Sunday, May 30, 2010

Romans 11.33; Holy Trinity; May 30, 2010

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33, ESV)

(Thanks to Norman Nagel)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

What is God like? You probably don’t get asked that question very much. But if you did I’d be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that you wouldn’t answer the question with the Athanasian Creed. In some ways it feels more like the “Athanasian Confusion” rather than a statement of belief. And yet again I guess we shouldn’t expect it to be all that easy to understand it is after all speaking about God. God is well beyond our understanding. To attempt to describe Him in human language is to attempt the impossible. God as farther above us then we are above insects. The author of The Letter to the Romans says “For who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Rom 33:34, ESV). So any creed that delves into the mystery of the Holy Trinity is going to be tricky. And yet, it is a confession of what we believe. Its purpose is to state what the Bible tells us about God in as clear a fashion as possible. To say a creed is to say what God says. To confess what God tells us about himself. To “Same-Say.” We say what we say about God because it is what He tells us about Himself.

I said God was far beyond our understanding. It’s true. We don’t have the brains to understand “depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.” And sin, our broken relationship with God, makes it even more difficult. In Isaiah it tells of God looking down on the earth and the people are like grasshoppers. Think about holding a grasshopper in your hand. What would it think of you? It probably only understands that it can’t escape as you hold it but it will try to escape to preserve its life, because it fears being crushed. There is nothing else it can understand about you. It can’t understand anything about who you are, or what you are like. Its brain isn’t big enough to understand. It can’t fathom the depth of your knowledge. Its reaction to you is based on its fear and desire to preserve its life. If grasshoppers had a language, how would that language be able to describe you?

If you want to know what humans think about God, you only have to look at the world religions outside of Christianity. You’ll see that same kind of fear. Without God’s Word nature is our only information about who God is and nature is a dangerous place. If it is God’s creation and human beings are routinely swept away in tsunamis and swallowed up by earthquakes what language can be used to describe Him? Consider the billions of people on the earth and the insignificance of a single person among billions. The human reaction to the God of nature is to do whatever it can to appease Him. We must live the best life we can to keep His anger away from us. We must make something of our lives to be noticed in the right way. Or even more common today, deny the obvious and ignore the Creator so as to not be accountable to Him.

Human beings who fear God do so naturally. We have been given a conscience that tells us what is right and wrong, what pleases God and what makes Him angry. Human beings have every right to be afraid of God. You know what He expects of you, and when you look at yourself you know you don’t live up to it. It is very similar to the fear the grasshopper in your hand feels. You have the power to destroy. God could just as easily destroy you.

How could that grasshopper come to understand who you are? Well there is no way it for you to communicate with it except to become a grasshopper yourself. As one of his own you could tell him about you in grasshopper language.

When we want to know what God is like, we only have to look to Jesus who did that very thing for us. Jesus is God become man, to tell us what God is like in human language. He tells us that He is God. He does things only God can do. He says things that only God can say. He is worshipped by people who see Him for who He is. There are people who don’t believe He is God. They call Him crazy. And it’s true, Jesus is either God or He is insane. You can’t just make Jesus a great moral teacher. If what He says is true, then He is either crazy, or He is God.

Jesus is God, expressed in human person, language and action. Jesus is God speaking to human beings about who He is and what He wants for us. St. John even says that Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is God speaking about Himself in a living and breathing way. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV) If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. He is God that can be heard, and seen and touched and most importantly, understood.

Jesus says to us, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, ESV) He’s telling us something about God that we can’t know any other way. He shows us of God’s love for us at the cross. The cross is what God thinks of us, we are His friends. But friends just doesn’t quite cover it does it. Jesus laying down His life is even more than we expect. In Jesus, God becomes human and suffers the eternal agony of hell’s punishment. He dies for everyone, not just the ones who say they love Him. God’s love is expressed even for those who reject Him and wish Him out of existence. His love is for those who hide from Him in fear. It is for those who know what God expects and know they can’t do it. Let me say it very clearly. The love of God you see in the death of Jesus Christ is for you.

There is no greater love. God loves the un-lovable. God loves sinful people. That is what God is like. God dies to set aside our sin, to bring us forgiveness instead of punishment. When punishment is set aside fear of the Judge is gone. Because of Jesus’ paying the punishment for our sins we no longer need to be afraid of God. In fact, we now call God our Father.

“Our Father…” we pray in the prayer that Jesus gives us. “I believe in God the Father…” we confess in the other creeds of the church. We have that relationship with God because of Jesus. He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV) Faith believes in the forgiveness that Jesus has made. With that forgiveness in hand we can approach God, as Martin Luther put it:

With these words [Our Father Who art in Heaven] 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. (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Without faith is to be without forgiveness. God is no longer Our Father, but only Our Creator and Righteous Judge. When the cross of Jesus is rejected, forgiveness is rejected. Where there is no forgiveness there is only God’s inescapable wrath and punishment.

So Jesus shows us God the Father, and our relationship to Him through the forgiveness of sins, blood bought by His death on the cross. He also shows us the Holy Spirit. It’s important to know about the Holy Spirit because if it weren’t for Him we’d have no faith. No human being can believe that Jesus is God any more than we could believe that a grasshopper could be a person. Jesus Christ completely God and completely man is nonsense to our way of thinking.

Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was. Peter confessed it clearly. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16, ESV) Jesus reply tells us of the work of the Spirit. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17, ESV) It isn’t specifically the work of the Father that Jesus is talking about, St. Paul clarifies it for us. “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 13:3, ESV) The Holy Spirit works faith in us to believe and confess that Jesus is Lord, faith to see that Jesus is God’s son sent to be the sacrifice for our sin and restore our relationship to God the Father.

The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, which is all about Jesus. The Spirit never points to Himself; He’s only interested that we see Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus enters our ears and hearts and the Spirit turns us to Jesus so that we can see who He really is. When the Holy Spirit works in us, He points to us He points at our sinful hearts. Then He shows us Jesus, our only hope for freedom from sin’s punishment. He shows us Jesus, our only way to the Father. Since you can never quote Martin Luther too much:

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. (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Apostle’s Creed, The Second Article: On Redemption)

The Holy Spirit enlightens me with His gifts, Luther says. That’s talking about Holy Baptism and Holy Communion: God’s Word in visible form; God, doing what God does, active in our lives bringing us Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins.

What is God like? Did you notice that in answer to that question we talk about what God does? God is a living and active being. He is best known for what He does, most clearly in what He has done in Jesus. God’s action shows us that He is a unity in trinity, three persons in one God. We speak most clearly about The Trinity when we speak about God and say what He does.

Look at the Apostle’s Creed. God creates. God saves. God makes us holy. God is three persons, unified in action, unified in purpose, unified in love for you and me. Amen.

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

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gen.11.1-9; Acts 2:37-47; The Festival of Pentecost; May 23, 2010;

1Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. Genesis 11:1-9 (ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

2010 has had quite a few unique occurrences. Here’s one you may have missed. Prior to this year (actually Dec 2009, but close enough) there was a controversy about the exactly what was the worlds tallest building. For years the question has always been weather you count spires and antennas or just go by the highest occupied floor? If you count spires and not antennae the twin Petronas towers in Kulua Lempur were the tallest at 1483 feet. But if you count antennae then the title was in the hands of the Sears Tower in Chicago at 1729 feet. Highest occupied floor honors were also held by the Sears Tower and the highest roof at 1483 feet. Then came Taipei 101, just finished in 2004 in Taipei Taiwan has a spire that reaches to 1667. It also now holds the record for the highest roof and the highest occupied floor. Until they were knocked down the World Trade Center in New York was always in contention.

Well, the battle is over. Dedicated in January of 2010 is the tower in Dubi, United Arab Emirates. It eclipses everything at over a half mile high. It is the tallest structure every built by humans. It is a skyscraper at 2,717 ft tall. It took 6 years to build and cost a whopping $1.5 Billion (that with a “b”).

Records held by Burj Khalifa

  • Tallest skyscraper to top of spire: 828 m (2,717 ft) (previously Taipei 101 – 509.2 m/1,671 ft)
  • Tallest structure ever built: 828 m (2,717 ft) (previously Warsaw radio mast – 646.38 m/2,121 ft)
  • Tallest extant structure: 828 m (2,717 ft) (previously KVLY-TV mast – 628.8 m/2,063 ft)
  • Tallest freestanding structure: 828 m (2,717 ft) (previously CN Tower – 553.3 m/1,815 ft)
  • Building with most floors: 160 (previously Willis Tower – 108)
  • World's highest elevator installation, situated inside a rod at the very top of the building
  • World's fastest elevators at speed of 64 km/h (40 mph) or 18 m/s (59 ft/s) (previously Taipei 101 – 16.83 m/s)
  • Highest vertical concrete pumping (for a building): 606 m (1,988 ft) (previously Taipei 101 – 449.2 m/1,474 ft)
  • Highest vertical concrete pumping (for any construction): 606 m (1,988 ft) (previously Riva del Garda Hydroelectric Power Plant – 532 m/1,745 ft)
  • The first world's tallest structure in history to include residential space
  • Highest outdoor observation deck in the world (124th floor) at 442 m (1,450 ft)
  • World's highest mosque (located on the 158th floor)
  • World's highest installation of an aluminum and glass façade, at a height of 512 m (1,680 ft)
  • World's highest swimming pool (76th floor)

Tall buildings have always been an interest. Just look at the design the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed in the 50’s, it was building that was to be a mile high. (Lot’s of people suggested that it be built to replace the WTC). But what’s all the height about? What’s it all for? What’s the money spent in these endeavors really all about? Well, actually, I think its bragging rights. Bragging rights are important to us as human beings. Be honest, If you take the new tower in Dubai out of the picture how many of you think the Sears Tower should hold the record over the Petronas Towers and even the Taipei 101 because if you count it’s antennae it’s really the tallest. We want “our guy” to win, even though we really don’t have any more of a real connection to the Sears Tower than the Petronas Towers. The Petronas Towers are a center for world banking. Sears sold the Sears tower long ago.

Bragging rights is really what it’s all about. And that’s just what the people in our Old Testament lesson were talking about. “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” If we build a tall tower we will be important and we can stay right here and bask in our glory and our achievement. It’s the “If we build it they will come” idea on a grand scale. And they even talked about using the “state of the art” construction techniques that would be necessary to build such a tower. “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Most buildings in those days were built with dried bricks. They wanted their tower to last.

And the work began. They were proud of their accomplishments. It was the power of positive thinking at work. Slowly the tower rose, higher and higher. They must have thought that nothing was greater than their tower, and nothing was greater than the ones who were building it.

And then we have a very interesting turn of phrase in the text. 5And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. Moses, the one who wrote this text for us to read, is saying something important. Even though the “children of men” thought that their tower was the greatest thing since sliced bread, God had to “come down” to see it. Moses is using a literary device called Anthropomorphism to make a point. (That’s speaking about God as if he were a person.) The point is that from God’s vantage point the great work of these people wasn’t even tall enough for God to see without coming down. The picture he wants you to have in your mind is of someone squatting down with their face pressed against the ground to view an ant hill. After all their efforts at greatness their accomplishment this great tower they are building is really nothing at all from God’s perspective. It’s a puny little ant hill that God has to stoop down even to see.

So what exactly was wrong with what they were doing? What’s wrong with a little human ingenuity? What’s wrong with building tall buildings and making a name for yourself? Is God just afraid of losing power because “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. What’s wrong with building a tower anyway? The key here is a very small word in the first part of the text. “Let us build…” Let us do it… not “Let’s see if God would have us do it…” or even “Let’s do it for the good of all people.” “Let us… according to our own will… according to our own power… according to our own ability.” What they were saying was, in effect, we don’t need God to reach the heavens. We don’t need God to be all that we can be. In fact if we stick together, if we are just unified, if we depend on one another, we can do with out God altogether. If we can unite in building this tower we can prove that we can do whatever we want. We can be in charge for ourselves. If we build this great tower we can build our own way up to God. And this tower itself will prove that nothing is impossible for us.

And on that point God agreed. “Nothing they propose to do will be impossible.” But, God’s mind is different than ours. God knows the evil that runs in the hearts of people. When God says “nothing they propose,” he knows what kind of evil will naturally result. He’s not worried about the building of great skyscrapers, that’s not the kind of thing He’s working to prevent. It’s the great evil that lives right in here even in our hearts. He knows about the lies that allow people to claim each other as property. He knows about the pride that leads to holocausts, slaughter of millions. He knows about the selfish ambitions the leaves thousands of dead soldiers lying on bloody beaches. He knows about the evil arrogance that leads to tourcher chambers and mass graves in the desert. When God said, “nothing they propose will be impossible,” I don’t even want to know about the evil that he was acting to prevent, when he confused the languages and caused them to be scattered instead of unified he was protecting mankind for the evil that consumes us. But that’s where man is when he sets aside God, when he “goes it on his own.” History bears it out in spades. Just think what it could have become if people were unified in their evil with a common language.

Even now after God scattered the human race through the confusing of language. We continue to build. And God still kneels down to look at our puny towers… All the things we depend on instead of him. All the things we use to say, “We really don’t need you God. We can do it on our own.” We depend on technology; faster computers; smaller portable telephones; stem cell research; miracle drugs; bigger airplanes; we build it all to make names for ourselves. It’s not that these things are bad, just when they take the place of God; just when we turn them into towers of our accomplishment.

You and I have prideful towers we have built too. Just think for a moment about the things we use to help us to “make it on our own” and “make names for ourselves.” Just think about how we depend on all those things more than we depend on God. We really haven’t scattered far from that “baked brick structure.” We float along in life pretty well, feeling pretty much in control, standing at the foot of our man-made towers, using our Sunday church attendance to keep God right where he belongs. And when trouble comes we even may even pay God lip service through prayer. But really we believe that if we are just strong enough we can get through our problems by ourselves. Like when we have to face death in the family we say things like “I can get through this” or “I’m a strong person he’ll survive” or “If my faith is strong enough I can survive this trouble.” We live life and deal with trouble as if God lets us suffer so that we can show how strong we are. So we can build our own tower of strength and show how we really don’t need Him at all. So much for the towers we build for ourselves, weather they are built from burned bricks or silicone or just our own self-esteem. It all comes out the same. We want our bragging rights. We want to be in our own control. The sin of the people at Babel is our sin. That’s because all sin is rebellion, the desire to be apart from God. That’s our connection to those “baked bricks” of Babel.

Back at the Tower of Babel, God broke up the people’s pride by breaking up their communication. He scattered them across the face of the earth to prevent greater evil. He breaks our pride by allowing trouble and pain in our lives. That trouble and pain show us that we are fully and completely dependant on Him. Death shows us how helpless we really are. How scattered we become when we push God away.

But the God that scattered is also the God who gathers. The same God who took away the ability to communicate gave it back again. That’s what happened on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came and turned dis-unity, scattered people, dis-united, scattered language, into unified people who each heard “the mighty works of God” in their own language. It was a return to Babel, actually it was “Babel undone.” But God didn’t bring this unity so that those people could once again build a tower, a monument to their own interests. He did it to bring the true unity in Jesus Christ. Remember the “mighty works of God!”

Human beings naturally want to take care of things themselves. It’s because of sin that is in the deepest parts of our hearts. We want to earn our own way. We think that if we just build a tower tall enough we can make it to God on our own. If we just do enough good things we’ll be right up there with him. But God undoes that plan by having Jesus, His own Son, accomplish salvation for us. Jesus does everything necessary for us to be with God. We want to build our own mountain to reach God. But God has Jesus climb the mountain of Golgotha and hang on a cross for us instead. We want to make it to God by making our own false religion where our good works and efforts count for everything. God gives us the only true religion where we are brought to God only through the free gift of His only Son. He gives Jesus to die for the sins of the whole world. All the sin of pride, and self-promotion, all the sin of depending on the things we make with our own hands, all the sin of leaning on everything but God, all the sin of wanting our own bragging rights; all of our sin was taken to the cross of Jesus. The pride that separates us from God is put to death there. With all of that done away with, God can start building.

Yea, God is a builder. It’s God who really does the building that makes a difference. He’s a much better builder we are. Mile high buildings might be impressive to us but to God they are nothing. The building He does is right here (in our Church) and it’s nothing like any building that we could ever hope to do. St. Peter talked about it: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:39-38 ESV) What is torn down is build up by God. What is scattered is drawn together by the Breaking of Bread. Just look at the difference.

41So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47 ESV)

The signs and wonders that we are told about here isn’t the building of skyscrapers, it is God turning hearts toward Jesus, through the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s the miracle of people being devoted to the Apostle’s teaching. That’s God building using His Word. It’s the miracle of God putting His name on people, making a name for them, through the Water of Baptism. It’s the miracle of God building up faith through the Breaking of Bread, the eating and drinking of the Bread and Wine and Body and Blood of Jesus. God’s building program seems to us to be un-impressive. Steel structures are more to our liking. They seem more important. But God’s way isn’t like our way. He’s the one who decides what is and isn’t important he builds in the way that he chooses, and he makes his building successful.

That what’s going on here again today, God’s successful building: Here we have the apostle’s teaching, the breaking of bread and prayers. It’s God building again. He’s building something more important that a tall-tower. In His Word and Sacraments, through the work of the Holy Spirit, He’s building up faith in you. Not so that you can take care of yourself, not so that you can depend on yourself, but so that you trust more and more in Jesus and less and less on yourself. You see, in the things of God all the bragging rights belong to Jesus. If you want to brag about something brag about him. As St. Paul says,“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 10:17, ESV) Amen.

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

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Acts.1.6-11; May 16, 2010; Ascension of Our Lord (observed);

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” ” (Acts 1:6–11, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

There they stood on the Mount of Olives gazing up into heaven. For all they could tell Jesus was gone. A cloud took him away. I think they were wondering what to do next. Of course Jesus told them,

“…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (v. 8)

But how could they possibly do that without Jesus? As they were standing there with their mouths hanging open in wonder the angels appeared. “Hey, why are you looking up there? You’re looking for Jesus in the wrong place. Look for him, instead, where he has promised to be. He’ll come again just like that. You’ll see him that way again. But for now, he’s giving you something else.” The disciples were there standing in two great promises. First, the angels tell of the promise of Jesus coming again. We Christians stand with the disciples in between. Jesus came first in the womb of the Virgin. He completed all that was necessary for our forgiveness. His life lived for you and me. His death died for you and me. His resurrection too for us. Everything is done. He goes into heaven and is coming again to bring it all to its conclusion; a world without sin and death and pain and sorrow. That’s the joy of the Ascension. That is the ultimate joy of those baptized into God’s name. We are his children, adopted through Holy Baptism by God putting his name and promises on us with water. We live our lives looking forward to Jesus’ glorious return, just as he promised.

To put some flesh on the second promise of the Ascension we turn back to St. Luke’s Gospel, the Gospel reading for today. Jesus promises the disciples what they’ll be doing.

“…repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Jesus] 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.” (Luke 24:47-49, ESV)

The Good News of Jesus is going to go out from Jerusalem. They are witnesses of these things; the forgiveness of sins that Jesus has won. They saw his life. They saw his miracles. They heard his teaching. They saw his death. They were witnesses to his resurrection. When he promises they know it is true. The one who can rise from the dead can do whatever he promises. The disciples are the ones sent with this Good News the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus. And they do not go alone. Jesus’ Ascension comes with the promise of the Holy Spirit. He is the promise of the Father. It is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus promise to be with us always is true. He is with us in God’s Word and worship, in Bread and Wine and Water. Creating and strengthening faith in Jesus, through the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

These are the two great promises of the Ascension and we confess them in the Apostles’ Creed when we confess the story of Jesus:

And 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.

Jesus sits at that right hand of God. As one of my seminary professors says, “The right hand is what you use to do things.” (Norman Nagel, 2010) What God is doing right now in the world he is doing with his right hand, Jesus. In his life, death and resurrection Jesus gains forgiveness for you. His “It is finished” on the cross restores your broken relationship with God. He takes your sin, your deserved punishment into the grave, and rises to your new life. He is active and working right now in your ears, on your wet head, and in your mouth. In fact, this means that Jesus is closer now than he has ever been. It is what Jesus did on the cross, delivered. In these means, the spoken word, water, and bread and wine, he delivers forgiveness to you.

It’s as Luther confessed in the Small Catechism:

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. (Small Catechism, The Sacrament Holy Baptism)

What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. (Small Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar)

There is nothing more practical than the daily remembering of the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ. Every day we sin. Every day we live with the knowledge of broken relationships, broken promises, and broken dreams. Every day we struggle with the knowledge that death waits for us. It is ours because of sin. But we live every day also in the promises of the Crucified One, the Risen One, the Ascended One, the One Who is Coming Again to be our judge. For those who are his children, Jesus’ return is not a day of dread or fear. We already know the Judge. What God promises is already true. Jesus is already, right now, our judge. He has declared us “not guilty” through his cross, his word, and his sacraments. We are his forgiven children now. We can only be lost from him if we reject his promises to us, wanting to be our own savior. We look forward to his return, because then we will see him, just as the Ascension angels promised. We will be with Jesus forever. This great Ascension joy compels us to live differently. Forgiven sinners forgive sinners. We forgive those who sin against us and strive to live our lives according to God’s will.

This is the joy of the Ascension. There is no question as to why the Christian church has celebrated this as one of the highest festivals of the church year. We rejoice in Jesus coming the first time, in flesh and blood for our forgiveness. We rejoice in the message passed down to us through the Apostles; repentance and forgiveness of sins, proclaimed beginning at Jerusalem and ending in our ears. And we rejoice in our Lord’s second coming as our judge, our Savior. Amen.

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

Monday, May 03, 2010

Acts.11.1-18; Fifth Sunday of Easter; May 2, 2010

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.

Once in a small town church on a Sunday morning as the worshippers were gathering almost ready to begin there was a huge roar out side 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?”

“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.” The problems of the circumcision party we can readily understand. Their sins are our sins. How would we feel if a bunch of bikers walked in the door and took our pews? Oh, and it’s easy to say we’d be happy to have them. But you and I both know, there have been from time to time, complaints about folks who are members of our congregation, those wishing that so-and-so would just go somewhere else. We say the good news of Jesus is for everyone, until we have to sit next to someone who doesn’t look like we do. Or someone who did something to my family member…

Apparently, Peter was just as thick as we are. God had to show him a vision, a PowerPoint presentation in his brain. Until then, it seems, he wasn’t too keen on gentile Christians. Well, after all they were Gentiles! They weren’t allowed in the temple. They ate whatever they wanted to eat, totally disregarding the distinctions between what was clean and unclean. So God intervened. Peter was shown a sheet full of animals that he wasn’t supposed to eat.

“Kill and eat!” was God’s command.

“But God, those are unclean animals and you know that I would never eat unclean animals.”

“Peter, You do not understand. ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.

God repeated the presentation three times, just to make sure that the message penetrated Peter’s stony skull. When the vision was over gentiles appeared at the door. Peter went with them.

“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.” He sounds as surprised as we would be about bikers in the back of church. But Jesus is clear. He has made them clean, that is forgiven, through faith in his sacrifice on the cross. We cannot set additional requirements on God’s gift of salvation. What God has made clean, through Jesus blood, we dare not call unclean.

Well, I guess we are really a bit off the hook here anyway. After all, when was the last time that a real visitor darkened our narthex door? Most of our visitors are family, after all. I’m not sure if that’s because we’ve mistreated people in the past, or if it’s just a new cultural thing NOT to visit churches. Here in our little Sumner street hideaway we don’t get much chance to talk to our brand of gentiles. But I wonder if we would really want them here anyway. You know the truth is we have contact to folks outside of these doors that we don’t even try to bring in here. We avoid talking about our church, partly because we think folks won’t understand what goes on here anyway, and partly because if there’s communion we don’t want to tell them they can’t come. Yes, we do have our gentiles, too. Just go a few blocks east. How many of you would volunteer to knock on doors in that neighborhood. Maybe God has to give us a PowerPoint presentation to the brain. We are guilty like Peter. Actually, we are sinners like Peter. What God has made clean we have chosen to ignore.

So, in light of our sin, oh and I’m not just talking about our ‘gentile’ ignoring sin, I’m talking about all our sin; our fights with our family; our self serving discussions with co-workers; our secret desires and longing that fall well outside God’s commandments; our unwillingness to forgive the neighbor; yea, you know what I mean our sin, your sin, my sin, the sin that God says deserves death and eternal punishment, in light of that sin, not forgetting our ‘gentile ignoring sin’, would you say that you are righteousness enough to go to heaven? You are clean? You are perfect as God demands? How many say “no?”

This is exactly why we have confirmation, exactly why we have Sunday school, bible class, and why God provides for us this place to receive his gift of forgiveness. Look at the cross here. (As you know I’d like it much better if we had one with Jesus on it). Look at what Jesus did for you here. St. Paul says it like this:

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. ” (Romans 5:19, ESV)

The disobedience is ours in Adam, who sinned first and destined us all to be unclean sinners. The one who obeyed is Jesus Christ. He got it right. He lived for the benefit of everyone around him (and you and me). He followed God’s commandments perfectly. He loved the bikers and the Division street crowd. He was obedient to God even though it meant that he had to hang on the cross and suffer the full anger of God over sin. He does this for the forgiveness of your sin. This forgiveness is God’s way of saying that you are clean. Satan has his way. He stands right behind you and urges you to look at other folks as if they are undeserving of forgiveness. And you believe him. Then he turns on you. “You hypocrite! You’re just as bad as he is. If you were better you’d not think that way about other people.” God says differently in Jesus Christ. Your sin is forgiven. You are a child of God. You are washed clean of your sin. I put this font up here in front so I can point to it and remind you of your washing. When God washes away the filth of your sin. You are as clean as the water that is used and the Word of God that goes with it. And here’s the best part. It is true for you right now. You are clean right now. Jesus blood was shed for you right now, not for some future time. Just like every morning when you crawl out of bed, trip your way to the shower and push the soap around your body, every morning God declares you to be clean again. From Luther’s Catechism:

What does such baptizing with water indicate?

It indicates that the Old Adam 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.

He does this not because you get it right, but because you get it wrong. Heaven isn’t the gift we receive when our body lays in the casket and our friends and family morn our death. It is what we get right now. It is what we are right now. You and I are part of the holy Christian church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins… You see? You are clean. Jesus Christ shed his blood on the cross to make it so. You are clean. Washed in his blood. Bathed in his forgiveness. Clean of the stink of sin. All because of Jesus’ for you. That means we dare not call unclean what God calls clean.

So there it is. When the bikers come and sit back there and push you out of your regular pew. When that church member you just don’t like does what they always do that drives you batty. When you argue with your family, or do the disgusting thing you can’t seem to not do; Go to the font, there Jesus drowns your old Adam, in this water, he pushes him under. Let him die. You are God’s pure and holy child. Arise and live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Amen.

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

Sunday, May 02, 2010

For Seminary Graduates who Did Not Receive a Call

This post is worth reading and the audio like to Pr. Matt Harrison's message at the sem is worth listening:

Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!