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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Mystery of Faith - June 13, 2021 - Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 06) - Text: Mark 4:26-34

Our Old Testament reading for this morning reminds us, as you hear me continually say, that we get it right when we point to Jesus. Notice, it is God who brings high and low, who makes dry and flourishes. It is God who gives and we are given to, faith, forgiveness and life. In our Epistle reading we are reminded, as you hear me continually say, that our lives in this world are short and temporary, much like a tent. These two readings lead us to our Gospel reading, our text for this morning which also reminds us, as you hear me continually say, that we get it right when we point to Jesus. God give and we are given to, indeed, we are given to through the means of grace, the Word, Holy Absolution, and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit has worked faith in our hearts and continues to grow that faith through these means of grace.
 

Perhaps you have heard stories such as stories about someone you spoke to only once. You helped him out when he was in a jam and when he ask you why you helped, you told him it was because of your faith in Jesus, because you had a personal relationship with Jesus. And the story ended with a bit of an update, such as, today the man you helped is an elder in his church. The way you treated him, what you told him had an affect on his life. Or maybe it was a story about a little boy from Sunday School. He was always the problem child. You did not know what to do with him. Time and again you got so frustrated with him. You prayed and prayed for him and even thought to yourself, “there is no hope for this child.” The little boy moved away and you lost track of him. Again at the end of the story you get this update, today, he is in college. He is studying to become a missionary. And if you asked him. He would tell you, it was because of that one Sunday School teacher who was so patient with him and told him about Jesus. Yes, these are made up stories, but I know that there are many true stories very similar to these stories. Maybe you have been a part of one. I suppose I could have made up some negative stories, you know the kind you very often read in e-mails or on Facebook, the ones that make you feel guilty because of some negative witness you think you may have made to someone. And unfortunately, we must all admit that at one time or another we believe our witness to be a negative witness. But I believe that Jesus is dwelling on the positive in our Gospel lesson and so that is where we will dwell. It is amazing how many lives we have the opportunity to touch each and every day, knowingly and unknowingly. And, to use the language of our text for this morning, we might say that every opportunity is an opportunity to plant the “seeds of faith.”
 

In our text for this morning Jesus tells two parables, but both parables are intended to drive home one point. The point of both parables, as Jesus Himself says, is to help us to understand, “What the kingdom of God is like.” Let me also say, we do not want to allegorize these parables, in other words we do not want to try to make everything stand for something, instead we will want to make one strong connecting point. There will be more than one connection point, but we want to find the one point that stands out. Jesus begins with, what my Bible titles as, “The Parable of the Growing Seed.” In this parable we do have several connecting points which we will mention, but we want to look for the main point. The connecting points are these: The seed is the Word of God. The ground is unbelievers. And the farmer is us. Let me say them again so that you have it: The seed is the Word of God. The ground is unbelievers. And the farmer is us.
 

In this first parable we will notice that the important parts are not the ground, nor the farmer, but the important part, the most important part is the seed. The ground does not plant the seed in itself and it does not make the seed grow. The unbeliever cannot plant seed or make the seed grow in his or her own heart. The farmer, you and I do not make the seed grow. The seed grows, “all by itself.” Yes, we do have the opportunity, even many opportunities in a day to make an impression on others. We do have the opportunity many times in a day to plant seeds of faith. As we wear the name Christian, that is, as others know that we are Christians, we do make a witness of what it means to be a Christian. Too often, I believe, we worry too much about our witness, whether we think it is a good or a bad witness and unfortunately, too often we decide it is best to make no witness at all, which is a witness in and of itself. In other words, when we decide it is best to make no witness at all, we have made a witness that our faith really is not important. Jesus’ first parable reminds us that the kingdom of God is not dependent on our good or bad witness, but it is dependent on the seed. I believe we can get some assurance from this parable in that fact we do not convert others, rather it is the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God which is the means of grace which does the work. Our concern is only to be about sowing the seed.
 

The second parable Jesus tells, in my Bible, is called, “The Parable of the Mustard Seed.” In this parable the Sower is God the Father. The seed is Jesus. And the large plant is the Kingdom of God which includes all believers. Again, let me give those to you so you are not confused:  In this parable the Sower is God the Father. The seed is Jesus. And the large plant is the Kingdom of God which includes all believers. In this parable Jesus reminds us of His humble beginning, that He was born in obscurity, to poor parents, in the small town of Bethlehem. Yet, through His life, suffering, death and resurrection He saved the whole world so that His Kingdom is over all people. Jesus is the seed. He is the seed of faith which we sow and share with others.
 

What does all this mean? Remember, Jesus tells us that He is setting out to tell us what the Kingdom of God is like. So, what do these two parables tell us about the Kingdom of God and what it is like? As we put these two parables together we can make three “aha” or conclusion statements. Our first conclusion statement, our first “aha,” is that Jesus is the beginning of faith. He is the prime mover. He comes to us through His Word. He comes to us through confession and absolution. He comes to us through Holy Baptism. He comes to us through the Lord’s Supper. As we have opportunity to live lives of faith, as we have opportunity to live our lives to the Lord’s glory, as we have opportunity to share God’s love with others, as we have opportunity to tell others about Jesus, these things are important, but we must remember that it is Jesus who is the first, the prime mover. We are not the important part in the equation. Jesus is the main thing. He is the one who is the seed and He is the seed which grows in us and in others. First, then, is that Jesus is the beginning of faith.
 

Our second “aha” is that Jesus is the middle of faith. He is the one who works in us to bring us to faith, to strengthen us in faith and to keep us in faith. And again, just as He works faith in our hearts through the means of Grace, through His Word and through Holy Baptism, so He uses these same means as well as confession and absolution to give us forgiveness and His Holy Supper in order to strengthen and keep us in faith. And He is also the one who works through us so that we are able and we have the opportunity to share God’s love with others and to tell others about Jesus. Our second “aha” is that Jesus is the middle of faith.
 

Finally, our third “aha,” which should come as no surprise, is that Jesus is the end of faith. He is the one who brings all people into His kingdom. He is the one who gathers all people around His throne. He is the one who gets all the glory. And well He should. He is the one who gave up everything for us including and especially His own life. Jesus, true God, was enjoying all the glory that was His in heaven, and yet, for our sakes, He gave up that glory in order to take on human flesh and blood, in order to become one of us, one with us, one like us, except without sin. He came to do what we could not do. He came to accomplish what we could not accomplish. He came to live perfectly for us in our place, obeying all of God’s laws and commands, and then He came to take all our sins upon Himself, freely. He suffered and died that we might not have to die. He died that we might have life, eternal life. This one person, true God, true man, born humbly in a manger is the one who’s kingdom has grown to be so big that all believers are a part of His kingdom.
 

When you stop to help anyone, you are imitating Jesus. You are sharing Jesus love with them. When you stop to help anyone and you tell them about your faith you plant the seeds of faith. Certainly, you have no idea where that will lead and so it is with the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is planted as the seeds of the Word of God are spread through Word and through action. Today we express this as, Jesus works using means, the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. Through these very simple, ordinary, earthly means God works faith, gives forgiveness, strengthens and keeps in faith.
 

When you patiently instruct and help anyone, you are imitating Jesus. You are sharing Jesus love with them. When you instruct anyone you are planting the seeds of faith. They may be little seeds, but it is the seed which make a difference. It is the seed of the Word of God which brings growth and maturity.
 

As fathers, even as mothers, indeed as parents, we are our children’s first teachers. They look at us and see how we live and they are instructed through what they see. As the old saying goes, “More is caught than taught,” in other words, our children learn more from us through our actions, how we live and move and have our being, how we make our divine service and Bible class attendance most important, than simply by telling them, or as the other saying goes, telling them to “Do as I say, not as I do.”
 

You know, we do not live in a vacuum. Everything we do has an effect or a counter effect on others, on those around us. How we live, what we do, what we say does impact those around us. Our impact could be a negative impact which could lead someone astray and for that we beg our Lord’s forgiveness. But, thanks be to God that there are many times that we have been so filled with God’s Word and His Holy Spirit, His grace, so much so that we cannot help but tell others about Jesus and share His love with them and in so doing we are planting the seeds of faith.
 

Jesus reminds us of the power of one little seed. One little seed may be all that it takes for others to become a part of God’s Kingdom. And it is not we who are bringing this about, but Jesus Himself who is that one little seed. My prayer for each one of you is that the Lord will continue to work through His Word, that He would continue to grow and mature in you so much so that you may be encouraged to share Jesus’ love and to share your faith in Jesus with others, so that the seed of Jesus might be planted, might spring up and bear abundant fruit. And that is what the Kingdom of God is like. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

You Must Be Born Again - May, 30, 2021 - Holy Trinity Sunday - Text: John 3:1-17

Today we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday. We celebrate that we worship a God who is a triune God, a God who has revealed Himself to us as three distinct persons in one Godhead. We do not worship three gods. We do not worship a god who comes to us in three forms or modes. We worship a God who is one God, yet three persons. There are many examples that a person can use to attempt to explain the trinity of God and although there are many examples and although all are limited in their explanations, all are valid for at least one point of illustration. Three such good examples are a tree, an apple and water. A tree has three parts, the roots, the trunk and the leaves, yet there are not three trees, but one tree. An apple has three parts, the seeds, the flesh, and the skin. Yet, again, there are not three apples but one. Water is H2O and it can be solid, as in ice, liquid, as in water, or gas, as in steam. Yet, there are not three waters, but one water. Now, certainly these illustrations only go so far. In reality we must confess that we do not, nor will we ever, this side of heaven, fully understand the trinity of God, but we know that our God is a triune God for He expresses Himself as a triune God and He tells us, specifically to Baptize in His triune name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
 

Our text brings us to a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. He is identified, along with Joseph of Arimathea, as being one who did not vote for the crucifixion of Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and yet he did not go along with the rest of the Pharisees in their actions. Evidently Nicodemus recognized, from the signs and wonders, from the preaching and the miracles of Jesus, that He was not just an ordinary person, but that, perhaps, maybe, just perhaps, Jesus may be the one promised from of old. He may be the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.
 

Nicodemus approached Jesus at night. He came at night so that he might not be seen by others and in particular by others of the Pharisees. He came at night so that he might have some one on one time with Jesus, that he might be alone with Jesus without being disturbed by others. He came to Jesus and he confessed his faith. His confession was that Jesus is a prophet and he knows this because “no one can do these signs that [He] does unless God is with him.” Nicodemus understood the signs and wonders, the miracles Jesus’ performed as signs of His divinity that He was the Messiah.
 

Nicodemus came to Jesus and was concerned and questioned Jesus about eternal life. Jesus’ answer was an answer of faith. One is not saved by physical birth, by being born a Jew, nor is one not saved by being born a Gentile. One is not saved by doing enough good works, nor by doing specific good works. One cannot save oneself, no matter by how many good works one does.
 

Jesus expands His teaching by making a distinction between physical birth and spiritual birth. As for physical birth, that which is born of flesh is flesh, in other words, we are all conceived and born in sin, that is  original sin. Not only that, we all add to our inborn sin our actual sin, sins of omission, those sins of our failure to do the things God would have us to do and sins of commission, those sins we commit against God’s commands. We are born in and with sin and we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. Left in our sin we are doomed to eternal death and hell.
 

There is one solution and that is that one must be born again, and this is not a physical rebirth, but a spiritual rebirth, a being born again of water and spirit. Of course we understand that Jesus is speaking about Holy Baptism. Here Nicodemus does not understand what Jesus is saying, what He means about this being born again and so Jesus explains.
 

As for physical birth Jesus said that sin is born in each one of us. As for spiritual birth, each one must be born again through Holy Baptism, so that which is born of spirit is spirit, “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a).
 

This analogy is not so hard to understand, Jesus says. The wind is unseen, and yet we see its effect. We may not see the sin with which we are born, but we see its effect. I would suggest that if you really want to see the effect of our inborn sin, put two toddlers in a room with one toy and see if they instinctively share the toy. I would suggest that rather than share the one toy they will fight over the one toy, and I would suppose that even if you gave them two toys each one might want the toy the other one has, an effect of our inborn sin. Likewise, the spirit works through Holy Baptism. While we may bear witness of God using the hand of the pastor to put water on a person and hear God speaking through the mouth of the pastor, His name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we cannot see the Holy Spirit work in Baptism, but we see the result and the result is faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
 

And, even in adults, the Holy Spirit, though unseen, is seen in His work of conversion, as He works through the means of grace, in particular through His Holy Word, to work faith, strengthen faith and to keep us in faith. An unbaptized person who comes to faith through the Word of the Lord naturally has a desire to be baptized, thus we see the effect of the Holy Spirit.
 

What does this mean? This means that there is a distinction between heavenly beings and earthly beings. And further we are told that only a heavenly being can testify of heaven. In other words, no one from earth can testify concerning heaven because no one from earth has yet been to heaven, except one and that one is Jesus. Only Jesus can testify of heavenly things because only Jesus has been to heaven, for that is from where He came in order to be born as one of us and that is where He ascended following His resurrection.
 

For what purpose did Jesus descend? Jesus explains His coming to earth using what would be a familiar illustration for Nicodemus and that is the encounter of the children of Israel and the serpents in the wilderness. When Moses led the children of Israel out of bondage of slavery in Egypt it did not take too long and they began to grumble. They grumbled against Moses and against God. As a consequence and as a punishment of their grumbling, God caused serpents to come into the camp and to bite the people. The people, then, cried out in repentance to Moses and to God.
 

Moses prayed to God and God told him to make an image of the serpent and to put it on a pole. Whenever anyone was bitten by a serpent he or she could look at the serpent on the pole and they would live. The serpent was punishment for their sins. The serpent on the pole was to be looked at in an act of repentance and faith in forgiveness. Thus, in essence, the punishment of the snake and being bitten by the snake became the cure as one who was bitten looked on the bronze snake on the pole.
 

God created a perfect world and in that perfect world He created and placed a perfect man and a perfect woman into a perfect garden. The devil came and tempted the woman with the temptation that she could be like God. The woman disobeyed God as did the man and with that disobedience, sin entered the world. The punishment for sin was death, the beginning of physical death, and unless there was a cure, the ultimate conclusion would be eternal death and hell. God immediately stepped in and promised to send a Savior, one who would take the punishment for the sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus came as the Savior. He came as one of us, one of the beings which brought sin and death into the world. He came in order to suffer the punishment for us.
 

God placed Jesus on the cross. The serpent brought death, humans brought death. The serpent on the cross was to be looked at in repentance and faith. Jesus was put on the cross to be looked at in repentance and faith. We look at Jesus and believe and we are saved. Thus, the punishment became the cure.
 

Which brings us to Jesus words, what we call “the Gospel in a nutshell,” John 3:16. The price of sin is death, physical death and ultimately left unpaid, eternal death and hell. What sin has earned, the wages of sin is death. Sin costs the shedding of blood and death, human blood and human death for human sin. Left alone in our sins we would be condemned to eternal death and hell. Nothing on our part can take care of our sins. There are not enough good things we could do, not that we could or would do them, that could add up to pay the price for our sins.
 

In His love God sent Jesus. Jesus is God Himself in human flesh. Jesus is the Creator taking on the flesh and blood of His creation in order to rescue His creation. God knew that we, His creation, His creatures, would not be able to save or rescue ourselves, thus, because of His great love for us, He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, true God in human flesh to pay the price for our sins, to rescue us from sin, death and the devil.
 

The price, the cost, what sin has earned, the wage of sin is eternal death and hell. What Jesus, God in flesh did was pay that price. On the cross, God died for us, in our place. On the cross Jesus died a physical death and an eternal death, He suffered the pain and torment of hell for us, in our place.
 

In our theology we talk about the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law shows us our sins. The Gospel shows us our Savior. The Law shows us how we sin, it tells us what we are to do and not to do. On its own all the Law can do is lead us either to think we can gain heaven through works righteousness, or it leads us to despair. The Gospel is the good news. The Gospel points us to Jesus. The Gospel tells us all that Jesus has done, does, and continues to do for us. The Gospel motivates repentance because it proclaims that all our sins have been paid for by Jesus on the cross so that we have forgiveness of sins. The Gospel leads us to faith in Jesus who paid the price for our sins.
 

Thus, Jesus came into the world, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world though Him might be saved. Yes, to those who do not believe in Jesus they are condemned, but to all those who do believe, to all those who have faith, they are forgiven and have eternal life.
 

As we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday we celebrate what a great and loving God we worship. We celebrate that our God is one as He has revealed Himself to us as a triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We celebrate that He is the one who created us, redeemed us, that is traded His life for ours on the cross, and sanctifies us, that is He continues to work faith in our hearts, strengthen us in faith, and keeps us in faith until Christ comes again. And when Christ comes again He will gather us with all the saints and we will stand before the Lord’s throne and say, “To God be the glory.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Giving of the Helper - May 23, 2021 - The Day of Pentecost - Text: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Today we take the time to celebrate the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost day. Yes, we are going to talk about that person of the Trinity of which it seems we Lutherans are most afraid. Personally, I think it is a healthy fear that we have, because we do not want to err in our understanding of the Holy Spirit, His power and His work. I say that, because we have seen too many TV evangelists and others abuse and misguide many people, even may faithful Christians, concerning the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes and does His work as He was sent to do by the Father and the Son. And He does His work the way He pleases according to His good and gracious will. For us to impose anything else on Him, namely our ideas of what He should do and how He should be is, simply put, silly.
 

Let us get into our text. Our text begins with Jesus announcing that He is going away and then we have the disciples reaction. We begin at verse five, “5But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: 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. ” (v.5-7). The reaction of the disciples to Jesus’ announcement is grief, sadness, and sorrow. The disciples are sad for themselves, theirs is a selfish sadness. They will miss Jesus. They have not taken the time to think things through. They do not want to understand the importance of Jesus’ going away, the importance of His sending the Holy Spirit.
 

Jesus, patient as He always is with His disciples, reassures them that this is for their own good that He is going away. Again, Jesus reminds them that unless He goes away, He cannot send the Holy Spirit to them, but when He goes away He will send the Holy Spirit who will be a Helper and even, as some translations call Him, a Counselor for them.
 

The second part of our text outlines the work of the Holy Spirit. We pick up at verse eight, “8And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer” (v.8-10). The work of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and the judgment of the devil. Now let us take a moment to look at these three.
 

The Holy Spirit comes to convict the world of sin, the sin of unbelief in particular. Please understand that Jesus is not just speaking with His disciples, His “faithful,” strong in the faith, disciples. He is speaking to us here today in the year 2021. The Holy Spirit still comes to us today to convict us of our sin of unbelief. Sure, we come to church, we say we believe, but do we not have doubts, at times? Do we not, along with the disciples, misunderstand what Jesus is doing for us, becoming sad, even angry when we believe that Jesus has left us, because things are not going the way we think they should? Yes, even in our faith we have times of doubt and unbelief. We may even think to ourselves, was Jesus work on the cross enough, and was it for me?
 

The Holy Spirit comes to convict the world of righteousness, that is of self righteousness or work righteousness. Again, Jesus’ words are meant for us today. How often do we catch ourselves expressing our faith in terms of all the wonderful things we have done or are doing for the Lord. I am not saying that we should not be glad about our work for the Lord, but how often does what we are doing get in the way of what God does for and through us? We talk so much about what we have done and what we are doing that what God does is no longer important. You know, the devil is very subtle. He does not come to you and say, “All your good works are so good that you deserve to go to heaven.” Rather, he slowly gets you talking about all your good works so that your concentration shifts from your dependency on Jesus, and His death and resurrection, to your being dependent on yourself, and Jesus being dependent on you and what you are doing. He gets you to thinking that you can be a champion for the Lord. Of course, he does this so subtly that you do not notice until it is too late.
 

And the Holy Spirit comes to convict the world of the judgment of the devil and to remind us that salvation belongs to the believers. This is where the Holy Spirit gently nudges us to say, “hey, don’t you think you’re depending on yourself a little too much?” “Don’t forget that it was Jesus’ life and death on the cross that saved you, it was all that Jesus did for you, living a perfect life for you in your place that saved you, it was Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection for you personally that saved you, you did not save yourself.”
 

The Holy Spirit is alive and well in our world today. He is at work in our world and in us today. And we must understand that He works the way He wants to work, or as we say, when and where He pleases, giving the gifts He comes to give and giving them the way He wants to give them. Today He works through means, He works mediately, which is not to say that He cannot work immediately. Let me explain. The usual way the Holy Spirit has of working with us today is not to speak directly to us, not to come to us and show Himself to us; not to move in us to speak in tongues, or to babble. His usual way is to work through means, namely through the means of grace; the Word, that is the Bible, Confession and Absolution and the sacraments, that is Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit comes through these ordinary earthly means, the Word, the Bible as you read it and as your hear it read. He comes through confession and absolution as we confess our sins and as we hear His word of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven.” He comes through the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He comes through simple water and the Word, and through the bread and wine, His body and blood, and the Word, to do His work, to show us Jesus’ life, His suffering and death, to show us Jesus’ resurrection, to give us the gifts that He has to give, namely the gifts of faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
 

Today the Holy Spirit delivers His gifts through the means of grace as they are given by our pastor. Our God is a God of good order. He knows that it would be rather chaotic for Him to just throw His gifts out at us or to us and beside, we would probably not believe it anyway. If Jesus appeared to us and then left, we would have a hard time believing it. So, God gives us the Holy Spirit and His gifts in a more orderly way, through the means of grace, delivered to us by our pastor.
 

And these gifts are delivered for us to use, not for us to take for granted, nor for us to hoard, nor for us to waste. The best illustration I can give you is the one I used a couple weeks ago and several times before, and one I am sure I will continue to use because it is a fitting illustration, it is the illustration of a pitcher of water. Please remember, as all illustrations are, do not push the point too far or you lose any meaning that might be there. God’s gifts are like water in a pitcher. We come here every week to have Him fill our glasses with the gifts that He has to give, through our hearing the Word, through our confessing our sins and hearing His words of absolution, our remembering our Baptism and our being given the Lord’s Supper. As we are filled with His gifts we get to the point that we overflow and those gifts spill over to others, and we are so excited that we share our faith with others, so they too will come to the Lord’s house, with their cups, to be given the Lord’s gifts as well. Those who do not come to be given the gifts are like the cup that stays away from the pitcher, and even what water it did have will evaporate so that it no longer has any, and that person loses their faith. Thus we see the importance of coming to the Lord’s house to be given His gifts. We come to the Lord’s house, we are filled with the Word and the Sacraments and then, excitedly we go out and tell others. Jesus’ life, Jesus’ work on the cross was enough. Jesus’ died for me and for you.
 

Last week marked our nineteenth anniversary as congregation and pastor. This morning as we begin another year together, as the Lord wills, I want to reiterate my commitment to you, the same commitment I made nineteen years ago. First, I commit to you that I will continue to pray for you, individually and personally. My usual habit is to begin my morning in prayer and scripture reading. Each morning I pray for a portion of the members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church personally, by name. I will also continue to pray for any special prayer requests you have made, including all those listed in our bulletin each week.
 

Second, I promise to continue to deliver the goods to you, that is, to continue to proclaim the good news to you, and to administer the sacraments to you, to speak God’s word of forgiveness to you. As you come here each Sunday, and on other days of worship and as you have need at other times, I promise to continue to share God’s Word of comfort and hope with you.
 

Finally, I promise to continue to be an example to you, though a sinful example and I will be an example by keeping my priorities straight. My priorities are first, my own personal relationship with God, second, my family, namely my wife, and then my children, and third, my work as your pastor. I continually pray that the Lord will give me the strength and ability to demonstrate these priorities in my life and as I demonstrate them, I pray that you will make them yours.
 

And now, as I did nineteen years ago, and as I often do, and as I am recommitting myself, I will ask you to recommit yourself. I ask two simple things from you. First, I ask that you will continue to pray for me. Pray that the Lord will continue working through me to reach you as well as others. Pray that the Lord will continue work in me to keep me faithful, and to preach faithfully even to the point of death.
 

Second, I ask that you will continue to come to be given the gifts that God has to give to you through me, making regular and diligent use of the Lord’s gifts. Come to divine service and Bible Class, come often to be given the gifts the Lord has to give to you through me.
 

Today is Pentecost Sunday. Next week we will celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday and the fact that God shows Himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the following Sunday we will begin the Pentecost Season, the Non-festival portion of our church year as we call it. The color on the altar will be green, the color of growth. Summer will be beginning meaning that many will be on vacation. Unfortunately, too often too many people have a tendency to be tempted to skip church during the Summer, because they are on vacation and away and so forth. This tendency is one of Satan’s ways of tempting you out of your usual habit to be in divine service hoping to break that habit. May I encourage you, as we have heard God’s Word, as we are given His gifts here today, as we have recommitted ourselves to one another and to Christ, that with His help we also recommit ourselves to Summer divine service attendance. God loves you so much and He has so much He wants to give to you. Come and be given the gifts, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Jesus Prays for us - May 16, 2021 - Seventh Sunday of Easter - Text: John 17:11b-19

Last week in our Gospel reading, Jesus reminded us of what it means to be the ultimate friend. He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And that is exactly what He did. He laid down His life for us, for you and for me. He did this, because, as Paul tells us, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a). The price for our sins is death and that does not mean simply physical death, that means eternal death, hell. Jesus shows His great love for us in this, that He took all our sins upon Himself and suffered the eternal death penalty of hell for us, in our place. He died so that we might live.
 

Our text for this morning is sometimes referred to as Jesus “high priestly” prayer. Jesus is praying for His disciples and He is praying for us, His close friends. Jesus is praying especially that we would be protected in times of temptation. And we must admit that temptations to do evil abound in this world. We are constantly being tempted by the devil. And although we are tempted by the devil, we cannot blame our sins on the devil. He does not have that much control over us. Yes, he can tempt us, but he cannot force us to do anything. The devil tempts us in many ways. He knows our weaknesses and that is where he attacks. Usually his attacks come in the most subtle of ways. The devil does not tempt us to do the things he knows we would not normally do. He does not say, “bow down to idols,” “lust after other people,” “steal this item or that item,” “murder that person,” “don’t go to church,” because he knows that those temptations will not work. Instead, he uses more subtle ways of tempting us, such as putting other things into our life which become our gods such as money, drugs, alcohol, power, greed and the like. He tells us that “window shopping is okay” in other words, “it is okay to look lustfully at another person, just don’t touch.” He tells us “it is okay to work slow and to ‘borrow’ things from the company without worrying about returning them, especially because we are not being paid as we should.” He fills our time and our lives with so many other things to do other than go to church, so that we do not have time for church. Yes, the devil does tempt us.
 

But, not only does the devil tempt us, we are also tempted by the things of this world. Friends, or rather, those who seem to be friends often tempt us. You know how it is, they say something like, “come on, everyone else is doing it . . .” At times we want to blame our spiritual life on our parents, “they always ‘made’ me go to church, so now I am rebelling against that and not going,” or “my parents let me choose if I want to go to church or which church I want to go to, so now I am looking for a church which conforms to my human nature and urgings.” And one of my favorite temptations comes all the way from the beginning when we hear Satan ask the question of Eve, “Did God really say . . . ?” and “Did God really mean . . . ?” and you can fill in the blank, in other words when we are tempted to question God and His Word rather than question humanity and the word of man. God in His Word tells us the truth. The world and our culture tell us that truth is relative, which really means there is no truth. The temptations of the world are great indeed.
 

We are tempted by the devil; we are tempted by the world; and we are also tempted by our own sinful human nature. Our minds are constantly in battle against the sins of thought, envy, lust, greed, hatred, and the list goes on. Sin comes natural to us. Although we might deny it later and have regret, we like to sin. It is easy. It does not take any practice. And usually, at least at the time, we probably think it is fun.
 

And yet, here in our text we are told that our best friend, our true best friend, is praying for us. Jesus is praying that we might be protected and kept safe from temptation and sin. Very much like a loving parent or guardian wants protection and safety for their child, so our best friend Jesus wants only the best for us. And more often than not, while we are in the midst of sinning, we do not ever realize what we are doing, not that this not knowing what we are doing gives us an excuse, at least not before God.
 

Yet, Jesus is realistic. He knows that we will undergo temptation and that we will sin. He does not pray that we will be taken out of this world, which He knows is the only way in which we would never suffer temptation and sin, rather He prays that through the trials we may face that we will be made better. Which reminds us of the possibility of what might happen as a result of the trials and temptations we face in this life, that is that through our trials and temptations we might be strengthened in our faith. You know, when we face trials there are really only two ways to turn. Either we get mad at and turn away from God or we are drawn closer to Him knowing that He is, really, the only one who can help us. It is this being drawn closer to Him which gives us the strength to face what is ahead and this desire is Jesus’ prayer.
 

Another result of trials and temptation is that we might be moved beyond ourselves to depending on Jesus alone. Trials and temptations are intended to strengthen us in our faith, to move us to depend on Jesus alone and to give us hope (Rom. 5:1-5). It is through Jesus alone that we have deliverance from sin, death and the power of the devil. It is through Jesus alone that we can resist and overcome the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful human nature.
 

Yes, we will have temptations while we are in this world, but we do not have to face these temptations alone. God’s promise is that with temptation He will also give us the help we need and that help comes in one of three ways. One way the Lord helps us in time of temptation, when we come to Him and pray to Him, is that He will remove the temptation, especially if He knows that we will not be able to handle it, that we will sin.
 

If the Lord does not remove the temptation from us, another way He has of helping us to overcome is by giving us a way out. He opens a door so that we might escape the temptation. Instead of going along with the crowd and doing something wrong, maybe God gives you a different choice, a way out of the sin. God gives us the courage to walk away from the temptation to steal, to hurt or harm someone, to join in speaking evil against someone, to covet, and even to misuse His name.
 

Finally, if He does not remove the temptation and if He does not open a door out, He will give us the strength to bear up under the temptation so that through this temptation we are drawn closer to Him and strengthened in our faith. This is probably the hardest of the three ways in which God helps us in times of trial and temptation, however, we are reminded by Jesus that God knows what we can handle and He promises never to give us more than we can handle. So, if you are going through some trial or temptation and you do not think you are able to handle it, evidently God knows you better than you and He knows you can handle it and He will be there to help you.
 

Today, Jesus continues to be our best friend. Along with His being with us every day, He is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven where He is watching over us, interceding for us, that is He is praying for us, and He is ruling over us. Everything we do, everything we say, everything we think, He knows. He knows everything there is to know about us and He loves us anyway.
 

Jesus is our best friend and He has shown that He is our best friend in the most profound way, by giving His life for ours. He is the one who is true God. As true God He was enjoying all of the glory that was His in heaven. He gave up the glory that was His in heaven in order to take on human flesh and blood, to be born as one of us except without sin. He lived for us, perfectly. What we could not do, live perfectly, He did. Everything we are supposed to do he did for us in our place. He took all our sins upon Himself, freely of His own choosing. He suffered and died the eternal death penalty of hell for us, in our place so that we might not have to die, but so that we might live and have life eternal with Him in heaven. He has made us right with God. He most certainly is our best friend.
 

And Jesus continues to be our best friend. He sends His Holy Spirit to help us “work out” our sanctification, that is, to do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do. Any work we do that is a good work in God’s eyes are only those good works that are motivated by God, done in and through us by the Holy Spirit, and are done to give glory to God. Which simply means that more often than not we do not actually know when we are doing a good work.
 

Very often in this life we have a hard time seeing things, at least seeing things clearly. Sometimes the reason we cannot see clearly is because we are too caught up in and involved in any given situation or relationship and we cannot see straight. True love, true friendship is something that is not blind, as some would suggest, but true love sees perfectly. The faith that we have, that has been given to us is also not a blind faith as some would suggest. Our faith is a faith based on a true, real, person, a person attested not only by time and history, but by His Holy Word. We have one best friend and yet, too often, we are so involved in this world and our life in this world that we miss Him. Sometimes we need to stop and with His help take a closer look and then we can see Him. Jesus’ words to doubting Thomas were, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Blessed are we when we have not physically seen Jesus, yet we have seen Him in faith through eyes that can see.
 

God never promised that life would be easy, as the saying goes, even beautiful roses have thorns. However God has and continues to promise that He will be with us always. He has called us to faith, through His means of grace. He has put faith in our hearts through His means of grace. He has put His name on us at Holy Baptism. He forgives us through Holy Absolution. He continues to strengthen and keep us in faith through His means of grace, His Holy Word and His body and blood in His Holy Supper. He has promised and continues to be with us always, even to the end of the world. My prayer for each one of you is that the Lord will continue His work so that when the final hour arrives we might all together stand before the Lord’s throne and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.