Sunday, April 21, 2019

John.20.1-18; Festival of the Resurrection; April 21, 2019;


John.20.1-18; Festival of the Resurrection; April 21, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:1–18, ESV)
(from a sermon by Rev. Norman Nagel)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Christ is risen! His is risen indeed!
A beautiful exchange we see here between Mary and our Lord. Jesus calls her by name. Mary is distressed at death. Her Lord Jesus, as far as she knows, who was dead in the tomb has had his body stolen. She wants to know where he is. And he speaks her name. The same name he had spoken to her so many times. The name he spoke to her when he cast out her demons. By that name she instantly knows that he is alive standing in front of her. She wants to reach out and grab hold of him in the same way she had always done. But with Jesus raised from the dead everything is different. He no longer is the sin bearer. That has been accomplished. He is no longer under the law that condemned the sin he bore to death. He has gone to the cross and death with sin and now stands in front of her the Risen Lord, glorified in his human body, free from sin and its hold. He stands now in front of her the victor over the wages of sin. He has done death in. He stands alive with the promise of life. And Mary doesn't know, she doesn't understand.
"Rabboni," she says and reaches out to touch him. But she cannot. "Do not cling to me…"; "Do not touch me," he says. It was the time for something more than the physical touch she had enjoyed before. Because although Jesus had been as close to human beings as God could ever be, God and man joined together in one human person, come close to us, to draw us close to him, now is the time for her to cling to him not with earthly hands, but with the hands of faith. Jesus is there to draw her closer then physicality allows. He is there with forgiveness that restores her relationship with God. He has drawn near to her in order to draw her near to him through faith in the forgiveness he offers, because where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation.
This is what God does. He draws close to us because our sin prevents us from drawing ourselves close to him.  Even now he draws close to us in his Word. The Word that strikes your ears and tells you of God's great love for you in Jesus Christ. The Word that brings to you the Good News of God come near to you in human flesh. The Word that brings to you the Good News of God suffering your punishment on the cross. The Word that brings the Good News of forgiveness won by Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection from death. The Word that brings the promise of life forever with God in your own resurrection.
Closer still your Lord draws to you. At this altar he gives his very body and blood. But don't think that this body and blood offered here is the same as that which Mary reached out to hold. You do not receive him here in that earthly sense. You receive him here in a much deeper much more real sense. Here in bread and wine you receive the very same body and blood that God used to save you from the necessary punishment of sin. Here in bread and wine you receive the very same body and blood that walked and talked to Mary. Here in bread and wine you taste and see that the Lord is good but not in the same way as you would reach out and grab a hold of a friend with both arms. But it is no less true. Is no less Jesus. It is no less here for you. He is here for you with all the gifts he offers through his life death and resurrection. That is forgiveness life and salvation. You are forgiven. You have a restored relationship with God through faith in what Jesus has done. And there is no doubt hear that it is for you because you open your mouth and receive Jesus body and blood.
And here at the font you receive Jesus, too. He comes to you in God's name. I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The gifts that Jesus offers in his life death and resurrection are placed on you with God's name. Luther asks the question, How can water do such great things? And he answers
Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three:
“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)
So Jesus is here in the water and Word once again with the gifts that he won for you on the cross.
Jesus is very near. He comes near to us to draw us after him to eternal life. He is no less near to us because we can't touch him. In fact we are nearer to him when we reach out to him with the hand the faith rather than the hand of our physical body. We cannot draw near to God through our earthly efforts, our earthly comforts, our earthly wealth, or even our earthly relationships. These things drag us in the wrong direction away from our Savior. He is the one who must drag us to himself. And when we let go of these earthly weights, through faith, we are united with him in all that he does and promises.
Our Lord Jesus stood before Mary in his glorified resurrected body. And naturally she wanted to touch him. She knelt there before him and looked at him through tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy. He had risen from the dead. She wanted to cling to him. Embrace is the right idea. It is God who embraces us. In Jesus Christ, through the Word, in bread and wine, and water, he draws near embraces us and draws us back to God. We reach out with the empty hand of faith that trusts not in what we offer to him but in what he gives to us. Our Lord is before us now, resurrected, victorious over death, promises that are as sure as his resurrection. And we kneel before him in faith. And we say with our sister Mary, "Rabboni!" Amen.
Christ is risen! His is risen indeed!
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

1 Timothy.2.1-8; Weekday Lent Service, April 10, 2019;


1Timothy.2.1-8; Weekday Lent Service, April 10, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 8I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 1 Timothy 2:1-8 (ESV)
(From a Sermon from LWML)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
When you live in the mid-west you know about Paul Harvey and “The Rest of the Story.”  It’s usually a story all about some famous person you know, but he would wait until the end to tell you who it is.  Until you get the name you only know part of the story.  Now in real life we sometimes see only a part of the story.  Like the woman whose neighbor said to her, “You have a wonderful husband, everyday I see him get out of the car, walk around and open your door for you.  It’s so nice to see that chivalry isn’t dead.  You’ve been married 20 years you must be very happy.”  “Well,” she answered, “It is true that we are very happy.  But what you don’t know, if the truth be told, what you can see is that every time he gets out of the car to open my door, he’s complaining about silly door handle that doesn’t open from the inside.” 
“If the truth be told,” is a common expression we use whenever we want people to know the “rest of the story.”  Sometimes it’s just not easy to tell the truth from fiction, the truth from a half-truth, truth from little white-lies.  And there are even times when we don’t care or even want the truth to be told.  It’s been said the Mr. Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” are often more fiction than fact.  But millions of people don’t really care.  They listen because he told a good story, the truth simply isn’t important.  In a “Dennis the Menace” cartoon Dennis is pictured sitting at the doorway of his home.  His mother, typically shown with her arms crossed over her chest, stands with a scowl on her face.  Dennis’ father has just returned from work.  “Would you rather hear the truth… or my side of the story?”
We know that people often keep the truth from one another.  They do it for many reasons.  Our relationships with other people are not always what they seem to be.  The person we have coffee with may seem to be content, but if the truth be told, they are really stressed out and troubled about life.  People we work with may seem to have it all together, but the truth be told, they are nearly in a panic.  Because that’s the way life is, because that’s the way that you and I live, it’s a good thing that we have a saying like “The truth be told.”  The more it is used the more open and honest we can be with one another.  In every corner of our society we know and believe that it’s better to tell the truth.  “Honesty is the best policy,” we say, “and if the truth be told,” we would all be healthier and happier if we always told the truth.
But right now, there is another force at work around us.  Really people today shy away from truthfulness.  “What’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me.”  It’s called relativism.  That’s the idea that there is nothing that is true.  And in fact, relativists say, truth is a made-up idea that is used to gain power over other people.  This idea is growing everywhere.  It is disconcerting to realize that the important people and institutions that we used to trust can’t really be relied on any more because they have been so influenced by this idea.  “The truth be told…” 
And we can’t even rely on lie detectors any more.  In the cartoon “The Wizard of Id” Johnny Hart pictures the Wizard showing the King a machine, “My new lie detector beeps when someone lies.”  The King asks, “Is it reliable?”  “Of course,…” the Wizard answers, as the machine lets out a long stream of beeps.  
As Christians we are concerned about the truth.  We are concerned not just because we think life would be better if the truth were told, but because God is concerned about the truth.  The bible says that God is the God of Truth.
“Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17) St. John tells us.  When God sent Jesus, the Word made flesh, He came to us “full of Grace and Truth.” (John 1:14) When Jesus spoke about himself, he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) Jesus remained true to that even when people told lies about him.  It was the truth about who he is and what he came to do that took him to the cross, where he died to establish the truth once and for all.  In his life, death and resurrection Jesus proves that God is our only savior from sin, and that he wants all people to be saved.
“If the truth be told…” we deserved the punishment that Jesus saves us from.  Not just for the times we don’t tell the truth, but for all the wrong things we do.  Jesus hung on the cross and suffered the punishment for our sins.  Instead of punishing us God punished Jesus.  God tells us the truth when he says that baptism joins us to what Jesus has done.  His death is our death, payment for our sins.  That same baptism joins us also to Jesus in his resurrection.  With daily repentance and rebirth we rise in new life through the power of the Holy Spirit.  That’s what our baptism is all about, daily death and daily new-life, leading to eternal life, because of Jesus.
We know, too, that God doesn’t want this truth to be known by just few people.  We celebrate here every Sunday the truth that through God’s saving grace in Jesus we have eternal life.  We face the truth that we are sinners and deserve nothing but punishment from God.  We count on the truth that God forgives our sins because of Jesus.  We rely on the truth that eternal life is a sure and certain hope for us, because God has brought us to faith in Jesus as our living savior through the work of the Holy Spirit who is the “Spirit of Truth.”  The truth of our faith stands squarely on the truth of the resurrection of Jesus.  Paul himself said that if it isn’t true our “faith is futile” because we are still in our sins.  As for me, I put my faith in the truth of Jesus who died and was raised again to life.
“If the truth be told…” God our Savior… desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  That’s the truth that sets the vision for our mission and purpose in life.  If the truth of the Gospel is told, people will believe in the truth, because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, will bring them to faith.
Now St. Paul gets at the heart of matter when he speaks the truth about what needs to happen.  He first quotes the prophet Joel, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:13) and then he asks a series of penetrating questions.  “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14) 
As a church, we recognize the importance of this sequence from sending to preaching, to hearing, to believing, to calling on the name of the Lord, to being saved.  That’s the reason they do all that we do.  And the truth be told we thank God that he has used us through our creative efforts to reach people of all nations, tribes and peoples so that they too can call on the name of the Lord and be saved. 
Today based on God’s Word we too take seriously this matter.  “If the Truth be Told…”  God is a God of Truth.  God’s truth is full revealed in Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He wants that truth proclaimed to the whole world.  Just like Paul said the God had appointed him “a herald…” that is a teller of the truth, we to have been called to be tellers of the truth.  We are sent to proclaim the truth to all nations.  We do a great job of sending our money to help with mission work all over the world, but do we do that same great job of proclaiming that truth right here in this town, this county, this state? 
Jesus tells a parable of a dishonest manager to encourage us to be wise in our dealings with the world.  We use the gifts God has given us to build friendship with people who then will be able to hear the truth of the Gospel of Jesus.  Jesus wants us to be trustworthy and honest in handling our worldly wealth, because God also trusts us to be stewards of the “true riches” that we have been given.  The true riches of faith in Jesus. 
There’s a small town in Texas that every year holds a liar’s festival.  They have a contest as to who can tell the tallest tale.  They compete for the honor of “the biggest liars the Midwest has ever seen.”  While that kind of lying is meant to be humorous, if the truth be told, it is still lying.  I wonder what would happen if Christians spent as much energy and creativity on telling the Truth, especially the truth about Jesus.  What if… the truth were told…
God has given us the truth, so that we can share it with others.  The truth is God’s native language.  And God’s Word repeatedly invites us to imagine what life would be like, what the world would be like, if the truth be told.  What a difference it would make in the world!  God’s love and forgiveness would bring peace and hope to people who are lost and hurting because the truth is not being told to them.  If the truth be told… the true faith would be taught to all people.  
In the church, “If the truth be told” is more than a common expression. It boggles our minds to imagine the possibilities for the mission work of the Church. It expands our vision as members of the Church, who see and care about the lost, the hurting, the lied to, the deceived, the lonely, the poor, the confused. “If the truth be told” expresses our compassion for the lost and our mission mandate to use the Means of Grace to bring all people to a knowledge of the truth. If the truth be told, in contrast to Dennis the Menace, as far as God is concerned, the truth IS God’s side of the story for the salvation of all people by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Luke.20.9-20; The Fifth Sunday in Lent; April 7, 2019


Luke.20.9-20; The Fifth Sunday in Lent; April 7, 2019
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We love stories.  People have always loved them.  Around the campfire, dad tucking the children in for sleep, tales about family escapades… and Jesus’ parables.  Some folks say that Jesus’ stories, his parables, are earthly stories with heavenly meaning.  I think it’s much simpler than that.  Jesus’ parables are Jesus-parables.  In other words, the stories Jesus tells are about him.  It’s the simplest rule to keep in mind when reading and hearing them.  Without that, people won’t understand them.  When the disciples asked him to explain the parable of the sower…
he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ ” (Luke 8:10, ESV)
The secret is knowing Jesus and seeing Jesus in the parable.  It is about him.  The hard part is that we are going against our sinful nature.  You see, whenever we start to talk about religious ideas, we go into a kind of auto pilot.  Our first thought is us.  In fact, without the work of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word that’s all human religion is, human work to raise up humans.  Any example you look at is going to show that.  Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam, etc., they are all religions about what people do.  Christianity is the only religion that is about what God does, and the key to it all is Jesus.  His life, death and resurrection are God doing, God saving.
And so today we have this parable.  And right here in the middle of it we have a great example of this very thing I’ve been talking about.  Before I read it again, I want to set up the context and remind you of the keys to interpreting parables. First the context:
This is probably Monday after Palm Sunday.  Remember Jesus rides into Jerusalem surrounded by people shouting, “Hosanna! The king is here.”  He weeps over Jerusalem’s upcoming destruction.  He goes into the temple, the “home territory” of his enemies, and flushes out the money changers.  Then comes this important sentence:
And [Jesus] was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words. ” (Luke 19:47–48, ESV)
So, Jesus’ enemies confront him in the temple asking where he gets his authority.  He shuts them down by asking,
“I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” (Luk 20:3–4, ESV)
They are afraid of the people.  If we answer “from heaven” Jesus could ask why they didn’t believe what he said.  If they answer “from men” they were afraid of the people’s reaction because the people knew he was from God.  So, they answer “We don’t know.”  So, Jesus doesn’t answer their question either.  The tension is thick.  The people are hanging on Jesus words.  The priests and scribes have blood in their eyes.  Then Jesus tells the parable… not to them but to the people.
Now the parable: Remember the two helps in interpreting the parable.  First, it’s about Jesus.  Second, watch for the thing that would never happen and that’s usually describing what Jesus is doing.
And [Jesus] began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
Ok so it’s about Jesus.  It’s obvious that the son in the parable is the Son of God.  The servants are the prophets.  The vineyard is God’s people who reject prophet after prophet and finally Jesus.  But take care.  The thing that would never happen isn’t that the tenants would kill the son.  According to the law of the land, this could happen.  And the tenants would be in a good position to take the property because the landlord was out of the country.  It’s the people who hear the parable that tell you what’s out of place.  When Jesus says,
What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”  When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!”
Do you see what they’ve done?  They have made the parable about them losing the vineyard.  Almost like saying, “That could never happen!”  They are thinking, “God would never do that!”  That’s what we are likely to do too.  When we hear it, we start asking questions like, “What do we have to do to not be like the people in the parable?”  Do you see how we automatically center it on us?  Jesus tells them they’ve missed the point.  Listen:
But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
Jesus directs them back to the main thing, him.  He is the son who will be cast out of the vineyard and killed.  He is the rejected stone.  In a matter of days, they are going to see it in all its bloody detail.  God’s glory, his work for us, God doing what is needed, is accomplished by the rejection of his son.  In the garden the priest’s thugs arrest him and beat him.  In an illegal trail they condemn him.  They force Pilate to put him to death on the cross under threat.  And so, Jesus dies just as he tells in this parable.  Rejected! He is the cornerstone.  The parable is about him and his work for us, his people.  On Wednesday nights we’ve been singing the Magnificat.  It’s Mary’s song about God’s great reversal in Jesus Christ.  God working to undo injustice.  God turning the world’s order upside down.  God doing things like no one else would do them.  Jesus talks about it like this.  You may have wondered why that song is so prominent in that evening prayer service.  Listen to some of the words:
Oppression halted;
    The meek exalted.
    Full are the hungry;
    Empty, the wealthy—
O sing the greatness of God the Lord!
It’s not a song about the rich getting their comeuppance.  It’s about God turning making everything right again in Christ, the rejected stone becomes the corner.
And there’s even more here than meets the ear…  Jesus says:
‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.
It’s a quote from Psalm 118:22, and an explanation.  I want you to notice something here too.  He says everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces.  He’s not just talking about the scribes and priests that rejected him.  He’s not just talking about today’s religious leaders that lead God’s people astray with false teaching.  He’s not just talking about popes and pastors who push their works before the work of Christ, he says everyone.  Yep, he means you and me, too.  Everyone who falls on this stone will be broken.  He does that to us.  We must be broken and crushed.  Otherwise we fall into to our old selfish patterns.  We make ourselves the center of our religion.  Repeatedly Our Lord breaks us with the law.  He doesn’t do it the way we do.  We use the law to show how good we are.  See I keep the law.  I haven’t stolen from my neighbor even though he deserves it.  I haven’t cheated on my husband, even though I could do much better.  No, Jesus uses the law to kill us.  He shows us that we must be perfect, and nothing short of perfect will do.  When we see our sin clearly, we fall at his feet and call on him to save us.  He does.  The stone the builders rejected becomes the corner stone.   He was cast out of the vineyard and onto the cross for us.  We are forgiven.  He is our savior.  In repentance, the gift of faith, we broken sinners cling to Jesus for forgiveness and receive it.  Those who reject him, he falls on them and they are crushed.
Jesus is the ultimate stumbling stone.  Jesus is Christianity, not good works of any kind, not transforming culture, or getting good laws through the legislature.  Jesus only.  Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus the rejected stone.  Jesus for you and me. 
And that’s how the text ends today too. 
The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. (Luke 20:19, ESV)
It all begins just as Jesus told in the parable.  Amen.
The peace of God the passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019


John.17.20-26; Weekday Lent Service; April 3, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
20“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:20-26 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Here in this text Jesus prays for unity.  I’ve been thinking a lot about unity this week.  Maybe you have, too.  What exactly does it mean to be “united?”  It’s a tricky word for us, isn’t it?  I think that unity is something the whole world is looking for.  In some sense lots of the violence of the Middle East is about unity.  And closer to home we have the false unity of men and men, and women and women seeking to be married.  This is just the latest; there are other attempts at unity.  For a long time now men and women have been trying to live together without being united in marriage.  They believe that marriage isn’t necessary, and yet the statistics show couples who live together before they are married will most likely divorce.  Political correctness tells us that if we just say things the right way, we can create unity by not causing offense.  And I don’t know if you feel the pressure (but I certainly do) to say that Muslims worship the same god that we do, or to say that all religions are the really the same and each lead to God, each in its own way.  We don’t have to look very hard at these attempts at unity to see that they really don’t work.  They collapse under their own weight, because they are unity that is based on things that are not true.  They are based on misunderstandings of the way the world really is.
The church isn’t doing any better.  It is very ironic that in a year that Hollywood gave us a great movie like “The Passion of the Christ,” the Christian church in American gave us the first openly gay bishop, “in the hope that the church can be more inclusive.”  And the desire to be a united church, despite the differences that exist, grows every day.  But the kind of unity that is sought is the kind that simply ignores the reality of the differences in the teachings of the different church bodies.  There are real significant differences in understanding who God is, what He has done in Jesus Christ, and how He works in peoples lives.  This kind of unity is not true unity at all.  It is a unity that ignores the truth of God’s Word for the sake of an external coming together.  This is the kind of kind of unity that promotes communion tables that are open to all comers without regard to what they believe or even the kind of teaching they support.  It is the kind of unity where adultery, divorce, homosexuality and other sins are outright ignored; “for the sake of unity.” Even when those sins are present in those serve as the Church’s pastors.  The Church, just like the world around it, is seeking unity.  But it is a false unity that isn’t the unity the Jesus prayed for. 
And yet, Jesus prayed for the unity of the church; that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  Are we to believe that Jesus prayer went un-answered?  I hardly think so.  We can trust that what Jesus prays is true.  He is the One to whom the God the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”  So, when Jesus prays that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  We can know that it is true.  The Christian church through out the whole world is united, just as Jesus said.  It really isn’t a choice is it? 
Someone said to me once that when we became Christians, we gave up the right to choose who we would love.  We are united because of Christ.  If you want examples of how the church is united, you need look no father than the chairs we are sitting in.  All of you know of times when you were helped by someone here.  God has given us brothers and sisters in Christ who are here for us when we need them.  We are united when we hear about God’s great love that sent Jesus to live and die and rise again for us.  We are united when we gather and have the gift of salvation poured down our throats.  We are united as we speak the words “in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” that were spoken, when Jesus united us to Himself in Baptism.  We are united because we have been claimed from the jaws of death, rescued from sin, and saved from our own sinful desires.  Our unity comes only from the work that God does and what God has done, not from anything we have done or could possibly even do.  Martin Luther said it very clearly in his explanation of the third article.  (p. 301 in LW) 
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.
Because we are united, we have a responsibility to love one another.  We have the responsibly to correct one another, and accept each other’s correction, and even to hold one another accountable. 
But we also know that we don’t always act very much like we are united.  That’s because we are sinful people.  That’s because the very nature of sin is separation.  Sinful people are separated from God.  Sinful people are separated from one another.  Sin is divisive.  That’s the problem with all human attempts at unity; they are filled with and driven by sin.  For an example just look at so called “homosexual-marriage.”  It is no real marriage at all.  It is a false unity that is based on a lie, a lie that two men can have the same kind of unity that God has created for men and women.  Or even the example of live-in couples, claiming to have unity when there is none.  Because the unity that God puts into marriage is based on a commitment to love, honor and cherish despite what trouble may come.    
True unity doesn’t come from sinful people.  It can’t come from sinful people.  It comes only from and through Jesus Christ.  Jesus brings unity to a divided world.  He brings restoration to a separated world.  Through God’s Word made Flesh, we find peace, healing and wholeness; first, in restoration of our relationship with God; and then in our relationships to other people.  It is in Jesus Christ that we find that we have true unity.  He is the one who has knit us together into one body.  That’s what Jesus is talking about when He prays that they may be in us.  We are united to God and to one another through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
It works like this:  When human beings were separated from God because of sin, God united himself to humans by becoming a human being.  Jesus was conceived by an act of God, a miracle in which God took on human flesh and became a full and complete person.  He grew like any person, was born like any person, and was fed by his mother like any person.  And although he was a complete human being he wasn’t like any other person, because He was without sin.  Jesus is God and Man perfectly united together, completely God and completely human.  In order to bring an end to the separation between God and man that is caused by sin, Jesus lived a substitute life for sinful people.  He was a perfect “stand in” for us, because we can’t stand for ourselves.  To better understand what I’m talking about, imagine that you are the star player of a basketball team.  But, in the first few seconds of the game you foul out.  You can no longer play in the game, but your substitute comes in and plays for you.  All the points that he scores still count, just as if you made them yourself.  The other team’s coach can’t contest those points because they were made by a substitute.  Jesus whole life was lived perfectly, as our substitute, in perfect unity with God, the Father.  So that, as Jesus prayed, they may be one even as we are one.  And Jesus our substitute goes even further.  Jesus doesn’t just do the good things we should do; He doesn’t just live the life we should live; He suffers the punishment we need to suffer.  Jesus on the cross suffers and dies as the greatest sinner that has ever lived.  Not because He was sinful, but because He substitutes Himself for sinful people.  All of God’s anger at our sinfulness is re-directed to our substitute.  All of God’s punishment for our sin is put on our substitute instead of us.  Jesus became sin for us, and the very thing that prevents our unity with God is put to death.  Sin is sent to the grave with Jesus.  Jesus, our substitute, is made to be guilty and we are declared not guilty.  With sin done away with, with its punishment paid in full, Jesus was raised to life again.  Again, He rises in our place, a complete human being dead and buried, raised again to live.  You see, all that Jesus did He did for you, and you are united with Him through Baptism in it all, through faith in what He has done.  It’s all Jesus.  It’s all His work.  It’s all for you.
Now look around you.  It’s all Jesus.  It’s all His work.  It’s all for them, the young ones and the old ones, the brother in Christ sitting next to you, the sister in Christ sitting behind you.  It’s for the person here that you don’t particularly like.  It’s for the person here that you love more than any other.  It’s for the person here who has hurt you deeply and even the one you have hurt deeply.  That’s the unity that binds us.  That’s the unity that is found in the true nature of Jesus Christ.  It can’t be found or seen in any way other than in the truth about what Jesus has done, and for whom He did it.
And He did it for other people, too.  Many don’t even know or care about what He has done for them.  They aren’t united to Him, because they don’t trust that what He has done is for them.  Jesus talks about that, too.  so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  He’s talking about taking the message of what He has done to people who don’t know Him.  This Good News about true unity in the world isn’t just for you, and the people sitting right here.  It’s for folks you know out there.  That’s what Building Friendships is all about.  We talked about Building up our friendships with one another.  In our friendships here we share the unity the Jesus Christ has given us.  We also want to build up the friendships we have with people who don’t come here, and people who don’t go anywhere.  So that Jesus can use us all to show what He has done to bring unity to the world. 
The church will not find unity by ignoring sin.  Unity is found in repentance and forgiveness that only Jesus gives.  It will not find unity by setting aside real differences that take away from the truth about what Jesus has done for us.  There is no “piece”, nor “part” of the Gospel that is unimportant.  The world won’t find unity by wallowing in its own misguided sense of morality.  It won’t find unity in speaking so as not to offend.  The unity the world is looking for is found only in a relationship with the True God.  There is no relationship with the True God outside of Jesus Christ.  He is God’s only way of uniting human beings with Himself once again.  Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.