Sometimes, It Is As Simple As Jesus

A Sermon on Mark 4:26-34, the Parable of the Growing Seed and the Parable of the Mustard Seed, for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, series B.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So, today, Jesus gives us two parables. The Kingdom of God is like a man scattering seed, and the kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed. We hear earlier how Jesus explained all the parables to His disciples. But to everyone else, He quotes Isaiah Isaiah 6:9, “They may indeed see, but not perceive, and may indeed hear, but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” Which is actually kind of weird. 

Don’t we want people to see, and hear, and turn, and be forgiven? Yes, we do. But that seeing, and hearing, and turning, and forgiving comes at the cross. A cross that, when Jesus is telling these parables, He hasn’t been to just yet. So the people who hear them do hear the truth. But they’re not entirely sure what it means yet. However, Jesus explains everything to His disciples. And sometimes we are given those explanations. For these two parables, though, we’re not. 

But never fear, one of the things pastors love to do is dig into these parables, and find some little hidden thing that makes everything make sense. Because there’s always some lesson to be learned. Always some application that we can make for today. Always some hook to make it relevant to us. Because there is no end to the depth available to dig into Scripture. 

And yet, sometimes, we can go too far. Because there’s a temptation for us to say something new, something cool, something amazing. Even if we can’t find it in the text we’ve been given. The best of intentions are there. Even for me. What else are these parables like? Tie these parables to another truth in Scripture. Proclaim in these parables Law and Gospel. All good things. But it quickly becomes preaching another text. Preaching another subject. Preaching anything but the words in front of us today. Because in order to make the leap to where we want to go, we end up leaving these words behind. Even when where we arrive is true. Even when where we arrive is good. Even when where we arrive is right. 

But Scripture always says something. And today’s text does too. It’s just that the something it says is so plainly obvious, that it makes us pastors feel like we missed something. It leaves us without that hook, without that ah-ha moment that we hope congregations will remember. But this parable doesn’t quite fit any of those. This parable is simply about Jesus. 

The kingdom of God is like…. Jesus is talking about the kingdom that is not of this world. In fact, the word kingdom implies a place. Maybe we should instead of kingdom of God, say reign of God. Because now it’s our Lord who is doing something, rather than just sitting there existing. The reign of God is like when a man scatters seed. The man doesn’t do anything. But the seed grows all on it’s own. God’s reign grows all on it’s own. We receive the reign of God in Jesus’s death and resurrection, whether or not we know how. And that’s it. That’s all I know about this parable.

If you’ve ever been in Bible Study with me, you know how weird that is for me to say. We’ve got studies going on Leviticus, on Isaiah, on Ecclesiastes, and for the Elders, John’s Gospel. There is no end to the depth that God has placed in His Word. And I’m happy to go down rabbit trails for hours, because there is so much there to discover about who Jesus is for you and for me. And there is much good in doing that. 

But every once in a while, it is important to also be reminded that the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, the body and blood of Jesus are also so simple, that even little children understand. Ari, who was just baptized this morning probably understands this better than us adults. Because that’s what Jesus says about the these kids. Jesus forgives me my sin. Jesus loves me by dying on the cross. And Jesus gives me that forgiveness right here in His Church. That’s His kingdom. That’s His reign. There is no end to the depth. But the center is as simple as that. And that’s enough.

The second parable today does the same thing as the first. The mustard seed is so small, and yet when it grows, even the birds are given shade. That mustard seed doesn’t come out of you. The mustard seed is Jesus. One man in world full of men. One death in a world where everyone dies. Stuck in some backwater that without this event, no one would have ever heard of. Jesus died. And there is nothing so unremarkable in all of history, because all men die. 

And yet in that one, plain, ordinary death grows forth the greatest news the world has ever known. By that one death, your sins are forgiven. By that one death, death itself has been conquered. By that one death, we have been saved. Because three days after that one death, was one resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ kingdom, Jesus’ reign, is at His cross. That’s it. That’s the entire point of Jesus’ parable. That’s the explaination. It’s so simple. And yet, it is also the biggest thing there is. It is everything. However, the parable still needs explained. You have to know who Jesus is in order to understand what it is that Jesus means. But who Jesus is is there for everyone. Not just the wise. Not just enlightened. Not just the right kind of person. Not just the pastor. This simple truth can be understood by all. 

That’s the cool thing about God’s Word. The forgiveness of sins is easy to see. And yet we have all kinds of texts that tell us about the death and resurrection of Jesus in more detail than we can possibly imagine. No matter if you’re the just starting out on this faith thing, or have been on this path your whole life. No matter if you’re a simple as a person can get, or as deep a thinker as has ever been. No matter if you know all that much about Scripture, or know it like the back of your hand. Jesus had died and risen for you.

In the midst of such an amazing Bible are parables like today’s. Parables that remind us that it doesn’t take any more than the faith Christ gives you to understand the Gospel. It is good to ask questions. Even the hardest questions. And then to search the Word for answers. But it is also just as good to receive the simple gifts Jesus gives. Word. Baptism. Supper. Because forgiveness is yours through these, no matter who you are. Thanks be to God. 

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Categories: Sermon

Big Sins, Bigger Savior

June 9, 2018 Comments off

A Sermon on Mark 3.20-35 for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, series B

(The first half of this sermon is nearly identical to the sermon I gave 3 years ago, but the second half of that sermon needed to be said better. So the second half of this sermon is from this week)

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text today is our Gospel lesson, but let’s start over two hundred years later, in the year 250 AD, in northern Africa, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The Roman Emperor Decius has just decreed that, for the safety of the Empire, every inhabitant must make a public sacrifice to the Roman ancestral gods. And in doing so, they would also prove their loyalty to the Empire. Public officials would be stationed, and would issue certificates to those who offered and ate their sacrifice to these gods. Anyone without a certificate would be tortured or killed, along with their families, as enemies of the state. 

Directly across the Mediterranean sea from Rome to the south was the North African city of Carthage. Bishop Cyprian had urged Christians there to defy the edict. But, he himself had left the area, and was only communicating by letter. It also turns out that right after Cyprian told people to refuse, a plague breaks out. The people of the city were then in a panic. And they blamed the Christians for failing to appease the ancient gods of Rome. They even name the plague, ‘The Cyprian Plague.’ And a riot against Christians breaks out. The soldiers come in and finish what the mob started. Brutally executing those who have sided with Christ Jesus instead of with Emperor Decius. 

What would you do? Would you participate in the public sacrifice, and get your certificate by worshipping false gods? Would you give in, in order to protect your own life, and the lives of those you love? Would you fake it? Just stand and do what you’re told, all while cursing the whole process under your breath? Would you get a fake certificate to keep the army off your back? Or, Would you stand up and say, “I will never concede my Lord Jesus Christ, even if it means my death”?

There is a right answer. It’s the answer that the apostle’s all did. It’s the answer that all the martyrs of the Church did. And it’s the answer that many Christians in Carthage did. They stood up, put their lives on the line, and often times died for that stand. Because they believe in the resurrection of Jesus. And that He is more powerful than any mob, any army, any Empire.  Stronger than even death itself.

But not everyone was able to make that stand. Some were too afraid. Some gave in. Some were not able to give what the Christian faith demands. They were called Lapsi, those whose strength of faith lapsed at the very time they should have confessed the loudest. And after Emperor Decius died only one year later, the persecutions slowed considerably. Gallus, the next emperor, while not exactly friendly to Christians, wasn’t actively looking to kill them either. It was relatively safe to be a Christian again.

So now, all these Lapsi were looking to return to the Church. And the question was what to do with them. Bishop Cyprian had some opinions. But since he fled, his opinion didn’t carry much weight. They turned instead to those Christians who had been imprisoned and tortured, but not yet killed under Decius. And many of, to their credit, did say that the Lapsi should be forgiven, and no extra burden placed on them for their sin. 

However, there was a high ranking man in the Church named Novatius. And he remembered a particular verse from Mark Chapter 3. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. The Lapsi had all been baptized. The Lapsi therefore had all received the Holy Spirit. And with the Spirit in them, they went to the altars of false gods. They sacrificed there. They practiced idolatry there. If ever there was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, this was it.

Therefore Novatius refused to offer absolution to the Laspi. He refused to forgive them for this sin. Because forgiving them the unforgiveable sin would be crazy. In his eyes, they had fallen out of the grace of God. They were traitors. And they would bear that sin for eternity in Hell. For those in North Africa, where the brunt of the persecution took place, this sounded good to them. Because these Lapsi had their chance to stand up. And they failed. Why should we have anything to do with them ever again? 

This attitude divided the Church. Novatianists no longer wanted much to do with a Church that dared forgive the unforgivable sin. They rejected their leadership. They would not recognize any baptism except a Novatianist baptism. They parted from the Church, and expanded the unforgivable sin from idolatry to also include murder, adultery, and fornication. After all, if you had the Holy Spirit, you shouldn’t be sinning.

The Novatianists are one of the reasons the Nicene Creed was expanded at the Council of Constantinople. After Nicea, the third article simply read, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Because at Nicena, the creed was primarily in response to Arius’ claim that Jesus was not God. But in order to condemn the Novatianist schism, more was added. “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.” Notice that the confession concerning the forgiveness of sins is in the third article, not the second. And it’s all because Novatius used Mark 3:29, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, to justify his position on baptism and absolution.  But then, if even the blasphemous idolatry by the baptized can be forgiven—which is what we confess every Sunday, both here, and in the Apostles’ Creed, and is also what Jesus says directly in verse 28 right before—then what exactly does Jesus mean when He says blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the eternally unforgivable sin? 

Because, let’s face it, we need to know exactly what the unforgivable sin is. So that we can either avoid it, or at least know if there is no longer any hope left for us. To leave it an open question is to have doubts about whether forgiveness, salvation, and heaven are for me. And while it might be comforting to know that it isn’t this particular sin, or that particular sin, not knowing exactly where that line is torture. Because now the fate of our salvation rests entirely in our own hands. And if we make that one wrong mistake, that’s the end of it. Because, as Novatius asks, why would Jesus mention an unforgivable sin if there isn’t a line we should never pass?

So it might help to know the context. Jesus returns to His hometown and begins to teach. And so many people crowd in around Him for such a long time, that there isn’t room to even eat. So many who are sick. So many who are disreputable. So many who are possessed by demons. That’s not the kind of crowd anyone should ever want to be a part of. The diseases that would be spread, the crimes that would be committed, the damage that would be done. This was a crowd to avoid at all costs, and Jesus was gathering them at the cost of His own health. Yeah, Jesus’ family thought He was out of His mind. They needed to stop Him before something really bad happened.

But what was happening? Diseases were healed. Sins were forgiven. The demon were driven out. Even the Pharisees, who hated Jesus, had to acknowledge that. And they did. By accusing Jesus of having Beelzebul for a spirit. And therefore driving out demons by the prince of demons. Jesus’ family thought He was crazy. Jesus’ enemies thought Him in in league with the devil. And it’s in that context where Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Novatius had a point. Sin is serious business. Telling Jesus that He has an unclean spirit, when He actually has the Holy Spirit is worthy of hell forever. The sin of denying Christ died for you is worthy of eternal damnation. The sin of thinking God is holding out on you because you don’t know what evil is brought death into an immortal world. Sin is the most destructive force in the universe. And you have it. I have it. We sin every day. Destroy every day. And we excuse ourself from taking responsibility by saying that since everyone else does it, it must be okay. 

We must take our sin seriously, and the forgiveness of our sins even more seriously. It has been said that if you see yourself as a little sinner, than Jesus will only end up being a little Savior. But destruction demands justice. It demands an equal payment in return. And the price for our sin is only satisfied with the death of God. The amazing thing about forgiveness is not that our sin is treated as though it’s nothing. Just the opposite. You have been freely given the most costly thing in all creation. 

Jesus came to give the life of God Almighty as the price to redeem fallen humanity from it’s sin. Jesus lived a difficult life. Jesus was deemed to be crazy. Jesus was hounded by His enemies. Jesus was betrayed into their hands. Jesus was abandoned by His friends and family. Jesus was falsely accused, and convicted without evidence. Jesus was a casualty of convenience. Jesus was beaten and mocked. Jesus had nails pounded into His hands and feet. Jesus bled and died. Because that was the price justice demanded for you. And Jesus paid it willingly. And that is one big gift.

The sick, and the rejected, and the demon-possessed crowded around Jesus because He was giving big gifts to them freely. The Pharisees saw those gifts and called them worthless. Called them evil. Thought they had something better already. That’s  what Jesus was warning them about. Not that they were beyond forgiveness with a particular sin. But rather that to persistently reject the Holy Spirit, who points to Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin, is to hold onto your sin for eternity. 

But Christ never once stopped trying. He died for every one of those Pharisees that called Him evil. His blood was shed for them. Jesus gave forgiveness to even them. Put it in their hands. And many of them did believe. Not all. But that wasn’t because Jesus didn’t do enough. 

I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter. All sins. Even the biggest ones. Jesus’ blood paid for them all. Completely. Novatius was wrong. Even the enormous sin of failing to confess Jesus when your life is on the line is still paid for by Christ. And that forgiveness is the biggest news in all of history. 

When we hear that our sins have been forgiven, that’s not something to shrug away as if it were small. That gift changes everything. You are forgiven. Forgiven the destructive sins you think are so small, that they don’t matter. Forgiven the destructive sins so big, you have no idea how to keep on living. Forgiven every destructive sin in between. Christ Jesus has died for your sake. And He’s the biggest Savior there is. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Does the Sabbath Matter?

June 2, 2018 Comments off

A Sermon on Mark 2:23-28 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15 for the Second Sunday after Pentecost.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. One Sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grain fields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 

How do you see this scene playing out, given what our Gospel lesson gives us this morning? I imagine Jesus walking along, and there happens to be a grain field on the way. The disciples think about having a snack, so pluck a few heads of wheat to eat. The Pharisees see this, and hate Jesus so much that they accuse His disciples of working. And thereby breaking the man-made rules for working on the Sabbath. But not necessarily to God given Law. Jesus calls their childish accusation silly, and moves on. 

And the lesson for us is… what exactly? Maybe the lesson is that the Sabbath isn’t really all that important. After all, we work on the Sabbath today all the time. Saturday is one of the busiest days of the week for working around the house. And nobody tells us that’s wrong today. Or maybe the lesson is to not listen to people who do tell you you’re wrong. Not just about the Sabbath, but wrong about anything. After all, we’re told by successful people that such a person will only stand in your way. Make you feel worse about yourself. Or maybe the lesson is to do whatever you like. David ate the holy Bread of the Presence because he was hungry. And that was okay. So is Jesus saying here that it’s okay to just follow your heart? After all, thats even more noble than following your stomach, isn’t it?

But listen to those things. The Sabbath doesn’t matter? Don’t listen to people who tell you you’re wrong? Do whatever you want, because Jesus says it’s all okay? Those aren’t lessons to learn. We already know exactly how to do each and every one of those. Because we’re experts in sin. 

If the Sabbath didn’t matter, then why does our Old Testament text today say, “On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates….” Why does Exodus make it even clearer when it says, Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations.… Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.” Sounds like the Sabbath matters to me. It is one of the Ten Commandments after all.

What about not listening to people who tell you you’re wrong? Why would we do that? Are we without sin, and in no danger? Are we righteous by ourselves, without any help from anyone? Did it ever occur to us that we might actually BE wrong? Or were all those times that Jesus told us to repent for someone else? Look, nobody likes to be told they’re wrong. Especially by someone who seems like kind of a jerk. But what if we really are wrong. What if we really are sinning against God and neighbor. Shouldn’t we want to know, so that we stop? That jerk might be on his way to hell, but he might be right anyway. So why should we spite him by joining him on his journey? 

The point of today’s text is definitely not do what you want. Because “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” “Out of the heart comes only evil continuously.” Saying law doesn’t matter, so I can do what I want is to confess that the dying and rising of Jesus didn’t change anything. And therefore isn’t for me. 

But then what is the lesson of today’s text? Maybe we need to go back and adjust how we heard it. One Sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grain fields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. Jesus purposefully heads to the field. And one of the commands to farmers who grew crops in the field was to not harvest the edges of them, in order that the poor could glean enough to eat from them. Like Ruth did in the Old Testament. Remember, Jesus and His disciples aren’t rich. Peter needs to find coins in a fish to pay the temple tax. And today, they need food, whether it’s the Sabbath or not. And so they start working. Harvesting along the edge of the field, so that they can eat, both today, and tomorrow.

That is the kind of work that is expressly forbidden by God Himself, punishable by death. And if the Pharisees had been in charge rather than the Romans, the disciples would have died. The Pharisees still let them know how wrong it was. Not because they cared for Jesus and His disciples. But because they wanted to show everyone else just how bad they were. They were jerks. But they had a point. The disciples were working.

But why were they working? Because they needed to eat. Normally, you just save up extra for the Sabbath. But they were too poor to be able to save anything. It was work on the Sabbath, or starve their friends and themselves. It’s not lawful to do either thing. But one was going to happen, no matter what they did. It’s then that one needs to know the point of the Law. Because the Law is there to protect the gifts that God gives to us. 

The Law against stealing protects the gift of possessions. The Law against adultery protects the gift of family. The Law against murder protects the gift of life. And the Law against other gods protects you from throwing the way the gift of God Himself. The Law is there for your good. Without you there’s no point to have a Law. 

This is why Jesus says “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Law doesn’t exist for the Sabbath’s sake, but for yours.  But what good is the Sabbath rest if you and your friends starve? This isn’t an excuse to do wrong. This is how you find out what is right. By all means, plan. But when those plans fail, loving your neighbor matters is the Law that matters more. That’s why Jesus has the disciples work on the Sabbath. Because the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. The disciples work, and yet the Law is upheld. Just like David and his men ate the unlawful bread, and still upheld the Law. Because the Law of love reigns over every other Law. 

However, is the gift of the Sabbath merely rest? Or does Jesus being Lord of the Sabbath mean more than that? Six days you shall labor and do all your work. Just like God labored for six days, making all of creation. And on the sixth day, Friday, He created man in His own image. He created humanity different from everything else. People were special. Loved by God. Favored over every other creation. 

God didn’t have to create in six days, but He did. And He did for a reason. Because creation was going to happen again. Because of sin, our sin, it ended up being necessary. And so, on the sixth day, a Friday, a Good Friday, God finished His work with man. On Good Friday, God, who this time took on our image, took on our humanity, completed His great work of Salvation. And by His blood, He paid the price for our sin.

On the seventh day, the Sabbath day, He rested. They laid Him in the tomb just before evening fell. And Jesus did no work on that day. Because the work of love was already done. He had loved His Father with heart, soul, and mind. He had loved His neighbor as Himself. Jesus had sacrificed everything for you. That day right there. That day between Good Friday and Easter. That’s why God gave the Sabbath. That’s why God gave us rest. Because now, we rest from our sin. Now, we rest from our death. Now we rest from our war against God. It is finished. 

And when Sunday, the first day of the week arrives, the harvest is waiting. Jesus is the firstfruits. And His resurrection means there is more resurrection to come. Yours. Your loved ones. The whole world. Even today, the fields are planted with a kind of grain. Cemeteries, graveyards, mausoleums, everywhere where the earth covers the dead. Out of love, those are the fields Jesus sends His disciples to gather. Out of love, Jesus gives the gifts he protects with commandments. Jesus gives forgiveness, life, salvation. Jesus gives Himself to you in Word, and Baptism, and Supper. A gift so epic, that it means the resurrection of the whole world on the last day. A gift so awesome, that it means life forever with Christ. A gift so powerful, that it takes your sin away, puts it on the cross with Christ. That’s the gift that is yours today. 

And that gift has indeed changed you. Grown faith in you. Made a new heart for you. Put a new creation in you. So now sin no longer has to be the only thing any of us are capable of. Because now Jesus works in you to do the good you and I could never do on our own. And that’s a result of Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf. The Lord of the Sabbath has accomplished the entire purpose of the Sabbath for you. He rested from His labors, because it is finished. And the fruit of those labors is now yours forever. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Why Should the Trinity Matter to Me?

May 26, 2018 Comments off

A Trinity Sunday on Sermon on John 3:1-17.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This Trinity Sunday, like every Trinity Sunday, there’s one question that everyone asks. Well, almost everyone. In my experience, it’s usually everyone but the pastor. I ought to know, because I haven’t asked it since I became one. And I’m not exactly sure why that is. But the question is this: Why should the fact that God is Trinity matter to you? I mean, we confess it every Sunday in the creeds. This Sunday we really confessed it with the Athanasian Creed. We even said in there that it is necessary to believe God to be a Trinity or one is outside the faith, and outside of salvation. That’s a pretty big deal. So we’d be foolish to say the Trinity doesn’t matter. But that’s not the question.

There’s a lot to point to about God as Trinity. It’s in all three readings this morning. And in even more places. I can get a list if you need it proven. And sure, the word ‘trinity’ is not in Scripture, but the definition of it is. And it’s critical in theology, because it is the foundation the whole faith is built on. It’s a mystery. Not that we can never know anything about it, like it’s stuck in the dark. But rather that no matter how much we learn, there is always still more that we have to learn. That’s the kind of mystery the Trinity is. 

However, that’s like telling a student who asks when they’re ever going to use trigonometry in the real world that you can’t build a bridge without it. They didn’t have any intention of building a bridge before you said that. And now they’re absolutely sure they never will. The doctors and professors of theology can have their Trinity, and we recognize that it’s important. But that doesn’t answer why the Trinity is important to you. 

We’re content with far simpler things, like John 3:16 from today’s Gospel lesson. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. That’s easy. That we get. And we’re happy to stay with that as the depth of our faith. Yet even in this simple verse, knowing who the Trinity is changes the meaning completely.  

What if God wasn’t Trinity? What if the Father was God, but the Son was not God? What kind of love are we looking at when Jesus is given? Because God created us to have eternal life in the first place. Our sin brought death into the world. And when confronted with our sin, what does He do? Well, the god who isn’t Trinity doesn’t do much. Such a god wasn’t willing to get his hands dirty. He sent someone else to clean up our mess. Had someone else take care of our desperate need. Said, “Hey, Jesus, can you go pick those people out of the gutter and deal with them? Because I won’t touch them until they’re made good enough for me.” Only after our problems were fixed, and our eternal life restored by someone else, would he have anything to do with us. That might count as some kind of mercy, because someone is sent. But is that love?

We might call such a god father. Just as in the fairy tale, Cinderella calls Lady Tremaine mother. But just as we get the term evil step-mother from that story, forever ruining the reputations of the good step-moms, such a god is a bad imitation of a real dad. Because a dad should run to where his children are in trouble in order to rescue them. But this god doesn’t. Good dads are better fathers than this non-Trinitarian father god. In fact, he might even render the term father meaningless by his apathy. 

This  father’s family is without love. This father doesn’t love his children. So why should he be surprised when us children don’t love their so-called father? This god loved the world only enough to give one of his other children the job of fixing us.  And what does Jesus dying on the cross actually do to fix it? He’s neither a god nor a man in this setup. He’s something else entirely. With no way to relate to either of us. He’s just some weird alien being, who promises that if we just believe in him, we’ll be okay. But his death and resurrection only show us how far we have yet to go.

That doesn’t sound like our God at all. And it’s not. Because God as Trinity matters. And it matters to you. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. And yet there are not three gods, but one God. What kind of love are we looking at when Jesus is given? Because God created us to have eternal life in the first place. Our sin brought death into the world. And when confronted with our sin, what does He do? Now, when God is confronted by our sin, and there’s a lot of it, God goes Himself. The Father sends the Son, because both are one. He doesn’t keep His hands clean. He doesn’t sit back and wait for us to get our act together. He drops everything, and comes to save us. And when He comes, not even death will stop Him. 

God sacrifices everything for you. His sovereignty, His power, His glory, He put it all aside. The uncreated God was born for you. The infinite God became man for you. The eternal God died for you. All because God is Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit. Now the love actually means something. God so loved the World that He gave Himself. Father giving, Son sacrificing, Holy Spirit proclaiming, giving it to you. Just as the bronze serpent  was lifted up in the desert, so our God was lifted up on a cross. And all who look upon the Son are forgiven their sin. 

In the Trinity is something so obvious, that we often forget. The Trinity is a family. The perfect family. It’s the family yours is based on. The Father provides for His children. I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth. He gave us a home. Gave us food. And takes care of our needs. He also provides discipline. We never think it’s pleasant at the time, but the value we receive from it is beyond measure.

I have occasionally come across people who say they can’t relate to God as Father, because their own Father was not good to them. But what makes that an even bigger tragedy is that it was their dad that did it. The very one who was supposed to protect them. After all, we know what dad’s are supposed to do, because there is a perfect one who is our God. 

The Son is the one who does the Father’s will. Who dutifully does what His Father needs. When the salvation of humanity needed done, the Son said yes, then went and did it. It is not insignificant that the Son became man. The only begotten Son of God is human. And by becoming human, made us children of God in a far more real way than anything else. Son of God and Son of Man, our brother, Jesus Christ. 

But the God the Son has another role in the family. Father child is part of a family. But husband and wife are also a critical part of a true family. Christ is the bridegroom, and His Church is the bride. And as the Church’s husband, he sacrifices everything for her well being. No matter the cost. No matter the work. Jesus loves His Church, and takes care of her. And again, what Jesus does for His Church is the picture of what husbands should do for their wives. It is a tragedy when this doesn’t happen. And we know it is, because there is a perfect husband who is our God.

Because while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He saw our most pressing need, the loss of eternal life, and stopped at nothing to give it back to us again. Even when it took Him dying in order to make it happen. So Jesus went to the cross willingly. counted it all joy, despite the betrayal and lies he endured. Despite the nails and spear inflicted. Despite knowing His blood would be shed. Jesus died for you. Andthen rose from the dead for you as well. His resurrection now brings us up out of death and the grave to new life forever. The forgiveness of our every sin has been won. Death has been conquered. Eternity is yours with Him. This Son, this husband, is our God.

The Holy Spirit is also God. But as we said last week, He’s only interested in proclaiming Christ. Delivering His gifts. Speaking the Word. Because He is the comforter. The one who brings the whole family together, and makes us a part of it. God is Father, and we are His children. God is bridegroom, and we are His bride. God is giver, and we receive His gifts. And He is all of those things for us, because God is Trinity. And in that Trinity we now know just what it means for God to love the world. 

And this is why God as Trinity should not only matter, but matter to you. It’s not just some theological argument that’s over your head. It’s not just some mystery that no one knows anything about. The Trinity is who God is. And you know who God is, because of His love. Because He stopped at nothing to save you. Because He has forgiven your sin completely by His blood. God is Trinity for you. And that foundational fact matters. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

How to Have a Spirit Filled Church

May 17, 2018 Comments off

Simply speak of Jesus.

A Pentecost Sermon on John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15, and Acts 2:1-21

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. A few years back, before I was called to St. Paul’s, there was a visitor that came to Church one Sunday. For a Lutheran congregation, her visit was… different. She waved her arms in the air during the hymns. She shouted out ‘amen’s at seemingly random times. And yeah, that’s different that what we usually do, but okay. There’s nothing wrong with being excited about Jesus. The part that really stuck with me was after the service, she came up to me and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit moving through this congregation.” She left, and didn’t come back. 

I know what she was looking for. Us Lutherans mention the Holy Spirit. We start our service in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. But the reality is that we actually spend very little time talking about Holy Spirit. Pentecost Sunday, Trinity Sunday, He gets a little more press than usual. But other than a few brief mentions, that’s about it. There are a number of churches out there that say a whole lot about Holy Spirit. His name is everywhere. There’s Spirit led worship. Spirit led Bible study. Spirit led singles groups. Spirit led couples groups. Spirit led mens groups. Spirit led womens groups. All Sunday is built around having that Spirit experience, that feeling that something big just happened, and you were a part of it. For them, they believe that Holy Spirit is in absolutely everything they do. And a Lutheran Divine Service is definitely not that at all. 

I don’t tell this story to point how how good we are. Just the opposite. Because the first question I asked when that happened was, “Why aren’t we that way?” Every pastor, every congregation wants new members. I’m no different. If something we do is standing in the way of people coming to Jesus, then why are we keeping it?

Why aren’t we that way? There is only one reason why. Scripture. The Holy Spirit that many even Christians are looking for, that even we look for, is not the same Holy Spirit revealed in the Bible. And churches everywhere, pastors everywhere, including me, maybe even especially me, we’re tempted to compromise on the Word of God in order to bring more people to the Word of God. 

Could we get more people in the door if we talked a lot more about the Holy Spirit? That very well may be. But in our Gospel lesson today, Jesus told us what the actual Holy Spirit says. What the actual Holy Spirit does. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority…. But the original Greek word isn’t authority. The Spirit of truth, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit will not speak about Himself. The Holy Spirit will not speak about Himself. 

Whatever He hears, He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and deliver it to you. In other words, the Holy Spirit will only speak about Jesus. Jesus’ life, Jesus’ death, Jesus’ resurrection. The Law Jesus gives for you. The Gospel Jesus won for you. If we speak about the Holy Spirit, but neglect to speak about Christ, then the Holy Spirit is not there in those words. It doesn’t matter how energized they make us. It doesn’t matter how moved we feel. It doesn’t matter how Spirit-filled it seems. It doesn’t matter how many people we bring in with it. The Holy Spirit is not here without the proclamation of Christ. And to be without the Spirit is to be dead in our faith.

But guess what? The inverse is also true. Wherever Christ is proclaimed. Wherever Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are made known. Wherever the Lord’s Law and the Lord’s Gospel go forth. Wherever the forgiveness of sins by the blood of Christ is shared, there the Holy Spirit is working. 

In that upper room on Pentecost day, the Holy Spirit wasn’t found in the tongues of flame. The Holy Spirit wasn’t found in being able to talk in different languages. The Holy Spirit was there in the proclamation of Christ. First to the apostles, to whom the Holy Spirit brought to mind the Word of Jesus. Then to the crowds outside. The crowds asked, “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And the bigger miracle isn’t them hearing in their own tongues. The bigger miracle is that in the telling of the mighty works of God, in the telling of Jesus’ resurrection, there was the Holy Spirit. 

Peter’s sermon preached the Law of God, that showed the need for repentance. And then with that repentance, the forgiveness of sins, paid for by the blood of Christ, shed for us all at the cross. It was there that the Holy Spirit brought 3,000 to faith. It was there that the Holy Spirit baptized 3,000 with water into the death and resurrection of Christ. Not by talking about how Spirit filled it all was, but by doing exactly what Jesus said in our Gospel lesson today. The Holy Spirit will not speak about Himself, but He speaks only of Christ Jesus for you. 

And when [the Helper] comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: Concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment because the ruler of this world has been judged. And the Holy Spirit convicts by always pointing to Jesus, never to Himself. And we are convicted of our sin. Because the sacrifice of Jesus was necessary. Our sin put the nails in. Our sin made Him bleed. Our sin made Him die. We are convicted of righteousness. Because Jesus’ death paid for our every sin. And because Jesus resurrection conquered our death. And because Jesus ascended to the Father with our humanity, making His righteousness ours. When we stand before the judge, that righteousness that we didn’t earn has been given to us. And we stand not guilty. 

And so now we stand convicted by the Holy Spirit of judgment. And again it’s through Jesus. Because the judgment against sin that we believe is ours has been taken away. We keep trying to put it back. We’re afraid that it can never be taken away. But it already has been. The judgment upon you is innocent. Not by your own works. But only by taking what is Christ’s and making it yours. 

This is why what we confess in the creeds about the Holy Spirit is so small. In the Nicene Creed we confessed today, The Holy Spirit is God, He gives life, He comes from the Father and the Son, and the prophets spoke His Word. And that Word is about Jesus. The Apostles’ Creed is even shorter. I believe in the Holy Spirit. And when Luther explains this in his Small Catechism, he doesn’t talk about the Holy Spirit, but rather about Jesus. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified me and kept me in the one true faith. The Holy Spirit only delivers Jesus Christ. And He has done it again today.

It is okay to talk about the Holy Spirit. But always in the context of Him delivering Jesus to you and me. The Holy Spirit is working when the Word of God is proclaimed. Whether that’s in the prophets and the apostles, or that’s in you and me reading that Word in Scripture. The Holy Spirit is working when the forgiveness of sins on account of Christ is given. The Holy Spirit is working when Christ’s body given, and Christ’s blood shed, are placed on your lips. We invoke the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the service in remembrance of our baptism. Where the Holy Spirit delivered the death and resurrection of Jesus to us. 

And so, do we have the Holy Spirit here? Is He moving? Is He working? So long as we keep proclaiming Christ, He is. Because, as Jesus says, He will take what is mine and declare it to you. And that’s a promise. A promise fulfilled wherever the Gospel is proclaimed. Wherever Jesus for you is spoken. You want to be filled with the Spirit? Speak of Jesus, sing of Jesus, look to Jesus, and there He is. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

The Command to Rise Is Even Better Than to Love

May 5, 2018 Comments off

An Easter Season Sermon on John 15:9-17

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today’s Gospel lesson is a challenge for Lutherans. Not only Lutherans, but anyone who confesses that the Lord loves us unconditionally. That the Gospel is ours unconditionally. Because the plain English meaning of today’s text is that the love of Jesus has conditions. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” “You are my friends, if you do what I command you.” It might be somewhat comforting to hear that the Greek ties the condition to what Jesus does as well. But you got to know you’re Greek pretty well to argue that. And how is everyone else supposed to know? Besides, our Epistle lesson uses the same condition. “By this we know that we are the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments.” 

However, the great counter to the argument that God’s love, the gift of Christ, and our place as part of God’s family is conditional is also found in our Gospel lesson. “You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit….” Fruit like keeping commandments, loving the Lord, and receiving the Gospel. So what do we have here? Two truths, both of which we need to uphold? Or a text that makes more sense when we look at it closer? And of course, the goos Lutheran answer is yes. 

Take out your insert, or if you don’t have one handy, turn to John 15 in your pew bibles. Remember, last week we had John 15, verses 1-8. And Christ the vine is still the context. Abiding in Jesus, bearing fruit, that’s Jesus’ resurrection given to us. That’s what faith holds on to. Jesus, given by the Word proclaimed, by the forgiveness of sin, by baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And that’s where we are to remain.

Verse 9 continues that thought. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. Where is the Father’s love shown to Jesus? Easter morning, in the resurrection. That’s where we abide in Christ as well. But it’s there where Jesus says: If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. That’s the conditional statement that throws us off. Because we stop thinking resurrection, and start thinking about good works again. Because what else does it mean to keep Jesus’ commandments?

But keep doesn’t mean something so narrow as obey. It’s bigger. I think a better word than ‘to keep’ is ‘to treasure.’ Because treasuring means you hold it close, you consider it valuable, you treat it with care. ‘Obey,’ conveys none of those things. But ‘obey’ would be implied if we treasure Jesus’ commandments. They aren’t to be ignored, that’s for sure. But is that the condition we must meet in order to abide in Jesus’ love? Is that the condition we must fulfill for our resurrection? 

Look again. The sentence doesn’t end yet. The condition keeps going. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. It’s easier to see in the Greek, but you all don’t read Greek. The conditions that have to be met include Jesus keeping His Father’s commandments and Jesus’ abiding in the Father’s love, which He has done. In fact, it is finished. Remember, He is the vine, we’re His branches. He has already produced the fruit. And it’s Jesus who keeps the commandments in us. That’s why He created a new creation in us. Because that new creation treasures what Jesus says.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. If our keeping these commands ourselves were the condition by which the resurrection were necessary, then Jesus speaking them to us would not give us His joy nor complete our own. They would just be another Law that the old, sinful part in us could never keep. Another place we would fall short. That Jesus says that these words deliver His joy, this is big. It completely upends what the word commandment means to us. Because now the commandment gives the very thing it says. Just like the Lord had Ezekiel command the bones in the dry valley to live, so also Jesus commands us from death to life. Jesus commands us resurrection. And the resurrection is our joy.

Now, we also need to be aware, that joy is not the absence of sadness. Joy is not the absence of pain. Joy is not the absence of emptiness. Because Jesus felt all those things on His cross. And, as Hebrews tells us, it was for joy that Jesus endured the cross, scorning it’s shame. And just like Jesus, we can feel more than one thing at the same time. So, even in the face of the greatest loss we can imagine, the joy of the resurrection is still there in you, filling you up to the top with His hope. 

But then what do we do with this? This is my commandment, [with the result] that you love one another as I have loved you. We know that elsewhere Jesus says the two greatest commandments are to love God, and love neighbor. But that’s not the same thing Jesus says here. We’re so used to it, that we just fill it in. Here, love isn’t command, love is the result. See verse 17. It’s the same thing. Because the commandment here is life. The commandment here is forgiveness of sin. The commandment here is the gift of Jesus from His death and resurrection. 

It has been spoken. It has happened. Jesus died on that cross as your substitute. And Jesus rose from the dead on the third day as the first fruits, and not the last. For your resurrection is next. And as a result of what Jesus has done and given to you, now you finally can love one another. And not just any love, but with the same self-sacrificial love that Jesus loved us with. 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. You are my friends in the resurrection. How awesome is that?

Now it all makes sense when Jesus says, You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. Because this is what Jesus has been saying to His disciples all along. It’s the same thing John says in our Epistle lesson when he says, For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.

Jesus speaks, and our sin is taken away. Jesus speaks and our death is reversed. Jesus speaks and we are given eternal life. That commandment brings us His joy, and our joy is filled to the top. And it’s our joy no matter what else we’re feeling along with it. Our hope is not found in ourselves. Nor in our somehow being obedient enough on our own to fulfill Christ’s conditions. The conditions have already been completed. It is finished. The resurrection of Jesus is what we treasure. Because, as we’ve been saying all along: He is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! 

Categories: Sermon

The Risen Vine

April 25, 2018 Comments off

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. Maybe you’ve heard these words of Jesus a lot throughout your life. Maybe some of you haven’t. But this is one of those go to texts in John’s Gospel that remind us to always stay connected to Jesus. Because if we don’t, we have no hope. As Jesus says, those branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. Not something to look forward to. However, remaining isn’t painless. If  we do remain, there is such a thing a pruning. And pruning hurts.

But it is done so that we can produce more fruit. We usually take that to mean that even though bad things happen in our life, God is using those to do good somewhere. Which is exactly what Paul tells the Romans, right? “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” At least this is how I’ve often understood this Gospel lesson in the past.

But there’s a strange thing going on in the original language. Because we understand pruning a vine to involve cutting, and probably pain. Yet the word in Greek simply means ‘to clean.’ It’s the same word used as an adjective in verse three, where Jesus says, “Already you are clean because of the Word I have spoken to you.” So it’s the same idea. And cleaning doesn’t necessarily mean hurting. Cleaning doesn’t automatically make us think of the bad things that happen in our life. And the cleaning has already happened when Jesus spoke His Word. 

Now, it could absolutely mean pruning. But that part that Jesus adds in there  is important. You are clean because of the Word. The Word cleanses, the Word prunes. Not life. Not circumstances out there in the world. Not the sin of others or ourselves. The Word alone does it. And that means that we shouldn’t hear this text as a “God’s with me when times are tough” text. Not that this idea is wrong. Because it is true. And we hear it elsewhere. But rather because that idea might not be what Jesus means here.

What does it mean then? The Word cleanses us in order that we, who already bear fruit, might bear more fruit. Okay, but what does it mean to bear fruit? That too, we have an idea about. Galatians 5:22-23: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control….” Those things are the fruit the Word of God gives me. That is true. Or maybe we could go to Colossians, where we’re told to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work….” Our good works are also a fruit the Word gives to me. That is also true.

But do either of those work with the words of our Gospel lesson? Every branch in me that does not [have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control] he takes away? Or how about, Every branch in me that does not [have good works] he takes away? That raises some red flags for us, doesn’t it? Like I said, don’t hear me saying any of those things we talked about as fruit aren’t. Because elsewhere, they truly are. But is that the same fruit Jesus is talking about here? I don’t think it is. 

So then, what is the fruit in this text? What comes by the Word. What cleanses us when receive it. What are we made ready to receive more of, even though we already have it? There is another fruit that Scripture talks about. Only instead of coming from a vine, it comes from a tree. Well, two trees. The tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The fruit of one is eternal life. The fruit of the other is sin, which leads to death. Adam and Eve chose to eat from the tree of sin. And in that one act, poisoned humanity with sin. 

We cannot escape it on our own. That tree is rooted in us all the days of our lives. And the fruit we bear alone only comes from that one tree. And it was on that tree that we killed the one innocent man. It was on our sin that Jesus Christ was crucified for us. The death of Jesus was the fruit we grew with our own hands, as we pounded the nails into His hands and feet. And on that tree, Jesus died.

But there’s a remarkable thing that happened. Because while the tree of the knowledge of good and evil grew in us, the tree of life grew in Jesus. And when we nailed Him up there, Jesus grafted the tree of life in. So that the fruit that hung on the tree was not sin, and death, and condemnation. The fruit of the tree of the cross was forgiveness, life, and salvation. And in that fruit is the resurrection. Not only the amazing resurrection of Jesus, but your resurrection as well. 

The fruit that Jesus has us bear is the Easter promise of resurrection from the dead. And by the Word of God, that promise has been given to you. You have within you the resurrection of Jesus. And the same Word that put Jesus in there, the same Word that gives you faith, and hope, and new creation, grows the fruit of your resurrection too.

You cannot bear eternal life as fruit apart from Jesus. But in Jesus, you cannot help but bear that fruit. Because Jesus makes you new. Both on the last day, and right now. The new creation is in you today. Yeah, it’s sharing space with the sinner. We are at the same time saint and sinner in this life. But that’s why cleansing is necessary. That’s why pruning is necessary. The big churchy word for that is sanctification. We do try to restrain the sinful parts of ourselves, even if we aren’t always successful. 

But the saint in us, the new creation in us has been given an amazing promise today. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.” And Jesus can give that promise, knowing full well the part of you that has faith will ask for what glorifies the Father, and for what will continue the resurrection that has already begun in you. The part growing from the three of life can ask anything at all, and it will be done. How cool is that?

Now, separating that from the sinner in us isn’t easy. And sometimes the motives we think are good, right, and holy, aren’t so much. But hey, maybe there’s something you could ask for. Lord, Help me ask for the right things. Help me do the right thing for my neighbor. Help me keep Your Commandments. Help me grow in my faith. Help me to continue to abide in Jesus. He’s not going to answer no to any of those. After all, the fruit of the tree of life, the fruit of Jesus, the resurrection itself grows in you. You are already part of Christ, the risen vine. And this is His promise to you. For Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. And He has attached Himself to you so that the fruit of the tree of life would grow in you as well. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon