Saturday, May 29, 2021

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.

What do Isaiah’s burning coal, the bronze serpent raised up in the wilderness, Jesus raised up in death upon the cross, and being baptized by water and the Spirit have in common? Each of these represent an absurd, external element to which God has attached His Word of promise, that those believing His Word would not perish, but would have life.

For, God is holy: pure, righteous, sinless, and unchanging. Isaiah was not, but he was “a man of unclean lips, [dwelling] in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Isaiah was a sinner, just like you, and he rightly feared being consumed in God’s righteous wrath against sin, obliterated in the presence of His holiness – and so should you. Isaiah was in utter despair. He cried, “Woe is me! I am Lost!” for there was nothing that he could do to make himself righteous, holy, or clean before God. And, the same is true for you as well. But, do not be afraid, and do not despair, for what is impossible for you is possible for God! “Then one of the seraphim flew to [Isaiah], having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched [Isaiah’s] mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’.” Grace, mercy, love, compassion, forgiveness, atonement, justification – these come from outside of you. They are not your work, your decision, your emotion, your faith, but they come from God, and from Him alone. He showers them upon you as His gift to you who could never deserve anything but His wrath, punishment, and eternal death.

God permitted Isaiah to shake in his sandals a bit and to despair of his life so that he would become a pure recipient of His gracious forgiveness and atonement. Similarly, God permitted the poisonous serpents to bite the children of Israel so that they would become pure recipients of His gracious forgiveness and atonement when He attached His Word of promise to a bronze serpent raised up on a pole so that all who gazed upon it would not suffer death from the poisonous bite, but would find healing and life. They didn’t want to look at it, to be sure, for it seemed to them foolishness, even the repugnant and scandalous image of the very cause of their suffering and death. However, God had once again chosen the lowly things of this world to shame the wise, the weak things of this world to shame the strong that His wisdom and His power might be proven in weakness.

And yet, the bronze serpent was a prefigurement and type of the crucifixion and death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. For, where Moses fashioned the bronze serpent at God’s Word of command and raised it up on the pole, Jesus was the very Word of God as a man raised up in death on the cross. Those bitten by the poisonous serpents, when they looked to the bronze serpent to which God had attached His Word of promise, were healed and lived to die another day. However, those who have been bitten by the poisonous serpent Satan and are therefore doomed to death, when they look to Jesus, crucified, dead, risen, and ascended, they will not perish, but have eternal life.

These serve to demonstrate that your life comes from outside of you. It comes from God. This is why Jesus uses birth as an analogy for your life, both physical and spiritual. None of you chose to be born or to not be born. No one ever has or ever will. You didn’t choose your parents, your gender, your race, your siblings, or anything else about who you are. Moreover, you were born utterly dependent upon others. If you were going to live, everything you needed for life had to come from outside of you: oxygen to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, sunlight to see, sounds to hear. God made you this way for a reason: that you would come to know Him as your Creator, God, Lord, and Father who graciously, lovingly provides you everything that you need to sustain your body and life. Though your sin has separated you from Him, so that you are like Isaiah and the children of Israel in the wilderness, so, as for them, God has provided for you, wholly outside of yourself, a means of forgiveness, atonement, and justification that you may be right with Him again and enter His holy presence without fear, but with boldness and confidence as dear children approach their dear father. And, that Way, that Truth, and that Life which He has provided is His Son Jesus, His Word made flesh, raised up in death upon the cross.

God the Father, who created you and all things, has sent His Son, His very creative and life-giving Word, Jesus, to suffer and die for your sins and to be raised up from death to life that you might be restored to a right relationship with the Father. And, to make this external gift yours, the Son has sent the Holy Spirit to blow upon you through His Word and to raise you from unbelief to faith, from death to life. Thus, just as the fullness of the Holy Triune God was present and active in creation in the beginning, so has the fullness of the Holy Trinity been present and active in your rebirth and recreation. And, like Isaiah’s burning coal and Moses’ bronze serpent, like Jesus’ crucified body on the cross, and like birth itself, your rebirth and recreation is not your work, your decision, your choice, your emotion, your faith, or anything else that you may think, feel, or do, but your rebirth and recreation is entirely the work of the Holy Triune God: the Father who created you, His Son who redeemed you, and His Holy Spirit who has called you to faith through the Word and has sanctified and kept you in faith even unto this present moment.

This is why the Holy Spirit is like the wind which blows when and where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. For, who can stop the wind from blowing upon them? And who can make the wind to blow upon them according to their will, work, or desire? God would have you know how completely without control you truly are, that He might save you! He reveals Himself to you in ways that confound your reason and wisdom, ways that contradict all that the world values and glorifies. Lowliness, weakness, humility, paradox, absurdity – these are the ways and means of God who made you and all things. For, He is God and you are not – period! Therefore, let God be God and every man a fool! Therefore, die to your sin-corrupted reason and wisdom. Die to your self-righteousness and self-deceiving independence. Die to sin and to the world, and be born again by water and the Spirit which come not from within you, but from outside of you, not by your choice, decision, will, reason, or faith, but by the gracious, creative action of God the Father, God the Son, and God the 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. As we can give only of what we have received, thanks be to God that He is merciful, gracious, present, and giving through His Word and Sacraments, which come from outside of us, to forgive, restore, renew, preserve, strengthen, fill, and send us out into the world, as He sent His Son Jesus, bearing His life-creating Word upon our lips, hearts, and hands in service to others. In this receiving and giving, our Holy Triune God is glorified.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

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 great city of Babylon was but the end result of what our First Parents, Adam and Eve, set out to build for themselves when they succumbed to the serpent’s temptation and rebelled against God, taking and eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden – they sought to make for themselves a name in the world and they sought to elevate themselves as gods unto themselves. Indeed, God Himself acknowledged this saying, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” So, the LORD drove the man and the woman out of the Garden of Eden and placed an angel there as a sentry with a flaming sword that turned every way to keep the man and the woman from entering the Garden and from eating from the Tree of Life.

The serpent, Satan, did what Satan always does, he lied. Yes, true enough, he told Adam and Eve the truth in part, saying that their eyes would be opened and that they would know good and evil, but he lied to them in saying that they would be like God, for, the tragic irony here lies in the fact that they were already like God, created in His image of holiness and righteousness. But, when they ate of the forbidden fruit they sinned and they lost that image, they ceased to be like God. And, from then on they began to die, not just physically, but they died spiritually right then and there. Thus, it was in mercy that God barred our first parents from the Tree of Life, so that they would not eat of its fruit and live in eternal separation from God and His eternal life.

However, God’s will for man was still that he would be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over every living thing on the earth, for, in that way, God would be glorified in His creation as all living things recognized Him as their benevolent and loving Creator and God. But, man failed to disperse throughout the earth and instead, gathered together in one land as one people having one language and there began to finish what Adam and Eve had started, saying altogether, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Too often man’s endeavors have in mind only man’s self-glorification and not the glorification of God. Consider the towers we build for ourselves of pride and self-sufficiency, how we imagine them to be untoppleable, reaching into the heavens, that is, of course, until our co-worker gets a promotion, our neighbor gets a more fashionable car or a sexier wife, or until another takes aim at your towers to advance his own, and then they come crumbling down in a pile of rubble and shame leaving us angry, defeated, hopeless, and despairing.

In what may be a bit of Mosaic humor, God had to come down from the heavens to find the tower that represented the ultimate achievement of man’s intellect, strength, prowess, and talent. I am reminded of God’s words to Job,

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone...? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?

The problem is that man wants to worship the creature rather than the Creator, and that is idolatry and a sin against the First Commandment of God. Ultimately, however, idolatry is the only sin, for, if you break any of the Commandments numbered two through ten, you always break the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” and you place your fear, your love, and your trust in something or someone, even in yourself, more than, above, or in opposition to God. All sin is idolatry; all sin is a failure to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That was Adam’s sin. That was the sin of the Babylonians. And, that is your sin as well. Repent. Confess yours sins and your towering idolatries to God and receive the forgiveness He has provided for you in the sacrificial suffering and death of His Son, Jesus the Christ.

Truly it was in mercy that the LORD confused the language of the Babylonians and dispersed them over all the face of the earth. Sometimes God frustrates and thwarts your plans and activities when they will lead you into idolatry, for, when you stop trusting in your own strength, wisdom, and works, when you are empty handed and on your knees, or your back, with nothing to offer, then you are in the best possible position to receive fully and freely from God by grace.

It was by grace that Jesus died to give you peace, not the fleeting and false peace that the world gives which is here today and gone tomorrow, but true, lasting, and unchanging peace, peace with your Creator, peace with God. Jesus won and secured that peace for you in His death on the cross. Then, on Pentecost, He sent the Holy Spirit, just as He promised, to seal you in this peace. In Holy Baptism you died to this world and to the ways of sin, death, and the devil, and you rose a new man who knows, loves, and wills the will and the commandments of God. You were united with Christ in the Holy Spirit, sealed in the Name of God, and given peace with God in Christ Jesus, your Lord and Savior.

That is what our young Confirmands will confess this day. They will confess with their mouths what they believe in their hearts about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They will confess the faith they received as a gift when they were baptized, confirming that faith today after having been instructed in the doctrines and confession of the Christian faith. Additionally, today is an opportunity for each of you also to re-confirm the faith you received in Holy Baptism however long ago you received the blessing of that Divine Sacrament.

And so it is that, in an unique way, Pentecost is the undoing of Babylon, the undoing even of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden, as all mankind is now drawn together from the ends of the earth as one body in Christ Jesus, with one head, one faith, one baptism, and one voice and confession saying,

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

This is the Christian faith, and this is the Lutheran confession of the Christian faith. For, that is what faith is, a confession, a speaking with the mouth of what is believed in the heart. The Lutheran faith is a confessional faith that does not merely say that it believes but always says what it believes. And, what the Lutheran faith believes is confessed, not only in words from the mouth, but in actions and deeds. Thus, everything the Church does in word or in deed is a confession of what the Church believes and of what Her members believe in their hearts. How we worship is a confession. What we sing is a confession. What liturgical actions we perform is a confession. How we dress and carry ourselves both in worship and in the world is a confession. How we treat our bodies is a confession. What we do with and how we care for our possessions is a confession. How we use our money is a confession. And how we love our spouses and children is an outward confession of what we believe in our hearts.

Anything that interferes with your confession of faith, anything that gets between you and your Creator God, is an idol and a false god, it is a Babylonic tower that must be abandoned or destroyed. Jesus taught that if you have the faith of the very tiny mustard seed that you can say to a mountain, “‘Move from here to there’, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Well, have you moved any mountains, O you of little faith? Ah, but what about the towering, mountainous idols you can uproot, displace, and destroy if only you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead?

The promise and the blessing of Pentecost is that the Lord has not left you as orphans to fend for yourselves or to get along by your own reason, wisdom, or strength, but He has sent you the Helper, the Counselor, and the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, just as He promised. And, the promise of the Holy Spirit is that you will confess in word and deed what you believe in your heart about God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost quoting the Prophet Joel,

“‘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. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

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.

“You also will bear witness about me,” says Jesus. Now, likely you believe that Jesus means that you will speak about Him to others, that you will evangelize people by sharing the good news about Jesus. Yes, surely He does mean that. However, that is not all, or even the most important thing that Jesus has in mind when He says that you will bear witness about Him, for, the word translated as witness here, μαρτυρεῖτε, truly means martyr. Thus, what Jesus is truly saying to you is that you will be martyrs, you will be martyrs for Him. You will die for Him. Indeed, all Christians die as martyrs for their faith in Jesus Christ. After all, what did you think Jesus meant when He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me?” He wasn’t kidding. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. Jesus’ way passes through suffering and death, not around it, into life with His Father in heaven. That is the way that you are called to follow as Jesus’ disciple. You will bear witness about Jesus. You will be a martyr and die for your faith in Jesus. That is your purpose and your calling. And, that is why Jesus chose you and called you out of the nations, the Gentiles, and the hoi polloi. Jesus chose you and called you to deny yourself, to die to your self, and to follow Him, giving witness to Him by being a martyr and by dying for Him.

Indeed, this was the purpose and the calling of the nation of Israel in the first place. Don’t think for a moment that there was anything peculiar or special about Israel. There was not. Abraham was a pagan, a polytheist worshipping many gods of wood and stone when the LORD chose Him and called Him to pack up and head out for an unknown land that the LORD was going to give to him. Moses and David were lowly shepherds when the LORD chose and called them. Later, Peter and Andrew, James and John…, they were fisherman. Matthew, he was a tax collector. What were you when Jesus chose you and called you to be His disciple, to take up your cross and follow Him, to be a martyr for your faith in Him, and to die for Him? Were you an adulterer or a fornicator? Were you an addict, a thief, or a murderer? Or, were you just, you know, your average white bread kind of sinner? The point is, there was nothing peculiar or special about you. Like Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus’ disciples, you were an idolater and a worshipper of false gods, even if your false god may have been yourself. Yet, the LORD in His mercy and grace chose you and called you to follow Him. And, don’t think that this was some choice that you made. It wasn’t. Jesus Himself declares that you did not choose Him, but He chose you. And, no one can come to Jesus at all, unless the Father calls him.

Truly, the LORD made this abundantly clear in our Old Testament lesson today from the Prophet Ezekiel: “Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy Name, which you have profaned among the nations.” The LORD’s prime motive in rescuing Israel from exile was not love, mercy, or grace – though He is the essence and epitome of those things – but the LORD’s prime motive in rescuing Israel from exile was concern for His holy Name. Just as the LORD had chosen and called Abraham, Moses, and David, His Israel, that she should be a light to the nations, to the Gentiles, and glorify the Name of the LORD, so has the Lord Jesus chosen and called His disciples, His Church, and you, not for your own sake, but for the sake of His holy Name, a Name which you, too, have profaned among the nations.

Now, this Word from the LORD should help to put things in perspective for you. Indeed, that is precisely what it was spoken to do. You, and I, and all people have profaned the Name of the LORD, and the LORD’s Name will be vindicated. The LORD’s Name was first profanced when our First Parents believed and trusted in the Word of one who was not the LORD, and acted according to a will that was not the LORD’s will. Because of our sin, we interpret this rebellion as a minor infraction, even an exercise of our God-given free will, certainly not meriting the harsh judgment of the LORD, separation from His presence and temporal and eternal death. However, we believe this way because our sin corrupts our knowledge of the LORD and of Jesus. We would make the LORD in our image, according to our likeness. But, it is the other way around. Thus, the LORD has spoken, “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” The LORD is before all things and the very source, origin, and sustenance of all things. Apart from the LORD there is nothing, just as in the beginning.

Thus, it is sinful, prideful, arrogance to believe that the LORD acts for your sake. He does not. But, the LORD acts for the sake of His holy Name – a holy Name that has been fully revealed in Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Yes, The LORD loves the world, but not because the world is loveable. Rather, the LORD loves the world because the LORD is love – that is part of the LORD’s holy Name. You are loved, not because of your faith, your piety, your works, or your prayers, but you are loved because God is love, and because Jesus is the love of God incarnate, poured out for you as a sin-offering to vindicate the LORD’s holy Name which you have profaned. You were bought with a precious and priceless price. You are not your own, but you are the LORD’s. Your life and breath, your possessions, your reason, skills, and talents are the LORD’s. This is the proper perspective and context for your life. The LORD redeemed Israel out of exile for the sake of His holy Name. And, the LORD has redeemed you from sin, death, and the devil for the sake of His holy Name.

And, yet, still you suffer. And, you will suffer; your Lord Jesus has promised precisely that. Indeed, today your Lord teaches you saying, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” If you read or watch the news, you know that the Word of the Lord in this matter is profoundly true. Yet, it is not only the graphic and horrible executions of Christians in the Middle East, Sudan, India, China, and other places of which the Lord speaks, but it is political, financial, social, and cultural persecution and martyrdom that Jesus promises His Church and Her members will suffer for the sake of the LORD’s holy Name. While you may not be cast out of the synagogues, there are forces at play today, and increasing and intensifying daily, that would force you to pray, worship, and practice your faith strictly and only within the confines of the church building or your own home. The same forces seek to eliminate all religious, and particularly Christian discourse from the public square. Faithful, Biblical, orthodox Christian speech is rapidly being classified as hate speech. Yes, truly the hour is coming when whoever kills you, when whoever arrests you, when whoever taxes you, forces you out of business, slanders you, mocks you and ridicules you, does not tolerate you, and hates you will think he is offering service to god – but that god is Satan, under the guise of equality, fairness, and tolerance.

Yet, that is not all that Jesus has said or promised. Jesus has also promised to send you a Helper, the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit will bear witness about Jesus, and He will equip you and help you to bear witness about Jesus with your words and deeds, with your life, and, ultimately, with your death. Jesus has told you about the suffering that will befall you at the hands of men and the world so that “when their hour comes you may remember that [He] told them to you.” Likewise, St. Peter also teaches you saying, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share 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.”

It is not for your sake, but for the sake of His holy Name that the LORD has called you and redeemed you. You are His. Your life is His. Your possessions are His. Your works are His. And your witness, your martyrdom, your death is His. The LORD has redeemed you from all your idols. Therefore, do not submit yourself once again to their slavery. You are free – truly free. You are free to stop living for your self and for the pursuit of your selfish pleasures and desires. You are free to live for Christ, as Christ’s life lives in you and through you, making you fruitful with His life-giving fruits that benefit others and glorify the LORD’s Name. Therefore, St. Peter exhorts you to “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” and “above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” For, the LORD will vindicate His holy Name, and the LORD’s holy Name will be vindicated through your witness, through your martyrdom and death. For, the LORD has given you the Helper, His Holy Spirit on account of the death and resurrection of Jesus so that you are clean from all your uncleannesses and from all your idols. The LORD has given you a new heart and a new spirit – the heart and spirit of Jesus – that you may walk in His statutes and obey His rules.

He has told you these things so that, when their hour comes you may remember that He told them to you. That hour has come, and it is coming, and it comes even now. But, do not fear. You are not alone. The Helper, the Holy Spirit of God is with you. He will sanctify, equip, and keep you through trial and tribulation and even death. Moreover, your Lord Jesus is with you, and He has suffered before you and for you, and He lives and reigns victorious over heaven and earth, and He will preserve and keep you through suffering and death with His victorious life, Word, and promise. Even now He has prepared a feast of love and life and forgiveness for you, in the presence of your enemies, that you may not faint, but be strengthened and persevere. Come, eat and be strengthened. Come, drink and be forgiven. Come, and live in Jesus’ life – life victorious over death and the grave.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

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.

That you pray is not a suggestion, but it is a commandment. While there is a sense in which you are invited to pray, it is in the same sense in which you are invited to drive at the posted speed limit. To put it quite bluntly, to pray is to keep and to obey the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” For, when you pray, you “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Now, to be sure, your heavenly Father has attached some pretty spectacular promises to your prayer. In fact, your Lord Jesus promises you, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my Name, He will give it to you.” And this is key: Your heavenly Father will not give you what you ask because you pray, because of the words of your prayer, because of the eloquence of how you pray, because of your great sincerity in prayer, or even because of your faith, but He will give you those things that you ask in Jesus’ Name. Do not think that this means that you should simply end your prayer with the words “In the Name of Jesus.” That is indeed a salutary thing to do, but those words are a confession of your faith. They are worship of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are not magical incantation that will cause God to give you what you want, as if He were some divine vending machine in the sky. No! Perish the thought!

But, the command to ask in Jesus’ Name means to ask for those things that Jesus has revealed in His life and ministry, in His suffering, death, and resurrection, in His Word, which is the Word of God. In other words, you are not to ask for Cadillacs and winning lottery tickets, but you are to ask for those things that God has already promised to give you: faith, the Holy Spirit, humility, patience, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." As your earthly fathers, who are corrupted by sin and evil, desire to give you things that are good for you, how much more will Your heavenly Father give you, not harmful and evil things, but the things that He knows are truly good for you His dear and beloved child? Moreover, He already gives you these things. So, why does He command you to pray? Your heavenly Father commands you to pray because He loves for you to call upon Him, to put your fear, your love, and your trust in Him, to keep the First Commandment, and because this is all extremely good, absolving, and life-giving to you. Your heavenly Father wants you to pray to Him, to ask Him in Jesus’ Name, because He is love and because He loves you.

Still, there is a great deal more in Jesus’ command to ask in His Name. To ask in Jesus’ Name is not merely to mutter the words “In Jesus’ Name,” nor is it merely to ask for those things that are in Jesus’ Name, that is, those things that are in accord with the holy will and Word of God. But, to ask in Jesus’ Name is, quite literally, to ask in Jesus, to ask as Jesus, as one who has been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, as a member of Jesus’ body, the Church. Quite obviously, if you ask in Jesus, as Jesus, you cannot possibly ask for something that is not in accord with the holy will and Word of God. Moreover, your heavenly Father has promised to hear and to answer your prayer, even to give you precisely what you ask for. In this case, the tired saying that God always answers prayer with either “Yes,” “No,” or “Later,” is nonsense. Jesus says quite plainly and literally and truthfully, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my Name, He will give it to you.” So, if you ask and you do not receive, it is not that God did not hear your prayer, or that He doesn’t wish to give you what you ask at this time, or that you didn’t ask rightly, believe that He would answer, or anything else, but all that it means is that you did not truly ask in Jesus’ Name.

Now, I understand that this may come as a surprise to many of you. After all, you’ve heard countless preachers and teachers, you’ve read devotions and have attended Bible classes in which you have been taught that you’re simply supposed to ask God for whatever you want, that if only you “name it,” and truly believe, that you can “claim it” and it will be so. And, if you don’t get what you want, you have probably felt that you didn’t ask rightly, that you didn’t believe strongly enough, that God said “No,” or, maybe, just maybe, you even began to doubt if God was truly there at all. I say to you, that teaching is from the devil who desires only to lead you away from fear, love, and trust in God and into fear, love, and trust in yourself, and who seeks to rob you of comfort and peace. Your Lord Jesus suffered and died to release you from this bondage. Your Lord Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven to intercede and to advocate for you there. As St. James writes, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” This is most certainly true, for that “righteous man” is Jesus, not you. Any doctrine of prayer that shifts your focus from Jesus to yourself, or to your works, or to your faith, or to your words, or to anything else, is from the devil who seeks only to deceive you, and to destroy you, and to rob you of Christ’s peace.

That is the complete opposite purpose for which Jesus commands you to pray. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace,” says Jesus. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Notice how Jesus doesn’t sidestep tribulation. He doesn’t say that you might have tribulation, but Jesus actually promises you that you will have tribulation. Therefore, do not be surprised when things don’t go your way, when the world mocks and ridicules your faith, when everything you believe and hold precious and true seems to be at odds with the world and the culture around you, when you don’t fit in, when your faith and church appear to be irrelevant to the world, when no human wisdom seems to avail, when you don’t know how you’re going to make it much longer, when… etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Your Lord Jesus told you beforehand that this would happen so that when it does you might remember and take comfort in His Words, “I have overcome the world.” It is Satan that wants you to worry and to be anxious, to fret and to despair. He will use these fears and dark emotions against you either to separate you from God and His Church through hopelessness and despair because you believe that you have failed, that it is your fault, or he will harden your heart against God and fill you full of pride and self-righteousness that you rail against God, claiming that He is loveless, merciless, a pitiless and harsh judge and master, or doesn’t exist at all.

Yes, you need to pray. You need to ask Him in Jesus’ Name. His command is good for you just as the First Commandment is good for you. He is God and you are not. To remember this, to believe this, to confess this, and to return to this, is good for you. God doesn’t need your prayers, but He loves it when you pray to Him and ask Him for good things, just as a child asks his loving father, trusting that he wants only good for his dear child. When you turn to Him in repentance, when you cry to Him for help and for strength and for the Holy Spirit and for faith, when you lift up your eyes to Him as the object of your faith, life, and salvation, you will be comforted, you will be healed, you will be forgiven, even though you are a victim of that serpent Satan’s poisonous and deadly bite. “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

And, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” You see, Satan and your own wicked flesh wish to separate these two things. Some will claim that all they need is to hear the Word of God and that, despite their works, despite the fruit they do not bear, they may be confident in their salvation. While, others will claim that works are most important, even all that is necessary, and justify their laxity in hearing the Word of the Lord and receiving His Blessed Sacraments. This, too, is of the lies and deceptions of your enemy, the devil. Thus, St. James rightly connects the two, faith and works, and he shows them to be two sides of the same coin. It is most certainly true that you are saved by grace through faith alone apart from works, but it is also true that true and living faith is never alone but is always fruitful. And, this too is a reason for your Lord’s command to pray and to ask. You are to ask for those things that are in Jesus that you might bear the fruits of Jesus for others, that they may have His peace also and that God the Father may be glorified.

And, take note of the emphasis here on hearing as opposed to speaking. This may seem odd as you likely consider prayer to be more about speaking than listening. What you need to learn here is that true and God-pleasing prayer originates in hearing, not speaking, that is, in hearing God’s Word. And, this takes us right back to where we began: When you pray, you must pray in Jesus’ Name. That is, you must pray in Jesus and ask for those things that are in Jesus and not for those things that are not in Jesus. How do you know what those things are? You hear, mark, read, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God. The Word must be your sustenance, the very food for your soul. Therefore, regular hearing of the Word in this fellowship is central and crucial, along with regular reception of the Word made flesh, the Word made visible and tangible and edible, the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, and for life both now and forevermore. This too is a necessary fruit, a doing, which corresponds to and flows out of your hearing.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, beloved children of our heavenly Father, your Father and God commands you to pray that you might return to Him in repentance and receive from Him all that He desires to give to you in His Son, your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He would have you fear, love, and trust in Him above all else and, thus, it is the greatest good for you to pray, to ask Him in Jesus’ Name, and to receive from Him the things that give you life. And, when you have received, then you have also to give, for “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction,” that is, to is to humbly serve others as you have been served, “and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” This gift and promise of His Word He has left with you, and His Holy Spirit as counselor, comforter, helper, and guide, until He comes, that you may persevere.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Cantate - The Fifth Sunday of Easter (Easter 5)


John 16:5-15; James 1:16-21; Isaiah 12:1-6


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

We like to think that we know what we want and what we need and what’s best for us. After all, we’re the ones who have wants and needs, and we spend a whole lot of time looking out for me, myself, and I. And, it shouldn’t be any surprise that what we think we want and need, and what we think is best for us, are a myriad of worldly, material things, things like food, clothing, and drink, house, money, cars, education, and such, and also less tangible things from the realm of emotions and relationships, things like a loving spouse, devout children, good friends, honest co-workers, etc.; after all, we are flesh and blood, we are born into this world and we live in this world until we die, these are the things that we know and experience, these are the things that, for us, are the most real.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that when Jesus tells His disciples that He will be going back to His Father who sent Him, they are filled with sorrow, not that He is going away, but that He had told them (in last week’s Gospel lesson) that they would experience weeping and sorrow while the world would rejoice. The disciples are sorrowful that they might lose the things that they think that they want and need. They don’t ask their Master where He is going, they’re far too consumed with counting their potential losses. And, of courses, one of their losses is the physical presence of their Master Himself.

How many times have you heard people say, “If only Jesus were here now, like He was with His disciples, then it would be so much easier to believe”? How many times have you uttered or thought such a statement yourself? But the truth is that most who had the privilege of seeing and hearing Jesus in the flesh did not believe. When Christ died on the cross, the whole world had abandoned Him. This is because, despite the wisdom of the world, seeing is not believing – hearing is believing, and hearing by the Word of God. Even Jesus’ closest disciples and friends did not believe all that Jesus taught, even after His death and resurrection, until the Day of Pentecost, when, as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon Christ’s Church.

That is why Jesus said “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” The Helper is the Holy Spirit of God, sent forth from the Father and the Son, who, together with the Father and the Son, is worshipped and glorified. The Holy Spirit accompanies the Word of God and creates, sustains, and strengthens faith where and when He pleases. The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin through the proclamation of God’s Holy Law. He convicts the world concerning righteousness through the proclamation of the Holy Gospel. And He convicts the world concerning judgment because the ruler of this world, Satan, has been judged. In His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ is the victor over sin, death, and Satan – and that is the truth. Ultimately, sin is unbelief and the refusal to trust in God, and without the work of the Holy Spirit, we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. And, that is why it is to our great advantage that Jesus go away, that He might send to us the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to call us, to enlighten us with His gifts, and to sanctify and keep us in the true faith.

We too easily grieve the loss of material, relational, and emotional things while we barely give passing notice to the one thing needful – the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Jesus. How can this be, since we come into this world with nothing and we leave this world with nothing? Everything that we have, everything that we think that we want and need, is given us as a free and perfect gift, no strings attached. And “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.”

And, the most important gift that the Father would give you is the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the gift of faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ. We would not have this gift were it not for the incarnation and perfect life, death, resurrection, and ascension of God’s Son, the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ. Thus, it is to our great advantage that Jesus returned to the Father in heaven; it is to our great advantage that the Father and the Son sent forth the Holy Spirit that we not remain in our sins, clinging to worldly, material, relational, and emotional things. It is to our great advantage that Jesus went away, that we might be the recipients of the Holy Spirit who creates in us faith, convicts us in our sin, calls us unto repentance, absolves us with the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross, and sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith until the day He raises us from the dead and gives to us eternal life. For, this is the work of the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Truth, for He guides us into all truth, speaking not on His own authority, but speaking whatever He hears from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit only and always glorifies the Son Jesus Christ, for He takes all that belongs to Him and He declares it to us.

“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.”  It’s all gift; it’s all grace. Nothing is required of us, not even faith, for faith itself is the good and perfect gift and working of the Holy Spirit. What an advantage, indeed! Happily we find that, though God was angry with us, His anger has been turned away and He comforts us instead for the sake of Jesus Christ! Happily, by God the Father’s perfect gift of grace in Jesus Christ, we have the Holy Spirit and we find ourselves, not in a state of wrath and judgment, but in a state of grace! Happily we “sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.”

God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is present and active in Christ’s Church, calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying and keeping, forgiving, creating, strengthening, and sustaining faith when and where He pleases in those who do not refuse Him. It is to your advantage that Christ goes away to the Father. But, as the way of Christ to the Father was through the cross, so also is the way of Jesus’ disciples through the crosses He chooses for you. You will have sorrow and grief, says your Lord Jesus, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. Let us, then, have sorrow and grief for the proper things, the needful things. God the Father of lights has given you the perfect gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift of joy that no one will take from you. And, He has made you the firstfruits of His creatures, new creations. Let us, then, even in our little while of sorrow, sing to the lord a new song; let our souls praise the King of heaven, let us live boldly in the mystery of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Let us join with the Holy Spirit as he glorifies our risen Lord Jesus Christ, both now and unto eternity!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.