn’t die yet.  How could God have said that?  Well, of course you are right.  He didn’t say that exactly.  What he said was that they were children who didn’t know God.  But I think it is very telling they way God saved them.  Jonah dies for three days.  After he rises, he brings salvation to the whole city.  Sound familiar.  That’s Jesus and us.  Jesus died his death on the cross, stayed in the belly of the grave for three days and rose again to bring us salvation.  It’s a great story.  It’s a great story of God’s love and forgiveness.  Jesus died to take away our sins.  And through the water of Holy Baptism he brings you into the church… or should we say He “lets you in?”
The Jews in Jerusalem had a Nineveh problem with the Gentiles.  They were shocked that the Holy Spirit came to them.  It took God’s vision to Peter while he was on the roof trying to take a nap to turn even that great disciples mind about them.  Peter had to see their faith.  He had to see that they had received the Holy Spirit before he was completely convinced.  In the end he said he simply had not choice.  He had to baptize them because God had opened the door of salvation through Jesus life, death and resurrection even to Gentiles.  And aren’t you glad He did?  You and me sitting here, well there’s not a Jew in the pew.  We are all Gentiles; people who were lost until faith in Jesus was planted in our hearts through God’s Word, water and the work of the Holy Spirit.  And we’d be lost too if that same Spirit didn’t come to us every week right here in God’s Word, preached into your ears.  Our faith would die of malnutrition if that same Spirit didn’t use the bread and wine, and the body and blood of Jesus to make it grow.  When you look around the room here you can glorify God and say with the church at Jerusalem, Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life. (Acts 11:18, ESV)
Ah, but there’s always just a bit more isn’t there.  In fact, we began today with a story that may have come at you in a way you didn’t like.  We think we are open to have the Good News of sharing Jesus with other folks.  But I think, in reality, we have a Nineveh problem.  Well, it’s only natural.  There are folks out there who are different.  In Sioux Falls the racial fabric is changing quickly.  How many of you have thought to yourself that you’re glad we don’t have to deal with all that kind of change?  How’s your Spanish?  Or even closer to home.  There are people right here in Grand Marais, that you’d rather would just get up and walk out.  “Why did we let them in here anyway?”  And that’s the city we’re talking about, not to mention 2017 W Hwy 61, Grand Marais, MN, 55604.  How would you react if someone like that walked into our church?  Do you have a Nineveh problem?
Of course, you do.  It’s called sin.  It comes from a sinful nature.  It lives and breathes death into you every day.  It’s not just the Nineveh issue either.  That three-letter word with “I” in the middle is part of everything you do.  You try to tackle it, but you can’t.  You try to ignore it but you can’t.  You want to do better but you can’t.  When you see that, that’s when you know you need a Savior.  That’s when you rejoice that God “let you in” to the family through baptism.  The water connected with God’s Word through the work of the Holy Spirit
…indicates that the Old Adam [that is the sinful nature] in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. [Luther’s Small Catechism]
…to quote the Small Catechism.  It’s about Jesus and what He as done for you. 
he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:5-8, ESV)
In that life-giving water, God created a New Man that is devoted to good works.  It rejoices in the spreading of the Good News of Jesus to everyone.  So, what about those Nineveh people out there?  Well, Jesus shed His holy and precious blood for them, too.  Faith in Jesus come by hearing (Romans 10:17).  They belong here.  You might ask the question; how do we get them to come?  The answer is, we don’t.  The Holy Spirit does.  He uses you, He works through you, right where He has plopped you down to be His inviting voice.  Pray that He would open your heart to the opportunities.  Invite a biker to church, that’d be a good start.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.