Sunday, June 13, 2021

Sermon for 6/13/21: Second Sunday After Trinity


CLICK HERE for the audio file.

CLICK HERE for the video file.

Invited

Luke 14:15-24

 

 

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

 

 “None of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” This Parable of the Great Supper, as it usually called, might well be renamed “the Parable of the Contemptuous Guests.” Inevitably, it leads to a question addressed to each of us: “What kind of guest are you?” You think that God’s Kingdom is a future prospect. The truth is, the Kingdom of God is a present and pressing reality, and it calls for your response now! Long ago God called Israel to be His people. And now, at the accepted time, He has renewed His invitation to share in His kingdom, only to see it deliberately neglected and rejected by His own people. So now God opens the doors of His kingdom to all the despised and lost children of God.

Jesus spoke this parable to the churchmen in Israel, men who professed the faith of the people of God. But this same story has not lost any of its punch, any of its relevance for the Church, the people of God now. Through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and by the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Kingdom of God was thrown open to all who will receive it in faith. But just like in the parable, the invited guests, finding more important things to do, were quick to make excuses for their absence. Basically, the excuses are the same.

The first man was purchasing an estate, and had to go and inspect it and, thus, could not come. How many now are so preoccupied with increasing their material possessions that they have no time to hear the voice of the Lord, calling them to come into His kingdom, which is man’s highest and richest blessing? Elsewhere Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The voice of God is there; it is found in His divine Word. But we prefer the noise of our coins jingling in our pockets, the clamor of the noise coming from our technological marvels.

The second man was buying some oxen to work his fields, and he needed to try them out before closing the deal. How often are our churches half empty on Sunday morning because we think we need to put in an extra day of labor, as if the six God gave us are not enough? What are people doing today, whose fathers and grandfathers would have been found in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day? Are they polishing their tractors? Are they getting the boat ready for a day on the lake? How easy it is for a new brazen image, an idol made by human hands, to so control our thoughts and actions that we can find no space for God in our lives.

The third man had just gotten married and thought it inadvisable to leave his wife to attend the banquet. Of course, the word “wife” stands for all the joys of married life and a home of one’s own, and those joys are many. And it is beyond dispute that these are among the finest earthly blessings which our good God gives us. But it is also one of the great tragedies of life when good things like these are allowed to shut out the claims of God. It is sad, but all too often true that husbands and wives become the biggest stumbling blocks for their spouses, and either by their demands or their own lack of attention to God and the Church, pull them away from the Lord they have loved and served in the past.

Worldly possessions, business preoccupations, domestic ties; as good as these things may be in their proper sphere, they are still the things that can render us deaf to the claims of God’s Kingdom. How easy it is for us to become so absorbed in the things of time that we forget the things of eternity. We can be so busy making a livelihood that we have no time to make a life.

One point that is made in this parable is that no one is excluded from the kingdom of God except by his own doing. We totally misunderstand this parable if we do not hear it telling us urgently, “Now is the accepted time!” So there the invitation stands. “Come, for all things are now ready.” Our Lord Jesus Christ pleads with us to accept the invitation extended by the Father in heaven. It was in His hanging on the cross that He said He would draw all men to Himself, and the blood that flowed from His wounds paid the price of our admission. And we are now preparing our answers. You can refuse and say, “Please make my apologies for me, for I have other matters right now that need my attention.” Or you can answer, “I know the need of my heart and soul. I am weary of my sins and need the forgiveness that only my Savior can give me. O God, You have offered this treasure to me in Jesus Christ, Your dear Son. Now, by Your Holy Spirit, let me receive it, that it may be mine, now and forever.” As Jesus Himself said in the first of those Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit”—that is, blessed are those who know their need for God—“for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

   The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Sermon for 6/6/21: First Sunday After Trinity


CLICK HERE for the audio file.

CLICK HERE for the video file. One of these days I'll figure out the blurriness thing.

 

Beggars and Gates

Luke 16:19-31

 

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

 

This text is not about money. Yes, Jesus tells the story of two men whose lifestyles were extremely different. However, both were beggars: the one at the gate of the rich man, the other at the gate of heaven. And Jesus draws the contrast between these two men rather sharply. It was not only that the one was rich and the other poor. The rich man lived in a luxury that was evident to all. He dressed in the finest clothing money could buy, and his table was a feast at every meal. Then there was Lazarus, the poor man, who barely had the means even for the bare minimum of daily life. But that’s just the background; this text is not about money.

Then both men died, and the contrast between them, as Jesus described it, was just as sharp. If it seemed to be about money before, it definitely was not about money now. Lazarus went to the bosom of Abraham, a way of describing heaven. The rich man was consigned to hell and its endless torment. And there was no way to cross from one to the other. The rich man’s life was an utter failure—not by typical societal standards, of course, but by God’s standards. Even though he was rich, it was not having money that condemned him. After all, Lazarus rested in Abraham’s bosom, and Abraham was wealthy beyond reckoning. Merely being wealthy neither saves nor condemns anyone. The rich man’s failure lay in his not meeting the responsibilities his wealth had given him. It’s not that he was cruel to Lazarus; he just didn’t see him. It was the kind of blindness that grows out of an absence of the awareness of God which also leaves one unaware of his neighbor. He failed not because he was wealthy, but because he had shut both God and man out of his life.

This story paints a vivid picture of the consequences of such failure. After both men had died, a great gulf showed up between them: so great that it was impossible to cross from one side to the other. That gulf did not appear suddenly after death; it had been in the making for a long time. Every time the rich man went out of his gate and ignored Lazarus lying there, the gulf grew wider and deeper. In this life there was still time to change that situation. But with an awful finality, death sealed the judgments of God. “Send Lazarus.” It was a pathetic cry of isolation. He had no one to help him. Now he was the beggar at the gate of heaven.

If you have been given wealth, God has given you a privilege to use responsibly. If you will only look, there is a Lazarus at your gate. The world is full of people whose lives cry out for help, whether it’s a mere crust of bread or a drink of water, a home to live in, or just a place where life can take on some meaning. Above all, there is a Lazarus at your gate who needs the Gospel, so that he may no longer live in darkness but in the light of saving grace.

There is a responsibility that goes with possession. As Scripture teaches, “no man lives unto himself.” And this is especially true when we have received the greatest of all gifts, Jesus Christ. We have His Word; we have His forgiveness. What is more, as Christians, we are members of a community that has the right to expect something from us. In his “Treatise on the Blessed Sacrament,” Luther points this up so clearly. He sees the fellowship of Christians coming into focus especially in the Lord’s Supper. It is two-fold, he says: “On the one hand, we partake of Christ and all the saints. On the other hand we permit all Christians to be partakers of us, in whatever way they and we are able, so that through this Sacrament all self-seeking love is uprooted and gives place to love that seeks the good of all, and through this mutual love there is one bread, one drink, one body, one community; the true union of Christian brothers.”

But such concern for others never just happens. It grows out of knowing and having the forgiving love of God in Christ. Having that love makes today, and every day, a day of opportunity. God speaks; we hear His voice. The rich man had ignored that voice. The same was true for his brothers. If only something dramatic could happen, something like Lazarus returning from the dead to warn them! But God said, “No. They have My Word, and that is enough.” We, too, have His Word, and it is enough for us.

Two beggars, for whom eternity brought the justice of God, stand as reminders to us, not only of the obligations that come with blessing, but also the joy that accompanies that life and salvation in Jesus Christ, which we have the privilege to offer to others. God grant us joy in sharing the fruits He has given us—and especially the fruits of faith and forgiveness. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

HYMN: Shine, O Christ, Our Light in Darkness


Last year, while everything was shut down, I wrote a text asking the Lord to sustain us during our pandemic diaspora. Well, now that things are starting to open up again, I was asked to write a text about our return to normalcy after the tragedy of the pandemic. This is my attempt to answer the request. As I wrote, I had Matthew 10:28 in mind: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” It seems as though there are many who are so afraid of dying of the virus that they neglect their spiritual nourishment. 

As always, feedback is love.


Shine, O Christ, Our Light in Darkness


1. Shine, O Christ, our Light in darkness.

Shine with Your unearthly light.

Overwhelmed, Your people call You,

Wearied by our daily fight.

Going forth from tribulation,

We cry out to You, O Lord, 

Praying You bring joy from sadness,

Praying for Your peace restored.


2. Lord, we fear what ails our bodies,

Terrified of earthly death.

Help us trust Your mighty mercy

To sustain our ev’ry breath.

Grant us courage! Grant us wisdom,

Lord of life, to praise Your name,

Fearless in the face the peril,

Free from sorrow, free from shame.


3. We, Your saints, seek blest communion,

Fellowship, we two or three:

Gathered in Your name, O Jesus, 

Where You condescend to be.

Bring Your children back together.

Grace us with Your gifts divine:

Purified in holy water,

Fed on You with bread and wine.


4. Shine, O Christ, our Light in darkness.

Send the night of dread away.

Calm our doubt and anxious trembling.

Hold the fear of death at bay.

Send to us Your Holy Spirit:

Helper, Comforter, and Friend,

Till that Day we rise, perfected,

To the joy which knows no end.



87 87D (Pick a tune)


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Sermon for 5/30/21: Feast of the Holy Trinity

Faith and the Bottom Line
John 3:1-17

 

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

 

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, but he seems not to be your typical member of the Sanhedrin. He doesn’t have the fear of Jesus that many of his brothers in the Sanhedrin clearly have. So he comes to Jesus—by night, of course; he doesn’t want his moves detected by the spies of the Sanhedrin. And he makes a rather bold confession: “Jesus, we know that You are a Teacher sent from God, for no man can do the things You do unless God is with Him.” This is a remarkable confession because Israel was looking for a powerful and charismatic deliverer, not some poor rabbi. How could Jesus be any help at all, let alone be their Deliverer?

But Nicodemus had a sense that there was something different about Jesus that defied easy explanation. And the first words Jesus spoke to him didn’t help. Nicodemus had not asked anything of Jesus, but Jesus knew what was on his mind. Jesus said, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus answered Jesus: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” What Jesus is saying challenges everything Nicodemus had ever believed, and everything the Pharisees stood for.

Nicodemus suffered from a deadly spiritual blindness—a disease we all have—a blindness convinced that it must see to believe. And somewhere along the road of life, this is an affliction that plagues us all. Maybe you have felt as I seem often to feel. As I look back over nearly 47 years of life, 21 of them as a pastor, I ask myself: “What have you accomplished, not only as a pastor, but as a man?” Frankly, I don’t see anything. I even get “friendly” little reminders that others don’t see that I have accomplished much either. But there are things I cannot see. I may never have any evidence of the blessing that has been received from a word of comfort I have spoken to someone, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. I may never “see” how something I have said or done as a father has been a blessing to my children, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Still, I have this almost insatiable desire to see how I have been a blessing to someone, to see the fruit of my labors. And others want to see the same thing. They want to be able to put a statistic to my efforts; they want a bottom line. And I know that your experiences, though different in substance, are likely to be very similar to mine: personally, professionally, and spiritually.

That was the problem Nicodemus had. He could not see, literally, how what Jesus said could be true. To Nicodemus, to be born anew meant, somehow, to re-enter His mother’s womb and to go through the whole experience of being born once again. He had to see it. And I believe the Church today has that same problem. We need results; we need to see bigger attendance numbers; we need to see bigger offerings. My brothers and sisters in Christ, faith is not about what you see; it is about what you hear. It is not about seeing the growth of the Church, for that is a gift neither you nor I have, and it is arrogant and unfaithful to suggest that we do. When Jesus told His disciples that the life of faith is the life of the cross and that faith does not promise a wonderful life here, but rather is an invitation to come and die, most of His disciples could not get away from Him quickly enough. It is not about what you can see. It is not about putting the work of the Holy Spirit to a statistical analysis. It is about being faithful to the Word of God, and hearing the Gospel, and believing that the Holy Spirit will do with the Church just what He has said He will do.

Jesus said to Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Your eyes can be and will be liars. But the Spirit, who can be heard, will never speak anything but the truth. The Word of the Lord will never tell you anything but the truth. When you see the Sacrament of Holy Baptism administered, all you may see is water being administered by an unworthy pair of hands. But the Word of the Lord says that the new birth, birth into a life of faith that leads to eternal life, is what is really there. When your pastor speaks the Words of Holy Absolution into your ears, the mouth doing the speaking may be offensive to you—you may not even like the guy—but if the Lord has put him there to speak “in the stead and by the command of…Christ,” then it doesn’t matter what you see; what matters is the truthful Word you hear. When you are offered the Holy Supper, it is not much to see. But the bread is the very body of Christ, and the wine is His very blood, both given for the remission of sins. That is something you cannot see; you can only hear and, then, receive. Today is the celebration of the Holy Trinity. There is no evidence you can see of the truth that God is, at the same time, One essence and Three divine Persons. But as the Athanasian Creed says, if you do not believe that, you cannot be saved. It is not what the eye grabs hold of, but what the ear hears from the Word of God, and the heart believes. It is not what you see, but what you hear. Thanks be to God for ears to hear and faith which receives His Word with joy. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

         

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Sermon for 5/23/21: The Feast of Pentecost

Unworldly Peace
John 14:23-31

 

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

 

Historians tell us that the conclusion to the First World War brought a prevailing feeling of relief on both sides: relief that the slaughter and carnage had ended and that, hopefully, with the coming of peace, life could return to normal. President Harding, during his campaign, made a plea for a “return to normalcy.” But post-war life never really did return to normal. The landscape of life had been forever changed. The twenty years that separated the two wars were years of great instability. There was an economic boom followed by the Great Depression. Soaring optimism was soon replaced with a deep pessimism about the world’s future. The promise of peace had been lost, and the world would soon be engulfed by another world-wide conflict that required the atomic bomb to bring it to an end.

This promise of peace that Jesus gave His disciples, the peace that would accompany the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, was spoken on the night before His crucifixion. Jesus spoke of peace even as He was about to endure emotional and physical abuse against Him—abuse that the world had never before seen and has not since. It seems an odd place to speak of peace; then again, it is an odd peace that He offers. But there was an important lesson for His disciples to learn from this. The peace the Holy Spirit would bring would be a sense of profound relief, a subtle and yet real peace that the disciples of all times would enjoy; a peace that would inspire in them a quiet confidence and a sure hope. But this peace would be difficult to maintain in this world, for it would be under constant assault by those who do not want God’s peace to prevail. This peace would make great demands of His disciples.

That this would be the case was indicated by Jesus telling His disciples that the peace He would leave them and give them was not like the peace this world gives. There is a kind of peace this world offers and gives. It is very different from the peace of Christ, but it is sought by so many. When you are poor, for instance, and that seems to be a great affliction, you may think that riches mean peace. Or, if death draws near, you may think, “Oh, if only I could live, and vanquish death, I would have peace.” Such peace, however, is not the peace Christ gives, nor is it the peace the Spirit brings. He allows the affliction to remain, but employs a different tactic to bring you peace. He changes your heart. When you are mired in suffering and affliction, the Spirit turns your mind from it and fills you with His peace. And so, in the midst of dying, there is life; in the midst of poverty, there is contentment with what the Lord has given; in the midst of trouble, there is peace and joy. This peace is not something you can achieve with your understanding, nor fathom with your wisdom. It is the gift which Christ alone bestows through His Spirit.

           You know how hard all of this is. You know how hard it is to be joyful in both good times and bad. And you know that some possess these abilities in a greater measure than others, for we are not perfect; indeed, none of us will become so perfect in this life that we will never again experience a struggle. In poverty, you will still face the temptation to think that riches are the answer, and that they will bring you peace and satisfaction. When you face your own death, or that of a loved one, you will still want to think that a continuance of life will bring perfect peace and complete joy. But it is the work of the Holy Spirit to continue what Christ has begun. Do not be discouraged if you still fear death, and do not think, that if you are still frightened at the thought of death, the Spirit is not in you. The work of the Holy Spirit is not one that is finished; it is fulfilled day to day. And this process continues in you as long as you live; the peace of Christ will find itself in you even amidst doubt and sorrow and fear. If there were none of these things, the Holy Spirit could not comfort you with the peace of Christ!

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you.” This peace of Christ is a peace given and received in the still waters of Holy Baptism. This peace lives and is real even when everything around you is full of overwhelming turmoil. Even when things are so upset that you cannot see how there is place for peace, the peace of Christ comes as the gift of His grace through His Holy Spirit. Your heart is stilled and your soul filled with comfort and with a quiet confidence in that One who gave Himself for you and who has gained for you the gracious will of Your heavenly Father. It is this great grace that we celebrate on this Day of Pentecost. The Spirit who has come from the Father and the Son teaches you to know the great goodness and grace of Jesus Christ, a grace that conquers sin, death, and all affliction, and gives you the peace which only He can give. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

          

This peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

HYMN: O Father of Creation


Looking through the Easter Vigil, the thought of putting the creation account into rhyme intimidated me. I deliberately skipped over it as I was choosing texts to work on, thinking I’d let John Fleischman do it, or try to do it myself at the end of the project...if ever. And then I got on the train yesterday. I don’t know what happened—I can only guess that the Holy Spirit was knocked into me one of the times when I bumped my head on the overhead storage bin. But in the space of four hours, I had a rough first draft of a creation text. 

Now, the question of whether or not it’s any good...well, I’ll leave that up to you, gentle reader. As always, feedback is love.


O Father of Creation

for the Easter Vigil

The Creation—Genesis 1:1-2:3



1. O Father of creation;

O Word, begotten Son;

O Holy Spirit, brooding:

By You is all begun.

By water You have washed us,

Creating us anew.

Now bless Your new creation.

Conform our lives to you.


2. God made in the beginning

The heavens and the earth.

The earth was void and shapeless,

Awaiting life and birth.

Then God beheld the darkness;

He said, “Let there be light.”

The light He called the “daytime”;

He called the darkness “night.”


3. Again God spoke, creating

Upon the second day

A broad expanse of heaven,

A powerful display,

To separate the waters

Above from those below.

He called the space “the heavens.”

He spoke, and it was so.


4. The third day, then, God gathered

The waters by command.

The “seas” He called the water,

And “earth” He called dry land.

“Let earth grow vegetation,

Both fruit and plant with seed.”

The herbs and orchards sprouted,

And it was good, indeed.


5. The fourth day, God created

The greater light, the sun,

And lesser moon and starlight

For when the day is done.

He set them in the heavens

For seasons and to shine.

So day and night divided

By His command divine.


6. “Let water swarm with creatures.

Let nestlings soar above.”

The whale and dolphin flourished,

The eagle, hawk, and dove.

Then God said, “Now be fruitful

And multiply, each one,

To fill the sky and waters.”

The fifth day thus was done.


7. The sixth day God commanded,

“Come forth, now, creeping thing.

Come forth, the moose and bovine.

From earth, My creatures, spring.”

All creatures came as ordered;

In each was life bestirred:

The snake and all the livestock

According to the Word.


8. Then God said, “In Our likeness,

Let Us create mankind.

And let them have dominion

O’er all that We designed.”

And so, in His own image

And likeness God made man.

God made them male and female;

Thus humankind began.


9. The seventh day, God rested,

Creation’s work now stilled,

His mighty work completed,

Accomplished as He willed.

As we await the new Day,

The “very good” restored,

We praise You for creation,

Our great Creator Lord.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

HYMN: O Christ, the Living Water


Vacation has been good for my writing production, I guess. I’m still working on the Easter Vigil project. This text is based on Isaiah 55, one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. The Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” These words are a tremendous comfort when I’m tempted to think that the growth of my congregations is up to me.

Anyway, here it is. Feedback is love.


O Christ, the Living Water

for the Easter Vigil

Salvation Offered Freely to All—Isaiah 55:1-11


1. O Christ, the living Water

Who satisfies our thirst,

Who cleanses hopeless sinners

By sin and death accursed,

Oh, bathe Your whole creation—

A great baptismal tide—

Where holy blood is mingled

With water from Your side.


2. “Come, thirsty, to the waters!

Oh, come and drink for free.

Buy milk and wine in bounty

And eat abundantly.

Why waste your wealth and labor

And not be satisfied?

Eat richest food in plenty

And in His Word abide.


3. “A covenant He makes you

Of love that never ends.

Oh, seek the Lord and call Him;

On Him your hope depends.

Forsake your way, O wicked!

Unrighteous man, repent!

For God will have compassion.

Our God, He will relent.


“My thoughts and ways are higher

Than your ways,” says the Lord,

“For powerful in purpose

Shall be My holy Word.

Like rain to feed creation

From heav’n above shall spill,

My Word returns not empty,

But works My holy will.”


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

HYMN: The Sacrifice Appointed


I recently posted a text to be used as part of the Great Vigil of Easter, a text based on the text of Israel’s delivery from Pharaoh at the Red Sea. When I write hymn texts, I don’t often write paraphrases of Scripture. However, as I work on this project, that’s precisely the challenge that was given to me. So as I continue to work on this project, I’m trying to do something that’s not exactly in my wheelhouse. 

This current text takes up Genesis 22:1-18, the testing of Abraham’s faith in God’s command to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. It always strikes me how Abraham tells the young men who accompany him and Isaac, Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” Abraham trusts God, and so he believes that, even if God goes through with His command and Abraham must slay his son, God will restore Isaac to him. Or maybe he trusts that God will not make him go through with the sacrifice. And, sure enough, God relents at the last minute. I hope that faith is reflected in this text. As always, feedback is love and life.


The Sacrifice Appointed

for the Easter Vigil

The Testing of Abraham—Genesis 22:1-18



1. The Sacrifice appointed

Is Christ, the Paschal Lamb:

The Substitute most pleasing,

The self-appointed Ram.

He let Himself be captured

In thickets of our sin,

And in His cross and Passion

Our ransom he would win.


2. “O Abraham,” God called him.

And he said, “Here I am.”

“Take Isaac, your beloved,

Your son, the precious lamb,

And go to Mount Moriah.

The place I will declare.

Then slay him as an off’ring.

Oh, burn him for Me there.


3. So Abraham cut lumber

To load it on his steed.

And with his men and Isaac

He left to kill his seed.

They went as God commanded,

The offering to burn.

“Stay here, young men,” said Abram,

“And we will both return.”


4. But Isaac, son once promised,

Said, “Father, please delay.

We bear the wood and fire;

Where is the lamb to slay?”

Then, trusting his Creator,

In faith said Abraham,

“Dear Isaac, trust the Father.

God will provide the lamb.”


5. Then Abram built an altar

And bound his only son.

Then on the wood he placed him;

God’s Word and will be done.

His preparation finished,

He took the knife in hand

And raised it over Isaac,

Obeying God’s command.


6. Then Angel called from heaven.

“O Abraham, delay!

Harm not your son, nor kill him.

I see your faith today,

For willingly you offered

Your son as sacrifice.

You trust My word of promise;

My Son will pay the price.”


7. So Abraham relented 

And, lifting up his eyes,

He saw a ram behind him:

A gift from God he spies.

He took the ram and killed it,

An offering most sweet

In place of his son, Isaac:

A sacrifice complete.


8. Once more the Angel called him:

“I swear by My own name

To multiply your offspring,

To multiply your fame,

To bless in you the nations.

O Abraham, rejoice!

Your son you freely offered;

You heard your Father’s voice.”


Sunday, May 09, 2021

Sermon for 5/9/21: Sixth Sunday of Easter


CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

CLICK HERE for the sermon video.

 

Pray in the Name of Jesus

John 16:23-30

 

 

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

 

There are few things in life more frustrating than not being listened to by those who should listen to us. When there is trouble in the home, inevitably one of the root causes of the trouble is someone, or maybe everyone, not listening to the others when they should be listening. And it follows that the failure to listen is a problem for our praying. We don’t pray as we should, or as well as we should, because we do not listen to God as we should. Our prayers should be formed and informed by the richness of the Word of God and not by the poverty of our hearts. To pray rightly, we need to listen to God and not so much to our own sinful hearts. We speak of prayer as “talking to God,” which it certainly is, as far as that goes. But prayer is really a conversation, and a conversation is never a monologue; it is never one person speaking to the exclusion of the other. Above all, we need to be listening to God.

Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.” But sinners like to believe these words mean that you can ask for anything you want, and as long as you are praying with sincerity, and if you add the tag line, “in Jesus’ name,” God is going to give it to you. Prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen refer to this approach to prayer as “name it and claim it.” If you pray for something by name and claim it as your own, and truly believe that God will give it to you, then God is duty-bound to give it to you—be it a better-paying job, healing from some disease, a new car, or any number of things. But those are the kinds of things that can happen when prayer becomes a monologue rather than a conversation in which we do a lot of listening to God first and foremost; when prayer becomes more a matter of our telling God what we think we need rather than listening to Him tell us what is important, and what we need to be bringing to Him in prayer. These words of Jesus may sound as if they are putting an emphasis on our speaking to God. But we need to understand what He means when He says that we are to pray in His name.

Quite simply, to pray in the name of Jesus means to pray in faith. It means to realize that we can come before the throne of grace in prayer only because our Savior has gone to that throne before us and has claimed us there as His own. This is what opens the path that leads to the Father’s gracious ears. And faith wants to hear nothing but the voice of God, for it is in that voice that truth and wisdom are heard.

This is also why we can never merely entrust prayer to our hearts. You know the condition of your own heart, and knowing that, you also have a pretty good idea of what is going on in the hearts of others. Scripture tells us that the human heart is desperately wicked. Jesus said that it is out of the heart that murder and adultery and all kinds of other evil come. That is what flows out of the human heart when left to itself.

And this is why, to pray rightly, we must listen to God first, last, and always. When Jesus asked if His disciples were going to leave Him, Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life...” If this is so—and it most certainly is—then what better way of praying can be found than to use those words God Himself has given us first to hear? These are the words of forgiveness and life; words that tell us that, “if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” They are those words that remind us that we belong to God; that in Holy Baptism He has called us by name, and we are His; that He will never desert those who bears His name. They are those words that tell us that. when we pray faithfully—that is when we pray in faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and our Lord—God will hear and answer our prayers; not because we are so good and pious, nor because we have phrased our prayer in a certain way, but solely because the merits of Christ have gained for us the gracious ears of God.

When we try to go it alone with our salvation, you know what happens: we are lost. The same is true with our praying: unless we listen first to the Word of God, unless we let the Lord have His say, we cannot know how to pray. If you want to know how to listen and pray, then you are exactly where you need to be. The best way to prepare for prayer is to be engaged in the praying of the Church, in the divine service of Word and Sacrament. And that should lead you right into meditation: meditation on the sure and certain Word of God. Faithfully read your Bible; review your Catechism; utilize your hymnal. In these gifts, you have enough to listen to and to keep you praying for the rest of your life.

To pray in the name of Jesus means to pray in faith: faith which comes by hearing the Word of God. May God bless our praying, that it would be faithful to His Word and, therefore, fruitful in the blessing such faith receives. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.