Monday, September 19, 2022

Sermon - Pentecost 15 - Luke 16:1-15

15th Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 16:1-15


Today we come to a difficult Gospel reading.  It’s one of those challenging readings that pastors like to assign to their vicars to preach.  But somehow I dropped the ball on that.  So here we are, with Jesus telling a parable about a dishonest manager, or sometimes called the “unfaithful steward”.  

It’s a hard reading.  And it’s not just because this is a passage about money.  But that is a hard topic to cover in the church these days.  

So many preachers seem to run the way of the law when they cover what the Bible teaches about money.  And maybe that’s because the law works, at least outwardly.  If you harp on giving and harangue people to get out their checkbooks – well, many people will do that.  But we Lutherans want the gospel to be the driving force in all things – even in our giving. We want joyful givers, who give freely.  So I don’t plan on guilt-ing you into putting more into the offering plate today.

Still, so many people are oversensitive at the mere mention of money in church, and easily offended.  But we recognize that Jesus frequently addresses the topic, and so we really shouldn’t shy away from it – touchy subject that it may be.

Perhaps it is a touchy subject, in large part, because the truth hurts.  It could be that we are more materialistic than we’d like to admit.  It could be that when Jesus tells the Pharisees that no one can serve two masters - you cannot serve God and money - it could be that he’s hitting a little too close to home.  For the conscience always squeals when the Law pokes its finger in there.

But to the extent that Jesus’ hard words about money apply to each of us this morning, and I suggest that is to a great extent - let us repent.  Repent of our idolatry of the dollar.  Repent of our putting things before God and our neighbor.  Repent of our unrighteous use of wealth, our poor stewardship of his riches, and of exalting in our lives what is an abomination to God.

And find in Christ our true riches.  There’s plenty of that in this parable, too, though it’s harder to see.

Just as it was in Jesus day, so it is with us today.  The man in the parable – the dishonest manager – was worried about tomorrow.  He knew he was getting fired, and he needed to make a living.  Too weak to dig for money and too proud to beg for money, he hatches a plan to curry some favor, to make some friends, so that he can maybe get some help after his job is taken away.  So he goes around quickly writing off a bunch of debts – giving out discounts on what is owed to the Master.  Hopefully these people will remember me when I’m down on my luck.  Hopefully I’m making some friends here.

I think the other reason this text is so difficult a passage (aside from the fact that it talks about money), is that it may seem on its surface that Jesus is commending dishonesty.  Of course, he isn’t.  We don’t read scripture in a vacuum, and we know from other places that thou shalt not steal.  His point about the use of money is to use it shrewdly, wisely.  Yes, but is there something more here? 

Take a close look at the master in the story - the rich man.  There are some clues here that something just isn’t right with this master.  Sure, he’s about to fire the dishonest steward for his wasteful management.  That’s not surprising.  But even in doing so, he is merciful.  He asks for an account, but he gives the man time - time the steward uses to set himself up for the future.  The master asks for an account, but he never ends up demanding repayment (even from those who the steward gave a discount on their bill).  And strangest of all, the master commends the dishonest steward at the end of the story - even though he’s been dishonest and wasted and given away the wealth of the master!

Who would act like such a master?  Who would show such mercy, and forgive such malfeasance?  Who would show such patience, and commend even the dishonest, the wicked, the one who had stolen from him?  Our God and Father, that’s who.  On account of his Son, Jesus Christ.

For in Jesus Christ, God does things even more outrageous and surprising and nonsensical - at least to the judgment of this world.  The Father sends the Son, The Faithful Steward, if you will.  He sends him, not to demand an accounting from us, who idolize things and money and fail to worship the true God as we should.  The Father sends the Son, not to collect on our debt of sin which we surely owe, a debt deeper than we could hope to repay.  The Father sends the Son, not to threaten us to shape up or else.  No.  He sends his own son that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.

And Jesus, for his part, is just as surprising.  He does the work that we don’t do, and can’t do - the fulfilling of the law. The righteousness of Christ is accounted to you.  All the good he did and does - you get the credit.  He’s not too weak to dig us out of our pit of sin and grave of death.  He’s not too proud to beg God’s mercy on our behalf.

He, Jesus, dies the death we deserve, in our place, for our sake – and rewrites our account with God in our favor.  He accomplishes his mission by paying the debts we owe - not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death. He takes what you have - only debt - and writes you far more than a 10% discount.  He gives you freely of his grace, all the riches of heaven.  And a promise of eternity in his presence, in the bejeweled heavenly Jerusalem, with gates of pearl and streets of gold.

Does that sound like a lot to promise?  Of course it is, but he who is faithful with little is faithful with much.  And he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

So, the upshot, the so-what:  Jesus kind of chides us here – “I wish you, my people, were as wise with your wealth for righteous purposes as the children of this generation are shrewd in dealing with their own kind, for their own unrighteous purposes.”  In other words, how much more, ought we, who know Christ’s love, use his gifts for good?

So what does it mean to use our unrighteous wealth shrewdly?  What does it mean, sons of light, to deal shrewdly with our own, and make friends for ourselves with wealth so that when it fails, we are welcomed into eternal dwellings?

There are many good purposes for the money God calls you to manage and steward.  Feeding your family, clothing your children, putting gas in the car.  We pray that God would give us daily bread, and we receive it with thanksgiving.  We are also called to share with those who have less, and to be generous and hospitable.

But the wisest use of unrighteous wealth by the sons of light means remembering what is most important of all – the kingdom of God, and the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And it means prioritizing the work of the Gospel as we manage the gifts he gives.  For it is only by the Gospel that we can make friends for eternity – as others come to know our forgiving Master.  So as we support this good work, and debts are forgiven in Christ – we can do so with joy – the same joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.

So maybe this parable isn’t so tough after all.  Let it serve us a periodic reminder to repent of our love of money.  Let it point us to Christ, for whose sake our debt of sin is forgiven.  And may this story remind us to be good and wise stewards of his gifts – earthly and heavenly – and use them not for selfish gain but always in gratefulness and love for neighbor.


Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Sermon - Pentecost 13 - Luke 14:25-35


Luke 14:25-35

Great crowds accompanied Jesus, and he turned to them and said a bunch of sappy and fluffy stuff about mom and apple pie.  He told them they can live their best life now, be who they want to me, and should follow their heart and be true to themselves.  He said, “everything’s gonna be ok.  Don’t you worry now.  Do what you want.  Make sure there’s no negativity in your life.  Don’t stress yourself out.  Life’s too short. Live for today. You do you.”

No of course he said none of those things.  Nor did he say any other spiritual Pablum that scratches the itching ears of the crowds.  Nor does he say today what people want to hear, either to fit their political agenda, to cater to their self-righteousness or confirm their own sinful self-centeredness. 

What we hear from Jesus today is kind of tough.  He teaches us that being a disciple of his is hard.  It’s serious business.  It’s not to be taken lightly.  It comes with crosses.  It has a cost.  It means renouncing all things.  And who wants to hear such a message?

Friends, the Christian faith is no walk in the park.  Ask the martyrs who died violent bloody deaths for the confession of Christ’s name – when all they had to do was say a simple word denying Christ, and all the pain would stop. 

Ask the confessors of Augsburg, princes who knew they were taking their life in their hands, and even knelt down bowing their heads – saying, you may behead us now, emperor, but we will not compromise our confession of Christ.

Take the Christians today in Muslim countries who face violence and even death at the hands of their very own families if it is discovered they have become a believer in Jesus. 

No, the faith is not easy.  It can seem so, in our peaceful, air-conditioned church with pew cushions and friendly fellow worshippers.  It can seem the easy life when you are surrounded by Christians at work and at school, but not all of us are.  And while we do still enjoy great freedom to practice our faith in this country – those who are paying attention know that is not a situation guaranteed to stay the same. We hear about a post-Christian world, and a de-churched society.

This is Jesus speaking to the great crowds that are following him in their wrong-headed ideas of who Jesus is and what he came to do.  They want a certain kind of Jesus.  A Jesus who lets them have their cake and eat it too.  A Jesus who lets them have their idols, and call themselves Christians, too.

And that’s what all these things are – idols.  The first idol he addresses is family.  Yes, even one of the greatest gifts God gives – the family – can be made an idol.  I think about this when I realize that people turn away from the church because it’s just too difficult to hold to the Bible’s teachings about sin when your loved ones are caught in sin.  Or maybe you, yourself, are caught up – moved in with a man or woman who’s not your spouse – and it’s just too grating to go to church and hear, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and “the marriage bed must be kept pure”. 

Maybe your children have left the faith, and it grieves you.  But rather than wrestle with that grief in godliness and prayer, you turn to some false but somehow mildly comforting lies about how they’re “good people anyway”. 

Oh, you go to a church that teaches the Bible, and says that Jesus is the only way to heaven?  Well you must hate non-believers, then, we are told.  This is the kind of sword that Jesus talks about, dividing families. The faith is not easy.

He compares it to an ill-planned construction project, or an ill-conceived military engagement.  The person who wants to follow Christ but doesn’t consider the cost.  They become a laughingstock.  The object of ridicule.  Don’t be such a fool, Jesus implies.

At the end of the passage he calls us to renounce all that we have, if you want to be his disciple.  Worldly wealth and the comforts of life are always dangerous temptations to idolatry.  If I had to choose between all this and Christ, I must choose Christ!  Renounce it all.  Have no other gods before him.

But he’s not done tearing away our idols yet.  He says you have to hate even your own life!  This doesn’t mean go out and commit suicide.  It means that compared to Christ, even your own life is nothing.  It is worthless. It is to be despised.  If you had to choose between faithfulness to Christ and certain death – then you better choose death, if you want to call yourself a disciple of Jesus.  This is difficult talk.  But Jesus is deadly serious.

And it’s not even just death – it’s death by cross.  Bear your own cross, or you cannot be my disciple.  It would be one thing if I could die in my sleep.  Just never wake up.  Or at least something quick.  Something where I don’t have to suffer.  But Jesus is calling us to exactly that.  A cross means suffering.  That’s what it’s designed to do.  To drag death out, make it painful and long. 

And Jesus knows all about crosses.  And good for us that he does.  For apart from his cross we would be lost.  We would be unable to be disciples.  We could never give up our idols.  We would be left to our own very poor and inadequate devices.  My friends, we’ve heard a lot of law here so far – and this text is heavy with it.  But now let’s consider the cross.

Jesus knew the cost of his calling.  He considered before-hand, and likely every step of the way, where it would take him.  From at least the time in which he emerged from his baptismal waters, through his 40 days of fasting and temptation, in the towns and villages of Judea and Samaria.  And as he set his face toward Jerusalem.  Jesus always knew it would be a cross, for him. 

The cross.  The Son of God and Son of Man suspended between heaven and earth - the wrath of God poured out upon him.  The cup of punishment drunk to the very dregs.  Jesus knew it would be physical suffering, but also the spiritual reality of being forsaken by God.  Becoming sin itself- the object of God’s eternal wrath.  You and I can’t comprehend it.  But Jesus bore it for us all.

He gave up his family and friends – who either deserted him or watched helplessly as he hung there. 

He hated his own life.  Laying it down freely to accomplish his goal of redeeming the world.

He had no possessions.  Nowhere to lay his head, but at the end even his garments were divided among the soldiers, so in naked shame he would die.

And though all who saw him mocked him, the blood and water from his side laid the foundation of the church.  And this king – the king of the Jews - though his enemies surrounded him in far greater numbers, he won peace with God by his surrender even to death.  Peace, for you and me.

He gave all that he had – to purchase and win us as a people for himself.  To make us his disciples, his children, his friends. 

In the sense of justification – the Christian faith is easy.  It comes to us freely as a gift of God, a gift won by Christ at his cross.  But it cost him everything, and this, dear Christians we ought to consider – and never forget.

But in the sense of putting that faith into practice – yes, it is hard.  Yes it means little crosses for all who would follow Christ and his cross.  It means sacrifice and suffering, the hatred of the world, maybe even of your family, and eventually perhaps even hating your life.  Losing your life in this world. 

Ah, but the reward in heaven is far greater.  For Christ is risen from the dead, and if we share in his sufferings, we also share in his comfort.  If we share in his death, and are buried with him in baptism, then we also share in his life, and are raised – now already – and then, one day, even bodily. 

And such is the cost of discipleship – it costs everything, for Jesus and for you.  It means a cross, for Jesus and for you.  And yet it also brings vindication, for Jesus – raised again on the 3rd day and ascended to eternal glory.  And for you – raised in baptism, raised on the last day, and enthroned with him in glory everlasting.  What in this life is worth anything compared to that?

Paul does the spiritual math this way, and he gets it exactly right: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

God grant it to us all.  In Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

 

 

Monday, August 22, 2022

Sermon - Pentecost 11 - Luke 13:22-30

 


Luke 13:22-30

“Lord, will those who are saved be few?”

One out of 10?  2 out of 5?  One in a million?  What’s the percentage number, Jesus?  How many will believe, and how many won’t?  Is heaven going to be packed like sardines – or is it going to be kind of lonely?

Maybe they just wanted to know.  Maybe it was simple, straightforward curiosity driving the person’s question.  I was always raised to ask questions – there’s no such thing as a stupid question – and so forth. 

But the commentaries are pretty harsh with the person who asks this question of Jesus.  They say:

Jesus never manifests sympathy for people coming with such purely speculative problems.

He who is serious about his salvation does not ask such a question.

This was an idle question. Jesus had not come into the world to gratify men's curiosity, but to save their souls.

The question is dangerous when put abstractly or academically.

Wow!  Speculative, unserious, idle, abstract and academic! 

And so it seems that not every question is a good question.  And some questions can even be dangerous. 

For his part, Jesus doesn’t really answer – which shouldn’t surprise us.  Jesus many times chooses not to answer people’s questions directly.  Quite often, though, he addresses the issue behind the question.  The spiritual state of the questioner.  The spiritual danger of such a question. 

Consider – if the answer to, “will few be saved” was, “no, not just a few, but many!  In fact, almost everyone will be saved.  Only the really, really, wicked will be condemned” Then how would we sinners react?  Would we not be tempted to rest on our spiritual laurels, confident that our chances of being in the winners’ circle are pretty good, after all?  Might we grow complacent about repentance and faith?  Surely many are more evil than I am.  Surely the odds are in my favor.

Or else, if he answered, “No.  Only a very few will be saved.  In fact it’s quite rare.  You have only a one in a million chance on a good day.”  Then might we be tempted to either despair – or redouble and triple our efforts to earn salvation?  Might we begin to compare ourselves with others, in a vain attempt to prove ourselves worthy?  Might we whine that God isn’t fair if only a few are saved?  Or question his motives or methods in this way or that?

Rather, Jesus speaks to the crowds and offers a hard warning.  He uses a mini-parable about a narrow door and a banquet.  And then he reframes our thinking with an enigmatic saying to conclude the section.  And through it all, our Lord Jesus teaches us repentance and faith. 

“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” 

Indeed, that the door to the kingdom is narrow seems to suggest few can enter.  Or at least, that it is not easy.  It takes striving.  But what does that mean?  Is Jesus here teaching good works?  That only the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the ones with the godliest resume’ are fit for the kingdom?  Is the kind of striving he speaks of a works-based program to punch your ticket to paradise?  Surely not.

In fact, as he extends his parable to describe a banquet and the door being shut – those outside are surprised, shocked, even, to find themselves unworthy.  Having a little knowledge about Jesus, a loose association with Christ, or perhaps his church, even eating and drinking with him, doesn’t cut the mustard.  They are locked out.  He goes on to show that even having the right lineage – being descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob does not impress him in the end.  Those fellas, along with all the prophets, will be in the kingdom – but you who fancy yourselves their heirs – will be cast out.  You’ll be weeping and gnashing your teeth.

These words of Jesus stand as a stern warning for us, too.  Salvation is not something to be taken lightly, or taken for granted.  It is not something owed to us as a sort of entitlement.  We don’t deserve it.  Rather what we deserve is to be locked out, cast away, and condemned for all our rebellion and perversion. 

So if the “striving” here isn’t some human program of works, or a keeping of the law (as if we could), or some other outward credentials or qualifications, then what?  What is the striving he would have us do to be saved?

I’m reminded of Jacob who wrestled all night with the angel of the Lord by the Jabbock River.  All night long, back and forth they went, a stalemate, neither getting the advantage.  And then finally the angel touched Jacob’s hip – like a kung fu master – and popped it out of joint.  As if to say, “hey, I could have had you all along. This is no mere man you’re wrestling with”  But Jacob still wouldn’t let go.  He insisted on a blessing.  And so God blessed.  “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”  Israel means, by the way, “he struggles with God”.

The Christian life is a life of striving, not to do good works, but of repentance and faith.  Striving for God’s blessing, which we in no wise deserve.  Hating our sinful nature, and struggling to drown that Old Adam in daily in the waves that flow from the font.  Wrestling with our conscience, and disciplining our flesh.  But also grappling with God’s holy word and steeping ourselves in his promises.  It means clinging for dear life to Jesus, even all through the night of sin and sorrow, and begging for the blessing that he alone can give.

And in yet another non-answer to the original question, Jesus makes the enigmatic concluding statement, “Some who are first will be last and some who are last will be first”.  That is to say, some of the last people that you would expect to enter his kingdom – will be the first to do so.  And some of the first people that you expect, will be last.  Your expectations will be blasted to smithereens by the other-worldly grace he gives.  Gentiles, yes even Gentiles will join the banquet.  So long despised and considered unworthy by many of the Jews.  Gentiles will enter the kingdom.  People from east and west.  Foreigners and aliens.  And you, who think yourselves most worthy, will be on the outside looking in.  Isaiah saw it coming in his prophecy – we heard that in our reading today, too.  So it shouldn’t have surprised them.  But it did.

Are so are those who will be saved few?  Doesn’t sound like it if nations upon nations are gathered to the kingdom.  It sounds like multitudes and many.  Such is the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God we are not saved by the quality of our theological questions, by the extensiveness of our study or the letters after our name.  It’s not the good works that we do or the sins we avoid.  It’s not the way we compare to our neighbor, or to some man-made standard.  It’s not our heritage or lineage or any other credential or certification or qualification or self-justification.  The narrow door through which we must enter the kingdom is Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  And Jesus Christ alone.

And so what of this enigmatic statement of Jesus:  “Behold: some ho are last who will be first, and some who are first who will be last.”

It is a reminder that God thinks differently than the world.  His ways are strange and alien to us.  Who we think should be or will be saved – might not.  And who we think must be condemned and locked out – might be found at the banquet in the kingdom.  Rest not on your worldly thinking, your earthly logic.  But instead submit to God’s way – the way of grace – the foolishness of the Gospel, the scandal of the cross. 

And know that not all questions are bad.  Take this one.  When Paul and Silas were in the Phillipian prison, and got out of jail free by means of a holy earthquake… the jailer, a gentile, came to them with a question:

Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They didn’t prescribe him a program, or demand circumcision.  They didn’t tell him to do unto others and fulfill the commandments.  But they answered him directly, simply, and beautifully:

And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:30-31)

So, too, for you and me.  Strive to enter through the narrow door, that is to say, believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.

In his holy name.  Amen.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Sermon - Pentecost 9 - Luke 12:22-34

 


"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Jesus ties together his whole sermon with this little aphorism.  It follows immediately upon last week’s reading about the rich fool who built the big barns.  His treasure was on earth, not in heaven.  But with this short saying, Jesus invites us to ponder deeply our own life, our hearts, and our relationship with the treasures we enjoy. 

But he starts with “Do not be anxious”.  And in today’s world of high-anxieties, that may be a hard pill to swallow.

It’s worth mentioning from the outset that the Christian church doesn’t summarily reject the insights of modern science in helping discover what makes us tick –  and makes us not tick so well.  We recognize that all truth is God’s truth, and discoveries about creation and our own human biology and psychology are discoveries about God’s creation.  And secular wisdom can contribute to our understanding of this world – and of things like anxiety.  Pastors are not trained psychologists, but I have learned this: Much like depression, anxiety can have emotional, biophysical and spiritual components.

And while some do suffer from a clinical form of anxiety, it seems every one of us can be anxious about this or that, here or there.  We don’t profess, in the church, to be experts on mental illness or neurosis and psychosis.  But Jesus Christ always knows what he’s talking about.  And so we certainly want to lend an ear to Jesus when he speaks to a topic.  And we want to apply God’s word of both law and gospel to the matter, as Jesus himself does here.

So take first this command, “do not be anxious”.  It’s a bit convicting.  For which of us has not been anxious about something?  In Jesus’ day, when most people lived hand-to-mouth, you could see how they worried about their food and clothing.  Fat-and-sassy modern Americans worry less about whether we will eat or be clothed.  Rather, our worries of food and clothing run the way of - what we want for dinner and what’s the best way to express my personal style now that the new school year is starting.  So we may find it hard to relate.

But we do have our anxieties.  We may worry about money, retirement, inflation, the stock market.  We may worry about our kids and the influences over them.  We worry about what people think of us, our reputation, our standing in whatever circles we care about.  We worry about the next election and the state of our government and the direction it’s going. And we worry about our health – sometimes to the detriment of our health.

But it’s all short-sighted for the Christian.  Worry consumes us.  Anxiety becomes a burden we were never meant to carry.  And so we are victimized by our own warped thinking.  Jesus is going to help us re-focus.

Life is more than food and the body more than clothing.  We might extend the point:  Wealth is more than what’s in your bank account.  Family is more than who lives in your house.  Health is more than the numbers on your bloodwork.  All of these things have a spiritual analog.  All of these earthly things are reflections of the true, the heavenly treasures.

The stuff of earth is not where our treasures ought to be.  Our treasure is in heaven.  So where is our heart?

Jesus’ command here not to worry doesn’t have the force of law that some of his declarations do.  This is not a “woe unto you if you worry” or “cursed is the man who is anxious”.  He’s not here to scare us into not being fearful.

But rather it’s a gentle corrective couched in some wonderful promises.  He shows that we not only shouldn’t worry, but he reminds us why we needn’t be anxious.  We have a loving Father.  So have no fear, little flock, oh you of little faith!

Seek first the kingdom.  Seek first righteousness.  Find the Father who knows what you need and put your faith and trust in him.  Who delights to give you the kingdom.  And all the rest of this will work out as he sees fit.

So if Jesus is your treasure, then your heart is where he is.  If Jesus is in heaven, and he is, then that’s where you belong, and where your heart belongs.  Your mind fixed on things above.  Your eyes set on him, Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame. 

Faith, in many ways, is the opposite of fear.  Faith trusts, where anxiety and worry do not.  Faith says, “God has hold of me.  Christ has died for me.  The Spirit lives within me.  What is there to fear?”  Faith holds to God’s promises.  Worry and anxiety point us to ourselves, our own efforts, our own plans, and ultimately our own failures.  Faith looks outside of oneself and puts all trust in God’s provision.

Take Abraham.  He worried about who would inherit his wealth.  As he was old and had no heir, it would have gone to a stranger – his servant – Eliezer of Damascus.  Abraham worried about his legacy.  But God had bigger plans than Abraham could imagine.  He would provide him an heir, oh, but much more.  Through the seed of Abraham all nations would be blessed.  Through Christ, the descendant of Abraham, all the faithful would receive an inheritance far greater.

Hebrews tells us more about faith today:  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Here is the Bible’s own definition of the term.  The conviction of things not seen.  Funny.  Anxiety also has to do with things unseen – nasty and terrible things yet to come.  But faith is about assurance and hope, not fear for the worst.  Faith rests in the promises God has made, and knows he will not lie or fail.

The conviction of things unseen – that Christ has been raised from the dead!  That you and I will be raised on the last day, incorruptible.  That your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.  That here at his altar you receive not just bread and wine, but Christ’s body and blood.  That the waters of baptism have saved you, and that there you have been buried and raised with Christ.  That one day Christ will return in glory, and all his angels with him, that you his faithful sheep will enter into your rest.

You’ve gotta love Hebrews 11, the great “by faith” chapter.  I encourage you to read the whole thing sometime soon.  It’s a parade of the Old Testament faithful – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Issac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses..

And then Hebrews winds up the chapter:

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,

Hebrews says:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

A city unseen.  A homeland eternal.  A citizenship in heaven.  Turn your hearts toward this treasure, and away from the anxieties of this life.  Fix your eyes – the eyes of faith – on Jesus.  And tune your ears to his precious promises. Bring your anxieties to him, cast all your cares on him, for he cares for you.  And live in the comfort of his precious cross.

Jesus says, “have no fear, little flock”.  And faith says, “amen.”  And faith says its “amen” by its actions….

Jesus teaches generosity “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy”  It’s the “so what” of all his generosity.  For while emptying your earthly moneybag, you are receiving a heavenly moneybag – that won’t grow old, that will never be empty, no thief can steal and no moth can destroy.  Faith serves the neighbor because the faithful know what is not seen is even more sure than what is.  Therefore trust God, and love your neighbor.  Do not be anxious, but have a living and active faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Sermon - Pentecost 6 - Luke 10:38-42


Luke 10:38-42

Martha, Martha

What a great story Luke shares with us today about Jesus with Mary and Martha.  He visits their home and is teaching, but while Mary listens intently to Jesus, Martha is busy and distracted with many things.  We can imagine all the cooking and cleaning as she buzzed around the house, fluffing pillows, checking on the bread in the oven, makings sure the table was set, sorting out all the loose ends to make Jesus’ visit a success.  After all, he is an honored guest.  And she wanted to make everything just right.

But there was a problem for Martha.  That lazy sister of hers.  Mary wasn’t helping.  Instead, she just sat there listening to Jesus.  Martha wasn’t too busy to notice, and to begin to resent her sister for not helping out.  In fact she goes so far as to just about scold Jesus, “don’t you care that my sister isn’t helping me?” and then presumes to tell him what to say to her.  “Tell my sister to get off her duff and help me out!”

Martha, Martha.  You’ve got to love Jesus’ response.  So gentle and kind.  I imagine him sighing before he says it.  By repeating her name it’s like he’s saying, “dear Martha”.  But there is a corrective here, too.  Martha herself needs to be set straight, not Mary.  Mary has chosen the better portion.  Martha is anxious and troubled about many things.

I suppose a very simple treatment of this passage would be something like, “Don’t be a Martha, be a Mary”.  But there’s more to say than just that.  Let’s consider the two sisters in terms of the commandments, in terms of vocation, and also in terms of the sinner/saint tension of the two natures in all of us.

We might consider the comparison of Mary and Martha according to the 10 commandments.

Martha, for her part, gets it wrong.  The very Son of God comes under her roof, and she places other things, many things, in a more prominent place.  She has other gods before him, you might say.  The gods of busy-ness and work.  The false gods, that is.

And here is a good reminder for us.  Notice Jesus does not condemn the things themselves that Martha is about doing.  Rather, he is concerned about her posture toward them.  He’s concerned about her priorities, and the state of her heart.  Work is good.  Even Adam in the garden, before sin, was given work to do – tending the garden.  We can assume that we’ll even have work to do in heaven.  But labor – difficult and troublesome work comes with the fall into sin.  Thorns and thistles.  Pain in childbirth.  And all of the human anxieties and troubles that come with it – work in the home or outside the home.  Work becomes a burden and a chore.  And sin gets it all twisted.  So that a good thing becomes a little god for us, and supplants the place in our life that should be reserved for the true God alone.

And on the other side of the coin is laziness.  When we steal time from our employer for ourselves.  When we don’t give of ourselves as we should.  This breaks the 7th commandment.  Or perhaps we resent our boss. The 4th commandment.  The commandments shows us we have problems with our work.

Now Martha thought Mary was being lazy, and not helping out as she should.  But Mary was busy rather fulfilling the commandments.  1st – She put Jesus first.  Nothing to get in the way, no other gods before him.  And the 3rd commandment – not despising preaching and God’s word but gladly hearing and learning it at the feet of Christ.  Mary came to this, of course, like all the faithful do – not on her own – but as she was granted the gift of faith by the Spirit.  And Jesus has no intention of taking his good gifts away from her.

And so Martha learns, and we learn, that work, our work – however good a thing it can be – is no substitute for Jesus.  And no amount of our work is worth anything compared to Jesus.  What he gives, what he teaches, is always the better portion. 

Now take a step back, then, and look at these two women through the lens of vocation. 

These women had their callings, their duties, their roles – just as you and I do.  But sinners aren’t always so good at balancing multiple vocations and fulfilling them rightly.  There is a place for Martha to do the cooking and cleaning.  She is called as the hostess to provide for her guests.  She has a vocation to serve, and honor of honors to have Jesus as a houseguest!  And Mary as her sister, also, has a calling to help out, to serve.

But where Martha goes wrong is in this.  The greater calling, the higher calling, is to be a disciple of Jesus.  To sit and learn at his feet.  To hear his word, cherish it, digest it.  He is the one thing needful.  He is the precious treasure above all treasures.  We sinners major in the minors and minor in the majors.  But Jesus sets us straight.

It is of utmost importance for you and me, as Christians, to hear the Word of God regularly, faithfully, intentionally.  It is more important than sports practice.  It is more needful than your Sunday morning shift at Starbucks.  It is more precious than the few extra hours of sleep you might get on Sunday.  It is more pressing than any housework or yardwork or home improvement project on your to-do list this weekend.

All those other things might be good.  But we want to hear from Jesus.  We want to hear his words to us.  We want to sit at his feet and listen with the ears of faith and soak up every last bit of goodness.

Those words of Jesus may convict us at times.  Jesus was never above calling out people who were in the wrong – even as he does so gently here with Martha.  Sometimes he is more bold, even harsh – as he calls out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, or Herod that fox, or promises a millstone to those who lead little ones astray.  But take the gentle word of correction when you can get it.

Jesus can get your attention with his word of law – and when he does – don’t explain it away or deafen yourself to his diagnosis.  Don’t make excuses or shift blame.  Don’t point to other worse sinners to make yourself look good by comparison.  Receive the accusation of the law with humility and in truth.  I have sinned.  I deserve what I get for it.  You’re absolutely right, Jesus.

But hear also the precious Gospel of Jesus.  Sidle up next to Mary and listen with the wonderment of a child again at the old, old, story.  Jesus did it all for you.  He is conceived and born for you.  He grows and learns for you.  He preaches and heals and casts out demons for you.  He goes to Jerusalem for you.  He is arrested, mocked, spat upon, stricken, smitten and afflicted for you.  He dies for you, nailed to a cross with all the sins – the many things – that you’ve done wrong.  And in his work – his perfect work – you are at peace.  You are at rest.  There’s nothing left to do – it is finished. 

So now, what about approaching this Mary/Martha comparison through the lens of our own dual nature.  For all of us Christians are both sinners and saints.  All of us Christians are Martha and all of us are also Mary.

We struggle to get the balance right.  When do I need to listen, and when do I need to speak?  When do I need to hear and receive, and when do I need to work and serve?  Both vocations of hearer and servant are godly.  Both are universal to all Christians.  But how do we strike the right balance, and make sure we are Mary when we ought to be, and Martha when we ought to be?

That, dear Christian, is for you to wrestle with.  I don’t have any great wisdom about it.  It is part of applying the word that we’ve heard and continue to hear in the day-to-day of being a child of God.  And like parenting, and marriage, there is no step-by-step instruction book for balancing your vocations properly.  At times we will get it right, and at times we will fail.  At times our Old Adam will overcome us – and at times the New Adam will win the day.

But we are not without resources.  God gives us his word and Spirit.  He puts teachers and preachers in our lives to help us make sense of it.  He teaches us through our experiences and even our failures and disciplines us as beloved children. 

But the struggle with sin is a daily struggle and one we won’t be free from until we shed this body of death to the grave and rest in paradise with Christ.  And then in the resurrection we will attain to the full measure of perfection in Christ – glorified like him and seeing him as he is. 

When you succeed – give thanks to God, and take no credit for yourself.  Boast in the Lord but only in the Lord. 

And when you fail.  When you get sucked in to the work and worry of worldliness.  When you lose the forest for the trees, and the true God for the many false gods.  When you forget that it’s all about Jesus and it’s not about you.  Then hear again the voice of Jesus:  Martha, Martha.

Martha, Martha, come hear from Jesus.  Come sit at his feet and rest awhile.  Come hear the comfort of his Gospel, the good news that is always for you.  Come know that your sins are forgiven.  Come hear about the place he’s preparing for you in heaven.  Come place your hope and trust in him, for he cares for you.

“Don’t you care?”  That was part of Martha’s question for Jesus.  Sort of like when he was sleeping in the boat and his disciples woke him amidst the storm, “Don’t you care that we are perishing!”  What gives, Jesus!?

Of course he cares.  And this is why he teaches us.  To show us himself.  His work for us, his promises fulfilled.  This is why he sends pastors and teachers today, who continue to bring us to hear from Jesus, by whom we still sit at his feet.  May they always show us the better part – the one thing needful – the one who cares for us and cared not for himself, even unto death, to win for us the crown of life.

And while we can’t see him or touch him – he’s not under our roof the same as when he came to Martha’s home, still he is here with us.  By his word, but also in this meal – that he prepares for us.  Here at his table, we are his guests.  We are fed.  We are made clean.  And this portion will not be taken from us. 

Martha, Martha, choose the better part.  Yes, you have plenty of work to do, we all do.  But never let anything overshadow your faith in Christ, or keep you from humbly hearing his word, receiving his teaching, his gifts.  And when you get off track, when you go all Martha, he’ll always call you back to be Mary, to sit and receive his good gifts.  For in him – the work is done.  May it be so for us all, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, July 04, 2022

Sermon - Pentecost 4 - Luke 10:1-20

 


Last Sunday we heard from Luke’s Gospel how Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem”.  That is to say, he knew his goal – that he had to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die for the sins of the world.  We are called, also, to set our face – to never look back – and to follow Christ who has gone before us.

Along the way, Jesus passed through some Samaritan towns, one of which rejected him (because they didn’t like that he was going to Jerusalem).  Here, today, also, we will see that some individuals (and even whole towns and cities) reject Christ and his preachers, and others receive them gladly. 

And all of this the lectionary readings set before us as we say farewell to one vicar and welcome another – the preaching office is very much on our minds.  The same Jesus who calls workers and preachers back then, still provides for his church today – and we are glad to be a part of that.

So Jesus sends out the 72.  He had previously sent out the 12, also in pairs, for a similar sort of mission.  But now the mission expands.  Some have suggested the number 70 or 72 is meant to evoke the table of nations from Genesis – a sign from Jesus that his Gospel is meant for the whole world.  Certainly we will see this take further form in the book of Acts.

But nonetheless, in the midst of the mission at hand, and in the return of the 72, Jesus lays down several axiomatic principles which have a much wider application – they inform the church of all times and places.  Let’s consider each of these statements in turn:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me, rejects him who sent me.”

And concerning the “success” of their preaching, ‘do not rejoice in this, but rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven”

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

I have to tell you that as a pastor, this saying of Jesus doesn’t always seem to match what we observe in the church.  Sometimes, it seems like the opposite is true.  It seems like there’s a lot of workers, and a lot of work being done.  But very little harvest.  Very little pay-off for all your effort.  You spend years patiently teaching and preaching and serving a congregation, and you are disheartened to see very little outward success.  You see young people forsake their confirmation instruction and vows – and go the way of the world.  All our efforts together seem to be frustratingly ineffective. 

The congregation gets older, smaller, less vigorous, to all outward appearances.  Beloved saints depart and enter into rest, and there never seem to be enough to replace them.  People you thought were faithful turn out to be in the church only for shallow reasons, and they quickly depart when circumstances change.  The smallest conflict with other members makes people jump ship, and carry their grudge as an eternal excuse to be separate themselves from Christ’s flock. 

Patrick and Grace, I need to warn you, especially, that the work of the ministry is hard.  It is not for the faint of heart.  And you will see some of that up close and personal this year as you work among us at Messiah.  There will be frustrations and heartbreaks, it will seem at times the harvest is pitiful for all the work being done.

But these words of Jesus, as all the words of Jesus, are, of course true, nonetheless.  The harvest is plentiful.  God’s word produces results – all the results, all the purposes he declares it will.  Sometimes it’s a word of judgment that stands against the wicked – like Chorazin and Bethsaida – who receive a word of woe, to their ultimate condemnation.  But the harvest of the Gospel is plentiful.  The good news of Christ’s death and resurrection to defeat sin and death – brings a plentiful harvest.  We just can’t always see it. 

Perhaps God defines “plentiful harvest” differently than we do.  After all, angels rejoice in heaven when even one sinner repents.  If that’s so, then every Sunday is a harvest.  How many sinners confess and are forgiven, even here?  How many hungry beggars come and are filled with the heavenly meal of his grace – the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood?  The harvest, you see, is not just the one-time, initial coming-to-faith of an unbeliever.  The harvest is ongoing, and leans toward the final harvest when Christ comes again in glory.  You will see this in effect at this congregation as well.  God will work in spite of you and me, and of all of us – to accomplish his good purposes.

Well if there’s so much harvest, why doesn’t God just send more workers?  Why doesn’t he provide for his church?  Of course he does.  And as this congregation participates in the training of church workers – we get a front row seat.  We get to see God answering our prayers in real time.

But he also calls us to pray for what he already intends to provide – just as he calls us to pray for other things promised like forgiveness of sins and daily bread. 

And prayer also teaches us.  When we pray, we also are formed.  When we pray, we are also directed where to work and serve.  When we pray, our own priorities are aligned with God’s own priorities for the church and for us as Christians. 

Now our second saying from Jesus this morning:  “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me, rejects him who sent me.”

This is a valuable statement both for preachers and hearers.  For preachers, it reminds us that if and when we are rejected – it’s not personal.  It’s not really about us.  If we faithfully preach the word of Christ and are rejected – they are really rejecting Christ and ultimately, the Father. 

And for the hearers of the word – there is an important teaching here, too.  When you hear the word of Christ rightly preached and taught by a called and ordained minister of his word – it’s as if you are hearing from Christ himself.  He who hears you, hears me.  When the pastor forgives your sins in the name of Christ, your sins are just as forgiven as if Jesus himself did it.  When the gospel is preached faithfully, it doesn’t matter what humble and lowly mouthpiece God chooses to do it – that word is still the word of Christ, and it’s as if Christ himself is speaking it.

This brings the Christian great comfort.  Our trust is not in any man, no matter how noble or learned, no matter how eloquent or confident.  Who would want to trust in a sinful man, anyway?  How many have been disappointed and disillusioned by placing their trust in this pastor or that holy man – only to find out later he is a scoundrel?  Obviously we want faithful pastors, but in the end our hope is not in the pastor – the laborer in the field.  Rather, we believe in the Lord of the Harvest, and in his Son to whom the harvest belongs. 

We trust not in the word of man, but in the word of God, which endures forever and will never mislead or disappoint.  And wonder of wonders, that Jesus gives his word to be spoken by, preached by, mere sinful men, and yet that gospel still is the power of God for salvation.  He who hears you, hears me, he says.  And what a wonderful promise this is.

Finally, Jesus gives us instruction at the conclusion of the mission of the 72.  “…do not rejoice in this, but rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.”

They come back on top of the world – for they saw the Gospel have great success.  They wondered at the miracles they were able to perform in his name!  Amazed that in Jesus’ name even the demons had to submit.  What power!  What success!  What cause for rejoicing!

And so Jesus throws a little cold water on their joy, or rather, he re-directs it.  It’s not the spectacular, the outwardly amazing, the visible and measurable successes that should be your true cause for rejoicing. 

Don’t get Jesus wrong, here.  The point is not that we care nothing for the blessings that God gives.  Certainly, we, too, can rejoice to see the church have success, for new births and baptisms, confirmations and the like.  We can rejoice when the Lord provides for the work we do here with generous gifts and when hearts are moved to love and service.  And all that happens, of course.  Once in a while we even see a miracle, something extraordinary and unexplainable apart from the work of God.  In all these things, thanks be to God.  In all these things we rejoice.

But Jesus sets us straight.  All of those little successes and blessings pale in comparison to our true cause for rejoicing – that our names are written in heaven – in the book of life.  That we belong to God in Jesus Christ for eternity.  No earthly success can overshadow that.  And no earthly failure or disappointment can take it away.

Thanks be to God for the gifts he gives – workers for the harvest – the harvest itself – that sinners would hear his word even through the mouths of other sinners he calls and sends to preach.  Thanks be to God that through his Gospel the Holy Spirit applies the blessings of Christ and his cross to people such as you and me. 

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Sermon - Pentecost - John 14:23-31

 


“Called, Gathered, Enlightened, Sanctified”

John 14:23–31

A blessed Day of Pentecost to you.

Pentecost is the day in the church year in which the Holy Spirit is on center stage.  As part of our aim to teach the “whole counsel of God”, it is fitting to consider this Third Person of the Holy Trinity with regularity.  As Easter certainly draws our attention to God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and as Christmas perhaps leads us to consider the Father’s love that sent his Son into our world.  So Pentecost, the third great feast or festival of the church year – turns our minds to the Holy Spirit.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure.  And he recognizes it as potentially bittersweet for them.  He bids them peace, and urges them not to be troubled of heart or afraid.  And to calm their fears and sweeten the bitterness of his departure, he promises them the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit, the Helper, is sent by the Father and Son.  And the Holy Spirit is therefore a great blessing to the church.

There are many directions we can take on the Day of Pentecost.  There are many ways to consider the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  As I looked back at my own sermons over the years – I’ve preached on all of the 3 readings and emphasized different aspects of doctrine concerning the Spirit.  It is good that we come back to this every year, as there really is so much to say. 

Today, with reference to this reading from John 14, I’d like to take an approach that is rooted in the Small Catechism.  If you want to know about the Holy Spirit from the Catechism, you go to the 3rd Article of the Apostles’ Creed.  And the “what does this mean?” answer Luther writes is wonderful and profound:

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him.  But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.  In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

We pay attention to the grammar, and especially to the verbs.  What does the Spirit do?  He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies.  Let the catechism chart our course today as we consider the Holy Spirit’s work in light of these 4 verbs – both as individual Christians, and also as members of the Body of Christ, the church.

First, he calls us.  It’s shocking that Luther begins teaching about the Holy Spirit by making a big deal about what we can’t do – what we lack.  We cannot believe or come to Jesus on our own.  Behind this statement is a freight of theology. 

The problem, of course, is our sinful state.  Conceived and born in sin, plagued by original sin, and perpetuated by our actual sins.  We are in no position to, of our own devices, come to faith in Jesus.  We can’t reach for him, choose him, or even want to follow him on our own.  We can’t open our heart to faith, or to God, unless the Spirit does so first.  We can’t seek God, unless he first finds us by his Spirit. 

So lost and backward is our sinful state apart from Christ that Scripture characterizes us as blind, dead, and enemies of God.  It takes a divine miracle to break through all that.  It takes the work of God, the Holy Spirit.

He calls us to faith.  He makes us Christians.  He takes what is dead and makes it alive (the Lord and giver of life).  He opens blind eyes to see.  He turns hearts from hatred of God, to fear, love, and trust.  He brings us to Christ, and Christ to us.

And the Spirit does all this through the Word.  He has called me by the Gospel.  Just as Jesus emphasizes the importance of the word in John 14:

 “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.”

It is the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and Son, that calls us to faith in Christ by God’s word to keep his word and believe his word and live by his word.  And we should not look for or expect the Spirit to work apart from the word.

Our second verb is gathered.  The Spirit gathers us to the church, and gathers the church together.  Pentecost was, for the Jews, a festival of the first-fruits of harvest.  It’s no accident that the Spirit uses this occasion gather the nations to Christ – at least in a first-fruits sort of fashion.  Visitors, pilgrims, from all over the world had come to Jerusalem and now they got to hear the mighty works of God in their own native tongues! 

But it wasn’t just then.  The Spirit still gathers, even today.  I look out there and see pilgrims from Denton and Arlington, from North Richland Hills and Southlake.  All brought together on a Sunday morning as one church family, gathered around the Word of God – read, preached, prayed and sung.  Gathered for a holy meal – another feast of firstfruits, just a foretaste of the feast to come.  Sure you set your alarm last night, and got in your car this morning.  Sure it looks like you made the decision to come to church, but you get no credit.  The Holy Spirit gathers you to Christ, along with other believers.

And the Spirit will gather us on the last day as well, gathering even our bodies from the grave, breathing into us the breath of life just like he did in the vision of the valley of dry bones.  But even better, for we will stand before Christ, a great multitude cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, who will welcome us into the eternal home of the Father. 

Called, Gathered… Enlightened!  The Spirit enlightens us, that is, he sheds light.  Far more than just helping us understand the word of God, although that’s certainly included.  Jesus promised that the Spirit would teach the disciples and bring to remembrance all that he said.  The New Testament is the written record of the disciples’ teaching as the Spirit led them.  And it is by this same word that the Spirit enlightens us.

To shed light on something is to make it visible – accessible.  The Spirit finds us in the darkness of sin and sheds the light of Christ upon us.  The Spirit finds us in the shadows of doubt and despair, and casts the bright beams of the gospel into our hearts and minds – chases away the darkness of sin and doubt and shame.  The Spirit enlightens us to Christ, who is the light of the world by the light of the Gospel. 

We once were blind, but now we see… by the Spirit.  And more than an on-off switch, the Spirit continues to enlighten us by the word as we grow in its wisdom and understanding. This brings us to our final verb:

Sanctifies.  The Spirit sanctifies us, that is, he makes us holy.  And here’s a word we can use in two senses.  For one, he makes us holy by bringing us to Christ.  Washed in the blood of Christ, we are made children of God and set apart as his people.  We are sanctified.  So the church is one and holy – Una Sancta in the Latin.

And yet, there’s another sense.  Sanctification is also a process.  It is the ongoing work of the Spirit to make us more and more holy, more and more Christ-like.  You could call it maturity or growth of faith.  The Spirit is always working in us and on us to apply that word in our hearts and lives.  Sometimes through pain and suffering, sometimes through knowledge and understanding.  But always drawing us deeper into the word and closer to Christ our Savior.

So thanks be to God in Christ Jesus for sending us the Holy Spirit, the Helper, as Jesus calls him.  But his help is much more than an assist or a leg-up.  He does far more than even the heavy-lifting.  He calls us to faith in Christ.  He gathers us with other Christians.  He enlightens us with his gifts.  And he sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith. 

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.  Amen.