A Most Dangerous Forgiveness – A Sermon on John 15:26-16:15

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. C. S. Lewis wrote a series of seven children’s books, called The Chronicles of Narnia. And in those books, in a world of fantasy and magic, Lewis painted a detailed picture of the Christian life. In the first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the children are nervous the first time they hear about Aslan, a character Lewis used to represent Jesus. They were nervous because Aslan was a lion. “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

Lewis wrote that about his character Aslan precisely because the same is true about Jesus. Aslan is not safe, and neither is Jesus safe. Our God is not a safe God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But He is good. And that’s the point is our Gospel lesson today makes, when Jesus speaks about what the Holy Spirit is coming to do. When the Helper comes, whom I will sent to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me…. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.

We could point out that the Holy Spirit isn’t safe, because He is the one who bears witness concerning Christ Jesus. And He bears witness through us. I’ll bet that you already know the Greek word for bearing witness: μαρτυρεω. Martyrdom. Because throughout the world, people are dying for their confession of Jesus’ death and resurrection for them. Iraq, Libya, Syria, Kenya, Sudan. When will we see another video of Christian in orange jumpsuits executed by men in black masks?

And even where Christ’s witnesses aren’t dying, they are certainly under attack. Threatened with litigation, or angry mobs, or the shaming of them and their whole family. All with the goal to silence those who would bear witness concerning Jesus, by the most effective means possible. And Jesus does acknowledge this fact in today’s text. “They will put you out of the synagogues.” The places where the people gather. “Indeed the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering a service to God.”

As dangerous as being a witness, a martyr is—and it is certainly without a doubt dangerous—that isn’t the most dangerous part about our God. Where we lose all safety is in the words, “He will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.” That word for, “convict,” also can be translated as “bring to light,” “expose,” “make known to everyone” In other words, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to reveal the sins of the world. Each and every one of them. Including yours.

And we’re not talking about just little mistakes you’ve made. Not just about generic sins, which apply to everyone equally. Not just the sins that everyone and their dog are willing to forgive, if not overlook altogether. The Holy Spirit exposes every sin. Including those sins we can never, ever tell anyone about. Sins that, if they were known, would ruin us. Sins that no one could ever forgive if they found out. Death doesn’t look so bad in comparison to having those sins known. And yet, these are the sins that the Holy Spirit puts the spotlight on, so that no one can look away from them. So, no. Our God is not safe. Not for us.

And yet, you’d think God would know better. Because there is nothing the world likes better than to burn hypocrites at the stake. You have seen first hand, over and over again what happens to someone who has the gall to stand on a moral ground, and yet not live up to that standard. How many careers have been ruined. How many families have been destroyed. How many people have lost everything. All because they did the very thing he or she publicly confessed was wrong? Shouldn’t the Holy Spirit be more concerned at keeping those things quiet? So that the Gospel can be better proclaimed? Because if you expose their sins, to their great shame, what good now is their proclamation?

And what does that mean for us? That sin we hide deep down. So deep that no one can ever use it against us. The sin that has grasped control over our lives from out of our hands. The sin that eats at us in the dark a we lie in our beds. The sin that brings us to tears when we’re left alone. The sin that, as long as it stays tucked away, we remain safe. This is the sin the Holy Spirit reveals. This is the sin that gets brought to light. And soon, everyone will see it.

Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course He isn’t safe. But He is good. Because the Holy Spirit does not expose only sin. But righteousness as well. The righteousness was never found in us. It never could be. Not with that sin in there. Not with those atrocities in there. That righteousness come from outside of us. Won by Jesus for us at the cross. And delivered to us by the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent. But do not think that once you are passed having your sin revealed that you are now safe. Quite the contrary. “The scandal of Christianity is not that its adherents sometimes commit atrocious acts, but that the founder of Christianity willingly died for them.”

Do you realize just how dangerous Jesus’ forgiveness is? That forgiveness can cover any sin. Even the sin you least want forgiven in someone else. That forgiveness can make anyone right with God. Even the person you think deserves it the least. It can bestow heaven on anyone at all. Even the most brazen hypocrite who ever dared utter a morality they themselves couldn’t sustain. Because if the blood of Jesus can’t cover these, then it can’t cover anything at all.

But this kind of forgiveness is not safe. You risk letting people think that sin is okay when it’s not. You risk letting those who should rightly be shamed off the hook. You risk condoning the very sin you said was wrong in the first place. And the Holy Spirit is just flinging this forgiveness everywhere. But if the Holy Spirit hadn’t revealed your worst sin, how would you ever come to know that this reckless forgiveness was also for you? Forgiveness not just for the easy sins. But the forgiveness of every single sin. No matter how atrocious. No matter how devastating. No matter how wrong. No matter how many people you hurt with it.

It is just as Jesus said. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that [the Holy Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you. This is why the Holy Spirit is called the Helper. The Comforter. The Counselor. The Paraclete. Because He takes Jesus’ forgiveness and declares it to you. No matter what you may have done, or not done. No matter what anyone else may have made you do. No matter what you may have had to endure. No matter what happened when sin was spiraling out of control. Christ Jesus’ forgiveness is greater than all of it. And the Holy Spirit proclaims that to you. In Absolution. In Baptism. In Supper. In the Word itself, spoken to you.

There are good reasons to fear God. Our sin will be revealed by Him. Revealed even to the world, which will, as a result, shout for our heads. And so we can never be safe in our sin. But what is even scarier is a forgiveness so immense that it can cover any sin, no matter how atrocious. Because that kind of forgiveness is  not safe. That kind of Jesus is definitely not safe. Of course He isn’t safe. But He is good. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

God Gets Physical – A Sermon on Acts 1:1-11

May 16, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If I were to ask you what the Church’s most important days of the year were, I bet you’d know just about all the major ones. There’s Christmas, of course. Where we celebrate Jesus’ birth. God came down from heaven, and became a human being just like you and me. Not just half human, half God. Fully, totally, all the way human.

We also celebrate Holy Week. With Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Where Jesus suffered, was crucified, died, and rose again all inside of three days. That right there is the center of the Christian faith. That’s what it’s all about. And those are the things that make Christmas and Holy Week the most important days in the Church year. And I think it’s fair to say that Easter might be the most important of them all. It certainly doesn’t stand alone. You can’t have Easter without Good Friday, or Maundy Thursday, or Christmas. But Easter is the day we celebrate every Sunday, calling it the Lord’s Day, even as early as the Book of Acts. More important than even the Sabbath, which is Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.

However, there is one more day in the Church year that should be equal to Christmas, and to Good Friday, and to Maundy Thursday. And just because we haven’t treated so lately, doesn’t mean that the Ascension of Jesus Christ is unimportant. On the contrary, this is the day that Jesus took our humanity back to heaven. Luke writes at the beginning of Acts, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up. And being taken up is precisely one of those things that Jesus came to do for you.

You see, Jesus didn’t just take on humanity temporarily. Jesus’ body is more than just a shell. His flesh and blood weren’t just a marionette for which He pulled the strings.  God became man. The infinite, all-powerful, creator of all, bigger than anything you could imagine, there, in time, physically, and contained in a finite place. And Jesus fitting humanity was nothing at all like me trying to put on a pair of pants that are three sizes too small. There was nothing hanging out over the sides. Because humanity was created in the image of God. And so it should be no surprise that image of God and God Himself should end up being one and the same. The finite contained the infinite in its entirety. As the Son of God was at one point a single cell, conceived inside His mother nine months before He was born.

What God has joined together, let no man separate. Love your neighbor as yourself. These Laws from God find their fulfillment in the very existence of Jesus Himself. And it’s because of this existence, this truth, that Jesus Christ can die for us on that cross. Because He is just as human as you and me. And has every right to represent us as one of us. That finite humanity meant that he could stand rightfully in our place. And that infinite divinity meant He has no sin of His own, and therefore His life was a sufficient payment to cover all ours. And there is why we have Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

But Jesus’ work was not yet done. There was one job left. And that was to bring that finite humanity back to heaven. Back into the infinite Godhead. Jesus ascended into heaven in the flesh. And that humanity is now inseparably a part of God. Do you know what that means? God now shares everything that makes you human.

God shares your skin. God shares your muscles. God shares your bones. God shares your heart. This is no small token. It’s not some useless trivia. Because now you’re not just another one of God’s creations. You are now a part of who God is, physically. And that happens the most clearly at the ascension of Jesus.

On that day, the disciples asked Jesus for too little. When they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” As if the kingdom of heaven were constrained within time and space. As if the kingdom of God was limited to an age or a location. It’s not, and never has been. Because although that kingdom is made of of finite people living in a finite world, it is also part of our infinite Lord.

The restoration that God brought was the restoration of the true image of God. When humanity became part of God, then God would once again be part of humanity. The image of God, which is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is now for us, body, soul, and the same Holy Spirit. It as if God had said, “You are a part of Me, therefore I will now be a part of you.” You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses  in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. 

We have received that same Holy Spirit in our baptism. And the ends of the earth are where we are now. And where we go to. We are His witnesses, no matter who we are. Whether we’re great at talking with others or not. Whether we’re good at proclaiming Christ or not. Whether we can do all the things we used to do or not. None of that matters. Because God has made Himself part of you.

And what is the most amazing of all, is that when Jesus gives Himself for you, he is giving His humanity as well as His divinity. Jesus’ physical body isn’t stuck up in heaven, glued to some throne. The Right Hand of God is the hand of God’s action. The same Jesus who spoke all creation into existence. The same Jesus who changed water into wine. Which, by the way, is crazy! “At a molecular level, the water, basically hydrogen and oxygen, was changed into wine that contains sugars, yeast, and water, which contain carbon and nitrogen along with oxygen and hydrogen.” Jesus has this much control over the physical world, at even the atomic level, all by means of His divinity.

This same Jesus then says of bread and wine, This is my body, this is My blood. My Physical body. The same one that was nailed to the cross. My Physical blood, which was shed for you. This is the same flesh and blood, which ascended into heaven. The same flesh and blood which makes Me human. This I give to you. For the forgiveness of your sins. And in place of our old, sinful humanity, God puts in its place Jesus’ perfect humanity, creating us anew, and giving us life through Him. Over and over again. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

All of these promises, the whole Gospel itself, includes the ascension of Jesus. Because Jesus does not ascend into heaven alone. By His ascension, Jesus bring humanity with Him. And that includes you. No matter how bad your sin. No matter how much you’ve been hurt. No matter what condition your body is in. No matter where your mind may have gone. You are now a part of God. And God is a part of you.

You too have a birth like Jesus’ Christmas. You too have sufferings, just like Jesus’ Maundy Thursday. You do die, just as Jesus died on Good Friday. You too have a resurrection, just as Jesus rose on Easter Sunday. And you too have a ascension into heaven, Just as Jesus has. That is His promise to you. A promise fulfilled on a Thursday, forty days after Easter morning. A promise fulfilled every day as our Lord gives His gifts abundantly. A promise proclaimed by Christ Himself every time His Gospel is spoken to you. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

What a Friend We Have in Law and Gospel? – A Sermon on John 15:9-17

May 9, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text today is the Gospel lesson. But before we get into today’s text, it’s going to be important to remember the two things we always find in the Scriptures. Law and Gospel. These are the two pillars upon which everything God has built rests. It’s at the very core of the Lutheran confession. It has been recognized by the church throughout history. And the Bible makes very little sense without this distinction.

The Law is what you are supposed to do, or should have done, or are the consequences for those thing. The Law is all about you. Your actions. Whereas the Gospel is all about what God has done for you in Christ. You find both Law and Gospel throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Law has no power to save you, except through perfect obedience, which you have already fallen short of. The Gospel has complete power to save you, because it’s a promise. A gift from God to you.

Both are absolutely necessary though. Law without the Gospel creates one of two things. Either the delusion that you are keeping the Law good enough. Or the despair that there is no possible access to the pure holiness of God. Neither of those are good. Gospel without the Law, however, creates the delusion that we are good enough ourselves, and have no need of God’s gifts of forgiveness. No need of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Why wouldn’t God give us access to Him? That idea is in for a rude awakening. Both the Law and the Gospel together are necessary. When we know our sin, then we know just how much Jesus sacrificed to pay for that sin. Just how much Jesus loves us to take our place. Just how great a treasure Jesus gives to us freely. And that His Gospel is more valuable than anything else in this world.

Now, much the Law is already written on our hearts. We have consciences. We know which things are really our fault. We know which things have hurt us. And so, the Law of God is preached to us all the time, whether we’re in church or not. Whether we even believe in God or not. My point, though, isn’t that we don’t need to preach the Law. Or hear the Law. We need that too, desperately. Because the Law is itself very good. But when the Law has already done its work, that’s the time we need to hear the Gospel. That’s when we need to divide Law and Gospel properly. Because only the Gospel has the power to save. Only the Gospel has the power to forgive. Only the Gospel has the power to make right what has gone wrong.

Martin Luther wrote that whoever was able to rightly divide the Law from the Gospel should be named a Doctor of Theology. Well, as we have the definitions for Law and Gospel, it shouldn’t be to hard to make all of you doctors, right? You shall have no other gods. Law. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Gospel. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. Law. The Lord God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring, He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel.” Gospel. See, you’ve got this. Husbands, love your wives. Law. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquity. Gospel.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. Glawspel? Is that even a choice? Because we need to do what He commanded, which is Law. But if we do what is commanded, He will lay down His life for us. The laying down of His life is Gospel. But if that’s conditional on our works, then that’s works righteousness. Which can’t be right.

The problem in this verse is that what Jesus did, and what we’re supposed to do are all part of the same sentence. And it makes a mess out of the Law-Gospel dynamic. But God’s Word must always take priority over any system we come up with. So perhaps Law and Gospel is no good. Or, Luther was absolutely right in saying that if you could properly distinguish it, you deserved the title of Doctor of Theology. Also, we need to know more than whether or not a particular statement is Law or Gospel. We need to know what Scripture says to us. And right now, we seem to be getting mixed messages. You are saved by grace, through faith and this is apart from works so that no one can boast. And, If you keep My commandments, you will abide in my love. If you keep My commandments, you are my friends for whom I lay down my life. 

Now, I have made a point before about the word that usually gets translated as keep, τηρεω. It’s a bit of a stretch to make it mean “obey.” I mean, it can get there. But it’s much better translated as “guard.” As a jailer guards a prisoner. But at it’s core, τηρεω means “to hold onto something, so as to not give it up or lose it.” Which is why I have often used the verb “treasure” to describe it. It’s the same word found in the Great Commission, where we are told to make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching them to treasure all things He has commanded us. Which, as it turns out, is the exact same terminology used here in John’s Gospel. We’re told to treasure Jesus’ commands.

We also need to look at that word, εντολη, “command.” Based on our definition of what Law is, anything that’s commanded for us to do, or not do, fits this category. And so Jesus’ command should naturally be considered Law. But there’s a range of meaning for this word, εντολη, that we no longer have the context for in today’s experience. Because εντολη doesn’t just mean any command. Εντολη means the command of a king. Complete only as a written decree with the king’s seal. And that written decree may be a tax on grain. Or it may be a pardon of all charges. A written decree may be for it’s hearers either a new law, or a gift given by the King. A lot like Law or Gospel.

And our King does have a written decree. It bears the seal of His blood. The Word of God, in all it’s forms. Whether on the page, or spoken out loud. Whether it’s attached to water in Baptism, or to bread and wine in Communion. Whether it’s Law or Gospel. These are the εντολη, the commands, the written decrees of God. Written for you. It’s the same idea in the Hebrew language. Which is why all 176 verses of Psalm 119, which talk non-stop about Law and commands is actually all about just how precious the Gospel of God is to them, to you, and to me. Likewise, Jesus words to us in today’s text aren’t about the Law. They’re all about the Gospel.

And you know. We really didn’t even need the Greek ranges of meaning to figure that out. I mean, it helped. But it’s what the text itself says, even in English. Because this text is loaded with Gospel words. Just as the Father has loved me, so also I have loved you. Gospel. Abide in my love. Remember last week’s text, which comes right before this verse? Where we abide in Him because He abides in us? Gospel. “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full”? Gospel. And the Gospel never has conditions. Never.

If you treasure my written decrees, you will abide in my love. And when you treasure the Gospel. When you treasure the gift of life, forgiveness, and salvation that God has given you. When you treasure the death and resurrection of Jesus, which He did solely on your behalf. Then you know that Jesus already abides with you. Because it’s only by His grace that you can ever treasure those things. Therefore, since you do treasure them, you also abide in Him. You abide in His love. Because He already abides in you.

You are my friends if you treasure My written decrees”? Gospel. Not because we do them first in order to receive his friendship. But rather, when we do them, it’s only because He is already our friend. No longer do I call you servants, or better said, slaves, for the slave does not know what His master is doing. The slave’s job is only to follow the Law of his master. To do what the master commands. And to be evaluated only on how well the slave carries out those commands. This is not your place. Not anymore. I have called you friends. Friends help and do, because they’re already friends.

Jesus is already our friend. Because, as He says, All that I have heard from my Father, all the written decrees given by the Father, both Law and Gospel, I have made known to you. You did not choose me, says Jesus. You didn’t do the commands, and thus make me your friend. No. I chose you. I did the commands when you could not. I gave you the pardon decreed in writing by the King. I made you My friend. Because that’s what love does. That’s what love is. And that love is yours. Gospel.

Luther was absolutely right. The proper distinction of Law and Gospel can indeed be very difficult at times. And I am no Doctor of Theology. For every one place I think I get figured out, a hundred more places open up. Or reopen that I thought I had figured out already.

The Law is still necessary. We still need to know our sin. So that we can see the Gospel. See forgiveness for us. See love, and joy, and His sacrifice, as we do in today’s text. And that can both be very straightforward, easy for all of us to understand. And also be more difficult that we could ever imagine. Because that’s how God’s Word works. That is Scripture. And it’s most definitely worth studying. Worth working on that doctorate degree in Law and Gospel for. No matter who you are. And it’s worth it, even though there is only one true Doctor of Theology. But that doctor has told me that I am His friend. And that so are you. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

The Branches of a Dead Vine – A Sermon on John 15:1-8

May 2, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus is the true vine.

I have to say, reading our English translation makes grapevine tending sound pretty logical. Cut off the branches that don’t bear any fruit. Keep the branches that do. I mean, it just makes a whole lot of sense to me. But then again, I don’t grow grapes. Here in Caruthers, though, you either grow grapes yourself, or know a whole lot of people who do. And so after growing up reading today’s text, imagine my surprise to find out that at the end of the season all the branches are cut. The main vine, and maybe five stubs sticking up are all that are left. Whether a branch was fruitful or not doesn’t matter. Because cutting them all off makes the vine more productive than leaving them on. Well, at least that’s what I’ve gathered. You all probably know that better than me.

What is fascinating to me is that in the original Greek language, that fact can be seen in the text. Verse two, Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit He αιρω, takes away. Same word used in John’s Gospel when John the Baptist says of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who αιρω takes away the sin of the world.” Same word Jesus uses turning over the moneychanger’ tables in the temple and says to those selling pigeons, “αιρω, take these things away!” But “every branch that does bear fruit He καθαιρω.” Prunes? That word is too narrow. It literally means ‘to take down.’ Which indeed might include pruning. But it also means more. Nevertheless, the root word for what happens to these two kinds of branches is the exact same.

Now wait a minute. That pretty much ruins how we read the rest of these verses in today’s text. Because now isn’t this a metaphorical checklist on how to be a good Christian. I can’t check to see if I’m bearing fruit in order to assure myself that I’m still remaining in the true vine. And isn’t that what Jesus says to do here? Whoever abides in me and I in Him, he it is that bears much fruit. And isn’t this how Jesus says that we will so prove to be [His] disciples?

But if we’re αιρω or καθαιρω. If we’re cut off out there and laying on the ground. If we’re taken down, then why would Jesus even bother speaking these words? Because now it looks like all our fates would be the same. We would all be thrown into the fire. Because to be taken down is to die. And if we die, how in the world will we ever be able to bear any fruit? How can we abide in Jesus this way? And there must be a difference. There must be a way to tell whether or not I’m abiding in Jesus well enough. There must be a way to tell if I’m bearing enough fruit. Because Jesus makes a difference between those abiding in Him and those who are not.

But if you want to go there, do remember what the Vinedresser has done to the vine Himself. What the Father’s will for the Son is. And that this word, αιπω, also applies to Jesus. All from John’s Gospel still. “[Pilate] said to them, “behold, your King! They cried out αιρω! αιρω! Away with Him! Away with Him! crucify Him!” Later, after Jesus’ death “the Jews asked Pilate that the legs [of those crucified] might be broken so that they would be αιρω, taken away.” And just after that, “Joseph of Arimethea… asked Pilate that he might αιπω, take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and αιρω, took away His body.

Αιρω, in John’s gospel always means death. Those who bear no fruit die. Those who do bear fruit die. And Jesus, the true vine dies as well. Jesus, the true vine, καθαιρω, pruned. Taken down. Uprooted. However you want to say it. And Jesus dies precisely so that He can abide with us. To be with us where we are. And when he is with us, then we are with Him. That’s why Jesus doesn’t just say, “Abide with me,” as though it were some kind of command. Abide with me, and I in you. Whoever abides in Me and I in Him, he it is that bears much fruit. If you abide in Me and I in you, ask whatever you wish. Jesus already abides in you. That’s the promise He has made. Not a command, a promise. And because Jesus abides in you, you are His disciple. And you will bear much fruit.

But what is that fruit? Helping your neighbor in need is good. But that’s not the fruit. Telling people about Jesus is wonderful. But that’s not the fruit. Getting more people in church is awesome. But that’s not the fruit. Jesus has already told us what the fruit is. And He did it in these words. “Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

A vine αιρω, taken away. A vine uprooted and dead. The blood of Jesus spilled, His body, pierced for our transgressions. There is the fruit. You bear the death and resurrection of Jesus. And apart from that, you can do nothing. Apart from Jesus, helping those in need does nothing. Apart from Jesus, telling people to come is nothing. Apart from Jesus, filling this building means nothing.

But with Jesus? We have everything we need already. Behold, the Lamb of God, taken away for the sins of the world. Behold, a Lord who joins us in our death. Behold, a God who grows His fruit on a cut off vine and it’s branches. Cut off and taken away so that we all may bear even more fruit. Bear the death and resurrection of Jesus to the whole world.

So gone are the worries that we must bear some other kind of fruit on our own. Gone is the wondering if we’re bearing enough fruit by our own good works. Gone is the fear that our sins have cut us off from the true vine. Gone are the demands of the Law, which we have already fallen short of. As it is written, “ And you, who were dead in your trespasses… God made [us] alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he αιπω, took away/destroyed/set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Jesus went to His cross for you. And through that cross, joined Himself to You. Through that cross, abides with you, and you with Him. That cross is where the fruit has grown. That cross is where you are made clean. That cursed cross is what you cannot bear by yourself. That is why Jesus bears it for you. By the fruit of that cross, you can ask God for anything. Especially the most ridiculous thing anyone could ever think of. The forgiveness of all our sins, no matter what it is we have done. Τake them all away, αιρω! Ask this, and it already has been done for you. Because that’s what the words of Jesus that abide in us proclaim. And that forgiveness is the proof that He has indeed made us His disciples. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

The Shepherd and the Wolf – A Sermon on John 10:11-18

April 25, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus reminds us that He is the Good Shepherd who lays His life down for the sheep.

And that’s well and good. But then Jesus follows it up immediately with verse twelve. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. I think it’s safe to say that we don’t like that part so much. Because elsewhere, Jesus lets us know who those wolves are. They’re false teachers. In the Old Testament, we are warned of them in Israel And they are called wolves. Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord has not spoken.

In the New Testament we are warned about them. And they are called wolves. Paul says to the church in Ephesus in the book of Acts,  I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. In Jesus’ own words, we are warned about them. And, you guessed it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 

The warnings against false teachers in the Bible are plain. The warnings are numerous. And we had better well pay attention to them. Because the wolves are found in the pen. The wolves are found when they snatch and scatter the sheep. The wolves are in the Church. And if we are to believe Jesus, if we are to believe the Bible, then we must believe that they are very dangerous.

But if that’s the case, then we have a real dilemma on our hands. Because do you know why we have as many different denominations as we do? It’s not because we have a bunch of nitpickers making mountains out of mole hills. The wolves deny the Gospel itself. By telling us that grace alone is not enough and you need to work out your own salvation. By telling us that the words of Jesus don’t mean what they say. By telling us that the Bible really isn’t the Word of God. By saying this sin or that sin is no longer a sin in the eyes of God, and therefore you don’t need Jesus and His forgiveness.

And yet in each one of these denominations where the wolves run rampant, there are Christ’s sheep. Sheep that love the Good Shepherd. Sheep that are grateful that the Good Shepherd laid down His life for them. Sheep that want nothing more than to be faithful. And yet, unknowingly, unintentionally still side with the wolves. Because what the false teachers say makes sense to them. This is why there are so many denominations today. Because stands were made against false teaching. And those stands were made because false teaching is dangerous to sheep.

Why? When we all have one shepherd? And He is the Good Shepherd at that? Why? When we all believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father? Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. Who descended into hell. Who on the third day rose from the dead. Who ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. And from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

But that’s the danger of the wolves. To scatter and snatch away. False teaching snatches away the Gospel. False teaching turns salvation into a work you do. False teaching denies sin, and therefore the need for a Savior. False teaching creates doubt in the promises Jesus has made to you. False teaching is remarkably patient. Happy to get one little foothold, in order to slowly erode our faith away. And erode it so slowly that we can’t see it happening until it’s too late. That’s why we take stands. That’s why we say, “that’s wrong.” Even to fellow sheep. Even when it looks like everything is going right for them in everything else. Because the wolves are after every sheep. Even Lutheran ones. This is the reason why Jesus says, False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect… Be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand. 

It is also written, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…. He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed…. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. (Literally, not of this temple courtyard) I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 

So how do we do that? How do we stand up against false teaching and at the same time acknowledge that we are one flock? Because both are incredibly important to Jesus. We can’t pick one over the other. We can’t say false teaching doesn’t matter, so let’s all get together. We can’t say those other sheep aren’t really sheep after all. When Jesus gives us two truths that are in conflict, we must always hold them both. And the wolves will try their hardest to make that action as messy as possible. With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.

Therefore we don’t look to ourselves. We look to Jesus. We look to the Good Shepherd who feeds Himself to the wolves on behalf of us sheep. We look to Jesus who laid down His life for us. To forgive our sins. To heal the wounds these wolves inflicted on us. To go and find us, even when we are hidden in our graves. Because it’s in that grave that Jesus says to us, I lay down my life that I may take it up again. Resurrection. And in taking up His own life, Jesus takes ours up with Him. Giving us life. Raising us from the dead. Gathering us scattered and snatched sheep back together again. No matter where we got off to. No matter what wolf chased us down. No matter what sin we fell into. By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us. And in that love, He has taken it up again. Bringing us with Him. All of us. Thanks be to God.


Categories: Sermon

Matthew 18:1-5 (LWML Spring Rally for Rescue the Children)

April 24, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text today is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus emphasizes the importance of children. And that if we don’t turn and become like children, then we will not enter the kingdom of God. Having a childlike faith isn’t just a good idea. It’s necessary.

Now, I had you answer some questions. And I had you answer them before we started. And I did so because I know what my first answer to these questions were. Yours are likely different. But maybe we have some similarities.

Who do you imagine when you think of a childlike faith? I imagine ten year old me. I was still a child at ten. Innocent. Unassuming. Hungry to learn. And eager to do anything that showed off how smart I was. Or how good I was at something. And so it made sense to me that childlike faith looked the same way. Innocent, and eager to do. Those, to me, were the hallmarks Jesus was looking for.

And so, that reflected in my answer for who best fit Jesus’ description the greatest in the kingdom. Someone who was friendly, and outgoing. Someone who was eager to do any project the church needed done. And now, as a pastor, those are the kinds of people I love to have involved in whatever it is we do. They can take anything, and excel at it. Especially when it’s for Christ’s Church. And they truly are a blessing.

But when it comes to the next question, I’m not sure how that entirely fits. The difference between humble and humiliated? I know Jesus says to be humble in this verse. That to me is to not be looking for all the credit. To not make one’s self the most important person in the room. And that’s not exactly what the ten year old me did. But the me of today can see why that would be a great addition to my idea of child like faith. But to be humble and to be humiliated are two different things. One is lowering your own self in a respectful way, to lift those around you. The other is being torn down by someone else with vicious intent. Therefore one is good, and the other very bad.

This last question also doesn’t look to fit at all. What is the difference between vocation and self sufficiency? I mean, aren’t they kind of the same thing? Or at least two things that go together hand in hand? Vocation is what you do, and it is how you earn enough to suffice. Don’t they both come down to having a job? And whether that job is out in the working world, or at home raising a family, both are very much needed to survive in this world. My self sufficiency, therefore, comes from my vocation. What I do.

Now look back at my answers that I gave you. Where are they all focused? Who is in the middle of all of them? I am. My answers are completely about the attitudes I have, or the things I do. And when I look at others, it’s the same. Their attitudes. Their deeds.That changes how I look at things. When I see people active in the church, I see really strong Christians. People who exemplify a childlike faith. People who might be under consideration for the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And when I see people who don’t have the time to help. When I see people who instead of being humble, are letting themselves be humiliated. When I see people who can’t be self sufficient. Those people have a lot of work to do. Those people need better attitudes, and a better effort. Those people are a long way from the kingdom of heaven.

I don’t know what answers you came up with. They might be a lot like mine. They might be something completely different. Some of you might have seen the differences between the ESV translation and the Pastor Davis translation on your sheet and already figured out where I’m going. But no matter what answers we come up with, it always seems that Jesus ends up with a different answer.

During that hour, the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “who is greater in the kingdom of the heavens?” And calling towards Him a παιδιον, The Greek word for child, but also infant. Calling towards Him a παιδιον, He placed him in the middle of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, if you do not ever turn and become as children/infants, you will never ever enter the kingdom of the heavens. 

Since the word Jesus used means both children and infants, our understanding of childlike faith must also be able to fit both children and infants. And my first answer did not. A ten year old can be eager to show off what he can do. A ten year old can do a lot. Maybe not everything. But my answer focused on what I could do.

What can an infant do? An infant can’t even control how he moves. An infant can’t hold up her own head. An infant can’t do much of anything. And even a child at the age of ten is more defined by what they can’t do than what they can. Every child, as a child, is dependent. Every child must trust that father, or mother, or guardian will take care of their needs. And so our focus can never be on ourselves. Or on what we do. Our focus always has to be on Jesus, and what he has done. That’s a childlike faith. Looking to Jesus. Looking to where He has taken care of us. How He will always take care of us.

We fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. We look to His cross, where Jesus did what we could never do, no matter how grown up we might be. We focus on His death and resurrection. Where all our sin is forgiven. Where all our griefs are overcome with joy. Where all our failures are made right. Not because of anything we have done. But because Jesus did it all for us. Jesus came and died for sinners. And that means me and you. That means everyone. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He has indeed had mercy on us. Taken care of us when we couldn’t. Given us life, and sustained us through it.

Childlike faith trusts that Jesus has done it all. And will always do it all in order that we would live. It trusts that Jesus will overcome all obstacles in our way and protect us from all harm. It trusts that no matter what happens, Jesus cares for us. And even when we die, there is Jesus with us in the grave. Saying to us that His favorite part of the story is coming up next. Resurrection. For you, for me, for all.

Jesus changes the answer to all our questions. I no longer need to focus on me. Because no matter how much me I looked at, I am never enough. And no matter how good you are, neither are you. But Jesus alone is enough. And that’s the one thing a childlike faith holds onto more than anything. Jesus alone is enough. That’s the hallmark. That’s the greatness. Because greatness doesn’t come from within. It comes from our Lord.

And that answer changes how we answer every other question today. Who in your church fits Jesus’ description of having childlike faith? I’m not going to take anything away from those who pour their hearts into service in the Church. They truly are a blessing. And their work is not only needed, it’s is amazing. But since greatness in the kingdom comes from outside ourselves, our best examples aren’t from those who do lots of great work. It comes from those people who can’t do much work at all. Those who are too old to do what they used to. The mentally disabled. Those grieving and hurting. Those who don’t know how they are going to make it through tomorrow. Those who must rely on God for everything. And of course, most of all, our best examples of all are actual children.

There is no one better suited to have a childlike faith than a child. It’s the only faith they can have. And the one who welcomes one of these children, one of these infants in My name welcomes Me. We don’t just receive them, as though they were some underdeveloped form of Christian who are tagging along. We welcome them. Because they, not us, are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ own words. And so we don’t hold them back from baptism. We shouldn’t hold them back from the Lord’s table. Their faith is already better than our can be anymore. Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them. For to such belongs the kingdom of heaven. Their faith is one we can only emulate, never replicate.

Therefore whoever humbles himself, humiliates himself as a child, as an infant, this one is greater in the kingdom of the heavens.  When we focus on ourselves, and our own work, we draw a distinction between being humble and being humiliated. There’s no difference between the two in the Greek language. And there’s no difference between the two when our focus is on Jesus. It does not matter how we’re brought low, because it’s down here where Jesus meets us.

Those people we look down on? Those people who we thought had a lot of work to do? Those people who we thought needed better attitudes, and a better effort? Those people who we thought were a long way from the kingdom of heaven? They are already where Jesus is. Because those who are well have no need of a physician, rather those who are sick. [Jesus] came not to call the righteous, but sinners. The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Jesus even quoted Isaiah concerning Himself. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” And it is they who are given a childlike faith when they are given Jesus.

Throughout our lives, we find that eventually we join them where they are. Jesus brings us to where He is. Whether it’s by age, or circumstance, or disaster. None of us are self-sufficient. But all of have a place. All of us have a vocation. Whether father or mother, sister or brother, son or daughter, employer or employee, friend or neighbor. God calls us into all kinds of vocations because we cannot do it alone. And neither can anyone else. We are all children. We must trust that we will be taken care of. And Jesus is trustworthy. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. And save us He has. Making us all children. Giving us His answers. Creating faith in us. And sharing with us the greatest place in the kingdom of Heaven. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

What Our Scars Proclaim – A Sermon on John 20:19-31

April 11, 2015 1 comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus shows off His scars. Every scar has a story. Some scar stories are really cool. When people ask about them, there’s a grand adventure to tell. Maybe the scar came at great sacrifice. Maybe it makes the punchline really zing. Maybe it’s the exclamation point on a great story. But those kinds of scars always end up with a story worth telling.

And then there are the scars that tell stories we don’t want told. Stories that are embarrassing. I got this scar on my arm because I’m an idiot. I tried to ride a bike between a parked car and a pole barn. A rivet on the side of the barn has reminded me ever since that even though the bicycle fit, I didn’t.

My brother likes to tell people to ask me about the scar on my finger. It’s nearly faded, but the memory has not. At the age of ten, I ended up with broken glass in my finger. And I was too scared of the pain to take it out. So on my birthday, My mom, my elderly grandmother, and two of my elderly great aunts wrestled me to the kitchen sink. And there they worked with tweezers, digging until they were sure the glass was all out. And then digging some more for good measure. It was immensely embarrassing. And it hurt even more than I feared. Those women were merciless. And I was powerless to do anything against them.

But even worse than these are the scars we hide. The scars that bring up old wounds that we would rather have forgotten. Sometimes those scars have visible reminders. Sometimes they don’t. But they still make themselves known. They still tell a story that we do not want to hear again. And they never go away.

Maybe we get these scars when we’ve hurt others in a way we can never make right. Maybe these scars came from when we’ve been destroyed by someone else’s sin. Or maybe they came from hurting ourselves so badly, that no one would ever understand. Whatever the cause, it doesn’t matter anymore. Those scars fester. And remind us constantly about the day we were hurt. You know what those scars are, even if no one else does. You live with them every day. They keep you up at night. They’re worlds more difficult to handle than any embarrassment ever could be. And they haunt you when you’re alone.

Aren’t these scars what we have Jesus for? Isn’t that why Jesus died? To make these scars disappear? Isn’t that why we come to church? To be told that those scars are all covered up, and no one ever needs to see them again? Especially not you? Don’t we come here every Sunday to forget all those scars? And have those things be as if they never happened at all? So that now we can get on with life? So then, why isn’t it working? Why are they still there? Why does it still hurt so much?

Not only do our old scars remain, but being part of the Church has given us new ones. We don’t have to look half way across the world to martyrs dying because they trust in Jesus. We too are left with scars as our society has already excised anything remotely Christian. Marriage, family, life, even civil discourse. I don’t know if you noticed. But all these things have been lost already. They’re gone. And all that’s left is the shaming of anyone who would claim the name Christian. These new scars are just like the old ones. These scars beg to be covered. They beg to be left alone. They beg to not be seen by anyone, lest we remember the pain once again.

Is it then any wonder why going to church just isn’t very popular anymore? Going doesn’t get rid of the scars we have. And risk of new scars is growing every day. It’s the same dilemma the disciples in the upper room faced. Why do you think they locked themselves away? It’s the same dilemma Thomas faced. Which is why he refused to believe. The risk was too high. The possibility of gaining new scars was too great.

And yet, it is through scars that we are saved. It’s through scars that anyone is saved. Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Every scar has a story. And the story from these scars is about the day God died on your behalf.

The whip on His back. The nail in his hands and feet. The spear in His side. They all left their mark. Not just for a little while. Not just until the third day. Those scars last forever. And Jesus has them even now. Those are the scars Thomas demanded to see. And because of those scars, He believes. But if Jesus’ scars last forever, what about ours? Will they ever go away? Will they ever stop reminding us of when we were hurt so badly?

But that’s the thing. Jesus did not die to take away your scars. Heal your wounds? Yes. Bear your pains? Absolutely. But those scars are too important to hide away. Those scars are too important to remove. Because scars mark the place where a wound has healed. If your wound is still open, Jesus is there to heal that wound. But when that wound is healed, the scar still remains. Your scars, all of them, mark the place where has healed you. They mark the place where Jesus is with you, even now.

And because Jesus is with you, the story that scar tells has changed. It’s no longer a story of sin alone. No longer a story of what we did. Or what we didn’t. Or what someone else inflicted on us. That story now includes Jesus. Who gained all of our scars for Himself in His death and resurrection. Jesus, perfect God, and perfect man has your scars. And yet remains perfect. He has sanctified all scars, and made them holy. Your scars now tell the story of your forgiveness through Christ Jesus.

Because You share your scars with Jesus, those words now mean so much more. “Peace be with you.” There is not a single sin that isn’t forgiven. There isn’t a single wound that can’t be healed. There isn’t a single death which hasn’t already been overcome. And every day you see that scar. Every day you feel that scar inside. Every day that scar reminds you of the painful story that goes with it. It is also a reminder that Jesus died for that. Jesus rose for that. Jesus is with you right now for that.

And therefore, Jesus’ words are for you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Receive one who comes by means of the story that goes with the scars. Receive the forgiveness of sins. Receive the resurrection that Jesus has won for you. Receive the life that Jesus has given to you. A life of scars everlasting. Scars that are still in His hands and side. Scars that testify just how much Christ has done for you.

Every scar has a story. Even yours. And that story has been written in Christ, on your body, and on your soul. These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And that by believing you may have life in His name. Life in His story. Life in His scars. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

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