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Trinity 4 2021 - Romans 8:18-23

Trinity 4 2021

Romans 8:18-23

June 27, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Some of the most famous and classic literature of the last century comes CS Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Seven books, the most famous of which is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. One of my favorites, however, is the last one, called The Last Battle, which is about, well, the last battle waged in the land of Narnia.  As the story nears its end, after the battle is fought, the main characters of the book, the children, enter Narnia anew, like but unlike the place they had been before and had fought the great last battle.  Here, in this Narnia everything is more like the real thing.  Colors are truer, everything is brighter.  Everything looked as if it meant more.  Where they had been before was but a shadow and copy of the real thing in which they now stood. They children could run but never get tired or out of breath.  The further up and further on they go the more real everything becomes.  Aslan finally meets them, who represents Jesus in the stories, speaks to the children and explains that they are finally awake, the dream of mortal life had ended, they now live in the time of the resurrection and the new creation.  He describes their lives like a book, in which all their mortal life in the world and all their adventures had only been the cover and the title page, and now they had just began Chapter 1 of the Great Story which goes on forever, where each chapter is better than the last. 

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” So says St. Paul in our Epistle this morning, from Romans 8.  CS Lewis does as good as anyone could in trying to illustrate the incomparable nature of our life here on earth and our eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth.  As we live now it is only the front cover and title page of the book of life, in which the names of the those redeemed by Christ are written. 

That is not to say that your current suffering is insignificant. While we are here, our life is mixed with suffering. St. Paul doesn’t hide the fact, nor overlook the seriousness and the effects of sin.  We certainly know that we don’t live as we should.  Life is hard, harder than it should be. The world is evil, and evil is done to and upon you. It shouldn’t be, it wasn’t meant to be, but for Adam’s sin and for yours and for the world’s, it is. Cancer, deafness, and diabetes are evil.  Heart failure and blocked arteries; bullies, injustice, cheaters. God did not mean for you to live this way: with divorce and custody battles, interest and late fees, unrealized dreams, and unresolved conflicts. He did not mean for you to be lonely, afraid, or angry in the dark. He did not mean for you to ever know guilt, shame, and regret; for life to be so unfair and so fickle; for your heart to be broken or to go numb. You groan within yourself. You groan because it is not over yet. Your day has not yet come. You still suffer and endure.

And you are not alone.  Until that time comes when Christ returns, even creation itself longs for your redemption.  St. Paul says that creation itself groans for Christ to rend the heavens wide and come down and give birth to the new creation. Even the sun, the moon, and every creature are captive to the fallenness of sin and the power of the devil.  Misery loves company, and Adam’s sin enslaved all creation.  Heat waves, earthquakes, storms, all come because of sin.

The answer isn’t to live your best life now, for now is not your best life.  The answer isn’t environmentalism, which is a sort of paganism that turns creation into an idol and climate control into self-righteousness. The answer isn’t zero emission cars or reducing your carbon footprint.  Yes, we are to be good stewards of God’s creation, but the salvation of creation is found in the salvation of mankind. That is to say, in Jesus.  In this way, St. Paul traces the cross over all creation. It is only by the cross of Christ that redemption, restoration, and renewal comes. 

You have been subjected to this evil in hope: Our Redeemer lives. It will not last. Death cannot win for death is long dead.  You are frail and subject to sorrow, frustration, and pain. So was Our Lord. He wept. He sweated blood. He was in anguish. He groaned in compassion. He knew both physical and spiritual agony in death. You long for justice and for mercy. So did Our Lord. He wept for Jerusalem. He healed the sick. He cast out demons. He raised the dead. You long to be relieved of present suffering. So did our Lord.  Which is why He came to die for you in the first place.  We wait in hope for the consummation of the world to be our genuine life. 

We wait for a salvation not just of our own, but for all of creation who eagerly awaits our redemption, the time of Christ’s return, our bodily resurrection to stand upon the ground of the new heavens and new earth.  St. Peter also speaks in this way.  In his second letter, he states, “but according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). 

St. Paul says that this will happen at the revealing of the sons of God, the redemption of our bodies.  That’s an important statement here.  This redemption, our full and final salvation, lies in the resurrection.  The bodily resurrection from the dead.  Where you will be you.  Every funeral the Bible passage is read from Philippians 3:21, usually over the grave, that we commit the body of the deceased to the Lord’s care, to keep it to the day of resurrection, as we await with a certain hope, this day when Christ will bodily raise all people from the dead change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself. This is no disembodied future, no life floating among the clouds, but flesh and blood, raised from the dead, perfected and glorified bodies.  Like but unlike your life now but more real. 

So you who believe in Christ should be assured and certain of eternal glory, and together with all creation cry out that Jesus would hurry up and bring in the blessed day when our hope will be fulfilled. 

May God give us grace and patience to firmly believe that we will come to that glory. We are not baptized into this present life, but for eternal life.  We don’t hear the Gospel for this life only, but to spend eternity with Jesus, literally and bodily face to face. May God that blessed day of our redemption and glory would come soon and we may experience all that we now hear and believe in the Word. God grant us this to us all. Amen.

Trinity 3 2021 - Micah 7:18-20

Trinity 3 2021

Micah 7:18-20

June 20, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Do you know someone who no matter how hard you try, you just don’t understand them?  The way they think, something they say or do, the manner they approach issues, or how they treat people. No matter what it may be, it just doesn’t make sense to you. The way they are is so different, so foreign, that you just can’t wrap your head around it all.

This is the sort of feeling we are left with after hearing from the Old Testament prophet, Micah. Micah poses the question, “Who is a God like you?” which is fairly humorous given that is what Micah’s name actually means.  He poses this question because he, Judah and Israel, and all the nation of the world are just… flabbergasted. 

This reading takes place at the end of his prophetic book.  Micah is prophesying to Judah more than 700 years before Jesus’ birth.  He looks around at this country and sees a mess.  Micah rebukes the people of God severely for their idolatry.  He holds before them in no uncertain terms the consequence of their sinfulness – idolatry leads to judgement, destruction, death.  Yet throughout it all, Micah refers to the Messiah and His kingdom. His meaning throughout is that even though Israel and Judah will fall to pieces, the Messiah will come and make all things good.

Who is a God like you?  This is mystery of faith.  People seek to answer this question in all kinds of ways. The problem that Micah highlights though is that every comparison, every attempt of analogy or metaphor ultimately fails.  Some of the most dangerous words are “God is like…” which more often than not, leads to misbelief or to an idolatry that seeks to make a god in our image according to our own understanding.

Micah doesn’t seek to answer his namesake question by comparing God to anything else.  In fact, that is the whole point.  God is so unlike everything else, His ways and His actions are beyond our understanding, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways,” God says about Himself in Isaiah 55:8-9.  Who is a God like you??? 

What makes our God different from all other gods, what makes Christianity different from all other religions is His very incomparability.   Micah highlights two points, first, the incomparability of God in His power, in His victory that extends through all the world. Wars can be waged, laws enacted, mandates applied but none of these can deal with the human problem.  The enemy here is not a foreign army, politicians, countries. Rather the enemy is man’s own sin.  The enemy is your sinfulness.  And this is an enemy that you cannot defeat and that you cannot bear. 

Four times in our text Micah includes three of the most frequent terms for sin: “iniquity or guilt” twice, transgression, and sin/missing the mark”. This highlights the problem with our relationship with God – people are sinners, and it is sin which has caused all the destruction and woe described in this book, in your life, in all of creation. 

And so Micah confesses, “Who is a God like you, who pardon’s iniquity?  Like a burden, iniquity/guiltiness of your sin is that which each person must carry. God’s people temporarily bear the consequence of sin, we can never atone for them.  But it is only our God who bear our sins and who can deal with them.  The word translated here as pardon literally means to bear or carry.  God takes your burden upon Himself.  Upon the cross, Jesus bears the sins the world, carrying away your guilt and shame, He strips death of its power and its permanency. Tread our iniquities under foot. Cast sins into the depths of the sin. God steps forth on behalf of all people to fight our battle for us. Who is a God like this?  None other than the Triune God – the Father who sends His Son, Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. There’s no other God who bears the sin of the world and conquers death by dying Himself.  There is no other Messiah who died so that you may live. There’s no other Messiah who lives never to die again. 

Likewise, Isaiah confesses of the great Suffering Servant doing what only God Himself can do, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted… All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4, 6). Then again, John the Baptist confesses, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of world.”  This is part of our joyful song as the Lord’s Supper is prepared as we prepare for Jesus to take the burden of our sin.  This is a hymn of praise to God, who utterly baffles the world with His fierce and mighty power in subduing the nations, but especially in His steadfast love, compassion, in His faithfulness. 

The uniqueness of God, His incomparability, comes not just in His power over sin and death, but in His completely undeserved favor toward sinners.  He goes after wandering sinners, brings joy to the angels of God by bringing sinners to repentance and faith.  Christ gives you His forgiveness of all your sins.   While judgment comes over sin, God’s wrath serves His mercy, as people are brought to confession and repentance so that He may forgives and restore by holy absolution. 

Forgiveness by Christ is not an abstraction, it’s not some words that are said that carry no meaning.  But it comes to you as the concrete forgiveness of the very iniquity of which you stand accused.   Your sin is cast away, drowned in the sea as hard hearted Pharaoh and his army during God’s deliverance in the Exodus, and when you were baptized into God’s triune name. Death is trampled underneath the nailed pierced feet of Jesus.  No matter the evil in your hearts, no matter what you might have thought, said, or done God’s forgiveness is yours in Christ.  Jesus died only for sinners and forgives only sinners.  No one else does this.  No one else can. Therefore standing in the stead, and by the command of Jesus, your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

Trinity 1 2021 - Luke 16:19-31

Trinity 1 2021

Luke 16:19-31

June 6, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

We don’t know what circumstances brought Lazarus to the rich man’s step. Jesus doesn’t tell us anything other than he was poor, covered with sores, and desired to be fed. Whatever the cause, whether it was the choices he made or not, there he was, too weak to even beat off the dogs. He was a failure, and he was hungry, and he was alone, and he was in pain.  Life was hard, and then he died. 

The rich man’s life was different, to say the least. He was clothed with the best clothes. He didn’t seem to lack for food. He probably didn’t lack for much of anything in his life, having the money to do what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants.  Life was good, and then he died.

Lazarus was escorted by angels to Abraham’s side, perhaps even the place of honor at the heavenly banquet.  The rich man on the other hand landed in hell, in torment. At first glance this might seem to be a tale of vindication or equalization, and it has even been applied, or rather misapplied, in this way.  It’s the sort of thing where all things even out in the end. The rich become poor and the poor become rich. But that’s not really true, is it. It doesn’t always happen that way.  We don’t know anything about their character, what they did or didn’t do in their lives. But we know something more important. The difference between Lazarus and the rich man is not found in their wallets, nor in their deeds, but in their hearts. Though hungry Lazarus doesn’t seem to have anything besides the mercy of dogs, in truth, he has riches the world can’t imagine. He has Moses and the prophets.

Death delivered Lazarus from a lifetime of bad things. Escorted by angels, he received what God had promised through Moses and the Prophets – forgiveness, healing, restoration, peace. Lazarus heard and believed what was written in Moses and the Prophets. They testify about Christ. So like Abraham before him, he believed in Christ, and God counted to him as righteousness.

The rich man is another story. While he had good things in life, he was much poorer than Lazarus.  He rejected Moses and the prophets, and by rejecting them, he rejected Christ. Proud in the world, in hell a beggar.  While Lazarus didn’t receive any crumbs in life, the rich man did not receive any water in eternity (paraphrasing St. Augustine). And even in hell’s fire the rich man refuses to believe.  Now, he knew the truth of course, but he couldn’t believe that Moses and the prophets could save his brothers. He wanted them to be warned of where the road of unbelief leads, but refused to recognize the Way to Abraham’s side.  Abraham confesses that not even if someone was raised from the dead would they repent and believe.  Another Lazarus did just this.  And so did Jesus Himself, and yet some still refuse.

And we’re left with the question of why. Why do some believe and not others? First, we must remember that repentance and faith are works of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit has connected Himself to concrete means – the Word and Sacraments.  Faith comes through the hearing of the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17), and that those who believe and are baptized will be saved, but those who do not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16).  God only counts those who are righteous that are declared so by Him through faith in Christ.  “The reason some are not saved is as follows: They do not listen to God’s Word at all, but willfully despise it, plug their ears, and harden their hearts. In this way they block the ordinary way [Luke 16:29-31] for the Holy Spirit so He cannot perform His work in them.  Or, when they have heard God’s Word, they make light of it again and ignore it. But their wickedness is responsible for this <that they perish>, not God or His election.” (Ep XI 12). 

It is true that this life is not always fair. Some have more than others. Some suffer more than others.  Sometimes it is because of you choices, sometimes because of the choices of others.  And death comes to all, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  In all fairness and justice, we all deserve the fate of the rich man. 

But the Lord is always gracious.  He deals bountifully with His people, not counting your sin against you, nor your lack of righteous deeds, but counting faith in Christ as righteousness, faith that He Himself delivers apart from any worthiness or goodness in you, faith in the One who has taken all sin upon Himself on the cross.  Faith in the One who was raised on the third day, never to die again. Faith in the perfect and sinless and holy Son of God who keeps His promises, who is your eternal shield, who prepares a reward that is very great for all who believe. 

Death is not the end of life.  For upon Jesus’ return, all will be raised in their bodies, those who have done evil and without faith to eternal condemnation, and those who have believed in Christ, who have been forgiven their sins, who have new life by God’s Spirit, and have love as God has loved to eternal glory, to the final and full awarding of penalties and rewards (2 Cor 5:10) to be determined by faith and faith alone.  And there is no crossing that great chasm.   

Repentance has already been demanded by God, here and now.  Today is the day of salvation.  Today is the time to believe. Today is the time to point others to Jesus and to God’s Word that testifies about Him. Today is the day you are called to faith.  This life is your chance to hear the Word of Christ, to believe and be saved.  May God in His abundant grace and wisdom make us like that holy beggar, helpless, weak, and dependent, trusting in no one but Him, satisfied with no other food nor drink than the bread and water of life and to be escorted to Abraham’s side, to eternal glory with Christ forever.

Lord, teach us to read and trust in Your gift of Moses, the Prophets, and all faithful witnesses to the Gospel. May our tongues speak now of Your grace for all who have ears to hear. Amen.

Trinity Sunday 2021 - Isaiah 6:1-7

Trinity Sunday 2021

Isaiah 6:1-7

May 30, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Judah had known no king like Uzziah since the time of Solomon.  He was an effective administrator and military leader.  The county had grown in every way under his kingship.  How easy it must have been to trust in such a person and in the county at the time.  A country that prospers, a people who are proud of their heritage and future.

But what happens when that time is past?  When the king is dead, the country is going downhill in terms of the economy, the morality, and an enemy from the East is pushing nearer and nearer?  In moments like these, it is easy to lose hope and trust, at least for this life and in earthly rulers.

It is in the middle of such conflicted times, that God calls Isaiah to serve as His prophet to His people.  At a time when God’s people are in serious trouble, the Lord reveals Himself. Isaiah, that great prophet of the Gospel, looks and sees the Lord sitting upon His throne.  And as He is revealed, we hear the voices of the seraphim, those angelic heavenly beings, singing out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”

Three times the angels proclaim God’s holiness. If you remember, the word “holy” in Hebrew means “separate” or “set apart” or “sanctified.” Holiness is a state of being, from which flows an ethical behavior. In all of creation, God is the only One who is holy in and of Himself. And God is not just holy, He is thrice holy, He is completely set apart, different from His creation in His perfection, power, knowledge, glory, and loving-kindness. It is in His character. In His morality.  In His very being. 

Which is why the only natural reaction to being in the full presence of the holiness of God is one of fear and trembling. This is not the lovey-dovey God of pop-culture. This is not the God who can be manipulated or made into man’s image. This is the Lord of Hosts, the General of the armies of heaven, sitting on His throne where just the train of His robe fills the entire heavenly temple and His glory fills the earth!  This Holy One of Israel is uncompromising in His set-apartness” and in His expectation of faithfulness from His people. Anything less brings destruction.

Isaiah understands this all too well.  As the seraphim fly back and forth about the throne of the Lord singing of God’s glory, the sound of their voices cause the very foundations to shake.  Naturally, this scared Isaiah. “Woe is me!” he cries out.   He knows that no one can look upon God and live.  Isaiah is very aware of His sinfulness, of his unholiness. The sin and guilt which Isaiah recognizes is that same as ours.  Not naturally holy.  Sinful and unclean by nature, a sinful nature that has been passed down to all humankind from Adam and Eve onward. 

And what depts of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  Isaiah has no hope, no way out, nothing but unclean lips.  Even though he does not actively seek purification, purely out of the grace of God, it is given to him.  Out of the smoke comes a seraph with a purifying coal, taken from the altar of God. Isaiah does nothing.  He stands there in shock and awe as the seraph touches his mouth with that which would burn away His iniquity.  “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” God’s holiness delivered; God’s gift received.

While it may not be as flashy, nor as terrifying, it happens again today.  In Holy Communion, a messenger from God takes from His altar and delivers the purification and shares the same holiness of God as the body and blood of Christ touch your lips. In this sacramental act of God, we see the proper work of the Lord of hosts – that God does not reveal Himself to destroy us, but to redeem us! He comes to His people to make them holy, to set them apart, just as He is holy!

This is radically different than anything else in all creation.  Over and over again, we hear that the Church must change or die; that we must conform to the unholiness of the world.  That we must change the way we worship, or it won’t appeal to younger generations. That we must change the way we believe about the sins of homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia.  That we must join the gender confusion and submit to the evils of socialistic ideologies.  The thing is, it’s all backward, and it just isn’t true, nor does it even work. Conforming to the culture will bring about death, not prevent it.  The Church cannot conform to the world and be holy.  

But it is true that you must conform or die. Jesus tells Nicodemus that unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).  It is the through the new birth of water and the Spirit, through Holy Baptism, that God’s holiness is applied to a person as they are being conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; Titus 3:5-8).  The holy Christian Church lives on borrowed holiness.  Holiness comes only from God-from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.  It is God in Christ who conforms people to Himself.  He who is holy makes others holy for Himself. 

As the Lord called and sanctified Isaiah to be His prophet, so through Baptism and His Word and the Sacrament of the Altar He has called you who dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips to be purified, sins atoned for, born again from the will of God, believers and beholders of the Lord of Hosts who has been lifted up for our salvation, even Jesus Christ the only begotten Son of God.  He has called you to proclaim the mighty deeds of the Lord of Hosts who makes holy ones, saints, out of sinful, broken, and unholy people through that same Word and Sacraments. The answer for His people’s sinful lives, for our sinful lives, for a struggling economy, a struggling nation, broken families, hopeless situations, and an uncertain future is to receive the salvation that He offers.  In His holy love for His people, He gives His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  Through Jesus, you have complete and pure forgiveness of your sins, for as St. Paul declared to the Colossians, “He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him” (Colossians 1:22). 

You have been set apart by Christ, the Holy One of God, to believe, confess, and live separately from the unredeemed.  You are to love more, serve more.  You ought to behave better than the rest of the society. You are not of the world, so stop acting like it!  Repent! Your old sinful nature urges you to give in to the unholy trinity-the devil, the world, and your sinful nature. Do not abandon the faith.  When your sins burden your soul and your hope in this world is failing so that you cry out, “Woe is me!” return to the Thrice Holy God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – in repentance to receive His forgiveness and power to make you holy again and again and again and to keep you in His grace. So that you, with Isaiah, with angels and archangels and all the company heaven, you laud and glorify His glorious name, evermore praising Him and saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.”  Amen! 

Pentecost 2021 - Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost 2021

Acts 2:1-21

May 23, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

We’ve all seen pictures of that Pentecost Day and imagined it in our minds.  God sent His Spirit upon the disciples.  Now the Holy Spirit is God, of course, but He doesn’t have a physical body.  However, He appeared like the form of fire, like tongues of fire resting upon the Disciples.  Why do you think that the Holy Spirit appeared like the form of fire to the people gathered at Pentecost?  For the sake of the people, He became visible.  He wanted people to see the evidence of His presence and be comforted by the Comforter. 

Acts 2 gives us this long list of people gathered in Jerusalem from all over the Roman world. They were there to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, or more known to us as Pentecost.  This was the second of the great pilgrim festivals of the Old Testament, along with Passover and Festival of Booths.  Pentecost celebrated both the giving of the Law to Moses, but also was the occasion to thank God for the harvest of the crops, especially wheat.  The point of the feast was to emphasize that the Lord was the one who gave the ability to work (Deuteronomy 8:18) and that He provides for His people.  Additionally, the Jews reminded themselves that it was God who made crops to grow and yielded the harvest, that the Lord was responsible for all of this.  This Pentecost was different.  A festival of harvest of crops would now become a festival of God harvesting souls. 

So the Holy Spirit gave these disciples of Jesus the ability to speak in different languages. Notice here that He doesn’t reverse the confusion of language brought about at the tower of Babel, but He enables His people to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those of different languages and different cultures.  Identity wasn’t found in becoming the same, but in the Gospel, in unity of faith in Christ. Remember in Revelation 7 where St. John sees the Church triumphant, “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9).  God pours out His Spirit because He wants to include all nations and languages in the new covenant through faith in Christ.

After hearing the disciples speak in their own languages, some were amazed and some mocked them.  Peter, who had denied Jesus three times to save his own skin and later was restored three times and given the charge to feed Christ’s lambs, now stood up boldly and proclaimed Christ crucified and risen and the sending of the His Spirit as the fulfillment of all God’s promises. That message is at the very heart of our celebration today.  The great miracle of the day was the giving of the Holy Spirit, the planting of faith, and harvesting of souls for eternal life. 

The Holy Spirit continues to convert people to faith in Jesus and preserve people in the faith just as He did in the first century.  We are the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit done by the voices of those faithful Christians.  The Gospel has reached our ears and our hearts.  We’ve heard what brought these first few believers together: Jesus – His death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension.  The Holy Spirit has been bearing witness about Christ ever since. 

That’s the reason we now know Christ as our Savior. When the crowds saw what had happened and heard Peter’s sermon proclaiming Christ crucified and risen from the dead, they asked what they were cut the heart and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your 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 2:37b-39).  The Holy Spirit’s continual working through the good news of Jesus and by means of those blessed waters of Holy Baptism, God has poured out His Spirit upon you and in this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all your sins and the sins of all believers. 

The Holy Spirit continues to strengthen our faith through the Gospel and Sacraments.  The Word of God is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16). 

The same Spirit of God at work in you lead you to be the people of Pentecost.  At that Pentecost so long ago, God took ordinary men who had been made extraordinary by Christ, taught them, delivered the Holy Spirit to them, and sent them to believe and to proclaim. He still does today.  This morning two ordinary young women who have been made extraordinary by Christ will be confirmed.  Two children of God whom the Lord has called by the Word, delivered His Holy Spirit to them through those blessed waters of Holy Baptism, enlightened with various gifts, and has sanctified them.  God is now about to feed them with the very body and blood of Christ, to forgive, strengthen, and preserve them in the true faith to life everlasting. This is not just for their sake, but so that they might speak the Gospel to others, that as one confessed just this last week that they might live by faith alone and that the Holy Spirit would work through them to be a faithful confessor of Christ.

This will be part of the mission of the church until that other day that the prophet Joel foresaw, that Peter preached about on Pentecost, “The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day” (Acts 2:20, quoting Joel 2:32).  Jesus is coming back again.  Our Lord will come back to judge the living and the dead. Because of His sacrifice and forgiveness, proclaimed to us at Pentecost, proclaimed by us since Pentecost, we and countless others may called upon the name of the Lord and be saved. 

Easter 7 2021 - John 15:26-16:4a

Easter 7 2021 Exaudi

John 15:26-6:4a

May 16, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

                 

God promised in our Old Testament reading of Ezekiel 36 that He wanted to give His Spirit to His people, to sprinkle them clean, to give a new heart and a new spirit, to cause us to walk in His statutes. So Jesus likewise promises in today’s Gospel reading that He desires to give and send the Spirit of truth to His people.  Whereas the Old Testament repeatedly spoke of the Holy Spirit coming upon someone, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit dwelling in a believer.  The Spirit dwells in a believer through their Baptism into Christ, as Ezekiel prophecies about, through the Lord’s Supper, and in the revelation of God’s love and salvation in Jesus Christ. 

To help prepare the disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Jesus explains their great need and the even greater gift.  The disciples faced great persecution for following Jesus.  And frankly, so will all those who receive the Spirit. The world is going to rant and rave against you.  Those who think it is easy to be a Christian fail to understand the real consequences of following Jesus.  Christ promises to strengthen and keep you from falling away. 

Jesus begins by talking about how the Spirit is sent by the Son from the Father and that He proceeds from the Father.  We confess this truth in the Nicene Creed about the third person in the Trinity.  This word “proceed” is used in Scripture about the breath that comes out a man’s mouth. Christ wants to demonstrate that the Holy Spirit comes forth from the Father as the Spirit of His mouth.  He is the breath of the Almighty God by which He breathes life into humanity.

In Greek, this word also refers to a flowing out of, like a stream that flows out of a spring.  So Jesus wants to show us that the Holy Spirit is the living water from John 7:38 which has flowed forth from the essence of the Father from all eternity. So the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of the Father and the Breath of the Almighty because He immediately proceeds from the divine mouth of the Father from eternity.  Because of this also, He is a unique and distinct Person of the Holy Trinity, independently self-sufficient from the Father and the Son, co-eternal and co-equal, of the same essence of the Father and of the Son, fully God, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified. 

Of what the Holy Spirit does and why we need Him, Jesus says a few things:

First of all, Jesus calls His Spirit the Helper, sometimes translated also as “Comforter.”  But this is not just any kind of help and comfort.  The word that Jesus uses here is “Paraclete” which is the kind of comforter who comforts someone before a judge when standing accused.  Almost like a Divine Lawyer.  So Jesus here points to special work of grace by the Holy Spirit that He intercedes for us before God’s throne of judgment with groaning too deep for words (Romans 8:26).  When standing guilty before a holy God, the Holy Spirit helps and comforts us by directing our attention again and again to the reality that Jesus Himself has taken upon Himself the punishment that we deserve because of our sins and graciously forgives us according to His divine mercy. 

So while the devil may attempt to accuse us before God, the Holy Spirit acts on our behalf before the Father and comforts us with the reassurance of the Father’s verdict of “not guilty” for the sake of Christ.  When our own hearts and conscience accuse us, feeling the weight of God’s law, the Spirit holds before us the comforting promises of God about His grace, the forgiveness of our sin, and the free gift of eternal life. When the world causes us grief, He strengthens us so that we do not collapse under the burden of the cross, trials, and tribulations.  Part of the purpose of Jesus sending His Spirit is to comfort you before God and to keep you from falling away because of trials and temptations, of persecution and indifference. 

Secondly, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth because He guides the holy apostles and all believers into all the truth. As Jesus is the Truth, the Holy Spirit then is also the Spirit of Jesus who delivers the very Word of God to us.  As faith comes through hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10), by the Law of God, the Spirit brings people to repentance, and by the Gospel, the Spirit both invites and enables us to believe by promising us a new life on the basis of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Apart from the Holy Spirit, a person actively resists the Gospel’s call to faith and life in Christ and cannot believe.  For it is only by the work of the Spirit that a person comes to believe in Jesus and only by the work of the Spirit that a person perseveres in true faith. 

But what is the “true” faith?  What is truth?  We are bombarded with differing views on this every day. Jesus warns that a spirit of falsehood, at work in the sinful hearts of humanity, would try to deceive the disciples. People all the time confuse their own desires and wants, the message of the sinful world, even that of evil spirits with God.  So how do you know if that warm fuzzy feeling inside is the Holy Spirit working or if it’s just the beginning of indigestion?  Or worse, how do you know that it isn’t the devil masquerading as an angel of light whispering what your itching ears want to hear?

Jesus knows the troubles you will have with this.  This is why Jesus would later pray for His disciples in His High Priestly Prayer, “Sanctify them in the truth; You word is truth.” (John 17:17). Jesus says all these things so that you would remember His Word.  This Spirit of God will teach His disciples and remind them of Jesus’ words.  Again, all the works that that Holy Spirit does directs us to Jesus.  That is His main job, His main concern for you. The Spirit does not speak on His own. He speaks on behalf of the Father and Jesus.  So He guided the prophets and the apostles and inspired them to write Holy Scripture, to preach the Good News of salvation found only in Christ. This is how they bore witness to Jesus.   That means is that is your sacred duty, literally, to hear their witness, to know and hold fast to Holy Scripture, because it is the Spirit’s instrument of faith, the Word of Truth, that testifies to the Truth. May the Holy Spirit bring to your remembrance these Words of Jesus, to preserve and protect you in the one true faith unto life everlasting. Amen.

Easter 6 2021

Easter 6 Rogate 2021 

1 Timothy 2:1-6; John 16:23-32

May 9, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Last Sunday we heard a little about singing. This Sunday is called “Rogate” Sunday and is about prayer.  So we hear in the Gospel reading how Jesus invites us to pray.

Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.” These words appear to be a blank check from God.  Whatever you ask, God will give it.  At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be any limit.  We ask, God gives.  As simple as that, right?

We quickly find in our Christian life that the Father does not always give exactly what we ask.  He doesn’t work like a vending machine.  Insert prayer into this slot, and whatever you order comes out.  No, sometimes we pray and the answer is to wait for a while.  Sometimes we pray, and the answer is a flat out “no”. Should we conclude that Christ was lying when He gave the promise in our Holy Gospel?  Of course not.  Our Lord is faithful and cannot break His promises.

So if the problem isn’t in God, then maybe the problem is in us.  Some false teachers will encourage us to think this way.  The reason why God didn’t give you what  you want is because you were not obedient enough, so God did not reward you with a “Yes” answer.  Or you did not have enough faith, so He punished you by saying “No.”

But you need to realize that you are NEVER obedient enough to deserve anything.  All that the Lord gives is from His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.  We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He give them all to us by grace.  Likewise, the amount of our faith is not an issue in prayer, unless we are talking about someone that has no faith at all.

And so the problem remains.  We do not receive each and everything for which we pray.

How do we resolve this?  First of all, Jesus says that we “ask the Father.” We are invited to believe that God is our Father through adoption by grace in Christ.  We are God’s children.  The way of genetics and upbringing is that children share the nature and manner of their father and mother.  As sinners, we don’t share His nature.  However, the image of God is being restored in us by Baptism as we are formed into the image of Christ.  We are daily being renewed by the work of the Spirit in us.  The Holy Spirit works in us new and holy impulses that are like those of our heavenly Father.

Although we have a new heart in us from the Spirit, we also have the old heart that creates ideas and desires that are contrary to God’s will.  Sometimes our prayers are guided by these. Sometimes we pray for things that are idols in our hearts.  Even when we are trying to pray good prayers to our Father, we nevertheless do not always know or understand what is good for us.  Things that appear right and good may sometimes be destructive in some way that we do not perceive.

Therefore, we must confess that our heavenly Father knows better than we do.  If I ask any one of you whether you are wiser than God, you will surely answer that He is far wiser.  Yet if we carefully examine our prayer life, we will find that we sometimes pray to Him as if we know better.  We are sometimes like children who like to argue.  We may grumble when God does not jump to it the way we want.  Or we may give up altogether and simply stop asking for anything.  But God would not be our loving Father if He gave us everything we wanted. God’s answers to our prayers are limited by His love.  He must say no sometimes, which can be a loving answer.

Second of all, Jesus says that we ask the Father in Jesus’ own name.  This is really just the positive side of the 2nd Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” Rather, we use God’s name in faith calling upon Him in prayer, praise, and giving thanks. Praying “in the name of Jesus” means our prayers are offered in faith in Christ.  This is how St. Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” God the Father hears our prayers because of God the Son. He listens to all prayers, even those that are tainted by our inclinations to sin, when they are offered in faith in Christ.

Faith in Christ means that you trust in His sufferings, death, and resurrection as the source of your life and salvation.  It is the fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, that He has overcome our sin, death, and the devil because He is both fully God and fully man. But it is not just the Father and the Son that are involved in our prayers nor part of our faith.  Christian faith and prayer is active by means of the Holy Spirit.  You, as a person with faith, are constantly being formed into the image of Christ. As younger brothers and sisters, we try to be like our elder Brother.  This includes prayer.  Like Jesus, we turn to Scripture to find examples of prayer, and we imitate them.  As we come to know Him better and are drawn closer to Him through His Word, our prayers take on more of His spirit and character. 

Part of the character of Christ was that He prayed with patience and submission to His Father’s will.  He never dictated to His Father what He must receive.  He never laid ultimatums before the heavenly throne, as if He would reject the Father if He did not grant Him a certain request.

We must learn such patient submission in prayer.  This is hard.  We must fight against the impulse to think that we know best, and that surely God must say yes, and send the gift immediately, or pretty close to it.  The prayer of faith is not to manipulate, coerce, or intimidate God into doing our will.  These kinds of selfish, childish behaviors lurk within each of us.  Sometimes we are not even aware that we are acting on sinful impulses.  For our miserable failures at prayer, Christ prayed this prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Even when He was being crucified, Christ didn’t whine at the Father.  He did not blame the Father.  He didn’t pray for vengeance on those who did Him evil.  He prayed for the benefit of others, even when it meant the greatest of all sacrifices on His part. We look to Him, not as One who is merely an example.  By His patient endurance as revealed in His faithful prayer, He was earning the salvation of our souls.  He didn’t only pray for forgiveness, but He won it for you.

In the midst of this prayer, Christ destroyed the barrier between man and God and He turns you to face Him in holy conversation.  Now that He has torn apart that curtain of division, you are able to enter the Holy of holies.  You can speak to God the Father through God the Son in the power of God the Holy Spirit, since all your sins are washed away by the Blood shed on Calvary.  You, a miserable sinner, are now welcome, invited to speak and ask Him anything.  For He will never forsake or reject you.

 

Portions of this sermon are modified from a sermon by Pastor Jason Shockman

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