Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Daily Bible Readings and Lessons for May 13-19, 2012

What is it “to keep the commandments or the Word of the Lord Jesus”? “Keeping” is a word that describes the nature of faith. Faith clings to Christ. Faith trusts His Word. Faith relies upon everything He says. Faith draws its life and strength from Jesus’ Words. “His commandments” are not burdensome, like the Law is burdensome, because the “commandments” of the Lord Jesus invite us to trust in Him and to live from what He commands. Here are some of His commands: “It is finished! Your salvation is complete! Your sins are forgiven! Peace be with you! Take, eat, this is My body. Take and drink, this is My blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him.” We love Christ and cling to His Words and commandments, because they give us life and salvation. Even His command to “love one another as I have loved you” is not burdensome, because it is the invitation to live by faith in His love and sacrifice for us in our love and forgiveness toward one another. Jesus’ words and commands always give freedom to the conscience and heart of a Christian who trusts in Him.

Daily Lectionary
May 13                                       Numbers 3:1-16, 39-48; Luke 14:25-15:10
May 14                                                     Numbers 8:5-26; Luke 15:11-32 
May 15                                                        Numbers 9:1-23; Luke 16:1-18
May 16                                                   Numbers 10:11-36; Luke 16:19-31
Ascension Day                                 Numbers 11:1-23, 31-35; Luke 17:1-19
May 18                                      Numbers 11:24-29; 12:1-16; Luke 17:20-37
May 19                                                            Looking Ahead to Sunday
                                               2 Kings 2:5–15; Acts 1:1–11; Mark 16:14–20

Next Weeks Lessons:  The Ascension of Our Lord
2 Kings 2:5–15; Acts 1:1–11; Mark 16:14–20
Jesus Is Ascended, but Not Absent
On the fortieth day after His resurrection, our Lord ascended to the right hand of the Father. But although Jesus is hidden from your eyes, He is not absent from you. For He now fills all things in heaven and on earth. He continues “to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1), preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins through those sent in His name (Mark 16:14–20; Luke 24:44–53), giving you His true body and blood in the Supper. Jesus is your great Elijah who pours out on you a double portion of His Spirit in the Word and the Sacraments (2 Kings 2:5–15). He is Lord over all things for the sake of the Church. He whom heaven cannot contain has raised your human nature to share fully in the glory of God. You who believe and are baptized into Christ’s body are already sitting in the heavenly places; for you are in Him who is at the Father’s right hand. When He comes again in the clouds on the Last Day, you also will appear with Him in glory.

Sermon May 12-13, 2012

“The Joy of Prayer”     John 16:23-33 Easter 6 – May 12 – 13, 2012

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When you read through the Gospels, one of the things that stands out is how often Jesus prays. Before significant events, we find Jesus praying. We are often told that early in the morning, before the sun comes up, Jesus goes off by Himself to pray. Before He performs miracles, He often lifts His eyes to heaven and prays. Praying, for Jesus, is like eating, sleeping, and breathing. Something that is not just important to Him, but is part of the fabric of His life; which He cannot live without.

Clearly, this shows us that the relationship between Jesus and His Father is a close and intimate one. And not simply because Jesus is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God (Nicene Creed) - but also for Jesus according to His human nature. Jesus, as a man without sin, has that fellowship with God that we lost when Adam fell into sin. He has that fellowship with the Father that the Father wants to have with us; that the Father, in love, created us to have with Him.

The good news for us today is that in the Holy Gospel, Jesus is teaching us that that close, intimate fellowship He has with the Father is now again ours. What sin had rent asunder, Jesus has joined together again. For He says, “In that day . . . whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. . . . I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. . . . I have overcome the world.”

That day that Jesus is talking about there, when all this would happen, is the day of resurrection. The day when Jesus overcame the world - and its prince and its sin and its death - through His death on the cross and His rising to life again. Before, in the time of the Old Testament, the tabernacle and the temple, the priests and the sacrifices were needed as mediators to approach God. But now things will be completely different. Now, in Jesus, we can approach the Father. For Jesus is not just our mediator, who stands between us and God - that we pray to Jesus and ask Him to take our requests to the Father. No, He says; “I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf. . . . You ask the Father in my name, [and] he will give it to you.” Or as Jesus taught before, “When you pray, say, Our Father . . .” (Matt 6:9). He will hear you, He will answer you, He will give to you.

He will, for when you were baptized, Jesus’ Father became your Father. We are not sons of God by right, but by gift.

For when you were baptized, Jesus grabbed hold of you and took you with Himself through His death and resurrection, so that with Him, you now live in that day Jesus was speaking of - the day of resurrection; the day of new life. That means that when you were baptized, your separation from God was washed away in the forgiveness of your sins, and you were given that life. The life God created you to have. A life and intimacy like Adam and Eve in the Garden before sin. A life and intimacy like Jesus.

You have that life, even now. You may not realize it, or be living it, but you have it. For that’s what forgiveness does. Forgiveness is not getting away with your sins - like the criminal who gets away with his crime because of a technicality; forgiveness is much more than that. It restores you. It releases you from the yoke of slavery to sin, and gives you the freedom of the Gospel. A freedom not to sin, but a freedom from sin and its devastating effects. That you may live a new life.

For the word of forgiveness that you heard again this morning is no mere word, spoken by a mere man, but words backed by the full faith and credit of your Savior Jesus Christ and His blood that atoned for all your sin. His word which speaks a better word than the blood of Abel, which cried for vengeance (Heb 12:24); for Jesus’ blood cries for pardon. And Jesus then commanded these words of pardon be spoken to you, that you may know, that you may be confident, that you may live, that your joy may be full.

Part of that joy is the joy of prayer. We may not always think of prayer as joy, but that’s the thinking of the Old Adam in us; the old, sinful, separated Adam. But as sons of God, with the new life of Jesus given to us, not only have we been resurrected to a new life, but so have our prayers. That we may live and pray as Jesus. That prayer become for us like eating, sleeping, and breathing. Something that is part of the fabric of our life; which we cannot live without. Something that gives us joy.

Now, to be sure, many of the things that we pray for do not give us joy. Jesus was often grieved at what He saw His creation going through - the trials and tribulations and travails of sin. But how wonderful to know that we can bring these needs right to the ear of our Father in heaven. Prayer is not like a letter or a phone call; it’s not even like a text or an e-mail. Prayer is like the child whispering right into her parent’s ear - or, maybe on this Mother’s Day, I should say right into her mother’s ear! - knowing that she is heard and not ignored; knowing that there is no place else for those words to go than into the ear and heart of her parent; knowing that she can whisper anything, and it will not be rejected. The answer may not always be yes, but the prayer is always heard and answered.

Even if your earthly father and mother were not like that, but you yearned for them to be, your Father in heaven has promised you this. That is what Jesus is teaching us today. Baptism has made us children of God, put us on our Father’s lap, and opened His ears and heart to us. There is nothing we cannot ask. He will hear, He will answer, He will give.

So we now have the joy of prayer, to pray for all people in all sorts of need. For how often do you wish there was something you could do - when you see a disaster on the news, when you’re sitting at the side of a hospital bed, when your neighbor loses his job, when a family is torn apart, when you see a homeless person sleeping on the street, when you see a person stuck in sin. You have the joy of bringing that person to your almighty and merciful Father in prayer, to whisper them into His ear, and know that He, in His goodness, will do what is good.

They may not be able to pray. They may not know their Father in heaven, or Jesus as their Savior. But you do, and you can pray for them. Just as Jesus prays for us in our need, so you have that joy and privilege now as well. And if you don’t know what to say or what to pray, Jesus has given you those words as well. Our Father, who art in heaven . . .

Do not think your prayers are not needed. Scripture tells us that “The prayer of a righteous person has great power” (James 5:16). And you are righteous, because you are of Christ, because you are forgiven, because you are a baptized child of God.

But do not think it will ever be easy. Though prayer be a joy, it is hard work. I mentioned before that like Jesus, prayer is for us like eating, sleeping, and breathing - but by that I did not mean to imply easy or automatic, but rather something that we need to live. Something that we were created to do. So it is with prayer. We were created to have this fellowship with God, but how much in this world and life hinders our prayers! Our Old Adam telling us there are more important things to do, that you’re too busy to pray. The old, evil foe whispering in your ear that your prayers really don’t matter. The world telling you that rather than pray, you should get up off your knees and do something.

Well, while there is a time to get off your knees and do something, there is also a time to be on your knees. And the reason why the devil tries to convince us that our prayers really don’t matter is because they do matter. And our we really too busy to pray? Is what we do really more important than what our Father in heaven can do?

So our Lord has commanded us to pray, like mothers tell their children to brush their teeth - not just to do something good, but because He knows we need it. And our Lord has not just commanded us to pray, but has added these promises to His command, that we might pray all the more, and confidently: knowing that He will hear, that He will answer, that He will give.

As you come to the altar today to receive the body and blood of Your Savior, Your Lord renews those promises to you, as the forgiveness and life of Jesus are given to you. That resting here in God’s house and being served by Him, breathing in His Word, and eating His very body and blood, you grow and be formed into the image of Christ - the image lost in sin, but restored in Him. That image which is not a possession, but a life. A life of close, intimate fellowship with your Father in heaven - a life which is given at the font, lives through the altar, and reaches its goal in heaven.

You have that life. Yes, you do! So pray, children of God. Pray. Pray boldly. Pray confidently. Pray joyously. For you have the ear of your Father in heaven who loves you.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sermon for May 5-6, 2012

Easter 5  “The Comforting Work of the Spirit”  John 16:5-11

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Today is we look at the great and comforting work of the Holy Spirit. This fact is beyond dispute within the Holy Christian Church. Which is significant because there seems to be very little that is beyond dispute in the Christian Church these days!

But while the existence and the presence of the Holy Spirit is believed by all who can truly be called Christian, the work of the Holy Spirit – what the Holy Spirit is for and what He does  is a matter of dispute. Entire denominations have been built around their particular understanding of the purpose and work of the Holy Spirit, and even within denominations – including our own – there are groups whose desire it is to focus more on the work of the Holy Spirit, and what He is doing in the church in these modern times. Most of that focus tends to be heavily weighted on individual gifts and abilities and experiences, what the Holy Spirit is doing to me.

And so it is good for us today that the Word of God we heard from St. John tells us quite clearly what the work of the Holy Spirit is. The prophet Joel foretold what would happen on the day of Pentecost, and the book of Acts tells us of how that was fulfilled – but it is St. John – recording the very words of Jesus Himself – who tells us of the significant work of God that is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. And His work is this: And when He [the Holy Spirit] has come, 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 is judged. That is the work of the Holy Spirit, both then and now. And if you want evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit, that is what you should look for.

So what does this mean?
Well first, we heard that the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin. Now, when Jesus told us that He would send the Holy Spirit, He called Him the Helper, or the Comforter (John 14:16). But notice how Jesus now says how this Holy Helper, or Holy Comforter, does His comforting – He starts out by making you uncomfortable! By convicting you of your sin. And notice that the word there is sin – singular; not sins, in the plural. The work of the Holy Spirit is to convict you of the sin that is the source of every sin – and that is the sin against the commandment from which all others flow. The First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” For the truth is that you and I and everyone in the world do have other gods. And the Holy Spirit, in order to give us His true and lasting comfort, must first make us realize this. And make us realize the seriousness of this sin.

For every time you sin, you are following not the true God, but another god. A god of your own making. And so when you let your thoughts and desires determine your action instead of God’s Word and desire, you are your own god. When you allow money to shape your life instead of God, that is your god. When you look to your job or what you do to give you value, that is your god. When you look for happiness in the things you own, they are your gods. If there is someone if your life you think you could not live without, he (or she) is your god. Or in other words, anything or anyone we rely on or look to for what we need – that is a god. And we must admit, we have many. And if you doubt that, just consider – what happens when the things of this world and life are taken away from us? If you lose all your money, if you get cut off from your family, if you lose your job or have your possessions stolen. How we then fret and complain, worry and whimper! Why? Because we’ve lost our gods, that’s why. We’ve lost what we were relying on, and looking to for our comfort and needs.

So the Spirit convicts us of this sin of ours. He enables us to see that these gods are really no gods at all. That they are only mirages of comfort – that we chase after, but which then disappear and do not deliver what we see or think! So the Holy Comforter begins His comfort by leading us to confession and repentance. For there is only One who can deliver what we need. Only One who can truly comfort, and that is Christ. You have more than enough God in the one, true God. He is strong. He is faithful. He has given you His promise. He is all that you need. And so to comfort us, the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin.

But once He does that, the Holy Spirit doesn’t leave us there – condemned by our sin, condemned by the Law! That is just the first step. Next He convicts us concerning righteousness, because Jesus has gone to the Father and we will see Him no longer. Now, the word “convict” is used there again for continuity, but that word can also be translated as convince,” or bring to light.” And so after the Holy Spirit “brings to light” our sin, He then “brings to light” our righteousness – not that we have any right-ness within ourselves! But the righteousness that is ours in Jesus Christ. First He directs our eyes to honestly look at ourselves, and then He directs our eyes to see Jesus. Not our physical eyes – for we can see Him no longer! He directs our eyes of faith – that we may know and believe all that He has done for us. All that He has done in coming and taking our place. His birth for us. His perfect life for us. His death for us. His resurrection for us. His ascension for us.

In other words, once the Holy Spirit makes us see the filth of our sin that is splattered all over us, and that lives in us, He then removes that sin from us. The work of the Holy Spirit is to give forgiveness. To give the forgiveness won for you in the death and resurrection of your Savior. And so He washes you clean in the water of Holy Baptism. He strips you of your filthy, stinking, sinful rags, and dresses you in the white robe of Jesus’ perfect obedience and righteousness. He takes your hard, stony, other-god-loving’ heart, and gives you a new heart, a new life, that you might be a new creation. And He joins you to your Savior. He joins you to Jesus, and so closely that when the Father looks at us, He sees not us and our sin, but the perfection and love of His Son. And the Father tenderly calls us His children, and we respond, Our Father, who art in heaven. We sinners and enemies of God are adopted and taken into the very family of God! Not through anything that we can do, but purely by grace – by what God does for us. And what a comfort that is! And so that we may have this comfort, the Holy Spirit convicts us of righteousness.

Then the Spirit begins His third task. Once He has led us to repentance, and then once He has shown us the forgiveness of sin that is ours in Christ, He then convicts concerning judgment, for the ruler of this world is judged. And here also is the sweet comfort of the Comforter, to convince our hearts that no matter what we see happening in this world, no matter the struggle or the pain in your life, that the ruler, or prince, of this world – the devil – has been utterly defeated. And nothing, no amount of hellish effort, can ever change the fact that upon Satan’s neck rests the foot of our risen, ascended, and victorious Savior Jesus Christ! Satan can kick and scream and threaten and tempt and make all the ruckus he can in our lives – but He does so as a crushed foe. Crushed by the cross. He has lost. The judgment has already been rendered and the verdict passed. Jesus descended into hell, into the devil’s own house, to proclaim His victory and strip the foe of his power! And so let Satan send your way whatever He will – He is powerless over you, and nothing can change that – ever. For in Christ, you are victorious over Satan also! It is important that you know that. We don’t want to belittle Satan and his work, but neither do we want to give him more credit than he’s due! And so to comfort us, the Holy Spirit convicts of judgment.

And that, according to the Word of our Savior, is the work of the Holy Spirit. And it is all that we need! Or to put it in other words and summarize it a little differently, the work of the Spirit is – in all things – to lead us to Christ. So after the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Church, the believers did not revel in the gifts that had been given to them. That was not their focus. Rather, Peter stood up to preach. For this outpouring of the Holy Spirit had one purpose, that everyone who calls upon the Name of the LORD shall be saved. 

So if you are looking for evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, you will not find it in any extraordinary gifts, or feelings, or experiences. But you will find it here, as in Christ’s Church you call on the Name of the LORD. For are you convicted of your sin? It is the work of the Holy Spirit in you. Do you see in Christ your life and forgiveness? It is the work of the Holy Spirit. Are you here seeking forgiveness and the food of immortality, the very body and blood of your Savior? It is the work of the Holy Spirit. His work of testifying to Christ. Drawing you to Christ. Setting the eyes of your heart and mind on Christ. That is His work. It is He who brought you to this Church. It is He that keeps you in this Church. And it is He who will finally take you from this Church on earth, the Church Militant, to the Church Triumphant in Heaven. In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.