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Sermon for the Ascension of Our Lord

May 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2010

25 Sermon for Ascension MP3 Audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this evening is from the first lesson for today in Acts chapter 1. 

9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”  This is our text.

We believe in Jesus Christ… “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered and was buried.  And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.  And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.” (Apostles’ Creed)

Today we meet to be strengthened in the faith of our Lord.  Today is no less an event in the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ than Christmas or the Epiphany or Easter.  The Christian Church commemorates today so that we might hear and learn about this event and that it would strengthen our faith.  This is not the commemoration of “St. Umpty Squat,” but the festival of the Ascension of our Lord and we celebrate this festival for the sake of faith.  It is one of the core teachings of the Apostolic faith that our Lord ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God.  That’s why I began by reciting that portion of the Church’s Creed.  This is not a new thing.  This is a very old thing.  Many of you, no doubt will say, “This is a new thing; we’ve never done this before.”  But the festival of the ascension of our Lord is older than you and your memory.  It belongs to the memory of the Church which, thankfully, reaches further back than our own.  The earliest Christians began to keep celebrations of the significant events in the life and ministry of our Lord to strengthen the faith of the Church.  And specifically the article of faith that Jesus ascended for you, for your benefit and blessing.  Today is an important day in the life and ministry of Jesus and we meet to be strengthened in faith in the hearing of it.

The ascension of our Lord into heaven highlights the truth that all that Jesus does is not our work.  He does it.  As we confessed, “he came down from heaven,” “was made flesh,” he “was crucified also for us,” “He suffered and was buried,” “He rose again,” “and he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.”  All of this is the work of Christ for us.  All of it was for us and for our salvation.   We are not saved by what we do, not even by the act of believing this teaching; we are saved by Christ and his complete work of salvation for us bestowed on us by grace through the love of God the Father.  And yet, because we preach that we are saved not by anything we do, we fall under criticism by other Christians for not doing anything, ever.  I’ll admit we Lutherans are a strange bunch.  We preach that we don’t have to do anything to be saved and that Christ has done it all and then we have “extra” church services which to outsiders appear that we’re preaching that we have to come to church more, I guess to get or stay on God’s good side.  Hopefully, by now we know that this is the farthest thing from the truth for us.  We are gathered here tonight to be with Jesus and to receive his gifts.  Specifically what good is it to us that Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father because we are still here in the midst of suffering and distress?  Jesus has ascended just as we confess.

A popular show on television, so I’m told, I’ve never seen it, is CEO Undercover.  The basic premise is that CEOs from various companies assume identities of worker bees in their companies to get a different perspective on the work done by the company and to find out what their employees really think about them.  One show featured Larry O’Donnell, the President and C.O.O. of Waste Management, as he cleaned porta-potties, sorted waste at one of their recycling plants, and collected garbage from a landfill.  No doubt if you were working side by side with your boss for a week, what you say would have a tremendous impact on how future decisions were made in your company.  This is a very good illustration of what Jesus did by taking on human flesh and walking more than a mile in our moccasins.

We usually emphasize that Jesus did this to accomplish our salvation, and he did.  But consider Jesus’ thoughts toward us as he ascends back to the throne of God.  He knows our every weakness and frailty.  When we cry out to him hungry or filled with grief, he knows what we’re talking about.  St. Paul tells us in Ephesians chapter 4, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) (Eph 4:8–10)

Jesus Christ has ascended to the throne of God where he sits and rules both heaven and earth; now he is restored to his ultimate power and authority.  In his reign there is no more weakness, no more humiliation.  He has taken captivity captive.  He has enslaved our slavery to sin, death and the devil and by it he shows he has power and authority over our old enemies.  Now ascended he gives his power and might to those who believe in him so that you too are now masters over sin, death and the devil.  Sin can no longer force you to walk away from God or despair over your past because Christ has ascended and help you when you resist sin when you believe in him and call upon him in every trouble.  In Romans 6, Paul says, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Ro 6:14)  Certainly we will still sin and have sin around us and even be tempted to sin but they can no longer control us.  Sin’s power, the devil’s power, death’s power has been broken.  Sin is like the criminal caught and locked up, still breathing murderous threats but unable anymore to do any real harm.  On the Last Day, it will be swallowed up in the lake of burning sulfur.  Upon his ascension, Jesus power and authority are restored in full force.

This brings us back to what good is any of this for us.  Well, if sin, death and hell are in captivity, it means that we can no longer say, like old Flip Wilson’s character, The Reverend Leroy Jenkins, “The devil made me do it.”  Ya’ll didn’t think I was old enough to remember Flip Wilson, did you?  It means we must live in such a way that jealousy and hatred and anger and other sins do not overpower us.  We have to fight against them and say, “No I will not give in to hating or lust or lying.  And if sin tries to make a sneak attack with fear then we must be ready to say, “Sin, you are in jail.  You cannot terrify me.  I am your master.  Haven’t you heard, Jesus ascended into heaven.  I believe in Jesus ascended and reigning.  You will be silent.  You are my prisoner.”

By his ascension into heaven back to the right hand of the Father, to his rightful throne, Jesus is reigning and bringing about his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus wants this kingdom to come in us as well.  That sin would no longer have the control in our lives whether in attempting to accuse us before God or in tempting us to persist in sin.  Christ is working this in us from above.  We are to pay attention to his tugging on our hearts so that his ascension is not just something that rolls off our tongue in a creed, but become evident in each one of us by good works.  The ascension of Jesus is the bringing about of the kingdom of God.

Although sin may still trick us, we cling to our Lord Jesus Christ, incarnated, crucified, risen and ascended, and by it taken captivity captive and won for us the victory.  To this King of kings, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, let us give thanks and praise eternally.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Coming soon to a Plexiglass pulit near you

May 25, 2010 Leave a comment

One of the great things about the Bible software (Logos Scholars Sliver – upgraded from the Original Languages Library this year) I have is that it has a number of books in it that I didn’t think I needed until I do.  This week is one of those weeks when I really was happy to have some tools to help me with the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint.

But one of the other features I have is a little window that pops up informing me of a resource in my library that I might not have otherwise noticed.

Today it was, Sermon Outlines for Evangelistic Services, by Al Bryant.  I probably can’t post the whole table of contents for copyright reasons, but here are just a few which I’m sure will be coming soon to a clear Plexiglas pulpit near you.

The Sinner’s Surrender to His Preserver (Job 7:20)
Invitation to a Conference (Isaiah 1:18)
A Man Troubled by His Thoughts (Daniel 5:6)
The Stroke of the Clock (Hosea 10:12)
The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:23, 24)
What Does It Mean to Be Lost? (Luke 19:10)
The Door (John 10:9)
How to Become a Christian (Acts 2:37, 38)
Sinners Brought Nigh (Ephesians 2:13)

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Ah, blessed sabbath

May 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m just back from a week’s vacation. Last Sunday, a fellow brother in the area took the pulpit. I didn’t run off anywhere, just stayed home and did a few projects I’ve been meaning to get around to. Prayed. Relaxed. Sabbath. It’s a good thing. And then back to it yesterday, refreshed and ready to celebrate Holy Pentecost and confirm a daughter of the congregation. It’s great work being a pastor, sometimes. Anyway, it’s good to be back in the saddle.

Speaking of back in the saddle, I noticed Pr Esget over at Esgetology.com is back in his saddle. If the blogosphere doesn’t rejoice as heartily as I do, it’s due to their ignorance.

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Sermon for Easter 6

May 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Sermon for Easter 6

Augustana, 2010

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is from the Gospel for the 6th Sunday in Easter, John 16.  Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This is our text.

We are still in John 16 where we were last week.  Mere moments after Jesus speaks these words he’ll be headed out to the Garden of Gethsemane where he will be arrested and led off to Herod and Pilate.  All of this is fresh in our minds as a mere 6 weeks ago we were in Holy Week.  So in chapter 16 here, Jesus is preparing his disciples not only for his departure by the hands of the Romans and Jewish rulers but he is preparing them for his ultimate departure into the clouds on Ascension.  And so it is fitting that we have these verses these past two Sundays as we get ready for Ascension this Thursday.  This is the comfort Jesus leaves his disciples with as he prepares to leave them after spending 3 years with them.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” And, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” It’s good that we have both of these sayings together.  They help us to keep them straight in our minds.

First Jesus is not telling us we have a vending machine God.  Just name it and claim it!  You’ve heard me drone on about the prosperity preachers more than once.  They destroy true joy by preaching a gospel of material wealth and earthly joys.  And yet there is a part of us that says, why can’t I have a bit of that?  A little bigger house?  A little nicer car?  Not just two shirts, but three, on sale at our favorite discount store, right?  And Jesus said, “Ask, and you will receive, right?  “Lord, let me win the Powerball.  I promise I’ll tithe it!” By the way, I have yet to hear a story of anyone who won the lottery and experienced true joy.  There is a story about former members of our congregation here who won the lottery.  It was one of the older ones, not the mega millions kind there are today but it was still a sizable sum.  We have the bells for this church as a result of their donation.  No one here has told me that winning the lottery brought that family any real joy.  Jesus says, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” I think that in there lies the key to this asking Jesus, that our joy may be full.  I don’t think this is some kind of super-spiritualist mind trick.  If we ask for it and still don’t get what we want we know that Jesus knows our need and when he fills that need we will know the need was filled and our joy is full up because Jesus filled our need.  That’s completely different than “Lord, let me win the Powerball.” Jesus is not a vending machine God.

This is also not entirely different from the way our moms treat us.  Most moms, and in fact I would say that when they’re at their best, are not vending machine moms.  It’s 4:30 in the afternoon and you’ve been playing outside and you’re hungry and you want a snack but what you want are the cookies mom is making.  “Mom, can I have some cookies for my snack?” “No, they’ll ruin your supper,” she says.  “Have an apple,” she says.” Because moms know the apple won’t ruin the appetite like a few cookies will.  Mom is not being mean.  She wants good nutrition for her child.  I’m thinking short term.  I’m thinking about how good those cookies smell.  Mom is thinking long term.  She wants me to be well fed, that my joy may be complete.  I’m not saying Jesus is like Mom.  I’m saying, often, moms can be like Jesus.

And would that it be all of us had moms who had our long term interests at heart and know us better than we know ourselves, perhaps even more so as adults, when the choices are harder and implications far more important.  So I think here is where the second saying of Jesus today, proves wise.  Jesus did not just say, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”   But he also said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” How in the world are we going to have full up joy with Jesus giving us everything we need and still have tribulation and suffering?  How can you find true joy in the midst of true suffering?  And beware here, there are a few modern translations of the scriptures that uses words like difficulties or troubles, to translate this word.  As if, most of your troubles will amount to little more than toothaches.  No, this is full on tribulation, the same word used in Revelation by John to describe the oppression and affliction of the demonic and satanic on the people of God.  This is Job-style tribulation, not trouble.  So we’re looking for full joy and all comforting peace even in the midst of tribulation from the sick, sin-twisted, satanic world.  And we have it in Jesus.  He has overcome the world.  After his resurrection, after his conquering of sin and satan at the cross and death at the resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days on earth in his risen, yet glorified body before he ascended into heaven.  We have heard from those who saw him and heard from them who listened to and recorded what he said to them.  That’s what this week of Sundays is about, understanding just what it was that Jesus did before he ascended back to the right hand of the Father.  And while this is a glimpse at the glory that Jesus has accomplished for us, we remember when it was that Jesus said he had conquered the world—Thursday night.  Jesus said we should have full joy and we should have complete peace even in the midst of a sick, sin-twisted, devil-filled world, on the eve of his arrest and humiliating death on the cross.  He spoke of his victory over the world even before he accomplished it, even before he prays the cup to pass from his lips, even before Judas, one of his own, betrayed him and before the rooster crowed and Peter denied him.  This was more than Babe Ruth pointing toward the fence before a home run, this was He Who was present at the laying of the foundations of the world in the flesh telling his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

To be sure, we will have tribulation.  The tribulation is real.  We don’t meditate away from it.  It is not merely a matter of changing our perspective.  The world that hated Jesus now hates you because of Jesus.  But do not be afraid.  Jesus does not teach us a method of detachment from the reality.  Rather, he dies to death, and suffers under suffering and is tried by tribulation and he overcomes.  He conquers.  He triumphs.  He has vanquished the world.  This is our hope even in the midst of true sorrow.  Don’t be afraid, Jesus has overcome the world.

Years ago, when I was young, my mom had me snowed.  I thought there was little of anything she couldn’t do.  And as I got older, of course, I found out that my mom was lust like all of us put into a situation of overwhelming responsibility, she was doing the best she could with what she had.  Sometimes, I think as we get older, we end up lumping God in with parents, and as we see how the sausage of life is made, we begin to think, well, God is just doing the best he can.  And as we learn to live with our troubles and life’s many disappointments and we sometimes even forget the long term view, the view that only God can see, the eternal view.  Jesus today clearly reminds us of that long term view.  He says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for Easter 5

May 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Sermon for Easter 5

May 2, 2010

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon is the Gospel for today, John 16.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

This is our text.

We’re back in the upper room on the night Jesus was betrayed.  This is part of what we call the farewell sermon of Jesus to his disciples.  He’s preparing them for the things that will come.  He’s preparing them for his departure from them. He’s preparing them for the hatred that they will experience just for following him.   And he’s preparing them now, for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Our focus this morning is what Jesus says we should expect from the Holy Spirit.

What Jesus says about the Holy Spirit is the most important thing we can pay attention to.  Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.”  I want to highlight this.  Jesus says, “the Holy Spirit does not speak on his own authority.”  Therefore the Holy Spirit cannot, for he does not have the authority, speak in any way that contradicts the will of the Father or the Son.  That means that the Holy Spirit will not contradict any Word that has already been revealed and he will not do a new thing.  I say that last part in that way because there are elements of the liberal Church who would ascribe to the Holy Spirit new teachings–doctrines that are against the clearly revealed will and Word of God.  At the ELCA churchwide assembly last summer, the clarion call of those who would revise God’s Word was precisely this, “The Holy Spirit is doing a new thing.”  Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Holy Spirit does not have authority to do a new thing.  And while that may sound as though we are limiting God, it’s precisely the opposite.  God is limiting himself and he is doing so for our sake.  But I want it to be clear in your mind what Jesus says here.  Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.” What Jesus says about anything is what is surest and truest.  What Jesus says about the Holy Spirit is clear.

The Holy Spirit points people to Jesus.  Jesus says one other thing about the Holy Spirit that I want to highlight and that is that the Holy Spirit takes what is Jesus’ and declares it to you.  This is the job of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit points people to Jesus.  This is his only job.  He has no other authority to say or do anything than to point people back to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit revealed the truth about Jesus to the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  This is the same kind of job that he has always had.  In the OT, the Spirit of the Lord, that is, the Spirit of Yahweh, that’s the OT’s way of referring to the Holy Spirit revealed the Word of Yahweh to the prophets of Yahweh.  What I’m trying to point out is that the Holy Spirit has a long record of employer loyalty, if you will.  He does not go off message.  He does not have authority to do so.  We could never claim that it was the Holy Spirit who told us we should rob a bank.  The Holy Spirit would never do so.  Because the Lord has said, “You shall not steal.”  So, the Holy Spirit cannot reveal something to you and me in this day and age that is in fundamental disagreement with the revealed Word of the Lord in ages past.  In the OT, the Holy Spirit pointed people to the one who was to come, and since Jesus came, the Holy Spirit points people back to Jesus.

The Holy Spirit does the same thing he has always done and that is calling, gathering and enlightening people into the place where God’s Word is revealed.  Those words, call, gather, and enlighten are not Jesus’ words; they are Luther’s words.  Many of you have those words memorized, tattooed on your brain.  It’s not a bad thing to have things memorized.  Repetition is the mother of learning.  The Holy Spirit’s job may seem to us unfit for a member of the Holy Trinity.  After all, he is of equal glory and majesty with the Father and the Son.  The Holy Spirit, too, is uncreated, unlimited, eternal, and infinite.  Like we say about Jesus, there was never a time when he was not.  The Holy Spirit is worthy of all  praise and worship.  The Holy Spirit is almighty just as the Father and the Son are almighty.  But the Holy Spirit’s only job is to point to Jesus and what Jesus did on the cross.  That’s why we say along with Dr. Luther that the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us in the Christian Church.  This is the Holy Spirits job to call and gather people to Jesus, and to enlighten people with the Gospel message.

We believe that the Holy Spirit has gathered us into the Church where this Gospel is preached and taught.  The only purpose the church has is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to be the place where the Holy Spirit gathers people.  What else does the Holy Spirit do?  He enlightens us with his gifts.  And this is precisely where we can go astray here.  We go wrong if we say the Holy Spirit has his own set of gifts–gifts that he can seemingly do what he wants with.  St. Paul gives us two lists of the gifts of the Spirit.  In Galatians 5 he lists, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control.”  In 2 Corinthians 12 he lists “the message of wisdom,” “the message of knowledge,” “faith,” “healing,” “miraculous powers,” “prophecy,” “distinguishing between spirits,” “speaking in different kinds of tongues,” “the interpretation of tongues.”  Now if what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit is the surest and truest word about the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit’s job is to point to Jesus, then these fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit should be, in fact can only be, about Jesus.  Love, joy, and peace–you know what true love is and what true joy and true peace is because of Jesus and his cross and resurrection.  These fruits of the Spirit are not things that live independently of Jesus and the cross but come immediately from it.  They are the fruit of the tree that is the cross of Christ.  They are yours because Jesus died for you.  The same holds true for these other gifts of the Spirit, wisdom, knowledge, and faith.  You know the essence of these things only in the cross of Jesus.  This is the case even with the gift of tongues.  The gift of tongues, shown at at Pentecost, which we will celebrate in a couple of weeks, was given by the Holy Spirit so that all those gathered there could hear the Gospel message of Jesus’ death and resurrection clearly in their own language.  So the Holy Spirit is doing the same thing he has always done–calling, gathering and enlightening people into the place where God’s Word is revealed, the Christian Church.

Just very quickly, if anyone claims the Holy Spirit is upon him and yet does things contrary to God’s Word, he is not of the Holy Spirit.  It’s easy for us to confuse personal charisma with the charism of the Holy Spirit.  Rev. Jim Jones had charisma.  He did not have the charism of the Holy Spirit.  It is contrary to the will of God for a shepherd to kill off his flock.  That point holds true in a catastrophic error like Jim Jones and in a seemingly smaller error where a believer might get the idea that the Lord is leading him or her to do something that is entirely contrary to the revealed will of God.  This is a person looking to justify their sin, not an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit not only calls, gathers and enlightens you in the Church but he sanctifies you.  In the Christian Church he makes you holy.  In the church, there is the preaching of God’s Word which we hold very highly.  When that preaching is in line with God’s Word, that preaching is the Holy Spirit bring to us the living voice of Jesus into our midst.  We are sanctified by the hearing of the voice of our Good Shepherd.  Without the Holy Spirit, you wouldn’t believe and you would think that all these doctrines of the church is a bunch of baloney.  The Holy Spirit who dwells in you enables you, enlightens you, so that you believe these teachings and that makes you holy.  The Holy Spirit brings you here to the place where Jesus is here forgiving us our sins.  The Holy Spirit goes with you when you leave this place with the verses of hymn on your lips, or the line of a sermon in your mind to sustain you and lift you up, strengthening you by pointing you back to the work of Jesus for you.

The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus.  The Holy Spirit does not glorify himself. He takes everything Jesus did for you and declare it to you so that you will believe it and by believing it have life in Jesus’ name.  The holy Spirit glorifies Jesus.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for Easter 4

May 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Sermon on John 20:22-30

Good Shepherd Sunday, 4/25

Note: I was asked to contribute this sermon to the archive at  Göttinger Predigten, a sermon depository originally conceived by Professor Ulrich Nembach, who teaches homiletics at the University of Göttingen, Germany.  I was asked by the editors to become a member of the community of authors for this year.

24 Sermon for Easter 4 MP3 Audio

John 10:22-30 (NASB)
22 At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; 23 it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon.
24 The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. 26 But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

New American Standard Bible. Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.
The text for the sermon today is from the Gospel for today, Good Shepherd Sunday, John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  This is our text.
Good Shepherd Sunday is a day full of comfort for us.  I’ll admit, it’s kind of odd to have Good Shepherd Sunday and not have the reading from John’s Gospel, just before our reading here, where Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd” but I suppose that’s the price we pay for a three year lectionary series.  That passage is quite familiar to us, not just because of Good Shepherd Sunday but because many families choose that passage in the wake of the loss of loved ones.  No doubt we’ve heard several comforting sermons in which we can hear the voice of Jesus saying to us, “I am the Good Shepherd and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”
Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  I think this became something of a theme in his ministry, at least toward the end of his ministry.  Now, I’ve not read this anywhere else and I may be wrong but the first part of chapter 10 and our passage today are definitely at two different time periods in Jesus’ ministry.  John tells us at the beginning of our reading that it was winter and they were under Solomon’s Portico at the temple.  Solomon’s Portico was along the east side of the new temple complex and was a covered area where one could stand out of the weather.  The first part of chapter 7 has Jesus teaching at the feast of Tabernacles, which is sometime from late September to late October.  Most scholars think this is the autumn before the spring in which Jesus is crucified.  Our reading takes place at the festival of the dedication, it’s what we know today as Hanukkah, that’s roughly mid-December.  So I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that Jesus might have been talking of being the Good Shepherd and laying down his life for the sheep for a few weeks now.  Just imagine now in your mind’s eye, Solomon’s Portico that day and the Jews pressing in around Him, and pressing him for an answer, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”  If Jesus has been going on for weeks about being the kind of shepherd that lays down his life for the sheep, that has certainly led many to insist that he is, in fact, the Messiah.  But Jesus doesn’t answer the question they way they want, he says, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.  26 But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;” that is, if you believed, you would know that Jesus is the “Good Shepherd.”
Jesus is under attack.  They’re not just pressing in on him to find the answer to a pointy-headed theological question.  And Jesus is not just being coy.  He has said that he is the Messiah, although that was up in Samaria where apparently the women have better theological minds than the men in Jerusalem.  If he is to say he’s the Messiah in Jerusalem, it’s not just theological, or even Christological, it’s political.  He would be claiming an identity not shaped by the Word of God revealed to the prophets as much as be forced into an identity fashioned by the people’s unscriptural “messianic” expectations and the political expediencies of the day.  Anything that doesn’t fit the mold they have fashioned God into is thought to be insanity or blasphemy.  Jesus is under attack to be sure.
And the world of Jesus is no different than the world of our day.  Every day we hear the word and the will of our Lord being demonized as hateful or narrow-minded.  Those of you in Sunday morning Bible class know that we’ve been working through the Manhattan Declaration, which speaks in defense of the sanctity of human life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.  If you were to read any of the so-called moderate blogs you would think this was a declaration of war on the homosexual community.  Fanatics, zealots, extremists, fundamentalist, Taliban, that’s what they call us.

The most extreme example that I can use in a sermon is this one by Michael Stone of the Examiner.

“The Manhattan Declaration is a propaganda stunt sponsored by conservative right wing Christians intent on portraying Christians as victims of a secular America. The Declaration is in actuality an attempt to hi-jack American culture, and force a theocracy upon an unsuspecting and unwilling American public. The true motivation of this document is a call to culture war, an attempt to force conservative Christian values into the body politic. In particular, it is a desperate and futile attempt to stop a natural social progression from darkness to light, from ignorance and intolerance to enlightenment and acceptance.”[1]

Stone continues:  “The Manhattan Declaration represents the greatest threat we face as a species, the threat from religious ignorance and superstition. The signers of the Declaration represent the American Taliban; they are Christo-Fascists, and they are every bit as dangerous as the religious fanatics who flew airplanes into buildings on 9/11.”  (Ibid.)  (By the way, that’s why we’re studying the Manhattan Declaration in Sunday Morning Bible class.)  This is the kind of the pressure we are under.  “I’m not a ‘Christo-fascist’” we say.  But that’s the choice, either you accept the “natural social progression from darkness to light, from ignorance and intolerance to enlightenment and acceptance” or you’re a Christo-fascist—there is no middle ground.  These are the pressures we are under every day to follow after false Christs, the gods of our bellies and appetites, the prophets of prosperity and so-called tolerance.  To our society we’ve become either insane or blasphemers against the god of self.  Isn’t that what they accused Jesus of?  Insanity.  Blasphemy.  Our day is no different than our Lord’s.
But Jesus was not insane and he was not a blasphemer.  “I and the Father are one,” he says.  Jesus is affirming his identity as God’s Son and as God.  The church fathers made strong points about this line.”  Jesus is affirming two distinct persons, Father and Son, and yet unity in essence.  Jesus is Lord was the first creed.  That is, Jesus is the Lord, Jesus is Yahweh, the Lord of heaven and earth and Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.”  He is not a blasphemer.  His miracles, his signs as John calls them, attest to who he is and what he has power and authority over.  Jesus is fully divine, true God.
And Jesus promises us the perfect care of a divine and good shepherd, himself.  He promises he will always keep watch over us.  Through his word he speaks to us.  He knows us by name and we follow him.  When the world offers us no alternative between bigot and social compliant, we have Jesus’ Word, clearly speaking to us his will and his order for our world.  Through this word he also calls us and saves us and give us life in the midst of this culture of death.  “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”  By calling us to himself, he gives us an identity in himself and eternal life.  Our identity is secured by our Good Shepherd.  “I lay down My life for the sheep.”  Jesus promises us his personal care and shepherding even to the point of his sacrificial death.  He proved  the extent of his love for us by willingly going to the cross.  “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.”  It was through the cross of Jesus that the Father loved the world.  “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again This commandment I received from My Father.”  This is what Jesus means when he says, “I and the Father are one.”
This is the nature of the care and protection we have in Jesus our Good Shepherd.  Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


[1] (Michael Stone, “When religion dictates politics: Manhattan Declaration and culture wars ,” Examiner.com, 2009-NOV-22, at: http://www.examiner.com/)



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Sermon for Easter 3

May 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Sermon for Easter 3

John 21:1-19

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

So what do we do now?

No, seriously.  If Christ is risen, and he is, what are we to do?  Put yourself in the sandals of one of the disciples for a minute.  Jesus called you to be a disciple and you went.  You were amazed at his teaching and his power to heal and cast out demons.  You knew he was ushering in the Messianic kingdom of the Lord.  You even hoped for a nice job in that kingdom.  But then, you watched in horror as Jesus beings to pick serious fights with the scribes and chief priests teaching, in the Temple courts, of all places.  He is arrested and executed.  You cannot believe the shock of it.  And then, miracle of miracles, three days later, Jesus is stood in front of you showing you his hands and side, unless of course you imagined you were Thomas and then you have to wait a week.  Jesus had been teaching from the Scriptures that His death was necessary to forgive the sins of those who believe.  So, it’s been a while now since you’ve seen him.  The thoughts in your head might be along the lines of, “Jesus is risen, so what’s gonna happen next?”  “When’s the kingdom going to come that I’ve been praying for?”  “What should I do now?”  “Should I teach in the Temple?”  “If so, what should I teach?”  “If I don’t teach in the temple,  should I start a school?”  What should I do?  It’s frustrating really.

It was definitely frustrating for the disciples.  Ever since that first Sunday morning Jesus would just show up and as soon as they recognized who he was, he would disappear again.  He was real.  He was risen.  He was there right in front of them but then he would disappear.  It was all different now and it was as it should be.  Jesus’ relationship with the disciples could never be the same as it was prior to his crucifixion and resurrection.  The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus brought about a new state of affairs, a new thing entirely.  The forty days that Jesus spent on earth after he was raised from the dead was to prepare the disciples for his going up into heaven.  What his disciples figured out, thanks to the ministry of the spirit given to them, that in the visible absence of Jesus, there was a deeper and more intimate sense of his presence among them.  But that sense of understanding and peace had not come yet.  They were in the midst of this frustration of what to do next.  So, Peter decides to go fishing and six of the others decided that was a good idea and went along too.

The Gospel reading for today contains the third of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples according to John.  The main purpose of this appearance seems to be the reinstatement of Peter.  Some scholars don’t quite agree that Peter is reinstated here so let’s do it this way.  On the beach there is a charcoal fire.  There is only one other place in John’s Gospel where John notes a charcoal fire and that is outside Pilate’s house where Peter stood warming himself on the night Jesus was arrested.  There at that first charcoal fire what did Peter do?  He denied he knew Jesus three times.  Here at this charcoal fire, he affirms that he loves Jesus three times.  On top of that, three times Peter is commissioned by Jesus to tend the lambs, shepherd the sheep and tend the sheep.  So, you’ve got all the evidence, what does that sound like to you?  Sure, a reinstatement, and a three-fold commission.  After all, who better to tend lambs and sheep and shepherd sheep than one who himself has been rescued and brought back into the fold, one who has been tended and pastored, forgiven and restored.  Peter, not burdened by guilt but now with greater humility, reinstated and commissioned, would go on to preach the message of the kingdom of God and lead the Church for many years through its first controversies and some of its hardest times.  Peter’s reinstatement seems to be the whole purpose of this appearance of Jesus beside the Lake of Tiberias, that is, the Sea of Galilee.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

So what?  For you, so what?  Who do you follow?  Who do you love?

Most Christians are well aware of the Greek words for love, eros, philos and agapē.  If not, then very quickly, eros is the root for erotic, and thus sensual love, philos is brotherly love, and agapē, self sacrificing love.  They have their verb counterparts too.  Jesus essentially asks Peter here twice, “Do you agapē me?”  And Peter twice responds with what we have been trained to think is a lower order of love, philos. Finally, Jesus asks Peter something along the lines of: “Peter, do you at least have a genuine affection, that is, philos, for me?”  Except that it doesn’t always work out that neatly.  Frank Crouch, in his commentary on this passage writes:

“It is true in John that God’s love or Christ’s love is often expressed as agapē, and numerous times the word carries that highest meaning (3:16; 8:42; 10:17; 11:5; 13:1; etc.). At the same time, agapē and philos can be used synonymously, as in 3:35, where the Father loves the Son (agapē) and in 5:20, where the Father also loves the Son (this time with philos). Further, when describing how judgment takes place—“and this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world and people loved darkness more than the light” (3:19)—the word used for this love of the darkness is agapē. Some people love darkness with an intensity that matches the saints’ love for God.”[1]

We can love the wrong things with the purest love.  As the old song goes, “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places…”  So where do you look for the highest love?  What do you sacrifice anything for in order to get?  You are Peter.  We are all Peter.  Jesus is asking you, “Do you deeply love me more than all these other things?”  Do you?  “Follow me.”  Jesus says.

“Follow me” is the call of the disciple.  It is Jesus’ call to you.  As a disciple of Jesus, you are with him by grace, living out this call in the Spirit, and learning from him how to live in the kingdom.  In other words, discipleship is learning to live our lives as if Jesus’ words are really true.  Discipleship is learning how to live our lives, our whole lives, our real lives, not just learning how to do religious or spiritual things in our spare time.  Brother Lawrence, who was a kitchen worker, remarks,

“Our sanctification does not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own. . . It is a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times. We are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in the season of prayer.”[2]

Dallas Williard in an article writes:

“So life in the kingdom is not just a matter of not doing what is wrong. The apprentices of Jesus are primarily occupied with the positive good that can be done during their days “under the sun” and the positive strengths and virtues that they develop in themselves as they grow toward “the kingdom prepared for them from the foundations of the world” (Matt. 25:34). What they, and God, get out of their lifetime is chiefly the person they become. And that is why their real life is so important.”

The cultivation of oneself, one’s family, one’s workplace and community—especially the community of believers—thus becomes the center of focus for the apprentice’s joint life with his or her teacher. It is with this entire context in view that we most richly and accurately speak of “learning from him how to lead my life as he would lead my life if he were I.”[3]

Jesus says to you, what he said to Peter.  “Follow me.”  God uses even our sins, our failures and our flaws to bring about our good and his glory.  Past sins, once forgiven, free us for future service, just like Peter.  How many times in this very place have you received forgiveness from Jesus himself?  This is the nature of discipleship.  Discipleship is motivated solely by our rejoicing in the gifts we have been given by our Lord.  It is this message that we proclaim in evangelism.  It is out of this deep humility we shepherd and are shepherded.  Discipleship focuses on nothing more than God’s deep and abiding love, his agape, for us in Christ who went to the cross for us and for our sins.

There is one other note in this reading that I think is deeply comforting and encouraging. Our relationship with Jesus now is not one bit different than that of the apostles in this post resurrection appearance.  They could not turn back the clock to the days before the cross.  Intimate fellowship with Christ was only possible after His ascension.  How?  They came to know Jesus more deeply in the Scriptures, specifically as He was predicted and prefigured in the Old Testament.  As Jesus said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.  The disciples came to know Jesus more deeply in service to others and in suffering.  It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “… that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10, cf. also Colossians 1:24).  They came to know Jesus more deeply in holy communion.  It is no accident that Luke describes the early church thus: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42).  The Scriptures, in service and suffering and Lord’s Supper were where the apostles learned to follow the Lord.  It is the same for us today.

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

What do we do, now?  Follow him.  Where?  In the Scriptures, in service to others and even suffering, and at the Lord’s Supper.  Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=4/18/2010

[2] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 284.

[3] Williard, “How to be a Disciple” The Christian Century, April 22-29, 1998, pp. 430-439.

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