Monday, May 30, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Father in heaven, we gather this day in remembrance of those brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice, laying down their lives in death, in order to protect and to secure the freedoms we enjoy in this great nation. Today we remember that freedom is not free, but that it has been bought with a costly and precious price. Help us, we pray to remember this truth every day of our lives that we may treasure and value freedom and seek and act to secure it for others as for ourselves.
In Your immeasurable love for the world, you have revealed that the greatest love possible is for a man to lay down his life for his friends, his brothers, and his neighbors. Such love was the motivation for the sacrifice of those we remember this day: Love of liberty and love of country, but even more the love of mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, daughters and sons, and the love of countrymen known and unknown, of all colors, classes, and creeds, both the aged and the unborn. Love is sacrifice, for love always gives and love always thinks more of another than oneself.
Father, we thank you for your love and for their love. We thank you for each one of them and for their sacrifice. We thank you for the freedoms you have procured for us through them. And we thank you for blessing us in this great nation with your providence even as we pray that you would make us a rich blessing to others.
Comfort this day and every day those families who mourn the deaths of those who have died for us. Move us to respect, revere, honor, remember, and thank them for their sacrifice. May we never take them for granted, but enjoy and share and guard the liberties that they fought and died to protect.
Help us, we pray, to honor those who have sacrificed their lives for us to also sacrifice ourselves for others, especially in words and deeds of mercy, compassion, and love so that the naked are clothed, the hungry are fed, the homeless find shelter, the sick are provided treatment, and life at every moment is valued and protected. Make us to be your words of comfort, your hands of service, and your heart of mercy.
In the + Name of your love poured out on us all, Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Luke 16:19-31; 1 John 4:16-21; Genesis 15:1-6
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” saying, “[You shall] fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Now, fear, love, and trust are common and unexceptional words used nearly every day, by nearly all people, regardless of their nationality or language. This means, of course, that the true meaning of these words has most likely become clichéd, changed, or even lost. Therefore, it is useful for your understanding of what Luther means when he teaches you to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things” that you reconsider what the words fear, love, and trust mean in relation to God and to your neighbors according to God’s intention and meaning in His use of these words.
Let us begin with the word fear. Everyone knows what it means to fear in terms of being afraid or worried. But, is that the meaning that the LORD desires for you to connote from His use of the word fear? Well, yes, and no. Fear, anxiety, and terror are natural human responses when you become aware of your sin and guilt in the face of the LORD’s holiness and righteousness. However, you can see already that there is more to fear than just discomfort, anxiety, and terror, for you would not fear the LORD’s righteousness and holiness if you did not believe in the LORD in the first place, and did not believe that He is righteous and holy and that you are not. Therefore, there is a strong element of trust, and faith, and belief, in your fear of the LORD as well.
Understanding the fear of the LORD as trust is precisely what King Solomon had in mind when he wrote in Proverbs, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” The fear of the LORD is a commixture of awe and reverence and profound faith and trust. Whenever one of the LORD’s holy angels appeared before men in the Scriptures they were sore afraid for their lives. Isaiah feared for his life because of his sinful uncleanness when he beheld a vision of the Almighty upon His throne. Likewise Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds were all sore afraid when Gabriel and the LORD’s holy angels appeared to them. So also Abram was fearful when the Word of the LORD came to Him in a vision. Abram feared the LORD because he knew his own sinful and fruitless situation. He did not have a son, thus a servant from his household would be his heir. However, Abram also feared the goodness and the love of the LORD and he trusted in the LORD, and the LORD counted Abram’s trust, his faith, to him as righteousness. The LORD promised Abram that his offspring would be as countless as the stars in the heavens. And, truly those who fear the LORD like Abram and trust in Him, in His goodness, faithfulness, word, and promise, are as countless as the stars in the heavens and as the grains of sand upon the seashore.
Abram’s fear of the LORD was at once the result of his own humility and repentance, a confession of the LORD’s holiness and righteousness, and faith in trust in the goodness, mercy, love, forgiveness, and faithfulness of the LORD. This kind of fear of the LORD is truly the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom. It is the foundation of the Christian faith and obedience to the First Commandment. St. John links these elements together beautifully and profoundly in his first epistle saying, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. […] There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Fear, love, and trust in God above all things are all bound up together. When you trust in the LORD that He is good and faithful and keeps His promises, then you will have fear before Him, not terror, but an awesome and reverential fear that loves the LORD because He first loved you. This kind of love casts out fear. For the Christian, there is no longer worry, anxiety, and terror before the LORD because of His holiness and righteousness, but there is great awe and reverence and love for Him, for He is love and He is good and He keeps His promises. Therefore, you can truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things and keep His Commandments, not out of fear of punishment, but out of love for the God who is love and who has loved you unto the end. Love is king. Love abides and is the greatest of virtues. Love is the fulfilling of the Law. You were created to Love God and to love your neighbor as God has loved you. You love God and you love your neighbor with God’s love, for God is love. “Whoever loves God must also love his brother,” for “if anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” And, that brings us to today’s Gospel reading, Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, which He told to the loveless Pharisees that they might be turned in repentance.
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” Jesus does not condemn wealth and fine clothing per se, but, as in the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, which immediately precedes this story, it is the love of mammon (worldly wealth and riches) before and above God and neighbor that is condemned. Not only did the rich man love his costly purple robes, but he even wore the finest linen underwear. Moreover, he feasted sumptuously every day, even on the Sabbath, demonstrating that he neither feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things nor kept the Sabbath Day holy. In this simple introduction, Jesus culturally communicated to the Pharisees that the rich man did not love God. And, because he did not love God, he did not, he could not love his brother and his neighbor.
The rich man passed by his neighbor, his brother, Lazarus, laid at his gates, every day, and he did not help him in anyway. He didn’t even give him the scraps from his bountiful feasts, but he fed them, instead, to the dogs. The rich man saw Lazarus, his brother, every day, but he had no love for him. In fact, the dogs showed more love for Lazarus, licking his sores clean, than did the man whom God had blessed with abundant wealth and riches. Jesus says that both men died, and the rich man found himself in Hades while Lazarus was comforted at “Abraham’s side.” Do not conclude, however, that the rich man found himself in torment after death because of his riches, and the poor man comfort because of his poverty. Neither poverty nor riches bless nor condemn in and of themselves, but it is only faithlessness, mistrust, and unbelief that condemn. Truly, men can place their faith and trust in their poverty as much as in their riches. The rich man placed his fear, love, and trust in his riches, which he, undoubtedly, attributed to his own providence, whereas the poor man, Lazarus, whose symbolic name means “God is my help,” placed his fear, love, and trust in the LORD and in His means of providing for the lily and the sparrow and for His children whom He loves more than these.
Even in the afterlife, in torment in Hades, the rich man failed to love. He viewed Lazarus, still, as beneath him, a mere servant to be commanded to serve him. Though, he did begin to show some love for his brothers and for their eternal welfare, his love did not flow from fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but from his fear and terror of lost riches and eternal torment. As in life, so in death, the rich man feared, despised, and hated God and His Commandments, and so he feared, despised, and hated his neighbor and his brother. He could only see the LORD as a cruel and demanding master. He knew not the love of God nor the freedom, peace, and contentment that flow from it. “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
However, there was a rich man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who feared, loved, and trusted His Father so that he willingly became poor, even a beggar, having no place to lay His head. Yet, He was at peace and content, having all that He required to sustain His body and soul. Moreover, because He received and returned love from His Father, He could freely love His neighbor and His brother without any resentment, holding back, or sense of loss. This Rich Man also suffered and died and went to Hades, not to suffer, but to proclaim the victory of God over sin, death, and Satan. Then He returned to His Father, the firstborn of those who will rise from the dead. Ironically, the final request of the rich man in Jesus’ story was that Abraham might send Lazarus back from the dead to his brothers so that they might believe and repent. However, Abraham told him, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. […] If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
“[You shall] fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” To love God is to trust in Him and to fear Him. To love God is to love your neighbor and your brother as God has loved you. “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment [… for] there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Because God has loved you in Jesus Christ, you need not fear His wrath and punishment; these have been sated and taken away. Now you fear the LORD in awesome reverence at His amazing love, mercy, grace, and goodness. And, as you have been loved by the LORD, so do you love all. Love with His love. Give of His gifts. Forgive with His forgiveness, to the glory of His holy Name in Jesus Christ.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
John 3:1-17; Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 6:1-7
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To celebrate the Rite of Confirmation on the Feast of the Holy Trinity makes complete and perfect sense, for the young people who will soon make confession of their Christian faith in the Holy Triune God this day were given the gift of faith when they were baptized eleven or twelve years ago in the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. There will be no new, fuller, or more complete bestowal of the Holy Spirit and His gifts, for each of these young people received the fullness of the Spirit when they were baptized, as did each of you. The LORD does not dispense His Spirit is dribs and drabs, but He pours Him out fully upon those whom He chooses in Jesus Christ.
Indeed, faith itself is the creative handiwork of the Holy Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is what it means to be “born again.” However, that word “again” is a rather unfortunate translation of the Greek word anōthen which truly means “from above.” Thus, what Jesus truly says to Nicodemus is, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Clearly, Nicodemus missed Jesus’ point – as do many today – and thought that it was necessary for him to be physically born again of his mother, just as many believe that they must do something, understand something, believe something, or confess something in order to receive the Holy Spirit. Therefore Jesus elaborated and emphasized the spiritual nature of His words saying, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The “birth from above” of which Jesus speaks is a spiritual birth, a birth caused and gifted by the Holy Triune God. This truth is emphasized and clarified in Jesus’ choice of being born as an analogy for justification and spiritual regeneration, for being born is a passive act, it is something that happens to you, wholly apart from your will and choice, even apart from your knowledge and faith. You do not choose to be born. Being born is something that happens to you wholly apart from your choosing.
Thus, Jesus continued teaching Nicodemus saying, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” And, here, Jesus plays on the Greek word pneuma, which means wind, breath, and spirit all at once. Jesus’ point is that the Holy Spirit blows upon and causes the birth from above, justification, and the creation of faith in the hearts of those whom the LORD chooses in Jesus Christ. That is what happens in Holy Baptism. Faith is created. The Holy Spirit is given. You are adopted into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ in communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That gift of baptismal faith is what these young people will make confession and confirmation of this day.
The Holy Trinity first revealed Himself in His first words recounting creation through His prophet Moses in Genesis chapter one: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.” God the Father created through His Son, His creative Word, and God the Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the waters. The same three persons were present and working at Jesus’ baptism as the Father spoke His word, the Holy Spirit descended, and the Son was baptized and anointed in the Jordan River. So also did Jesus command His Apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” You do not chose to be a disciple, but disciples are made by the LORD through Holy Baptism, a work of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This is the Name of the LORD. This is the Name that was placed upon your forehead and upon your heart when you were baptized. This is the Name and the promise that you remember and confess when you make the sign of the cross in remembrance of your baptism. This the Name that marks you and seals you as a child of God, a member of God’s family in Jesus Christ, that protects you from the assaults of the Evil One, and blesses you all your days, even through death unto life everlasting. The Name of our Holy Triune God is invoked at the beginning of the Divine Service, and you are sent out with its blessing at its end. You should remember and take comfort in that Name when you rise up in the morning and when you lie down at night.
For, the Father loved the world in this way: He “gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” And as the LORD commanded Moses to raise up the bronze serpent on a pole so that all who were bitten by poisonous serpents might look to the bronze serpent and live, so, Jesus taught, “must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” You are baptized into the Triune Name of God. God has become your Father, Christ has become your Brother, and the Holy Spirit has become your Comforter.
Therefore, you must, like Isaiah before you, confess your uncleanness in heart and word and deed. For, even the six-winged holy seraphim veil their faces and their humble parts before the thrice-holy LORD. How much more, then, must you enter His presence in humility and repentance, in faith and trust in the Son, Jesus Christ, lifted up on the tree of the cross for the sins of the world. You may do so in humble repentance and confidence, for your lips have been touched by the blood of Jesus, who drank the cup of the LORD’s wrath against your sin until it was finished upon the cross. You are clean, your guilt has been taken away. However, yours is a borrowed righteousness. Jesus’ blood cleanses you of your guilt and uncleanness. Jesus’ righteousness covers your sins. Jesus presents you to His Father radiant and holy, innocent and without blemish.
And so, to preserve you and keep you in your baptismal grace until He come, today a servant of God's Word, without wings, at God's direction, will take from the this altar the fiery sacrifice of God and touch its fire to your lips once again that your guilt may be taken away and your sin atoned for. For, you partake of that which was sacrificed in your place: Jesus' Body and Blood. It is put into your mouth and it makes you clean. That which has appeased God's wrath on your behalf is joined to you. Thus you, too, can sing: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of your glory. For, like the seraphim, like Isaiah and Nicodemus, you are holy. You have been redeemed. You call the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnate God of Moses and of Abraham, the only-begotten of His Father from whom the Spirit does proceed, Brother. You belong to God. You have been spared. You have been Named by Him. You belong to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. You have been born from above through water and the Word by the intervention of Love. Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
John 14:23-31; Acts 2:1-21; Genesis 11:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost is a Feast of the Word – the Word of God. Of course, Pentecost is also a Feast of the Holy Spirit – you’ve already heard, and sung, and prayed about, and to, and for the sending of the Holy Spirit more this morning than all of this year to date! However, the Holy Spirit is all about the Word of God, and about the revelation of the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love Him, and We will come to Him and make Our home with Him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My Words.”
It all began with words: “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” The problem then was that those words were man’s words and not the Word of the LORD. After the flood, the LORD had commanded His people to “multiply and fill the earth” once again. Instead, the people gathered together in one place. And, there they sought to establish themselves independent of God, to build a city and a dwelling in which to reside permanently that they might make a name for themselves. They conspired to build a tower reaching into the heavens that they might be as gods unto themselves. Therefoe, the LORD looked upon His rebellious creation and saw, once again, that every inclination of their hearts was but evil all the time, just as before the flood, and, in an act of mercy, not judgment, the LORD confused the language of the people and dispersed them over the face of the whole earth. This was an act of mercy on behalf of the LORD just as His banishment of our First Parents from the Garden and from the Tree of Life. The LORD did not will that His people should be hardened and be cut off from His presence eternally. Therefore, the LORD in His providence had already a plan to reunite and to unify His people and to restore them to paradise, to the Tree of Life, and to communion with Him once again in His holy presence through His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the LORD made known His plan in many and various ways through His prophets of old – men like Jeremiah, and Isaiah, and the Prophet Joel whom St. Peter quoted in his Pentecost sermon: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on My male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” It’s all about the Word. The promised Spirit will drive people into the LORD’s Word. The Holy Spirit brings to remembrance what the LORD has promised in His Word made flesh, Jesus. The Spirit does not, and will not, bring a new word, a new revelation of the word, for the Word has gone out from the Father’s mouth, and it has not returned to Him void, but it has accomplished the purpose for which He was sent. In Jesus’ incarnation, virgin birth, obedient life, innocent suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, it is finished. And, on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, ten days after His ascension, the Father and His Son together sent forth His Spirit in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy and many others that He might unify His people once again and give them one voice, one language, one Word, and one God.
On the day of His ascension, Jesus had commanded them “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, ‘You heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’.” The disciples obeyed the Word of their Lord and they remained in Jerusalem. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place,” much as the people were gathered together in one place in the plains of Shinar when they conspired against the Word of the LORD to remain there and to build a tower and to make a name for themselves. However, this time the disciples were hearkening to the Word of the LORD. Then the Holy Spirit came upon them and gave them the gift of the Word. Though there were many people present from many different lands and tongues, they were all able to hear the Apostles proclaiming the Word of the LORD in their own languages. Although they spoke many different languages, the Holy Spirit united them with one spiritual language, the Word of the LORD, that everyone who calls upon the Name of the LORD shall be saved.
By His Holy Spirit, through His Word, the LORD “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” In this way, the LORD undoes the curse of Babel. The Holy Spirit joins all who love Jesus and keep His Word into a new family in communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This new family, the body of Christ, the Church shares “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Indeed, the purpose of the tongues, which were the natural languages of men, was that all could hear and understand the same message, the Word of the LORD, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The tongues were meant to draw together and to unify, not to isolate and divide. Those who claim a special gift of spiritual revelation seek, not the unity of Christ’s body the Church, but, like those rebels on the plains of Shinar, to make a name for themselves. It is the LORD who joins together; it is man who divides and separates.
Still, men like to go their own way, to chart their own course, to determine truth for themselves, and to hearken to their own word and wisdom and will. We see this today in the so-called worship wars where there is a desire to throw off the liturgical rites and ceremonies that have been handed down to us by generations of believers before us. Men refuse to submit themselves and to be constrained by a Word that is not of their own making. However, the liturgy consists of the LORD’s Word – check it for yourself and see that each portion of the liturgy has a scriptural reference from whence it was quoted or paraphrased. The LORD would unify us together in speaking with one voice with the Church of Jesus Christ of all times and of all places, with “angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” But, today there is a desire to speak a different word each and every Sunday, often in words that are so loosely connected to the Word of the LORD that one is not confident that they are receiving the LORD’s gifts or praising and thanking Him at all, but merely babbling self-gratifying words into the ether. In the liturgy of the Church we all sacrifice our selfish wants and desires to that which serves to unite all as one – the Holy Spirit through the Word of the LORD, which calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps the body of Christ.
And so, Pentecost is rightly considered the birthday of the Church, for on that day the Holy Spirit was poured out to unite all together as one in the body of Christ. The LORD had promised that day in the first Gospel He proclaimed after our First Parents fell into sin and death: “I will put enmity between you and the Woman, and between your offspring and Her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” The Woman is the Church, of which the Blessed Virgin Mary was a type, born of the Holy Spirit, and Her Seed is Jesus who, in His death upon the cross has crushed Satan’s head. The day of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, Good Friday, was the day of which Joel prophesied saying, “And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.”
Yes, the day of signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth has already come, but for that “great and magnificent day” of the Lord the Church still awaits in constant vigil and faith. Today begins the Pentecost Season, known also as The Time of the Church, Ordinary Time, and the Last Days. They began with the incarnation of Jesus, and they will end at His Parousia, the “great and magnificent day” of His return when the dead will be raised and Christ’s Bride, the Church will be ushered into the glorious presence of the LORD forevermore. Through the time of our pilgrimage and vigil, the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” “In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.” To this, the Church says “Amen! This is most certainly true!” And so the Spirit and the Bride together cry out, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Come!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, May 8, 2016
John 15:26 – 16:4; 1 Peter 4:7-14; Ezekiel 36:22-28
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Was the cross of Jesus a good thing, or a bad thing? Careful, now, I know that you want to say it was a bad thing. After all, how can you gaze upon the tortured, pierced, torn, and bloodied body of Jesus on the cross and not see the evil, the wickedness, and the hatred that nailed Him there? How could anyone call the cross a good thing? Well, God calls it good. Thus, perhaps you need to consider the possibility that you are not seeing things correctly. You see, you often mistake a good thing for a bad thing, and a bad thing for a good thing. In contrast to yourself, however, God simply calls a thing what it is. God calls Jesus’ crucified body on the cross a good thing, for it was the means through which you, His prodigal son, His prodigal daughter, were restored to Him, and by which Satan, your enemy and the cause of your sin-wrecked relationship with God, was defeated and lost all claim upon you. Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, and death upon the cross were a good thing – they were good for you. Therefore, do not dare to gaze upon the cross, the crucifix, and call it bad.
God calls a thing what it is, and so should you. God calls your deviant, rebellious thoughts, words, and deeds sin, and so should you. God calls your separation from Him death, and so should you. And, God calls His Son Jesus, dead upon the cross, satisfaction and redemption, paid in full for all your sins so that, through faith and trust in Him alone, He now calls you what you are in Him – holy, pure, and innocent – and, so should you.
However, you must understand that it was not for your sake that your LORD gave all for you, but it was for the sake of the His holy Name, which you had profaned, and which you continue to profane when you sin. Does this sound odd to you, that “it is not for your sake” that God acted, but “for the sake of [His] holy Name?” It is understandable if it does, for popular Christian thought is much more you-centered than it is God-centered or Christ-centered. Further, I am not at all convinced that most Christians have a clue what God’s Name is or means. Because of that, I really appreciate this comment in the Lutheran Study Bible: “God’s Name is a capsule-word for everything He is and has revealed about Himself. Its essential characteristic is ‘holiness,’ i.e., transcendence above all limited human concepts, definitions, and comprehension.”
This is why I preached to you last week about Jesus’ Name, and what it means to ask anything of the Father in Jesus’ Name, in the assurance that He will give it to you. The Name of Jesus, the Name of God, is so very much more than a proper noun, a title, or a designation. God’s Name is holy. It is everything that holiness is and must be, and the only holy thing through which other persons and things may be made to be holy. And so, no, it is not for your sake that the LORD acted, but it was for the sake of His holy Name. However, you were once a part of the LORD’s holy Name, and it is His will and love for you that you be restored to His holy Name once again. This, Jesus has done for you in the good thing of His suffering, crucifixion, and death. And, the LORD raised Him up again on the third day, that in Jesus, His Name, He might raise you up and restore you to a right relationship with Him once again.
Despite what your eyes see, this is a good thing. You must learn to see with your ears. Indeed, faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ. Jesus Christ is the Name and the Word of God made flesh. No one could know this simply by gazing upon Jesus with his eyes. To the eyes of men, Jesus looked to be the son of a carpenter from backwater Nazareth, a young rabbi with a somewhat radical interpretation of scripture, a zealot seeking to gather a following presumably to begin an overthrow of their Roman occupiers, etc. Yet, there were a few who could see the Truth with their ears and, thus, with the eyes of faith, most notably John the Baptist who pointed to Jesus proclaiming, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John judged not by what his eyes saw, but by what his ears saw. He called Jesus what He was, the Paschal Lamb of God for the forgiveness of sins. St. Peter had a similar experience when he confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And, also the centurion stationed at the cross as Jesus died who confessed, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” And also, St. Thomas on the Sunday following Easter who confessed of Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
It is a good thing that Jesus died for you, even as it is a good thing that He was raised for you, and it is also a good thing that Jesus has ascended back to His Father for you. Do not overlook or neglect the importance of Jesus’ ascension. Jesus’ ascension back into the holy presence of God is also your ascension, reconciliation, and restoration to God. It was your flesh and blood that Jesus took up when He was conceived of the Virgin Mary, was obedient under the Law of God, suffered and died for your sins, guilt, and transgressions, was raised from death on the third day, and, lastly, ascended back to His Father in heaven, guaranteeing a place for you there through baptism and faith in Him. A human Man now sits in the presence and glory of God, and that Man is Jesus, and through your baptism into Him and faith, that Man is you. You must see with your ears by hearkening to this Word of the LORD, and you must call a thing, not as it appears, but what it truly is. In Christ, you have an audience with the King of Creation, the LORD and Holy Triune God. You have the same audience as His eternal Son, Jesus – full access, the King’s ear, and His promise to bless you and keep you in and through all things.
Jesus has said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. You must not be deceived by mere appearances. The mighty works of the LORD are often accomplished through the humblest and most unassuming means. Moses was but a stuttering shepherd. David was young, inexperienced, and mild. Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, a tax collector, and women, among the least in their community. Your pastor is but a sinful man like you vacillating between pride and humility, anger and gentleness, condemnation and forgiveness, hardness and compassion. And the most powerful works of the LORD are accomplished through the Word spoken, water applied, bread and wine given. Through these means sins are forgiven, faith is created, nourished, and strengthened, and disciples are equipped for service to the neighbor and for battle against Satan and his demonic forces. Though you are nothing to look at, you are God’s children and Jesus’ body, the Church, militant in warfare against Satan for the life of the world. Do not be deceived by the humble, weak, and even sinful appearance, but call a thing what it is, what God in His Word says it is: You are the Church, the called and chosen of the LORD in Jesus Christ, holy, pure, and righteous as Jesus Himself before God and man.
But, the world doesn’t see you for what you are. Men do not consider you holy, pure, and righteous, but evil, hypocrites, bigots, and worse. You must not be surprised at this. The world and men do not keep the Word of the LORD or have any care for it. Therefore, they call evil good, and good evil. But, you must simply call a thing what it is. Let your yes by yes, and let your no be no. And, because you are God’s yes, you must be yes to your brother and sister in Christ, you must be yes to your neighbor, and you must be yes to the world. That is to say, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” This does not mean that you bless what God has condemned, but that you bear with and show love to all, even to those who hate God and who hate you and consider you to be evil. You must discern between right and wrong, good and evil, yes and no according to the light of God’s Word and the counsel of the Holy Spirit, but it is not your place to judge and condemn. You must be merciful, as your LORD and God has been merciful to you. You must love with His love, bear with one another with His patience and longsuffering, and forgive with His forgiveness, “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
Did I just in happenstance describe mothers? Yes, surely mothers are an example of this kind of love and patience and longsuffering. Even when motherhood is wrought in pain and tribulation, even when their children disobey and disrespect them, even when husbands withdraw and seem unsupportive or disconnected, mothers see and feel and believe and cherish an unseen truth – Motherhood is a sacred and holy vocation. Children are a gift and blessing of God. The love of a mother may be the most like the love of God. May the Holy Spirit give us all eyes to see what mothers see and new hearts and new spirits to love selflessly in humility and longsuffering all of God’s children as well as those He would have yet to be His children.
Do not be deceived. Things are not as they appear. Open your ears to the Word of the LORD and see in the way that He sees. Do not be surprised at the fiery trial you often encounter in your lives these days in this world that is not your home, but rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the Name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. The Helper has come and is with you. The Holy Spirit bears witness in Word and Sacrament and in your own hearts to Jesus Christ to keep you from falling away. Next, we will celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Through the Spirit of God poured out in Christ Jesus you are His people and you will dwell with Him forever as His people, with the LORD as your God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.