Thursday, November 27, 2014

Our Lord's giving, works in us, thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is uniquely an American observance.  Despite the current idea of this insurmountable wall that separates church and state. It was established as a Holiday by the US Government in 1863 and Observed as a National Day by George Washington in 1789. It has in its origins the story of a Christian community that was escaping what they perceived to be religious persecution in England in 1621.  The pilgrims ironically established a theocracy, that is a community governed by the Word of God, not unlike John Calvin’s Geneva, Switzerland.

In a theocracy, the church and the state are one entity which really is a return to the Roman Papacy understanding and foreign to the scriptural and Lutheran understanding of the distinct governance of both the kingdom of the left by our ordained nation’s fathers and the ordained church fathers of the kingdom of the right.  That is, "pay unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is His."Pastor Springer's Blog  

This also would be very foreign to the democracy established by the constitution following the revolution and even further removed from the separation of Church and State as it is being narrowly interpreted by the courts today.

Putting the best construction on it, this civil holy day that the churches in America have adopted, does at least recognize that all good things come from God. So even though nowhere in the Scriptures do we find such an observance commanded or does it originate from the tradition of the Church , it does however give to us an opportunity for hearing God’s word, prayer and receiving his gifts which will result in Thanksgiving for those who take advantage of it.

So unlike other observances and holy days in our church year that mark the life of Christ such as Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and those observances contained within,  this observance could easily be misused to focus on our actions toward God or even the looking at America as God’s special set apart nation as if Christ did not die for all.  It could be used and often is to teach our children and us to give thanks.  It is not unlike at Christmas when our children receive a gift the parent is quick to say to them “now what do you say?” or upon receiving gifts at graduation, “make sure you get those thank you cards out.”  It is the courteous thing to do. 

But is thanksgiving something we initiate or is it a response. Is it something God commands us to do or is it more spontaneous. Is it even perhaps something that God has worked in us? 

It is almost too easy to focus in our Gospel text of the ten lepers on the Samaritan who returned to give thanks and how we like the Samaritan are to give thanks.  But one cannot give thanks without having something to give thanks for.  This is why this text that the church has connected to the Thanksgiving Observance is really all about Jesus.

Jesus as he traveled through Galilee and even entered parts of Samaria was on His Father mission to seek out the lost sheep of Israel.  His mission was to overturn the power of sin, death and the devil. The Lepers were separated from their families, their community and even from the presence of God that was in the temple.  They were exiles in their own land.

As lepers according they were unclean and to touch someone else would make that person unclean.  Now being unclean does not mean that they were any more sinful than anyone else. However this is impression one could easily get and it certainly began to develop in rabbinic Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism is what we have today.  Its origins are found in the synagogue traditions that developed after Judah was exiled by the Babylonians in 586 BC and the temple was destroyed. 

Without the temple, as it is today, Judaism was without the way of sacrifice and atonement that pointed to Christ.  Instead they turned to an utter obsession with own ability to keep the Law. Their trust in the Law trumped what the Law was pointing too, for us to trust that is the Messiah who would fulfill the Law for them for us. The Law became a means of salvation rather than a mirror of one’s sinfulness and need for Jesus who would save His people from their sins.

Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement no longer has the killing of bulls or scape goats sent out into the wilderness. There is no longer blood carried by a priest into the Holy of Holies instead today’s Jews use the holiday to focus on doing good works, helpful to the world but not for their souls. 

The Hebrew definition and understanding of being clean and unclean began to change. The unclean were a lost cause because they were unable to keep the law and were cut off from the community and the presence of God. The distinctions between being clean and unclean were meant to show us our need and Jesus came to make the unclean, clean.

The ten lepers turn to Jesus as he is coming and cry out from a distance, Jesus Master, have mercy upon us “Lord Have Mercy!” or Kyrie Eleison words the church in its tradition wisely included in the liturgy. It is a phrase one uses as one repents or turns to the King.  Like the lepers we come here with the burdens of our sins. Sins we cannot remove ourselves. There is no place for pride or self-esteem or celebrations for we are poor miserable sinners separated from God by our sin and pleading for mercy to hear the words of release and forgiveness from Jesus. So we turn or repent away from ourselves and away from this sinful world and we cry out Kyrie Elison, “Lord have mercy upon us”

The Lepers and you and I cry out for mercy because we are asking for something we do not deserve. We are asking for something that we have not even earned. If the Lepers had cried out for justice then Jesus would have silently passed them by because they were already receiving that and much more to come.

Jesus gives to them what they ask for, mercy and this how he answers our pleas for mercy today. He tells them to go show yourselves to the priest in accordance with Levitical Law.  Without Jesus even saying, “Be clean!”  but rather saying “Go show yourselves to the Priests”  the ten are now clean. They are now freed, released, which also means forgiven to rejoin their families and their community as well as their worship life in the presence of God.

This cleansing is a demonstration of God’s power and his will to save mankind.  The Kingdom of Heaven has come and is coming to these men in Jesus Christ. In Matthew 10:7-8 Jesus sends out his twelve apostles to proclaim the “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons. Jesus the King is coming and has come to release, forgive and save you from your sins. 

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come.” Rev. Dr. Luther in his explanation writes that “the Kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray that it may come to us also.”  I believe this has a rather significant  meaning when we pray it just prior to the, “Words of Institution” where are Lord comes to you and I in flesh and blood in, with and under the bread and wine received by the mouth to cleanse you and I and release and forgive us of our sins both spiritually and physically.

We presume that the nine are practicing Jews and they gladly follow the command of Jesus. They follow the law and go to what they believe is the temple and the priests so that from a civil law stand point they can enjoy lawfully return to community life. Would not any of you desire after being separated from your loved ones rush to go see them after being released.

However the Samaritan does not have such civil requirements and he is not permitted in Jerusalem temple. In fact his temple is an imposter temple established by Israel’s Northern Kingdom apostate kings on Mt Gerazim. After seeing that he is healed the Samaritan turns or repents to Jesus and he cries out again in a loud voice this time in praise to God and he falls down a the feet of Jesus giving Him thanks. 

You see there is more going on here. The Samaritan by faith recognizes the true temple, that is, God dwelling not in a brick and mortar temple but in the flesh Jesus. In the Gospel of John’s prologue he confesses, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as the only Son from the Father full of Grace and truth.” (John 1:14)   

The direction and object of the Samaritan’s thanks and praise to God is to Jesus. And Jesus receives this thanksgiving and praise.  Would it not be unusual if someone were to say to you, I am so thankful God for what you have just done for me and then at your feet worships you?  Would you not say, “Stop that, you are crazy.”  Of course if you are depraved narcissist you my rather enjoy it.   Rather it is more in keeping with the faith to say I give thanks to the Lord for you, as St. Paul says many times in his letters to the churches.

Despite what modern scholars may say about their ideas of the historical Jesus that you may hear on public television, the history or discovery channel, the eye witness testimony given by the Apostles is that Jesus believes he is God.  There is no doubt in this. Since such worship, praise and confession that this Samaritan gives and that of many others indicates that they believe it too.

In John 2:18-21 in his encounter with the Jews Jesus says to them after they request from him a sign that is proof and Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up!”  The Jews replied, “it has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it in three days?” But then John writes, “He was speaking about the temple of his body.”

It is interesting to note that our Lutheran confessions that the church is the gathering of the saints where the Gospel is taught in its purity and the sacraments are administered correctly that is according to Christ’s institution. Why is that? It  is because that is where Christ promises to be. This is where we may be found in His presence. Where the Old Testament saints gathered before the temple where the Lord placed his name, He is now here where His name is invoked and where we keep His Word. 

In our Gospel text, Jesus answered the Samaritan who returned to Him, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God, except this foreigner?”

I am sure that there will be many family gatherings still to feast on turkey and all the traditional fixings that attend a meal.  I imagine that many will call upon the Lord and thank Him for His many blessings.  But there will be other gatherings where perhaps the focus will be instead turned to one another.  

Perhaps the meal will even begin without a prayer.  Perhaps the main focus will be to ask everyone around the table what they are thankful for without regard to the source or object of their thanksgiving. Will it be like the nine who rush back to the temple to be released by the priests in order to be with their families. Is that perhaps that all they are looking for to continue on with their lives without regard to the giver or perhaps not.

Jesus said of the woman, who had washed his feet with expensive oil, her hair and her tears before his house guest who had not even offered to wash his feet as was customary,  “The one who loves much has been forgiven much.”

Do we recognize the depth of our sins, the sins of both commission and omission, the sins we have done and the sins left undone?  Do we actually open are catechisms or the scriptures and look over the Ten Commandments. Put this objective mirror up to our lives. Do we realize how sick and dying we really are? How we have left our neighbors down and those who we are with, in the church.  Do we ask the teacher the pastor who God has sent in his stead to give us more of our Lord more of his teaching and more times for prayer? Even during the week? Or are we just fine with where we are.

We are okay with this separation. But it is not okay.  These sins separate us from Jesus and each other. They may make us uncomfortable with one another when we are in the presence of Jesus. But this is exactly when we need more of Jesus and not less for He is the one who make us whole and welcomes us back to true community with one another.  Turn to Him for salvation for He saves and cleanses you now!

My experience has been that those who are most apt to turn or repent to Jesus are those who have lost control of their lives those with chronic diseases or near death like many of our shut-ins.  You may think they are already believers and we should concern ourselves with those who do not know Jesus. But even Jesus on earth limited his mission to the lost sheep of Israel and with the consequence of the Greeks, Samaritans and Gentiles seeking him out too. Let me tell you that the Christian life is a life of repentance and turning to Jesus. 

I believe that it would do the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod well to fund and supply deaconesses and ordained ministers to our hospitals and nursing homes in the same way the Roman church does to call on the sick specifically on their patient census where they confess they are Lutheran, but are also able to call on others. 

Today however we expect to the hospitals to fund the chaplains and in that case chaplains are restricted many times from what is called "imposing ones faith" and that can even be charged against someone who maintains the truth of scripture, such was my experience at Lutheran Hospital a year ago as I was going through training for the chaplaincy. No, there is better way if the people of our church truly turn to Christ to address these needs.

Likewise to those who are in our jails especially to believers in order that they are ministered too so that they may receive the forgiveness of sins and know that they are not forsaken. I suppose it is much easier to ignore these things than to act on them but this is the duty of the Church.

We too gathered in the Diven Service live a life of repentance weekly turning to receive the grace of our Lord. He supplies our every need with the foretaste of the feast to come.  

This Lord’s Supper we are about to receive which is also called the Eucharist, that is, the good gifts unmerited from Christ for our body and soul unto eternal life. This is what rightly results in our great thanksgiving and praise from Christ reconciling us to the Father and our neighbor as faith teaches.

True thanksgiving and praise are a result of joyfully receiving our Lord’s teaching and His gifts. Thanksgiving if it is true never comes before receiving the gift, otherwise it is empty praise.

However, true praise and thanksgiving is in the receiving and bringing to remembrance both the life and death of Christ for our sakes.  In this in way, in your hearing, our Lord by the Holy Spirit has worked both saving faith and the resultant thanksgiving in you.

Jesus says to the Samaritan to the foreigner, to us today, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you!”


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Take Heart, Your Sins Are Forgiven

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.  When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8)

As I reflect on the miraculous healing events of the last year, several thoughts come to mind.  First I believe it could be real easy to be upset with God for allowing this suffering to happen. It seems easy to blame God for both the good and bad things in our lives. Many say there is no god because if there was one he would intervene and stop the suffering before it happens. Natural disasters seem to be a particular problem. The amount of suffering and death that occurs appears to render either God powerless or apathetic.  But this is far from the truth.  The suffering that our family has endured just as the suffering of countless others is the result of a sinful broken world. It is the result of the corruption of sin due to mankind’s rebellion against God.
Man instead of abiding in the life giving Word instead goes the way of separation from God. Man wants to be his own god. And every son or daughter of Adam has this corruption.  It is not any particular sin that caused my sickness to occur. In fact they really do not know the cause. They cannot connect it to any particular behavior or diet. They cannot even say it is inherited.  Still in a way it is, for I am sinful. I am a son of Adam therefore I suffer from concupiscence that is the natural inclination to sin. Disease and finally death are the result of this corruption that fills me. So the fault cannot be laid upon God even if He allows it. It is just. And I am at fault. 

Second, our Lord is merciful.  Jesus said to Nicodemus the Pharisee in John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” I could not save myself either from the disease or from the eternal consequences of sin.  But Jesus can and does save. The paralytic could not make even a move toward Jesus. He needed others to bring him to Jesus. This is not unlike parents who bring their helpless infant children to be baptized by Jesus, saved by Jesus. 
Jesus says to the paralytic who also is suffering as a result of his sinfulness, “Take heart my Son your sins are forgiven.” Jesus gives the paralytic the gift of eternal life. All that the on-looking envious scribes in their unbelief could say is that Jesus is blaspheming, “No man can forgive sins only God.” Jesus then says, “which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

In our earthly worldly minds we are more attracted impressed by the second gift more than the first. A man who was paralyzed and known by the town to be paralyzed, is now picking up his own bed and walking home. It is attractive because it could be seen and it definitely improved this man’s quality of life. Jesus not only healed his paralysis but also the atrophy in his muscles. It was as if he never had the disease.
Jesus wholly healed him. He was forgiven, cleaned of the root cause of his paralysis. When Jesus forgives, the job is complete. This miracle gives us a look at what it will be like for us when we the baptized rise from the dead. It will be as if our bodies never had a disease or suffered from the result decay and death.
But the real question we need to pay attention too is, “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” I would say that for Jesus, as He is also God, it would be “Rise and walk.” Jesus was the eternal Word with the Father that formed man and brought him to life.  It is no problem for Jesus, the incarnate creating Word to recreate this man.  

But what is far more difficult for Jesus is forgiving this man’s sins. Because in forgiving his sins Jesus is committing Himself to take on this man’s sinfulness, being forsaken by the Father and enduring death and hell on the cross for this man’s sins.  No the far more difficult thing for Jesus is to forgive sins and so it is the greater gift.  Without his suffering and death Jesus would not have the authority to save this cursed man to free him from clutches of Satan and the consequences of his sin, his paralysis.

Likewise the greatest gift that I receive is to hear from the words of my confessor pastor saying, “Take heart son, your sins are forgiven.” The pastor is not Jesus, but Jesus who now sits at the right hand of the Father with all power and authority speaks these words to me through the pastor so that I may hear them and receive His forgiveness.  

Third, as for my physical healing, I am entirely grateful. I am grateful to our Lord for all those who turned to the Lord to ask for mercy on my behalf. Our Lord, in the use of His name, would have us turn to Him in time of trouble. The suffering was worth all of those calling on the Name of the Lord. I am also grateful to the Lord for all the doctors, nurses and medical staff our Lord uses to heal. Just as our Lord uses the vocation of the Office of the Holy Ministry to apply the forgiveness of sins, He likewise hides behind the mask of the vocation of medicine to continue his ministry of physical healing.  

And I am grateful for my family. They have been tireless supporters. What a wonderful gift the family is.  And most of all I am grateful to my wife, Nancy. Jesus says there is no greater love than the one who lays down his, in this case her life, for a friend. It was no coincidence that our Lord brought us together. We are truly one flesh and she is truly my helpmate. 

Through Nancy, and the vocation of marriage, our Lord has made me a recipient of sacrificial love.  Just like the paralytic needed friends to bring Him to Jesus to be saved and healed, I needed my pastor, friends, family, doctors, nurses and my wife in their God given vocations to bring Jesus saving and healing power to me. However, none of this would be unless Jesus suffered and died on the cross giving His life for the world. The forgiveness of sins and the promise of the resurrection made all this possible.  “Take heart son, your sins are forgiven!”

Friday, June 8, 2012

We All Believe in One God

Holy Trinity Sunday B
“We all believe in one God”
Text: John 3:1-17
Rev. Jeff Springer

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”(John 3:16-17)

This message really is the bottom line for us today. It was true for Nicodemus and for you also sitting in the pews. God sent his Son to perish so that you will not perish but have eternal life with God.  Therefore Jesus’ purpose is not to condemn the world but to save it. It is still his purpose. A purpose he accomplishes through his church by the office of the Holy Ministry that is preaching of this Gospel and the giving of His sacraments. 

Through these means and these means alone does He assure and clean our consciences of all sin.  Our works do not help us. If we are coming to church with our primary motive to praise God then what will that do for us. How will that help us? Imagine a praise service filled with songs about our love for God. Songs filled with adjectives describing and naming God but no hymns that actually use verbs that make God the subject, no songs that actually tell what God does.

Imagine a service without confession of sins and absolution, where one scripture reading is read. Can you imagine a service without the confession of a creed or the saying of the Lord’s Prayer. How about a service where the Pastor’s sermon is based on five different funny illustrations and gives you seven biblical ways of being a better person? What about a service without the Lord’s Supper?  

Think about it. What have you received from such a service? Did you receive anything from God? Has God served or fed you in any way?  Have you received anything from that He has promised? Was anyone forgiven? Was any one saved?

That last question should be the one that causes us you to ponder. Was any one saved in this service? Well the opportunities in this type of service are quite limited.  The only place given for the Spirit to do his convicting work is in the reading of the one lesson. 

You see it is not “our” worship or work that saves anyone. For one thing we hear that it is God’s vocation to do the saving. Father, Son and Holy Spirit act as one to forgive us and save us from our sins. How is this done? It is through His teaching and preaching and the administration of the sacraments. The Holy Office of the Ministry is His instrument or tool to convert souls, but make no mistake it is God’s doing. He is handling and directing His instrument. The servant of the Word is simply carrying out the orders for the benefit of the Priesthood of Believers gathered.

Even the Divine Service is not so much “our” Worship but God’s service, God’s liturgy to us. The direction of authentic Christian worship is not from us to God but from God to us.

God provides His gifts to everyone in equal measure. All are baptized and all then receive His name, all receive the Holy Spirit, all receive the forgiveness of sins. It does not matter who you are ethnically, it does not matter your station in life, it does not matter your gender, or your age just like little Kaden this morning. You all receive the same gift from God.

You all received the same absolution. You all heard and are hearing the same word of God.  Those of you who have been catechized and examined will receive the same body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins at the altar.

You see when it is the Divine Service the direction of action is from God to you.  You are participating, but passively. God is throwing the Word and you are catching it in your ears. You are being fed. You are listening and learning. This is what both justifies and sanctifies you. And this is the place where we gather to receive it.

If you believe worship is primarily your action of praise, that it is something you do for God, then worship can be done anywhere. You can do worship in your home, or on a mountain top, or near a lake. Because each of us is made differently our praise will also be unique. This is why contemporary worship takes on the unique character or idiosyncrasies of the congregation that it is practiced in. This diversity should clue us in that the direction is all wrong, from us to God instead of from God to us. The question is when the direction is from us to God, does this bring anyone to repentance, does it justify or sanctify you. It is using God’s word, but is it using it in the way it was intended? Who is wielding the instrument God or us?    

It is a false worship that assumes we can bring anything to God. Our so-called good works reek with a stench before Him. Isaiah got it right when placed before God, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Holiness of God cuts through the fog of thinking that we can go before God with our own righteousness. Those who are going through life justifying their sins rather than confessing them, affirming themselves and others in their sin will perish before a Holy God when they are raised from the dead on the last day.

But that is not the desire of the Lord, the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. His desire is that you repent! Repent of your passions and desires. Die to self. Drown the old Adam. Stop justifying and confess that you are a beggar, a sinner. And He will not answer with condemnation but forgiveness. 

I believe this is what Jesus was trying to teach Nicodemus. Nicodemus saw Jesus as his equal. Nicodemus considered Jesus a teacher and law keeper like himself, but because of His signs and works, Jesus was doing it much better. So perhaps Nicodemus could learn from Jesus the secret of leading a God pleasing life.

Jesus basically destroys Nicodemus’s thought of ascending to heaven and entering the Kingdom of Heaven on the ladder of works. Jesus says you must be born again or born from above.  How is this done? By the water and the Spirit. Baptism.  God’s work. Just in your physical fleshly birth you are just along for the ride, you are passively receiving. So it is with the spiritual rebirth given by the water, word and command of baptism. 

By the name of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit working together, working as one, differentiated as to persons but not divided in essence. The Holy Trinity do their saving work for Kaden and for you today.

So is there anything for you to do? If it is God’s vocation to save, forgive, justify and sanctify. Well, primarily your vocation as a member of the priesthood in the Divine Service is to listen and secondarily to confess or say back what you heard or lend your Amen to what is said. In this way the Holy Spirit takes your genuine praise back to God. 

You also have a responsibility to support the Pastor that you have called. He is the instrument God uses to deliver to you his gifts. Paul writes to the sinner/saint Corinthians, “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”  (1 Corinthians 9:14) This means the Pastor and his family depend on those whom they serve, the congregation, for their support. Paul says, “the Lord has commanded it.” The Holy Ministry is necessary for you the Priesthood to be able to receive God’s gifts.

Your vocations also direct you to care for your neighbor to show mercy as Christ did. And therefore offerings are gathered to assist fellow Christians in need. But you also serve your neighbor in the seemingly mundane things as preparing meals, doing the laundry, taking out the trash or cleaning a room for the family or doing your work for an employer or as a boss to your employees.

These works are not done to achieve any sort of commendation but they are simply your duty. They are the result of the faith you received passively. These are the things of the active living faith and they cannot be separated. Where this true passive faith is received the active faith will work. Your old Adam will not feel like doing works or will want some promise of reward. The New Creation in you just does what needs to be done. If you are having trouble doing your duty then put the old Adam inside you to death. Remember your baptism and how much Christ has forgiven you and that you are therefore not getting happily what you deserve.

Jesus did not come to condemn but to save. Jesus forgives your sins. Jesus makes you clean.  The Father has put him in charge and the Spirit points to Jesus and causes Him to be present among us changing our hearts to believe His word. God works as one to save you.  Amen

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

And We Believe in the Holy Spirit

Sermon Pentecost B
Sunday, May 26, 2012
“And we believe in the Holy Spirit”
John 15:26–27, 16:4b–15
A sermon adapted from “Lutheran Catechesis “ Rev. Peter C. Bender

There is certainly lots of confusion in Christianity especially since the Advent of the Charismatic movement that was started not very far from here in Azusa where speaking in intelligible tongues and other so called manifestations of the spirit occurred. These people instead of hearing the prescriptions of Jesus have drawn their own conclusions based on the descriptions of the manifestations of the sent Spirit in Acts.  We need to keep in mind that the tongues the Apostles manifested in Acts were in use throughout the Roman empire. 

This first New Testament Pentecost was a sign of the reversal of the curse of the tower of Babel by the risen, ascended and reigning Lord Jesus.  Also many of the manifestations of the Spirit were still mediate, they occurred when the word was preached. This does not in any way lessen the promises of baptism, the Holy Spirit is promised and is therefore received through it. In the case of the first major encounter with the gentiles the Jews still needed a sign so the Holy Spirit manifested himself on the un-baptized so that they may be baptized. 

So where do we hear from Jesus about the true work of the Holy Spirit. Today’s Gospel text. 

There is no passage that speaks more clearly about the Holy Spirit and His work than this passage from Jesus' catechesis to the Twelve. The Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus, from the Father to testify of Jesus in the world. From such passages as this is drawn the language of the Third Article of the Nicene Creed: "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped an ' glorified."

Jesus' catechesis from today’s gospel text makes it clear that everything the Holy Spirit does, He does to extol Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who has spoken through the prophets of the Old Testament, and it would be the Holy Spirit who would now speak through the witness of the apostles in the New Testament,

They were called to give testimony concerning Jesus. The Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance everything that Jesus had taught them, so that they could faithfully preach His Word in the world. They would suffer for the sake of the Gospel, but the Holy Spirit-the Helper, Comforter, and Spirit of truth-would not only guarantee the fidelity of their testimony, but would also make it possible for them to endure all manner of persecution.

The Church of Jesus Christ is founded upon the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures. There is no other authority in the Church. The Church and her ministers are bound to the apostolic witness. Insofar as the Church is faithful to this witness, the promise of Jesus applies also to us: the Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth. Faith in Christ rests upon the Word of God alone. There is no other source of certainty. Faith is created by the Word of God. Faith believes the Word of God. Faith confesses the Word of God.

The disciples were sorrowful when it appeared as if Jesus would no longer be with them. Their human reason would not allow them to understand the words of the Spirit that Jesus spoke. It was a good thing for them that He "go away," for if He had not faced death alone, they could not have had life with Him forever.

He went away, not to a far-off place, but to the loneliness of death for our sin, that He might open the kingdom of God to us through the ministry of His Holy Spirit. As a result of His death for sin, the Holy Spirit is poured out in the world through the preaching of the Gospel, so that we receive Jesus and everything that He did for our very own.

Through the ministry of preaching, Baptism, absolution, and the Lord's Supper, the Holy Spirit gives us Jesus, with all that He accomplished for us. The Lord Jesus is truly present in and among us today through His Word and Sacraments.

The word "convict" is a judicial term most often found in the setting of a courtroom. To "convict" someone in a court of law requires the presentation of evidence, or testimony, from which the proof of a man's guilt or innocence is established. Hence, it is often said that a person was "convicted" of a crime. The "convicted man," as well as others, may maintain that he is not guilty, but the evidence or testimony tells what is really true. The word “convict” in this passage
concerning the work of the Holy Spirit carries both the connotations of convincing and announcing a verdict.

When it is said that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin of righteousness, and of judgment, both of these realities are meant. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to "convince" the world by "announcing the verdict of God" concerning such things as sin, righteousness, and judgment. Even if no one in the world believes the testimony, it is no less true. Through the proclamation of Law and Gospel, the Holy Spirit "convicts the world” of what is true in Christ before God the Father. The Word of God says what is so! Through the proclamation of the Word the world is convicted of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. This means that when the truth of the Gospel sounds forth, many believe it, many reject it, but the realities of what the Word proclaims are, nevertheless, eternally true in Christ Jesus.

Jesus now says three things in particular about the work of the Holy Spirit. First he says that, “The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, because they do not believe in Me.”  Second he says,  The Holy Spirit will convict the world of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more.” And third and finally he says, “The Holy Spirit will convict the world judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” 

So what does it mean that “The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, because they do not believe in Me?”  Unbelief is the root of all sin and rebellion against God. Unless the Holy Spirit convicts us sin through the preaching of repentance, we cannot be turned from unbelief to fait h in Christ. The proclamation of the Law, which convicts us of all manner of sin and unbelief, is an essential work in bringing us from unbelief to faith in Christ. Without the conviction of sin, the sinner has no use for Christ.

“Whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3: 19-20).”

Next what does it mean that “The Holy Spirit will convict the world of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more?” The death of Christ for the sins of the world is the righteousness of God. Man is sinner. But Man is righteous in Christ. Jesus "went to the Father" in His death to offer himself as the righteous offering for the sins of the world. Christ suffered death and all that we by our sins have deserved. The righteousness of Christ's death is the only source of salvation of the world unless the Holy Spirit convicts us of the righteousness of Christ through the preaching of forgiveness of sins, we cannot be saved from sin. The proclamation of the Gospel creates faith in Christ and declares us righteous for Jesus' sake. The proclamation of the forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake is the heart of the Spirit's work.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26).

Finally what does it mean that “The Holy Spirit will convict the world judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged?”  The judgment of the God that the sinner is righteous for Christ's sake sets man free from the judgment of the Law that the devil uses to condemn the world. Since God forgives us all sin and declares us righteous for Jesus’ sake as a gift of His grace, the devil cannot accuse us of sin or damn us to eternals death.  

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:31-34).

The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth because He testifies of Him who is "the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through the Son. Those who believe in the Son have been called and enlightened by the Spirit. This is the Spirit's work: to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.  The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ by taking what is his-eternal righteousness-and declaring it to us. There is no other work of the Spirit then to bring Christ and His righteousness to us, that everything that He is might become our own. The Spirit’s message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Any spirit who does not preach Christ and him crucified is the spirit of antichrist.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

And He Ascended into Heaven

Ascension Day (Observed)
Sunday, May 20, 2012
“And He ascended into Heaven”
Luke 24:44-53

Grace mercy and peace to you from our risen and ascended Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The feast of the Ascension is one of the most important yet seriously neglected feasts of the church year. It is right up there with Christmas and Easter in its importance.  I have chosen to break a little with tradition this year and observe it on the 7th Sunday of Easter since the Feast actually occurred on Thursday. 

The church year places it on a Thursday because Jesus ascended forty days after he had risen from the dead.  Unlike Christmas and Christmas Eve it is much more difficult to take the time off to celebrate Ascension Day when it falls mid-week.  But in every way it is just as important as Christmas if we are observing the church year. And why do we Lutheran Christians observe the church year?  Simple because it keeps us focused on the life and work of Christ.

Is that relevant?  I mean does it matter and help me in my day to day life?  Very much so if you understand that in your baptism , many years ago you died, and now your life is in Christ.  You are the body as St. Paul writes to the baptized Ephesians and Jesus is the head.  Where ever the head goes the body goes.  If Jesus has risen from the dead, and he has, so will you.  If Jesus ascends into heaven and sits at the right hand of God so will you.  You see it matters and the ascension of Christ to the throne of God is a feast to celebrate.

So let’s get into the text.  Jesus before he ascends teaches and then commissions his Apostles.  The text says he opened up their minds to understand the scriptures. The twelve men as we read in the Gospels to be his Apostles seem to have had a hard time understanding what Jesus meant.  Time and time again even at the Ascension, as recorded in Acts, they were looking for Jesus to establish his political kingdom. Prior to Jesus suffering death and resurrection the twelve seemed to even ignore Jesus notices that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die and be raised on the third day.

You see human nature is so naturally corrupted that it only wants to hear what it wants to hear and it denies reality. We need our minds opened by Christ to understand otherwise we get the scriptures all wrong. We interpret it through a theology of Glory as instead of through the lens of Jesus Crucifixion.

Jesus opens their minds so that they see that His suffering death and resurrection were prophesied in the books of Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets.  In fact the whole of Old Testament Scripture is about and points too Christ in some places more obviously than others.  Such as in the story of Abraham and Isaac where our Lord provides a substitutionary  sacrifice, a Ram stuck in a thicket.  And in all the Levitical ceremonial sacrificial Laws for Temple worship, they point to our need for cleansing forgiveness and Christ’s one time atonement.

In the Psalm 22 we have practically a full account of Jesus suffering on the cross and at the end we hear the words, “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”  Isaiah the prophet in chapter 53 also speaks of the coming Christ as the suffering servant.  This is what Ethiopian eunuch was reading when he encountered Phillip and was then baptized. This is why the Old Testament Scriptures are still read in the church today they continue to point too and are also about Christ.

So be open ears, be open mind, for what you hear of Christ is relevant, is pertinent to you. This Old Testament prophesy is fulfilled. Jesus suffered and on the third day rose from the dead and in addition to that repentance for forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus will be proclaimed to all nations.

This is Jesus commission to his Apostles, his established office of the ministry, to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus.  The office of the Ministry is also a means of grace. It is the preaching of the Law that accuses you of our sin and the preaching of the gospel that shows us where and causes us to repent or turn to receive forgiveness, that is the purpose of this sermon and every sermon preached.

Notice the purpose of the Sermon or proclamation is not to help you live a better life, to make you healthier, wealthier or wiser or to extract worldly rewards. 

My dialysis clinic recently moved to a new location where we now have a new HD flat screen TVs to watch. The trouble is I noticed the programming has changed.  We do not have the same channels we once had. Between 5:00am and 7:00am there are is a lot of prepaid programming. In particular there is a lot of so-called televangelism .  Without exception every preacher did not preach repentance for forgiveness, some of them barely mentioned Christ and if they did it was as an example and not as Savior. Instead they preached prosperity. They preached about accessing rewards on Earth through saying the right prayers to a Santa Claus like God.

They called them heavenly but they are really worldly. The real gifts, the means of Grace, were not mentioned. I did not hear about the promises of baptism, absolution, or the Lord’s Supper.  No, if the Ethiopian had come across one of these preachers he would still be confused about Isaiah 53 and still be un-baptized. Plus he would have ignored the message for he was already living large under his Queen.   Good preaching leads it hearers to Christ’s gifts.   False preaching leads them away from Christ to focus on oneself. So do not be fooled, repentance is not your work but Christ’s work in you accomplished by the hearing of His word.

Jesus told His apostles that you not only have heard the prophesy from the scriptures but that you have witnessed it. You have seen with your own eyes the fulfillment.  You have witnessed my suffering, my death and my resurrection, and now you will proclaim what you have witnessed to all the world. But first I will send you to Jerusalem where you will receive the promise of my Father you will be clothed with power from on high.  In other words, Jesus will be sending to them the Holy Spirit. We will hear more about this next Sunday.

The text says, Jesus blessed them and while he was blessing them he was carried up into heaven.  This is what we celebrate the Son of Man now ascended into Heaven. Jesus our brother, in so far as his incarnation, has been exulted to the right hand of God.  Jesus will always be our Savior and our God both in office and in essence. But He has also elevated mankind so that it once again has fellowship with God.  Jesus is the Man the Father intended  Man to be and yet He is the only begotten Son from all eternity. 

Some of you are familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia, a series written by C.S. Lewis.  In the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, the son of Adam is redeemed through the sacrifice of the Lion, however the Lion due to His righteousness is resurrected and thus vindicated. He then peruses and defeats the evil white witch. Do you recall the result?  He places the Sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve on the throne in Narnia. In others words they rule with him.  This is what Christ the King of Kings does. He is the head and whatever the head receives the body, those baptized into his name receive.

This is glimpse into our future. Only first it is Jesus who will return to earth in the same way to carry us with him to heaven. The sign will be when we see Him again.

Jesus Ascension into heaven does not mean He is physically restricted.  Just because the senses cannot perceive Him does not mean He is not present.  Jesus now appears hidden under the means of grace. It is by hearing the word and believing when he says, “this is my body and blood” that he is really present but not seen. If we could see him then it would not be by faith but by our senses. We know he is there, and to assist our feeble faith he does provide something tangible, bread and wine, to accompany the promise of His Word.

So Jesus is present here as He as promised when we gather in His name. He did not leave us to run things as we see fit in the church. That would be a decapitated church.  And there are lots of those. No, he is here where his Word is preached and the means of grace that he instituted are administered.

The much neglected feast “The Ascension of our Lord” is the great coronation of Jesus Christ the Son of Man in Heaven.  The angels and the host of heaven marvel as a flesh and blood Man receives the crown and is given all authority in Heaven and on Earth. His rule is one now of grace and mercy where repentance for the forgiveness of sins is preached.

Perhaps our neglect betrays the fact that we are still under the cross that glory really goes no further then Jesus hanging on the cross. Even though he reigns in Heaven He still carries for you the marks of His crucifixion. He is the Lamb who was slain. Sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, behold your King!