Sunday, June 30, 2019

Isaiah 66:10-14; The Third Sunday after Pentecost; June 30, 2019

Isaiah 66:10-14; The Third Sunday after Pentecost; June 30, 2019
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.” For thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the LORD shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.” (Isaiah 66:10–14, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It began as barley a whisper… a faint sound at the very edge of perception…  no one in the house even stirred… except mother.  From the very first, before any sound at all had filled the ears of anyone else… she awoke crawled out of bed and began the trek to her infant’s room.  So, by the time he was in full cry, with a voice much more than someone his size should be able to shout, mother was already crib side.  Quickly she raised the infant to her arms, “Hey Billy, what’s the matter?” She said quietly, as she gathered him to herself.  At first, he was inconsolable, and his screams echoed through the whole house.  They filled the ears of his brothers and sisters, who muffled the sound with arms, blankets or pillows in an attempt to return to their dreams.  But soon quiet was again restored as the rocking chair and the sweet sound of mother voice brought infant comfort.  He was safe and warm, there in his mother’s arms, satisfied and at peace.
Oh, to be at peace…   like a little child in its mother’s arms, satisfied at rest, warm and content…. at peace.   But as much as peace is desired it, peace is seldom found.  Maybe that’s why this image of peace is so powerful for us, because we seldom know this kind of peace when we are no longer able to lie in our mother’s arms… when we have grown too large to be cuddled there.  There are other moments of peace in our lives, standing on a quiet beach listening to the waves rush the shore;  Being alone in the forest when all is quiet except the sounds of nature; Sitting beside the bed of a sleeping child listening contentedly to the shallow echoes of breath.  But, moments of peace are few, because the world, this world that we live in, is a world of conflict. 
A world of conflict… every day in the newspaper you can read about war somewhere around the globe.  War is the same everywhere.  There are two groups of people in conflict.  They have determined that their conflict is so great that the only means of resolution is the violent death of the other party.  They have determined that the only resolution is to disrupt the peace… to arm themselves with the tools of death.  Many people would say that the exact opposite of peace is war.  When the images of war explode onto the news, the comfort of our mother’s arms is very inviting. 
But conflict isn’t just found between nations at war.  We find it even in the smallest communities.  In fact, any gathering of people is often marked by disagreement that often disrupts the peace.  Do we build a swimming pool or not?  Should the cult group be allowed to build a compound? Should there be a group home in my neighborhood?  Should taxes be raised or cut… but it isn’t just government?  There is conflict where we work… a co-worker we don’t like… a manager that won’t allow time off, or demands overtime…  Work that builds up so much you are afraid to take time off… Conflict also lives in our homes… family decisions are marred by arguments and unhappy resolutions.  What household has children that don’t fight, and parents who are always forgiving?  What man and wife have never fought about family finances?  Conflict is laced in every aspect of our lives… our families, friendships, and even our Church.  Disharmony is everywhere it affects every relationship we have.  But not all the conflict is external.  Many people have an internal struggle that far outweighs the discord between people.  Internal struggle can fracture the human psyche.  The wounds it can cause are even more devastating than disagreements between people.   We all experience some of that disunity.  We all struggle to do what we know is right and avoid what we know is wrong.  Saint Paul described the struggle so well
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:14–19, ESV)
When we think of these conflicts it is no wonder, we long for the comfort of our mother’s arms.  That place where we can be comforted, safe from conflict, safe from trouble, and at peace. 
All the disunity, between nations, people, families, individuals, and even the internal struggles of people are really a sign, a window to an even greater more devastating division.  Conflict, internal and external, is an image of the most serious human problem.  All human beings have cut themselves off from God by their own sin.  We are fractured people who are determined to conflict with the very one who made us, the one who designed us for a relationship with him.  We have conflict with others, we can’t get along with other people; we conflict with ourselves; because we can’t get along with God.  That is the real source of conflict in our lives. 
This is where this image, given to us in our text, comes in.  God says he will comfort us, brings us peace, like a mother does with her child.  “I will extend peace like a river…  as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”  He extends his arms around us, pulls us to his breast where we are warm, safe and secure.  There we find peace.  There we find comfort.  He ended the conflict with us, because we didn’t want to end it with him.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV)
It is amazing and somewhat ironic that the one who God sent to restore peace to the world, the prince of peace, restored our fractured relationship, our conflict, by means of a violent death.  He endured internal and external conflict on the cross as he was rejected by the Father in our place.  The separation that our sinful nature desired; the conflict we wished; for was focused on Jesus Christ.  He endured it all instead of us.  And because of that he brought about peace between us and our Heavenly Father.  But this peace is more than just a peaceful, tranquil feeling.  It’s more than a feeling of contentment that even un-believers can feel.  Jesus brings a peace the is a peace that exists even when we are in conflict.  It’s a peace that exists even when we don’t feel peaceful.
The peace that Christ brings is like the peace between two warring parties.  He declares the hostilities cease.  But when peace is declared sometimes the sides don’t want to end the fighting.  Because we still have the effects of sin in our lives, we don’t always want God’s peace.  We struggle against it.  But, the war is over, Jesus Christ has won it and he has declared the peace.  It is a peace that passes all our understanding.  When we feel it, when we experience that peaceful feeling like we are wrapped in the Father arms we rejoice; but it is just as true when we don’t feel it.  We are still even then, because of Christ, at peace with God.
God doesn’t promise that Christians won’t have conflict in their lives.  Christians just like all people will have internal and external struggles.  But God, through Jesus Christ, has done something about the most serious conflict.  Because of Jesus suffering and death on the cross we are no longer in conflict with God.  Because suffered the separation of that conflict we can enjoy the comfort the peace.  That peace, whether we feel it or not, effects our whole lives.  Our relationships to our families… our relationships to our friends… our relationships at work...  Our relationships to our community.  That peace earned for us through the death of Christ, has given us peace with God and has opened the way for us to be at peace with others.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15, ESV)
Billy sleeps quietly in his mothers’ arms.  He is at peace, comforted by his mother.  The noise of discord is all but forgotten.  She had come and brought him comfort.  He is safe and warm; he is at peace.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.  Amen.

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.