Sermo Dei: Psalm 121

Posted on June 23rd, 2017

Psalms 120-134 are called the Psalms of Ascents. This has taken on a dual meaning: People traveled up to Jerusalem, which is built on a high place; so  on the pilgrim feasts, such as Passover, people would sing these Psalms as they ascended up to Jerusalem. The Hebrew word for ascents also can refer to the steps of a staircase. In the Jerusalem temple, there were steps going up from the Court of Women to the Court of Israelites, and the choir stood on those steps singing Psalms.

Tonight’s Psalm makes reference to the mountain paths that faced the traveler. How would they find safe passage? The terrain was dangerous, but even more dangerous were the unseen predators, both man and beast lurking, ready to pounce.

It takes courage to keep going.


The same is true for us, even if we aren’t walking to Jerusalem. We are on a journey to the New Jerusalem, and the way ahead sometimes seems dark and treacherous. There are days when it seems very hard to keep going.

Tonight’s Psalm recognizes that while danger surrounds us, and while people will let us down or even make themselves our enemies, there is one helper who is absolutely reliable: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” We have a God who creates from nothing. We have a God who provides food in wastelands. We have a God who makes roads where there was only water. We have a God who raises the dead. He is the one to whom we look for all help.


He is our keeper, that is, a keeper of sheep, our shepherd. The human shepherd needs to sleep, but this one stays awake throughout the night, so that we are never without His guardianship.


The daytime sun and the night’s dangers are not to be feared, for He who made sun and moon is Lord over all the times they govern. “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.”


One of the unique aspects of this Psalm is how vague it is. Sun, moon, mountains, the need for help. The vagueness of the Psalm is its benefit to us. God’s Word is giving us a prayer for every situation. What kind of help do you need? Sickness? Anxiety? Sin? Relationships? Fear? In every situation, in every trouble, your help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Wherever you are on your pilgrimage, the Lord is our helper and shepherd, our keeper through the dark hours of the night.


Who draws guard duty? Not the President, not the general, not the colonel; the low-ranking soldiers have the watch. But the Lord Himself takes the ordinary duty, the low-ranking duty of watching, caring, protecting.


This is He who washes feet, makes his bed in a manger, and rides on donkeys instead of horse-drawn chariots. That is your God, your keeper. His help will not fail you. +INJ+

 

Sermo Dei: Trinity 1, 2017

Posted on June 18th, 2017

God built fatherhood into man’s nature. God made man and blessed him for fatherhood. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1.28). Man was made for fatherhood. The man we call Abraham is—as you can see from today’s Old Testament reading (Gen. 15:1-6)—originally named Abram. Abram means “exalted father.” That refers to God, Our Father.

Abram, named for the Father, wants to be a father himself. Abram wants a son.

But he is old, and his wife is old. Some of you know how difficult it can be to conceive a child. And as the years go by, you feel worthless, and hopeless. That’s where Abram and his wife Sarai are.


They didn’t have the many options that confront us today. Some of those options are expensive, and others are deeply problematic morally. For example, IVF (in vitro fertilization) offers you children, but the cost (besides money) is that many other children will be created in a laboratory and frozen. Those tiny human beings then either remain in an icy limbo, or are destroyed. A consistent pro-life ethic values the life of every human being, be they disabled, displaced, disregarded, or disappeared into deep freezers.

Enormous topics like these cannot be properly treated in ten minutes. Please talk to a pastor when you’re thinking through these kinds of issues. And also talk to God. Pray about your desires and your disappointments. That’s what we see Abram doing. He sets his desire for a son before God.

“You have given me no offspring,” he says. Earlier, God had promised his descendants would be “as the dust of the earth” (Gen. 13.16).

It seems like God is not keeping His promise, as though He doesn’t care. Do you ever feel that way? Ignored by God, or punished? All this Abram feels, along with one other key thing – and this is the biggest item of all. You can’t understand the Bible without getting this big theme: the promise of the Son. Not just a son, a child, but the Son. After the fall into death and sin, God gives our first parents a promise: that a Son would come and crush the head of the serpent. A child of the woman would defeat death and set the world right again.


Now the Bible is more than literature, but it’s never less than literature. There’s a plot line running through Scripture, where you see this hope constantly in peril. The first son, Cain, murders the second son Abel. Cain is exiled, Abel is dead; what will happen to the promise?

The promise is passed down to Seth, eventually to Noah, and his son Shem, then to Abraham.

Murder fills the world, and coldness among people. Sarah is barren, as is Rebekah. Famine comes, and threatens the entire family of Jacob. Eventually the people of the promise are enslaved, and the Egyptians order the murder of all the baby boys. This isn’t just a heinous crime; the future of God’s promise is threatened. The scene is repeated after Jesus is born, when Herod orders the execution of all the little boys in Bethlehem, in an attempt to destroy Jesus.

The entire story of the world is about a Son who will come from the Father to rescue, redeem, resuscitate the failing human race. And one of the key moments in this story, several thousand years before a virgin named Mary went with a man named Joseph to Bethlehem – one of the key moments in this story is when childless Abram, heir to the promise, cries out to God in his old age, “Where is my son?”

The world hangs on the edge of disaster. There is no son, and the promise will die.

But God acts in these extraordinary, sometimes bizarre ways, to show us that our help, our rescue depends not on our strength but on His. He brings food in the desert, He makes a road where there was only water, and He brings a child from a barren, even a virgin’s womb.


Into their barrenness the LORD speaks: “Count the stars.” We don’t see the stars here. Only a few. The city’s artificial lights cloud the natural. But there, in the darkness of the night and the darkness of his heart, Abram sees the sky filled with innumerable distant lights, and cannot begin to count them. “That uncountable number,” the LORD says – “that is how your children shall be.” Abraham’s desire for a son will culminate in God the Father sending His own Son to rescue and redeem us.


And then comes one of the most important and most beautiful passages in the Old Testament:

“And [Abram] believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

This passage is the heart of the Bible’s doctrine of justification by faith. It was at the heart of the Reformation, when God’s Word again shone as a bright light through the fog of Roman darkness and corruption.

Abram believed the Lord. This is not a belief in God, meaning that God exists. This believing is a confidence that a word is true, a promise is true.

Faith is believing God’s Word is true. That means you hear the Word of the Commandments and say, “It is true; I have broken them! Dear God, forgive me!” Then faith hears God’s Word of the cross, the Word of the Son promised to Eve, Noah, Abraham, David, Mary. And faith says, “There He is! The One who at long last crushes the serpent’s head; the One who is going to set the world right!”

That’s the good news that Abraham hears today. It’s still a long ways off. How God will do it remained a mystery to him. But he trusted that his Father would do it.


And that faith, God tells us, was counted to him for righteousness. In the Bible, righteousness doesn’t mean having your good deeds outweigh the bad, or being good in a kind of outward sense. Righteousness means measuring up to everything God’s Law says. Have you argued with your spouse? You are not righteous. Have you lost your temper? You are not righteous. Have you looked at another person with lust? You are not righteous. Have you gathered up money for yourself, but been slow to share it for God’s purposes and your neighbor’s benefit? You are not righteous.

God’s judgment is clear: “There is no one righteous, no, not one.” God’s judgment is clear, and you stand condemned.

So when God says that Abraham’s trust in God’s Word “counted to him for righteousness,” this is the greatest news a person can hear. It gives Abraham, and us, exactly what we heard in today’s Epistle: “Confidence for the day of judgment” (1 Jn 4:17).


Now it may be that you have lived like the rich man, and have not shared your wealth with the Lazaruses of the world. Repent, and look to the promised Son, Jesus.

It may be that you have failed again this week, and given in to your addiction. Repent, and believe what God says, that He takes away your sin.

It may be that you have said you love God but not loved your brother. Repent, and look to Jesus, who takes away the world’s sin.

Your sins are great. But your Jesus is still greater. Believe His cross is for you. Believe His resurrection is for you. Believe His Spirit is given to you. Believe His Supper is for you. Believe this Word, for it is counted to you for righteousness, and you have confidence for today, tomorrow, and the day of judgment. +INJ+

Prayer Vigil for Peace in Alexandria

Posted on June 14th, 2017

 

Prayer Vigil for Peace

Psalm 120

June 14, A+D 2017


A service held the day when five were shot at a practice for the annual Congressional Baseball Game.


“I cry to you for help, and you do not answer me.” These are the words of Job to God. “I cry to you for help, and you do not answer me.” They are the words we feel when terrible things happen. Whether it’s the horrible shooting today, or the unexpected tragedy, or the death of someone we love – where is God? What is His answer? Why is He silent? “I cry to you for help, and you do not answer me.”

At times, it seems God Himself is the author of our troubles. “You toss me about in the roar of the storm. I know that you will bring me to death.”


Each day is typically so ordinary. The same thing, again and again. Slow progress towards our goals. Little happinesses; the same annoyances.

Then suddenly, shots ring out, sirens wail, and distress is all about. What will happen next? Is this the end of the world?


Then too often, as it doesn’t end up affecting us, we resume normality. The storm stops roaring. We stop thinking about death, and go back to daily living. Is that a good thing? We should not just give thanks to God that everything is now alright with us. Six people were shot today in our backyard. One of them is dead. That the man who died was the one who started the shooting should not lessen our compassion. What drove him, what drives any man, to the point of thinking the solution is death?

Isn’t this what pervades our culture – a cult, a culture of death? From our disregard for disabled children, to our callous attitude toward refugees, to our embrace of suicide, to the never-ending wars, all humanity is complicit in today’s shootings. Will we just keep going about our business as though nothing is really wrong? The Speaker of the House today said that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. I agree; although we must remember that the one attacking was also one of us. We are at war not with another political party, or another religion, or another nation – we are at war with ourselves.


Into this comes Jesus. He is the true speaker of tonight’s Psalm. “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!” The world heard Jesus speak, speak words of peace, and they cried, “Crucify Him!” Jesus called us to repent of our sins, and we cried, “Crucify Him!” Jesus invites us to lay down our pride, lay down our weapons, lay down our grudges against others and forgive – and we say, “Crucify Him!”

Still to us tonight He says, “I am for peace.” He enters into our war, feels our afflictions, bears our sins.

In the mystery of the incarnation – the mystery of God becoming man in the Lord Jesus – God Himself enters into our suffering. He suffers all human rejection, oppression, and violence, and the Son experiences the Father’s rejection of all human sin. He feels alone, like Job. He feels frightened, as it must have felt on that baseball field and all around the YMCA and among our neighbors. He feels the agony of death, the same agony that the shooter himself went through today. The heart of Jesus aches and suffers for both shooter and victims today, and in His distress, He Himself cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”


But He also speaks words of forgiveness. To the very ones executing them, He says, “Father, forgive them.” This is what we pray for our enemies: “Father, forgive them.” This is what we say to our enemies: “I forgive you.”

Though the world be for war, we are people of peace. We are people of peace not because we are more righteous or virtuous than others. We are people of peace because we have been forgiven by the Prince of Peace.

Jesus comes into the midst of those who denied Him, those who ran away from Him, those who took up arms and were ready to fight – He comes into their midst and says, “Peace!” And He sends them out with a word of forgiveness.

That’s what we leave here tonight with: a word of forgiveness. For us, and for others. We go out and live in that word, “forgiveness, peace” to all and for all and with all. We go out with this word until the day comes when death is finished and Jesus raises us from death to life.

God bless you all with this peace that the world cannot give. +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Holy Trinity 2017

Posted on June 11th, 2017

Holy Trinity

Isaiah 6:1-7

June 11, A+D 2017


I love the Athanasian Creed. The mystery of the Trinity – three coequal persons who each are God and yet there is one God – and then the mystery of the incarnation, that God the Son assumed our human flesh into His person – the more we know the less we understand; all we are left with is adoration.

And yet I find the Athanasian Creed terrifying. It demands that not only my mind be conformed to God’s Word, but my life and deeds too. The books will be opened and I will be judged. Those who have done good will go into everlasting life; those who have done evil will go into everlasting condemnation. It’s tempting to condemn these words from the Creed as unLutheran, contrary to the doctrine of grace. And yet those words come straight from the lips of Jesus. There’s no getting around them.


So which are you? Are you among those who have done good? The more I know myself, the more I see how much evil there is in everything I do; every word, every glance, every interaction with others, every moment alone, reveling in my pride or sinking into my despair. “Every intention of man’s heart,” says the Word of God, “is only evil all the time” (Gen. 6.5).

We are those who have done evil. That’s the realization of Isaiah in today’s first reading. Isaiah is standing in the earthly Divine Service, in the Temple in Jerusalem, and he sees a vision of the heavenly Divine Service going on continually. Heaven opens to Isaiah, and it is both beautiful and terrifying.

He sees seraphim, spirits of fire. No gentle angels, powerful energies flow forth from them, and they are unlike anything seen in this world. And their immense power bows to the one whose power is infinite and glory beyond compare.

They sing a song of the end of creation, the goal, which they experience now, and we see but dimly. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” We do not see the earth full of God’s glory. We see it full of man’s vainglory, his attempts at pride that end in destruction.


Holy Isaiah does not feel holy. He is confronted with his sin. Before God, he  expects judgment, death. “Woe is me! For I am lost,” which can also mean “undone” – the confrontation with God cannot end well, Isaiah believes.

Whether you feel death, or failure, or that your life is worthless, or you hear the commandments and know how far you fall short, there is something for you in Isaiah’s words, “Woe is me; I am undone.”


Sin costs. That’s what the altar showed. It was not a table, it was a fire, where both cooking and destruction happened. Some food was put there to be grilled, roasted, baked; other food was put there to be entirely consumed. Entire animals were burnt to ashes on the altar, along with flour, and oil. Mixed with incense, there was an vibrant cloud of smoke that would rise up, beautiful with a powerful mixture of smells, smells of blood and death, and pungent smells mixed with sweet and exotic.

The fire there burned perpetually. And as Isaiah confesses his sin, a seraph, a spirit of fire, takes a burning coal from the fire and touches it to Isaiah’s mouth. Something comes from the altar that takes away sin. “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

This anticipates what Jesus does for you this day. Something comes from the altar and purges your sin. It does not burn, for our Lord Jesus felt the burning agony in His body. In today’s Gospel (John 3:1-17), Jesus invites you to believe in Him.


Believing in Jesus is no intellectual exercise, nor even a simple leap of the will. Our belief in Jesus means we stand like Isaiah before the Lord’s altar and say, “I am judged; though the church see me as holy, however the world perceives my actions or character or talent, I know that there is One who sees me for who I am. He knows the darkest thoughts of my mind, the wicked impulses that run through my veins. He sees me, and yet to my astonishment, loves me anyway.”


That’s what it is to be baptized. What the Father said to Jesus at the baptism, He now says to Sam and Charlie and all the baptized: “You are My beloved son; in you I am well-pleased.”

He loves us!

It’s not hard to believe about a baby; but we soon grow out of that into tantrums, trauma and drama and long years of ingratitude. Yet God looks on us at our dirtiest, covered in excrement, crying for no reason and every reason, confused and angry and sad, and still He says, “You are My beloved son; I adopted you, and you are Mine; you make me very glad!”

Then at the proper time, He invites us to receive solid food from His table.

He takes away my sin, all the evil I have done, the evil deeds by which I should be judged – all this evil He erases by inviting me to His altar. Something comes from the altar, but it does not burn. He gives me glad food by which He joins me to Himself.”

Dear friends, come with me to the altar of Jesus, and hear the words spoken to Isaiah as being also for you: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”  +INJ+

Sermon Dei: 2017 Graduation

Posted on June 9th, 2017

ILS Class of 2017

Psalm 33

2017 Immanuel Lutheran School Baccalaureate Vespers

Pentecost Wednesday +++ June 7, A+D 2017


Wherever you go to school next, you’ll probably find a counselor there. Many high schools have guidance counselors; they may advise you on what classes to take, what colleges to consider, what career paths to pursue.

There are other kinds of counselors. Grief counselors help when someone dies, employment counselors help college students find work, and lawyers are called counselors for the help they give about courts and judges and laws.

A good counselor might tell us what we don’t want to hear. Did I tell you about my advisor in college? I thought I was pretty hot stuff, but after he heard me play the piano the first time, he said in his thick Russian accent, “This is bad.” I didn’t like his counsel – but it was valuable.

The counselors in the Psalm we sang tonight, Psalm 33, are the kinds of counselors that tell kings and rulers what to do. Recently President Trump decided to pull the United States out of a climate accord called the Paris Agreement. Reporters said that the president’s counselors didn’t agree, and were pushing him to do different things.

Life can be like that. We get conflicting advice. But more often, the advice is pretty consistent. The world keeps on telling you to do things for yourself. Follow your passion. Do what feels good. Don’t listen to your parents, they don’t understand you.


It doesn’t happen all at once. You might be at a party, and someone urges you to try something you know is dangerous, or do something you know is wrong. You’re nervous about it, but you want to fit in.

Then a few years later, you’re off to college. Mom isn’t getting you out of bed anymore, Dad isn’t taking you to church – in fact, nobody seems to be watching what you do at all. The counsel all around you is very different from what you had here at Immanuel, or from your parents and pastors. Gradually, the new counsel guides you more and more, and everything you learned at home and church is put away like a nursery rhyme or a child’s cartoon.

So you need to decide now what kind of counsel you’re going to listen to, what kind of counselors will guide you.


Each one of you has received great gifts. Huit, you have a quick wit; Gabriel, you are bold and confident; Josie, you are bright and thorough; Kris, every day you work harder and smile more, the Lord Himself has adopted you and made you His own; Preston, you quietly, honorably, and respectfully do exceptional work; and Justus, you fill every day with joy and encouragement.

And all the gifts you have received can be turned against you by counselors who don’t have your best interests at heart. Tonight’s Psalm tells us there are two different kinds of counselors. They are represented by the counselors who guide earthly rulers, and the counsel that God Himself gives to you.

The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever; the plans of his heart to all generations. (Ps. 33.10f).

The counsel of the nations—all the counsel the world will give you—is going to come to nothing. God’s counsel is what lasts, even if it means being different or weird or out of step with everyone else.


“Sing to him a new song,” God’s Word tells you. This has nothing to do with traditional music versus modern music. The old song is the world’s song of hedonism, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” – and notice that the world’s song always ends in death. The songs of human culture always end up being a funeral dirge.

The new song has its lyrics recorded in the Book of Revelation, “And they sang a new song”—a song to the Lamb, Jesus, singing, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God… Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, [who lives] forever and ever!”

That’s your song, Huit, and Gabriel, and Josie, and Kris, and Preston, and Justus. Wherever you go, you don’t have to sing the world’s song. You are singers of a different song, the Lord’s Song. Don’t ever graduate from that. +INJ+

Hurt to the core of the heart

Posted on May 31st, 2017

A true Christian knows that he is a sinner. His sin distresses him enormously and it hurts him to the core of his heart that he can still see and feel his sinfulness. A false Christian, however, neither ‘has’ nor sees any sin in himself. If you come across some one like this, then this person is an anti-christian, a fraud.

-Martin Luther, Luther Brevier, p168

The flesh and blood of the incarnated Jesus

Posted on May 30th, 2017

Here are some excerpts from the first two centuries of the Christian Church on the bodily presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper:


Ignatius [AD 30-107]

If Jesus Christ shall graciously permit me through your prayers, and if it be His will, I shall, in a second little work which I will write to you, make further manifest to you [the nature of] the dispensation of which I have begun [to treat], with respect to the new man, Jesus Christ, in His faith and in His love, in His suffering and in His resurrection. Especially [will I do this] if the Lord make known to me that ye come together man by man in common through grace, individually, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God, so that ye obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ. [Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter XX]


Justin Martyr [AD 103-165]

“We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66 -151 AD)


Irenaeus [+c. AD 202]

“If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?” (Against Heresies 4:33-32 – 189 AD)

“He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life – flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?” (Against Heresies 5:2)

Sermo Dei: Exaudi 2017

Posted on May 29th, 2017

He’s worried, the man who wrote our opening Psalm. “Hear, O Lord,” means, “Are you listening?” He seeks the Lord’s face – yet begs, “Hide not your face from me.” Why is He not listening? Why does His face appear hidden?

ISIS blows up children in Manchester; Coptic Christians are gunned down in Egypt’s desert. Did the Lord not hear them? Why does His face appear hidden?

There you stand, at the grave of your wife. There you stumble, at the difficult moments of your life. There you weep, as your child struggles and suffers. There you sigh, as no companion materializes for you. Did the Lord not hear you? Why does His face appear hidden?

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” Is this unwavering confidence? Or is it encouragement in the midst of fear?


A cross has been prepared for you. “Deny yourself,” Jesus said. “Take up your cross, and follow Me.” Do you want to? Following Jesus means death. Death to yourself, death to your desires. Would you follow the Crucified One? You won’t find an easy victory. “The end of all things is at hand.” “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you.” “The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”

What are we supposed to do in that situation? There are two natural responses: fight or flight. When trouble comes, run away from it. Or, when trouble comes, fight back.


Instead of this, St. Peter in today’s Epistle says that the Christian has a radically different response to trouble. The disciple of Jesus does not run away. The disciple of Jesus does not fight. What does the disciple of Jesus do? Love. Peter alludes to an Old Testament Proverb: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins” (Prov. 10.12).

This doesn’t mean that if you love more, if you do better things, you can cover up and pay for the bad things you’ve done. No, this mean the Christian forgives those who sin. Hatred stirs up strife, because it wants to bring out the sins of others and make them pay.

Who do you want to see pay for their sins? That is what God calls hatred. Is that how you are wanting God to treat you? To keep track of and make you pay for your wrongs?

Love covers a multitude of sins. This is what God’s love has done for you. This is what the love of God in you does for others. G.K. Beale puts it this way: “The idea is not that the wrongs are concealed but not dealt with, but rather that the love itself reconciles the alienated offender and changes everything.”

What would our church look like if we practiced that kind of love with each other? What would your family look like if it practiced that kind of love with each other? “Love covers a multitude of sins.”

This is the last thing our human nature wants to do. We want our pound of flesh. We want someone to pay.


But someone has already paid. The Lord Jesus paid in full. His death covers the multitude of sins.

This is the testimony of the Spirit. “When the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” 

When you sin, this Helper is with you, pointing you to Jesus, who covers your sin.

When you are sinned against, this Helper is with you, pointing you to Jesus, who covers those sins too.

When false witnesses rise against you, this Helper is with you, pointing you to Jesus, who bore silently the accusation of false witnesses.

When those breathing out violence rise against you, this Helper is with you, pointing you to Jesus, who forgave those who did violence to Him.

When you feel all alone, this Helper is with you, pointing you to Jesus, and you know you are never alone.

When you are dying, this Helper is with you, pointing you to Jesus, who died your death.

When you are in the grave, this Helper is with you, and He will breathe again on you, and you will live.


You cry, “Hear, O Lord!” He says, “I hear you, dear child.”

You cry, “Hide not your face from me!” He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

You cry, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” He says, “No one.”

You cry, “I have sinned!” He says, “My love covers a multitude of sins.”

You cry, “My neighbor has sinned!” and He says, “My love covers a multitude of sins.”

This is what you get at the Sacrament today. This is what you leave here with to give away. The Word of the Lord: “My love covers a multitude of sins.” +INJ+

 

Sermo Dei: Ascension 2017

Posted on May 26th, 2017

The Ascension is like staring at the sun. The more you look, the less you see. It’s a mystery. It doesn’t make any sense, but then neither does Jesus walking upon the waters, or passing through closed doors, or being born of a virgin. The creation of the world, or the raising of the dead– it’s all incomprehensible to us.


The Lord’s Ascension instead comforts the simple believer that Jesus is with the Father, and yet keeps on caring for us. Part of His care is calling us to repentance. “To repent means nothing other than to truly acknowledge sins, to be heartily sorry for them, and to stop doing them” (FC SD V). To this then is added remission of sins. This means they are taken away, the debt is cancelled.

This is a total declaration. Sins are gone. There is nothing that comes after. Sins are taken away, blotted out in His name. You are looked upon by the Father as His beloved child. Can you then dare to say, “I will hold my brother’s sins against him, I will make him pay”? If God forgives sins, who are you to hold on to the sin? We all stand together under the cross, baptized in the same name, fed with the same body and blood, blessed with the same blessing.


Three simple phrases surround the Ascension. They show us what the Ascension means for us: “He blessed them.” “They worshipped Him.” “They returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”

“He blessed them.” We don’t know the specific words, although I suspect it is a form of the blessing given to Aaron: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

The main thing is that the blessing, the good word from Jesus, is what remains, what rings out throughout the Church. The Ascension of Jesus means that God is continually saying to us, “Peace.”

We are prone to be angry and want justice. We are upset and don’t understand why the suffering continues. We hurt and want the pain to stop. And constantly the voice of Jesus keeps speaking to us as to a raging storm: “Peace! Be still!”


“They worshipped Him.” Luke’s Gospel ends where it began, in the temple, with worship. Life only makes sense when our eyes are fixed on Jesus: Jesus crucified for us, Jesus victorious over death for us, Jesus returning for us. The Divine Service trains us to see all of life through this lens, that Jesus is Lord, He is with us, and He is returning for us.


This being true, the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” What’s in Jerusalem? The Temple. The promise of the coming Holy Spirit. But there’s something else: Persecution. Suffering. Death.

Still they go. They go knowing that life will be hard. Life will be lived in the valley. They will not be wealthy. They will not be comfortable. They will be hated and hounded. All of them except John will be killed.

Yet they go with joy! This is only possible because everything has changed. Jesus is risen from the dead. They have His blessing. They have the remission of sins. They have His peace. They know that He is not gone into heaven, but rather He has received all the heavens into Himself. He is with them always, even to the end of the age. He is with them in His blessing, His good word. He is with them in His Supper. He is with them in life. He is with them in death. He is with them in the grave. He is with them in the resurrection. He is with them.

So it does not matter what the world does. It does not matter how others treat them. Though everything be cold and dark and they are alone, yet they are never alone. They have Him. They have His blessing.


This now is the pattern of our own lives. He blesses us. We worship Him. We go into the heart of danger with great joy.  +INJ+