Monday, June 21, 2021

Sermon - Mark 4:35-41 - Pentecost 4

There’s an old joke – “what do you call someone who speaks two languages:  Bilingual.  What do you call someone who speaks three languages:  Tri-lingual.  What do you call someone who speaks one language:  American”

But I would tend to differ.  Most of us Americans also speak a second language known as sarcasm.  Sarcasm can certainly be used to sinful ends, in a verbal cut-down of someone when kindness would be better.  But the Lord himself seems to employ a sarcastic line of rhetorical questions as he answers Job’s complaints.

Who is this that darkens counsel with words but not understanding?  Job, you don’t know what you’re even talking about.

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Uh, nowhere.  Your oldest ancestor wasn’t even formed from the dust yet. 

Who made the earth and the sea and the stars?  Me, not you.  Who knows how it happened?  Me, not you.  Who set the limits on even the seas, shut it in its doors, and told it how far it can come and no farther?  Me, not you, nor anyone else. 

Or in other words, “Who do you think you are?  And did you forget who I am?”

Like Job, we forget ourselves, and we forget just who we are dealing with when it comes to the Lord.  The disciples were the same.  And we see it in the Gospel reading, as Jesus calms the storm.

It all started out peaceful and calm enough, just another day at the office you might say.  Jesus was preaching and then they got in the boat to go back to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  There’s no conversation or fanfare.  Jesus says, “let’s go” and so they do.  Mark even says they took him in the boat, “just as he was”.  There was no indication anything strange was about to happen.  In fact it was so normal and relaxed, that Jesus himself found time for a nap, on a cushion, in the stern of the boat.  The calm before the storm, we might say.

But suddenly the wind and waves kicked up with a sudden storm.  It must have been a doozie.

When I was in Israel in 2007, we took the tourist boat ride on the sea of Galilee. It was rather pleasant. In fact it even started to rain. But the light sprinkling we got was nothing like that day Mark writes about. He says a “furious squall” or a “great windstorm” came up, and the boat was already filling with water. These seasoned fishermen must not have seen too many storms like this. It quickly threatened to sink their boat and drown them all in short order. They were afraid.

But Jesus slept. With all of the commotion, wind, wave, and surely shouting disciples, Jesus slept. He appeared not to notice, not to care, while the storm raged about them.

And while this is a true story, it serves a such an apt picture of the troubles in our lives. We can relate to those disciples, who feared in the face of the storm. Though, it's not mostly weather that makes us quake and tremble, but it's the “storms of life”. The troubles and conflicts, the worries and woes that we face on life's sea.

Some of these we bring upon ourselves, by our own sin. Some are brought on by others, members of the sinful world around us. Some may even come from the Devil and his forces. These spiritual enemies are constantly trying to sink our boat of faith.

Sometimes the storm happens, and it's just a storm. A freak of the broken nature we live in. A disease, an accident, a job loss – the unpleasant things that happen to you for seemingly no reason whatsoever. These too are a result of sin, and living in this fallen world we are sure to see our share of them.

And it's not just individuals that face the storms. Sometimes a congregation charts a course through rough waters. Sin's effects are sometimes pervasive – affecting the body as well as individual members. We may struggle with conflict and disagreement, confusion and worry.

The disciples, in their fearful panic at the storm – asked a question. And we might give them mixed marks for their question.

On the one hand, we can say, with Jesus, that they should have had more faith. If they truly knew and believed in Jesus, they would not have worried, even in the face of the storm. Even with the prospect that the boat would take on water and sink to the depths. Even if they all should drown, Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. He came to save them, and he would. He cared for them – deeper than they could ever know. “Don't you care?” they asked him. Of course he cared, and of course he still does.

Do you forget who you are dealing with here?  This is Jesus, the Son of God.  This is Jesus, who casts out demons by a word.  This is Jesus, who feeds large crowds with a few fish and loaves.  This is Jesus, who heals every disease, and forgives every sin.  This is Jesus, who as the living Word of God – the one by whom all things were made - laid the very foundations of the earth, set boundaries for the sea, stretched out the heavens and even set the stars in place. 

When we see the storm coming, we are just as quick to forget. When we see the wind and wave around us, we struggle with faith the same. Do we trust Jesus to be the Christ? Do we trust him to save us? That in the end it all works out to his glory? That in all things he works for the good of those who love him? Could Jesus ask us all, “have you still no faith?”

On the other hand, the disciples were right in this: They knew where to go for help. They knew that Jesus could do something. Even if they didn't quite believe that he would. They called on him, (could we say, they prayed to him?) and asked his help. And he delivered.

So too is it good for us to call on Christ in every trouble. So often we think we can solve our own troubles, or we despair when we think we can't. But we forget that Christ is right here with us. And if it seems he slumbers, perhaps he's waiting for us to finally turn to him. To repent of our own way and rely on him and his way.

And notice how he does it. He doesn't wave a magic wand. He doesn't bail out the water with his own bucket. He simply speaks. It's the word. That's where he shows his power, even today.

The same Christ, Son of God whose word holds the power to hush the furious storm is the same Christ whose word holds the power today.

The Word that rebukes wind and wave, is a word of rebuke for us. It is the same word that condemns and terrifies us for our sins, commands and corrects us to do better. The same word that calls us to repentance, and by which we call each other to turn from sin and receive that other word – the Gospel.

The Word that bids the storm to cease is the same word of quiet and peace for us. That all who bring our sins to Jesus find a calm in the storms of life – be they storms of our own making or not. In all of it he says, “Be still. Be still and know that I am God.”

Some may have thought Jesus was too passive in submitting to death, even death on a cross.  Some may have thought God had abandoned him (and in a way he did).  Some may have seen Good Friday unfold and said, “Jesus, don’t you care!  We are perishing!  YOU are perishing!  Do something!”  And what he does, is die.  He takes his rest, this time, not in the bow of a bot, but in a borrowed tomb.  All as the disciples freaked out, scattered, and wailed in grief and fear.  Jesus calmly did what needed to be done.  And then when the time was right he showed his mighty power – even over death.  Why would you doubt him?  Why are you so afraid?

If he has the power to calm the storm, if he has power to overcome even death, he certainly has the power to calm my troubled heart, my conflicted home, my distressed congregation. To forgive sins and rescue from death and hell. We have only to turn to him, and hear his word.  Don’t forget who you’re dealing with here, or rather who’s dealing with and caring for you.  This is Jesus.  He’s got this. 


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Sermon - Pentecost 3 - Mark 4:26-34


Mark 4:26–34

“Seeds”

Today we have two short parables of Jesus, and Mark conveniently puts them together for us.  They have a similar theme, and make a similar point.  Two parables about the seed, and its strange and marvelous functioning as a picture of life in the kingdom of God.  Let’s take a closer look.

The first of the two is sometimes called the “Parable of the Growing Seed”.  In this earthly story with a heavenly meaning, the point is rather simple – and yet the implications profound.  A farmer plants the seed.  He goes to sleep and rises, goes about his business, and slowly but surely the seed grows.  It starts small, but then goes through its stages – the blade sprouts, the ear, then the full grain ripens and is ready for harvest. 

We’ve seen it happen with a variety of seeds and plants in our own life experience.  It’s the miracle of life – plant life version.  And while it is common enough that all people can relate to this parable, even those of us who aren’t farmers, there’s a little jab in there:  The farmer knows not how.  He doesn’t know how it works, how it happens.  He doesn’t understand the process, he just knows to plant and water and let the magic happen… and it does!

I know that botanists and biologists and agricultural studies have expanded by leaps and bounds in the 2000 or so years since Jesus spoke this parable.  But I suspect that like all manner of investigation and science, the more we learn, the more we see how little we know.  Even simple plant life is an extremely complex process in which vast amounts of information are processed and instructions are carried out on the microscopic level.  Cells and parts of cells interact and draw energy from the sun.  It’s a miraculous process that should humble the wise and bring all to confess the creator’s wisdom and power.  And Jesus says, so simply, “he knows not how”.  You got that right, Jesus.

But the spiritual meaning of course is with the kingdom of God in mind.  And the application is this.  Just as we do not know how the seed grows into a plant, but we see it happening – so too can we not understand the work of the Spirit to create and sustain faith.  Just as the farmer is clueless as to how and why it works, but he knows it does – so is the church given to preach and teach the word of God and leave the knowing how exactly it works to him.  We see the process, especially in hindsight.  We wonder at the miracle of it sometimes.  But we can’t say we understand it.  We rather believe, and confess it.

How can a man be God?  And how can that God-man die for the sins of the world, on a Roman cross, 2000 years ago, and it counts to save my eternal soul?  I don’t really know or understand this.  But I believe and confess it.  And I know you do too.

How can water do such great things, as forgive sins, rescue from death and devil, bury and raise us with Christ?  I don’t know.  But I believe Christ’s promise.  How can this little wafer of bread and sip of wine be, truly be, Christ’s body and blood?  I don’t know.  But I confess it, because Jesus’ own words are the surest things in this world.  And how can that bread and wine that is his body and blood actually forgive my sins?  I don’t know, but I do know his word says they do – and so I believe it, and so do you.

How can the Holy Spirit bring me, a poor miserable sinner, to faith in the unseen and transcendent God through something as humble as the word of the Gospel – the preaching and the teaching of Jesus?  I don’t know.  But I know the word works.  I see it converting sinners – convicting of sin and assuring sinners of God’s forgiveness in Christ.  It’s real, and it happens, and yet we know not how.

And often the process of the planting and sprouting and nurturing and maturing of faith – is slow and gradual.  It doesn’t happen, usually, overnight.  We can’t tell the difference day by day, moment by moment.  We can’t always, maybe even ever, identify, “the hour I first believed”.  But we know God works.  He is faithful to his promises.

And the more we learn about it, the more mysterious it becomes.  The more we grow in knowledge and fear of the Lord, we are all the more humbled by his mighty and mysterious and sublime and profound power to save.  But thanks be to God for all this.

The kingdom of God starts small, defies our understanding, and grows as God plans and purposes.  Just like the farmer who plants a seed.

The second parable is like it, but different.  It starts with a seed but makes a different point about the kingdom. What starts small, may grow to great effect.

Jesus takes the small mustard seed and shows how it grows to become one of the largest of all plants.  You’d never know it just looking at the seed.  But the same mysterious power of God that works through creation to bring surprising and amazing results – is the power of God that works through his Word and Spirit to bring surprising and amazing results.

Take Jesus himself as the prime example.  With him, it started small – a simple word from the angel, “Greetings, highly favored one!  The Lord is with you!”  And then the child in Mary’s womb grew and was born, and hardly anyone noticed (except Herod who tried to kill him).  But God’s plan would not be undone.  Jesus continued to grow and mature, even into adulthood.  Then an obscure preacher from the backwater called Galilee began to turn some heads with his miracles and his preaching.  Crowds followed him.  The powers that be took note.  And then they tried to squelch his movement and silence his voice with a cross.  But that very cross became the message, the seed, if you will, for surprising and amazing things.  His small band of disciples preached his resurrection.  Believers became baptized and many were saved.  The church grew and spread, spread out its branches, until it became a large tree with room enough to give roost to all manner of birds.

In this construction, you, my friends, and I, are the birds.  And what kind of bird might you be?  A murderous crow?  A shrill magpie?  A territorial black bird?  A gossiping old hen?  A vain peacock?

Ah, but when you take your roost in the branches of this bush, this tree, you find rest and peace.  When you come under the shadow of the cross, and Christ’s Holy Spirit does his good work on you – those sins are forgiven, and you are a free bird, indeed.

Likewise Jesus uses the picture of the many kinds of bird to show the destiny of his church – that as it branches out and grows and the gospel goes forth to the ends of the earth – now we see all the nations coming to the church, roosting together as it were. 

There is room in His branches for every bird that has ever taken wing, even for the penguins and the ostriches who have never flown: If they have been in the branches their whole life, if they have flown the coop there is a place for them here.

Listen: It is not the quality of the bird, it is the quality of the one who calls - the Holy Spirit  - It is not the fineness or beauty of a birds feathers, it is the branches that give the bird it's shade - Jesus The Son of God - When God the Father looks at The Tree He sees His Son and you are hidden in His branches, part of The Good Tree, Jesus' goodness. His flawlessness becomes yours and you are counted amongst the best of birds because you are in The Good Tree. 

Thanks be to God for the seed of his teaching, receptive souls reaching, may it ever blossom and flourish for one and for all.  For the kingdom grows in quiet mysterious ways.  The kingdom grows from the small to the grand, even the eternal.  Thanks be to God who plants his good seed, and grows it for the benefit of his people.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

Monday, June 07, 2021

Sermon - Pentecost 2 - Mark 3:20-35


Mark 3:20-35

Jesus in the House

It is interesting to me that at the start of the Pentecost Season, we have the appearance of Satan in the readings.  This also happens at the beginning of Lent.  It’s almost as if the lectionary wants to set before us, at the very start of the season, a reminder of the real enemy we face – the true villain.  Don’t think that he doesn’t have sights set on you.  But as much as it is a warning, it’s also a reminder of who has the victory over the old evil foe – and that, of course, is Jesus.  He defeats the temptations of Satan in the wilderness.  He crushes the head of the ancient serpent, fulfilling the Genesis promise at the cross.  And here in our Gospel reading he sheds further light on his defeat of the devil, and that is good news for all who trust in him.

First Jesus returns home – either to his own home or to Peter’s, it’s not clear.  But just looking for some rest and time to eat with his disciples, his popularity with the crowds was making even that difficult.  His family didn’t know what to make of it all and surmised that Jesus was out of his mind.  He’d shirked his responsibilities at home and had become a preacher – gathered a following – and he kept going on about the kingdom of God.  It made no sense to them and so they just chalked him up as crazy.  Here we see echoes of Jesus’ statement that a prophet is never accepted in his home town.

Ah, but there was another party In town.  Some of the scribes had come down from Jerusalem, and had likely heard of this popular preacher, and come to check him out.  Obviously they didn’t like what they saw and heard. They couldn’t deny his miracles.  But they didn’t accuse him of being crazy.   They came at Jesus with a different accusation.  He’s of the devil!  He’s casting out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons!  Well isn’t that rich?

Jesus, of course, sets the record straight.  Of course he’s not of the devil.  If the devil was working against himself, that wouldn’t make any sense.  A house divided against itself cannot stand.  Rather, he will shortly go on to show just who it is that has succumbed to the Father of Lies and the great blasphemer.

No, when it comes to the devil’s house, Jesus has come to plunder it.  And he tells this sort of mini-parable – saying if you want to steal from the strong man’s house, you first have to bind him up.  Then you can plunder him.  But that, of course, implies you are strong enough to overcome the strong man.  And of course, Jesus is.  He has come to bind the devil and plunder his goods – that is, to steal away those who are held in the devil’s sway.  To take them from the Devil’s house to his own house and safekeeping.  To rescue us from the clutches of evil.  What a marvelous word picture he paints.

Implicit is also this:  That the devil is strong!  We see it throughout scripture.  He is strong in his work of deception.  He lies and lies well.  He will even use and twist scripture to do it.

He brings calamity and destruction wherever God permits him to do so – look at Job – his whole life was turned upside down by Satan.  He lost his family, his possessions, even his health. The devil entered King Saul, and even one of the disciples of Jesus.  Demons possessed many people in the stories of the New Testament.  And those evil spirits caused all sorts of harm and trouble.

Don’t think for a minute that we are immune to such spiritual deception, oppression, and danger.  Don’t think that was then and this is now, and the devil doesn’t really bother people any more.  Our struggle is still not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil, and the devil is chief among them.  He’s a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  He’s the old evil foe who seeks to work his woe, with deep guile and great might, and on earth is not his equal.

And what makes his work so easy is our willing participation.  We are so often accomplices to his deception, as we deceive ourselves into sin.  We give ear to his palatable lies, his comfortable half-truths.  It’s so often easier than facing the hard truth.  And were it not for Jesus, we’d be forever bound and shackled in the devil’s dungeon, unable to escape the prince of this world, and not even wanting to.

But Jesus plunders the devil’s goods by bringing the forgiveness of sins.  The Gospel is what sets us free from sin, death, and devil.  A forgiveness so free and full that it covers all sins of men – except one – the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  That is to say, the rejection of the Spirit’s work itself.  That is to say, rejecting the very forgiveness of Christ – unbelief – is the only unforgivable sins – by definition. 

It’s rather ironic that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and unbelief in Jesus himself is exactly what the Scribes and Pharisees were guilty of!  Without Christ, they who accused him of working for the devil, did that very thing! 

And then, we are back to Jesus’ family.  Now, it’s unclear whether Jesus’ mother and brothers who came to see him at the end of the passage are the same family who called him crazy in the first part of it.  If so, it makes more sense why he seems a bit dismissive of them here.  But either way, he’s not despising family or teaching us to do so.  He’s making a larger point.

He says, “who are my mother and my brothers?  It’s these people here”, that is, “Those who hear me and believe in me”.  They are the ones who do the will of God – those who hear, and take to heart, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Or to put it another way:  The members of the household of faith are the family that matters more.  Just as the only sin that matters in the end is the sin of unbelief, so the only family that matters in the end is the family of faith.

When Jesus is in the house, that’s all that matters.  When Jesus comes to the devil’s house, he comes to set captive sinners free.  When Jesus is in the house, he’s the one we need to hear.  When Jesus is in the house, he comes to bring us into his family, and into his Father’s house.

Friends, Jesus is in the house today. 

He is here by force of his promise, when we are gathered in his name.  He is here, as we gather to do the same – hear his word, believe and confess it, and thus do the will of God.  He is here with his forgiveness, springing us again from the devil’s big-house.  He is here, today, present in the promise of his body and blood in bread and wine, for that very purpose.

And it is not a house divided, but rather, a house united.  United in a common confession of Christ, we are part of that family of faith – brothers and sisters of Christ, and in Christ.  This Holy Communion is an outward expression of that inward unity.  You know, the world finds its unity in all sorts of other places and things.  Oh, we root for the same sports team.  Oh, we’re from the same neighborhood.  People are classified into identity groups along race and income and culture and hobbies and all manner of distinctions.  But in the house of God, there is only one distinction that ultimately matters – the confession of faith in Jesus Christ.  That we hear his words, confess them, believe them. 

So beware the devil, Christians, but do not fear him.  For Jesus is in the house.  He plunders you from the devil.  And he makes you his own, even his own dear family.  A house divided cannot stand.  But a house united in Christ enjoys forgiveness of all sins, and a unity that is found in Christ alone.  May it ever be so for us all.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Sermon - Young Adult Conference Matins - John 11:35


Jesus Wept – John 11:35

Our Lord Jesus Christ does many strange things.  At least, things that seem strange to us as we read about them.  He talks about hating your father and mother.  He turns water into wine.  He turns over tables in the temple.  He forgives those who crucify him.  So many of his words and actions break our expectations.  And this is part of the great treasure that is Jesus.

Here we have another one today.  Jesus weeps at the grave of his friend Lazarus. 

Jesus wept.  It’s the shortest verse in the Bible.  And maybe that’s as far as you’ve thought about it.  Maybe were one of those pesky kids who tried to get it assigned as your confirmation verse.  I’ve even heard more than one pastor joke about using it at the installation of another pastor.  That or the one about the donkey who spoke.

And at first blush you might not think that strange that Jesus would weep.  After all, weeping is what one does at a funeral.  Death is a sad thing, as anyone who has lost a loved one can tell you.  And John makes it clear that Jesus loved Lazarus.

But what makes it strange for us that Jesus would weep, is we know how where this story goes.  We already know the great surprise ending. And what’s even stranger, is that Jesus full well knows it too.  He knows he will raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet he still weeps.

It’s almost as if he planned it this way.  He hears of Lazarus falling ill, then intentionally delays two days before he leaves to see him.  He tells his disciples “this illness does not lead to death.  It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  He then tells his disciples,

“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

“I’m glad that I wasn’t there when he died!”  How strange!  Just as it is strange to us that he allows us to suffer all manner of things – sometimes even to get sick and die – sometimes he allows our loved ones to die, and yet he could surely have stopped it. 

Martha runs out to meet him, and she starts to sort of scold him, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died…”  What took you so long Jesus!?  You’re late!  If you had been on time… well… none of this would have happened…. And she almost implies this is all his fault.  But then she catches herself. “Yet even now I know the Lord will give you whatever you desire”  Almost hedging her bets – she won’t mention the unthinkable, that maybe, just maybe, Jesus could bring Lazarus back even now.

“Your brother will rise again” Jesus tells her. 

“I know, I know, Jesus, he’ll rise at the resurrection” Yes, she confesses faith in the final resurrection – a hope we also share. 

“I am the resurrection and the life”  Jesus goes on, and lays a foundation of hope for Martha and for all Christians by these blessed words, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  He asks if she believes. She confesses her faith in him.  We can add our own amen to Martha’s good confession.

But Lazarus… is still dead.

Now they call Mary, and she repeats, “Lord, if you had been here he wouldn’t have died!” There’s lots of crying.  And when Jesus sees all the weeping, he is deeply moved and greatly troubled, himself.

They go to the grave, and there, as John puts it so tersely, so matter-of-factly, Jesus wept. 

Some of the observers seem to think that Jesus is weeping like a normal mourner, because he loved Lazarus so much, and now he’s gone.  But that can’t fully explain this, because Jesus knows, through his tears, that he will be raising Lazarus momentarily.

Others, watching, seem to heap scorn on Jesus, asking why he didn’t prevent this?  After all, he even healed the blind man!  Couldn’t he have stopped Lazarus from dying?  They’ll give Jesus a little bit of miraculous credit, but they imply that even his powers are limited.  How sad for Lazarus.  How sad for Jesus.

So why then does Jesus weep?

Scripture teaches us that Jesus sympathizes with us in our weaknesses, being like us in every way, yet without sin.  John here shows us that it is the weeping of Mary and the many others that sends him over the edge into tears.  He weeps, never for himself, but always for us.  He bears our griefs and carries our sorrows, not his own.

I’m fond of saying that everything Jesus does he does for us.  From his incarnation to his suffering and death and resurrection.  His perfect keeping of the law, and flawless obedience to the Father.  He is baptized, not for himself, but for us.  When he prays, he prays for us.  Even when he prays for himself, he’s praying for our benefit – that he would do the Father’s will and complete his mission for us.  Everything he does – eating, sleeping, healing, working, resting, celebrating, suffering, even weeping – he does for us.  It’s all part of his incarnation and fulfilling of all righteousness.  He lives for you, and he dies for you.  Always, ever, for you.

And… Jesus weeps to show us that he knows the pain of grief.  He knows the sting of sins’ wages, though he had no sin of his own.  Jesus weeps to remind us that he is with us in the tears we shed in this valley of the shadows.  He goes with us, arm in arm, hand in hand, through that valley.  He never leaves or forsakes us.  He always consoles and comforts us. 

But he goes even further than this, though.  He’s not here just to feel what we feel.  He’s not content to share in our pain.  To give us a hug and send us on our way.  Rather, he takes on himself the full burden of our griefs and sorrows.  He shoulders up the cross, scorns its shame, and carries in himself all the sin that makes for death.  Therefore by his death on the cross he swallows up death in victory, nails sin to die forever, and gives us hope – a hope far above and beyond all grief and sorrow and a bright horizon across the valley of the shadow of death.

If you think weeping before the grave of Lazarus is strange – then look to the cross and see the strangest, most wonderful, most mind-exploding action of Jesus Christ and of God’s grace and mercy.  Jesus wept.  And Jesus died.  But it gets ever stranger.

But the same Jesus who knew Lazarus would rise, also knew of his own resurrection.  Three days in the tomb was all it took him.  But Christ lives, and therefore our resurrection is secure.  Christ has conquered death, and so we too are victorious – if we are in him.  He is the resurrection and the life, and whoever lives and believes in him will live even though he dies.  Weeping is turned to joy.  Sorrow is turned to rejoicing.

Lazarus would rest in the grave four days before Christ called him forth.  You and I will perhaps rest in the grave many more, maybe years or even centuries, but just as surely, Christ will call us forth.

And then, the same Jesus who wept for Lazarus will wipe away ever tear from our eyes. The same Jesus who appeared to his disciples – we too will see him as he is, face to face. 

This promise of resurrection in Christ is one of God’s great treasures.  And that Jesus wept is just another reminder of the comfort Jesus brings, by his life and death and resurrection. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Sermon - Isaiah 6:1-8 - Holy Trinity Sunday


Isaiah 6:1-8

Normally when we come into God’s presence, we gather in his name – his Triune Name – we call that the Invocation.  We invoke God’s name.  In Isaiah’s vision, however, no one invokes God, but he appears to Isaiah without invocation or provocation.  It’s a blessed vision. 

And in this blessed vision, God reveals to Isaiah, and to us, a glimpse of his true glory, his true nature, his true identity.  He shows us what truly matters when we, like Isaiah, stand before him.  And when he shows mercy to Isaiah, it points us to the mercy of the Trinue God that is found for us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

One notable feature of this passage is the song of the angels.  The angels sing, and we echo the song even today in the Sanctus, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts (or Sabbaoth)”  That is, the heavenly armies.  “heaven and earth are full of his glory” And in this short verse there is much to say.

The Lord is holy.  Yaheweh is holy, holy, holy.  In saying it three times we have great emphasis.  In Hebrew, saying something three times like this indicates the superlative.  God is most holy.  He is the holiest of all.  The most set apart of anyone or anything that is ever set apart.  He is in a class by himself, creator apart from his creation. 

The three-ness of his holiness also hints at the Triune nature – Father, Son and Spirit.  All throughout the Old Testament this teaching is set forth in mysterious ways.  Even from the plural self-reference of God in creation, “Let us make man in our image”.  The Spirit hovering and the whole of creation spoken into being through the Son, the Living Word. 

And then, the angels sing of his glory.  His glory fills heaven and earth, even more than the train of his robe fills the temple.  Yet his throne is far above both.  Nothing can contain him.  Rather, he fills everything.  Nothing is above him, rather he is above all, over all.

And even the mighty Seraphim are compelled to praise him constantly.  With their majestic wings and booming voices that shake the whole place.  Seraphim in Hebrew means, “burning ones”.  They are bright and aglow with power, and yet they tremble and hide their own faces and feet from God’s glory.

What a grand and glorious and powerful sight it must have been.  But there is a problem. 

Isaiah is a sinner.  His reaction to seeing God might surprise you.  You might think he’d be glad.  Joyous.  This should be far more exciting than meeting a famous person, or even winning the lottery!  You get a visit with the king of kings!  You have some quality one on one time with the Creator, Isaiah!  Isn’t that great!?

No, instead, “Woe is me.  I’m ruined.  Done for.  I’m in way over my head with this one.”  Why?  Because I’m a man of unclean lips in the midst of a people of unclean lips.  I’m a sinner.  And I’m in the midst of sinful people. 

Sin cannot stand before Holy Holy Holy God.  He cannot stand it.  He hates it and will justly destroy it.  And woe to the sinner who thinks he can withstand such pure, ultimate, all-encompassing judgment.  There is and should be nothing more terrifying than to stand before God’s throne and have no answer for your sins.  You simply must be destroyed, condemned, doomed.  And Isaiah knew it.

Do we know it? Have we lost a sense of the fear of God?  Yes, we should love and trust him, but first fear him, Luther teaches us in the meaning of the First Commandment.  Fear God.  Consider how awesome and terrible a God he is, and what you deserve were you to stand before him in your sin.  With all else stripped away – no distractions – no one else to use for comparison – only you and the one who knows all.

Unclean lips, unclean hearts, unclean hands, we are totally undone by the holy law of the holy holy holy God.  We stand no better off than Isaiah or the people of Israel. 

“Woe is me,” Isaiah says.  It is a confession of sin.  And the Lord does not leave him hanging.  He doesn’t wait for Isaiah to justify himself, explain away his unclean lips, concoct and execute a plan to cleanse himself (as if he could).  He doesn’t even make him wait and wonder what his due punishment will be.  He immediately sends the angel to act.  To have mercy.  To forgive.

The angel takes a coal from the altar – the place of sacrifice, and he touches it to Isaiah’s mouth.  The place of sacrifice is where sin is atoned for.  In the Old Testament, thousands of beasts shed their blood to make atonement.  But that ocean of blood wasn’t even worth a drop of the blood that was to come, the sacrifice they all anticipated and foreshadowed.  The Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. 

The altar of that sacrifice was the cross, and the consuming fire of God’s wrath was upon Christ.  It hadn’t yet happened in Isaiah’s day, but it was planned from the foundation of the world.  For God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, sent him to be lifted up on the cross, so that all who look to him, believe in him, would not perish, but have everlasting life.

But more than that.  It’s not an altar somewhere far off or a Jesus on a cross on a green hill far far away.  The sacrifice of atonement that has cleansed you of your sins is up close and personal.  The angel, the messenger of God, got right up in Isaiah’s face with that hot coal from the altar.  He spoke a word of mercy to Isaiah, a word of absolution – your sin is atoned for, forgiven.

So also today.  You come here, to this messenger, not a heavenly angel but a sinner like yourself, but one who nonetheless speaks a word of absolution to you.  Your sins are forgiven, in the Triune Name.  His holiness is now yours.  Your woe has already gone to Christ.  And so you are not ruined.  You are, rather, made clean.

So also, that forgiveness touches your lips, in the body and blood that Christ offers you from this altar.  Here you touch and taste forgiveness in the body and blood which were sacrificed, given into death, but also raised to life.  When this has touched your lips, your sins are also forgiven, atoned for, and you are made clean.

It is no accident that when we gather to receive the Sacrament of the Altar, we sing this song of the angels, the Sanctus.  Holy, Holy, Holy.  For in the body and blood of Christ, we see the fullness of God’s glory which fills heaven and earth.  And we, like Isaiah, rather than ruined, are made clean by this encounter with the Holy, Holy, Holy.

And you might say, “then not just my lips, but also my head and hands and feet” and Jesus would say, “Someone who has bathed is already clean”.  You have been baptized.  Your lips are clean, your whole life is clean, renewed, reborn in the water and the word.  In the Triune Name you bear.

And with cleansed lips, we can and do confess anew the name of God.  We confess Father, Son and Spirit.  We confess his mighty works, and tell what he has done for us.  We say back to him what he has said of himself, and join our voices in the ancient and universal confessions of the church – the creeds, Apostolic, Nicene, and Athanasian.  We confess the Holy Holy Holy one in three and three in one.

Isaiah, too, was called to confess.  To preach and prophesy to a people who needed that same cleansing.  Whom shall I send?  And now fearing no more, Isaiah answers the call, “send me!”

Wherever you are called, Christian, go with the same zeal.  Wherever God has placed you to serve and witness, do so with the clean conscience of a child of God whose sin is atoned for.  And when you sin, return again to the Holy Holy Holy one who always has mercy.  In Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Sermon - The Day of Pentecost - Acts 2:1-21

 


“The Pentecost of Jesus Christ”

When I was a young pastor and knew everything, or at least thought I did, I liked to make the point that Pentecost was an important day because we highlight the Holy Spirit, and that it’s only right and good to do since he’s sort of the forgotten person of the Holy Trinity.  As if he’s the afterthought or something.  And so it’s good that we have a whole day to ponder him and his work and his importance.

And of course I wasn’t entirely wrong, but as I’ve matured in my thinking and understanding I’d have to say I missed a major point in those early days – that the Holy Spirit is all about Jesus!  That the Holy Spirit’s main work is to bring us to Christ, testify to Christ, create faith in Christ, and sustain the church in Christ.  He is the Spirit of Christ.  He is sent by Christ.  He doesn’t speak on his own authority but only what he hears from Christ. 

And so we don’t want to shove a wedge between Jesus and the Holy Spirit, as if have 2 completely different agendas, or as if they are the main characters in different acts of this grand theater called the Bible.  Yes, there are three Persons.  But so, too, there is also only one God. 

And so the celebration of Pentecost is an observation that is rich in Jesus, even as we think of the Spirit especially today.

Take our reading from Acts.  There we see a number of eyebrow-raising and attention-capturing details.  The mighty rushing wind.  The tongues of flame on the disciples’ heads.  The miraculous speaking in tongues.  Quite a feast for the senses.  And yet there is purpose in it – a purpose very consistent with the word and work of Jesus Christ. 

To set the scene – Jerusalem had once again swelled in population for one of the 3 great annual feasts.  Passover has passed – that was 50 days ago – and God had used that feast as the backdrop for the events of Holy Week and Easter, so central to the faith of his people.  Now, the next feast is also an occasion for God’s great plan to move forward, and for the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, to be proclaimed.

Jews and converts to Judaism (called proselytes) from many nations had descended upon Jerusalem for the “Feast of Weeks” – Seven weeks of seven – or 49 days after the Passover.  It commemorated the arrival of the Israelites after the same amount of time traveling from Egypt to Mt. Sinai. 

And so Moses is sort of running in the background here.  But at Sinai there was one nation, and at Pentecost the many nations become one in Christ.  The confusion of languages and the separating of peoples at Babel is now reversed in Christ, as the languages are a barrier no more, and as the people become united with him and therefore each other in this holy nation called the Church.

The Feast of Weeks is also a sort of first-fruits harvest festival, and coincided with the harvest of wheat.  An offering of those first fruits would have been made at that time.  It’s no accident that the first-fruits of the harvest of Christ is seen on this day.  And really, all of us Christians, are a kind of first-fruits of the final harvest that is to come on the last day.

The plan is genius, really, no, rather it is divine.  That Christ would choose a time with all these people from so many far-flung places are now present.  When they all come together – he sends his Spirit to empower his disciples to preach to them the Good News.  And he makes sure they understand it each in their own language!  That’s the purpose of speaking in tongues – the transmission of the Gospel!  That’s what the Holy Spirit is always about!  The word of God – and the good news of Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus teaches us that the Spirit is coming to convict the world regarding sin, righteousness and judgment.  Well the world has come, in a way, to the doorstep of Jerusalem at Pentecost.  And so let the convicting by the Spirit begin.

Convict – it means to rebuke or expose or declare the guilt of someone.  The Spirit certainly does that – in regard to sin, as he applies the law to the hearts and minds of sinners and shows us all how rotten we are.  The Spirit says, “Love God with all your heart” and you are convicted because you clearly don’t.  The Spirit says, “Love your neighbor” and you must face how much you fail your neighbor.  Any conscience captive to the Word of God is also subject to the Spirit’s conviction – that we sin and are sinners, and that this problem is beyond our own powers to resolve.

Concerning righteousness – it is the Spirit that convicts the world that Christ alone is righteous.  Therefore when our own righteousness is shown to be false and a total sham – we can look only to Christ the righteous one.

And likewise, the ruler of this world stands convicted, and will face the judgment.  The Holy Spirit re-orients us to the true ruler of this and all worlds, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.

The Spirit would have you turn from sin, and self-righteousness, and the power of the devil – and turn to Jesus Christ and live.  

Those who heard the Spirit through the preaching of St. Peter on that first Pentecost were cut to the heart, repented, believed, were baptized and saved.   The Spirit convicted them, and called them to faith in Christ.

And so for us.  Here we are – a gathering of pilgrims from all different walks of life.  Maybe we don’t come from Phrygia and Pamphylia, Pontus and Asia.  But we are a fairly mixed bunch of young and old, with varying incomes and levels of education, some lifelong Lutherans and some new even to Christianity.  We come from Texas, but also from many other places.  We have different ethnic backgrounds and we don’t all look the same.  But here we are united in Christ, by His Spirit.  Here we are one, according to his word.  Here there is no distinction – all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – and all are equally justified freely by his grace in Christ Jesus.

And here the Spirit unites us in the fellowship of all the saints, of every tribe, nation, people and language.  Here we even add our song to that of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  Because all are one in Christ.  He is the head, and we are the body – a united body, though many members.

And just as those Pentecost Pilgrims surely returned home and shared the Good News of Jesus and their faith in him – and surely the Spirit worked through that witness as well.  So also does the Spirit work in is, through us, sometimes even in spite of us – as we go forth into our callings and places in life apart from here.

The same Spirit who guided them into the truth of Jesus Christ also guides us into that everlasting truth.  The same Spirit who empowered them to speak of Jesus also empowers the church today to continue preaching Jesus Christ crucified for sinners, and believing in Jesus.

Of course the prophets foretold of all this.  And Peter quotes the prophet Joel in his defense of the Spirit’s miracle that day.  These men aren’t drunk, as the scoffers suggested in their mockery.  But what is poured out is far greater than wine.  This is the Spirit of God – poured out on all people, young and old, male and female, so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  The name of Jesus, that is.

On this Day of Pentecost, fret not that the Holy Spirit doesn’t get a fair shake.  For he is intent that you would see Christ.  The Spirit will show you your sin and your need for Christ, and then he’ll guide you into the truth of Christ – to see all that Christ has done for you.  To receive his good gifts in faith, and with joy.  To treasure your baptismal grace.  To hunger and thirst for the righteousness that comes from his Holy Meal.  And to ever listen keenly for the voice of the Spirit, speaking in the Word, testifying to Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Sermon - Easter 7 - John 17:12-19


John 17 is known widely as the “Great High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus.  It is part of the long “upper room” discourse, which John places on Maundy Thursday.

In this chapter, which is really the longest prayer of Jesus recorded for us in Scripture, Jesus prays concerning himself, his disciples, and finally all believers.  He prays for glory, unity, and truth. 

Certainly Jesus is ever our Great High Priest, as one of the main duties of a priest is to pray for the people, on behalf of the people.  Jesus does this, especially now as he is ascended.  But we get a foretaste of it on Maundy Thursday.

And if a pastor could give homework assignments, I’d have you all read and study the entire chapter of John 17, to see the whole prayer of Jesus.  But for now, let’s consider each of the 7 verses of this prayer the lectionary sets before us today.

12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given  me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 

Jesus reflects on his time teaching his disciples, for whom he is praying.  He knows he is about to be separated from them.  He knows he will be arrested, and they will scatter in fear.  He even knows that only Judas will be lost, the “son of destruction”, to fulfill scripture. 

Jesus knows he is coming to the Father.  The cross looms before him.  Soon he will commit his spirit into the Father’s hands, and face death head-on.  But his concern is not for himself, but for his beloved disciples.  He has kept them in the Father’s name – kept them from harm, kept them from disbelief, kept them from the clutches of the enemy.  So far so good.  But now the true test comes, and Jesus prays for them all the more.

The same Jesus who kept his beloved apostles keeps you, his dear children.  The same Jesus who faced the cross for them, does so for you.  The same Jesus who prays for them, prays for you, intercedes for you with the Father.

He continues…  13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 

He speaks in the world – with a purpose in mind – that his disciples may have his joy fulfilled in themselves. 

The words of Jesus, the words he speaks in this world, the words that are recorded and recited, taught and preached… and believed – these words bring a fulfillment of joy to his disciples.

Jesus doesn’t want the Christian faith to be a drudgery for his people.  Though, sadly, we often make it so.  While it’s not his intention to make us miserable, he does tell us there will be crosses to bear.  However he also promises joy.  And it is his joy – not our own.  And it is to be fulfilled in us because of his words. 

The word of Christ brings joy!  The good news of Jesus – that your sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus shed for you – brings joy!  That nothing you can do can earn or complete or effect your salvation – but that Jesus has done it all – what a joy!  And the more we are steeped in this word of Jesus and good news – the more his joy if fulfilled in us.

Jesus goes on… 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because       they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 

A word of warning that also strangely brings comfort here.  Even as he prays to the Father Jesus must know we are listening in.  He knows that even though he has given his people his word – the world will hate them.  It will hate us because we are of Christ, and not of the world.  And just as the world hated Jesus, the world hates his people.  Don’t take it personally!  Don’t be surprised!  Don’t act like the world is supposed to love and embrace us Christians when the same sort of people crucified the Son of God. 

And so you need Jesus’ prayer.  You need the Father’s provision and protection.  You need the Spirit to keep you faithful when faith is under fire.  The world hasn’t gotten any friendlier to Christ and Christians.  And it never will.  But God is faithful and will bear you up under such testing and persecution.

15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.

One solution might be to just have us Christians taken out of the world.  To put us in some kind of bubble so that we don’t even have to interact with the non-Christians, the unbelievers.  Or translate us immediately to heaven and away from this vale of tears.  Or something, Lord, just so we don’t have to face all these enemies!

But that’s not Jesus’ prayer.  That’s not his solution.  He says, “Father, don’t take them out of the world.  Keep them in the world.  And while they’re here, keep them from the evil one.”

Don’t let the devil have his way!  And what does the devil want?  But to drive us from the faith.  To put a wedge between us and our God.  To deceive us, drive us to despair, tempt us into great sin or other vice, so that we turn away from Christ and that makes us his. 

But Jesus prays, “keep them”.  Such a simple request.  It echoes the Aaronic blessing we receive so regularly:  the Lord bless you and keep you.  Keep us, Lord, we pray, in Christ, according to his prayer, and in his name.

16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 

Jesus and his people are alike – they are not of the world.  He is not of the world – though he was in it for a time.  Though he took on human flesh, was born of a woman, lived, breathed, ate, drank, walked, talked, cried, slept and suffered and died.  So like us in every way, yet without sin.

Yet we are like him, in that he has made us not of this world.  Though you are in the world for a time, you are ultimately not of it – anymore than Jesus is.  For he has made us citizens of heaven, children of God, a royal and holy priesthood with a future resurrection and an eternal dwelling being prepared for us. 

17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 

To sanctify, to make holy – means to set apart.  Set apart for a purpose.  Set apart from the world.  Christians, sanctified by the truth, are set apart from the world by that very truth.  And the purpose is as follows:

18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 

Sent into the world – Jesus was sent to save.  The disciples are sent to preach and spread the good news even to the ends of the earth.  And you and I are sent into our vocations with that same witness of Jesus.  Wherever God has placed you or sent you, in homes and amidst families, in workplaces and with friends.  You, Christian, are set apart and sanctified by the truth.  You, Christian, are called to live in faith and give answer for the hope that is within you. 

19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

To consecrate means to sanctify, that is to make holy.  But it doesn’t mean to make without sin, for Jesus already is without sin.  We can consecrate people as well as things – like a new communion flagon – by setting them apart for a special purpose. 

Jesus consecrates himself, and is set apart as the substitute for all mankind, in his perfect life and sacrificial death.  He is therefore sanctified or consecrated for us – for our sake.  That we would be set apart from the world, set apart in him, sanctified for an eternal inheritance in Christ, consecrated by the truth of his word.

Thanks be to God for our great High Priest who not only gives us the example of prayer, who not only forgives our sins and our lacking and flawed prayers, but who also, even now, prays for us.

So Jesus prays, and so God the Father answers his prayer. 

 

 

Sermon - Ascension Day - Acts 1:1-11

Acts 1:1-11

Our Lord Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven.  And this event is of no small significance for the Christian church.  It is part of our creeds.  St. Luke writes about it twice – once in his Gospel and then again in the Book of Acts.  But it is also something that is of great importance to you, as an individual Christian.  Far from being some dusty old dogma about some minor miracle Jesus once did among so many others – the Ascension is deeply connected to his resurrection, to his promised return in glory, and even to his present comfort for you today in the Lord’s Supper.

Today I’d like to take a more doctrinal treatment of the Ascension than to slavishly follow any one of the texts.  We will raise and examine a number of different implications for Christ’s ascension, a survey, if you will, of how this teaching of Scripture brings us great comfort.

We confess that Christ has ascended and sits at the right hand of the Father.  But this doesn’t imply that Jesus is “sitting around”, as if he were doing nothing, like I do in my living room on Sunday afternoons.  The right hand of the Father is less a place but a position.  It is the place of highest honor and glory.  Even the cloud that obscured him from their sight hints at this – for we often see clouds, as in Exodus, obscuring the unbearable sight of God’s glory.  This Jesus, who for a time, set aside the full exercise of his divine rights, now takes them back.  This Jesus who, for a time, entered a state of humiliation, now completes his exaltation and returns to his rightful status.  This Jesus, with his name above all names, now sits on high – higher than any other throne or rule or power.

Christ’s power stands in contrast to ours.  We sinners wield our pitiful powers for selfish purposes.  We seek power over others for our own ends.  We are always clawing and clamoring for more power, prestige, and any advantage we can get in the world – so that we can get our way (and that way is usually pretty twisted).  Sure we rationalize our power seeking and power exerting – but it’s usually just another expression of our sinful nature at work.  Trying to put ourselves in the place of God, rather than loving our neighbor as we ought.

But Jesus – the one who rightfully has the power – all power – everything is under his feet – he uses his power in the most benevolent ways.  He gives and gives and gives.  Just as he gave his life on the cross as a ransom for many, so he gives of his mighty power - blessings to all people. 

It is a mystery, in many ways, exactly how he exercises this power.  We have some clues, and some precious promises though.  We know that he’s working all things together for good for those who love him.  We know that he gives daily bread, even to the wicked.  We know that nations rise, kingdoms fall, but none without his permission.  He is the giver of all good things.  But the promises of blessing found in the means of grace are his highest gifts – forgiveness of sins, life and salvation – found in Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, Holy Absolution. 

And finally, we’d be remiss not to mention Christ sending forth his Holy Spirit, who works through the Word, to convict and comfort, to accuse and to justify, to kill with the letter, but by the Gospel, to give life!  This, of course, happened spectacularly at Pentecost, as Peter preached in Acts 2:

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.

That same Spirit who miraculously empowered the speech of the disciples at Pentecost also empowers the preaching of the Gospel today, and equips the church with pastors and teachers and missionaries, that all nations may continue to hear the wondrous works of God proclaimed to them.  The Spirit of Christ is still sent forth from the ascended and reigning Christ!

Some might say that the Ascension is a sort of a going-away party for Jesus.  That it is bittersweet, at least, for so many of our goodbyes and partings are such sweet sorrow.  Certainly we can’t see Jesus any longer.  We can’t touch his wounded hands and side.  We can’t eat and drink with him like the disciples did during those 40 days after his resurrection.

But here is one of those blessed paradoxes of the Christian faith:  Though he is gone from sight, he is nearer than ever.  Though it appears he is nowhere, yet he is everywhere.  And not just everywhere, but he also locates himself in special ways by promised means.  He puts himself in the water and word, and bread and wine, and in the preaching and teaching – in the midst of Christians wherever they gather 2 or 3 in his name.  Thus he speaks truth when he says, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. 

Jesus is not MIA.  He’s not on holiday.  He’s not Elvis who’s left the building and left us to our own devices.  He is present, in churches and homes all over the world, where Christians gather around his word.  He is with you always, individually, you are so near and connected to him by baptism you have even been buried and raised with him.  He is present, according to his promise, in the Holy Sacrament, for the forgiveness of sins.  There indeed we can eat and drink with, or rather of - the resurrected Christ – bodily present.  There at his meal we see him with the eyes of faith, and taste and see that the Lord is good.

What else is Christ busy doing at the right hand of God?  Interceding for us!  He is the great go-between, who speaks to the Father on our behalf.  This is his High Priestly role, representing us to God the Father – but from the best spot, the closest seat.  You might imagine him leaning over and saying to the Father, “This one’s with me.”

And one final thing we can say – something that is taught to us by Jesus’ Ascension – from the words of the two angels who there appeared.  This Jesus will return.  He will return the same way you have seen him depart. 

Christ who once ascended into the heavens and was obscured by a cloud will return again – visibly – all eyes will see him as he comes in the clouds with great glory, with the shout of the archangel and the trumpet call of God.  His Ascension, then, is a kind of deep breath a powerful singer might inhale before he exhales the crescendo and climax of the solo.  What goes up, must come down, we say.  And with Christ, it is also true.  He who ascended will descend once more – for judgment, for victory, to usher in the kingdom of glory that will have no end.

But like the disciples, we too are urged not to stand around staring at the sky.  They had things to do.  So do we.  They returned to Jerusalem – waiting for the fulfillment of his promise that they would receive power from on high.  And while they waited, they worshipped with joy.  So do we.  Worship of the ascended Christ is central to all the church is and does.  To gather in his house, around his word, receive his gifts, to call on his name, pray, praise, and give thanks.  While we wait for his return in glory, the church ever worships Christ in a ceaseless and joyful liturgy.

He promised them “power from on high”!  Of course, that’s the Holy Spirit, which the ascended Jesus also pours out on his church from his heavenly throne.  It happened in a special way at Pentecost, but he continues to send forth the Spirit who lives and breathes in and on the church to this day.  We, too, receive power from on high – power for the preaching of his word, for the administration of his sacraments, power to forgive and be forgiven, to love one another as he has loved us. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ has ascended to the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.  Until then, he remains in his rightful position of king over all things.  He rules heaven and earth for the good of his church, and of you.  He is not gone, but ever-present, in the word, in the sacrament, wherever 2 or 3 gather in his name.  And he will return in glory, coming in the clouds with the heavenly host in tow.  A blessed Ascension day to you, in Jesus Christ our Lord.