Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sermon for 5/27/18: The Holy Trinity

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

For too many people, communion in God is communion only with an idea. They get wrapped up in the idea of some mystical force. Like Bette Midler, they believe that “God is watching us from a distance.” And so they worship only the concept and its majesty. The truth is, we are those people. Whenever we live as if God doesn’t matter; whenever we fudge the truth or sneak to do evil; whenever our prayers are nothing more than a list of complaints and demands; whenever we do not define our existence by what God says and gives to us through His Son, in His Spirit—then God is just an idea, a good luck charm. When you’re wrapped up only in the idea of God, then the focus is on nothing but signs and wonders. “God” is simply a way to explain why things happen the way they do, something to make you feel more comfortable when you feel insecure.

It’s that idea of God—the almighty Being who produces spectacular signs—that Nicodemus has in mind when he comes to Jesus by night. Nicodemus wants to know how Jesus got this idea of God working so well for Him. Jesus is turning water to wine and healing the sick. He has such presence and speaks with unprecedented authority. And you know that “no one can do these signs that Jesus does unless God is with him.”

The answer Jesus gives, though, has nothing to do with God the concept, and everything to do with the Persons of God. Jesus talks about birth—not to point to another miracle and wonder in life, but to express a relationship with the Father, relationship through the Son, relationship in the Holy Spirit. To have God as your God is not to have some correct idea or to stand up for some pious thoughts. To have God as your God is to have God as your Father, His Son as your brother, and His Spirit as your breath and heartbeat. To have God as your God is to be in the Family.

  So Jesus talks about a second birth. It’s not just another spectacular event that makes us part of some other worldliness. It’s not the way we finally get caught up in a mystical divineness. It’s a concrete reality: Holy Baptism is the way in which we are born into God’s family. In those waters, the Father becomes our heavenly Father. In those waters, God becomes no longer an idea and concept; He adopts us. That is the point Jesus is making to Nicodemus. God is no longer just “God;” He is now “Our Father who art in heaven.” We have union with a loving Family. So do not marvel when our Lord says, “You must be born again.” He is not demanding that you go through some religious experience or work yourself up to some emotional high. In Baptism, you are joined to your God and Father; your God lives and moves and breathes in you and through you and for your good.

You cannot pull yourself up to heaven. You cannot reach the loftiness of the Holy Trinity. But your heavenly Father has sent His Son. He came to be your Brother. And as the true and righteous brother that He is, our Lord Jesus endures your suffering, carries your cross, dies your death, and restores and renews your life. In this way, Christ Jesus unites you to His Father. You now have the right to call God your Father. Our Lord Jesus more tightly and intimately binds and unites you to your God. That happens in the Holy Supper, for in partaking of Christ’s body and blood, you commune with God; you abide in Him just as He abides in you.

This is the love the Father has for you. He is not interested in being some abstract God, keeping you at arms length. Instead, God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ brings you into His family and unites you to Himself; He gives you all the rights and benefits of being a son of God and an heir of the heavenly kingdom. 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 20, 2018

Sermon for 5/20/18: Pentecost

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Renewed and Gathered

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

When Our Lord Jesus commanded His Apostles to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel,” and to preach repentance and remission of sins in His name, He did not leave them to their own devices. Instead, He conferred upon them Holy Spirit; He gave them the authority and the power to give people new life in God. This new life is a restoration of the communion with God through Jesus Christ in the Spirit that you and I were created to have. This was why the Father originally opened His mouth and breathed out His Word and Spirit: not simply to make stuff, but to make men and women, you and me, so that we might share in His life, in a relationship and union that exceeds any intimacy we can desire or imagine. He made us so that we might grow and mature and deepen in that communion.
Whenever we take it into our heads to make God in our image and according to our likeness; whenever we desire to make Him conform to the God we want, rather than conforming ourselves to our Father and His Word in all we do and say; then we have marred and ruined the intimacy and communion. We have separated ourselves from Him and have allowed the devil and his spirits of despair, unbelief, and false hope to rush in.
The original design required our Lord Jesus to come into our flesh, and for the Holy Spirit to draw us ever more deeply into the life that God is. But because of our desire to live for ourselves, because we no longer desire communion with God, because we desire to make God suit our whims, our Lord Jesus changed His mission. Before He could live in our flesh, He would have to restore our flesh. And before He could bolster our union with God, He would have to again make that communion possible. He would be born of Mary. He would live the righteousness we cannot achieve on our own. He would lay down His life as the sacrifice for sin. He would rise again to raise us with Him. And then He sent His Spirit, the Helper, who plants our Lord within us along with all Jesus has said and done for our salvation.
And so the Spirit descends. But He does not land on just Peter or even just the Twelve. The sounds of the rushing mighty wind filled the house where the church was gathered together. He filled that house just as He would fill the whole earth. To the Apostles the Holy Spirit gave the power to give new life, life given just as it was in the beginning—by a mouth, through the Word. And so, because they were all filled with the Spirit, they spoke. They spoke to the very people who had killed the Christ, the very people who had shouted, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
It is an unspeakable miracle and an unfathomable mercy of God that He is willing to take our curses and make them His blessing. And so, by His Spirit, He takes that curse spoken to Pilate against Jesus and now converts it into the most blessed words they could ever hear. The blood of Jesus is what they cried out for. And by the miracle of Holy Baptism, the blood of Jesus is what they got. It fell on them and on their children in a redeeming flood. And by that same Spirit, our Lord Jesus has washed us and generously poured into us His love and His life. In this way, the Triune God comes to us and makes His home in us. In this way He renews our life; our communion with God is restored. We are gathered into His Body, the Church, and in this way we live through Him, with Him, and in Him. And being in communion with the Holy Trinity, we are now also in communion with each other. 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 13, 2018

Sermon for 5/13/18: The Ascension of Our Lord (observed)

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Christ: Ascended and Present

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Just like the disciples, we look up in the sky in awe. We don’t understand the Ascension. We know what the Bible says—that Jesus was taken up in the cloud and disappeared from the sight of the disciples. But we don’t understand it, and we don’t like those things we can’t understand. It is a stumbling block to the world, because the world only believes the things it can see, and now Jesus has removed Himself from our sight.
There are two things of greatest importance at the Ascension. First, Christ ascended to His Father’s right hand as a human being and not simply as God. When He became a human in Mary’s womb, He denied Himself so that He did not always or fully use His divine attributes as a man. He was still true God, but He did not exercise His powers. If He had, then He could not have been killed, thwarting His very purpose for coming: to keep the Law for us, to be killed as the Sacrifice for our sins.
When it was complete, His body rested in the tomb as a man. The resurrection was the reunion of His human body and soul. Since it was finished, He no longer denied Himself. He passed through the rock and the locked doors in His human body. His appearance was changed in such a way that, although the scars left by the cross remained, He was not easily identified by sight alone. The disciples need faith to know that it was Him, that He was risen from the dead, that He had come in peace.
Then, forty days after the Resurrection, He visibly ascended to His Father’s right hand to receive His place in the Kingdom and rule by His mercy. He ascended as a man, paving the way for us not only out of hell but into heaven. He is there now, as a man, in His body and soul inherited from Mary, with scars on His hands and feet and side.
The second thing of greatest importance regarding the resurrection: He has removed His visible presence. He is not among us as He was among the disciples before the crucifixion. He does not deny Himself at all but fully and always uses all of His divine rights and attributes as a man. Yet He has promised to be among us, to be with us always, to the end of the age.
He is present now with us, not simply according to His Divine nature, but as a man—with us and for us according to His promised bodily presence in the Holy Communion. He reveals this to St. Paul after the Ascension. Even though He has removed His visible presence, in His exalted state His human nature is not limited. As a man, He uses His divine rights and attributes and can be physically present in more than one place.
This, of course, is a mystery. We do not comprehend it. We confess it and believe it. If, by faith, we can worship the Babe in Mary’s arms as the uncreated, eternal Creator of all things, then we should not hesitate to take Christ as His Word and confess that He gives His actual, risen body and blood for us to eat and drink in the Supper for the forgiveness of sins. This we believe according to the accomplished sacrifice of the cross and Christ’s clear word. We do not partake of a simply memorial meal, but we receive the fruit of the cross, the forgiveness of sins, and are joined to Him forever.
And He is here among us today. Our Lord says, “Where two or three are gathered in My Name, I am with them.” He is with us, speaking, absolving, washing, and feeding us. He is risen and ascended, but He is not gone. Don’t gawk into the sky; come where He promises to be. Don’t look up at the sky; look at bread and wine and water, and see Christ. Then look around and see Him also in your neighbor.  He is with you, just as He promised. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! 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.  

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Sermon for 5/9/18: Funeral of Evelyn Bierman

This is the link to Evelyn's obituary.

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Sufficient Grace
ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Our text is written in the 12th chapter of the Second Letter to the Corinthians. We consider these words: “[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

We don’t understand how weakness can be a good thing, so there may seem to be a contradiction in the apostle Paul’s words. But it only seems like a contradiction. On the one hand, Christians are to be thankful for the strength and ability God has given them, and they should use these gifts for His service. On the other hand, Christians must also confess their complete reliance on the grace of God, even to the point that they realize that God will use their bodily weakness for their own welfare, for doing His work. Paul was an example of one who both served the Lord and trusted entirely in His mercy. So also was our sister Evelyn, now fallen asleep in the Lord.
The apostle Paul was able to do many things for the Lord. He was blessed with much energy, knowledge, and ability. He went to many places and founded numerous mission congregations. He brought God’s saving Word to many people. He could honestly say, “I have labored more abundantly than all of them.” And yet, in spite of all his service and success, the Lord gave him a certain bodily infirmity. We don’t know exactly what it was, but he asked the Lord to take away this “thorn in the flesh.” The Lord did not take it away, however; He said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” The Lord told Paul to depend on the grace of God, and God would use also Paul’s weakness to show forth His strength. By faith Paul was able to say, “Most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” He was brought even closer to the Lord and learned to rely on the grace of God. His faith in and dependence on his Savior Jesus was strengthened.
Evelyn was also blessed by the Lord with her own unique strengths and abilities. She was not blessed with that vigorous nature that was typical of Paul—at least, not in the years that I have known her. We are all blessed by God in different ways at different times in our lives. Evelyn was much afflicted physically during my eight years here, spending long periods of time in the hospital and longer periods resting at home. Like Paul, there always seemed to be something that was making life difficult for her. And don’t you suppose that, like Paul, Evelyn begged the Lord numerous times to take away the afflictions that were wracking her body? But it would seem that the Lord’s answer to her was the same He gave to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” This is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith: when we are weakest is when, in truth, we are strongest, for it is then that the Lord in His abundant mercy lends His strength to our weakness. And so it was that Evelyn’s prayers, and our prayers on her behalf, were answered, though not in ways we might have wished. As her body failed more and more, her faith was made stronger. To be sure, this is a different kind of strength, but it is the strength we should all desire, for it is the gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
The Lord has gathered Evelyn to Himself, to await the resurrection of all flesh at the Last Day. Her body now rests from its labors; she has entered into the joy of the Lord. Her body will live again, but it will be free of all the ills that made these last days so hard. And when that day comes, she will live with the Lord and with all believers in a joy and peace that will have no end. The resurrection and eternal life, which she believed and so often confessed, will be hers, through Jesus Christ who died for her and rose again. God’s grace was sufficient for Evelyn. It is sufficient for you: sufficient unto eternal life. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Sermon for 5/6/18: Sixth Sunday of Easter

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

When our Lord says, “Ask,” He encourages, invites, and even commands you to pray. When He says, “You shall receive,” He assures you that your prayer will not be futile. More than that, He gives His Word that what you pray will be heard and acted upon. And when the Lord promises that “your joy may be full,” He tells you the benefit of prayer. That benefit is firmly grounded, not in what you say or do, but in what our Lord pledges to give: a joy and delight that not only warms the heart but also fills your entire being. For the joy our Lord promises is not the flesh-pleasing joy centered on material things, or the promises of the world, or whatever else you are convinced will satisfy you and make your life better. After all, those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh. But those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”
That is why He says, “Set your mind, then, on things above, not on things on the earth.” The benefits our Lord gives are not earthly but heavenly. And the joy He promises is not the self-gratifying joy that so quickly fades. The joy our Lord promises is not only more enduring, but fuller, richer, more abundant. None of this world’s joy can hold a candle to it. And all other joy is nothing compared to the heavenly joy our Lord promises and gives.  It’s not because you can’t have it or experience it until you get to heaven, but because this joy is located in and is given by Him who came down from heaven. The Lord is our Joy. He allows us to stand unafraid before God and the world. This is the joy He promises to give. And this is the joy He desires us to ask for. “Ask,” He implores us. “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
To ask Him anything—even for the joy He is—is to pray. Yet most people believe that prayer, like faith, is the heartfelt desire for something. Most believe that to pray is to align your thoughts with God. And most people believe that to pray means that you are immovably sure of whatever you feel will improve your life and make it more livable. What you pray for becomes more important than to Whom you address your prayers. And what you pray for cannot be questioned, since you know what you need.
But our Lord Jesus knows what we need so much better than we do. He’s not a genie in a bottle; He did not come down from heaven to grant your wishes. He did not sacrifice His life to make sure you have the right stuff, to make your aches and pains go away, or to smooth over your rough spots. He came to reconcile you with God. He came to deliver you from eternal death to the life of the Father’s heaven. He came to be your life, so that you never need to fear anything—even death, the devil, or hell—for He has overcome all evil by His death and resurrection. He has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. And He gives to you all that you need to support your body and life. And that should be your prayer.
So what do we say? We say what our Lord says. And what do we pray for? We request whatever Our Lord promises. And what do we ask? We pray that our joy may be full; we pray that our Father through Jesus would create in us a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within us; we beg Him to cast us not away from His presence, and take not His Holy Spirit from us; and we plead with Him to restore unto us the joy of our salvation, and uphold us with His generous Spirit. For when we pray in that way, we have said what He says; we have asked for what He delights to give. And then our joy will be full. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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