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Trinity 9 2020

Trinity 9 2020

1 Corinthians 10:6-13

Learning from the past

August 9, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”  This is a phrase that is usually repeated in high school and college history classes trying to get students to recognize the importance of learning history.  Some people really like learning about the past, the people, the places, the events.  Others dread the dates and names.  Some have a hard enough time remembering what happened last week or even yesterday, not to mention thousands of years ago. 

Regardless of how much you may like history, there is no denying the kernel of truth in that phrase.  One of the greatest dangers to Christianity occurs when people forget their past, when they forget who God is and what He does for them in Christ. The amount of people in today’s society who forget their faith is staggering and extremely sad. There are too many people who have grown up going to Church, going to Sunday School, baptized and confirmed, who forget the mighty works of the Lord.  Tearing down statues and revising history is bad enough, but it won’t destroy our history. What will destroy it is ignorance of God’s Word.

The book of Judges is a sad example of this.  Over and over again, Israel strays from the Lord, forgetting who He is and what He has done for them. As a result of this forgetfulness, they fall into idolatry.  Then another nation invades and oppresses Israel, so that they cry out to the Lord for deliverance.  The Lord provides a judge that delivers them from oppression and leads them to right worship and living.

This cycle continues today.  We continue to be doomed to repeat history all over again.  Ecclesiastes 1:9 states, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”  Whether in our own personal lives, or the church as a whole, we live in this constant state of sin and being called back from it to God; from being called from death and into life; from crying out in distress and being rescued by a mighty deliverer. This is why we spend so much time focusing on the Word of God – reading it in the Divine Service, praying it in our prayers, confessing it in our creeds, studying it in Sunday School and Bible studies, meditating on it in our devotions.  This is one of the great benefits of the repetitious nature of the Divine Service.  We do these things so that we may know our past, and therefore know our present, and rest secured in our future.

We learn from our past, our history, our ancestors, in the Bible.  This isn’t just to learn facts and dates and names.  This isn’t for information and there is no pop quiz.  This is how we often treat the Bible though.  Too often we look back to Jesus and think only of history from 2000 years ago. While we read and hear Bible stories, these are so much more than mere stories.  Knowledge is good, but it’s not the point.  The point is faith in Christ.  St. John writes near the end of his Gospel account, “…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). 

Through this life-giving Word of God, by faith, we learn a few things: First, we learn: flee from idolatry.  St. Paul writes of this in today’s Epistle reading.  This is an issue of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.”  Over and over again we see idolatry in the Bible and the devastating effects of it, both in this life and into eternity.  St. Paul writes of our past, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.”  For those refusing to know history, for those who refuse to know the Scripture, idolatry is the issue.  It is saying “I” am more important than those who have come before me and those who come after. It is saying “I” am more important that what God has done, still does, and will do in Christ. 

Second, we learn: repent, or perish. The verses right before our Epistle begins speak of Israel’s sinfulness during the Exodus. They had seen and received good things from God, yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were overthrown in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). They put Christ to the test, and they sinned against Him.  It’s not that they couldn’t have been forgiven, but that they refused to repent over their sin.  The continued to eat and drink and rise up play, indulging in sexual immorality, and grumbling against God.  Because of their refusal to repent and their stubbornness of continuing to sin intentionally, they were not welcomed into the promised land. This serves as an example to us, in the same way as the sinfulness of the Corinthians does.  Just as the Israelites were unfaithful to God, so God would judge the Corinthians, and us, if we do not live in repentance and faith in Christ.  As Christians we ought to flee from treating God and the Christian faith as something unimportant, we ought to live a sexual pure and chaste life that reserves sexual activity exclusively for the marriage relationship between one man and one woman as God established it for, and live a life of gratitude toward God for all the gifts He gives to us.

Third, and most importantly, we learn: God is faithful. He hears the cries of His repentant children and He answers them in Jesus.  He proves His faithfulness in the cross of Christ.  The Father sends His Son to face the temptations of this world, to overcome them, and to provide an escape for you – an escape through turning people from their sin and to Him for forgiveness and life. Where there is repentance over sin, there is forgiveness in Jesus.  And where there is forgiveness, there is life and salvation. And that is yours, by virtue of faith in Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Trinity 8 2020

Trinity 8

Jeremiah 23:16-29; Matthew 7:15-23

August 2, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Fake news all around. How do I know what to believe? Things change faster than we can keep up. New information, changing decisions, different views practically every day.  It’s exhausting trying to keep up.  At the end of the day, if you even try anymore, you are left with questions about what to believe, who to believe, and if there is any kind of objective reality or truthy anywhere in the world anymore. 

Even those who don’t think they are trying are still looking to find some kind of truth, something to anchor their lives in, some authority or source for guidance.  Some look inward at their own feelings and thoughts. Some look to their education or credentials. Some prefer a news source of one kind or another.  But more and more people in our culture are looking toward things like technology, politicians, social justice warriors, experts in a field that match what a person already thinks to be true. 

A look to technology and medicine or politicians or celebrities to be our savior is an act of idolatry, plain and simple.  It has become a false prophet, spreading a false gospel that produces false hope and false security. Now sure, there might be an effective treatment and vaccine to the coronavirus developed and it should be our hope and prayer that this is the case. And yes, social injustices and evils need to be called out and corrected when and where they appear.  But that is only a superficial treatment to a symptom of the deeper disease and evil.  That disease is sin, and it has a 100% mortality rate. In order to treat the root cause of evil, you’ve got to get down to the heart of the matter.

And yet we get so easily distracted by the worries and the cares of this world, and we chase the symptoms all day long. And then false preachers and false messiah’s take advantage of the uncertainty and anxiety.  It’s been this way before.  During the days of Jeremiah the prophet, God called out those who speak visions of their own minds, the delusions of their own dreams, and not the words from the mouth of the Lord.  They thought they could manipulate God’s word and God’s people by their lives and their deceit.  And Jesus warns near the end of the Sermon on the Mount that false prophets could come, ravenous wolves in sheep clothing.  You will recognize the false prophets by their fruits, by their words, for that is what a prophet is judged by, the message that he proclaims. False prophets preaching a false gospel – current social justice issues are not the Gospel.  Virtue signaling and identity shaming are not the Gospel.   Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.  If the message does not relate to this, is not centered on this, does not have its main focus on this truth, then it is not the true Gospel. 

Some might say, it’s not that big of a deal. There are a lot of well intentioned, well spoken, well mannered, people claiming to have an answer.  As long as they are mostly right, or speak what itching ears like to hear, then it’s not that big of a deal.  But it is a big deal.  Satan deceived Adam and Eve not with a big lie, but by mixing a little lie with the truth, by leading them away from what is most sure and true – God’s Word. They lost their trust in God and no longer believed what He said.  Instead, they believed Satan’s lies.  When Satan deprives people of their trust in God, it’s not surprising that they become proud and despise God and other people.  Then their values and morality change. Eventually they will run to adultery, murder, theft, slander, and so all.  Letting go of God’s Word is the root of all temptation.  It results in the destruction and violation of all God’s commandments. Unbelief and misbelief are the source of sin. And sin leads only to death.

With the Shepherd, we are safe. The wolves cannot stand against Him and death has no power over Him. They sink their teeth into Him and cannot pull them out again. They are destroyed by killing Him. His death satisfies the Law’s demands and ends all of Hell’s accusations. There He declares His sheep to be innocent and His own. The wolves cannot have them.

The wolves cannot stand against the Shepherd so they seek to separate us from the flock. Rather than simply wait for us to fall away from the Shepherd, they infiltrate the flock and attempt to mislead us into an ambush. This is the cause of persecution and of misbelief. 

To guide us throughout this dangerous life, the Lord blesses His people with undershepherds.   We call them pastors. They stand in the stead of the Shepherd and hearken us back, again and again, into the fold, back to the Shepherd where we are safe.  Pastors are supposed to fufill a prophetic role, that is to say, to speak God’s Word to God’s people.  That is my main job as your pastor – to say, “this is the Word of the Lord.”  The undersheperds can’t be trusted. I can’t be trusted, not fully. No earthly pastor, no priest, no pope, no seminary professor, nor president of synod or Lutheran hour speaker, can be trusted fully. The wolves can dress up like any of them. And even those who aren’t wolves, who mean well, can fail. They can break promises. They can crumble under pressure.  They can make wrong decisions.  Pastors are sinners too. 

What, and who, can be trusted? God’s Word. That is the standard by which the sheep must judge the undershepherds. That is the sole source and norm of all our doctrine and life. Not the woke mob, nor the politicians nor media nor fancy dressed pastors or popish pretenders. Only and always the Word of God, the Word of Christ.  This is the message that the world needs to hear, this is the medicine that is needed to what ails us, this is our only hope and source of comfort in a crazy world.  

So what are we to do in the crazy, mixed up, world full of sinful people, and of fear and lies and death?  Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis.  “The world turns, the cross remains.” (Motto of the Carthusian monks. While they certainly don’t have it all together, they do get this point correct.) 

Trinity 7 2020

Trinity 7 2020

Romans 6:19-23

July 26, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

To be called a slave is not usually a desirable thing. This is especially true in our current political and cultural climate. To hear the word “slavery” in our American context brings to mind the Civil War and the fight to free black people from the oppression of being treated as property. 

However, the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans long before our American context. At that time, “slave” did not carry with it all of today’s racist overtones. It was an institution in the ancient world and a common part of everyday life among the Greeks and Romans. Slavery crossed all racial lines and often dealt with a person’s economic standing rather than ethnicity or the color of your skin. In fact, if people had no way to make a living, some sold themselves into slavery. Slaves were sold into bondage and had to belong to a master and remain in his service until set free by him.  Yet, don’t misunderstand, being a slave in Paul’s day was an extremely oppressive life.[1]

And here to the Roman Christians Paul explains our relationship to sin and to Christ in light of slavery.  He says that you are slaves to the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience to God, which leads to righteousness.  Whoever we serve, whether it be sin or God, will control us and shape our lives.  Paul confesses that since the fall of Adam all people are by nature slaves to sin. Your thoughts, desires, and behaviors are taken captive to what is wrong and sinful according to God’s commandments. 

There may be no visible chains that shackle. But as a slave to sin, weakness traps a person. Patterns of behavior ensnare the sinner. Jesus Himself says this in John 8:34, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”  The devil lurks behind every evil desire, every wicked thought, and every immoral behavior. He is a relentless slave master. He is deceitful and cruel and unyielding, shouting lies into your ears, shoving shame into your face, and grinding guilt into your conscience. He seeks to divide countries, divide races, divide Christians, and divide families. 

His sinister plan is to beat every last ounce of hope and strength out of your body. He won’t let up until he strips every last weapon of faith from your existence—he wants you to stop praying, studying the Word, and serving others in love. His every waking desire is to keep you caged in the pain of your hurt, trapped in the filth of your depravity, and chained to your sin.  Sin darkens the mind, blunts the conscience, and deadens the soul. The consequence are wages, the payment due and the reward earned. Death.

That’s why Paul’s declaration that we have been set free from slavery to sin is so important. But this isn’t just any kind of freedom.  Real freedom is found in submission to Christ, it is enslavement to Christ, not in doing whatever you feel like at the moment.  That is enslavement to your passion, to the sinful flesh, to lawlessness. Christianity is not a form of libertarianism.  There is no middle ground here, nor any independence.  We are not to pass from one master to no master, but from one to another, from one slavery to another. You are a slave to whomever you obey.  Slaves to sin or slaves to Christ, slaves of righteousness.  When sin ruled, sin was master and you were free from righteousness (Romans 6:20).  When Christ rules, He must be Master and sin put away.  Only when we are “slaves” to God do we have freedom to be the people that He created us to be. 

You, baptized into Christ’s name, have been enslaved by God. You have been bought by a price, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  He did this so that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  You are united with Him by faith so that He is your and you are His. You are duty bound to Him and to live according to His word, in His service. The accusations of the devil cannot condemn you or throw you under God’s wrath even though you don’t keep the Law as perfectly as you should.

St. Paul says, “Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the stand are teaching to which you were committed.” (Rom 6:17) This is not forced obedience, but a willing commitment that is born of faith. Notice what Paul says here. The wording is important. “You were committed.”  God’s people don’t commit themselves to Christ, they are committed by God’s power in Baptism where a person is connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

The wages of sin is death. Death is what sin earns, what slavery to sin deserves.  But look at how St. Pauls writes these words.  “the gift of God is eternal life.” He doesn’t use the word payment here. Previously, Paul taught that we do not obtain eternal life because of our works as a reward, but out of pure grace for Christ’s sake through faith. That is why this is a gift.  Enslavement to Christ does not earn anything. Your servanthood does not deserve anything.  You are only doing your duty, what is expected of you. It is all earned, all deserved, all paid for by Christ.  The life of the Christian is not the consequence of his goodness, but in spite of his sinfulness.  Death can be deserved, life cannot.  It is pure gift, given freely by the Life of the world. 

Because a Christian knows that through God’s grace his sins are forgiven and blotted out, he obtains a heart that is hostile toward sin.  Even though you still feel evil thoughts and the temptation to sin, faith and the Spirit are present to inform your conscience to do what is right and deny what is evil. God’s gracious gift of a good conscience before Him which is hostile toward sin and fights against it. You enter a different obedience since you have been delivered from sin, serve God, and are devoted to doing what is pleasing to Him.  You are called to confess your sins, fight against ungodly passions, and strive to live as the sanctified people Christ has made you to be—no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness and to God Himself.  That is why St. Paul says that “you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Rom 6:22). This is the true freedom and it is a pure gift of grace.  So live free, live in slavery to God, bound to Christ and His freedom for eternal life.


 


[1] Some of this sermon was adapted from a letter by Minnesota South District President Rev. Dr. Lucas Woodford.  http://www.mnsdistrict.org/engaged-in-mission/2020/7/15/slaves-of-righteousness

Trinity 2 2020

Trinity 2 2020

Ephesians 2:13-22

June 21, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Have you gotten used to sitting far apart each other yet, standing 6 feet away in the stores that you go to?  For some people, I’m sure the extra personal space is welcome, the personal bubble expanded just a little big more.  While things like technology, and phones, and internet are being used in new ways to help people stay connected to one another, it really is no substitute.  Jesus doesn’t socially distance Himself. He draws people to Himself, into a personal union with His people. 

St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2, “You who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”  Notice the verbs here, “have been brought.”  That is passive.  You are not the ones doing the bringing, but God is the One who is doing the work.  Luther explained this well in his explanation of the 3rd article of the creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him…” You see, Christianity is not like a ladder that we climb to try to reach God.  That is what the tower of Babel attempted, and we all know that didn’t work out well. Luther continues though, “but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” 

This is what St. Paul is talking about. But remember this: your sin separates you from God.  And your sin keeps you from God.  Dead in our trespasses and sins, separated from God, far away. But in the incarnation, God draws close to us. He comes down from heaven to dwell with sinners.  And He draws sinners to Himself, He draws sinners together around Himself, He invites sinners to dine with Him in the Kingdom of God.

God gathers a people to Himself. These people are to be holy and blameless. Notice what He doesn't say. He doesn't say God gathers the perfect.  He doesn't say God gathers the righteous.  He doesn't say God gathers those who have it all together. But God gathers strangers, aliens, those with no hope, the poor and crippled and lame.  Broken by the weight of our own sin and that of the world. Needy. Beggars. Not even able to go to God. 

You want to draw closer to God?  Good.  But this only takes place when and where He comes to you.  “It is not enough for God only to have his work take place in us people and to fill us with his gifts, with his light, his power and his comfort, he wants himself, with his nature, to enter our hearts. It is not enough for God only to make people his priests, who come before him and serve him, but he also wants to make them his temples in which he serves them. It is not enough for God to someday receive his people into heaven where they shall look upon him, who is enthroned in glory, face to face, but he himself, already here, wants to make them into his heaven and establish his throne in them. (Walther, From Our Master’s Table, 75)

This is what Jesus is doing today, here, now. From heaven to the Word to your ears. From heaven to font, poured out upon your head. From heaven to the altar to your mouth.  The means of grace are the means by which a person is justified, they are also the means by which the new character and nature are given. Worship is the primary context for the granting of new character and the strengthening of it. Worship strengthens and develops the new character not through mere habituation or practice, but through the operation of grace, which develops a new way of being. This formative character of worship centers on the word of God and the sacraments.

We find ourselves brought near to God, but also to each other.  No longer are sinful divisions to exist among us, because Christ has died to bring us together. “When you try to maintain your hatred or your anger or your separation, it’s as if you are reaching into the wounds of Jesus—where all of that sin went—and pulling it out again. Give the separation up! Let go of the anger! Leave it in the wounds of Jesus. He has reconciled you to God, His Father, through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. In the temple, there was a wall that separated God’s people and the Gentiles into the inner and outer courts. But in this spiritual temple of God’s church, there is no separation.  He has broken down the wall. Through faith in Jesus and by His blood, people are no longer divided in the worship of God, nor from one another.  Christ has abolished the law, that is the curse of the Law, by perfectly fulfilling it. He unites us into one man, into Himself. 

In doing so, God builds you up into a temple of living stones, who breathe with the Spirit’s breath, a people in whom God Himself dwells.  Israel not of the flesh, but of the Spirit, a church incorporating children of Abraham who believe as he believed in the Christ to come.  Built upon the prophets and apostles, founded upon Christ Himself, with the cross standing high and proud.

There is a place for you here, because there is peace and reconciliation for all in the body of Jesus. All believers have been brought near—to God and to one another—by the blood of Jesus (3:13). He killed the hostility for all on the cross. No longer is any believer a stranger or a foreigner here in the assembly of the baptized. All share the same foundation, the same cornerstone; Jesus Christ.  It is through the bestowal of the Triune name of God in our Baptism that we receive our place in the temple, the dwelling place of God.  That’s why we begin our service with the Trinitarian invocation and make the sign of the cross.  It’s not just a tradition, not just a reminder, but it is reality. You belong here. You have been invited.  There is place for you in the kingdom of God because of Jesus.  Christ has come near to you and brings you near to Himself. 

Trinity 1 2020

Trinity 1 2020

1 John 4:16-21

June 14, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

From eternity, God was Love. There was never a time when God was not, and there was never a time when God was not love.  All love is from Him.  Since God is love, then it follows that in knowing God we also know love.  In order to love, we must first be loved by the One who is love. That’s why the only answer that eternally matters to the problems of our fallen world is that the world receive and know the love of God in Christ.  

In this His love is perfect. For He loves us into existence even though there is no benefit for Himself. And there is more. Though He needs nothing, and has already loved us into existence, He is not done with us. He still loves us. He keeps us. He joins creation. He takes up the fragility of our fallen flesh in order to be subject to death. He wages war against evil on earth, outside Jerusalem, as a Man. Because God made it, God loves it, God keeps it. Thus does God redeem it. The goal of God’s love for us is that we have such confidence, such faith in Christ, that we have no fear of eternal punishment because God has poured out His wrath upon Jesus. There is none left for you. 

This is love of which St. John writes. It is not a feeling, it is action. He is not writing about an emotion or a desire to be filled. Love isn’t just an attribute of God. God is love, in and of Himself.  There is no hunger in God that needs to be filled. He does not need someone to love. In Himself, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, He has plenty to keep Himself occupied. God’s nature is turned toward and bound up in seeking, working, and being for the good of others.  Love fittingly describes the nature of God; His love is revealed in the flesh and blood of Jesus. 

The Father sends the Son into an unloving world, which is to say the Father sends the Son to death. He exiles the Son with the sins of Israel and the nations upon His Head. All the world is thus cleansed, pulled out of the flames, and the cherubic guard is removed from Eden. Heaven is open to all believers. He then sanctifies human flesh by raising Himself from the dead, defeating the last enemy, inaugurating the resurrection to come, and ascending to His Father’s right hand. The love of God is how He acts, what He does, who He is. The way of His love is selfless sacrifice for the sake of your redemption.

The world plays by the rules of self-righteousness and self-justification. Every post. Every action. Every statement. The world always finds a way to point back to itself. Look at how good I am. Look at how compassionate I am. Look at how much I care about fighting injustice. Look at how many people I can love in various ways at various times and put another notch on my bed. 

Christians do not play by the rules of the world. They are self-idolatry. The only righteousness you have is Christ's. The only source of love that you have is from the One who is love.  Your life points only to His life, death, and resurrection. If any good is done in your life, thanks be to God for His great goodness to provide! If any compassion, praise be to God for His great mercy to forgive sinners! If any justice, God be praised for His battle against sin and death! As the world tries to justify themselves, look to the One who justifies, redeems, sanctifies, and saves for the sake of the world. (Pr. Mike Suelze)

At times, it feels as though the devil has won and there are no men of honor or integrity left, that there is just the one who hates his brother. But that is not really new for God’s people. Elijah knew that feeling. For after boldly taunting the prophets of Baal and calling down fire from heaven, he lost his nerve, and full of self-pity and fear, he ran away. But he was wrong to despair. He was as wrong as Moses losing his temper in the wilderness, as wrong as Peter resorting to violence in the garden, as wrong as us poor, miserable sinners who tire of the spiritual fight and cave in to the mob of the sinful world. 

But the gates of Hell shall not overcome the Church of Christ. God’s Kingdom on this earth is always feeble and small, always on the edge of annihilation.  And so St. John writes, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world.”

We have confidence that despite our frailty, our sin, greed, and fear, that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is enough. Tired, though we are, we rest in the Lord of the Sabbath who gave His life as a ransom for ours. This is the Love that abides in us: the Spirit sent from the Father and the Son to guide us into the Way of all Truth, to offer perfect prayers with groans that words cannot express on our behalf, to keep us, to sanctify us, to lead us, comfort us, and to deliver us from all evil. This is the Love that casts out fear, that picks us up and dusts us off, feeds us, encourages us, and holds us fast. 

“And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21).  There is much which you can do to love your neighbors. Your love reflects the love by which Christ gave up His life for you. If you are praised for it, to God be the glory! If you are persecuted for it, to God be the glory! If no one ever finds out about it, to God be the glory! We love others simply because God first loved us. And we have the love of God in Christ, and that is enough.

Trinity Sunday 2020

Trinity Sunday 2020

John 3

June 7, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

The hymn we just sang, “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” is hymnic version of an ancient hymn called the “Te Deum.”  This hymn is Christianity’s oldest and best known hymn to the Holy Trinity and to Christ, the Redeemer.  It had been used in the liturgy since at least the 6th century, and was already considered a classic by that time.  Just in our hymnal alone, we have 5 versions of this hymn.  This version we sang today is commonly called the “German Te Deum” as it was written by a German priest in the 1700s, and translated into English in the 1800s. 

As far as the Te Deum itself goes, the origins are not really known, though probably the most exciting possibility of its authorship is that St. Ambrose composed it upon the event of his baptizing St. Augustine on April 24th or 25th in the year of our Lord 387.  For over 1600 years Christians have been singing this hymn.  Luther went as far to say that it ranks next to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds in terms of the creedal qualities, the clear and concise statements of faith about the Trinity and Christ.

The hymn begins in heaven with the unending praise of the cherubim and seraphim, building upon the passage in Isaiah 6 that we heard today and the angelic song of the “Sanctus.” This is the song that we will sing in heaven, for all eternity as we praise the One who brings us salvation and eternal life and as we long for the day when the church on earth will join the church triumphant in the unending song. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts/or Sabaoth. This the General Yahweh, commander of the heavenly angelic army.  And so when we sing the Sanctus just before Communion, we join our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, to laud and magnify God’s glorious name. 

The Te Deum then moves us to earth in the historical incarnation of the Son of God, and the concludes with the people of God petition Him to spare, keep, and remain with His church. Then it ends with a verse of doxology, of praise, to the Trinity. 

So, in this hymn, maybe written by Ambrose upon the Augustine’s baptism, reflects our Scripture readings today: the Old Testament from Isaiah 6 and the Sanctus; the Epistle from Romans 11 and the doxology; and from John 3, wherein Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about the new birth which takes place by the water and the Spirit when the Triune name of God is placed upon a person as the waters of Holy Baptism are poured out. 

So let’s turn our attention to John 3.  Baptism is how salvation is poured out, how new birth occurs, how the life of Christ enlivens your life.  This is why the historic, Christian belief, is that a person becomes a Christian, that is a disciple of Jesus, by means of baptism – for it is at baptism when the triune God places His name upon a person, gives new birth by means of water and the Spirit, delivers from sin, death, and the devil, and grants eternal salvation to all who believe in Christ.  That in baptism, the old man is regenerated, a new man in Christ is born.  This is why we begin our church service in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It recalls our baptism into the name of the Triune God. 

By this saving act of God, lifting up the Son of Man on the cross and giving new life from above by water and the Spirit, He shows His love for a sinful and fallen world.  And do we ever see the fallenness of the world. Disease and death, murder and riots, division and disunity.  This is the fallen world that God loves. This is the fallen world that God sent His Son into. This is the fallen world that Jesus died to save. 

Christ was lifted up for all to see. St. John says this is how God loved the world. The whole world. That means, that by Jesus being lifted up on the cross, by His all atoning and sacrificial death, He shows that every single life matters from the moment of conception in the womb, to the moment of natural death and even into eternity.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 

This means that a person’s identity is not primarily shaped by the color of their skin, or the language they speak, or their nationality, or where they have been or where they are going.  A person’s primary identity is found in their relationship with God. That doesn’t mean these other things don’t matter, it means the primary thing is who you are in regard to God, the Triune God, who has saved. 

So when we see the things going on in our world, violent riots and crime and evil and we look at these people and wonder how they can do such things. How can they be so different, or how can someone who is so like me do things so different than me?  It’s the same reason that you sin in thought, word, and deed, by what you have done and by what you have left undone.  It’s because of sin. 

And its Jesus, and Jesus only, that is answer to the sin which plague us and our world.   Only Jesus saves.  Only Jesus reconciles. Only Jesus enlivens.  For only Jesus deals with the root problem of this fallen world. Jesus comes only to save sinners.  Only Jesus reforms, He does so into His image.  Jesus, and therefore His Church should in following His lead, care primarily about people’s souls.  Care that people are dead in their trespasses and sins. And that life, true life, eternal life, comes through the birthing from above, which is the work of the Father, Son, and Spirit. 

So when look at another, we should view them as a person for whom Jesus died.  This is a person that God desires to be born of the water and the spirit to have the life of Christ. This is a person whom Jesus wishes to gather to Himself for all eternity.  When we start to view people in that sort of light, it shapes our love, our life, our service, our attitude, slowness to anger, quickness to forgive. For God loves even them. God loves even you. 

Whoever believes in [the Son of God, be it with a strong or with a weak faith] may have eternal life.  Worthiness does not depend on the greatness or smallness, the weakness or strength of faith. Instead, it depends on Christ’s merit” (FC SD VII 70-71). 

Pentecost 2020

Pentecost 2020

John 14:23-31

May 31, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

On this day of Pentecost, we celebrate the great blessing shown to us by the Holy Spirit through the universal preaching of the Gospel.  On this day of Pentecost, the Christian church remembers how a beginning was made with a gentle breeze and fiery tongues upon the Disciples so that they would go out into all the world and proclaim the mighty works of God. On this day of Pentecost, we have a reminder of our own heavenly birthday by the Holy Spirit through the waters of baptism, and of the continual work of that Spirit throughout our lives.

On this day of Pentecost, we also get to witness the confirmation of two young Christians, wherein they confess again the faith delivered to them so many years ago in their baptism. We have the unique joy to celebrate with them in their first reception of the Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.  The peace that Jesus promises in the Gospel reading today is yours. This is why after the words of intuition the body and blood are held up to you and the blessing is given, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” This is not wishful thinking, or some future reality. This is literally God’s peace between you and Him, the peace of God which passes all understanding, delivered to you personally in the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  

We hear the promises, and the Holy Spirit works in us.  He gives us the gift of hope. We hear the Word of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit pulls us from the world and leads us closer to Jesus.  When the eyes of our faith are fixed on Him, no matter what is going on around us, when the fear and anxiety of this present age fills our hearts, when God Himself seems hidden from us, we turn to Him with our cries. The Spirit gives us a lively, active faith that looks to Jesus. Hold fast to Jesus’ words and the reality He brings, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” 

Easier said than done, at least for us.  But not so for God.  And so God the Father sends God the Spirit in the name of God the Son for this blessing, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.”  The Holy Spirit has to ignite such a love in our hearts, to stir up a holy love for the Lord, for His Word.  For love is a fruit of the spirit, as St. Paul says in Gal 5:22.  Since the Holy Spirit motivates us to love God, He also motivates us to love our neighbor. For true love of God does not exist without love for the neighbor. 

“If anyone loves Me… My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  The Holy Spirit also makes us into His temple, the dwelling place of God. As St. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 3:16, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” For the Holy Spirit is likened to the soul of the Church.  In a living body there must be a soul. The soul gives life, for as soon as the soul leaves the body, the body is dead.  So the Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life.

But Jesus also calls the Holy Spirit the Helper, the Comforter.  He is the Helper who comforts us before God Himself, who enlightens and sanctifies us with His gifts.  When we are down in the dumps, when the devil accuses us because of our sins, the Holy Spirit upholds us so we don’t plunge into despair and disbelief.  That is why St. Paul says in 2 Cor 1:21 that we are secured in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Not only does the Spirit enliven the Christian, but He keeps us with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

Part of that keeping is the continually growth as a disciple of Jesus.  Confirmation is not the end of anything, but rather the continuance of your life of faith now nourished by the Sacrament.  The Spirit teaches us the art and life of a Christian, which is not one of mere knowledge of the Bible, but that, in a faith, a person tastes and sees the goodness of the Lord. Proverbs 9:10 proclaims, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” This knowledge comes from the Holy Spirit, the Teacher as Jesus calls Him, who will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that Christ have said to you. 

The whole point of Scripture, the main theme that runs throughout are the mighty deeds of God centered on the life and work of Jesus and your reception of His free gifts by faith.  This was the content of the message of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, culminating in these words, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus delivered up according o the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24). 

After hearing this good news, the crowds asked, “Brothers, what shall we do? And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized everyone 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 all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself’” (Acts 2:37b-39).  

You have done this, rather, that has been done to you.  You who are baptized in the name of Christ have received His Holy Spirit.  You are recipients of the gift of His promises, you have been called by God to Himself for a life of faith in Him and love for others; fed, nourished, and strengthen by the body and blood of Christ to life everlasting. 

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