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Trinity 1 2022 - Psalm 13:1-6; Genesis 15:1-6

Trinity 1 2022

Psalm 13:1-6; Genesis 15:1-6

June 19, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

            

The first commandment states, “You shall have no other gods.”  Now, every Lutheran should know what this means, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”  Certainly easier said than done.  While each of these three aspects have their own nuance, this morning we consider what it means to trust in God above all things.

Psalm 13, which we sang as our introit this morning, highlights the kind of trust that we are talking about here in the first Commandment.  This is a Psalm of David, and the impression we get when hearing this Psalm is that it is the voice of a man in deep distress.  To make matters worse, David complains that God seems indifferent to his suffering, that God has forgotten him despite His promises to be with David. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”   The exact threat that he faces is never really spelled out, and not really even the focus on his attention.  It is what is behind the scenes of his trouble that riles him up. 

What seems to really bother him is a sense of loneliness, of abandonment by God.  There is no indication here that this is being caused by being a sinner; there is no confession of sin, no contrition, no recognition of personal guilt.  But his worry and concern lie in his fear that his enemies will succeed in their evil plan and the question of where God is in the midst of his suffering. 

This is a wonderful psalm for us to pray. Which one of us here hasn’t felt abandoned at times, experienced the unfairness of this life when no fault lies within ourselves?  When God doesn’t seem to be holding up His end of the bargain, His covenant, His promises. “Am I being punished for something? Did I do something to deserve this? Why is this happening to me?  How long must I go through this?” 

For the psalmist, these questions do not paralyze him with fear or lead him into self-pity and wallowing in depression, rather is aggravates him.  He doesn’t adopt the cringing speech of a victim, nor engage in some sort of passive aggressive virtue signaling.  He doesn’t beg or wallow in self pity.  The “how long” questions express a deep and abiding faith, the sentiment that God has been hiding long enough, that he has been suffering long enough, that the enemy has worked against him long enough.  How long is God going to put up with this?  This has more to do with God than it does with us. 

Veiled within these questions, is the faith that he actually matters to God, that he is important, that God actually cares if he lives or dies.  And so he is tossed back and forth between the feelings that he actually matters in God’s eyes and his feelings that God has forsaken him, or that God has left him to suffer alone, that God has stopped caring. 

Abraham also knew this feeling well.  God had promised that He would be the father of many nations, a blessing to the world, yet here he was childless, a wandering man with no future.  And God seems to have abandoned His promise, for now he and Sarah were much too old to have children.  And so he struggles in trusting God’s previous promise and his current situation that seems hopeless and out of his control. 

And then the Word of the Lord comes to him and says, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”  Abraham questions what the Lord could give to him, for it is too late.  God directs Abram to look up. God tells him to number the stars, if he can. God’s promise would be fulfilled in a way that was greater than Abram could imagine, and greater than he could see with his eyes.  And then we have it, one of the most important Bible verses in the Old Testament, “And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). 

This is the first passage of Scripture which we have had until now about faith. In this passage no mention is made of any preparation for grace, of any faith formed through works, or of any preceding disposition. This, however, is mentioned: that at that time Abraham was in the midst of sins, doubts, and fears about his future and the future of his family, he is declared to be righteous.  How? In this way: God speaks, and Abraham believes what God is saying. Moses, inspired by the Holy Spirit, bears a trustworthy witness and declares that this very believing or this very faith is righteousness or is imputed by God Himself as righteousness and is regarded by Him as such.

No one has treated this passage better, more richly, more clearly, and more powerfully than St. Paul in the third to the twelfth chapters of Romans. Paul treats it in such a way as to show that this promise concerning Abraham’s descendants should not be interpreted to apply solely to the legitimate biological offspring, but to the spiritual and eternal heritage, those who are children of Abraham by faith in promises of God.  For righteousness is given to Abraham not because he performs works but because he believes. It is the same for us: righteousness is given because of God’s thought, which faith lays hold of.  So Paul writes in Romans 4:24-25, “[Righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

And this is the answer promise of God-Jesus the Christ who was crucified for you, and who was raised for your justification. Every promise of God includes Christ. Therefore, the only difference between Abraham’s faith and David’s faith and ours is this: that they believed in the coming Christ who was promised, while we believe in the promised Christ who has come and who promises to come again; and by that faith in Christ, and only through faith in Christ, in the Old and New Testament alike, that people are saved, that God answers our cries of “How long?”

It is out of this belief, it is out of God’s declaration to you that you are righteous, justified, for the sake of Christ through your faith in Him, that we can pray along with the David the Psalmist, along with Abraham, indeed along with Jesus Himself as He cries out the Father while hanging on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”  In the most astounding way, the Father sent His own Son to experience the entirety of human life, to feel the burden and the pain of “how long” suffering endures and to give answer!  “How long” ends with the cross and with the resurrection – both Jesus’ and yours!

  In your baptism, God has marked you as His own, given you all His promises of God.  In the Lord’s Supper, the very body and blood of Jesus that hung on the cross is given to you for the forgiveness of your sins.  In this, He tells you that you matter to Him, that He pays attention to you, that you are loved, you are never completely abandoned, for you have the Word of God and the Spirit which He has sent to live in you. 

As people of faith in Christ, continue to pray, “How long, O Lord?” while at the same time confessing that all the promises of God are fulfilled in Christ, rejoicing in your salvation for the One who has dealt bountifully with you (Psalm 13:6). While you wait on God to keep His promises too, when you wonder, doubt, question, the word of God directs our attention up to the heavens as well. To look up to Jesus, to behold the crucified, resurrected and ascended Jesus, and to know that God’s plan is greater than you realize, and more than what you can always see, and to learn to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. 

Trinity Sunday 2022 - John 3:1-17

Trinity Sunday 2022

John 3:1-17

June 12, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

One of the most famous and most well memorized verses in the Bible comes from our Gospel, reading for today.  Of course, I’m talking about John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.” Children to adults, various languages, athletes, and more.  It’s a wonderful thing, and should be encouraged all the more, yet the meaning of the verse grows immensely given the context of Jesus’ statement. 

First, and importantly, this comes in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin who approaches Jesus by night out of fear of what his collogues might think and do, and along with Joseph of Arimathea, would take the crucified and dead body of Jesus from the cross and bury it in the grave.

Nicodemus approaches Jesus at night assuming that he’s got it all figured out.  He gives what he apparently thinks is a generous and profound interpretation of Jesus’ work when he says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one else can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2).  But this was not enough.  For Nicodemus, the signs that Jesus had been doing was the indicator of God’s presence with Jesus.  Nicodemus recognizes Jesus as “from God” because of the signs, but Jesus shifts the focus from what He had been doing in the signs to what the Spirit does and then to what Jesus speaks and came to accomplish by the will of the Father.  Jesus didn’t merely have God with Him, He is the Son of God come down to earth.  Only by Jesus does birth “from above” happen, which is a sign, a miracle by Jesus, for He alone came from above.  The recalling of Numbers 21 and the story of the bronze serpent shows that only through God’s chosen means are His people saved.  And so He would be lifted up, that anyone who would look to Him in faith, and only to Him, would be saved. 

Which brings us verse 16, which again, is one of the best known verses, but also one of the most misunderstood.  Often people think this verse means, “God so loved the world” as in God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.  But that is not what the word “so” means here, and that is not what Jesus means when He speaks to Nicodemus. The question isn’t “How much does God love?” It is not about quantity.  But rather, “How does God love?”

A slightly different translation could be rendered thusly, “For God thus loved the world…”  Or as 1 John 3:16a states, using exactly the same word Οὕτως  – “In this way we know love, that He laid down His life for us…”  So, “God in this way 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 be saved through Him.”  

Again, Jesus is explaining how God loves the world, not how much.  How do you know that God is still there watching? How do you know that God still cares in the middle of disaster?  How do you know that God loves the world?  How do you know that God loves you? The way we know God’s love for us is the sign, the miracle, of the cross. 

The answer to your fears, your doubts, your questions, your worry is Christ crucified.  Jesus who was sent by the Father to a world that rejects Him, accuses Him, kills Him.  And He knew this would happen and still goes through with it. This is the way that He loves Nicodemus. This is the way that He loves the world.  This is the way that He loves you. Love is found in the action, in the will and commitment for the good of the other, not in the passion of the emotions.

But let there be no mistake.  There are those in the wilderness bitten by the poisonous snakes because of their sin, who by their pride refused to accept this love, refused to trust the promise of God, refused to believe He who was lifted up for the salvation of the world. Love given, love rejected.  Many of you know the pain of rejected love.  A young romance not reciprocated. A divorce where one walks out on another, abandoning marital vows to love and cherish until death parts made before family, friends, and God Himself.  A child speaking angrily to his parent, “I hate you.”  God knows that pain. He knows the hurt of rejection, of broken promises, of being spat in His face, of giving His all, even the life of His Son.

There are consequences to this rejection, devastating effects of unbelief, and we dare not forget John 3:18, “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.”  And it is the most unloving thing to avoid warning people of hell, of treating God’s sacrifice of Jesus so lightly that a Christian would reject God’s justice. There is only one way to be saved, and that is faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died upon the cross, taking the condemnation of the sin of the world upon Himself and who was raised on the third day. Where there is no faith, where the love of God in Christ is rejected, there is no salvation, no eternal life, but condemnation and eternal hell.  Salvation is the natural, the proper, work of God.  Condemnation is called the “alien” work of God.  Though condemnation is a result of rejection of God’s love, God wants all men to be saved.  The world is only saved through faith in Him. 

Jesus is very clear, and loving, in speaking this truth. Those who don’t believe are condemned already. They are “dead in their trespasses” as both Eph. 2 and Col. 2 say. They are literally, the walking dead. And dead men can’t live.  Which brings us back to Jesus’ first answer to Nicodemus – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  You must be born again, a birth that comes by the means of water and Spirit, a birth of faith by baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

You who born again by baptism and faith in Christ are not condemned.  You have eternal life now.  Physical death is not the end of life, because for you who believe, life is eternal. Faith, believing and trusting that Jesus has died to save you from your sins, receives the love of God in Christ. One of the best parts is, we don’t deserve it.  We don’t deserve to be loved, and yet we still are.  We deserve condemnation, but we receive eternal life as a free gift of God’s grace.  This is how He shows His love, that while it is not deserved, it is still given.  Your worthiness of God’s love does not depend on the weakness or strength of faith, but upon Christ’s merit.  And believing in Him, you have eternal life. 

Pentecost 2022 - John 14:23-31

Pentecost 2022

John 14:23-31

June 5, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Just before today’s Gospel reading, Jesus had been teaching His disciples not to fear the world, nor the trouble, nor hardships that would come by following Him.  As we had heard in the last several weeks, Jesus was preparing His disciples for His Ascension, and the reassurance that He is not abandoning His people, and that God has not stopped acting in the world. Rather, Jesus tells them that He ascends to prepare a place for those who love Him, that no one can enter into the kingdom of God except through faith in the Son whom the Father has sent, and that the Holy Spirit would be sent to guide and direct God’s people in the way of truth.

Now, today, we’ve come to Pentecost, where the promise of God sending His Spirit in the name of the resurrected Son to teach and guide disciples of Jesus is fulfilled.  Tongues of fire upon their heads and tongues of boldness in their mouths to speak of the mighty works of God in Christ. 

Today, three young men in our congregation are confirmed, which is to say, they bear witness to their receiving of the Holy Spirit at their baptisms, the same Spirit who loosens their tongues to confess the Christian faith they have held and believed since they were infants.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My Commandments.”  So, you were taught the Ten Commandments and their meanings.  Jesus said, “Whoever confesses Me before men, I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” So you were taught the Apostles’ Creed, the Christian’s baptismal confession of faith and it’s meaning.  Jesus invites His people to pray to God the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, and so you were taught the Lord’s Prayer and its meaning.  Jesus says, “If anyone love Me, He will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make Our home with him.”  And so you were taught the love of God shown throughout the Old and New Testaments in His mercy and grace, and most clearly through sending His Son Jesus to die for you. 

And so they will stand up in front of us this morning, confessing their belief in Jesus, and make solemn promises of their intention to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully; to live according to the word of God, and in faith, word and deed, to remain true God, even to death; to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it. 

This is what some of them said about this… 

This all sounds good and well and commendable, yet Jesus warns that this sinful world is against those who are in Christ just as was against Him, that the spiritual battle for soul does not get easier, but even harder.  These young men already live in a world and culture that is foreign to some of you here today, face pressures of this age that you all would not even have imagined when you were their age.  You will increasingly find yourselves out of step with the values and norms and lifestyles of those around you. The fallen world in which you live and continue to grow will be hostile to your faith and your life as a Christian. It will tempt and tug, push and pull off the path of Christ.  

They need help, as we all do.  They will answer these questions of their intention by saying, ‘I do, by the grace of God.” And isn’t that the truth!  It is only and always by the grace of God, not by our own works or efforts.  Too many people have stood up in too many churches declaring these same promises only to fall away from the Christian faith, to fall prey to the world’s sinful idea and the misguided notion of too many Lutheran churches that confirmation is the end, or the goal, and that one is now free to decide for themselves if they want to go to church, what parts of God’s Word they want to throw out or simply ignore! What God protect us from these temptations, and forgive us for promising one thing on Confirmation Sunday only to do to the opposite the very next Sunday. One of these young men says this… 

Zion Lutheran Church, as the family of God in this place, it is your responsibility to one another to encourage and build up the faith of one another in all love and unity of belief. Do not think or act like you can do this on your own, or be a Christian apart from the family of God, but listen to the Holy Spirit who teaches you all things and brings to your remembrance all that Jesus has taught. 

And when you find yourselves lacking even in this, remember the Holy Spirit has been given to you for this purpose – to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth and keep it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.   In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives the sins of all believes, taking what the Father has given to the Son and delivering it to you.  Jesus gives you peace, not as the world gives, but only as God Himself can.  This is the peace of God’s presence, of His love and forgiveness, the peace of God that passes all understanding, the peace of God delivered in His means of grace.  In your baptism, God has granted you His peace by reconciling you to Himself.  In the absolution, God has granted you His peace by forgiving your sins, by restoring the broken relationship between God and man.  Now, for the first time for these three young men, and one more time among many for most of you, God grants His peace in the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.  This is the reason why at the end of the consecration, the pastor holds up the body and blood of Christ before you and says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” 

This work of God in His Word and Sacraments is much more important today than any confirmation vows and promises.  It is the promise of God for you.  By faith, hold tight to Christ, to His Word and promises. He will never leave you nor forsake you. 

Rise, let us go from here.  Jesus leads His people out into the world.  

Easter 6 2022 - John 16:23-30

Easter 6 2022 Rogate

John 16:23-30

May 22, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

When Moses asks God for His name, God replies “I am who I am.”  This God who made the heaven and the earth, who walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, who made Abraham a father of many, who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, who sent His Son to die for the salvation of the world, is the God who IS.  This is an exclusive claim of Christianity. He is the only true God. All other gods are imaginary, idols of fallen humanity’s imagination, or demons masquerading as something they are not.  God is truth, idols are lies.  God IS, idols are made.  God leads people to live holy lives, idols give permission for sinners to sin.  

The Psalmist speaks to this in Psalm 135:15-16 wherein he says, “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.  They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.  Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.” Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, uses many derogatory words for idols, one of my favorites being “dung deities” showing no mercy, grace, nor respect to idols and false gods (Chad Bird). St. Paul describes in 1 Cor. 8:5 how the world believes that other gods exist, yet only one God lives.  The only true God is the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one divine Being.

Just like we see throughout cultures and times in the OT and in the Roman world, religious pluralism runs ramped in our culture today and says that all gods are the same and ought to be tolerated, or even honored. To our modern way of thinking, how silly it is to think that some pray silver and gold, to a statue of wood or stone.  Who is foolish enough to pray to a god that they themselves have made?  But what happens when the false god is a little more sophisticated?  What about the Muslim god, the Jewish god, the Mormon gods?  What about the idol of one’s body, to elevate fitness or diet or physical health above everything else, or to shape or reshape one’s physical self through introducing foreign hormones or even surgery to change? COVID certainly highlighted our culture’s worship of physical health and a deep seated fear of suffering and death to which one must make sacrifices of physical distancing, isolation, lockdowns, compliance with cries of salvation to the government?

This all rests on the first table to the Law, the first three commandments.  The First Commandment says, “You shall have no other gods.” This is how you identify what you worship: what do you fear, love, or trust in above all else.  But it is also tied to the next commandment of not misusing God’s name.  Rather than misusing it, or avoiding it, or twisting it, we should call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. But you have to know and believe in the God who reveals Himself in His Word in order to call upon Him and use His name, otherwise your prayers have nowhere to go.  It’s like letter sent to the wrong address.  If there is a return address, the letter comes back.  Return to sender - address unknown.  If there is no return address, the letter goes to the dead letter office.  Either way, the letter does no good.

In a similar way, words intended for a false god have no place to go.  They are intended for a destination that does not exist.  Words addressed to the nature god of the Wiccans or to the generic god of the Unitarians, or to the god of the Jews, or to the gods of Mormonism, or to the god of Islam, or to god of government, or any false god ultimately do no good.  No matter how sincere the words are, they have no effect on their intended recipient because their intended recipient doesn't exist, or they have no power to truly save.  The only “god” who can respond to prayer is the God who actually is. In order for our words to become a prayer, they must be prayed to the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Hoy Spirit.

This again is a unique aspect of Christianity. This is for the simple fact that we believe, at St. Paul writes to Timothy, that there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all…”  Because of Jesus, we have the right and privilege to bring our wants and desires before our heavenly Father in prayer. We pray in Jesus’ name, that is with faith in Him as our Redeemer. We pray with confidence, that is with trust and faith that for Jesus’ sake our prayers will be answered. It takes faith to ask for faith, forgiveness to ask for forgiveness. No one confesses his sins to God without expected God to remove them. Notice the confession we make in Church each week. We flat out say we are sinners and we deserve God’s wrath.  But this is not the confession of a scared person. It is a confident request that expects God’s grace for the sake of Christ.   For Jesus invites us to pray, “Truly, truly I say to you, whatever you ask of My Father in My name, He will give it to you… Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23b, 24b).

So pray to the Father in Jesus’ name with boldness and confidence and without fear to the One who declares you righteous in His sight for the sake of Christ.  The prayer of a person made righteous by faith is motivated by that faith and seeks God’s will.  This is why the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  The power does not come from you nor your sincerity or passion of faith. It comes from Christ. Jesus is the power in prayer because Jesus is God.  Out of the Father’s love for His fallen creation, He sent His Son to restore creation.  If Jesus is not God, if He is not sent by the Father to save us from our sins, then calling out to Him in prayer is meaningless at best, and blasphemy at worst. But since we believe, along with the disciples, that this Jesus is the true Son of God sent by the Father, then it is true that all our prayers, all the promises of God, find their “Yes” in Christ.  To which we add “Amen” as the great word of faith. Amen is the confession that God’s promises are true, reliable, trustworthy, that when we pray in Jesus’ name, we have the promised yes in His name.  For the word Amen simply means “Yes, yes it shall be so.” Or translated into Lutheranese is means, “This is most certainly true.” 

This is the way of prayer.  And it connects us to the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy”, which means to not despise preaching or God’s Word, but gladly hear and learn it.  Prayer goes hand in hand with the Word of God and we cannot pray without it. God’s Word is first heard. It enters you, then it comes out again. He speaks, and then you speak His Word back to Him in faith. Because it is His Word, you have the Lord’s assurance that your prayer in His name will be heard. You will find the Father’s heart wide open praying in Jesus’ name, and the Holy Spirit will speak the truth plainly so that we might hear and believe that this Jesus came from God, and that He came to save us and bring us with Him to the Father’s side.

Christ gives us the invitation and command to pray, which carries His promise, “ask, and you will receive.”It is handing over the content of our prayers to God, giving up the control and the worry and the doubt because God is our Father. So pray for yourselves and for your family and for your friends and for your enemies.  It does not annoy your Father in heaven to hear the voices of His children. It is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior to hear the voice of His children. Lay your wants and needs before God, not as though He doesn’t know them, but that by pouring out your cares to the Lord, you may unburden and comfort our souls. Even when you or I neglect our prayers, when we forget or are forgotten by others, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes with groans that even our words cannot express (Romans 8:26).You have Jesus, who has ascended and sits at the right hand of the Father and speaks on your behalf (1 John 2:1-3). 

Easter 5 2022 - John 16:5-15

Easter 5 2022

John 16:5-15

May 15, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Have you ever had to say goodbye to someone that you love?  Many people try to avoid this altogether, rather skipping the awkward moments or avoiding the sadness of loss by pretending it never happens.  Yet, none of that really works. The absence of the loved one is felt. Next week we will honor the high school seniors in our congregation and some will be saying goodbye to the parents, to their siblings, to their friends as they head off to college or trade school or whatever or wherever it may be. While there is excitement in times like these, anxiousness for new adventures and direction in life, it is a bitter sweet moment saying goodbye, especially for the one who is staying behind. 

Our Gospel reading takes place during Holy Week, and what the disciples are hearing is Jesus preparing His disciples for the time when He will say goodbye.  Now, Jesus is talking about His ascension into heaven and the sending of His Spirit on the day of Pentecost, which is why we are reading this passage in the time after Easter and before we celebrate His Ascension and Pentecost. 

Jesus is telling them this stuff because His disciples are full of sorrow at the very thought of goodbye. And how could they not be. Their teacher, their Lord, who they had travelled with for three years, learned from, seen miracles performed, and placed their entire hope in the coming kingdom are listening to Him proclaim His suffering and death, and that they too would face such a future.  And what’s more, He tells them that it is for their own good that He departs.  What could be good about Jesus leaving them?  

Christ knew His disciples would be upset at His suffering and death and He wanted to reassure them of His victory that comes by these means.  There would be nothing worse when hearing of a goodbye that the One leaving was going to have to go through hard times, would suffer, even die.  More that once when Jesus tells them of His suffering and death, He gets the response, “Surely not Lord.  Or not if I have anything to do about it.  Or we’ll follow you and never leave you, never have to say goodbye.” But Jesus had to do this, had to go the cross and to the grave, as only the Son of God could do, in order to be raised from the dead and enter into His glory and deliver of the kingdom of God to all believers. 

And so He prepares them for His departure, His exodus to the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension.  And yet, it wouldn’t be easy for the disciples. The Spirit of falsehood, at work in the sinful hearts of humanity, would deceive disciples of Christ. So Jesus sends His Spirit of truth to guide His disciples into all truth. The word here for guide, comes from the word for “the way, or a journey.” The Spirit is like a travel guide then, leading God’s people in the way of Christ and to the destination of the resurrection and eternal life.  There are two ways, one of life and one of death and there is a great difference between these ways.  The way of life is only through faith in Christ and the way of death is that of unbelief.

Christ promises His Holy Spirit to His apostles, and He will convict the world of this truth through them.  He will be a Spirit that will endure until the Lord Christ comes again with a punishment of the godless, but a vindication of the faithful. He sends His Holy Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian church on earth and keep it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith (Creed, Third Article Explanation).  

This is the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit doesn’t speak on His own authority, but He takes the Word of Christ and declares it to you. The Spirit does not speak on His own.  He speaks on behalf of the Father and the Son and testifies about Jesus, who binds the work of the Spirit to His Word. The Spirit does not give a new revelation, a new interpretation, a new way of doing things, but proclaims the Word of the Lord that endures forever, placing that Word into the mouth of Jesus’ apostles to confess to the world. He leads believers into a clearer understanding of God’s truth in Christ as we go along the way.  He does this by convicting, teaching, and comforting. He takes what belongs to Jesus and delivers it to you in Law and Gospel, in the water and the Word, in the body and blood. It is good that Jesus departs, as bittersweet as it might seem to the disciples, for in doing so He places His Word and His authority in the apostolic ministry guided by the Holy Spirit.  And so the Father sends the Spirit of the Son to His people to take them from the kingdom of the devil and into the kingdom of God.  

But Jesus teaches His disciples, and us, that we too enter into the kingdom through tribulation and death. When God sends us a cross to bear, when the world beats down on us, when the sadness of goodbyes hit you hard, Jesus teaches us that we are not to hope for the good old days, for the health, wealth, and happiness of this worldly life, but to yearn all the more for eternity, for the joyful reunion of those who have departed in the faith, for God’s vindication of His people against His enemies. Sin, death, and the devil are already defeated. 

That means, that you as a Christian have no need to fear suffering for the kingdom, nor offending the world, nor death itself, for Christ has overcome these things.  Death is evil, it is an enemy, it is not part of life.  Death is the result of sin – the sin of the world and your sin.  But death is defeated, for Christ is risen and hell is in ruins. Christ is risen and the demons are fallen.  Christ is risen and the angels rejoice.  Christ is risen and the tombs will be emptied for the Christ is the firstfruits of those raised from the dead. Christ takes the evil of your death and turns it into a blessed entry to God’s eternal kingdom. It’s no wonder how St. Paul can say, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Would that we believe and act as if we believed like that!  You, as a Christian, as one redeemed by Christ, are now in a win-win situation, and goodbyes to love ones in the faith are never for long as we await the resurrection.

 

Easter 4 2022 - Isaiah 40:25-31

Easter 4 2022 Jubilate

Isaiah 40:25-31

May 8, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Every once in a while, I get on some kind of fitness kick. I tell myself that I’m going to eat better. I’m going to exercise more and harder, I’m going to shrink this spare tire around my waist.  Because I want abs like Jesus.  I’m serious.  I want to look like Jesus.  Have you ever seen a picture of Him without His shirt on, usually a picture of Him hanging on the cross?  Jesus has a six pack. I want abs like Jesus.

The problem is, no matter how strong we are, there’s a limit to human power.  Our bodies eventually break down.  Our physical, mental, emotional strength we rely on eventually will fail all of us. Inevitably, people grow older and get spare tires around their waist.  But not the Son of God.  He is tire-less. Look to Jesus on the cross, for it is there that He is working out for your salvation to make you truly fit for life.  It was there on the cross while Jesus hung dying that our God appears to be weakened, weakened to the point of death, yet it was at this very time when God’s strength shown through the darkness of that Good Friday leading to the light of Easter morning.  It is this strength; a strength even over death that He offers His people with our human frailties and weaknesses.

We need this, because the people of God tire out.  The Old Testament reading for this morning, people were tired.  They had rebelled against God and been exiled in Babylon because of it.  They had no home, no sense of purpose or direction, no drive, no will power left.  They had gotten spiritually fat and lazy, out of shape, apathetic, gorging themselves on the spiritual junk food of idols and false gods, and they were worn out. They had wrestled and struggled against God, against His will for their lives, and it had left them exhausted.  Now, they were a people who suffered in exile and God was taking His sweet time doing something for them, while the other gods of Babylon seem to be active and working in the lives of other people.  God recalls their questioning of this to Him, where the people say, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God” (Isaiah 40:27b).

It’s that age old question of the suffering of God’s people.  Why are God’s people living in a foreign land?  Why are Christian churches declining in our country and the nones, those who claim “none” as their religious view, increase?  Why do some who are raised in the Christian faith, baptized, catechized, communionized, walk away from Christ? Why can’t our school get a new headmaster?  Why am I disappointed with my boss, my co-worker, my pastor? Why do I keep arguing with my family and friends for no good reason?  Why do loved ones who are ready to depart this life and be with their God still suffering with pain and anguish?  Why is the economy failing?  Why is there war? Why is there death?  I’m tired, Lord.

In our tiredness, our sinfulness can only come up with two human reasons for God’s perceived (on our part) slowness of action: either God does not want to act or He is unable to act.  To this, Isaiah says, “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?”  Over and over, the LORD tells the captives not to be afraid, not to rely on themselves or others to get real rest or whipped into shape,, but to trust Him to do something previously unheard-of: restore a people from exile (41:10, 14; 43:1-7; 44:1-5, etc.).  Far from having given up on His people because of their sins, He intends to use their lives as evidence of His grace and mercy.  

And haven’t YOU heard?  God already has acted!  He has sent Jesus into the world to die because you experience toil and trouble, sin and death.  God actually came down to suffer in your place.  He hasn’t come to whip you into shape, but to be whipped for you, to take your unhealthy habit of sin upon Himself, to strengthen His weary, worn out, tired and suffering people. 

Isaiah tells us, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.”  This “Waiting on the Lord” implies two things: complete dependence upon God and a willingness to allow Him to decide the terms.  To wait on Him we are helpless until He acts.  It is to admit we have no other help, either in ourselves or other people.  To wait on God is not just to mark the time, it is live in the confident expectation of His action on our behalf. This is the opposite of self-help.  It’s total reliance on God through faith. It means giving up your own frantic efforts to save yourselves, to wallow in sorrow that quickly becomes self-pity, and turn expectantly to God in a sure and certain hope that He is able to renew your worn out strength.  

At the same time, waiting on Him declares our confidence that He has acted in Christ and Christ now acts on our behalf.  The Christian life is not easy.  You have to the stomach for it, the strength, the fortitude, the endurance, and this is not of yourselves, but it is a gift of God. It is only Christ who will make you fit for life. They say, no pain no gain. Your gain comes from Jesus’ pain, from Jesus’ work, from Jesus’ strength.  Jesus’ strength He now offers to you, free of change, no gimmicks, no trial subscriptions, just given by grace to be received by faith. Verse 29 says, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength.”  

God’s fitness plan for you, the way in which He delivers His strength, His peace during your weariness, encouragement, peace, joy in the midst of sorrow includes a steady diet of the Word and Sacrament; spiritual exercises of worship, devotion, prayer, faith toward God and service toward your neighbor; shedding the excess weight and burden of sin. For Christ has forgiven you and taken that dead weight, those last few pounds, the weariness of body and soul upon Himself.  

This is what it means to have abs like Jesus: His strength renews your spirit, renews your bodies, and renews your life to everlasting life through faith in the Holy One, the LORD our God, and our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Easter 3 2022 Misericordias Domini - John 10

Easter 3 2022 Misericordias Domini

John 10:11-16

May 1, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

What do you think of when you think of a shepherd? We often see the nice, warm shepherd looking Jesus who cuddles the sheep. Maybe we have the picture in our mind of Jesus with the little lamb slung over His shoulders carrying them around.  And so He does. But is this really the full picture we have here in our Gospel reading?  Is this really how Jesus is describing Himself to the Pharisees who are questioning Jesus’ teaching and His actions?  Let’s take a closer look.

When we consider Jesus’ words in John 10 and look at what He says He does, it becomes a little more clear.  Five times Jesus mentions that He lays down His life for His sheep.  Twice He mentions He takes it up.  And twice He mentions knowing His sheep and His sheep knowing His voice.  And once He mentions bringing in sheep from another fold.  There you have it. This is not just a description of what it means that Jesus is a Shepherd, but also what it means that Jesus is good.  It’s not just that Jesus is competent, or good at His job, but also that He is describing His intimate relationship with His followers and the love that moved Him to lay down His life. A shepherd who is truly “good.”

CS Lewis’ quote in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is quite appropriate.  The children have stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia and are hearing the details about Aslan, who represents Jesus, for the first time: “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr. Beaver ..." Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.” 

Jesus, is not safe. He is the very Son of God, the King and the Judge over the world.  He does not tolerate nor condone sin, of any kind or of any degree.  His judgement will come upon the earth and woe to those to whom it comes. This is something that we often overlook, or downplay. Our God, our Savior, is not safe in the least.  He speaks a condemning word of the Law to each of us here today. We are sinners. We are not good. Our sin drove Jesus to the cross as surely as the sin of the High Priest, the Sadducees and all others involved with Jesus’ crucifixion.

But do not fear, for Jesus is good. Not just in a moral sense, but in the sense that He does what a shepherd is supposed to do. He does not run away when trouble comes. He does not flee because wolves are on the prowl.  No, He cares for those who belong to Him.  He loves deeply. He is the shepherd who gives His life up, who sacrifices Himself for His sheep. St. Peter writes, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.  He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:22-23).  

In this way, the voice of our Good Shepherd calls, gathers, and enlightens the whole Christian Church and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith and declares the sheep of His flock to be good as He is good.  We literally got to witness this today in the Baptism of Sophie, who is a beloved little lamb laid in the lap of the Lord, who is known by her Good Shepherd and who knows and follows Him now by faith, and who listens to His voice.

This, then, is a basic definition of the Church: sheep who are known by and who listen to the voice of Good Shepherd, believe in Him, and is ruled by Him through the Holy Spirit.  We must be good sheep, made good by the atoning death and resurrection of the Good Shepherd, and grateful followers of Christ. The devil is constantly sowing his seeds among the true flock with the help of false teachers and false saints. Sheep do not attempt to fight the wolf. Nothing you can do, no matter how good it is, can help you stand against the wolf. We can’t outwit him and we can’t out fight him. He’s been around a lot longer than us. The only thing we can do as sheep is to run away and hide behind our Shepherd because that is His purpose and mission.  Apart from the Good Shepherd there is no deliverance or help. 

When you are attacked by your sin, by the world, and by the devil, if you try to stand and fight alone you will be devoured. Rather, run to Jesus, to His voice calling for you, to His Word guiding you.  Insist on only eating in the Lord’s pastures. That is to say, don’t go chasing off after the world, trying to get what others have. The grass is not greener on the other side.  Live only by His Word and by His Sacraments. It gives us life and directs our path. It teaches us the right way to go to find good living and to stay living!  When you are faced with a moral decision at work, or at school, hide in Jesus’ Word. There He gives you direction for your life, forgiveness for your sins, protection against the wolves.  When you feel like the world is overwhelming you, the pressure is on, the stress is about to break you, hide behind Jesus, for He leads His people to good pastures. Do not conform to the ways of the world, do not be a sheep that follows the voice of the hireling or the howls of the wolf, but one that only listens to the voice of Jesus. 

Living in the wild of this world, facing wolves and dangers untold, is hard. But it is even more difficult when Christ Himself from His Church and acts as if He’s forgotten it. He leaves it oppressed under the cross, subjected to the cruelty of the world, while the enemies of Christ and His Church gloat and rail against it. It is at these times that we are driven by the wolves of the world, abandoned by the hirelings looking only to their selfish needs, to recognize our own sin, our own failures, our own need for the Shepherd. Whatever you have not kept, He has kept. Whatever you have sinned, He has paid for with His blood. Whenever you wander off and find yourself alone, He goes in search of you to bring you back into His flock and rescue you from the wolf of hell.

Christ does not let the sheep be slain by the wolf, but He stands against him, gathers us to Himself, and protects us against the devilish hound even when we don’t feel it, don’t see it, don’t understand it.  For the Word and promise of the Good Shepherd declares, “I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father…” There is no question here. The true knowledge of Christ is that He knows us and we are known to Him. There is a way of knowing Him with the very fibers of our being, it is the intimate union of our soul with Him. This bond with Christ is brought about by Holy Communion. Here, we make the matter of knowing Him in the most intimate and enduring bond. Through the Sacrament, more than in any other way, are we should feel and know that we are sheep of His pasture. For the life that the Good Shepherd that He laid down, He has taken up again, and He lives and reigns and shepherds His sheep throughout eternity.

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