Archive for June, 2011

Sermon for Holy Trinity

June 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

[Sorry, there is no audio recording for this sermon.]


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

And so we begin our meditation this morning in the Triune name by which God has revealed Himself, and instructed His apostles to baptize into, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We invoke, that is we call upon God’s name, as we enter His holy house.  It was His name that was washed over us in Baptism and it was the gift of His name through which He revealed Himself to us.  God has put His name on us.  He has sealed us in His name by water—that’s what baptism is.  And if baptism is something God does for us, then it makes perfect sense that He would put His name on us.  They’re really old fashioned now these sealing wax kits but I’m sure you’ve seen them.  In the old days before pre-glued envelopes, you just folded up the note dripped a bit of melted sealing wax on it and then pressed a seal or signet ring into the wax.  God does what is done in Holy Baptism.  By His Word He washes and seals us with His own name, restoring to us His image, the image lost at Adam’s Fall.  It is neither Roman Catholic superstition then to follow the entrance of the cross, the way Jesus saved us, into the holy house of God, nor to trace again that mark made on our hearts but rather a wonderful evangelical remembrance of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.  The Father seals us on account of Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit makes sure this is not ordinary bath time, but rather Holy Baptism in God’s Triune name.  It happens so fast.  Perhaps done thoughtlessly and by rote but from God’s perspective it is never without meaning for He has declared it so.  God wants you to know Him.  We have not named God.  He shares His name with us.  He gives you His name that you might call upon it in every trouble, pray through it, give thanks to Him by it.

Some I think relegate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to the realm of theological speculation.  Really how can something be three and yet still one?  The Athanasian Creed we confessed this morning may not help matters for it seems even more abstract than the Church’s confession in the Nicene Creed or the believer’s confession in the Apostle’s Creed.  St. Patrick famously used a shamrock to teach about the oneness and threeness of God. All analogies eventually break down.  We must come to some understanding of who God reveals Himself to be for us if we are truly to believe in the true God and not a human characterization.  Peter in his sermon at Pentecost says that David always saw the Lord Jesus in front of him.  We can’t demote Jesus to second class status when St. Paul tells us that through Jesus all created things came into being, that He is before all things and He sustains all things, and that in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  A second class Jesus will not do nor will a third class Holy Spirit.  We are such visual people we have to see things in order to understand them.  But God have us more than sight in order to understand the created world and His revelation.  Let’s try using a different sense.  [Walk over to the piano].  We said that God is both three in one and one in three, of majesty coequal, all co-eternal.  Listen.  How many sounds do you hear me play?  There is but one sound, composed of three notes.  Of the three notes not any one is greater than another but the sound is at the same time three and one.  A trained ear can pick out one of the notes and hum along but that doesn’t make the other notes go away.  They’re all still there.  One sound and three notes.  The Holy Trinity is not some bit of esoterica left over from ancient history but rather the framework by which understand how God has revealed Himself to us that He might be known to you.

Pentecost, last Sunday, and Holy Trinity, this Sunday, go together.  And so today is rest of Peter’s sermon that I mentioned to you last week.  Peter is preaching about the equality of Jesus with God the Father.  He uses two examples from the Scriptures, Psalm 16 and Psalm 110.  Presumably he was paying attention when Jesus interpreted Psalm 110 as referring to himself. Matthew records it in chapter 22.  Jesus is verbally sparring with some of the scribes. “41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? 45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” (Mt 22:41-46)  Jesus applied this passage to Himself.  This is how all authority on heaven and earth is given to Him.  It’s because He’s both Lord and Christ as Peter says.  What Peter says is profound.  He is equating Jesus and the God of the Old Testament, the Lord.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit seals Peter’s sermon with fire.

Peter’s sermon was not just that Jesus is both Lord and Christ.  That’s simply information.  No.  What makes this sermon important is exactly what Peter preached to the crowd gathered that day and it is just as applicable today as it was then.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man whom God has already proved to you was sent by Him by mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  It is not exaggeration to say that you killed Jesus.  We look to the bloody crucifix and confess, my sins put Jesus there.  It was for me and on account of my rebellion against God and His Law that Jesus died.  And it would be enough to drive us to despair if it weren’t for the fact that Jesus, our brother, the one who died for our sins, in our place was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.  Up onto the cross in your place, to suffer as rebellious criminal is what the plan was all along.  And God the Father raised him up from the dead, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by death and nor shall if be for you.  If you want to know the mind and heart of God, this is it—the unfathomable love of not just Jesus, but the Father that He would send His own perfect Son that He might have you back.  This is the love of God that the Holy Spirit delivers to us all this Good News through preaching and through simple words again sealed with the holy Triune name of God.  “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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Sermon for Pentecost

June 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

42 Sermon for Pentecost.mp3

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

Doctor Luther is quoted as having said, “Poor Holy Spirit, He only knows of Jesus.”

He got off the boat in Baltimore.  It was the summer of 1838.  Fritz.  I’ve been to the place where he got off.  He asked right away, “Where is the Lutheran church?”  They said, “What church?”  “The Lutheran church.”  Well, they told this German immigrant the Lutheran church was up the road somewhere, the Lutheran church.  He got to the church and the pastor was there to greet him and said, “Would you like to lead our prayer service tonight?”  Fritz, being a Lutheran pastor, a missionary sent from Germany, ordained to go into missionary work came to America and he said “Sure, I’ll lead.”  He got there that night.  He shared some texts of Holy Scripture.  He sang, he had them sing a few hymns.  And then all of a sudden, there was this low moaning.  Ooooohhhh.  Woooaaahhhh!  And it would rise in a crescendo.  He had stepped right into a German Methodist Church.  And this was during the second Great Awakening when evidence of the Holy Spirit was climbing the walls and barking at the ceiling.  True.  After the service the Methodist Pastor came up to him and said, “Well, how did you like it?”  And Fritz said, “Well, I don’t know whether it was from God or the devil it certainly wasn’t Lutheran.”[1]

Think about all the ways you’ve heard Pentecost described.  “This is the birthday of the Christian Church.”  “The Holy Spirit is doing a new thing.”  This is all wrong.  The Christian Pentecost is not something new.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day is not a new thing but the old thing that God had promised now fulfilled.  There is a tendency today to use the Holy Spirit as a way to sanction any doctrine or practice not traditionally taught or practiced by the church.  The Holy Spirit has been given credit for the modern ecumenical movement, the modern charismatic movement, probably every capital fundraising campaign in the history of the church, as well as women pastors and the modern homosexual agenda in the church.  When the ELCA met in the Church Wide Assembly in 2009 and elected effectively to re-define what God had previously said about human sexuality, they said, quote, “The Holy Spirit is doing a new thing.”  Every time a leader in the church steps away from the doctrine of the apostles and the sacraments Jesus gave His Church, they claim that the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing.   Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Holy Spirit is not doing a new thing because the Holy Spirit cannot do a new thing.  In fact, it’s precisely when people claim the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing that you can be assured that He is not doing a new thing.  So, I’m going to say it again: the Holy Spirit cannot do a new thing.  That may sound like blasphemy to some of you but I assure you it’s not.  Of the many blessings of God, one is that He is not constantly changing the rules of the game.  I remember playing board games as a kid with other kids.  Sometimes the kids were older and as the game progressed “new rules” would appear in the game so as to ensure I would lose the game.  This is not the case with God and the revelation of His will in His Law and the revelation of His love in His Son, Jesus Christ.  This is where Doctor Luther gets his saying, “Poor Holy Spirit, He only knows of Jesus.”

But you might wonder, “What about Dr. Luther and the Reformation?  Surely the Lutheran Reformation was of the Holy Spirit and it was the Holy Spirit doing a new thing?”  I would certainly agree with you that the Lutheran Reformation was something led by the Holy Spirit but I profoundly disagree that it was a new thing.  Over and over again, Luther and the reformers claimed the authority of the Scriptures as the source of their teaching, not a new thing in the Holy Spirit.  Our claim is and always has been that Lutherans are more closely aligned with our origins in the Scriptures.   And so Lutheranism is not a new thing because Pentecost is a not a new thing, but the confirmation of God that the old promise that has stood for generations has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus.  And what is that?  It’s in the sermon Peter preached to all those Jews gathered together that first Pentecost Day.

Peter preaches: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.   And after two three proofs from the Scriptures, Peter preaches:  “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

“Poor Holy Spirit, He only knows of Jesus.  Peter preached Jesus crucified and risen.  Peter did not preach that the Holy Spirit was doing a new thing.  Peter did not preach that the tongues by which the apostles preached to each group in their own language were a new blessing on the people of God.  The tongues and yes, even the fire, were a means to get to Jesus, to testify of Jesus.  And what Peter tell these God-fearing Jews when they were cut to the heart and asked Peter’s what they should now do?  “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  That’s what the Holy Spirit does.  He doesn’t do things apart from God’s revealed Word.  He reveals the Word.  He provides understanding so that we might hear God’s Word correctly.  The Holy Spirit does not ask the question, “Did God really say?”  That’s the serpent in the garden.  Poor Holy Spirit, He only knows of Jesus.  And so we Lutherans are not Holy Spirit poor, we are rich with the gifts of the cross the Holy Spirit pours out on us—life and salvation and forgiveness of sins.  If that sounds boring or ho hum to some folks, they certainly don’t know these gifts very well and they certainly are unaware of their sin, the devil and the death that lives in their heart where they go looking for the Holy Spirit.  Eternal life, salvation, and the forgiveness of sins are the gifts Jesus won on the cross for us.  These are the gifts Jesus came to bring.  He doesn’t blow them to us on kisses.  He pours them onto us.  He feeds them to us and has us drink them.  Eternal life, salvation from slavery to the devil, and forgiveness of sins, all for us won by Jesus, delivered to us by the Holy Spirit.

And so here is the day to day difference for you.  While other Christians search high and low in their hearts for any possible stirrings of the Holy Spirit in there, crawling the walls or barking at the ceiling when they do find Him, you can rejoice in the gifts the Holy Spirit delivers to you, gifts that you can see and touch and hear and taste and smell.  God’s gifts come to you from without.  You need not ever wonder if that stirring in our belly is from the Spirit or your belly is just telling you it’s time for lunch.  You need not ever worry whether God loves you.  God loves you.  He had poured out His Spirit on you in Water and sealed you in His name.  Here He feeds you from His own table and you participate in great banquet of heaven even on this side of eternity.  Forget about looking for God in the special ways and instead rejoicing that God has come to you in the humblest and most ordinary things of life.  There he is in Daily washing and in daily Supper for you to give you life everlasting, freedom from slavery to the devil and all his works and ways, and holy absolution for all your sins.

What a great gift it is from God that he doesn’t go changing the rules of the game on us.  What a gift from the Holy Spirit that He has bound Himself to these simple means of water, bread, wine and Word.  What a tremendous blessing that the Holy Spirit knows nothing except Jesus Christ crucified and risen.  This was God’s plan from the very beginning.  Behold the Spirit of God has been poured out in your hearing this today.  You are Holy Spirit people, enlivened, freed, and forgiven.  Amen.

[1] President Harrison related this story in his sermon at Concordia Seminary’s Call Day, 2011.

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Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

June 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana 2011

41 Sermon for Easter 7.mp3

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

It’s always comforting to know that someone is praying for you.  And of course, that’s what Jesus is doing now that He has ascended to the right hand of the Father.  It’s nice to hear someone say, “I’ve been praying for you.”  How much greater to know that the Son of God is doing this for you right now.  He’s praying you’ll pay attention to this sermon.  He’s praying my words would be effective and not return empty.  But think about Jesus praying for you in a different way for just a minute.  Think of Jesus interceding before the Father like a lawyer who steps in and speaks on behalf of someone who has to go to court to resolve a legal difficulty.  All that person need do is show up and let the paid professional say the right words to make sure that justice is accomplished.  You have Jesus, the preeminent intercessor, who is making your appeal to the Father.  You can be certain that God our heavenly Father hears the intercession of His Son and answers your request in your favor.  But Jesus is not praying for just anything.  He is praying, “Holy Father, keep them in Your name.”  You are kept in God’s name.

As Christians we live in a world that is constantly at war against us and is doing everything it can to separate us from unity we have with Jesus.  St. Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 6: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  (Eph 6:12)  We live in a world that is so aligned against us that even some “preachers” spew the Enemy’s propaganda.  Many of you are familiar with this radio preacher, Harold Camping.  He made headlines by predicting the end of the world.  What didn’t make the headlines where his teachings that true Christians should not go to church, nor be baptized or receive the Lord’s Supper. [1]  He strikes at the truest and purest sources of God’s enduring grace and favor to Christians.  This is proof  that the world is certainly allied against us.

What makes the situation worse is that with our built in alienation from God on account of our sin we are inclined to entertain the world and its ideas to the point we often ally ourselves with the world!  Think about how rarely we flee to the sure Word of God when a situation presents itself.  Too often we rely on psychology or sociology to give us the answers we need.  I’m deeply saddened to see the ELCA rip apart over issues that are so clearly lined out in God’s Word.  But just as church bodies flee from the teaching of God’s Word in such matters, so do we.  We turn a blind eye to children and grandchildren who heed not God’s clear Word against intimacy outside of marriage.  The Word of God is the standard for all matters of doctrine and life.  We don’t edit out the bits we don’t like or that require sacrifice or are counter-cultural.  What do issues like this do?  They destroy unity.  And just so we’re clear, there is no such thing as unity in diversity or whatever you want to call it.  We are either walking in sync with God and His Word or we are walking in the ways of the world.  And if you are walking in the ways of the world and are fine with that, remember the world’s intention: to destroy your association with the Father.   Our sinful condition often makes us inclined to ally with the world.

But remember that we have Jesus as our intercessor.  See how fervently Jesus prays for our salvation and our protection from the world, even protection from our own selves.  Jesus’ prayers move the heart of Father.  Jesus prayer on your behalf moves God to cause you, through His Word, to continue to be one with Him.  God is continually working to pull you back from the world.  Jesus’ prayer moves God to give you faith that you would have confidence that Jesus’ Word is His Father’s Word.  Jesus’ prayer is that you would be kept safely in God’s name.

This may be a strange phrase to our ears.  We might feel more secure to be kept safely in a castle or a fortress.  But the name of God the Father is even greater.  The name of God is His power and His authority.  What happened when Joshua’s  spies went into Canaan to do some recon?  They met Rahab who said she would work for the Lord’s spies because she had heard that He dried up the waters of the Red Sea and crushed the Amorite Kings, Sihon and Og.  The Lord has a reputation, a good name.  By His name, Rahab knew the Lord’s power.  There are names that capture attention today too.  Even if you don’t have a computer you know who Bill Gates is.  Even if you don’t watch her show, you know her name, Oprah.  How much greater the name of the Lord God and even greater His intention to keep you safely in His name.

Hear the plea from your Savior, “Father, forgive them.”  (Lk 23:34)  “Glorify your Son.”  Jesus interceded for you.  He said, “Father, lift me up on the cross, let me carry all their sin, then bury me with it.”  Hear too the answer of the Father, “I hear your prayer, My beloved Son.  Because I love you, I forgive Your people.  I have given You power to give eternal life to all whom I have given to You.” (v. 2)  God will not deny His own Son, whom He sent to accomplish all things for Your salvation. (v. 4)  Jesus is even now before the Father in heaven interceding for you and always with eternal results.

There are many today who scoff at the Biblical portrayal of God.  Most people are not nearly so arrogant.  They tend to hedge their bets.  “Even if there is a God,” they say, “and that’s a big if, how can we know that He (or she or it) is favorably disposed toward us in general which I doubt, or even me in particular which I doubt exponentially more?”  Look at Jesus.  Look at how He died; He even convinced a hard-hearted Roman centurion.  Look at His prayer in the garden just before He was arrested.  He is sweating blood here as he prays.  Look at the boundless compassion of Jesus for the sake of His people, for you.  Jesus the Messiah of God, God’s own Son, died for your sins and is now resurrected and ascended to the right hand of the Father praying for all He came to save.  He is praying even now for you that you may be kept safely in the protection of God’s name.

Being Christ’s own possession, flee to the protection of His name in His Word.  You glorify Christ when you recognize any attempt of the world to divide you from the Father and you drown it with a flood of His Word.  Throughout the Harold Camping fiasco, there were so many true Christian voices who simply paraphrased the words of Jesus, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”  (Mt 24:36)  When you diligently read and study God’s Word, He increasingly makes you strong to resist such error and temptation but even more you are participating in the work of the Kingdom, you proclaim His Word and honor the name in which you safely dwell.

Even though not all lawyers have the same ability to deliver in a courtroom, as your intercessor before the Father, Jesus does not fail.  His high priestly prayer is heard by His Father and as a result the Father is favorably inclined toward you always.  Jesus is praying for you until that day when faith, hope, Word, Sacrament, and intercession are no longer necessary.  On that day you will behold Him face to face in righteousness and holiness and know Him fully, even as you have been fully known even from before the foundations of the world.  Being kept safely in His name now is a taste of what will be forever.  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 Ascension

June 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana 2011

40 Sermon for Ascension.mp3

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

On the fortieth day after Jesus was resurrected, He was lifted up and ascended to heaven.  And the Lord went up in the air and entered a cloud just like in Exodus where the Lord dwelled in the midst of the people in pillar of cloud and led them through the wilderness and later then dwelled in glory in a cloud in both the Tabernacle and in the temple.  Today is one of those days that is for the most part lost in modern Christianity.  It’s partly because it always falls on a Thursday, for one thing.  But another thing is that for most of us, that Jesus ascended to the Father is not something we easily understand.  Jesus’ ascension is really His coronation.  Many Americans are fascinated with watching the British royal family; royal watchers they’re called.  We watch a royal wedding and we instantly know what’s going on.  We’ve been to weddings or been in weddings.  But the coronation of a king of queen is something different entirely.  Jesus’ ascension is His being crowned with glory, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, King and Lord of all heaven and earth.

It sounds likes Jesus has gone far away, “to the right hand of the Father,” we say.  And that sounds like an awfully long away away.  But the right hand of the Father is not in some remote corner of heaven but is rather everywhere Christ now rules.  Our Lord, Jesus Christ, is not an absentee landlord.  He is not hiding up in heaven from all the misery and pain on this earth.  It can’t be that way because we know that the Lord Jesus who ascended is the Lord Jesus who in His body bore all our pains and sorrows to the cross and has been resurrected and now ascended.  No, by ascending to the right hand of the Father, He has entered into the greater existence beyond the bounds of time and space.  And yet He is with us, and I mean physically with us, not just spiritually, not just in our memories, really with us in the flesh as much as He was with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, He is with us now.  He is with us even now as True God and True Man, because Jesus ascended in his body into heaven which is how He can say in a few short moments, “Take eat, this is my body.”  He is truly here in the preaching of His Word and in the receiving of His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus is not far away; He is where He rules and that is everywhere.

Our own South Eastern District President of the Missouri Synod sent a very fine note to all the pastors today reminding them of the significance of the day.  He even briefly lamented the condition of the church that does not celebrate a day like today.  But he was also genuinely encouraging and I want to pass on some of what he said.

[The ascension of our Lord] underscores the important work Jesus continues to do until he comes again in all of his glory. Any and all evidence to the contrary, he remains at the Father’s right hand, ruling and reigning over everything in our universe as well as in your life and mine. Jesus is also interceding constantly for us in his church. For it is through each of us and the congregation we may be serving that he has chosen to carry on the work he began here on earth. (Diefenthaler, Presidential Postcard, 6/2)

I’m grateful to President Diefenthaler for his note of encouragement to church workers and noe to each of you.

As Lutherans we are distinctive among all other Christians about focusing on what Dr. Luther calls the theology of the cross.  It is true that it is only at the cross of Jesus that we come to know the true heart and mind of God and the inexpressible depths of His love and mercy toward us.  Another way to put it is that we are good Good Friday Christians.  Some Christians even accuse us of not being very good Easter Christians, that is, Christians who don’t move much past Jesus’ suffering and death.  Ascension is one of those days in the church year that is just permeated through and through with the glory of the risen Lord.  My mentor in many ways, Dr. Jeff Gibbs at Concordia Seminary has been quoted as saying with a smile that in heaven we’ll all be theologians of glory.”  Ascension means that Jesus really did win and is still now victorious over those enemies He came to conquer—sin, death and the power of the devil.

Now some folks might think that if Jesus really won, why do we still suffer with disease, war, and awful hot weather?  That’s a valid question.  The disciples asked the same thing.  “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  They were still looking to Jesus to provide a political kingdom rather than the kingdom of heaven.  No, what ascension tells us is that Jesus is powerful, is ruling even now, and one day will return to bring to a close the sin-warped world in which we live and usher in the new heaven and the new earth.  The same way in which He went up “He will come again with glory, to judge both the living and the dead and His kingdom shall have no end.”  Just as the Church Father John of Damascus wrote: “The Lord shall come out of heaven, just as the holy apostles beheld Him going into heaven, perfect God and perfect man, with glory and power, and will destroy the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, with the breath of His mouth.” (NPNF 2 9:99)

Dear Christian friends don’t let Jesus ascension be the cause of thinking that He is now far away.  He ascended in order to rule not hide.  Jesus is not just an historical figure, a holy man from Palestine, martyred even by His own people.  No, He is Lord of heaven and earth.  He is here.  He is here for you to bless you and lift you up and to rule in your live.  Amen.

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

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