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Mark 4:26-34 "Church Growth"

Mark 4:26-34

Church Growth

Proper 6B

June 14, 2015

There’s a panic that is going on Reports that the number of people who consider themselves to be Christians is on the decline. This kind of thing is not new. There’s always talk about the ups and downs and church attendance and the Christian character of society. There’s many conclusions and ideas and theories as to why and what to do about it all. 

We like our numbers. We put in our bulletin each week how many people attend church or Bible study or Sunday School. It’s easy to compare this to previous years, do we have as many, or less.

But my favorite question of all is this one I heard last week, “Is your church growing?” We’ve all heard that question, maybe even asked it a time or two.  What we really mean is do we have more people in pews on Sunday morning, or in Sunday School, or enrolled at Zion Christian School, or our Daycare.

What causes growth in the church, and what does that growth look like?  Those are the deeper questions.  We try to come up with new programs, new things to do, new ways to attract the culture.  As if treating the church like a business, where if we just change the logo, get a catchy slogan, that’ll appeal to more people There’s a danger when we feel like we need to be relevant to the culture.  This is a major motivations sometime behind changing worship service styles, music, instruments.  Change the way the church talks, using language that the culture will understand better. 

The church is not relevant to the unbelieving world.  There is no faith there, and where there is no faith then the words of the Lord, the Gospel has no meaning. At best it is a nice story, a moral.  

The parable of the mustard seed shows us the great wonder of the working of God through His means of grace.  Though it seems small and lowly to the world, irrelevant to the felt needs of the culture, this is how God works in the world.  We do not always know how or why, just that it is.  Sometimes it happens overnight, other times over a lifetime, or even longer.

Whenever we try to make the church grow by our own efforts, it frankly won’t work.  It is God who grows the church, not us.  Remember in Matt 16 when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus responds "on this rock, on this confession that is confessed, I will build My church and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.”  Growth of the Church centers on the Grower of the Church.    It is Jesus who builds the Church, it is Jesus who plants the seeds of faith, it is Jesus who makes the Church grow, it is Jesus who harvests the Church, it is Jesus who dies for His Church, it is Jesus who is raised from the dead for His Church, it is Jesus who forgives your sins, it is all about Jesus.

How can my faith be stronger, how can it be larger.  First, this is the wrong question.  This question is focused on us.  Our focus needs to be on Jesus.  Where does Jesus feed and water us?  Where does Jesus cause our faith to grow? Growth comes from the Word and from the Sacraments.  Our job then is not to cause growth, but to simply throw the seeds of the Gospel throughout the world by speaking the Word, water with Baptism, to feed with the Sacrament of the Altar.  These are the marks of the church, and where these take place, the church is because where these take place Jesus is.

Go to church, for it is here that God works on you.  Be in the Word at home, daily devotions and regular prayer.  Do this with your family, or your friends.  Do we want our numbers to grow? Of course we do!  We want our pews filled.  We want our School and Daycare filled.  We want the Kingdom of God filled with poor miserable sinners, who are brought in and grown in the faith of Jesus.

God’s kingdom grows mysteriously of itself, at its own pace, and through the power of the Word. This reality often causes frustration among those who eagerly long for a rapid expansion of the Kingdom, and all the more as we only have a short-term view of things. But God’s kingdom grows according to His plan and timetable. And it is a great blessing that things ultimately depend on Him and not us, for only He is able to bring home a great harvest for life eternal.

Jesus’ parables reassure believers that over time the kingdom of God will grow incredibly large, far beyond its unassuming beginnings. Pray that God continues to make that happen here.  Precisely because the Kingdom grows so slowly and its Lord is so patient, believers tend to become discouraged and its enemies are emboldened. But in the end, the Kingdom alone will stand, and everything else will be overthrown.  Fear not, for the kingdom of God is headed towards a goal, the consummation of the age, the final judgment with Christ’s return, the salvation of all who believe in Him, the growth of the Church.

Mark 3:20-35 "Water is Thicker than Blood"

Mark 3:20-35

Water is Thicker than Blood

Second Sunday after Pentecost B

June 7, 2015

There’s an old saying “blood is thicker than water.”  No one is really sure where this came from, nor exactly what it is referring to.  We know that it is used in reference to the ties of family, that the relationship between parents and children, brothers and sisters, are strong. And this is extremely important.  There’s even a commandment concerning family, “Honor your father and your mother.”  Family is the building blocks of society, the basic vocation in which God has placed each and every one us.  The loyalty and connection of family is something that is not easily broken.  And still, families are messy.  Great hurt and pain can exist with families, but so does great love and forgiveness.  Even when there’s a black sheep in the family, and we all have those weird aunts or odd siblings, we are still family. 

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus’ family has some concern about Him.  After a confrontation with some scribes, His mother and His brothers seek Him out.  Most likely they had heard the scribes charge that Jesus has gone crazy.  They claim He is casting out demons by the prince of demons.  They claim that Jesus is possessed by an unclean spirit.  That He’s off the rocker, lost His marbles, taking the train to crazy town.

So Jesus’ family approaches Him. How ironic that those who think they know Jesus the best are trying to stop Him from fulfilling His mission.  The scribes want to seize Him, His family probably just wants to shut Him up.  Maybe even involved in all this was two of the half-brothers of Jesus, James and Jude, who ended up writing book included in the NT.

Regardless, some others come to Jesus and tell Him that His mother and brothers are outside, seeking Him.  And here is where Jesus really shakes things up.  Again, it is said, blood is thicker than water.  Jesus stands this truism on its head.  For Him, water-namely, the water of Baptism-is thicker than blood!  While his mother and brothers are outside, Jesus states that those around him, the ones doing the will of God, are part of his family.  And what is the will of God? To sit at the feet of Jesus, to hear His Word, to receive His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Jesus comes to raid the house of the strong man, the devil.  He “first binds the strong man,” Satan, by atoning for the sins of the world, thereby removing the condemnation of the Law and the fear of death (Mark 3:27). Now He plunders the devil’s house by calling all men to repent, and through the water of Baptism He delivers His people from the power of the devil.  Though He appears to be “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21), He fulfills the will of God and makes of us His own brothers and sisters.

Jesus still does outstanding things.  He still casts out demons with water and His Word at baptism.  Since the earliest centuries of Christianity, the baptismal liturgy has included the threefold renunciation of the devil, his works, and his ways.  One of my favorite parts of early Lutheran baptismal rites includes this little exorcism, “Therefore, depart, you unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Wonder of all wonders, this is what He did today, plundering the house of the devil to claim Arron as a child of God.

That means that each and every one of you have two families, the one you born into and the one you were born again into. Earthly families are crucial and important it this life, there’s no doubt about it.  One’s relationship to God and His family of faith form an eternal communion.  Family of God transcends even the human family. Which means my wife is first a sister in Christ and second my wife. Because of this she is more to me then if she was my wife first. When we approach each other first as brothers and sisters in Christ, then our other relationships are strengthened as husband and wife parents and child friend and neighbor.

What it would look like here at Zion if we actually treated one another like this kind of family?  We say we are, so what if we acted like it.  What would happen if we noticed that someone hasn’t been in church for a while, rather than complaining about it, you called your brother or sister and asked them how they were.  Or if they were caught in a sin, that you would call them out and try to bring them back. Families do not abandon each other, because Christ did not and will not abandon us.  Though we were selfish, sinful, and secluded, Christ died for us. If when we argue and bicker that we come together at the table of the Lord to receive His forgiveness given in His body and His blood and share in the communion we have with Him and with one another.

This household of God is brought together and maintained solely by the grace of God in Christ.  This family is held together by Jesus, by His work on the cross, by His forgiveness, by His grace and mercy.  Those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and acknowledge His works as manifestations of the Spirit remain under the kingdom of Satan.  A kingdom divided cannot but fall. But Jesus has overcome Satan and His kingdom.  No matter how hard the devil tries to inhabit this place, your lives, and divide God’s people, Jesus has and does use His power to cast Satan out and bring him and all evil to an end.

Therefore, do not lose heart despite the suffering, sin and death that we experience in this fallen world.  Family squabbles will happen, personalities will conflict, sin will occur.  But where there is repentance over sin and faith in Christ, there is forgiveness.  By His grace, we are “being renewed day by day.” For the Gospel is daily bringing us into His presence, not for punishment, but for “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:14–17), as the family of God through faith in Christ. The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds on Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Isaiah 6:1-8 "Holy in Christ"

 

Isaiah 6:1-8

Holy in Christ

Trinity Sunday B

May 31, 2015

 

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 looks and sees the Lord sitting upon His throne.  And as He is revealed, we hear the voices of the seraphim, those heavenly beings, singing out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”

This word of holy is often misunderstood in today’s world.  The word “holy” in Hebrew means “separate” or “set apart.”  Holiness is a state of being, from which flows an ethical behavior.  God is not just holy, He is thrice holy, He is completely set apart, different from His creation in His perfection, power, 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 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 holiness and in His expectation of faithfulness from His people, anything less brings destruction.

Isaiah understand 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.  It is that arrogant self-centeredness which refuses to bow the knee to the King of kings.

And what depths of God’s grace!  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, but stands there in shock and awe as the seraph touches his mouth with it.  “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”  Likewise, in Holy Communion, a messenger from God takes from His altar and delivers those same blessings as the body and blood of Christ touch your lips. In this act 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, as He is holy!

This is radically different than anything else in the world.  Over and over again, we hear that the Church must change or die.  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. The thing is, this is backwards, and it just isn’t true nor does it work.  Conforming to the culture will bring about death, not prevent it.  The church cannot conform to the world and be holy.  Holiness comes only from God-from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.  It is God in Christ who conforms people to Him.  He who is holy, who is separate, separates others for Himself. 

As the Lord calls Isaiah to be His prophet, so through Baptism and His Word He has called you to share that good news of Christ crucified and raised from the dead to take away the guilt and atone for your sins.  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, we have complete and pure forgiveness of our 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).

So that as the one, holy, Christian and apostolic church, we might act differently, for different we are.  We have been set apart by Christ and so we act separately from the unredeemed.  We are to love more, serve more.  We ought to behave better than the rest of the society.  You are not of the world, so stop acting like it!  Repent! And this is the mark of one who has been made holy by our Triune God-repentance and faith in Christ. It's not that we are "better" than everyone else, but that we are holy . When we mess up, because we will, we return to the Holy One of God in repentance to receive His forgiveness and power to make us holy again and again and again and to keep us in His grace.

As you strive to live as the saints, the holy ones, God created and redeemed you to be, you are not alone.  Your old sinful nature urges us to give in to the unholy trinity-the devil, the world, and your sinful nature.  But the thrice holy God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-is with you always.  When your sins burden your soul and your hope in this world is failing so that you cry out, “Woe is me!” consider Psalm 16:8–11 for our Introit this morning drives one beyond the poetic confidence of a long-dead king and to a living confession of the Christ who though crucified has now risen: God will not let His holy one see corruption.  He did not with His Son. He will not with you who are holy by faith in His Son. 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.”  In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 "Come, Holy Spirit"

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Come, Holy Spirit

The Day of Pentecost B

May 24, 2015

Isn’t it strange that Jesus says, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for it I do not go away the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” How can He say such a thing, that it is for our good that He goes away from us?  We know He is talking about His ascension and Pentecost, but it is still strange to hear to our ears. And yet, the Holy Spirit could not begin His work of applying Christ’s redemption until Jesus has accomplished His work on earth. 

  Consider the Apostles.  After Jesus’ ascension, they rejoiced and returned to Jerusalem to wait for the Holy Spirit.  They waited, as the Church always does, in prayer.  And wonder of wonders, their fears and timidity are conquered by the resurrected Jesus and His promises to them.  They were changed, embolded by the Holy Spirit for this purpose: to preach! We hear today of how St. Peter was inspired to preach the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and he was bold in his office.  Why?  Because the Holy Spirit delivered the truth to him, and used him to bear witness about Jesus.  And miracles abound, people believed in the Lord Jesus Christ!

Here is the beginning of the end. The flames of the living Spirit upon the apostles signal the fulfillment of the Prophet Joel’s word: “In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17). This is the grand miracle of Pentecost – The Spirit of the Lord declares the truth, taking what belongs to Jesus and delivering it to the Church. Among what belongs to Jesus is His resurrected life and His victory over sin, sinners, death, Satan, and hell, all celebrated in the Easter feast. Until the Day of the resurrected Lord, God’s Church is not left alone. The Lord pours out the Easter gift: the resurrection Spirit fills the lives of the apostles.

Today is often called the birthday of the Church. And so it is.  Because the Spirit gives birth to the Church by giving people the life of Christ, the life that has overcome death, the life eternal.  In the anointing of the Spirit there is the life of the resurrected Jesus. God places His Spirit within His apostolic church on the day of Pentecost delivering the life of Christ, receiving by faith. Because Christ lives, the church lives (Ez 37:14), “an exceedingly great army” of dry bones brought to life (Ez 37:10).

But there’s more.  The Lord is risen and ascended.  This same witness, this same boldness, this same Spirit working through the preached Word to bring dead sinners to life, delivers the truth of Christ, and call, gather, and enlighten the whole Christian Church on earth still happens!  In the waters of Holy Baptism, God the Father sent the Holy Spirit to you.  He speaks in His Word, and you hear His voice, for the Spirit still bears witness concerning the Son.  And this He has done, even warning you of the persecutions and trials and temptations that you will face.  Through this life, His Spirit will guide you into all the truth, to the glory of the Father. 

This is the Spirit’s main job, His purpose, His goal-to deliver Jesus, to bring people to Jesus, and to keep people with Jesus.  He brings us to Jesus, guides us into all truth, glorifies Jesus by declaring Jesus’ words to the world.  Sometimes we Lutherans are challenged about ignoring the Holy Spirit.  We don’t talk about Him much, we don’t pray in the Holy Spirit’s name. Why? Because the Spirit doesn’t want the limelight, He doesn’t want the attention.  What He wants is to bring Jesus to you, and to bring you to Jesus.He doesn’t speak on His own, but God the Holy Spirit speaks on behalf of the God the Father and God the Son.  Through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit convicts people of the truth of their sin so that they will no longer be a part of the world but one with Christ, sanctified in the truth of His Word.  The Spirit takes what is Jesus’ and delivers the goods.

And this is why it is to our advantage that Christ ascends into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father.  God has not abandoned humanity on earth to muddle our way through life.  Abandonment is one of the great fears that we all share.  We dread losing our family and our friends. We are terrified of being left alone in this life with no one to talk to, no one to share with, no one to care.  We cling to our relationships, as healthy or unhealthy as they might be. 

Today, we are reminded that God clings to us because of His Son through the power of His Spirit.  God is not content is remain in heaven, separate from His creation.  He comes, and He comes to you.  When you are tempted beyond resistance. When you have fallen into sin and can’t get up.  By the power of His Holy Spirit, and for the sake of Christ, through Word, water, bread and wine, God comes and brings you forgiveness.  He lifts tired and weary bones up out of the dirt to stand on the solid foundation of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  So that you shall live, and you shall know that the Lord is God. God the Father has spoken it. God the Son has done it.  And God the Holy Spirit delivers it. So come, Holy Spirit, creator blest, and make our hearts Your places of rest. Amen.

John 17:11b-19 "Sanctified in the Truth"

John 17:11b-19

Sanctified in the Truth

Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 17, 2015

 

What is truth?  This is an age old question.  We assume that there is a truth.  We assume we can know the truth. We know that 1+1=2.  1+1 =/ orange.  The world in which we live is moving farther away from these assumptions.  Red light means stop. Green light means go. But what about yellow? For some it means slam on the brakes.  For others it means push to the pedal to the metal.  Still others contend it all depends on your situation, how many cars there are around, is there a cop nearby,  can I get away with running a red light or beating the car next to me?

We live in world that, intentional or not, denies an objective truth and treats everything like a yellow light.  It all depends on the circumstance, on the person, in the context.  You can’t know anything for certain.  Something only has meaning when experienced in the context of community.  Small groups where people go around and say, “What does this mean to you?” And there’s a different answer from every person.  When there is an infinite possibility of meanings then there really is no meaning at all.

Today in our Gospel reading, we hear part of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer for His disciples.  Part of that prayer includes these very important words, “Sanctify them in the truth, Your word is truth.”  Here in Jesus’ words there is no assumption, but a prayer from God the Son to God the Father that His disciples would be made and kept holy according to the truth of God’s Word.  In a world and a culture that is moving away from Christianity and the Christian worldview, Jesus’ prayer for us will become more apparent.  There will be a bigger difference between being one of Jesus’ disciples living in the world but not of the world. 

Less than a day after this prayer, when Jesus is on trial, Pontius Pilate asks this question of Him, “What is truth?”  Jesus response with “The Truth” — not with a true statement, subject to evaluation, but with the truth. Actually, with a story about Himself, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  Jesus does not say that He came to fill our heads with true statements –oh, He does some of that throughout the Gospels, but He tells us true things so that we can understand something about the truth.

You see, truth is not simply a collection of true statements, like scientific facts and multiplication tables. The truth is that upon which everything rests, “in whom we live and move and have our being.” This is where some previous generations also got mixed up.  Truth is not something you figure out by yourself.  It’s not something that if you just try hard enough, spend enough time and energy and brain power, you will discover.  Truth is knowable because Truth has been communicated through the Word of God-the Word written, the Word declared, the Word incarnate.

Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, hung on a cross, died in our place, rose from the dead, and is coming again to restore us, body and soul, to God. That is the truth. You cannot measure it, you cannot test it, you are only baptized into it.

Do not be surprised when the truth stares the world in the face and it is not understood.  The Bible makes is clear, it’s not because they can’t see the truth, it’s because they hate God.  It’s because they are separated from God because of their sin.

But you and I, who have been baptized into Christ and live by faith, we see it, because we are of the truth. And this changes everything. You see, it is a true statement to say that you and I do not live up to the standards of God’s law. We can measure ourselves, evaluate ourselves, but we will fall short. It is a true statement to say that every one of us has, at one time or another, put our trust and confidence in something other than God our Father‑whether that is our wealth, or our reputation, or our power. It is a true statement to say that we have faltered in our worship, that we have failed to love one another, that we have not cared for others as we ought. Those are all true statements.  They can all be observed and measured. And it is a true statement to say that as a result, we are all worthy of death and separation from God.

But that is not the truth. The truth is that because Jesus died on the cross for you and rose from the dead that you are holy, sanctified by the Word. The truth is that because of Jesus Christ you are forgiven. The truth is that because of the work of the Son of God you are righteous in God’s sight, you are His dearly loved child. Jesus Christ has come into the world to make known the Father to a people who were lost, separated from their God, by sin and a rejection of the truth. The truth is that the Father answers the prayer of His Son that we might be one in unity for Christ’s sake.

The unity of the Disciples, in particular, and of all the followers of Jesus rests solely upon God’s Word and the Sacraments. The unity experienced by those in our reading from Acts described of being of “one accord” is the same unity that is shared by us, who together confess our sins, receive Christ’s Holy Absolution and His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. That is the truth that Jesus pray for, but also by His work and the sending of His Spirit, calls you by the Gospel, enlightened you with his gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith.

What is truth? It is Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins, raised on the third day, ascended into heaven to sit at the hand of God the Father Almighty. Because he is the way, and the truth, and the life.

Parts of this sermon are based off of “What is Truth? Good Friday Reflections on John 18:33-38” by Dr. Jeff Kloha, April 18, 2014. http://concordiatheology.org/2014/04/what-is-truth-good-friday-reflections-on-john-1833-38

John 15:9-17 "What a Friend We Have in Jesus"

John 15:9-17

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 10, 2015

That classic Christian hymn from the 1800s begins as such, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”  What a wonderfully comforting song this is, especially in those times when your lonely or worn out because of the sinfulness of the world.  We still have the comfort to know that Jesus is our friend, even when all our other friends might abandon us, Jesus is that friend who is always there when you need Him. 

Jesus says “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  What a strange thing for someone to say.  Can you imagine going up to someone and telling them that they could be your friend if they do what you tell them?  Someone try that this week and tell me how successful you are.  Maybe it’s time to rethink what it means to be friends with Jesus.

Jesus says “you are my friends if you do what I command you.”  What an incredibly strange and powerful claim by Jesus, especially in light of what Paul says in Romans 5:10 “10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”  Each and every one of us were enemies of God Himself simply by being born and carrying on the Original Sin passed on down from generation to generation beginning with Adam. Here we are born sinful in the sight of God, enemies to Him because of our sinfulness and yet through the waters of Baptism and the abiding power of the Word, Jesus came to each and every one of us making us His friend.  John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”

The image here is that Jesus, the Lord, very God of very God, has chosen His disciples to be His friends, and gives them commands.  He chooses us to be His friend, we don’t and can’t choose Him.  All we can do now is acknowledge that Jesus has made us His friend, and so now I can be friendly toward Him.  He is the big guy, and there is a little guy.  This really makes it important when Jesus says “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his [inferiors].” If I can say it that way.  In the ancient context in which Jesus was speaking this is a big deal.  It would be like Caesar laying down his life for Pilate.  That just wouldn’t happen, even though Pilate was a friend of Caesar.  This sharpens the Gospel, the love that isn’t deserved or even expected really, but it still freely given.  The Lord, the master, is willing to lay down his life for those that He chose to be His friends, even though His friends don’t deserve it.  This isn’t the way it works, except in God’s kingdom. 

John 15:15 “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what His master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”  Christ has chosen you to be friends, not slaves, the difference being a friend knows who the Lord is and what He is like because it is revealed to Him.  This is how Jesus can say, “you are my friends if you do what I command you.”  We don’t see the heavy hand of the Law of God, but the life giving Gospel, a Lord who has called you “friend” by His mercy and who has given His life up for you, His friend, so that you may live and that you may bear fruit, that the love He shows us we might show others by following His commands.  The greatest of which is to love the Lord with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.

And now because Jesus has made you His friend, He can now say to you John 15:16b “so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.”  It’s not just about talking to a friend.  This is not a general theology of prayer, but asking for fruit, that fruit of the Spirit that flows from a relationship with Christ of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Jesus invites you His friend, not just to pray for anything, but to ask the Father for these fruits of faith, for the power to follow to His commands and the forgiveness when we don’t, to “make me a better husband, or wife, make me a better colleague, make me a better friend, help me to bear with that unbearable person.”  And God will give it.  He wants you to love each other better because He loves you.  He wants to forgive you when you fail.  This is why you were chosen and appointed and why Jesus commanded these things, so that you will, that you can, love one another.  And He does everything He can to make that happen, even showing you His love, and mercy, and forgiveness and life through His death and resurrection.

“What a friend we have in Jesus.”  When considering our friendship with Jesus, we see how in His love He chooses us to be His friends and how His love empowers us to now follow His commands, to love Him, and to love each other.  He comes down to our level so that we may be raised to His level in eternal life.  Truly, what a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!  Amen.

John 15:1-8 "Abide in Jesus" (Confirmation Sunday)

John 15:1-8

Abiding in Jesus

5th Sunday of Easter (Confirmation Sunday)

May 3, 2015

 

Jesus said, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”  This is our text.

            The language that Jesus uses is good here. We all understand the meaning and know what this looks like.  As branches cannot live if cut off from the vine, so too a person cannot live if He is not connected to Jesus.

Basically, this is what we’ve been doing in Confirmation. Abiding in Jesus.  Equipping our children with an understanding of God’s Word, how to stand upon Christ in the midst of a world that wants to knock you down, that wants to cut you off from Jesus and from the life we have in Him.

It is a confirmation of what God has done for us in Baptism, what He will continue to do for us through His body and blood.   It is not some sort of completion. It is not a kind of graduation from church.  It is simply a time of learning more about Christ and His Word, and how it applies in our lives.  It is recognition that we are branches on the vine who is Jesus, and that the only way to stay alive is to abide in Him. It’s a continuous confession of what we just sang before the Gospel reading, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Kids, you will be making promises that you have learned more about your faith, you believe this, and you wish to continue in this faith, growing and learning and abiding in Jesus.  Wear robes as a reminder that in Baptism, they were robed with Christ’s righteousness that covered all their sin. You have a better understanding of what God has already done for you, of the good work He has started in your life at your baptism and continues to do through the Holy Sacrament. Knowledge of the faith is always remembering what has already been given by God and is always ours.  This is why the first promise you will make at your confirmation is that you acknowledge the gifts that God has given in your baptism.  Our confession of faith, by God’s grace, is steadfast.  Our knowledge is not.  Abraham had trouble remembering who God was and God’s promises to Him. So did David.  And Elijah. And so do we.  We need to be reminded, more than that, we need God to reveal those promises to us over and over again, and act upon them.  We need Jesus to abide with us in order for us to abide with Him.  Those gifts are already yours in Christ and are meant to be used by you in faithfulness to God and for the benefit of your neighbor.

But make no mistake.  You think some of Confirmation was hard.  The world wants nothing else than to separate you from Jesus.  You will hear it in your school.  You will hear it from the tv and movies and books and online.   The devil will not leave you alone.  This is why you qualify your pledges, “by the grace of God.”  By the grace of God, you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully.  By the grace of God, you intend to live free from sin, remaining in this confession of faith, preferring death over living a sinful life.   If and when you fail, throw yourselves once again upon Christ’s mercy, because He will not fail you.

Parents, your children will need help.  They cannot drive themselves to church.  They are at an age where they still need a lot of guidance from you, but where they won’t always want it or appreciate it.  They still don’t have everything figured out. Your time of parenting them is not over, but spiritually, maybe even more is now required of you. You need to be there for your kids, continue to model the Christian faith to them and for them, and encourage them to hear the Word of God regularly, to receive His body and blood as often as possible. Don’t stop being their parent, not just in the world, but in Christ. The devil wants nothing else than for you to stop being diligent in your faith and in your children’s.

Zion Lutheran Church, these children and their parents will need help. They won’t always want to do what they are supposed to.  They will be tired, frazzled, pulled in so many directions at once. Help these parents to stay focused on Christ.  Don’t let them off the hook. 

Jesus has given His life for ours and now lives and reigns present among us in His Word, in the water, in His body and blood to bestow that new life and joy.  Here is God’s grace for you confirmands to abide with Christ: the bodily presence of the risen Christ, for you, in Holy Communion. By the grace of God, which we all confess, may we all do the same, trusting in God’s promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

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