Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day Prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the Gift of Your love poured out for us in the selfless sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. As we remember this day those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, we think of how they have followed in the footsteps of Your Son. We thank You for those men and women who have laid down their lives in loving, selfless, sacrifice for us, for our nation, for our freedom, for our families, and for our children. They are an image, a reflection, and an extension of Your love, grace, mercy, and compassion for all people.
A life given in love is never given in vain. Help us to honor their sacrifice by cherishing the freedoms they died to preserve. Help all citizens of this great nation to sacrifice themselves in humble service to their neighbors, recognizing that all we have comes from Your gracious hand, and that we are but stewards and managers of Your boundless providence.
Grant our nation humble and faithful leaders who bear the sword You give them for the good of those under their charge and make this nation, under God, a beacon light of charity, mercy, hope, and peace for the world, that those dwelling in the darkness of sin and death may know true Peace in the Light of Your love, mercy, and forgiveness.
Hold our service men and women in Your strong arms. Cover them with your sheltering grace and presence as they stand in the gap for our protection. We also remember the families of our troops, and ask for Your unique blessings to fill their homes, and Your peace, provision and strength to fill their lives. May the members of our armed forces be filled with courage to face each day, and may they trust in the Lord's mighty power to accomplish each task. Let our military brothers and sisters feel our love and support.
Finally, loving Father, bless this Memorial Day, that all who celebrate this day may also take time to remember and give thanks for the love poured out for them in the sacrifices made by their brothers and sisters.
Redeeming Savior Jesus, bless this Memorial Day, that all who enjoy safety, comfort, peace, and freedom in this great nation may remember the blood shed to secure these gifts.
Sanctifying Spirit of God, bless this Memorial Day, that your love, exemplified in those who have laid down their lives for us, would so abound in us, that all may know your love as they see it reflected in our love and service to our neighbor.
May the Peace of God that passes all understanding, that peace which the world can neither give nor take away, abide with us to bless us, this day, and even forever more.
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

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.
Does it not often seem that the most direct, the clearest, and the most simply stated of our Lord’s teachings are the most difficult for us to understand and to believe? For example, as Jesus held up bread, blessed it, broke it, and distributed it to His disciples, He plainly and clearly said, “This is My body.”I ask you, is there anything unclear about those four, precise words? Truly, if Jesus wished to communicate something other than the reality of His flesh and blood presence in the Last Supper, He could easily have said, “This is a symbolof My body,” or “This representsMy body,” or “This is a spiritual presenceof My body,” or even, “This has been transformed intoMy body.” But, no, our Lord did not say any of these things, but He plainly, clearly, distinctly, and precisely said, “This isMy body,” and “This isMy blood of the New Covenant shed for your for the forgiveness of sins.” Similarly, Jesus taught plainly and clearly concerning His divinity saying, “I and the Father are one,” and “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” and “Before Abraham was, I am.” The religious leadership of the Jews understood that last one plainly enough; they took up stones to stone Jesus to death for blasphemy, because they understood that He had publicly claimed to be God. Likewise, many who believed in Him followed Him no longer when Jesus taught them saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Those who heard Jesus’ words understood precisely what He meant, even if it was hard to believe. Why don’t we?
The historic Gospel appointed for The Feast of the Holy Trinity is, somewhat surprisingly, not an overtly Trinitarian text, but is, rather, about spiritual regeneration, Holy Baptism, and being “born again.” And, this Gospel is yet another example in which our Lord Jesus spoke most clearly, plainly, and precisely, and yet extreme mischief, confusion, and outright deception has been committed by Christians in interpreting and applying Jesus’ teaching concerning spiritual regeneration, Holy Baptism, and being “born again.” Nicodemus, a learned Pharisee and teacher of Israel, came to Jesus under cover of night that he might inquire of the Rabbi concerning His being the Messiah of God. Nicodemus confessed that he was inclined to believe Jesus because of the miraculous signs He performed, but Jesus answered Nicodemus saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus, also, understood Jesus’ words at face value saying, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” That is the plain, simple, natural reading of Jesus’ words. His words are not mysterious or difficult to understand, no more than Jesus’ words, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” By Jesus’ words alone, Nicodemus was right to understand them plainly and literally.
However, in this case, Jesus was not speaking literally, but spiritually and metaphorically. How do we know this? Because Jesus went on to explain precisely that saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, 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.” Jesus offered no such spiritual explanation of His words concerning His body and blood in the Supper. One must be spiritually “born again” in order to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus’ use of the analogy of birth is of extreme importance. Jesus beckoned Nicodemus to consider his supernatural and spiritual rebirth in light of his natural and physical birth. We are completely passive in our natural births. We did not choose to be born, when to be born, or where to be born. We did not choose our parents, grandparents, or siblings. We did not choose our race or ethnicity, the geographical location of our birth, or our nationality. We did not even choose whether we would be male or female. In truth, birth is not something that you choose in any way at all, but birth is something that happens to you wholly apart from your choosing, your reason and understanding, and any decision you might make. That is precisely how Jesus would have you consider your spiritual rebirth in Holy Baptism: Being “born again” is something that happens to you, wholly apart from your choosing, your reason and understanding, or any decision you might make. Being “born again” is the work of God the Father, by His Holy Spirit, working through His Word, His Son. And so, being “born again” is the work of the Holy Trinity in unity.
To illustrate this point even further, Jesus taught Nicodemus using the analogy of the wind saying, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 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.” Once again, in relation to the wind, we are completely passive. You cannot will the wind to blow upon you any more than you can will it to stop. So it is, says Jesus, with the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit creates faith and trust in men when and where He pleases. We do not participate in our being “born again” anymore than we did in our natural births, anymore than we can direct the wind to blow upon us or not. For, apart from the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, we are spiritually deaf, dumb, and blind – in truth, we are spiritually dead. Only God can open deaf ears to hear, release dumb tongues to speak, give sight to blind eyes, and raise the dead to life by His Holy Spirit through His Word. Therefore we confess with Luther: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
Largely the result of 17thcentury Lutheran Pietism, which focused upon personal inward holiness as opposed to what was perceived as formalism and intellectualism, contemporary Evangelical Protestantism is infected and crippled by spiritual egoism and, consequently, with Semi-Pelagian works righteousness and self-justification. The cliché “born again” has been completely divorced from Jesus’ clear meaning and teaching concerning our passivity in spiritual regeneration and has been reinterpreted to mean that we must make a decision, open our hearts to Jesus, and accept Him as our Lord and Savior. Please, I ask you, can you honestly say that Jesus taught anything remotely like that in our Gospel today? Truly, you have to perform some incredible linguistic and interpretive gymnastics to arrive at such an interpretation. You see, the problem with such an interpretation of “born again” is that it is all about “I” – “I decided,” “I accepted,” “I chose,” accompanied by “I feel,” “I do,” and “I will.” It’s all about what youhave done, what youfeel, and what youwill do, and not about what God the Father has done by the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ His Son and Word. Such an understanding inevitably leads to one of two, seemingly paradoxical, results: The believer is pumped up with self-righteous pride, believing that he is justified and sanctified because of his decision and feelings concerning Jesus, or, he falls into hopelessness and despair because he feels unworthy and his works fall short of obedience. I assure you, Satan delights whenever your eyes are taken off of Jesus and placed upon yourself – your decision, your feelings, your works, your righteousness.
Indeed, that is why Jesus concludes today’s Gospel by teaching about the serpent God commanded Moses to raise up in the wilderness. As those bitten by venomous serpents were healed when they looked upon the fiery serpent raised up on the pole, “so,” Jesus says, “must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Jesus Christ, crucified, died, risen, ascended, and returning, stands outside of you as an objective, unchanging sign that “it is finished,” you are justified, redeemed, healed, and forgiven wholly apart from your choosing, your reason and understanding, your faith, or any decision that you might make. Because Jesus’ sinlessness, obedience, death and resurrection stand outside of you, you can have confidence that you are redeemed and forgiven and that this will never change or be revoked. Your justification doesn’t depend upon how you feel, what you do, what you understand, or anything else about you – Your justification doesn’t depend upon you, but it depends upon Jesus alone.
However, you must believe. And, that is what Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus is really all about – How does one believe? How do we come to saving faith in Jesus? Justifying and saving faith, belief, and trust are the work of the Holy Spirit as He creates them in men when and where He pleases. Just as the wind blows upon you, just as when you were born, you are passive in coming to faith. You did not, could not, and would not choose Jesus, but He has chosen you and, by His Holy Spirit through His Word, He has created and sustains faith in your hearts. Faith is absolutely necessary. Apart from faith in Jesus you cannot be saved. This Jesus taught saying, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me,” and “He who believes and is baptized will be saved. He who does not believe will be condemned.” All living things are born, and to be spiritually alive you must be born again of water and the Spirit. This is a clear reference to your Holy Baptism in which you entered again into your Mother’s womb, the baptismal font of the Church, and emerged clean, new, and alive having the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit. This is the work of God the Father, by His Holy Spirit, through His Son Jesus Christ – water, Word, and Spirit. In your Holy Baptism you were passive as the water poured over your head, as the Word of God was spoken over you and into you, and the Holy Spirit descended upon you and remained with you. Because it came from outside of you, your justification is not dependent upon your choice, your reason, your understanding, your obedience, or your feelings, but it depends only upon the Word and Promise of God that never changes and never fails. What promise is that? Jesus concludes saying, “For God so loved the world in this way: He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus, your baptism, your faith, the sealing of His Holy Spirit, are God’s precious gifts for you. Do not dare to take credit for them yourself, or to claim that you have chosen them, decided to take them, or earned or merited them in anyway. Such theft is blasphemy and unbelief. Rather, as when you receive any gift, say “Thank you,” and love, honor, and obey God, the giver of the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
None of this should be surprising, for the consistent teaching of the Holy Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation is the monergism of God in creation and justification, that these are His work alone. In the beginning, God created all things by speaking His creative Word into lifeless nothingness. The Church calls this creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. Creation is the work of the Holy Trinity alone. Natural birth is God’s work alone. Your justification in Christ is God’s work alone. And your being “born again” of water and the Spirit is God’s work alone. However, once you have been “born again,” then you do indeed begin to cooperate with God the Holy Spirit as you do good works, not good in themselves, but sanctified and made holy through the blood of Jesus. That you might remain in this good and saving faith and be fruitful in works that are pleasing before the Lord, the Holy Spirit keeps you in the Church, the body of Christ, forgives you anew, feeds, nourishes, and strengthens your faith, and equips and sends you in loving service of your neighbor to the glory of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
“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 20, 2018

The Feast of Pentecost

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.
The Feast of Pentecost is the restoration of the right and proper order of things: God gives. Man receives and returns thanks and praise to God.
After the flood, Noah’s descendants did not disperse and fill the world as God had commanded, but they settled together in one area, they all spoke one language, and they were unified as one people. It was not long until they conspired to build a tower rising into the heavens that they might make a name for themselves, as gods unto themselves, a transgression akin to the pride and envy of Lucifer’s primordial power-grab and the sin of our First Parents Adam and Eve. Theirs was a transgression of the First and Greatest Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,”and “You shall fear, love, and trust in God above all things”– even, and especially, above yourself.
Men are indeed capable of doing great and mighty things, from harnessing the energy of the atom to the construction of stations in space, from the mapping of the human genome, to the cloning of animal and human cells. Men build great cities having towering skyscrapers and sinuous, multi-tiered underground labyrinths of subways and service tunnels and sewers. And yet, what is man’s greatness compared with the greatness of man’s Creator? How much greater would man’s works be if they were conceived, consummated, and accomplished in accord with God’s holy will and to His glory?
Do not think that your God and Creator is opposed to man’s achieving greatness, for He is not. Indeed, He, Himself, crowned man King and Queen of all that He had made. But man’s dominion is an authority given and vested by God; man is not great by his own accord, but He has been made to be great like his Creator – great in mercy, great in compassion, great in love for all that God has made, as His stewards and managers, that all the world might know its God and Maker. Thus, God is not opposed to or against man’s achievements in science and technology, his attempts to make the world better, however, when these are ends in themselves, or when they serve the elevation of man apart from God’s will, Law, wisdom, and guidance, they cannot achieve the good they were intended to achieve, for they are a good pursued in the wrong way.
Thus the LORD confused the language of man and dispersed them over the face of the earth so that they left off building their great city and tower. This was much less an act of judgment than it was an act of mercy and love akin to God’s banishing of our First Parents from the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life. If man were left to pursue his own wicked ends, it would result in his destruction and eternal separation from the source of his life and the reason for his being, communion with his Creator and God.
But God does indeed love the good works of men when they flow from His Holy Spirit. And thus, He would not leave His children in this confused state, but He would gather them together again as one people, one body, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing. In many types and figures, in prophets and judges and kings, God called His people to repentance, and He gave them one spiritual language. But, still, His children regularly strayed and sought power and glory, strength and might in ways and in things contrary to God’s Holy Law and will and Spirit. Until, in the fullness of time, God sent forth His only-begotten Son into our human flesh, that He would be obedient to God’s holy will and Law, and walk in perfect communion with Him all the days of His earthly life. Then, in one final act of obedience, Jesus submitted to the misdirected “good” deeds of men as they tried and convicted Him, mocked and scourged Him, and crucified Him on the cursed tree of the cross, and He died for the wickedness, guilt, and sin of the creatures who, as God, He had Himself created. As the prophet Isaiah has prophesied, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”
In His timeless apologetic for the Christian faith, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote of man’s wickedness saying, “Wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way.”Indeed, man, created in the image of God, has the desire and the capacity to do good. Men desire to love and to be loved. Men desire both to control and to be controlled. Men desire to create life and to nurture and grow living things, be they plants, animals, or children. And men desire to build houses and cities, roads and bridges, telescopes and rocket ships. And these are all good desires and pursuits in and of themselves. There is nothing wicked about them. Indeed, God Himself does good, loves, controls, builds, and gives life. But, for men, these good desires and pursuits become wicked when they are divorced from God’s holy Law and will and Spirit.
Before His death, Jesus comforted His disciples saying to them, “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. […] …the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”Jesus kept this promise when the Father sent the Holy Spirit upon His disciples on the Day of Pentecost. We rightly celebrate this day as the birthday of the Church. For, on that day, the confusion of Babel was undone once and for all, as the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and gave them the ability to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all the languages of the world so that men, dispersed to the four corners of the earth, could hear the Good News of God’s salvation in their own language and tongue. For, the Gospel is a message and a language that transcends all languages. It doesn’t matter if it is spoken in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. It doesn’t matter if it is spoken in German or English (in the KJV, ESV, RSV, NIV, NLT, ASV, NAS, or whatever!), Chinese, or Swahili. For, there is one Gospel, just as there is one LORD, one God, one Christ, and one Holy Spirit. And there is one holy catholic and apostolic Church, one Baptism, one Communion, one body having one head, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Pentecost is the reversal of Babel. Only, this time, it is the LORD who has called, enlightened, sanctified, and kept in faithHis people by His Holy Spirit. And, though there are still many languages, there is one Gospel which transcends them all and is spoken in all by the guidance and inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. Though the Church does not celebrate Pentecost anew, or receive the Holy Spirit anew, She prays, nonetheless for the continual sending of the Spirit of Christ, that Her works and deeds may be conceived, consummated, and accomplished in accord with God’s holy will and to His glory. For, like every other human desire and endeavor, apart from the guidance, counsel, and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, even the Church’s works and deeds can lead to wickedness, destruction, and eternal separation from the source of Her life and the reason for Her being, Her own communion with, and Her bringing others into communion with, Her one Creator and God.
For, in the end, the Holy Spirit is not a spirit of numerical growth, although He can cause that. Nor is He a spirit of worldly glory, although He sometimes blesses the Church with glory in the eyes of men that they may see God’s blessing in ways they recognize. Nor is He a spirit of monetary wealth, although He invites you to test how He will measure back to you so much more if you will but give to others in faith. But, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, which is to say that He is the Spirit of compassion and mercy and love; and He is the Spirit of bold confession and unwavering faith. For, the chief work of the Holy Spirit is to draw men to Jesus that they may receive what He has accomplished.
In your lives you are tempted to fret and to strive to build your own towers into the heavens that you might control all the seemingly out of control things in your life and world. You think that by electing the right candidate, by passing the right law, by spending money the right way, and by defending the right ideology you will make the world a better place, a safer place, a place that values what you value and condemns what you condemn. But, whatever you desire and love, if it is not in accord with God’s holy Law, will, and Spirit, and is not conceived, consummated, and accomplished by the Holy Spirit, it is wickedness and mindless babel. And so, let us pray today, and every day, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.”And, the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ will give you His peace – peace, not as the world gives, that your hearts need not be troubled or afraid.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Exaudi - The Seventh Sunday of Easter (Easter 7)

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 Nameis 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 isthe 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.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Christian Funeral for Raymond Klassen Mehmen

John 6:27-40; Romans 8:31-39; Job 19:21-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I pray that you will bear with me to use an illustration from a personal interest in order to make a point. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy, The Lord of the Rings, the hobbit Bilbo, reflecting upon his one-hundred-eleventieth birthday, has a terrific line. Bilbo says, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” I have to admit that I was reminded of that vivid image several times over the last few months of Ray’s life. As I sat and listened to Ray, prayed with him, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper with him, I observed that Ray, too, was “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Ray was tired and weary and worn, simply from long life, hard work, and from living and being lived. It is the nature of things, this side of heaven, to slow down. It is the nature of human life, since our First Parent’s fall in the Garden, to slow down and to, eventually, die. That was, essentially, the doctors’ final diagnosis in a nutshell, “Ray, you’re just old.” How many times did Ray sigh in frustration saying, “They tell me I’m just old.”
Psalm 90, our Processional Psalm today, which is attributed to Moses, expresses this sentiment well: “For all our days pass away under Your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.” Is that not the way Ray’s life ended, with a sigh? Ray was frustrated. He couldn’t do the things that brought him joy. And, he couldn’t help Jo, which made him sad and angry, but most of all he felt helpless. In the same Psalm, Moses referenced Genesis 6:3, where our LORD, grieved by man’s wickedness and sinful nature, proclaimed, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh; his days shall be 120 years.” Interestingly, Moses himself died at age one hundred twenty. And, as it is, the oldest person alive on the planet, until just a few weeks ago, was a Japanese woman by the name of Nabi Tajima, who died at the age of one hundred seventeen. Now, in my pastoral ministry I have had the opportunity to minister to a few centenarians, that is, people a hundred years old or older. Every one of them sighed and wondered why the LORD hadn’t called them home. Their spouses, their siblings, their friends, and often their children were all gone and they were utterly alone on the earth. Moreover, though their minds were sharp, their bodies would not permit them to do anything they enjoyed or wanted to do. This is why I truly believe that it was an act of mercy that our LORD limited our lifespan to roughly 120 years, in reality, more like seventy, eighty, or ninety. For, if we lived much longer than that, could any of us persevere in faith to the end?
Now, while I know that we would have liked to have had more, ninety-three years is a long life by any reckoning. And, by the grace of God, the overwhelming majority of those years were good and blessed years for Ray and Jo. However, Ray and Jo faced and overcame many challenges and obstacles together, and they suffered tremendous loss and pain together. The most poignant, painful, and life altering of those was without question the death of their beloved son Alan. Even that horrific tragedy Ray and Jo faced together, and the LORD preserved them and strengthened their faith. The LORD blessed Ray and Jo with seventy-two years of marriage. Any marriage that lasts does so through ups and downs, through good times and bad times, through sickness and health, through patience, perseverance, and forgiveness. Some of Ray’s last words to his bride were, “Jo, I love you so much. I’m sorry if I ever got mad at you.” I know for a fact that Ray’s greatest concern was not for his own health and life, but that Jo would be taken care of. Thankfully, the LORD has also provided Ray and Jo with so many wonderful friends that are as close to them and who care for them as family. The LORD blessed Ray and Jo richly, even as He made them a rich blessing to others, who in turn are a blessing to them once again.
A life well lived – That describes both Ray and Jo extremely well. Though he farmed with his family and owned a hardware store in Shell Rock for a while, Ray was a plumber and he was known and respected as a good and honest plumber. In fact, after hanging up his plumber’s wrench at the age of 90 (!), he continued to get calls for jobs even within the last several months! Ray was a hard worker, talented, and good with his hands. He loved to work in his woodshop making birdhouses and a multitude of beautiful and useful things. And, Ray was every present at Waverly – Shell Rock basketball and baseball games, sitting at the top of the bleachers for the best view. And, Ray was always in church on Sunday morning, a lesson he learned in his youth when, even if he got in at four in the morning, he had to get up and be ready for church in the morning, or else! Ray and Jo’s love for one another was self-evident. Even when they bickered it was kind and reflected the wisdom and patience that are born from love and a commitment to stick together through both good times and bad. For, life is full of challenges and blessings, and in the LORD’s gracious providence, even the challenges He makes to be blessings.
Isn’t that what St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans? “For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” But, how can we have such an attitude as that? How can we experience that confidence and optimism when we are faced with trial and tribulation, suffering, and death? Well, what does St. Paul say? “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ray and Jo believed this, and so must you. All their lives they trusted in the LORD, through thick and thin, through good times and bad. Their hope was not in food that perishes, but in “the food that endures to eternal life.” Jesus is that food. Jesus is that holy manna, that Bread of Life of which a man may eat and truly live. He, who laid down His life for Ray, for Jo, for you, and for all the world, loves you with a boundless and everlasting love. He will never leave you or forsake you, and nothing can separate you from His love – not even life or death. The Father has given Him all things, and whoever comes to Him He will never cast out. Indeed, it is the Father’s will that “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and [He] will raise them up on the last day.” So many wonder what they must do to do the works of God, what they must do to be saved. Jesus answers them saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Ray believed in God, and Ray trusted in Jesus, God’s Son. Therefore, we take comfort that Ray is with Jesus right now, in peace and comfort, just like Moses and Elijah before him, like the poor man Lazarus, and like the repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus, to whom Jesus said, “This day you will be with Me in paradise.” Thank you Jesus!
However, don’t stop there. Don’t sell yourself short on the hope, comfort, peace, and joy Jesus offers you. But, what did Jesus say? “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” This truth did righteous Job confess nearly 2000 years before the birth of Jesus saying, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Too often we place our comfort and hope only in the truth that those we love who have died in faith are with Jesus. Yes, that is indeed true and extremely comforting. However, Jesus has something even greater and more comforting and never ending in store for His faithful people, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting in glorified flesh and blood bodies that cannot age, weaken, suffer, and die. That is why, though we grieve, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. For our hope is in Jesus’ promise that He will raise us up from death and that with our own flesh and blood eyes we will see Him face to face, and also that with our own flesh and blood eyes, ears, hands, and arms we will see, hear, touch, and embrace our loved ones who have died in the Lord. Jo, you will see Ray again. Dear people of God, you will see Ray again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you!
But, for now, there is rest for God’s holy children. “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden,” Jesus says, and I will give you rest.” Come to Me, all you who are “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Come to Me, Jesus says, and you will find rest for your souls. The LORD has called Ray to rest in Jesus. Ray has labored hard, and now He rests in Jesus. When you miss him, remember that you know precisely where Ray is; Ray is with Jesus. Go to the cemetery, lay some flowers, and say your prayers – that is good and right to do. But, if you really want to be near to Ray, to be with him, come to where Jesus is, and to where Ray is, “with angels, archangels, and with all the company of heaven.” Come to the Lord’s Supper, where heaven comes down to earth, where Jesus is present with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, and where the Communion of Saints in heaven and on earth are together as one body, in the one Lord Jesus Christ, the Church. Here is manna to sustain you as you make your pilgrimage to the Promised Land, for here is Jesus, the Bread of Life, of which a man may eat and live and never die.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Rogate - The Sixth Sunday of Easter (Easter 6)

John 16:23-33; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:4-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“In that day you will ask nothing of Me,” says Jesus. Now, what on earth could He possibly mean? What Jesus means is that, because of His death and resurrection in your place and for your sake, He has, literally, given Himself to you. You are He, and He is you, flesh of His flesh, bone of His bones. He is your holy Bridegroom, and you, the Church, are His holy Bride. Therefore, all that belongs to Jesus belongs also to you, for you are His body, and He is your head. Remember Jesus’ words that you heard in last Sunday’s Gospel? “All that the Father has is Mine; therefore I said that [the Holy Spirit] will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” There is nothing that you could possibly ask the Father to give you that is not already yours in Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus says, “You will ask nothing of Me,” but “Whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you.”
“In My Name” is key, however. The Name of Jesus includes everything that is godly and good, everything that is in accordance with God’s Word, His Will, and His Commands, everything that your God and Father would want you to have and readily gives you whether you pray to Him or not. Are new cars, expensive college educations, and winning lottery tickets in the Name of Jesus? Perhaps, but not likely. Are healings, recoveries, and protections from evil in the Name of Jesus? Most definitely, but they are not promised to be granted at all times, or in any particular time frame. What “In My Name” most certainly is not is a magical incantation that you simply tack on to the end of your prayers to make God answer them in the affirmative and as you desire. That would be to make God like unto some divine vending machine: Insert coin, pull lever, dispense gift. Thank you Jesus! No, but the Name of Jesus is Jesus Himself, indeed, the entire Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we heard from St. James last week, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Jesus Himself is, first and foremost, that good and perfect gift of the Father, and whatever you ask of the Father that is in Jesus’ Name, that is, that is in Jesus, He will surely give you – in His time, in His way, according to His will and knowledge of what is best and good.
Therefore, we must examine what true prayer is and what it is not, for there is surely much confusion among Christians today concerning prayer. First, prayer is not an option, but you are commanded to pray. Thus, to pray is to obey. This is truly nothing more or less than obedience to the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” for, when you pray, you pray to God, you acknowledge Him to be God and consequently confess that you are not god. This, in itself, is good for you, for it is the proper order of things, realignment between Creator and creature. Prayer is a return to God, your Father, much as the prodigal son returned to His gracious, loving, and forgiving father. God is there for you always, watching, waiting, and calling for your return, no matter how long and how far you have strayed, no matter how hatefully and wickedly you have treated Him, rebelled against Him, and considered Him an enemy. Pray to Him because He is good, and He is God, regardless of any expectation of whether He will grant you what you ask. That simply is not the point. Pray. That is the point. Just pray. It’s good for you, it glorifies God, and He has promised to hear and answer your prayers in Jesus’ Name.
But, what should you pray for? Truly, there is no better instruction and guidance in this matter than the very prayer our Lord Jesus taught us to pray. We should pray that God’s Name would be hallowed, that it would be received, confessed, and called upon as holy among us, His children, in our lives, words, and deeds. We should pray that His kingdom would come among us, that we would desire its coming and recognize and confess its presence among us in how we worship Him and live our lives to His glory in our God-given vocations in the world, but not of the world. We should pray that His will be done, not our own will, and that we would “think those things that are right” and “by [His] merciful guiding accomplish them,” as we prayed in today’s Collect. We should pray for Him to provide us daily bread, that is, everything that we need and require for our bodies and our lives in this world, and for our immortal souls. We should pray that He would enable and inspire us to forgive others with His forgivenesspoured out upon us in Jesus Christ, that others would know the love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God and glorify His Name with us. We should pray that He would lead us not unto temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; that is to say, that He would protect us from the temptations and assaults of the devil, the world, and our own fallen flesh and reason. Do you not see how all of these petitions are necessarily and absolutely in Jesus’ Name?
In the Catechism’s explanation of the Second Commandment concerning the proper use of the Name of the LORD, Luther says that we should “call upon [God’s Name] in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” As is typical for Luther, particularly in the Catechism, in a few well-chosen words he communicates all that needs to be said: Pray for what you need and to glorify the LORD. There is no confusing and distracting talk of when to pray, or how to pray, what words to say when you pray, what posture you should adopt when you pray, where you should pray, etc. Luther simply says to pray. Likewise, St. Paul says that you are to pray without ceasing. Oh, the ink that has been spilt and the spiritual damage that has been wrought in misunderstanding and misinterpretation of these words! Why must every command be defined with a limit? “How many times must I forgive my brother who has sinned against me?” “When is it appropriate to not love?” “When is it appropriate to not give or help or pray?” Our sin-corrupted reason and flesh hates and despises and fears the LORD’s open-ended commands to pray, to love, to forgive, and to give. “When?” We want ask. “Always!” The Lord replies, “There is no limit!” “But, I can’t do that!” you protest. “Yes you can, and you must!” the preacher answers. After all, you manage to breathe without ceasing, isn’t that right? If you’re not breathing, you’re dead. For Christians, prayer should be like breathing. You do not have to think to breathe because the atmosphere exerts pressure on your lungs and essentially forces you to breathe. That is why it is more difficult to hold your breath than it is to breathe. Similarly, when we are born into the family of God, we enter into a spiritual atmosphere where God's presence and grace exert pressure, or influence, on our lives. Prayer is the normal response to that pressure. As believers, we have all entered the divine atmosphere to breathe the air of prayer.Unfortunately, many believers hold their “spiritual breath” for long periods, thinking brief moments with God are sufficient to allow them to survive. But such restricting of their spiritual intake is caused by sinful desires. The fact is that every believer must be continually in the presence of God, constantly breathing in His truths, to be fully functional. Thus, St. Paul exhorts you to pray without ceasing. Breathe, pray, and live.
For, your life is a prayer to God. Thus, St. James exhorts you to be “doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” As the air you breathe nourishes your body, enabling you to live, so does prayer nourish, enliven, and enable you to live both spiritually and physically. As the saying goes, “You are what you eat,” so you are what you breathe, you are what you pray, what you take into yourself, and what you give out in your lives, words, and deeds. Therefore, bridle your tongue and keep yourself unstained from the world and undefiled before God the Father. In this way you may have peace, the Peace of God which passes all human understanding, in Jesus Christ our Lord. “I have said these things to you,” says Jesus, “that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Jesus is the good and perfect gift the Father gives to you. And, in Jesus you have everything you could possibly ask for that is in His Name: Righteousness and holiness, Sonship with the Father, a share in Jesus’ reign over the kingdom of heaven and earth, victory over sin, death, and the devil, everlasting life that can never die or fade. You do not have to ask of Jesus, but whatever you ask in Jesus’ Name His Father will give to you that your joy may be full, for the Father Himself loves you, because you love Jesus and are bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh. If your flesh and reason, the world, and the devil tempt you to doubt this, then know that this is a chief reason that your Lord Jesus left you this Sacrament, that you may, in a physical, visible, touchable, tasteable way, be reminded that you are in communion with Him, that you are His body and He is your head. He gives you His body to eat and His blood to drink for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, to equip you and send you forth bearing His fruits, and to keep and to protect you from the assaults of the evil one. You are in Jesus, and Jesus is in you. Therefore, your prayers in Jesus’ Name are heard by the Father as Jesus’ own prayer. Rogate – ask, pray, in Jesus’ Name, that you may have peace, and that your joy may be full.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.