Monday, May 27, 2013

Daily Devotional Thought--For the Family

Proverbs 8:1-4
1 Does not wisdom call?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights beside the way,
     at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town,
     at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
4 "To you, O men, I call,
     and my cry is to the children of man.

In the name of + Jesus.

Our kids love getting new things.  They love getting new toys, new books, new shoes, you name it.  Kids love getting new things.  But why?

Is because they’re bored with older things?  Is it that there’s something lacking in those things which have served previous generations so well?  Are today’s children somehow different than those who have grown up in previous generations?  Are time tested tools and toys and teachings somehow inadequate for today’s children who delight in that which is new, and love that which is new, and continuously demand new things?

I say no.

Remember, children are inquisitive.  They’re curious.  That’s how they learn.  That’s how they’re stimulated.  That’s how they stay occupied.  Be it a new book, or a new toy, or a new show on T.V., they like new things because there is something in them to be discovered; something to be explored; something to keep their mind occupied…until they’ve figured it out.  Kids don’t delight in things because they are new.  They delight in them because they are new to them.

Why is this important to remember?  Because, as parents, grandparents, pastors and teachers, we have confused our children’s curiosity with a demand for things that are new.  And as a result, in order to satisfy them—in order to keep them occupied—we only give them new things.

But there’s a problem with things that are new.  They’re haven’t proven themselves beneficial.  Sure, they look appealing; they look attractive; they look to be so good!  But over time, we find, that so many new things are proven to be no better than the old things they promised to replace.  Margarine was supposed to be better than butter.  But now we’re finding out that margarine’s chemical components have side effects that are far worse than butter’s natural fats.  Of course, that’s just one example, and it’s really not that important what you put on your banana bread, now is it?  But what you give your children, and your grandchildren; what we give to those little ones in Sunday School is VERY important.

The verses from Proverbs above remind us that Wisdom’s call is not only to the white-haired retirees among us.  On the contrary.  Wisdom’s call is to the children of man!  And unlike that which is new, wisdom has been  around awhile.  Wisdom has stood the test of time.  Wisdom is what remains after innovation comes and goes, and fads fail again to satisfy.  Wisdom is what endures.  And believe it or not, wisdom is what calls to our children.

Wisdom perks the curiosity of curious children.  Wisdom challenges children who love to learn.  Wisdom offers answers to a world which children want to understand.  Wisdom offers depth to children who love to dig.  And wisdom will not be easily exhausted.  Which is why, when children who can ask “why” more times than parents and grandparents can endure, are given wisdom rather than the latest new thing, they will be given something to keep them busy the rest of their lives.

And how do we give them wisdom?  By giving them what will endure forever—the Word of God (Isaiah 40:8).  You see, children haven’t tired of the Word of God—it’s their parents who have.  Children will delight in it, and will devour it, not only because it is new to them, but because it is wise.  They’ll want to try to take it in.  So let’s give them the opportunity.

Of course this means that parents and grandparents may have to learn to disicpline ourselves so that we don’t give them simply what is new.  But maybe in the process, we’ll finally learn that there is wisdom in trusting what the Word of God has always said.  After all, who do we trust to strengthen our children and our families?  Society’s new ideas?  Or the one who created us, and has promised to give us all good things?

God bless your children, and may they discover the wisdom of God’s Word each and every day.

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word; Curb those who by deceit or sword would wrest the kingdom from Your Son and bring to naught all He has done.

Lord Jesus Christ, Your pow’r make known, for You are Lord of lords alone; defend Your holy Church that we may sing Your praise eternally.

O Comforter of priceless worth, send peace and unity on earth; support us in our final strife and lead us out of death to life (LSB #655).

Friday, May 24, 2013

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Lutheran Confessions

It's Friday.  And that means our series on the Augsburg Confession continues.  This week we look at Article VI.

Article VI (New Obedience)
1 Our churches teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruit [Galatians 5:22–23]. It is necessary to do good works commanded by God [Ephesians 2:10], because of God’s will. We should not rely on those works to merit justification before God. 2 The forgiveness of sins and justification is received through faith. The voice of Christ testifies, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’ ” (Luke 17:10). 3 The Fathers teach the same thing. Ambrose says, “It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving forgiveness of sins, without works, through faith alone.” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 33)

Lutherans are sometimes accused of denying that Christians should do good works. The article on new obedience follows on the heels of the articles on justification and the ministry, and clearly states that Lutherans do insist on good works. The faith given by the Holy Spirit is a living and active power in our lives, bearing the fruit of good works. We must do good works. God commands them. However, they do not save us. They are always the result of saving faith. This article refers to an Early Church Father as proof that this teaching is anchored in the Church’s historic teaching and practice. (See also Ap V.) (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 33)

Ap Apology of the Augsburg Confession

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Daily Devotional Thought--Form the New Testament

John 14:28-29
28 You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.  29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.

In the name of + Jesus.

Spoiler alert!!  Jesus wins, and so do those who trust in Him.

Spoiler alert!!  Jesus is coming on the last day, and those who have faith will be taken up to dwell with Him forever.

Spoiler alert!!  Jesus’ own victory is, by faith, your anticipated future. 

When watching a movie, you typically don’t like to know how it ends—it takes the fun out of it.  But when you live each and every day in a world where the Devil, the World, and your Sinful Flesh are fighting against you, knowing the ending can be quite helpful.  In fact, knowing and trusting the ending will make all the difference in the world.

When Jesus told His disciples of His coming ascension into heaven, he’s spoiling the ending of things.  But when Jesus does it, he does it “so that when it does take place you may believe.”  When Jesus spoils the ending, He doesn’t spoil anything.  On the contrary, He does it to help create and strength faith.

Jesus tells His disciples the ending, and in the pages of Holy Scripture, the ending of all things is revealed to us as well.  The Scriptures tell us that the cross and empty tomb are the signs Jesus has given of His victory of all of our enemies.  When Jesus said, “It is finished,” his victory was complete.  And when He burst forth from the tomb, His victory was now revealed.  As we now live in the last days, attacked on all sides by that unholy trinity, we don’t fear, and we do not lose hope.

Death claims our loved ones.  Sin plagues our desires and we are ravaged with guilt and shame.  The broken world beats us up, as all around the world reminds us that we aren’t in control.  But Jesus is.  Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father, reigning over all things, and is awaiting His triumphant return.  You sin is forgiven.  Guilt and shame give way to peace.  Death will give way to life.  And even this broken world will be redeemed in the new creation.

We know the end of the story.  The Scriptures give us a spoiler alert, and it is Good News.  Jesus wins, and while sin, death and the Devil appear for a time to have won, we know the truth.  And by faith, we now wait for it to be revealed when the trumpet blows on the Last Day.

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Though devils all the world should fill,
     All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill;
     They shall not over pow’r us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
     He can haram us none.
     He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little world can fell him (LSB #656, stanza 3).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament

Genesis 11:1-9
1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.  2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  3 And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.  4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth."  5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.  6 And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech."  8 So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.  9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused1 the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

In the name of + Jesus.

The story of the Tower of Babel is filled with irony.  Consider the following:

1)      God had commanded the people to fill the earth, but it was his ultimate promise to bring them back together again in heaven—through faith in the Christ.
2)      The people desired to be together, but would end up being scattered as a sign of God’s wrath and judgment.

Think about it.  God has chosen to scatter the people across the face of the earth—for a time.  And by faith in God’s Word, those people would one day be gathered back together with all the number of faithful, into a heavenly holy city, the new Jerusalem, to live with God in His presence.

But the people wanted to be together now.  They did not want to live by faith.  They did not want to trust the command of their creator.  They did not want to live a life that God had willed for them to live.  So they built the Tower of Babel, and ended up being scattered anyway.

They very thing the people desired was the thing God had planned to give—in His time—to be together forever.  But because they had chosen to have it on their own terms, they would live out their lives be scattered, the very thing that they sought to avoid.

This is how it always works with God; and this is how it works with our sinful nature.  God desires to give good gifts.  Out of His own mercy and love for humanity, God the Father promises to provide daily bread.  Through the gift of His Son, and the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, He provides forgiveness, life and salvation.  Because He desire all men to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth, the Father sends the Holy Spirit to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify the whole Christian (catholic) Church on earth through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Through the preaching of the Gospel, hearts are brought to repentance and are given the gift of faith in Christ.  And where there is faith in Christ, scattered people from across the globe are united again under the name of Jesus, and are promised to be united in the new creation forever.

Faith trusts that what God gives is always good.  Though we don’t see the end of things; though life’s many challenges and changes cause us to doubt; though sin, death, and the Devil would tempt us to demand that God give His gifts on our schedule, faith trusts God to give His gifts, when and where He wills.  And faith trusts that when and where God wills to give those gifts, they will be good gifts.

The irony is that unbelief ends up getting what it wants…for now, and ends up with nothing in the end.  But faith, even though it waits to receive what it wants, will end up having everything in the end.  And we know this by looking at Jesus—the cross; the empty tomb; the ascension…and one day…His glorious return, when the men and women of faith, scattered around the world, will be gathered together forever.

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

We praise You, O God, that You enable Your Church to overcome our divisions with the Gospel of salvation in Christ Jesus, by which you bind us together as one in the forgiveness of sins.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms

Psalm 143
1 Hear my prayer, O LORD;
Give ear to my pleas for mercy!
     in your faithfulness answer me,
     in your righteousness!
2 Enter not into judgment with your servant,
     for no one living is righteous before you.
3 For the enemy has pursued my soul;
He has crushed my life to the ground,
     he has made me sit in darkness
     like those long dead.
4 Therefore my spirit faints within me;
     my heart within me is appalled.
5 I remember the days of old; I meditate on
all that you have done;
     I ponder the work of your hands.
6 I stretch out my hands to you;
     my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
7 Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails!
     Hide not your face from me, lest I be like
     those who go down to the pit.
8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
     Make me know the way I should go,
     For to you I lift up my soul.
9 Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD!
     I have fled to you for refuge!
10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!
     Let your good Spirit lead me on level Ground!
11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life!
     In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble.
12 And in your steadfast love
you will cut off my enemies,
     and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
     for I am your servant.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
     and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
     is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Devotion (Taken from, Reading the Psalms with Luther, St. Louis: CPH, 2007)
The 143rd psalm is a psalm of prayer. The psalmist prays for grace and forgiveness of sins, in the terror of his conscience. He is nearly pressed to despair by the enemies of faith, that is, the promoters of the Law. These especially plague the distressed and timid conscience and drive it into darkness, that is, into despair and death with heavy burdens and unbearable doctrine of works, which they do not so much as touch with one of their fingers, as Christ says (Matthew 23:1).

But here the psalm shows that grace provides deliverance, not the judgment before which no one alive can stand. Of this all the ancient histories and works of the Lord also give witness. For all of the holy patriarchs of old placed their hope on God’s love and grace, not on the judgment. As St. Peter also says (Acts 15:10), “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

I consider their works and examples of old (he says here), and I am comforted, for they were comforted and delivered from sin purely from grace, just as I am. Even Abraham himself was called from out of idolatry (Joshua 24:2). No praise of human righteousness or holiness has any value here at all, no matter how much the false prophets worry us.

By Your grace, O God, grant us the forgiveness of all our sins. And by Your Holy Spirit enlighten our eyes to see both our own sinfulness and the holiness of Your Law, that our trust may not stand in the righteousness of works, but in Your grace which You have promised in Your Son, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to sanctify and cleanse us. Amen (Reading the Psalms with Luther, p. 144).

Monday, May 20, 2013

Daily Devotional Thought--For the Family

Acts 2:4
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

In the name of + Jesus.

On the day of Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit accomplished in an instant what is otherwise a great challenge that countless hours of study and preparation.  While children can learn to speak their mother tongue in a couple years, and acquiring additional languages later in life is a long and difficult task, on the day of Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit placed foreign languages on the tongues of Jesus’ disciples in an instant.

In an instant, they had the ability to speak of Jesus, and proclaim the works of Jesus, and preach Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins for all those people from across the land.  In an instant, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were given the ability to preach the Gospel to those who otherwise would not have heard of the might works of God done in Jesus.

It was a miracle.  It was an awesome sight—and sound, to be sure!  And since it was a miracle (not a regular! J ) we don’t expect it to happen that way today.  Just ask first-year seminary students who spend countless hours a day trying to learn Greek or Hebrew.  And yet, whether it happens in an instant or over time, learning the language of the Gospel is always given by the Holy Spirit.

To hear that your sins are forgiven by the death of Christ; to learn that Jesus’ resurrection is the sign of your own resurrection; to trust that Holy Baptism incorporates you into Christ, and washes you clean as a forgiven child of the Father; to believe that Jesus feeds you with His own body and blood to build you up and strengthen you in the forgiveness of sins; all of this happens when the Holy Spirit is working.  And it happens where the Holy Spirit is working.

Which is why the Christian household is so critically important.  How do children learn to speak in the first place?  They hear the voices of mom and dad. They listen to the voices of mom and dad.  They imitate the voices of mom and dad.  And eventually, you notice that they’re beginning to talk like mom and dad.

It is true for acquiring any spoken language, but it is also true for the language of the faith.  Forgiveness, Baptism, Holy Communion; Justification, Sanctification; Law, Gospel, sin and grace; even Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the cross and empty tomb: these are words which will not be known unless they are heard.  These are words which won’t be believed unless they are listened to.  These are words which won’t be used unless they are a part of the language spoken in the home.

But that’s the wonderful thing about these words.  When they are spoken, when they are listened to, and when they are heard, the Holy Spirit will use them just as He did on the Day of Pentecost.  He will use them to reveal Jesus.  And just like the Day of Pentecost, these words, learned in an instant or over time, will be the words by which the Holy Spirit will give, strengthen, and sustain faith in Jesus.

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

1                   Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord,
With all Your graces now outpoured
    On each believer’s mind and heart;
    Your fervent love to them impart.
Lord, by the brightness of Your light
In holy faith Your Church unite;
    From ev’ry land and ev’ry tongue
    This to Your praise, O Lord, our God, be sung:
        Alleluia, alleluia!

2                   Come, holy Light, guide divine,
Now cause the Word of life to shine.
    Teach us to know our God aright
    And call Him Father with delight.
From ev’ry error keep us free;
Let none but Christ our master be
    That we in living faith abide,
    In Him, our Lord, with all our might confide.
        Alleluia, alleluia!

3                   Come, holy Fire, comfort true,
Grant us the will Your work to do
    And in Your service to abide;
    Let trials turn us not aside.
Lord, by Your pow’r prepare each heart,
And to our weakness strength impart
    That bravely here we may contend,
    Through life and death to You, our Lord, ascend.
        Alleluia, alleluia!
(LSB, 497)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

In the Name of the LORD (Sermon preached on May 19, on the Day of Pentecost)

Sermon texts: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Ascended Lord, Jesus Christ.  Let us pray:

 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of (our) heart(s) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, (our) rock and (our) redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

In the name of Jesus.

We have heard three readings this morning, on this Day of Pentecost.  Three readings which have put into our ears the viva vox Christi—the living voice of Christ—by which the Holy Spirit turns us from ourselves, in repentance and faith, so that we would see Jesus, and live.  In three readings the Word of God has been spoken to us, so that the Holy Spirit might deliver it into our hears, and to our minds, and down to our hearts, where, by pointing us to Jesus, He would plant faith firmly within, so that we might be a people who forever calls upon the name of the Lord to be saved.  This morning, on this Day of Pentecost, as we celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit to create and sustain and even strengthen the faith of all believers who have learned not to trust in ourselves, but in Christ alone, and as we consider the three readings which have been placed before us, we find that there is one theme which binds them all together.  And that theme is: The Name of the Lord.
The first reading is the well-known story of the Tower of Babel; the story of a people who have already disregarded the LORD’s command to be fruitful, and multiply, and to fill the earth.  Rather than filling the earth, they have chosen that they know better; they’ll stay in one spot, all together, so they think.  But even more, they’ve begun to think so highly of themselves that they decide to show God what they think of Him—and what they think of themselves.  “Come,” they say to themselves, “let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
In order to accommodate their obstinant refusal to spread out across the land, they choose to build a tower so tall that it alone would be big enough to serve as the city by itself, and all the people could literally be in the same place.  Do you see how brazen this is?
The LORD had commanded them to spread out across the earth—to fill it up.  But they would not.  They wanted to say all together in one place.  In fact, they are so blinded by their desire to stay in one place, that they begin to think that their tower-city will somehow impress God.  They think that their corrupt construction project will actually be able to reach up to God.  They think that by showing God what they can do, how they know better, and how they’ve been able to manage a work-around to His Almighty will, they will make a name for themselves.
But that’s the problem: they’re trying to make a name for themselves.  They’re trying to reach up to God by their work.  They’re trying to impress God by what they are capable of doing.  With their attempts to build a life for themselves,, they’ve disregarded the life which the Lord has chosen to give.  And in the process the only name they make for themselves is a name that reveals their rebellion, and they would end up being scattered anyway as a sign of God’s wrath and judgment.
Of course, we have done the same, have we not?  Maybe you don’t try to impress God with your architectural achievements, but you do try to impress Him nonetheless.  Those of you who have been coming to our Wednesday evening Bible classes have heard and read about a number of ways we try to reach up to God to impress Him, and to show him how great we have become.  We do it with our minds.  We do it with our ideas.  We do it with our morals.  We do it with our events and activities.  We do it with the next big thing which promises to deliver success.  We do it in many and various ways.  Because we want to reach up to God, and show Him what we’re capable of.  We want to impress him with our work.  We want to make sure He knows our name.  We want to make a name for ourselves.
And where does that leave us?  It leaves us invisible to the Lord.  It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.  All of our attempts to impress God, and all of our reaching up to God, and all of our wanting to impress God, and all of our trying to show Him what we’re capable of doing, amounts to nothing: filthy rags.  All of our attempts to make a name for ourselves fail even to be seen by Him, much less are impressive to Him.
When those people of old tried to build a tower to the heavens the LORD God almighty couldn’t even see it.  He had to come down, our of heaven, to see what they thought was so impressive.  Can you picture it?  There they are, building their “Tower to the Heavens,” and they think what they’ve done is so impressive, but when the Lord looks down upon them, He can’t even see it.  He has to do down to get a look, because what man-kind is capable of, when it is compared to what the LORD Himself had promised to give, amounts to nothing.
But there are two other readings in front of us today.  And so, having learned the foolishness of our attempts to impress God with our work; having the Holy Spirit remind us through the Tower of Babel of the utter nonsense of trying to make a name for ourselves, we now turn to the Holy Gospel, where the Holy Spirit reminds us of the one who is doing both the building and the naming.
Solomon had written long ago, maybe even recalling the foolishness of the Tower of Babel, that, unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain (Psalm 127:1).  In John 14, with the Word of Jesus Christ Himself, we are reminded that those who love Christ, and keep His Word—that is, those who believe in Him—will come to Him and have their home with him.  In the Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would Jesus have told them that He was going to prepare a place for them, and for you?  He had spoken these things to them while He was still with them, but now, Jesus was promising to send the Helper—the Holy Spirit—who would teach them all things, and keep in front of them everything that Jesus had said, and taught, and promised.  And that Helper—the Holy Spirit—would be sent by the Father in the name of Jesus.
There it is: the name of the LORD—the name of Jesus.  It is that name in which the Holy Spirit was promised to come.  And when the Holy Spirit would come, he would bring peace which passes all understanding, and He would bring it in the name of Jesus—our Savior!.  When the Holy Spirit would come, he would take all your fears and your troubles, and He would remove them with the name of Jesus who would be raised victorious from the grave, and would ascend to reign on High.  When the Holy Spirit would come, all the faithful would love the LORD, and rejoice in the LORD, and believe in the LORD, for the Helper—the Holy Spirit—would come in the name of Jesus, and with the name of Jesus He would continue to build a heavenly home filled with the sons and daughters of God.
He had been given the name Jesus because He would save His people from their sins with His death on the cross.  And having risen from the dead, he would ascend to the right hand of the Father, so that the Holy Spirit might come as the Helper to continue to build the household of faith—a great city of God from every nation and tribe and people which no one can count.  Having completed His work of redemption, Jesus would go to the Father, and send the Helper—the Holy Spirit, by whose power all the faithful would no longer seek to make a name for themselves, but would learn, by faith, to call upon the name of the one who is above all names, whereby they would be saved.
And that brings us to Acts, chapter 2, the third of today’s readings.  The Day of Pentecost had arrived, and the twelve disciples were all together in one place, still waiting for Jesus’ promised Helper to be poured out upon them so that they could begin to serve as apostles and carry the preaching of Christ into all the world.  And then it happened.  The Helper was sent, and the Holy Spirit filled those twelve disciples, and by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, they begn to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to do.
And there were Parthians, and Medes and Elamites and residents of Meopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phyrigia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians all in that place.  The scattering of the Tower of Babel, and the confussion of languages was undone by the hand of God in the sending of the Helper—the Holy Spirit—who enabled men and women from across the land to hear, in their own languages, the mighty works of God.
Just as Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit had come in His name, and in that miraculous event, He was teaching all of those people what Jesus had done to accomplish their salvation.  The life of Jesus, which fulfilled the Law’s demands; the death of Jesus, which took the Father’s wrath; the resurrection of Jesus which took death’s sting; and the ascension of Jesus, which proves the Father’s pleasure: these were the mighty works of God being placed into the mouths of the disciples by the Helper.  And so, the Helper—the Holy Spirit—had truly come in the name of Jesus, for on that day, the Day of Pentecost, those who would hear the preaching of Jesus would no longer seek to impress God, or to make a name for themselves; they were given the name which is above all names; the name by which they would be saved.
And so it is today, my friends.  As sinners who seek to impress God, and to make names for ourselves; as sinners who fight over personal preferences, and who seek to one-up each other so that we might gain a better reputation and our names would be known; as foolish men and women who try to impress God by what we can accomplish, be it with our mind, or our morals, or our prosperity, we have made ourselves a divided people.  We divide ourselves.  But God would seek to make us one—a Holy Communion of Saints, forgiven by the blood of Jesus and trusting in Him to give us a name.
And so He does.  Not in miraculous ways as we see on the day of Pentecost, but in simple ways.  The Helper Comes.  The Holy Spirit comes in the name of Jesus, and He puts before us in the reading of Scripture the prophecies of Jesus, and the works of Jesus and the teaching of Jesus.  And the Holy Spirit comes, and in the preaching done in the name of Jesus He puts before us the foolishness of the Gospel; He places before our eyes the cross and the empty tomb and He says that this is the way the LORD has chosen to build His house.  And the Holy Spirit comes through Water and the Word of Promise, and He washes us clean and plants faith in our hearts, and daily teaches us to trust in the name that has been placed upon us: the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit comes through the promise made in Jesus’ name which declares you to be forgiven in the eating and drinking of His body and blood.  And in it all, the Holy Spirit comes, in the name of Jesus, to build a household of faith called the holy Christian Church.
And in this Holy Christian Church, the scattering of sinful people, and the confusion of our communication, and the divisions caused by our seeking a name for ourselves are undone in the name of the Lord.  The Tower of Babel is reversed, and by faith in the name of Jesus, people of all tribes and nations, and languages; and people with all kinds of personal preferences; and people with all kinds of names, are bound together by the name of Jesus.
Where people are trying to impress God with their accomplishments, and are seeking to make a name for themselves, there will only be division, and competition, and envy, and jealousy, and the list could go on and on.  But where the name of Jesus is made known, the Holy Spirit takes divided and sinful people, and binds them together as one, in the name of Jesus, to be a people that confesses, and believes, and rejoices in the name by which they have forgiveness, life, and salvation.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t help you reach up to God in order to impress Him.  He brings God down to you, in the name of Jesus, so that you would be gathered by the name, and call upon the name, and rejoice in the name by which you are saved.  In the name of Jesus the Holy Spirit promises you a home in heaven forever.  In the name of T Jesus.  Amen.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Lutheran Confesssions

Today we resume our Friday series on the Augsburg Confession.  And today we consider two of the articles.  Why two?  Because, grammatically, they are one.  That is to say, the last sentence in Article IV continues on into Article V.  They go together!  Justification must be given, and received, by people.  Therefore, from the Article on Justification proceeds the Article on The Ministry.  Enjoy!

Article IV (Justification)
1 Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. 2 People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. 3 God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4 [3:21–26; 4:5] (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 33).

Note: There is a historic saying in Lutheranism that the Church stands or falls on the article of justification. To justify means “to declare righteous.” God’s sure and certain declaration that we are righteous in His eyes is possible only because of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Through His life, Jesus satisfied God’s demand for perfect obedience. Through His sacrificial death, Jesus took God’s wrath and atoned for the sins of the world. The Holy Spirit, through the means of grace, works in us saving faith, which personally apprehends what Christ has done for us. Our justification before God, therefore, is brought about by the One who lived, suffered, and died for our salvation. We cannot merit God’s favor through our obedience; we cannot offer sacrifices to pay for our sins. But what we cannot do for ourselves, Christ has done for us. He is the solid Rock on which God builds His Church. On Him, and Him alone, we stand forgiven. (See also Ap IV; SA III XIII; FC Ep III and SD III.) (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 33).


Article V (The Ministry)
1 So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. 2 Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. 3 This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.
4 Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 33).

Note: How can what Christ did for us two thousand years ago—through His life, death, and resurrection—become effective in our lives today? During the Reformation, as also today, some imagined they would experience the Holy Spirit through their own reflections, by enjoying nature, or by ecstatic religious experiences. The comforting truth is that the Holy Spirit works through objective, external, sure, and certain means of grace, through which we receive justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone. While the most direct concern of Article V is to confess the Holy Spirit’s work through the means of grace, there is also in view, indirectly, the Office of the Ministry, which the German version of the Augsburg Confession calls “the Preaching Office” [das Predigtamt]. The Preaching Office is not instituted by man, but is established by God Himself. Article XIV discusses the necessity of the Church call. (See also SA III VII and X; Treatise.) (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 33)


Keep us, O Lord, in the true faith. Send Your Holy Spirit to use Your Word to create, sustain, and strengthen faith in the hearts of Your people.  Amen.

Ap Apology of the Augsburg Confession
SA Smalcald Articles
FC Ep Epitome of the Formula of Concord
SD Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord
SA Smalcald Articles

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why the Ascension of Jesus Is a Reason to Celebrate (Sermon preached on May 12th, for the observation of The Ascension of Our Lord)

Sermon texts: Luke 24:44-53Acts 1:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Ascended Lord, Jesus Christ.  Let us pray:

O grant, dear Lord, this grace to me, recalling Your ascension, that I may serve You faithfully in thanks for my redemption (LSB, 492, st. 3). “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of (our) heart(s) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, (our) rock and (our) redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

In the name of Jesus.

            I have to confess: for many years I had difficulty understanding why the Ascension of Jesus was such a big deal; even wondering to myself why it was a something to celebrate at all.  I mean, I would hear this talk from pastors and professors who know much more than I about the Bible and Christianity, and the history of how God’s people have worshipped, and they would talk about how the Feast of Ascension was such an important day.  They would put it into the category of Christmas, and Easter, and would talk about the services for Ascension calling for that sort of celebration.  And indeed, in the history of the Church, the Feast of Ascension has its very own day, and it was always one of those important days of the Church Year that demanded its own week-day service.  Could you imagine the Church not gathering for worship on Christmas Eve, no matter on which day of the week it happened to fall in any given year?  That’s how it was for Ascension.  40 Days after Easter—always a Thursday—Christians would gather together to remember the Ascension of Jesus—and I never understood.
            Christmas was obvious to me.  Jesus had come!  Let’s celebrate!  Our Savior is here; and isn’t he cute!  Easter?  We’ll that doesn’t need much explanation, especially if you’ve been present for the services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  Jesus has given himself up into death.  Jesus has been crucified on the cross.  The Son of God has been forsaken.  But behold, Christ is risen!  Obviously, Easter is worthy of a day of celebration.
            But Ascension?  The day when, Luke tells us, Jesus “parted from them and was carried up into heaven;” the day when the one who had come to be with them—God in the flesh; Immanuel—would be seen departing from them; what is there to celebrate in that?  I just didn’t understand; and apparently, judging by the fact that the day of Ascension comes and goes without notice in most Christian congregations—even those with a mind toward the Church Year—and for many years has not been given its own evening of Festival Worship Services, I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand why the ascension of Jesus is such a big deal—and wonders what there is to celebrate.
And yet, as the story is told in the Gospel of Luke, even after Jesus had departed from the disciples and was carried up into heaven, the disciples remained and worshipped.  And then, when they departed into Jerusalem, they didn’t depart in despair, or with frowns on their faces, as if they had reason to be sad.  Luke tells us that they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.  Apparently those who were there thought Jesus’ ascension was a reason to celebrate and to sing praises.
So what was I missing?  What are we missing?  What is it about the ascension of Jesus that we have failed to see?  What is it about Jesus’ departure into heaven that gave those disciples, and the Church Fathers, so much joy, and caused them to rejoice with high praise?  And what is it about the ascension of Jesus that would cause us to do the same, if we would see it, or understand it, or just simply believe it?  Why is Jesus’ ascension such Good News?  Why is it essentially, part of the Gospel?  And what about it is a reason to rejoice, when it appears to be anything but?
To begin to answer that question, I’d like you to picture a boy, coming home from school with a good report card.  Imagine the excitement and anticipation building as all the hard work has paid off, and he waits to get off the bus, and walk into that house, report card in hand, to show mom and dad that he has gotten straight A’s.  Those A’s are the marks he has earned in an effort to please mom and dad, and there they are, written in ink by the hand of the teacher, and with her signature to prove it: a job well done; excellent work.  And most important of all—mom and dad are proud of him.
Do we forget where Jesus is going when He ascends?  He’s ascending into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.  He’s going home, so to speak; and even more, Jesus is bringing with him proof of a job well done.  Where Adam and His descendants fail, Jesus has succeeded.  Not a single one of the Laws demands had been overlooked; no assignment given Him from the Father is incomplete.  He has finished them all; and done the job perfectly.
You shall have no other gods: check; Jesus wouldn’t flinch at Satan’s temptation to do otherwise.  You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your god: check; in every trouble, Jesus has called on the name of the Father, and taught the disciples to do the same.  Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy: check; Jesus would sanctify each day with the Word of God, and would never give in to Satan’s twisting and turning of His Father’s commands, but would rest in them as the very Bread of Life from which He lived.  Love your neighbor as yourself, honoring authorities, and protecting bodies, and living a life of sexual purity, and protecting the possessions of others, and speaking well of others, and being content with what the Father would give, be it great or small: Check, check, check, and check; Jesus does it all; fulfills the Law of God in such a way that His life of service to His neighbor becomes the model by which all would know if they are doing any good at all.
And He has been given marks.  Those wounds in his hand and side—wounds from which His blood was shed, poured out for all to cover their sin—those are the marks He bears on his body to show the Father proof of a job well done.  His hands, and feet, and side are the marks which please the Father so much, that He would lavish upon Jesus the riches of His glory.  With the marks of the cross always and forever on His body, Jesus ascends to sit at the right hand of the Father, where He makes the Father proud, and pleased, and anxious to bestow on you such marvelous gifts that are beyond comprehension.
Why does Jesus’ ascension give us reason to rejoice?  Because His ascension means that you have an intercessor.  When the Father looks upon you, He cannot look at you without seeing the marks that Jesus earned in saving you, and earning for you the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  The one whose blood has earned forgiveness, and whose resurrection has ripped a hole in death which makes it unable to keep you in the grave, has ascended on high, and has been seated by the Father at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and is there with the name that is above all names, so that you would have a Savior, through whom the Father’s blessings are yours, because of a job well done by Jesus.
And so, one who believes in the Ascended Lord can’t help but rejoice, for in the Ascended Lord, there is certainty of an almighty God who does not look at your sin and wait for the day to bring down His wrath and punishment.  With Jesus’ ascension, His bloody marks are interceding for you.  There is certainty of an almighty God who looks at you and sees His Son put upon you in Holy Baptism, and who sees His Son speaking for you in Holy Absolution, and who sees His Son giving His very body and blood into you in the Lord’s Supper, for the righteousness of Jesus is put upon in you in the Gospel.  Greater than all your sin, is the ascended Lord, through whom the Father is also, now pleased with you.
And even then, there is still something remaining for us to see; still something left of Jesus’ ascension to be revealed, and believed, so that our joy might be complete.  Even while we rejoice at the wonderful news that Jesus has ascended to the Father to intercede on our behalf with His sacred wounds, we must always remember, that the Ascended Lord Jesus, is still with us.
He is not far from us, as if His ascension has removed Him from us.  The risen and ascended Jesus is here; He is in this place, today.  And you have heard His voice.  Do not think that in the Holy Absolution you are hearing only the voice of a man.  And do not believe, that when the Sacred Scriptures are read, you are hearing only words.  And do not be consider that when you come to the feast prepared by the LORD you are only pretending.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  The place you have gathered this morning is called the Divine Service for a reason.  For here, the ascended divine Jesus comes to serve you, who are weak and heavy laden.  In Holy Absolution, through the voice of a called and ordained servant of Christ, the ascended Lord Jesus is present in the place to forgive your sins.  And in the reading of Sacred Scripture, the same Word of God by which the entire World was created, is in this place, speaking to you the very Words that bring you life.  There is a reason the pastor says, “This is the Word of the Lord,” and you say “Thanks be to God.”  And there is a reason, on a day like Ascension, we read the Holy Gospel in the midst of the congregation, you see, because the ascended Lord Jesus has promised to be here, and to be present, in His Word.  You hear the voice of your pastor, but because of Jesus’ promise, and the post-ascension witness of the apostles, you can be certain that the one who is actually speaking to you, is Jesus Christ Himself.
And of course, although the body and blood of Jesus have ascended on high to sit with the Father, in His Supper, He is not only here in His Word, but He is here in His body and His blood to forgive, and to sanctify, and to make you all, one holy communion, brothers and sisters in Christ, who week, after week, after week, come to the Divine Service to hear the voice of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus; to be forgiven by the one whose marks make the Father pleased with you; and to receive this ascended Jesus into your bodies, so that, together, you might be His living body today.
For if that is what we see going on in the Divine Service, then you will also know, that the post-ascension witness of Jesus has not ended, but has been heard again today.  Jesus has ascended on high, where His marks are the means by which you receive every good gift of the Father.  And yet, Jesus is here, speaking to you in the Divine Service, so that you who are weak and heavy laden, might find rest in Him, and have every reason to celebrate in the Ascension of Our Lord.  In the name of T Jesus, our ascended Lord.  Amen.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Lutheran Confessions

Today, we continue our Friday series on the Augsburg Confession.

Article III (The Son of God)
1 Our churches teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God [John 1:14], assumed the human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 2 So there are two natures—the divine and the human—inseparably joined in one person. There is one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried. 3 He did this to reconcile the Father to us and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of mankind [John 1:29].
4 He also descended into hell, and truly rose again on the third day. Afterward, He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. There He forever reigns and has dominion over all creatures. 5 He sanctifies those who believe in Him, by sending the Holy Spirit into their hearts to rule, comfort, and make them alive. He defends them against the devil and the power of sin.
6 The same Christ will openly come again to judge the living and the dead, and so forth, according to the Apostles’ Creed (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 32).

Note: The Augsburg Confession teaches the historic, biblical doctrine of Christ. Many early controversies about Christ’s human and divine natures were resolved through careful study of God’s Word, and are reflected in the Nicene Creed. Article III echoes that creed—our Lord Jesus Christ is one person having two natures: truly God and truly man. This is another mystery of the Christian faith that we receive with thanks, bowing before Christ in humble adoration. His incarnation in the womb of His virgin mother, Mary, was for our salvation. He is, and remains, for all eternity the God-man, the One who appeased, or propitiated, God’s wrath against our sin and won for us eternal life. Even now He is present with us through His appointed means of grace—the Gospel and the Sacraments. He comes to strengthen, sustain, and support us, and to bring us safely to our heavenly home. (See also Ap III; SA II I; FC Ep VIII and SD VIII.) (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 32).

Keep us, O Lord, in the true faith. Send Your Holy Spirit to use Your Word to create, sustain, and strengthen faith in the hearts of Your people.  Amen.

Ap Apology of the Augsburg Confession
SA Smalcald Articles
FC Ep Epitome of the Formula of Concord
SD Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord