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!


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, May 31, 2020

The Promise to Send the Holy Spirit - May 31, 2020 - The Day of Pentecost - Text: John 7:37-39

Ten days ago we celebrated Ascension Day. Ascension Day marked forty days after Easter and the ascending of Jesus to the place from which He descended in order to fulfill the promise He made in the Garden of Eden that He would take care of the sin of Adam and Eve and all people by paying the price for sin which is death, eternal death and hell. After Jesus’ resurrection He showed Himself to be alive and He did this for forty days, showing Himself to many people so that they might believe that He did indeed rise from the dead. Before He ascended He promised that He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Helper to be with His Apostles so that they too might have the ability to perform signs, wonders and miracles which would attest to the truth of their proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection. Today is the day we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit.
Before we get to our text I want to briefly look at the other lessons. The Old Testament Lesson for today is the account of the sending of the Holy Spirit on the Elders of Israel. This account happened soon after Israel was delivered from Egypt and the purpose was to show that these elders were set apart by God to help Moses in leading and governing the people. The interesting part of this account is the fact that even the two men who remained in the camp, for whatever reason, were given the Holy Spirit, showing us that it is not we who deserve or initiate this giving and being given the Holy Spirit, but it is God who gives and He gives according to His good and gracious will.
In the Second Reading for today, the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we have the account of the events of that first Pentecost day and the giving of the Holy Spirit. This Pentecost event of the giving of the Holy Spirit actually coincided with the Jewish Feast of Pentecost which was a harvest celebration. Here again we see God’s hand and perfect timing in time and history as the events of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension and now the sending of the Holy Spirit fit so well so that there would be many people in Jerusalem to bear witness of this new Pentecost event, so that they might be given faith and be able to take the message of salvation back to their own towns and cities.
Now, getting to our text for this morning, our Gospel reading. Again, the words of the text, “37On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’ 39Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (v. 37-39).
John tells us that this is the last day of the feast in other words, this is the last day of the feast of tabernacles or booths and it was the great day, that is it was the last day of the feast. On this day the leaves and branches used to build the booths were taken down and waved against the altar. The priests would process around the altar seven times in thankfulness, then a priest was sent to get a pitcher of water from the pool of Siloam and pour it out on the side of the altar. All these ceremonies had been added over the years and the last symbol, the pouring of water was to find its fulfillment in the days of the Messiah.
It was at this point that Jesus stood up, not as a teacher, but as a proclaimer. He applied these words of Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation,” to Himself telling the people that He is the fulfillment of these words, that is, He is the Messiah.
The words of Scripture Jesus quotes are from God providing water in the wilderness for the Children of Israel. The water of the pool of Siloam was considered living water because it was continually filled by means of a natural spring in the rock. However, it was still only earthly water so that if anyone did drink of the water they would still get thirsty again. Jesus, however is the fountain of living water so that if they drink from Him they will never thirst again.
Jesus was pointing to the Holy Spirit whom He would send after His ascension and glorification. At this time the miracle of Pentecost had not yet happened. Thus Jesus makes note that those who would be given the Holy Spirit are those who do not reject Him, indeed it would be those who believe in Him who would be given the Holy Spirit. And again, after His work of redemption was complete and He returned to His glory in heaven.
So, what does this mean? First it might serve us well to debunk a couple historical heresies. One, God is not three Gods, one God the Father, a second God the Son, and a third God the Holy Spirit. Second, God did not present Himself in different modes, in other words He was not God the Father who then changed into God the Son and finally changed into God the Holy Spirit. God is God, three distinct persons in one divine being, never separated, always one so that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, but the Son is not the Father, nor the Spirit and the Spirit is not the Father nor the Son and the Father is not the Spirit nor the Son. Next week we will confess these truths in the Athanasian Creed on Holy Trinity Sunday. Anyway, the fact is that the Holy Spirit has been around since before the creation of the world, with the Father and the Son. In Genesis we read that the “spirit” of God, that is the Holy Spirit, hovered over the face of the earth. We read how God said, “Let us make man in our image.” We read how God plural says He is one, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God (plural), the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). And there are many other passages from the Old and New Testament attesting to the fact that the Holy Spirit has been around with the Father and the Son since time eternal.
Not only has the Holy Spirit been around, He was active in the Old and the New Testaments. Again, we read of His participation at creation. We read of the Spirit working at the time of Moses as we read in our Old Testament reading for today. We read of the Spirit working especially at the time of the judges and even the kings of Israel. Especially in the New Testament we read of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Many times Jesus proclaimed and promised the sending of the Holy Spirit. Especially as we read in our text for today, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit and He connected this promise and its fulfillment with the proclamation that He was the Messiah. So, we can see why the Pharisees and teachers of the Law continually wanted to be rid of Him.
As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit is given to those who believe and actually is the one who works and gives faith. Yes, the Holy Spirit is alive and well and is working in our world today. Today, however, the Holy Spirit’s usual way of working with us and giving to us is indirectly, or as we say mediately through means and in particular through the means of grace, which are confession and absolution, the very Word of God and the sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is especially through the means of Holy Baptism that the Holy Spirit first comes to us in our lives as we are brought to the living waters of Baptism and have water and God’s name placed on us and at that very moment the Holy Spirit does His work giving us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation along with writing God’s name on us and writing our names in the book of life.
As to the question of the outward, immediate working of the Holy Spirit in our world today let me say this, as the Apostles, to whom the Holy Spirit was first given and as He was given to attest to their message, so as the Apostles died out so did the immediate working of the Holy Spirit. I am very skeptical of so-called direct miracles in our world today. Today God has chosen to work in us and to give His gifts to us through means. Certainly God can go outside His usual way, but that is a rare thing. In our world today, normally, God comes to us and gives the gifts He has to give through the very means He has given us to give His gifts.
As for the work of the Holy Spirit, His work is to always point to Jesus. You may have noticed that the reason we do not see or hear too much of the Holy Spirit is for the simple fact that He never points to Himself. He is always only pointing to Jesus. And He points to Jesus through the means of grace. Again, what this means for us today is that the way we are given God’s gifts and blessings, the way or the means through which God gives us His gifts is through means. Thus, when we absent ourselves from the means of grace we absent ourselves from being given the gifts God has to give. It is kind of like our daily food. If we do not go to the grocery store, the place where we get our food, then we have no food to eat and we eventually starve. We may not remember all the meals we have eaten, but it is important that we eat. So likewise, we come to divine service to be fed and although we may not always remember what we have been fed, it is important to be fed. And interestingly enough if we continue to absent ourselves, refusing and rejecting the gifts God has to give, He may give us our way and harden our hearts against Him as He did with Pharaoh in Egypt.
Certainly we have all heard of the unforgivable sin. The unforgivable sin is the sin against the Holy Spirit, which is a denial of the proclamation of the Holy Spirit, or better said, the unforgivable sin is dying in unbelief. So, as we refuse and reject God’s gifts by absenting ourselves from the means of grace and in particular from the place in which the means of grace are regularly distributed, divine service on Sunday morning, we put our spiritual souls in peril.
God loves us so much. God loves you so much and He has so much that He wants to give to you, so many gifts and blessings, even beyond your imagination. God created you to love you. God created you so that He might give to you. And He gives the gifts He has to give through His means of grace.
Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and His giving us faith, strengthening and keeping us in faith and stirring in us to live lives of faith to God’s glory. We also celebrate the fact that just as He did in the Old Testament so it is today that the Holy Spirit works when and where He pleases despite and at times in spite of us. We are not the prime movers. It does not depend on us. God is the prime mover. God works, God gives, God stirs in us, God motivates us, God gives and we are given to.
Today we celebrate God’s gifts of the Holy Spirit. We also celebrate God’s gifts of faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. We celebrate that our justification began and ended with Jesus and so now even our sanctification begins and ends with Jesus. And we celebrate that He works in us and stirs in us to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Jesus Prays - May 24, 2020 - Seventh Sunday of Easter - Text: John 17:1-11

Last Thursday we celebrated a little celebrated Holiday, Ascension Day. I believe it is a little celebrated holiday for the simple reason that there really is nothing you can sell to celebrate Ascension Day. Anyway, Ascension Day marks forty days since Jesus’ resurrection. Ascension Day is the day when Jesus gathered His disciples on the mountain and told them to wait in Jerusalem until He sent the Holy Spirit. Next Sunday will mark fifty days after Easter and we will celebrate the giving of what Jesus promised as we will celebrate Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit.
Today is the seventh Sunday of Easter, Easter Day is counted as the first Sunday of Easter. In our first lesson for today the disciples had returned from the Mount called Olivet where they witnessed Jesus as He ascended and returned to heaven the place from which He had originally descended in order to become incarnate, to suffer and die for our sins. Again, before He ascended He tells His disciples that He will be sending the Holy Spirit. In our Gospel lesson, which is our text, Jesus prays for Himself and for His disciples. I believe He is also praying for us and let me assure you, I am praying for you as well. As we look at Jesus prayer, perhaps this might help us in our own prayer life. Much like the Lord’s Prayer which is a model prayer for us, so Jesus prayer in our text might also serve as such a model as we pray for ourselves and each other.
Getting to Jesus’ prayer. Jesus prays for Himself. He and the Father are one and so He prays that He and the Father might be given glory, but not as you and I think of glory. Jesus prayer is that they might be given glory as part of His death and resurrection. This might not make sense to us if we are thinking in human, earthly terms, but if we are thinking in sinner, saint terms, then we can see how Jesus’ death and resurrection gained glory. We give Him glory and praise because through His suffering and death the price for our sins has been paid. So, we give Him glory and in giving Him glory we give the Father glory.
As true God, Jesus had all authority, but as true man He did not always nor fully use that authority, in other words, Jesus did not heal everyone, raise everyone from the dead, cast out all demons and the like. Here, in our text, at this time, Jesus prays that He might be given full authority over all, as true man, so that He might suffer, die and rise. Notice that even as Jesus is praying for Himself He has us in mind. He is praying for Himself so that He might be able to save us.
After completing His Father’s will, that is after fulfilling His Father’s plan of salvation for us which He accomplished by leaving heaven and all the glory that was His, taking on human flesh and blood and living as one of us. After His suffering and death and after His resurrection, Jesus prays that when He ascends into heaven that He might be given the place in heaven He gave up to come down and save the world. He prays that He might again be seated at the right hand of the Father in glory. That is His prayer for Himself. Not a selfish prayer, rather a prayer for Himself for our salvation.
Now, Jesus turns His attention and prays for His disciples. Jesus prays that His disciples might know the Father. He and the Father are one, as He continues to tell us. He prays that through Him and through His signs, wonders, and miracles they might know that He is God and that He came to save them. These disciples are no different than us. We are skeptical people. We have a hard time believing in Jesus just like the disciples and so Jesus is praying for His disciples.
Jesus prays that they might believe, especially following His suffering, death and resurrection. Remember, Thomas would not believe even though the other disciples had seen Jesus and had testified to him. How often do we find ourselves, not believing? Actually, we would probably never call it not believing, instead we would say we have some doubt, but that is what doubt is, not believing. We doubt God’s promises of salvation. We doubt God’s ability to do great things, in spite of us. We doubt God’s forgiveness as we waller in our guilt over our sins, not letting go of our sins.
Jesus prays that His disciples might share their faith with others. Jesus spent three years teaching His disciples for a purpose, so that they might go out and share the message of salvation with others.
At the same time, Jesus prays that they might be protected as they share their faith with others. Jesus is concerned for their well being. He prays that they might have divine protection. He knows the trials and tribulations, the struggles of this world. He knows the danger to life which come about because they will be proclaiming a message which is not the message the world wants to hear.
And Jesus prays that they might have eternal life. This is not because of the good and great things they do or will be doing, but because of the faith which they have, which He has given to them. Faith which will move them to do the good works they are to be doing. Jesus prays for Himself and He prays for His disciples.
As Jesus prays for Himself and for His disciples, I believe that He is also praying for us. By faith in Jesus, we too are His followers, His disciples and so He is praying for us here today, May 24, 2020, the members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield, and the guests that we have in divine service worshiping with us this morning. Jesus prays that, as we “see” Him in His Word, though the signs, wonders and miracles He performed, that we might believe. Jesus is who He says He is. He is the sinless, Son of God. He is God in flesh. He is the one promised by God to come and save the world. As we read His Word, as we hear His Word proclaimed He shows Himself to us so that we might believe.
Jesus prays that we might believe that He is the Christ, the Messiah. He also prays that we might believe in His perfect life, in His suffering, death and resurrection for us. We are sinful human beings. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. One quick trip through the ten commandments will refresh our memories of our sins. Yet, we do not have to pay the price for our sins, because Jesus paid that price for us. He gave His life so that we might have life. And yet, Jesus did not save us for nothing, He saves us for a purpose, as we talked about a couple weeks ago.
Jesus prays for the purpose for which He saves us. He prays that we might share our faith with others. We are not to keep the faith, we are to give it away. We are to show forth the faith that is in our hearts, as we said last week, through our thoughts, our words and our actions. What are our thoughts, our words and our actions saying about what is in our hearts? Jesus prays that they might say that we have faith in Him. By the way, this is what we call living in our vocations, that is as we live lives of faith in whatever our vocation, our work, our job or career, we live our lives as living sacrifice always being ready to give a defense, an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus.
Jesus prays that we might be protected as we share our faith with others. He knows the world in which we live, He spent time here. He understands that the message we have to share is not the message the world wants to hear. He knows that many suffer trials and tribulations because of their faith and so He prays that even through such trials and tribulations we might not lose faith.
Jesus prays that we might have eternal life. He came to give His life so that we might have eternal life. Jesus prays that by God’s grace, through faith in Him, faith given by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, we might have eternal life with Him in heaven. And Jesus continues to pray for us today.
And let me assure you and reassure you that I pray for you. I pray that as the Lord has sent you His Holy Spirit, that He will continue to send you His Holy Spirit to work, to strengthen and keep you in faith. I pray that the Lord will send you His Holy Spirit to work in you a response of faith. That is that He will stir in you the desire to be about His business, doing the good works which He has for you to do here in this place. And as I pray for you I continue to ask that you pray for me. I ask that you pray that the Lord will give me the strength I need to resist temptation, to resist compromising the Gospel, and the strength to lead you forward, spreading the Gospel message, sharing the good news of salvation to this community, area, and city.
Finally, let me reassure you that God is with you and that He has and continues to send His Holy Spirit. This congregation is over 120 years old. This is not our church as some may believe. This church, this congregation was started before many of us were born and, should the Lord tarry and should the Lord allow, this church will continue on for as many years after us as the Lord should tarry. While we are alive, while we are this church and this congregation at this time, our work is to continue to be faithful, even unto death. I do say, our work, because as your pastor, while the Lord wills that I am in this place, I too am to be faithful. I am to be faithful in bringing you God’s Word, in rightly administering His sacraments, in forgiving and in retaining sins. Just as the Lord sent the Holy Spirit to His first apostles, so the Lord continues to send His Holy Spirit to us.
Next week we celebrate the first giving of the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost Sunday. As we prepare for that celebration, let me simply remind you, the reason I am a Lutheran, and a Missouri Synod Lutheran, and the difference between being a Lutheran and in particular a Missouri Synod Lutheran and the rest of the Christian denominations is this, our understanding and I believe our Biblical understanding of justification and sanctification. Our church body rightly believes, teaches and confesses that justification and sanctification both begin and end with Jesus. Listen to other people as they flounder around and move from church to church, from denomination to denomination, not sure of what they believe. If you listen closely you will often hear them focus on self, on what they believe they need to do for Jesus. Now, listen to what we believe, what you hear proclaimed here in this place, how we focus on Jesus. Jesus chose us. Jesus loved us. Jesus lived for us. Jesus took our sins. Jesus suffered for us. Jesus died for us. Jesus rose for us. Jesus ascended for us. Jesus is preparing a place for us. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to give, strengthen and keep us in faith. Jesus gives us the forgiveness He earned. Jesus gives us good works to do, but not only good works to do, but He does them, He works them through us to His glory. Jesus will return as He has promised to gather us and take us to be with Himself in heaven. And when we reach our true home in heaven, Jesus robes us with His robes of righteousness. It is all about Jesus, just Jesus. And He prays for us and He stirs in us to say, to God be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Gift of the Spirit of Truth - May 17, 2020 - Sixth Sunday of Easter - Text: John 14:15-21

Last week Jesus told His disciples, and us, that He was going away, to heaven, to prepare, to get ready a place in heaven for them, and for us. This week our text is the continuation of Jesus’ words to His disciples. This week Jesus comforts and encourages His disciples by promising to send them the Holy Spirit. Of course, we are looking back and we know how these events played out. We know that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which we will celebrate in two Sundays. In defense of the disciples, they had not yet experienced this Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit, so they were still puzzled about all these things of which Jesus was speaking. They were going through time one day at a time, looking forward to the fulfillment of these things about which Jesus spoke and trying to understand.
In our text, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus’ words remind us that what we think reflects what is in our hearts. What do we think? Is our mind on the things for which we are praying, or does our mind wonder while we pray? Is the Lord’s Prayer something we mindlessly rattle off, or do we think about the words, making sure we have forgiven others as we ask God to forgive us? Is our mind on the sermon, or on the Bible reading, or does our mind wonder? Are we thinking about the sporting event which will be on TV when we get home? Are we thinking about dinner which is in the oven? Do we always think the best about other people and explain everything in the best way possible or do we always want to hear the worst possible gossip and rumors? What we think reflects what is in our heart.
It is not just what we think, but also what we say that reflects what is in our hearts as well. Your Mom was right when she told you, “if you cannot say anything nice then do not say anything at all.” Are we always there, ready with a kind and encouraging word, or are we always there, ready to kick a person when they are down, by what we say? Jesus reminds us that out of the heart come the evils that are inside of us.
But not just what we think and just what we say, reflects what is in our hearts, what we do also reflects what is in our hearts. What we do is motivated by our thoughts and our words. What do our actions say about what is in our heart? Are we always ready to stop and lend a hand? Are we ready to volunteer to serve or do we simply wait to be asked or not serve at all? The point is, if we think about it, and if we admit it, we are all sinful human beings. Our sin begins in our hearts, it makes it to our lips and it shows itself in our actions.
Let us try another one. Did your parents every tell you or simply imply, or do you tell or imply to your own children something like this: “Do as I say, not as I do.” In other words, do not look at my actions, even if they do not match what I say, instead, do what I tell you. That mantra does not sound like what Jesus is telling us in our text. Thankfully Jesus reminds us, “I have already done everything for you.”
Jesus’ words remind us that what He thought reflected what was in His heart. Jesus was always thinking about others, about us, about how He could love us, about what He could do for us, about how He could help us, about how He could save us. Jesus always thought about others. Remember His words from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
And what Jesus said reflected what was in His heart. Again, on the cross, Jesus, in the midst of His suffering, thought of His mother as He gave His mother to John and John to His mother so that they might care for one another. Jesus told the thief on the cross, “today you will be with Me in paradise.” On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished!” He had completed the payment for the sins of the world, for your sins and for my sins.
And what Jesus did reflected what was in His heart. Jesus went about doing good, healing, raising from the dead, teaching, preaching, casting out demons and the like. Again, the point is that Jesus has already done everything for us, everything we cannot do, He did, and He did it perfectly. Jesus lived perfectly for us, showing us by His actions, by His words, and by His thoughts that He is the sinless Son of God who came into our world to save us.
Now I would like to take a moment to speak to the sinners of the congregation and then I would like to speak to the faithful. And by the way, in case if you have forgotten, remember as Dr. Luther always reminds us, we are at the same time sinner and saint, hint, hint. So, if you are not a sinner you can tune me out for a bit, I will tell you when I get to the saint part. First, to the sinners of the congregation I say: Repent! Take seriously the words that we confess almost every Sunday morning, “we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against [God] in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved [God] with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve [God’s] present and eternal punishment.” Do not just recite these words as if they mean nothing, take the time to repent of your specific sins, sins in thought, word, and deed.
We are sinful human beings. We sin by doing the things we should not be doing, those are the sins we call sins of commission. But more often than not, as Christians, we commit sins of not doing what we should be doing, those are called sins of omission. So I say, repent of the sins you have committed, but also of your sins of omission. Repent of neglecting to help and be of service to God as well as to others. Repent of failing to be in God’s Word regularly, every day and every week. Repent of not letting your faith show through in your thoughts, words and actions.
And repent of not taking God seriously. Repent of thinking that God is not always the answer, that God will not always provide, that God is something less than all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, all loving, everywhere present, that He is anything less than God. You have not because you ask not and you have not because you pray without believing. My word to the sinners of this congregation are that you should repent.
As you hear those words to repent, I pray that as each and every one of us heard them I hope that we are not thinking, “you tell them pastor,” because the person sitting next to you is thinking the same thing. At the same time, I also hope we hear the words of Jesus, “your sins are forgiven, go out and sin no more.” Your sins are forgiven. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness and our Lord daily forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
And now, to the faithful of this congregation I say: Keep the faith, but do not just keep it, give it away as you have been, by thought, word and deed. Keep the faith. Continue to be in God’s Word. In season and out of season, come to be given the gifts that God has to give, the gifts of faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Come to be given the gifts where and how He gives them. Come to the spiritual supermarket of God’s Word, to church, to divine service and be given His gifts in the ways that He has to give them, through the means of grace, confession and absolution, the Word and the Sacraments. Come, confess your sins and hear His most beautiful words of absolution, “your sins are forgiven.” Come and hear His Word read and proclaimed. Take time to remember your baptism and how at your baptism God chose you, He put His name on you, He made you His child, He wrote your name in the book of life. And come to the Lord’s Table. Come partake of His true body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.
This morning our Lord urges us to keep the faith and to remember that we are not alone. God is with us. Just as He promised His disciples in our text, so His promise is to us, that He will continue to send the Holy Spirit who will be with us in doing the work which God has for us to do. God has blessed this congregation through over 120 years in this place and He promises that He will always be with us that He will never leave us nor will He forsake us. Even in our unfaithfulness, even in our doubt, God never goes back on His promises. God is faithful.
Our three texts for today show how this works itself out in our lives and in our world. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, which He did on Pentecost. In the first lesson from Acts, Paul shows the power and working of the Holy Spirit, first in the fact that he, a Christian killer, was redeemed by Jesus and given the opportunity to be a witness for Him and he did as we hear him in the lesson for this morning, boldly proclaiming the message of salvation to the “religious” men of Athens, who were not Christian. Peter, in his epistle (letter) reminds us that we should be like Paul, that is, by the power of the Holy Spirit we should “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” And how do we prepare to always be prepared, by making regular and diligent use of the means of grace. By our daily reading the Word, by having family and personal devotions, by weekly being in divine service and Bible class. As we make regular and diligent use of these means of grace, the Holy Spirit is able to use this learning in order to work in us the words we might need to give an answer for the faith and hope we have.
And so I leave you with Jesus’ words to His disciple and His word to you, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.” Let me assure you, Jesus has kept His promise. We do have the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the Spirit of truth in this place. And He will continue to work in us and in our lives. And it is He who stirs in us to rejoice and say, to Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life - May 10, 2020 - Fifth Sunday of Easter/Mother’s Day - Text: John 14:1-14

Today we celebrate the social holiday of Mother’s Day. Indeed, the highest calling of God to a woman is motherhood because as was His promise, the Savior of the world was born through a mother, the Virgin Mary. So, to all our Mother’s we are glad you are here, that you brought your family and we say to you, “Happy Mother’s Day.”
When you go to the mall, especially a new mall, one you have never been to, you often look for the mall directory in order to find where certain stores are. And as you look at the directory it often has a little tag stating, “you are here.” This is an important bit of information, because you need to know where you are in order to be able to get to someplace else. In our text for today we see Jesus giving His disciples directions to the place that they will be going. The problem is that they do not seem to know where they are now. And, although we may at various times in our own lives feel like these disciples, fortunately, for us, all we need to know is that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
Our text begins with Jesus preparing His disciples for His departure. We read beginning at verse one, “1Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4And you know the way to where I am going.” (1-4).
Jesus tells His disciples that He is going away. From time to time He had intimated and at other times outright told His disciples of His suffering and death and of His resurrection. In this instance, He is telling them that He is going away, namely that He is going to heaven. He is going there to prepare a place for them. Jesus is not going to create a place, rather to prepare an already created place. Heaven is already there. Heaven is a present reality. Heaven is there waiting for us. Jesus is going there to get their rooms ready.
Jesus’ words are not just to His disciples, they are to us as well. Jesus is going to prepare a place for us along with His disciples and all the saints who have gone on before us and who will go on after us. Jesus goes and He will return to take us. Jesus’ words are for us, to remind us that He did everything for us, for His disciples, as well for the whole world, for all people of all places of all times.
These words of Jesus are indeed words of comfort, especially to those who lay near death. Many times I have shared these words with someone who knows they are about to fall asleep in faith. These words are words of comfort and assurance, to know that Jesus has a place ready for us when we pass on from this world, from this vale of tears to be with Him in heaven.
Continuing on in our text, Jesus explains to His disciples the way to heaven, that it, that the way to heaven is by faith in Him. We read picking up at verse five, “5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him’” (5-7).
Thomas heard what Jesus said. He heard the words and he probably understood the definition of each word, yet He did not understand what Jesus was saying. And so he honestly speaks his mind and the questions he has on his mind.
Jesus answers, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus, that is faith in Jesus, is the only way to heaven. There are not many paths that lead to the same enlightenment, there is only one way. There may be many religions, even cults and sects in the world, but there is still only one way. Although there are many gods (small “g” gods) in our world, there is only one true God who can give us eternal life. And as I have said before, this exclusive claim of one way and only one way to heaven is why we Christians are so hated by the rest of the world, especially those who would seek enlightenment by another, shall we say, more carnal path.
Jesus is the way and Jesus is the truth. Jesus is the only truth. Apart from Jesus there is and can be no truth, and we can see how true that is in our world today. Without Jesus, without God, there are no certainties, there are no absolutes, and no absolutes means no truth, and so truth becomes relative. What may be true for you may not be true for me and what may be true for me may not be true for you. Truth becomes what I feel. If I feel it, then it must be true for me. That is the truth of the world in which we live today and it is no wonder we have such a confused and mixed up world. This type of truth finds its way into the church when we hear such thoughts as, “All religions are equal paths to an eternal existence.” “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere in your faith or as long as you believe strongly enough.” “The Bible can be translated in so many different ways, it means different things to different people so how can you say your interpretation is right and mine is wrong?” This type of truth is also seen when the Bible is misquoted, when we hear such statements as, “The Bible says you’re not supposed to judge others.” “The Bible says you’re not supposed to repeat gossip, so you better listen close the first time.” Have you ever wondered why we have such a problem with truth in our world today. It is because, apart from Jesus there is and can be no truth. And we live in a world that is quite apart from Jesus.
Jesus is the way. Jesus is the truth. And Jesus is the life, that is, He is eternal life. Faith in Jesus is the only way to discover the truth that Jesus is the only way to eternal life in heaven.
Jesus clearly tells His disciples that He and the Father are one. We profess faith in a triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We may not be able to completely understand, or explain, this triune God, but we believe it, because God’s Word tells us this is so.
As our text continues we get a further explanation of the way to heaven. We read picking up at verse eight, “8Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ 9Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves’” (8-11).
Philip missed the point. But Philip was not alone, all the disciples, and even we today, oftentimes miss the point. We miss what Jesus is trying to tell us. Jesus shows Himself to be God, by His signs, by His wonders, and by the miracles He preformed. These signs, wonders, and miracles showed that Jesus is who He says He is, true God and true man. He is the Savior, born in human flesh, born to fulfill the law, born to give His life as a ransom for the world.
So, as the Father speaks, Jesus speaks. Jesus did not come on His own, He came as He was sent by the Father. He came to fulfill a mission. He came to love us and He loves us by giving His life as a ransom for all. He came to live a perfect life for us in our place. He came to trade His perfection for our sins. He came to suffer the worst death possible, the worst death we human beings deserve, death on a cross. He came to suffer eternal death and hell. He came to rise again so that we can know, for certain, that it is an absolute, that we too will rise again. He came to give us His robes of righteousness.
Jesus does not try to talk anyone into anything. He simply points to the signs, wonders, and miracles. He says, do not just take my word for it, rather see what I am doing and then believe because of the signs, wonders, miracles, and the works that I do.
In good Lutheran fashion, verse twelve (12) answers our question, “what does this mean?” As we read verse twelve we realize that we have been saved for a purpose. We have not been saved for nothing. And please understand, I am speaking in terms of sanctification, that is in terms of a response of faith. We have been saved as a preparation for good works, we read, “12Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
As we hear these words, that we are saved for good works we must never get these words backwards and think that we are saved by our good works. Listen again, we are saved for good works. Here we hear Jesus loud and clear as He tells us the close relationship between salvation and good works, the close relationship between justification and sanctification. Jesus does not save us for nothing. He saves us to do good works, the good works that He has for us to do. The correlation of that would be to say as James says, faith without works is dead, that is, if we are not doing good works then it shows that we do not have faith.
Jesus tells us that we will do good works and as a matter of fact the good works that we do will be greater good works than the ones He did, because Jesus has greater things for us to do. Of course, we understand that we do not count Jesus’ death on the cross as a good work. His death on the cross is what saved us. And because of His death on the cross, because He saved us, we are moved to do good works, the good works that He has for us to do.
We also come to realize that we will do greater things than Jesus, not because we can do greater things by ourselves, but  because Jesus will work these greater things through us. So, there again it is not we who are doing them, but Jesus doing them through us. We will do greater things than Jesus because what we do will be done to the credit and to the glory of Him. That is what makes it a good work, because it is motivated by God, because God does it through us and because it is done to the praise and glory of His Holy name. Anything less is not a good work in God’s eyes and is not the good works that God intends for us to do.
Today, May 10, 2020, Jesus speaks to us as He speaks to His disciples. Jesus reminds us by His words that He is true man and true God, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He reminds us that He is the only way, the only truth, and the only life, that apart from Him there is only the way to hell, apart from Him there is no truth, and apart from Him there is only eternal death in hell. Jesus reminds us the He came into our world to show us the way, the truth and the life, to rescue us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He came to bring us salvation, but not just salvation for the fun of it. He came to bring us salvation so that we might do the good works that He has for us to do. And we do those good works, not because we are all so fired important, not because we can do them by ourselves, but because He motivates us to do them, because He does them through us, and because He does them to the credit, the praise and glory of the Father in heaven. And to all this we stand in awe as we see that we are the recipients of all these blessings from Him and more. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

I Have Come to Bring Life - May 3, 2020 - Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday) - Text: John 10:1-10

Last week and week before last we heard accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Two weeks ago we were there with the disciples and with the disciples and Thomas as Jesus appeared to them, showing Himself to be alive. Last week we were there with the disciples on the road to Emmaus as they realized that Jesus was alive. And actually, both those events happened on the same day, Easter evening. This week we shift gears (so to speak) as we celebrate what we call “Good Shepherd” Sunday.
We begin by setting the context for our text this morning. Our context is that this account is one which took place well before Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus had already been baptized by John and was out preaching and teaching, as well as healing, casting out demons, doing other signs, wonders, miracles and the like. By this time, Jesus had established Himself as someone who captured peoples attention. And one group whose attention He had captured was the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. The Pharisees are watching Jesus very closely. They do not like Him and they are looking for a way to get rid of Him, any way or any excuse. Besides Jesus did not make them look very good. In the verses before our text this morning we read about Jesus healing a man born blind, that was our text about six weeks ago. In that text we saw how the Pharisees tried every way they could to disclaim the miracle of the healing of the blind man. They questioned the parents about their child really being born blind. They questioned the man about his blindness, and finally they resort to putting him out of the synagogue. Though their attempts at disclaimer were futile they persisted. The end of the chapter as it is marked in our Bible does not mean that this encounter was concluded, rather, this encounter continues in our text for this morning. In our text, Jesus talks about the vocation of shepherding in order to explain what true shepherding is all about, what true caring is all about, and that He is the True Shepherd who has come to bring us life in contrast to the Pharisees who come as thieves and robbers to take life away.
In order to get a better feel for our text let us talk about shepherding. Our text tells us that there is a gate keeper. From what I have read about the practice of shepherding, at night all of the sheep from several shepherds are kept in one pen, a corral, with walls, but no roof. There is one door to the sheep pen and it is watched by the gate keeper. When morning dawns each shepherd comes and claims his sheep calling them each by name. After his sheep are all out of the pen he goes before them and leads them. The sheep know their shepherd by his voice. They do not mistake another for their shepherd, like a thief or a robber. Our text explicitly tells us that the thief or robber does not come through the gate, but climbs over the wall or comes in some other way. When he comes in, not only do the sheep not listen to his voice or come to him, but they run away from him. The thief comes not to bring life, but to take it away.
Jesus intentionally uses this example of shepherding because He knows that the Pharisees are familiar with the concept of shepherding and they are familiar with the Old Testament symbolism of the shepherd. The shepherd symbolizes a royal caretaker of God’s people. We see this symbolism in the twenty-third Psalm which is a favorite psalm of many people. In the twenty-third Psalm we read how “the Lord is my shepherd.” The leaders in Israel were their shepherds. And God often times denounced the false shepherds and promised to provide a true Shepherd, the Messiah to care for His sheep. The Pharisees knew and understood the imagery Jesus was using. They knew that Jesus was at least a prophet. They knew His claims to be the Messiah, but they just could not and would not believe these claims to be true. Today it is easy for us as we look back to see the Pharisees as the false shepherds and how they were seeking to take life from their people. They took physical life by imposing many tedious laws and spiritual life by taking away the Gospel.
So, what was their problem? What is it about these Pharisees? The Pharisees were a group of “separated ones,” which is what their name means. Their religion amounted to following a code of rules and regulations to the letter. In order to do this they separated themselves from the common people and devoted their lives to following these, what amounted to their own rules. They, with the high priests, had set themselves up pretty good with the ruling Roman government and had good positions of authority. They did know the prophecies of a coming Messiah, but their idea of the Messiah was different than Jesus. They were looking for an earthly king, someone who would be born of royalty, would overthrow the Roman government and would set them up as rulers. Jesus did not fit their specifications so they wanted nothing to do with Him. Whether He was truly the Messiah or not did not matter. They were not concerned about the people, whether they had life or not. Their only concern was for their own life, which in their blindness they lost. They were like the people today who believe that their good works and deeds will be seen by others to merit for themselves a high place in society and who hope that will translate also into a high place in the afterlife, if they are thinking that far forward. They were like people today who look only to their own interest and especially to their own interest in this world, perhaps their own positions or seeming positions of power and authority rather than to be concerned about others or about God’s will and work. It is these same people who use their goodness as a measure of how others should act. They really do not know what is true life in Christ.
Thus, when the Pharisees hear Jesus speak of the example of the shepherd they do not understand. So, Jesus speaks the example a second time hoping that they will understand. From the first telling of the example two truths come clear to us today, obviously none of which the Pharisees understood. Each of these truths comes with the understanding that Jesus is the shepherd He is talking about. First, we know that Jesus the True Shepherd calls each one of us by name. He knows each one of us and as He knows us, we know Him. He alone can see in our hearts and He knows all about us. He is the one who called us by name at our Baptism, putting faith in our hearts, giving us forgiveness of sins and writing our names in the book of Life. With the faith He has given to us, we hear His call in His Word. By the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us, we respond to His call by following Him. Thus, the opposite is true as well, that is that if we live lives refusing God and the gifts He has to give, absenting ourselves from His means of grace, from divine service and Bible class, then truly we do not know God, nor His voice, nor are we known by Him. Which means we have put our souls in jeopardy of losing heaven.
Second, we know that Jesus has given each of us, that are truly His sheep, His children, the ability to discern between what is truly His Word and what is false doctrine coming from false shepherds, or teachers. We know the difference between the true shepherd and the thief or robber. We know that the true shepherd is the one who teaches that Jesus is the only gate, the only way into His kingdom, the only way into eternal life in heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we follow only the true shepherd and flee from the thief.
Because the Pharisees were blind to the truth by their own unbelief and did not understand what Jesus was saying, He speaks the example a second time. The second time He speaks the example He hopes the Pharisees will understand and come to faith, while knowing that if they do not they will fall even more into their unbelief. Again they do not understand, but, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we do. We understand that when Jesus says that “all who ever came before me were thieves and robbers,” He is talking about the Pharisees and the high priests. We understand that Jesus is the gate into eternal life. As Jesus specifically states, “9I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture”(v.9). It is through Jesus alone that we are saved. It was just three weeks ago that we remembered His suffering and death upon the cross and celebrated His Easter victory. Finally we understand that through Him, through His victory on the cross over sin and death, not only do we have life, but we have it to the full. Verse ten reads, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”(v.10).
Jesus has come as the True Shepherd, the Messiah, in order that these people, the children of Israel, yes, even the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, and we today might have life. This is in contrast to the death which comes through the lies of the thieves and robbers who come to kill and destroy, the same thieves and robbers who today preach and teach anything other than the Gospel of eternal life through faith in Jesus alone. This life Jesus has come to bring is eternal life, but not only eternal life, also life here on earth. It is through this Jesus that these people and we were first given life back in Genesis, when, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, all of creation, and topped it off with the man and the woman as He breathed into their nostrils the breath of life and they became living beings. It is this Jesus whom God the Father promised to send as a Savior back in Genesis 3:15 right after Adam and Eve sinned. It is this Jesus whom God promised to send through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and so forth through Mary and Joseph. It is this Jesus for whom the children of Israel were waiting. It is this Jesus standing right before the very eyes of the people, the Pharisees, the high priests, and before us today who has come to bring life.
This Jesus is the one who has also come to bring us a more abundant life. God promised Abraham to make his descendants a great nation and to give him a land. The Israelites were given the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Jesus here comes as the True Shepherd to bring us an even more abundant life. Abundant life is not only eternal life, but is life without death, that is without eternal death, hell, or fear of death. Abundant life is living in the joy and peace of the Savior, the peace that only He can give, the peace about which we spoke two weeks ago when Jesus gave His peace to His disciples, that is a peace which comes from His suffering, death and resurrection and restores our relationship with God the Father. This does not mean that we will not have struggles while we are here on this earth, but with our struggles God will provide for us the strength to handle them. Abundant life is life lived in faith in Jesus.
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus came to us first in our Baptism bringing us back into a right relationship with Himself. We were given our first abundant life through this gift of living water. Today we grow in our faith and abundant life through His Word, the Bible. As we remember our baptism we daily partake of His abundant life. As we daily read and study His Word we daily partake of His abundant life. As we daily and weekly confess our sins we partake of His abundant life. As we weekly come here to divine service and Bible class and hear His Word proclaimed we partake of His abundant life. And when we come to His altar to be given His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper we taste of His abundant life. Through these means we are daily renewed and enriched in the abundant life which Christ came to bring so many years ago and still brings today. As we are enriched in that abundantly life, our desire is even more to revel in that abundant life and with His help we go out and live the abundant life, for Jesus sake. To Him be the glory. Amen.