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Trinity 2 2018

Trinity 2 2018

Luke 14:15-24

June 10, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

In our Gospel reading this morning, we hear of a great banquet, a feast, unlike any other.  It is freely offered to be freely enjoyed. Many were invited, the meal was prepared, the notices sent out that all was ready.  The man who prepared the supper is our Lord God Himself. The meal that is prepared is the Holy Gospel. He Himself is the food which is brought to us in the Gospel, that He has made satisfaction for our sins through His death and redeemed us from our own death, from sin, damnation, and the wrath of God.

So God invites to a feast of all grace, with everything prepared and provided for ion the Church of Christ. It is a feast of joy in the present and in a certain hope of the future. The work of the ministry in proclaiming the Gospel is the invitation to come and join. The preaching of Christ is the great meal with which He feeds His guests. He sanctifies these guests by means of Holy Baptism.  He comforts and strengthens them through the Sacrament of His body and His blood so that nothing is lacking and everyone is satisfied. It is an eternal food and eternal drink, so that one never again thirsts nor hungers again.

As Jesus speaks this parable, He does so at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. He has already upset them for He healed a man that very day, which was a Sabbath. He told a parable of the wedding feast where guests ought to come in humility and not in pride trying to sit in a place of honor.  Then He spoke of inviting those who have nothing to give back, no way to repay, no honor to bestow, but are the least and lowest in society.

Now, he speaks of their rejection of Him and the kingdom of God. The many who are invited to this meal are the Jews and the whole people of Israel, who had especially been invited from Abraham onward. The Seed through whom the blessings would come was promised to Abraham, the great patriarch of our faith.  The prophets send by God carried it further and pointed the people to it, even inviting the nations. Now, when the hour had come for people to go to the table, that is the time when our Lord Christ was born, would suffer, and rise again, servants such as John the Baptist went out and said to those invited: Now is the time! The kingdom of God, the great feast, is at hand! But what did they do? The invitations had already been sent and accepted, but now insult results as they refuse.  They all alike began to make excuses.

Christ refers to three people here, each polite enough in their excuse, yet all the same full of vanity.  The first says, “I want to go check on my field.”  The second makes an excuse about examining their oxen. The third explains he cannot come because he has just married. The feast is so great, so complete, so free and easy, it is amazing how many refuse to come.  In reality, there are many excuses, but only one reason: they are already engaged with something else, everything else. They are too satisfied with the world’s riches, too busy with its cares, too happy with its temporary nature. This serves a serious warning for us as well. Those who love their possessions and positions in life more than Christ, who think they are deserving of this invite for the sake of their own virtues, but brush it off as less important than worldly things will not taste this heavenly feast.  It’s as if he says, “Since you’ll examine your field, your oxen, and your wife but abandon Me and My Gospel, so I will in turn abandon you and find other guests who will attend.” According to this passage, everything that was wife, holy, rich, and powerful in the people was rejected by God because they would not accept His Gospel. There is plenty of room at this banquet, but no room in their hearts.

The host doesn’t like this much. His anger is roused, but His graciousness and loves continues. He doesn’t beg those invited to come, he does not try to entice them with something different, he doesn’t whine and complain. He simply tells his servants to go out and invite others. He seeks the outcasts, those whom the Pharisees would consider unclean and unable to share in table fellowship with them, and when there was still more room, those outside the city as well, the Gentiles, who to the Pharisees would be the personification of the outcast and sinner.  These know their hunger, they are aware of their need, and are ready to come even at such a short notice. Those who were once far off have now been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph 2:13).

There is no room for pride at the table of the Lord. There is no room of a sense of deserving. There is no treating the Kingdom of God as second best, or something to simply be brushed off. This parable deals a final blow to any expectations the Pharisees had about the table fellowship of Jesus embracing their particular religious perspective. It confirms for them that Jesus is guilty of blasphemy and deserving of death. Jesus comes not for the self-righteous but for those who have no righteousness of their own.  Jesus comes not to confirm a person’s idea of self-worth and pride, but to invite to Himself the humble and the lowly.  “God saves no one but sinners, He instructs no one but the foolish and stupid, He enriches none but paupers, and He makes alive only the dead; not those who merely imagine themselves to be such but those who really are this kind of people and admit it.” (Martin Luther).

Jesus comes to have fellowship with sinners, and only sinners who know their need and hunger and thirst for the righteous of Christ are invited to His table, those compelled by the Holy Spirit in repentant faith to a foretaste of the feast to come.  The feast is now, it is ongoing in the eucharistic life of the Church.  It is here, in the Lord’s Supper when we receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins that the crucified and risen Christ is made known to us and has the most intimate fellowship with us. Blessedness comes from eating bread in the kingdom of God, which Christ is now ushering in through His fellowship with outcasts and sinners, and of which we share here and now every single time the Word and Sacrament is present.

While this parable began with a banquet beatitude, it ends with a stern warning. Fellowship with Jesus is a two-edged sword of blessing and judgment.  The temptation comes to all who think themselves too rich, too busy, or too happy, to be bothered to show up.  Those who reject this invitation, regardless of how good the reason it might seem, will not taste this meal. The wrath of God will remain on them and they will be condemned because of their unbelief.

This is a harsh word from God to our pride and our idolatry of worldly things. Our place at the heavenly banquet is one of honor, but not of our own. We are invited only by the grace of God.  Only the beggars, the poor, the lowly, the needy have a place at the Lord’s table. And there is still room.  God compels us when He sends this preaching of the Gospel to people. He points out both heaven and hell, death and life, wrath and grace and reveals to us our sinful condition.  Wrath and repentance force us to run after and cry out for grace, which is the right way to go after this supper. Thus out of Jews and Gentiles there is one Christian Church, and all together are called poor, miserable sinners invited in to the blessings of the eternal banquet, the eternal heavenly wedding feast. So come. The Lord awaits.

Trinity 1 2018

Trinity 1 2018

1 John 4:16-21

June 3, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 “Beloved in the Lord!”  This is how we began the Divine Service after the name of our Triune God was spoken upon this this morning.  “Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart…”  Have you ever thought about that statement?  Have you ever realized what the pastor is saying at that very moment?  We hear the name of God, the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exclamation pointed statement, “Beloved in the Lord!” 

You are beloved!  You are “much loved” by the Lord Himself!  What a statement that is!  What a relief that is!  What comfort that brings!  I have never heard anyone complain about being told that they are loved.  It is not something I ever get tired of hearing, of being reminded of, of hearing from my wife or my family or my God. So we are reminded again of this saving and true love in our Epistle from St. John.  In this letter alone, John calls us “beloved” 6 times!

This is the best part of the whole thing: you are beloved by God because of who God is, not because of who you are or what you have done.  Love is from God as God is Love personified.  To love is to will the good of the other.  As God is God, He is able to do this and do this perfectly. God doesn’t need anything, He doesn’t need us. He is complete and perfect and whole all by Himself.  And so He is free to love us based on His goodness, on His grace, on His kindness without any selfishness on His part, but with a love that is totally and completely focused on His creation. You are beloved because of what God has done for you.  Beloved by God through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Beloved by God through the forgiveness of your sins.  Beloved by God because His Word abides in you.

Verse 15-16 of 1 John 4 states, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe that the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him.”  In the Gospel account that John wrote, he records Jesus’ words explaining this further.  Abiding in God is nothing else than abiding through faith in Christ. Abiding in Christ is nothing else than having the Word of Christ abide in you.  A sinner can know God, and thus love, only through faith in Jesus Christ, the Word of God become flesh. Again, earlier in the chapter, St. John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.”

So if you have ever feared, not felt good enough, special enough, plagued by worry or doubt, cling tighter the gift of faith God has given you in His Word and Sacraments and know that you are beloved by God.  You don’t deserve it.  You don’t earn it.   But you are.  And if you are not certain enough or doubt or wonder if tomorrow you won’t be loved, look again at the cross of Christ.  For you can’t get away from God’s love for you there.  Look to the cross, where the One who is perfect love casts out all fear and where God teaches us what is love and how to love.

As child learns to love others through the example and the love of parents, so Christians learn love through God in Christ.  This is how Jesus summarizes the 10 Commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39).  It starts with the love of God; not your love for God, but God’s love for you.  We cannot truly love each other until we know the love of God in Christ. We love because He has first loved us, not so that He will love us. 

“Our love for God, even though it may be small, cannot possibly be separated from faith. For we come to the Father through Christ. When forgiveness of sins has been received, then we are truly certain that we have a God, that is, that God cares for us. We call upon Him, we give Him thanks, we fear Him, we love Him as 1 John 4:19 teaches, “We love because He first loved us.” In other words, we love Him because He gave His Son for us and forgave our sins. In this way, John shows that faith comes first and love follows” (Ap V 20). 

This is where the world gets things mixed up.  They attempt love apart from the One who is Love. What the world considers love is actually selfish and self-centered, based on emotions.  But love isn’t an emotion, it’s an act of the will, again that if focused upon the good of the other.  It’s not my love through you. That’s the trick we like to play.  I love you so that you love me in return. I’ll be nice to you so that you’ll nice to me. I’ll be fair to you so that you’ll be fair to me.  But that isn’t love.  That’s why Jesus says, “Great love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). There’s no selfishness there, but it is for the other.

The Rich Man and Lazarus exemplifies what this looks like. It is not that rich man did not love at all, but rather that he loved all the wrong things. His love was not focused on God or his neighbor, but on his possessions and himself. Surrounded by every luxury, the rich man lived a mean and despicable life, counting on himself and the things that he had accumulated. His problem wasn’t his riches, but rather his lack of real love that flowed from a lack of faith in God.  He did not love his brother and therefore could not love God. The absence of love is the absence of God who is love. The unloving man was far poorer than Lazarus, a man who had nothing in this life except the love of God.

Since God is love, to know God is to know love, to know love is to know God. It is not merely that we must love God before we can know Him, but that knowing the love of God in Christ Jesus shows us what love really is and teaches us how to love.  Every aspect of love that appears in the world, whether by Christians or non Christians, whether recognized or not, comes from God, is built into His creation by Him. But without Christ, there is no real love. Without knowing the love the God, we cannot love others. 

True love, perfected love, cannot be accomplished by trying harder, doing more, or being better.  It is not a fickle love that fades over time, waxes and wanes depending on mood and emotions. Perfect love casts out fear.  Fear of sin, fear of death, fear of failure, fear of loneliness, fear of disappointment, fear of not being good enough, fear of ridicule or rejection or refusal. God’s love for us is so strong to chase away fear of punishment because God poured out His wrath against sin upon His Son on the cross. This love is based not on what we do, but on what God has done for us.  It is a love that moves God Himself to eternal commitment by sending His Son to be the propitiation, the atoning sacrifice, for our sins (1 John 4:10). It is only perfected in us by Christ, by receiving His true and perfect and holy love as His bride.

St. John always proceeds from faith to love for one’s neighbor, and from here he returns to faith and demonstrates it on the basis of this fruit.  If one believes in Christ, he has love. The reception of Gods’ love actually alters the attitude of the Christian toward God and toward others. It turns a self-centered heart outward in faith toward God and in love toward others. Having learned this love from God, we don’t wait for others to begin. We cannot be said to love God if we do not love others, our family, our friends, our community. We are loved undeservedly, and so we love undeservedly. If you want to love more, look to Jesus.

And so as beloved in Lord, we as Christians love our neighbors as God has loved us.  What joy we have in the fact that we have people to love, either a wife or children, friends, even enemies, and we thank God, who gives us people to love.  Others may do what they please and the world can run after the fleeting rush of emotions that always fades too quickly; we shall love one another with the love of Christ.  A love based on commitment and relationship in light of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  For consider what a great thing it is that Christ does not spare Himself. He dies that you may live forever. He did not try to buy love or coerce it out of you; He gave His life. Through the love of God and Christ we come to the love of God the Father and of our neighbor. Although we do not see God, yet we believe and love and are declared “beloved in the Lord.”

Pentecost 2018

Pentecost 2018

Acts 2:1-21

May 20, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

When God led the children of Israel out of Egypt, He had them observe the Passover the same night of their deliverance.  He commanded them to celebrate it at the same time each year as a memorial of their deliverance and departure from Egypt (Ex 12:14).  From that day on they travelled for fifty days when they approached the foot of Mt. Sinai. There, God gave His people the Law through Moses, the two tablets with the 10 Commandments.  They were commanded to observe a memorial of this blessed event every year on the fiftieth day after Passover (Lev 23:15-21; Deut 16:9-12).  It’s from this that the festival gets its name “Pentecost”, which comes from the Greek word meaning fiftieth day.

And so St. Luke speaks about how when Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. They were in Jerusalem, where Jesus had instructed them to be, as they waited for the promised Holy Spirit. And on top of that, there were visitors from all over the world, Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphilia, Egypt and Lybia, Cretans and Arabians. These were both Jews and proselytes, or those Gentiles who were God fearers and believed in the one true God. As they were there celebrating when God had gave the people the Law on Mt. Sinai, then the Holy Spirit came, just as Jesus had promised. So we today celebrate this festival not because of the old history, but because of the new, that is, that Christ has kept His promise in sending the Holy Spirit to guide His people in the truth of the Gospel.

And that He did. The Spirit descends from heaven, much like what happened at Christ’s baptism, but now rests upon the people of Christ. He enflames their tongues so that they become confident and bold in their preaching about Jesus. This Spirit of God equips the disciples to carry out the Great Commission that the Lord had given before His Ascension, to make disciples by baptizing in the name of the Triune God and teaching people the Word of God.

And what timing the Lord had in this. On the day when the people gathered were celebrating the giving of God’s Law, they, and we, are reminded that no one can be made righteous through the Law.  “The Law of God is good and wise and sets His will before our eyes. Shows us the way of righteousness, and dooms to death when we transgress.  The Law is good, but since the fall Its holiness condemns us all; It dooms us for our sin to die And has no power to justify.” (LSB 579:1, 5). That is why He sent His Son to die and shed His blood to forgive us our sins: we are unable to free ourselves by our own power or works. We cannot keep the Law.

But Jesus can, and He did. He was crucified at the hands of lawless men, delivered up according to the plan and foreknowledge of God. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death and is exalted at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. This He did for you, and the benefits of His life, His death, and His resurrection are yours by faith.

So it is necessary that what is preached is also believed.  At the end of Peter’s sermon that morning, the people who saw the flames of fire, who heard of Jesus in their own language, who gave ear to his words, were cut to the heart. They people asked what they should do in light that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom they crucified.  Peter’s answer to them was one of faith, for faith, and by faith: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of 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 2:38-39).   

And so it is for you.  As surely as those who were there on that Pentecost, who cried out “crucify!” just over 50 days earlier, it is because of your sin that Jesus went to the cross.  Your sin runs so deep, corrupts so completely, cuts the heart so severely, that you stand guilty before the Lord and Christ of all. Repent. Turn away for your sin, away from your shame, away from your guilt, which is great. Repent.  But you cannot do even that on your own. Even this repentance is beyond the efforts of your sinful heart. But that too is the work of the Holy Spirit within you: to create sorrow and contrition over sin and to point you to the One who died so your sins would be forgiven.

Peter doesn’t stop there, however, and neither will I.  Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Most, if not all of you here today, are baptized.  If you aren’t, please come talk to me after the Service. For this promise and this gift is for you and for your children, for everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself by the preaching of the Gospel.

For those who are baptized, remember your baptism.  As Pentecost is the birthday of the Christian Church, so when that water combined with the Word of God was poured upon you, that which carried the deliverance of His promise in Christ and bestowal of the Holy Spirit, that is your spiritual birthday. In other words, remember that you are baptized, that it is a present tense reality and identity gifted you in those blessed waters. You are baptized into Christ’s death and into His life, and God delivered to you His forgiveness, His life, His salvation, His Holy Spirit.  God sends His Holy Spirit to push the preaching of the Gospel into your heart so that it remains and lives there. It is the work of the Spirt to create, and sustain in you, call upon the name of the Lord in faith, and in the certainty of your salvation for the sake of Jesus, who has done everything, who has fulfilled the demands of the Law, who takes away sins, and declares your justified, not guilty, free.

By the grace of God, by means of faith in Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit, take hold of this great treasure. The sinful flesh and the devil will continue to tempt you to think you can build your way up to heaven and make a name for yourself. God will not be mocked, and He will tear down your sinful pride more quickly than it took for the dust from the tower of Babel to settle. The Spirit will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that Christ has said. That is His job. That is what He does for you and in you and through you by means of His Word and Sacraments. For Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Trinity Sunday 2018

Trinity Sunday 2018

John 3:1-17

May 27, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Probably one of the most confused, and confusing, beliefs within Christianity is that of the Trinity. The question, basically, is: who is God? How does God relate to Himself.  And then, a follow-up question that is closely related, is “what is the will of God” or how does God then relate to us.

Knowledge of God is incomplete without knowledge of God’s will and vice versa. When a person correctly understands one of these, will understand the other. And also if you don’t understand one, you don’t understand the other.  Christians have long answered these questions by means of the creeds, the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian, which are simply statements of belief concerning God and His will in relationship to us. We confess in the Nicene Creed, “who for us men and for our salvation…” Through His Son, God restored us. By the Spirit, we are given that restoration, earned by the Son’s death upon the cross, delivered by the means of grace and received by faith. 

Let us look at how our Gospel reading for this morning reveals this to us. Nicodemus says to the Lord, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).  Nicodemus acknowledges God, and without a doubt, this is how it should be for every Christian: that there really is a God. In an age where even the existence of God, of anything greater than ourselves, is questioned, this is extremely important. The evidence of a creation is built into all creation.  This is how St. Paul can write in Romans 1:19 “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, even since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Creation itself demonstrates that God exists, and those who deny this revelation from God do so without excuse.

But this knowledge of God is not complete. Looking at nature, at the beauty of creation, might tell you some of the first part of the Creed, that there is a Creator, but it does not tell us anything else about who God is or His attitude toward His creation.  Nicodemus recognizes this as well, which is why he approaches Jesus in the first place. He had heard about Jesus, and acknowledges that He is sent from God and that He is a teacher come from God and that God is with Him.

By this we understand the first person of the Godhead, that is God the Father, has sent His Son into the world. This Son of God teaches Nicodemus about eternal life, life that comes only through faith in Christ, who must be lifted up upon the cross. This is how God shows His love, and His will, for His creation: in sending His Son into the world, to bring life, true life, divine life, eternal life. In the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

Scripture also tell us that Jesus is the mediator, He is the advocate. We are to know God only through knowing the second person of the Trinity, Jesus. For as Jesus says in John 12 “Whoever believes in Me, believes not in Me, but in Him who sent me. And whoever sees Me sees Him who sent me.” (John 12:44-45) And again Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known Me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:6-7)

And Jesus continues to teach, “unless one is born again, that is born of water and Spirit, one cannot see or enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3, 5). Here we see the third person of the Godhead, the Spirit, who as we confess, is the Lord and giver of life, who uses the tools of the Word and the Sacraments to create and sustain this spiritual life. We live in Christ by the Holy Spirit to the delight of the Father (Beckwith, The Holy Trinity, 5).

So when we are baptized, we believe; when we believe, we confess our faith; when we confess our faith we speak of one God in three persons. The relationships to the persons is what defines them.  The Father begets the Son. The Son is begotten by the Father. The Spirit is preceding. This is what the Athanasian Creed spends so much time confessing. This is how God self identifies, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” Three persons, one God. It is not for us to alter the name of God, it is not for us to speak in any other way about who God is, it is not for us to confuse the persons nor divide the substance of one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.

At the end of the day, when we’re honest, we are often left puzzled by all this, just as Nicodemus was. Nicodemus doesn’t fully understand what Jesus is saying about the Spirit’s miraculous work of new birth through Baptism. He doesn’t fully understand the Divine Sonship of Jesus and the atoning sacrifice He would make upon the cross. Human reason, corrupted by sin, cannot accept many things about God, but as St. Paul writes, it is only by the Spirit of God that we can believe in spiritual things. That is the work of the Spirit, whom Jesus sends from the Father, who bears witness about Christ (John 15:26), as we heard about last Sunday on Pentecost.

And therein lies the key. It is a Spirit wrought faith in God, not just any god or every god, but in the Triune God – God the Father who sends God the Son in the power of God the Holy Spirit to save those lost in sin and death. That’s why John 3:16-18 is so important, so powerful, so well known, so often confessed: “For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Ascension 2018

Ascension 2018 (Observed)

Luke 24:44-53

May 13, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Easter 6 2018

Easter 6 2018

Numbers 21:4-9; James 1:22-27; John 16:22-33

May 6, 2018 + Confirmation Sunday

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Today changes nothing in your life. Confirmation, vows, all the work you’ve done, isn’t over.  It is the same faith you confess today that you have received and believed confessed since your baptism. Sometimes you probably felt like those Israelites in the Old Testament reading, wandering around in the desert wondering what in the world you are doing there.  That’s not an uncommon feeling in the life of a Christian.  Get used to it, if you’re not already.  And get used to God’s answer to such things. The Old Testament people brought sickness and poison upon themselves because of their sin.  God provided the antidote, that any who would look up to His chosen means in faith would be healed.  All that takes place in catechesis, all that we do in Bible study and Sunday School, is to know Christ and Him crucified, to have the benefits of the cross delivered to you personally by the means of His Word and the Sacraments and received by faith for your good. We study the Catechism and God’s Word because it teaches us how to repent, believe, love, pray, and fight the devil.

In studying Christ, we see ourselves, our defects, our errors, our sinfulness in our character and lives.  He who does not know Christ does not know Himself.  In Christ, we see how we ought to be, and yet how we fail. We see the way that humanity was created to live.  In Christ, we see how the Lord is making humanity whole again, restoring the image of God. Your life, your eternal life, began at your baptism. It was there in those waters combined with the very Word of God that He declares sinners forgiven, adopts into the family of God, makes heirs of the kingdom of God along with all believers in Christ.  All the grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, life, and salvation of Christ is yours already by virtue of God’s giving in your baptism.

You make these vows today in the rite of Confirmation, but these are not new.  Almost everyone here made these same promises, in the same faith, and share the same hope in Christ. This is no different than what you did yesterday, last month, last year. It is simply living your Christian life by the grace of God.  It is being a doer of the word, as St. James explains.  The imitation of Christ is not chains that weigh you down. His commandments are not meant to spoil our fun or limit our freedom, but to set us free to be our better selves, finding our righteousness not in our words or actions, but in Christ. The world, even some in your family and among your friends, and at times your heart, will think you crazy.  Remember Jesus’ words, “Take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Any Christian that is serious today to follow the Bible, to live by the Bible, to teach the Bible, has to recognize that we do not fit into this culture. We cannot fit in. Pray for yourselves, and for one another that we would never give the truth of the Gospel up.  That no goods, fame, child or wife is worth it.   There is no compromise to the most basic fact of reality and life: Jesus lives, and He is the Truth, the Way, and the Life, and salvation is found only in Him.

All this may seem like an impossible task. And truth be told, it is.  You cannot live a perfect life this side of eternity.  You will grumble and complain and worry, just like God’s people of old, and those still today. When you feel the bite and poison of sin, the burden of worry, the complaint of living life in a broken world, look to Christ who lived His life for you. You live a life of repentance and forgiveness in Christ. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so Jesus was lifted up that you may believe in Him and have eternal life (John 3:14-15).

Today changes everything in your life. All of us here today witness the confirmation of four young men in our congregation. And this is a big deal.  But keep in mind this simple fact.  All that happens today, all that has been leading up to this point, isn't about your commitment to God. It is about fully understanding and believing in God's commitment to you in Christ.  More important than your vows today, tomorrow, or the rest of your life are the vows of Christ. These promises are for you, stretch back to the beginning, both your beginning and that of the world, when the Lord promised Christ after the Fall into sin.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus speaks of two great gifts He gives to God’s children. They will find the Father’s heart wide open when they pray in Jesus’ name, and the Holy Spirit will speak the inmost truth plainly. Jesus says, “in that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God” (John 16:26-27). Jesus consoled His disciples this way, that His disciples will ask in His name, and the Father will hear and answer.  Why should it be difficult to believe Jesus’ words? Why not trust the Father’s love? That is your glad news, the Lord’s assurance that your prayer in His name will be heard. That you are not alone, nor forgotten, nor ignored.

The Spirit of Christ was given at your baptism and by God’s grace is still with you today. You are not alone.  The Lord is with you. God has blessed you by making you part of His body, the one, Christian, and apostolic Church in which He daily and richly forgives all your sins and the sins of all believers.

You who are being confirmed today will receive the Sacrament of the Altar for the first time.  Here you taste and see that the Lord is good, you taste His promises, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. There is no more personal of a union with Christ than what happens here.  For the strengthening of your faith, we come to the Lord’s Table and commune with Him in fellowship with Him and in unity of faith with one another.

Easter 5 2018

Easter 5 2018

James 1:16-21

April 29, 2018 + Quilt Dedication Sunday

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

We live in a time when people spend their lives looking down.  When you go to a restaurant you often do not see people looking at each other, but instead they sit there looking down at their smart phones.  Basically when you go to anything where people are not required to be actively doing something or to be focused on something else, you find them looking down at their smart phones.

It’s really not surprising. When you combine the ability to communicate instantaneously with access to the internet all in the palm of your hand, that is an incredibly powerful temptation.  Combine endless amounts of reading material, the ability to interact on social media, to watch videos, to play games and you have a black hole in your hand with seemingly unlimited power to suck you in. It’s no wonder why technology has united us in ways never before thought of, more people are lonely and have fewer personal connections than before.  

While we spend so much time looking down, people in the ancient world spent much time looking up.  They didn’t have the desire to be entertained at every moment, and looked up in wonder. The ancient world was far more attuned to the moon, the planets and the stars. I don’t know about you, but apart from the Big and Little Dipper, I can’t name or find anything in the night sky.  I don’t really pay close attention to what phase the moon is in, and I only really notice it on random occasions.   By contrast the ancient world did.  Some of this was for practical reasons. God placed the sun, moon, and stars to help us mark the passage of time. And some of it was for religious reasons since it was very common to think of the heavenly bodies as somehow connected to pagan gods that controlled life. This kind of thinking was everywhere in the first century world in which James wrote.

It is therefore not surprising that James begins our text by writing: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”  God is described as the “Father of lights.”  He is the Creator of all of things in the heavens and controls them.  James says that there is no variation in God, there is no shadow due to change.  And how can there be? Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. No shadows can block this light. He is eternal, all powerful, all present.

And just as important, He is reliable.  You can count on Him.  And what you can count on Him to do is to give gifts.  Our text says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”  God is the giver of good and perfect gifts.  Good gifts are the benefits that we have here in this world. Perfect gifts are those we expect to have in the life to come.  In these words “good and perfect gifts” He includes all the benefits we have already been given by God and will still receive in heaven and on earth, both here and there.

This is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Not only are we praying for God to provide for us, to give us good and perfect gifts, but we pray that God would lead us to realize this and to receive these gifts with thanksgiving. To believe that they are all freely given for the sake of Christ.

Now it is easy to lose sight of this fact and focus on the things themselves.  It is easy to focus on our own actions and think that we can take credit for those good things.  And so James warns about this, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.”  Our desires are disordered.  Since we don’t fear, love and trust in God above all things, we desire things. We put them first.  This desire conceives and gives birth to sin. And this sin brings forth death because that is what sin always does.  It breeds death, discord, despair.

When you look down, when you look inside, everything is tainted by your sinfulness. What is truly good, right, and salutary cannot come from within us. So instead, salvation comes from the outside.  It comes from above, from God who is Giver of every good and perfect gift.  James says in our text, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

While sin brings forth death, God gives us life by the word of truth.  He gives us life through the Gospel.  The Giver of good gifts gave His Son by sending Him to suffer and die on the cross.  But this is a story about giving life.  And so God gave new life – resurrection life – when he raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  He began in Jesus the resurrection of the Last Day that will be ours when Christ returns. Do not look down in the grave, but look up to the resurrection.

God has given you saving life.  He has begun that new life in you through the work of His Spirit.  As James calls Christians to live in ways that reflect what God has done for them, he says, “Therefore, put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”  In Holy Baptism God used water and the Word to join you to the saving death of Jesus Christ. The saving Word that joins you to Christ has been implanted in you and has made you a child of God, quilted together into the body of Christ, the Church.  This is a word that you continue to receive as you hear it read and proclaimed.  It is a word that you continue to receive as Christ’s Gospel words are spoken over bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar – as he says given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. The Spirit of Truth which our Lord promised to send works through this word of truth, so that you have been made “a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”  You have been redeemed, and your redemption is the beginning of God’s saving work that will extend to his whole creation.

God’s giving birth by a word is not only intentional, but it has a specific intention: that we given this life might represent all creatures before God. Just one small example, take a look at the quilts adorning our church today. They are wonderful, beautiful, work of the hands of God’s people.  Literally, blood, sweat, and tears are shed to make these quilts. They will be shipped around the world to be used as blankets, beds, comfort, security, love.  God is the source of all goodness. When we do good, therefore, we imitate Him and reflect His light to all the world. Christians give freely because God has first given so freely to us: we are only imitating our Father, growing up into His likeness.

Look up. Look up to Christ, who gives His good gives, leading us to share those gifts with others in need. Look up, for your salvation is drawing near.