5th Sunday after Pentecost

5th Sunday after Pentecost

July 14, 2019

Jonah 3:1-10

“See Jonah Preach”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us for our sermon series on the book of Jonah is today’s First Lesson read from Jonah chapter 3.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude and laced with profanity; the bird talked like a wounded pirate. John tried and tried to change the bird’s attitude and anything else he could think of to “clean up” the bird’s vocabulary. John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot swore using words John had never heard before. John, in desperation, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he’d hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John’s outstretched arms and said “I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.” John was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot about his change of heart when the bird said, “May I ask what the turkey and the chicken said?” That my friends, in a nut-shell, is how repentance, a major theme of Jonah chapter 3, works; turning from one chosen course to another course with a better outcome.

Let’s set the scene in case you weren’t here or forgot. Jonah got his call from God from which he ran away (“see Jonah pass”). In his efforts to run to Tarshish, he was thrown overboard from his ship in the middle of the storm and Jonah ended up inside the great fish. After a prayer taken from the Psalms (“see Jonah pray”), Jonah is then heaved onto dry land to, once again, go to Nineveh – the capital city of Assyria where God had called him to go in the first place.

The people of Nineveh were a powerful, arrogant, violent, wicked people. Jonah is a little guy from a weak nation at the edge of their soon to be empire. They might have strung him up from condemning their city, but they don’t. They listen to him. Mind you, it might be easier to listen to a prophet who has recently spent the last three days in the belly of a fish. His skin and hair are bleached white from the digestive juices, his clothes are half digested, there is a dried up piece of seaweed hanging off his ear. I might listen to a guy like that, a guy who says: “Repent, or God will do to you what he just did to me!” Whether Jonah showed up like that (appearance), or he cleaned himself up a little before arriving, the people still hear his message (power of the Word) and believe it. They recognize that they have been doing great evil, and they repent; they turn (3:5).

The pagan Ninevites demonstrate the greatest example of corporate repentance that we find in the Bible! They hear Jonah preach (maybe the shortest sermon EVER) and by the Holy Spirit they spontaneously respond in faith. They declare a fast, they all remove their clothes, put on sackcloth with ashes on their heads and go about mourning, which are all classic signs of repentance in the OT.

Even the king, when he hears the news of their impending doom, gets off his throne, removes his royal robes, puts on sackcloth, and sits down in the dust (3:6).

He extends the fast not just to people, but to the animals as well. Nineveh goes from this powerful, arrogant, wicked city to become a city of massive mourning. You couldn’t hear yourself think in Nineveh in those days! Have you ever heard a hungry cow? All of Nineveh’s cows and sheep and camels and horses would have been complaining loudly, the people would have been sitting in the streets calling out to God to forgive them, babies would have been crying for their mothers to feed them! What a racket! What a change of heart!

That’s because God empowers this kind of change of heart, and a change in behavior. Sin makes us do crazy things, say awful things, and causes inaction when we should take action and God can still work in us despite our rebellion. The king doesn’t just call the people to fast and mourn, he calls for a change in behavior. He says in verse 8: “Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.” The Ninevites repent and believe…all from an 8 word sermon!

The repentance that we see in Nineveh is nothing short of a miracle. It is almost impossible even to imagine that Nineveh would repent at the short sound of this reluctant prophet’s voice. In the same way, when we repent of our sin, it is a miracle in our hearts that we have heard the Gospel and responded positively. Every day with wrestle with the fact that we are Simul Justus et Peccator or “simultaneously saint and sinner.” We live in this dichotomy every day: we sin but we also believe, and so we repent and repentance changes our course from its current path to a different one – a better one with a better outcome!

Talk about a change for a better outcome. Like the king of Nineveh, Jesus exchanges his royal robes for rags. He gives up the right hand of God for a wooden manger. He exchanges His heavenly throne for a rough hewn cross. He surrenders His flesh and blood that you might not have to. He turns wrath to love; suffering to joy; loss to gain.

What do you need to repent of today? What secret sin do you need to turn from? What anger or issue do you need to let go and walk away from? What lie have you left hanging out there that need resolution? What words need to be said or action taken, but you are hesitant to do so? Repent. Turn. Find a better outcome.

My friends, it doesn’t matter whether a sermon is 8 words, 8 minutes, or 8 pages long. What matters is that the Word of God will work mightily in those who hear it to bring repentance which leads to God’s loving daily forgiveness. Why put off action until tomorrow? What if there IS NO tomorrow? Can you live the rest of your in regret? Repentance worked a miracle in the lives of the Ninevites. Are you ready for that miracle in your life? If so, then repent. Turn. Make those changes today before a stinky prophet shows up at your door. Repent. Turn. Before it is too late.

Amen.

4th Sunday after Pentecost

4th Sunday after Pentecost

July 7, 2019

Jonah 2:-10

“See Jonah Pray”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today I would like to continue my series on Jonah – “Jonah in July.” Today as we consider Jonah 2, we will “See Jonah Pray.”

My dear friends,

For those who missed last week, WHERE WERE YOU?! Nah…just kidding; no worries. Let’s bring you up to speed on Jonah. The 8th century BC prophet Jonah was called by God to go to the capital city of Israel’s enemy Assyria. Jonah had NO interest whatsoever in going to Nineveh, and so he chartered a ship and sailed towards Tarshish which is the geographical opposite direction of Nineveh. While enroute, a great storm came up and threatened the ship and the souls on board. After casting lots, the lot fell on Jonah who admitted the storm was his fault because he was running from God; Jonah had passed on God’s call. In response, the sailors hurled Jonah overboard into the sea where a large fish swallowed him up and that was the last time we saw Jonah. Chapter 1 is all about seeing Jonah pass on God’s call. Today we see Jonah pray from inside the fish.

Jonah too found himself in unfamiliar and scary surroundings, a place dark and stinky, and that is putting it mildly! In Jonah chapter 1 (“See Jonah Pass”) Jonah had run away from his problem and, in essence, run away from God. He doesn’t want to go to Nineveh as God had called him to do, he didn’t want this for his life, and now his shoes are starting to smell like fish guts. That’s not gonna come out anytime soon; those sandals are ruined! Jonah’s got bigger problems than wrecked footwear. He doesn’t know what will happen or what to do and its causing anxiety.

In a sense I feel as if I’m preaching to the choir. You know what that feels like, don’t you? You’ve got financial concerns, you’ve got relationship issues, for those of you blessed with children, you’ve got parenting issues – “small kids, small problems. Big kids, big problems!” You’ve got health issues. It’s the one great constant I deal with in 16 years of ministry: in lives stained by sin, everyone’s got something they deal with. Look left to right and around you. See those people? See those empty spots where people normally are? EVERYONE you see..and don’t see…are dealing with something.

But here’s the thing…as you deal with the “somethings” of your life, you’re not alone. Like the father watching over his son in the darkest night, you’re not alone in your times of crisis…the dark and stinky times of your life. Jonah was not alone in the belly of the great big fish. The LORD was with him through his word in the book of Psalms.

Jonah’s prayer, which is a model prayer of faith and hope, is a prayer that cites the Psalms 11 times in 8 verses! When Jonah prays about his distress (2:2), it is a reference to Psalms 18 and 120. When Jonah prays about waters closing over him (2:2) it is a reference to Psalm 69. When Jonah prays about his life being brought up from the pit (2:6), it is a reference to Psalm 30. When Jonah was at his lowest point physically – inside that great fish – he found himself at his highest point spiritually…in prayer! Jonah did not pray for deliverance from the fish. Jonah did not pray to God “make this stop; make this go away.” Jonah knew he deserved death, not deliverance. However, deliverance is exactly what Jonah got. Here’s another great constant that I find true – God’s intervention into our lives is found in the most unusual ways and unexpected places; God comes to us and works through people we never expected!

Additionally, Jonah’s experience foreshadows the story of Jesus. Just as Jonah faces the judgment of God, so did Jesus on the cross. Just as Jonah experienced separation from the LORD, so did Jesus. And just as Jonah prayed from the Psalms, so did Jesus. In Matthew 27:46, from the cross, Jesus “cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and that cry is wording from Psalm 22. Even as Jesus is bleeding and dying to pay humanity’s price for sin – not for anything He had done but for every dark, stinky, and sinful thing you’ve done – even as He approached death, Jesus is still praying and praying from the Psalms no less!

How strong is your prayer life these days? Is your default prayer always “Lord, make this happen or stop that from happening”? Do you find it hard to pray the Psalms because you’re not even sure how to find Psalms in the Bible let alone what they say? Is your faith weak because it’s getting a steady diet of TV and chaos with a side order of anxiety? When you are feeling spiritually weak, turn to God and His Means of Grace – Word and Sacraments. Get your faith back on track by being in the Word, taking part in Bible study, being faithful in worship, and learning to let God’s will be done in your life rather than always trying to impose your will instead.

Friends, when you are in the dark and stinky belly of the great big fish, you are not alone. God’s word in the Psalms is with you. And God’s Word made flesh, Jesus, is always with you too. It is His divine love and grace and peace and forgiveness and connection in prayer that enables us to survive in the belly of the great big fish that we call this life! And note how chapter 2 ended. The great fish barfs (word of judgment) Jonah out onto dry land and just imagine his appearance: bleached white by stomach acids, skin all wrinkly, smells terrible, fish entrails and seaweed in his hair. Jonah is wrecked! And what’s Jonah next move? Come back next week and find out.

Amen.

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

June 30, 2019

Jonah 1:1-17

“See Jonah Pass”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Today I would like to begin a new sermon series on the book of Jonah and with that being the case, the text that engages us is the First Lesson read from Jonah 1:1-17.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Roughly 750 – 725 BC is the best date to affix to the writing of the book of the “minor” prophet Jonah. But other than that, name something you know about Jonah OTHER THAN the “big fish” typically thought of as a whale. Anyone? That’s a problem. The book of Jonah has been called an “ornate tapestry of rhetorical beauty.” Jonah is a gracefully designed narrative that discloses a profound theology…and all anyone can remember is the fish! That, my friends, is about to change.

Jonah was a prophet in the 8th century in Israel, which was “prime time” for prophets. The nation of Israel was in trouble…big trouble over idolatry and the behavior of their wicked kings. Assyria was threatening to overrun the people (which they did), and Jonah is called to go Nineveh (600 miles to NE); the capital city of Assyria – a nation remembered in history for its inhumane warfare and bloodshed. They would either show extreme violence in pitched battles or lay siege to a city, one of their specialties. During the siege, an Assyrian leader would “Good Cop/Bad Cop” the people inside the city walls, but however the Assyrians got in, it was always BAD for the city’s residents. And it’s to this group of people, to this great enemy nation, to this enemy city, that God calls Jonah to go, but Jonah “passed” on God’s offer and took off away from Nineveh and instead fled towards Tarshish (2000 miles opposite direction) which was about as far away from Nineveh as anyone could even fathom.

But you know the feeling, right? Running away from problems? Dodging what we don’t want to deal with? The phone rings and you just know it is your aging neighbor who wants you to come over and check her mailbox for the third time today or try to find her stupid cat which she hasn’t had in 20 years. Or maybe money is tight and both the car payment and the mortgage are a few days late. You start to screen your calls with your caller ID. We ignore that giant medical problem or issue in our relationship screaming for our attention choosing instead to turn a blind eye towards it in hopes it just goes away on its own. It is not uncommon for sinners to run from problems. It is a trait we inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve who ran away from God in the Garden of Eden. Passing on the inevitable or running away is never a productive thing. Saying “pass” to God’s call or running away is useless. Pretending that everything is okay is pointless. Ignoring our issues or sugar coating our struggles is not helpful. If God is leading you in a direction but you’re not ready, willing, and able to follow and you’re on the run, don’t think God is going to ignore it.

Jonah said “pass” to God’s call and tried to run and at every turn he went further and further down: going down to Joppa (v. 3), going down into the ship (v. 4), lying down in the innermost recesses of the ship (v. 5), and then thrown down into the depths of raging sea (v. 15)! It’s worth noting that going “down” in the Old Testament is almost always depicting a movement towards death. Jonah went down so deep that he literally entered what he thought was going to be his tomb…the belly of the great fish, not “whale” in verse 17. In Hebrew, there is no word for “whale.” Regardless, in there it would have been very, very dark. And probably stinky too. But very dark.

It’s also noteworthy in chapter 1 that the LORD employs the wind – one of God’s favorite “tools” – to bring order out of Jonah’s chaos. Do you think it’s just random chance that it was wind that pushed back the waters of the great flood to bring back life to earth (Genesis 8:1)? Just chance that wind divided the waters of the Red Sea that the Israelites might live instead of being killed (Exodus 14:21)? Just chance that Jesus walks on water in the midst of the raging storm (Matthew 14:24-32) and also is able to calm a storm (Mark 4:41)? No. God sends the wind; He sends storms to awake us to faith – so that when we cry out to Him, He can then calm the storm through His love for us in Jesus. It’s ironic that the pagan sailors pray while the prophet of God – Jonah – doesn’t. Not yet.

When things were at their worst for Jonah, he made one of three great confessions of faith in this book. In 1:9 Jonah said, “I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” And, well, in response the sailors throw him overboard!

What does that mean for us? It means that all of us are a bit like Jonah. We have faith…we believe…but when the going get rough – when life gets dark and the storms of life pop-up as they do this time of year here in South Florida – we want to yell “pass” to God’s way/will (Don’t want to do this, don’t want to deal with this, don’t want to think about his) and run towards other ways to find relief or escape. We should be running TO the One who can calm the storms of life by the power of His Word.

Are hard times going to come? Of course. Does faith make everything easy? Absolutely not. Will Jesus take all my pain and burdens away? Sorry, but no. Yet He offers something better. He offers not something to run from, but towards. He spreads His arms wide at the cross to call you unto Himself when the seas of life roll with huge swells and white caps. He calls you to come unto Him, sins forgiven, and receive the peace, grace, mercy, love, and life that only He can truly provide.

Do you have a Tarshish? Do you have a place that you know is the exact opposite of the place where God wants you to go, that is calling you to go to? Are you scared by the rolling waves of life that never seem to end? Has life become incredibly dark and a little stinky? Jonah thought the hard thing to do would be accept God’s will and Jonah’s way would be easier so he said “pass” to God’s way and tried his own way. As it turned out – as it ALWAYS turns out – God’s will and way was better than Jonah’s way that has now landed himself inside a dark and stinky fish.

In the same way, friends, let the Lord have His way in your life. Know that He IS leading you towards what is good for you. You may not see it now, but you will. Trust and obey; don’t tell God to “pass;” He knows far better than any of us what the right way is. How does Jonah get out of this? How do we get out of our dark and stinky life situations? Well, you’ll have to come back next week for the answer to that question.

Amen.

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

June 23, 2019

Luke 8:26-39

“Who Is In Control Here?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson from Luke 8.

My dear friends,

For modern, enlightened, technologically-advanced folks like ourselves, we dismiss talk of demons and demonic activity as reflecting an old, primitive worldview; “the people in the Bible didn’t know any better, but we do.” Do we? Do we really? Who is in control here?

For the people of Jesus’ time—indeed, for Jesus himself—demons and demonic possession were an every day reality. Know how many times the word “Demon” shows up in the Gospels? 60 times! Casting out demons was a most significant aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Are demons real? Absolutely! One must be careful not to overreact, however. Some people see a demon behind every scary bush, every offensive song lyric, every naughty website. But don’t go too far the other way and just assume that in our modern world the demons packed it up and went “bye-bye.” Satan’s greatest accomplishment was to get Adam and Eve to rebel against God and introduce sin into the world. His greatest trick was to convince the world that he isn’t real. No one ever fights against what we don’t believe is there. So…who is in control here?

Where Jesus is frequently met by crowds, in this particular instance in Luke 8, he is met by only one man. The reasons for this become immediately clear. There is no crowd because they know this naked maniac resides there. The man is completely out of control and on the verge of self-destruction, one who is already living among the tombs in the midst of death—perhaps a death that he himself longed for at times.

The demon identifies itself as “Legion.” A Roman legion’s official strength was anywhere from 3000 to 6000 men; an overwhelming force has overtaken this man. It is clear that the man is not in control in any way. If he had moments of clarity, imagine the depth of this man’s burden and defenselessness and vulnerability and helplessness; you think he wanted to be this way? No way! That’s not the life he wanted for himself and no doubt he very much knew he wasn’t in control; he was in control of nothing.

The Gerasene demoniac is more like us than we may realize. “No way,” you no doubt reply, “I’m not possessed by a demon and I’m in control of my life.” Is that right? Granted, I’ve not seen any signs of demonic possession, but how in control are you really? The idea that we’re “in control” in life is an illusion. We put on a “brave face” for everyone else – so everyone can see “shiny, happy people” – but in truth most of us under that paper-thin veneer, are barely keeping it all together. It wouldn’t take much for the whole house of cards to come down, would it? So I ask again…who is in control here?

Our “demons” aren’t bogey-men who hide around dark corners. They are far more insidious, more subtle but every bit as dangerous and exponentially more scary. They drag your mind to some very dark and unpleasant places. Events “just happen,” and next thing you know, BLAM! You’re living a life of isolation – from God and other people – living amid the tombs of pain and regret and anxiety and worry and uncertainty. And there is always – ALWAYS – sinful rebellion against God that keeps us isolated, bound, and on the verge of losing control. So, who is in control here?

My dear friends, it’s during the darkness and pain and shame and uncertainty that we are called to remember that the word of Christ is eternally authoritative; it changes our tragic sinful human realities. Consider what happened. There was no magic wand, no holy hand grenade. Jesus speaks. He speaks and the man is clothed, in his right mind, and he gets to go home. Who is in control? JESUS IS IN CONTROL! He always has been and always is. Even the cross of Christ shows that He is in control. Through his innocent suffering and death, He reverses Satan’s accomplishments. Sin and death are resolved; Satan has no more cards to play. Your sins are forgiven, you are restored to God. He is in control.

It is here – Church – that we are ever mindful of the power of God’s Word. Through the teaching and preaching of Christ’s eternally authoritative Word, through the Word in and with the bread and wine, and the water in Baptism we see who is REALLY in control. In Baptism, you’re no longer a naked maniac running around. God clothed you in the righteousness of Christ, forgave your sins, marked you as one redeemed by Christ, and welcomed you home.

However, before we start “high-fiving” each other in Christian victory, let’s not forget. A significant human failure also appears in this text. The townspeople come out and they see the man clothed and in his right mind and the herd of swine bobbing in the sea. Their response to this control exerted by Jesus? They ask Jesus to leave their region. They are afraid to be too close to him. Sound familiar? We want God to be in control, but not TOO MUCH in control. Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all is to see God at work and pretend nothing has really happened. Or we vacillate the other way. It’s neither God nor a demon; we assume stuff “just happens” because God doesn’t really work in our lives any more than demons do.

We are so technologically advanced that it’s almost too easy to dismiss texts like todays. By faith we know that God is in control. As Christ came to us through Baptism, and as He continues to come to us through His Word and Sacraments, He remains with us always, completely, and totally in control. Now…go live like God is in control of your life, proclaiming all that God has done for you in Christ.

Amen.

Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity

June 16, 2019

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

“Why?”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us is the First Lesson read from Proverbs chapter 8.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Just for fun, when I started writing this sermon, I “googled” the word “why.” Know how many results I got? 8.46 billion…with a “b.” Must be a WHOLE LOT of people out there looking to the Internet to find answers to their “why” questions. And maybe you have some too.

Let’s start with “why is the color white today?” White is a color of perfection and purity. It is often used to celebrate high, holy days in church. The color for Christmas is white. The color for Epiphany is white. The color for All Saints’ Day and Thanksgiving is white. The color of Easter is…you guessed it…white. White is a natural choice for today’s celebration of the Holy Trinity. Today we focus on our perfect and pure Triune God and what He does for us, hence the color is white. Next week, we switch to green making 4 color and paraments and banner changes in 4 weeks, and right about now the Altar Guild wants to nail what’s left of my hide to their sacristy door.

“Why do we even have a Trinity celebration in the first place?” In the 4th century, a controversy broke out in the Christian churches. Focusing on Proverbs chapter 8 – our lesson for today – the followers of the priest Arius argued that the Son of God was a created being and not eternal God. They argued that there was a time when the Son of God did not exist. Much of their argument rested on a faulty Greek translation (Septuagint) of Proverbs 8:22: “The Lord created Me,” instead of “The Lord possessed Me.” To refute the Arian controversy, the Athanasian Creed was written and adopted by the Christian Church teaching all three eternal, not made persons of the Triune God. Every year the Church celebrates the 1st Sunday after Pentecost as “Holy Trinity,” and this celebration is the only time during the year that we use the Athanasian Creed in worship.

In our modern day, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken up this ancient heresy. To support their false doctrine, they mistranslate Scriptures like Proverbs 8:22 and John 1:1. For John 1:1, their New World Translation says, “The Word was a god,” instead of, ‘The Word was God.” Big difference! Their false translation makes Jesus a second tier god alongside the heavenly Father. Clearly, this teaching does not fit with Holy Scripture, which teaches that there is only one God!

“Okay then,” you may think, “if the Triune God is so important today, then why are you talking about Wisdom from Proverbs 8?” First of all, you ask a lot of questions. Secondly, I didn’t want this to be a theological lecture on the Triune nature of God. Finally, when we talk about wisdom, we ARE talking about the Triune God, specifically Jesus Christ.

According to Proverbs, Wisdom was present already in eternity, before the creation of the world and, consequently, before there even was such a thing as time. Along the same lines, Jesus said, “And now, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed” (John 17:5). I don’t know what the Jehovah’s Witnesses do with that verse! Wisdom was present with God in the beginning (Pr 8:22). At the time of creation, Wisdom said, “I was beside [God], like a master workman,” (v. 30) verifying the co-eternal nature of all 3 persons of the Triune God.

I get it. I can see the glazed looks up here; like a cow looking at a new gate. When we come face-to-face with the eternally begotten Son and other mysteries concerning the Triune God, don’t be shocked if you’re confused. We are in realms beyond human comprehension. We can no more capture and define our eternal, omnipotent 3-in-1 Triune God within our minds than we can hold all of the Gulf of Mexico in a 5 gallon bucket.

Which, I suppose, leads to the next “why” question. In Proverbs 8:31, it says God “rejoices in his inhabited world and delights in the children of man,” then why do so many bad things happen to me? Why do we suffer so much?” Well…there it is. If “what is Heaven?” is the $64,000, then “why do we suffer” is the 64 million dollar question. “Why God, why? Why is my life the way it is? Why can’t You make my life better? Why won’t my kids or spouse listen to me? Why do my joints/my back have to ache all the time? Why can’t I have more than enough money to pay for once? Why did you have to take him/her out of my life? Why can’t you turn my life around?” Why can’t I for once wake up in a good mood? Why? Why? Why me, God? Why? It is a question that haunts us day in and day out.

Why? As God’s people, we live each day by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). We look around at the circumstances and events of our lives, and in our wisdom we want to know “why?” But there isn’t always an answer. Paul reminds us in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live…The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Living by faith means that we may not know the answer to “why?” It means we may not see the why, but we know and trust that, in God’s wisdom, there is a “how.”

As silver and gold are refined by fire, God is wisely refining our character through our suffering. We endure so that we can be an example to others. And we have to, and I mean that we HAVE TO remember that God sees the “big picture” and you don’t. In his wisdom, God is working all things for your good which will ultimately turn out more favorable than we ever could have imagined. It’s been my experience that joy cannot be found without the piercing anguish of sorrow and suffering first. “Why” is the wrong question. “How.” How is God’s Triune wisdom being applied to my life? That’s a much better question.

The true wonder of it all is that the almighty Creator has come to us to save us. Jesus is God; He is Immanuel. He is true God and true Man, a Savior who has suffered, died, and risen for us for the forgiveness of our sins. Without this loving sacrifice at Calvary, our God would be an unfamiliar god of wrath and anger and punishment. But that’s not who we confess Him to be. He is a God whom is Almighty, Loving, Eternal, and will return for final judgment of His created world; an event we need not fear, but is something we want to happen!

My prayer for you this summer is that you will come to a deeper understanding of your loving and saving God and what His Word – His Wisdom – teaches you not only for the summer, but for all eternity.

Amen.

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost

June 9, 2019

Acts 2:1-21

“Amazed and Perplexed”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Second Reading from Acts chapter 2.

My dear friends,

I think you know what Christmas is about, and I think you know what Easter is all about, so what IS Pentecost about anyway? Let’s set the scene. Jesus has risen from the dead 50 days ago. He had ascended back into heaven 10 days ago, and now the disciples and members of the early church were gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. Originally, Pentecost was the Jewish spring harvest festival named after the Greek word for “50” because it occurred on the 50th day after the Passover In the Old Testament, this celebration was also called the Feast of Weeks (Deut. 16:10) or the Feast of Harvest (Ex 23:16). This was meant to be the celebration in which the Israelites offered their first fruits to God in an act of thankful giving.

But that year, Pentecost took on a whole new meaning. The Jews were gathered from faraway places in Jerusalem – the religious center of Israel – to celebrate the Feast of Harvest/Weeks or “Pentecost.” But that year it was the Christians who gathered who received an amazing gift. Just as Jesus had promised in Luke 24:49, the Holy Spirit was given to those believers in Jerusalem. Now, Pentecost took on a whole new meaning. Christmas is the birthday of Jesus. Easter is the “birth” day of life over death. Pentecost is the “birthday,” if you will, of the Christian Church. It is the day that the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples which compelled them to go out and give a convincing witness to many people in many languages about their resurrected Lord Christ Jesus. And do you want to know something? The world is a different place because of Christmas. The world is a different place because of Easter. And the world is a different place because of Pentecost.

Acts 2:13 tells us that others (mocked them and) said, “They are filled with new wine.” Uhm…no. it was only 8 AM! In other words, the onlookers that day didn’t understand the actions of the faithful believers and so it was easier to mock and ridicule them rather than try to understand them. Sound familiar? Look at how the Christian faith is ridiculed and mocked in secular world today. Look at how those who believe in Creation are thought to be “ignorant” and “blind to science.” Those who support traditional marriage and do not support same-sex marriage are “hateful” and “old fashioned.” “Get with the times!” No…times change; the times need to get with the Bible not the other way around. Meanwhile those same people who mock and ridicule the faithful of God look at the events of this world – the crisis, calamity, chaos, and confusion – and they panic. And while they are perplexed by the events of the day, the faithful remain calm and fearless in the word of God: (Jesus said), “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), “(cast) all your anxieties on (Jesus), because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). There are loads of people who look upon Christians who think we’re “drunk” or “ignorant,” but that is a far cry from what we really are. We aren’t ignorant or holier than anyone else. We are redeemed sinners forgiven by God’s grace and Jesus’ shed blood.

In verse 12 of today’s lesson, we are told regarding the onlookers that “all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, What does this mean?” Again, we know full well how the world fails to understand the ways of God and His people so confusion and ridicule are natural reactions.

Despite the amazement and perplexity that day, Peter stood up and stated emphatically to the crowd in verse 14 “Give ear to my words!” Then Peter explained how the latter days of the New Covenant were a fulfillment of the amazing words of the prophet Joel. What then follows is Peter’s long, great sermon concerning Christ, and we will hear the conclusion next week.

However, the last verse we are given to consider is verse 21, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Wow. I think that what Peter was trying to get across to people is that they should not get caught up in the specific events of that day. They ought not get distracted by the great rushing wind or the flames or even the signs from the prophet Joel (v. 19-20). Instead, what is vital for people to know is the fact that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. You want to talk about being amazed and perplexed? (v. 12). The cross of Jesus Christ…that is amazement. It is amazing that God would love and care about this world so much that He would send His only Son into this world to redeem this world from its sinful rebellion and disbelief. And while it caused great perplexity then and still does today, the resurrection is utterly amazing! It is amazing that God would raise up Christ Jesus from the grave to show that His sacrificial death was a sufficient ransom for this world’s sin. It is amazing that we are joined with Him by our baptisms into His death so that, just as He was raised from the dead, we too will one day rise because our sins are forgiven and we believe in Christ as Lord and Savior.

What Peter said was right…everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved because eternal salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone and through no other way. As a result, we can live amazed and perplexed lives in the sense that we know that we have the forgiveness of sins because of the sacrificial life and death of Jesus Christ and that we have the hope of eternal life by virtue of our faith in Him. This truth continues to amaze and perplex many people, including those who live life by their faith in the Son of God. We are able to live amazed and perplexed lives by faith in the Christ of Christmas, the Christ of Easter, and most definitely, the gift of God which is the Day of Pentecost.

Pretty amazing, right?

Amen.

The Ascension of our Lord

The Ascension of our Lord

June 2, 2019

Acts 1:1-11

“But I Have Questions!”

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today the Sermon is based on the First Reading from Acts chapter 1.

 

My dear friends in Christ,

You may not remember her name, but I bet you remember what she did. About 15 years ago she was kind of a “big thing”. Jennifer Wilbanks lived in Georgia and was supposed to get married in 2005 in front of 600 family members and friends with 14 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen. Yikes. But Jennifer Wilbanks panicked. She fled her home, hopped a bus to Las Vegas, and ended up in New Mexico. Wilbanks made a distressed phone call home saying that she had been kidnapped. No one kidnapped her except her own fear, her own “cold feet,” and the event became national news. She became known as the “Runaway Bride.”

When an event like that happens, we are left with lots of questions. Why did she do this to someone she supposedly loves? Will she face legal charges for making a false report about the kidnapping (“false information to law enforcement;” 2 years probation and $15,000 in costs)? Since the wedding is off, what are they going to do with 14 tuxedos, 14 bridesmaid dresses, and all that cake? There certainly seems to be more we don’t know than we do know in this situation. Don’t know about the cake, but what do we know? The wedding was called off, her fiancée married someone else, and Wilbanks went bankrupt in 2010.

In a similar way, Jesus’ return to heaven creates as many questions as answers. Jesus, after spending 40 days on earth after His resurrection, visibly ascended right in front of the disciples. You can almost see the looks on the faces of the disciples right after it happened; looks of fear and wonder and amazement that masked the questions they were secretly asking themselves. You may have questions too.

Question…where did Jesus go? That may seem obvious, or is it? Our Gospel lesson from Luke 24:51 says that Jesus was “taken up into heaven.” Okay, that seems easy enough…He went up into heaven. Follow-up question…what and where is heaven? That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?

Depends on who you ask. In 1998, a movie was released called “What Dreams May Come.” In that movie, heaven is portrayed as an individual fantasy world where everything is exactly the way you would want it. In the movie “Field of Dreams,” Shoeless Joe Jackson wonders aloud if Iowa is actually heaven. I have lived in Iowa, and as far as I could tell, it was nice and all, but it didn’t seem like heaven. We all have an idea what heaven looks like: big, billowy clouds surrounding a location above the stars and galaxy as we know it. But what or where is heaven?

What is Heaven? We have John’s description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 for starters (last week’s 2nd lesson). In Revelation 21, John gives us just a glimpse of what heaven will be like: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them…and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (v. 3-4). Wow…we can only imagine what that will be like. As far as where? My friends, heaven is where Jesus is. Heaven is present wherever Jesus is present; it’s being in the presence of the great Triune God. That’s helpful, but when you get right down to it, there is more about heaven that we don’t know than we do know, and we will continue to not know until heaven is perfectly revealed to us on the Last Day and I promise you, you won’t be disappointed! God has never let you down before. Why would He now regarding Heaven? He won’t.

Okay, next question. Why did Jesus go in the first place? Why not just stay here on earth? Our First Reading answers that for us. Jesus had to ascend to Heaven for two reasons: so that He was not misunderstood, and so that the Holy Spirit could be given.

The misunderstanding was already apparent in the lesson from Acts today. The disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Seriously!? Even those closest to Jesus STILL wanted an earthly king, a Savior who would free them from Roman occupation and oppression. They still wanted our Lord to flex His might and bring freedom from hardness and make everything perfect – a “heaven on earth.”

And that is the kind of Savior that many people are also looking for today. In the midst of our tribulations and trials and temptations, when human life gets downright difficult and depressing, we have questions like “where is God? Why isn’t He helping me?” It sure doesn’t feel like He’s there when every joint and muscle in your body seems to hurt and you have questions about your future or the relational/emotional pain is so great you feel as if you’re going to burst! But we are not alone. We don’t have an earthly Savior but a heavenly Savior – One who knows what suffering feels like and who never promised us freedom from suffering. In fact, we can EXPECT to suffer.

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Additionally, “we live by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). We do not need to physically see Jesus to believe, and that’s what faith is. It is believing in Jesus Christ and his birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus ascended so He wouldn’t be misunderstood as an earthly Savior who runs around fixing all your life problems. He is a Heavenly Savior. He doesn’t always fix your temporary, temporal problems like you want, but He fixed the eternal problem of sin that we ALL needed to have resolved.

Jesus also had to ascend into heaven so that the Holy Spirit could be given to us. In John 16:7 Jesus said, “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” If Jesus had not ascended, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t have come to us. And if the Spirit had not come, then no one could truthfully say that Jesus is their Lord and Savior for “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). And if we didn’t have the faith the Holy Spirit brings and the hope and promise that faith brings, where would we be in this life? We would be forced to live this life in constant uncertainty and total fear. But by our Spirit-given faith in Jesus, we no longer fear because of faith and hope, and hope does not disappoint.

When it comes to the ascension of Jesus, we know that He has temporarily gone to Heaven where He holds ultimate authority and is preparing to come again. This knowledge shouldn’t cause us to have questions, but instead lead us to give all thanks and praise to God for what He has done for us. In times of trouble, don’t pull a “Jennifer Wilbanks;” don’t run away. Instead, seek His face until the day that He comes again and you will find the peace and comfort and hope that you need to make it through the day and the days still yet to be.

Amen.

 

 

6th Sunday of Easter

6th Sunday of Easter

May 26, 2019

Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27

“Something Old, Something New”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Second Reading from Revelation chapter 21.

My dear friends,

Are you familiar with the old saying, “something old, new, borrowed and blue?” This popular bridal attire rhyme, which dates back to Victorian times (1837-1901), is really “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in your shoe.” Something old refers to a link with the bride’s family and her old life. Wearing something new is supposed to represent success in the bride’s new life. Wearing something borrowed, which has already been worn by a happy bride at her wedding, is meant to bring good luck to this new marriage. Wearing something blue was considered to represent purity and fidelity. Placing a silver sixpence in the bride’s left shoe was a symbol of wealth, not just financial wealth but a wealth of happiness and joy throughout her married life. Hey man…I’ve done 40 weddings in my career. I’ve seen bride’s and their moms want a whole lot worse, like riding a horse to the altar. I said “No.”

The Christian Church works with the same dynamic; we find special meaning in those words “something old, something new.” We either get comfortable or a little excited about the same “old” things: old hymnals and familiar hymns instead of contemporary worship songs; old liturgies and cherished hymns BUT also using the occasional “new” liturgy and digital screens and digital recording of each service; a blend of “old” and “new” co-existing right here at GSLCS!

But of FAR greater importance of the blending of old and new is the vision that we have today in the Second Lesson from John. John is not shown the old Jerusalem; he’s “been there, done that.” Instead, he sees the New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven like a bride comes glorious and radiant. Well…all right! Let’s check out this “new” bride – the New Jerusalem. I have seen brides go to great lengths to look beautiful on their wedding day: hair and make-up done professionally, jewelry, fancy dress, expensive shoes, and so on. Likewise, this new city from God is beautiful…stunning. Look at the words to describe its brilliance: jewels, jasper, crystal, pearls, gold, glass and light. But it is NOT these items themselves that makes this new bride beautiful. Nope. What makes it radiant is the fact that the city reflects God’s glory because God dwells there! This city has no need for a sun or a moon because the glory of God gives it light (21:23). For those who reside there, it is a new, perfect existence over and against our old, current less-than-perfect existence. How awesome is that? A place where nothing ever goes wrong? Sounds like a place we want to be, right? I would certainly think so!

So…what keeps us out? Will everyone be able to enter the new, beautiful holy city Jerusalem? The answer is no. Not everyone gets in. You see, this city is illuminated by the glory of God. He dwells there; He is sinless and we aren’t. That’s a problem. For in every groom, bride, man, woman, and child, there is the darkness of sin and sin is what hinders our dwelling with God; it shackles our ability to love, it restrains our ability to serve and confines our ability to worship as we ought. Sin is what keeps ALL of us out.

What about us? The church? We get in, right? Don’t confuse membership here with inclusion there. We are members of the LCMS – the church on earth – and one day we want to relocate…move in…to the New Jerusalem. Just because you belong here doesn’t mean you automatically belong there. If that were the case, fewer people are getting in every year. From 2005 to 2015, our FLGA district suffered a 24% decrease in Baptized membership – the 6th highest decrease in our Synod. During that same time frame, every single district in the LCMS has experienced losses in Baptismal membership, some as high as 31% (New Jersey District). Churches are not immune to the power of sin. People get old and die, and many members of the LCMS have died and are dying. Members die; churches can die too. For the living, God’s beautiful church can still be filled with fighting and a general malaise that lures its members into complacency – to be content with being content – and, as a result, churches lose their missional focus and slowly begin to die.

So, what DOES get us in? Good question; I’ll answer that question with a question. Did you notice that the new city has 12 gates? Now that’s unique because most ancient cities of the Near East only had one, maybe two gates. And this city doesn’t need protection from outside forces. This city has no need for protection via the walls or gates. The foundations have the name of the Apostles and each gate bears the name of a tribe of Israel – the OT and NT people of God. The walls and gates are not there for protection. They are there to show those on the outside the only way in. To enter the New Jerusalem, only one gate is needed and that is Christ. In John 10:7 Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep.” In Matthew our Lord said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (7:13-14). Jesus sets us free from sin’s bondage and stain and sets us free to reside in the New Jerusalem.

Right before He ascended, Jesus told us to “Go, and make disciples of ALL nations.” God desires that everyone gain access (1 Timothy 2:4). He desires that everyone, by baptismal faith, be an eternal resident of the New Jerusalem and have that hope to cling to in the dark times of life; hope for when our earthly relationships fail, hope for when our earthly health fails, hope for when our earthly finances fail, hope for when our plan for a better tomorrow fails.

It’s in these times that this New Jerusalem and our citizenship there would be our hope in difficult and hard times as we get older and older each day knowing that God will make all things new, even ugly, broken sinners like us.

“Something old, new, borrowed and blue.” That makes for a beautiful bride. Thanks be to God that we are made beautifully new, to dwell with Him for all eternity in the splendor of the New Jerusalem – a daily hope old as time itself. Cling to that hope when both old and new fail you, whatever happens or does not happen, knowing every day you walk in His marvelous light confident that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life – an old, old book promising you life; new, abundant, eternal, beautiful life.

Amen.