Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter - Exaudi - Jn 15:26-16:4

                                                                                                Easter 7
                                                                                                Jn 15:26-16:4

            As I have watched my children advance through school in math, I have been reminded about how much learning you take for granted – about how many pieces must be put in place before you can do more advanced work. There is the need to learn addition and subtraction, and then these operations with multiple digits. One must learn the multiplication tables, and then learn division, and then learn to do these with multiple digits.  There are fractions and decimals. There is geometry and algebra.  It takes years to advance through these stages, and until you have completed the earlier learning you are not capable of handling what comes later.  Until a person has been prepared, they are not capable of learning the new information.
            This same basic truth describes what is happening in Jesus’ discussion with the disciples in our text today day. The Gospel lesson for a number of the Sundays of Easter comes from John chapters fifteen and sixteen. This material is often called the “Farewell Discourse.” It was spoken as Jesus and the disciples were making their way to the Garden of Gethsemane, and the general tone of it is one of farewell because Jesus talks about how he will be leaving to return to the Father.
            Our Lord recognizes the disciples’ current state of learning and preparation.  He says in chapter sixteen: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The disciples weren’t ready for more. They couldn’t handle it. And so Jesus talks about what is going to happen in the future.  He talks about a time when he will send the Holy Spirit, the Helper. Jesus says at the beginning of our text, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
            Our Lord says that he will send the Spirit of truth from the Father – the Spirit who proceeds from the Father. Immediately after our text Jesus says that his approaching departure from the disciples is in fact a good thing for them.  He says, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
            On Thursday we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. Our Lord was exalted as he departed in the ascension and was seated at the right hand of God.  We may wonder why it is that Jesus must depart in order for him to send the Spirit.  God’s Word provides us with no explicit explanation.  We are simply told that this is how God works.
            Of course before he departed Jesus had work to do.  Last week we heard how Jesus alluded to his own crucifixion by talking about Moses and the bronze serpent on a pole.  He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  
            Earlier in the Gospel Jesus had said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  Jesus had come to be lifted up on the cross as the sacrifice for sin. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
            By his death he has taken away your sin.  He has freed you from slavery.  Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
            We like to think of ourselves as being independent and self-sufficient.  We can take care of things, and we can do it on our own terms. But this is the lie of the devil.  For when it comes to our standing before the holy God everything we think, do, and say has been infected by sin.  It’s not just that we do things that are wrong. Even when we do things that are right, we do them with mixed motives. Sin permeates these things too and so in God’s eyes all our good works are as filthy rags.
            Yet by his death on the cross, Jesus Christ has won forgiveness.  And then on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  Because of Jesus, death has been defeated.  Those who believe in Jesus have forgiveness and eternal life now.  And Jesus will share his resurrection with all who believe in him.  Our Lord said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
            This is the Gospel.  But for people to believe the Gospel it must be shared with them.  And so Jesus says in our text, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
            The apostles had accompanied Jesus during his ministry. They had heard his teaching. They had seen his miracles – his signs that he performed. Most importantly they would meet the risen Lord as he demonstrated to them again and again in unmistakable ways that the One who had been crucified was now alive.
            This section of John’s Gospel speaks about what the Spirit will do.  It becomes clear that the apostles will be the means by which the Spirit will work.  Earlier the Lord said, “And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
            Jesus promises that the Spirit will teach the disciples all things and bring to their remembrance what Jesus has said.  And then after our text the Lord goes on to say, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 
He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
            The Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus – the saving work he has accomplished for us – and he makes it known to the disciples.  The Spirit is the One who enabled the apostles to bear witness to Jesus, both in speaking to others and in what they wrote.
            The Spirit borne witness continues in our midst today through the Scriptures the Spirit has inspired. After his first miracle that Jesus performed at the wedding at Cana in which he turned water into wine, John tells us, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” Then at the end of the Gospel John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 
but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
            We see the signs that call us to faith and sustain us in faith through the witness the Spirit has given us in Scripture.  It is there that we encounter the Spirit’s work through the apostles of bringing to remembrance what Jesus said and making know what belongs to Jesus. Through these Spirit breathed words we now believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and so have life in his name.
            And it is through these words – this witness – that the Spirit enables us to face the challenge that Jesus describes in our text.  He says, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.” 
            Because of the work of the Spirit you are different from the world.  You have been born again of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism.  Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” The Father has drawn you to faith in Christ through the work of the Spirit. Earlier in chapter fifteen Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
            The world is on the side of Satan, sin, and death.  But the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ has freed you from this.  By his death and resurrection he has conquered them all. And he has sent the Spirit to give this victory to us through faith. Through the inspired witness of the Scriptures the Spirit continues to make known Jesus’ saving work to us.  He has called us to faith.  He has given us rebirth in baptism. Because of the Spirit of truth we now recognize the lie that Satan tells.  And instead we believe in Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord - Lk 24:44-53

                                                                                                Lk 24:44-53

            Luke is the only Gospel writer who gives us a literary introduction to his work.  He begins by acknowledging that “many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us.”  He adds that the things reported about Jesus in these writings are “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us.”  And then he adds: “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
            Luke tells us that the eyewitnesses who had become ministers of the word – the apostles – had delivered Jesus’ words and deeds.  Luke himself had been able to look into these things closely and provide a well ordered account – an account that begins at the beginning with the incarnation of the Son of God.  He wrote the Gospel so that Theophilus would have certainty about the things he had been taught concerning Jesus.
            Luke is also unique, in that his Gospel is only the first volume of a two volume set.  He continues on to write a literary introduction to the Book of Acts in which he says, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”
            The ascension of Jesus Christ serves as the “hinge” which joins together the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. And indeed, as we hear in our Scripture lessons tonight, Luke narrates an account of the ascension in the last chapter of the Gospel and in the first chapter of Acts. The Gospel tells us about the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.  The Book of Acts, tells about how the Holy Spirit poured out on Pentecost enabled the church to bear witness to Christ in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth, just as Jesus had said they would.
            However, the ascension of Jesus is about more than just his leaving so that the Holy Spirit can do his work. And the work of the Spirit in Acts is about more than just making disciples now that Jesus is gone
            We first hear about the work of the Spirit in relation to Jesus in the Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary.  In response to her question about how she would conceive a child since she was a virgin, Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God.”
            Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary was the incarnate Son of God – true God and true man.  His ministry began as he was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. When he had been baptized, as Jesus was praying, the heavens were opened,  and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
            We might wonder why the One conceived by the work of the Spirit now has the Spirit descend on him.  But it soon becomes clear that this has been integral to Jesus’ saving work.  Luke tells us that after his temptation, “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.” The Holy Spirit empowers Jesus in the saving work given to him by the Father.
            Then at Nazareth Jesus takes up the scroll of Isaiah and reads these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” And then Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
            Jesus Christ, conceived by the Spirit and anointed by the Spirit had come to free those who were oppressed by sin and death.  He came to free you from the sin and guilt for all the angry words you have spoken to family and friends.  He came to free you from the sin of lust and coveting that continually bubbles up from your heart.  He came to free you from the fear of death – death by virus; death by cancer; death by accident.
            On Good Friday, Jesus was numbered with the transgressors as he hung upon the cross. The One who had been anointed by the Spirit fulfilled the mission given to him by the Father by dying. He suffered and died as the sacrifice for our sins.  He received God’s judgment so that we never will.  Instead we receive forgiveness.
            The Old Testament had said that anyone who was hung upon a tree was cursed by God. Dead and buried, everything looked so clear.  Jesus has been a false Messiah – a false Christ.  He had in fact been cursed by God, and that was the end of it.
            But this was exactly what Jesus had told the disciples would happen. And he had told them that on the third day he would be raised.  On Easter, God raised Jesus from the dead.  And on that evening he appeared inside the locked room and showed the disciples that he was alive – that he had risen from the dead.  As we learn in our text he said, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
              Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 
and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
            Jesus said that all which was necessary had been fulfilled.  And now repentance and forgiveness of sins was to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. The disciples were the witnesses who would carry this out. But Jesus said that first they needed to receive the One promised by the Father. They needed to wait in Jerusalem until they had been clothed with power from on high.
            Next we hear in our text:  “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”
            In his ascension, Jesus withdrew his visible presence. And to us that doesn’t seem to make much sense to us. Before he ascended, he told the disciples they would be his witnesses.  But first they needed to receive power from on high.  We know, of course, that this empowerment took place on the day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them.
            On that day, Peter preached a powerful sermon.  He spoke about how the Jews had killed Jesus.  And then he said, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
            Peter announced that Jesus Christ had been exalted in the ascension – that he was now at the right hand of God.  As the exalted Lord he had received the Spirit – he was experiencing a new aspect of the Spirit’s work, for now it was he who had poured out the Spirit upon his Church. And so Peter could declare, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
            The ascension is the exaltation of our Lord.  Jesus Christ gave himself into death on a cross for us.  He was hung on a tree. He was indeed cursed by God – cut off so that we never will be.  But in the resurrection and then in the ascension, God has vindicated and exalted Jesus. He has declared to all that the cross was Jesus’ saving work for us.  And he has exalted Jesus as the Lord – true God and true man – who pours forth the Spirit.
            The ascension is the withdrawal of Jesus’ visible presence. But this is not the absence of the risen Lord.  Instead it is the exaltation of Jesus so that he can give the gift of the Spirit by whom Christ is present with us in power to give faith and the forgiveness of sins. Because Jesus has been exalted in the ascension and has poured out the Spirit, he is the Lord who is present with us everywhere the Spirit is at work.  The Spirit of Christ is the risen Lord present and giving salvation to us.
            The ascension of our Lord Jesus is the definitive declaration of his victory.  It shows that the Lord defeated death by passing through it and then rising from the dead.  But it also declares that we too will share in Jesus’ resurrection because the Lord who has ascended will return in glory on the Last Day. In our second reading, Luke’s account in Acts, we learn that two angels said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
            The ascension tells us that risen and exalted Lord will return on the Last Day to give us a share in his resurrection. We have the living hope of the resurrection.  We also have the expectant hope of Christ’s return to raise the dead and renew creation.  And so we fervently pray: “Come Lord Jesus!”






Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord

Today is The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and was exalted as our incarnate Lord He took His place at the right hand of God.

Scripture reading:
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.  And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:1-11).

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, as Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into the heavens, so may we also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter - Rogate - Num 21:4-9

                                                                                                Easter 6
                                                                                                Num 21:4-9

            Do you remember March 21?  It’s understandable if you don’t.  It was, after all, an eternity ago.  On that day Illinois Governor Prizker’s stay at home order went into effect.  It began on that day and was set to go through April 7.  At that time, the nation lived in fear that scenes we had viewed from Italy would play out here.
            We had learned that Covid-19 was extremely contagious. We knew that it compromised the respiratory system of its victims.  There were models that predicted hundreds of thousands of deaths. And the great fear was that the virus would overwhelm the critical care infrastructure.  There are only so many ICU beds, and only so many respirators.  A massive rise in the need for these would swamp the system and force terrible decisions about who would live and who would die.
            We were told that there was a need to “flatten the curve” – to contain the spread of the virus and the rate at which it was infecting people so that the critical care system would not be overwhelmed.  Based on everything we knew at the time, it made sense.  Once things had been explained in this way, I think most people were willing to accept that this temporary inconvenience in life was a necessary adjustment.
            The problem is that it is no longer March 21 or April 7.  It’s May 17.  We’ve been living with these restrictions for two months now. Some things have been loosened a little – at least we are now allowed to gather as ten people in church. Some things are even more restrictive – we all now have to wear masks when we go in contained public areas.
            On March 21 were told it was about “flattening the curve.”  But in the governor’s announcement of the plan to “open up” Illinois, we have learned now that the requirements for the lifting of restrictions – including the masks that make us all look so silly – is a vaccine or treatment for the virus. The goal seems to be now that we live with restrictions until no can die from Covid-19. And that means we really don’t know when this will come to an end.
            As a result of this, many people are just fed up with the whole thing. We are tired of living this way. The economic devastation mounts by the day.  Our understanding of the virus has grown, and while there is much that is no yet understood, it has become clear that the virus is not as deadly as initial models predicted.  We’ve learned that those who are most at risk of death live in nursing homes and care facilities.  And there is growing body of scientists – legitimate experts - who argue that the lock down approach is in fact counterproductive at this point.  There is rising frustration and anger about the fact that we are being forced to live this way and have no say in the matter.
            In our Old Testament lesson this morning, there is also frustration and anger.  The Israelites too were living in the midst of challenging circumstances and they were tired of it.  The difference is that while in our situation there is the possibility of disagreement about the best course of action to take, in the case of Israel there was no room for varied opinions.  To complain and grumble about how things were being handled was to complain against Yahweh himself. It was to sin against God.
            Our text begins by telling us, “From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way.”  Yahweh had delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand.  He had sent nine devastating plagues on the Egyptians. And in the tenth plague, the Passover, he had killed the first born of the Egyptians while sparing the Israelites.  Pharaoh had sent them out of the land, only to change his mind and send the Egyptian army after them.  At the Red Sea God had dramatically saved Israel as they walked through the sea on dry ground, while the water crashed back in and drowned the Egyptians.
            At Mt. Sinai, Yahweh had entered into a covenant with Israel.  He had taken them as his choice possession and given them the Torah to live in this covenant.  He had brought them to the border of Canaan – the land flowing with milk and honey he had promised to give them.  Yet there they had rebelled against God. They had refused to enter Canaan, and so God said that they would wander in the wilderness for forty years.  All those twenty years and older would die during that time and would never enter the promised land.
            Feeding a huge group of people on the move takes a feat of logistics.  But Yahweh had no problem doing so.  He fed the people with manna, a substance they gathered from the ground each morning except the Sabbath. And he sent quail upon the camp to give them meat.
            In spite of this we learn in our text: “And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.’”  Now where do you begin in analyzing this statement?  There are three facts that the Israelites conveniently ignored.  First, Yahweh had freed them from slavery in Egypt when he brought them out. Second, they were wandering in the wilderness because they had rebelled against God when he wanted to bring them into the promised land.  And third, God was providing them with food, and also with water. They lacked for nothing to keep them alive.
            Like the Israelites, we sometimes complain about the circumstances of life. We blame God for the difficulties he has allowed.  Yet, like the Israelites, we too conveniently ignore that often it is our own actions that have caused the circumstances in the first place.  God has given us the Ten Commandments because they describe how he has ordered his world to work.  If you try to do things your own way – if you ignore his ordering – the outcome is predictable. Things will not turn out well.  You will hurt yourself.  You will hurt others.  And you have don’t get to blame God when it was you who rejected his direction; when it was you who sinned.
            Or like the Israelites we find that God is providing, but he isn’t providing according to the standards we think he should.  His provision just doesn’t measure up to what we expect. An you know what? God doesn’t care.  He has promised you food and clothing and nothing else.  He has promised you daily bread, not filet mignon.  And our grumbling and complaining; our coveting what others have because they have it “better” is sin against God.
            The people had spoken against God and Moses. And we learn in our text that God responded by punishing the people.  He sent fiery serpents among them, and they bit the people, so that many died.  The people knew that they had brought this upon themselves. They came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.”
            So Moses prayed for the people. And in this action we see one of several ways that Moses is an Old Testament figure who points to the fulfillment found in Jesus Christ. St. Paul told the Romans, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”  The exalted Lord Jesus – whose ascension we will celebrate this week – is at the God the Father’s right hand and intercedes for us.  He speaks on our behalf, and the next event in our text reveals why his words have force – why they are honored by the Father.
            Yahweh said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 
Moses did so – he made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And just as God had promised, if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
            Jesus tells us that this bronze serpent was a type of his own cross.  It was something in the Old Testament that pointed forward to how Jesus Christ would win forgiveness for us.  Jesus told Nicodemus in John chapter 3, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  Jesus was lifted up on the cross in order to win forgiveness for us by his sacrificial death.
            Yet a death that ended in death would not be a source of hope for us. And so on the third day – on Easter – God raised Jesus from the dead.  He vindicated Jesus and his sacrifice.  He showed us that all who believe in Jesus have forgiveness and eternal life because Jesus lives.  He has defeated death for us.  We already enjoy eternal life with God that death cannot end. And Jesus will give us a share in his resurrection on the Last Day when he returns in glory and raises our bodies.
            In our text God says, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”  God attaches his promise to an object – to something right there in the midst of the people.  He says, “everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”
            We see here that God works in a sacramental way – he works through located means.  Because we are physical people who lead a bodily existence, he identifies things in our midst that he uses – means whereby his gives forgiveness.  He attaches his promise to these things that are located in our midst.  We do not have to wonder about where God is present giving us forgiveness.  He has given us the object for our faith, because as Luther reminds us, faith needs something to believe in.
            That is what Christ has given us in the Sacrament of the Altar, and that is one of the main reasons have been so eager to return to services at church – to return to the Divine Service.  Here Jesus has added his word of promise to bread and wine.  He had told you that this bread is his body given for you; that this wine is his blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  Faith receives something tangible to believe in, because Jesus is still the incarnate Lord who is true God and true man.  He deals with us as people who are body and soul. And in so doing he shows what awaits us for our Lord has said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
            Forgiven and fed in this way, the Holy Spirit then leads and strengthens us to receive our Lord’s other gifts with thanksgiving.  We receive our daily bread as a gift from God, and seek to assist others with their needs. We give thanks for the blessings God gives to us – blessings that support our body and life.  We live as those who trust God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life because Jesus who was lifted up on the cross has risen from the dead.     

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter - Cantate - Isa 12:1-6

                                                                                                Easter 5
                                                                                                Isa 12:1-6

            Almost everything that I have done and sought to accomplish here at Good Shepherd as pastor has been built upon a foundation that was already in place. Many of these things would not have been possible – or at least not possible as easily and as quickly as they were done – without the foundation that was laid by Pastor Schmidt’s sixteen years of ministry that proceeded my time as pastor here.
            I am thankful that on several occasions before he “died to the Lord” as pastor liked to say using the words of Romans chapter 14, I was able to say this to him and express my deep appreciation for what he had done here and the way it has been a great blessing for my work.  And in the same way, Pastor Schmidt shared how gratifying it was to see that his work was not only being retained, but advanced in ways that pleased him greatly.  He shared with me that when he talked to other retired pastors they often lamented about how successors had destroyed much of the practice that had been established – often by throwing away the liturgy and hymnody of the Lutheran church for other forms of worship.  Yet in those conversations he was able to say that not only had his successor kept what Pastor Schmidt had been doing, he was even doing more with it.
            No place can this been seen more clearly than in Catechesis at Good Shepherd.  Because of Pastor Schmidt I found that woven into the congregation was the expectation that parents would attend with their youth on Wednesday night for a catechetical time called “Learn by Heart.”  This was just how things worked, and no one questioned it. A component of Learn by Heart was that every week those present spoke the six foundational texts of the Catechism.
            In 2006 the new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, came out.  Included in it was a Service of Prayer and Preaching that was intended for use in catechesis. This was an improvement on what we had been doing. And so, for the last decade or so, we have used this at Learn by Heart, and also for the Catechumenate.
            During those ten years, many of you have used this service.  And because of this, your mind may have been filling in music in the background as you heard our Old Testament lesson read.  I know that I can hardly read it without thinking of the music. The text of Isaiah 12 is the Old Testament canticle at the beginning of that service, and after singing it almost every week during nine months in catechesis year after year it is firmly imprinted in the mind.
            Isaiah chapter 12 is a song of praise and thanksgiving to Yahweh.  But it immediately makes clear that things had not always been so good. The prophet writes, “You will say in that day: "I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.”
            Right from the start in the first chapter, Isaiah had spoken about the people’s sin.  He wrote, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: ‘Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. 
The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.’”  He went on to add: “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.”
            The people were guilty of idolatry as they worshipped the false gods of the surrounding peoples. They were going through the motions of offering sacrifices at the temple, but their heart was not in it.  And so in chapter five Yahweh said,They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of the LORD, or see the work of his hands. Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge; their honored men go hungry, and their multitude is parched with thirst.”
            The northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and the people were taken in to exile.  The southern kingdom of Judah suffered terribly as its fortified cities were taken one by one.  Finally, the Assyrians laid siege to Jerusalem.  Only the miraculous intervention of Yahweh saved them.  But they didn’t learn. They continued in the same sinful ways, and later in this prophecy Isaiah speaks about the exile the will happen to Judah.
            The root problem in Israel and Judah was idolatry.  They worshipped false gods and violated the covenant God had made with them.  In doing so, they also ignored God’s Torah which described how they were to treat the weak and helpless.
            Idolatry – the breaking of the First Commandment – continues to be our root problem as well.  We of course do not worship Baal or Asherah.  But recently God has exposed some of our false gods in very painful ways.  The pandemic has cancelled every kind of sport activity. The result has been a huge hole in the lives of many people.  Our big fear now is whether college football and the NFL season will be cancelled. The amount of time, energy and attention we have directed towards sports – now made impossible – reveals the status of a false god it often holds.
            Or in the same way, the pandemic has seen the stock market tank, damaging investments. We cringe when we look at the numbers.  People have lost jobs or seen income cut.  We feel secure and confident when the financial numbers are good. We feel nervous and vulnerable when they are not.  And the thing that gives you a sense of security and well being is a god.
            Like Israel and Judah, God takes away our false gods.  He breaks them – and sometimes us – in order to reveal our sin.  He does this to reveal our need for him.  That’s what Yahweh did to his people.  Through defeat and exile he stripped them of everything in order to lead them to repentance.
            God takes away our false gods and leads us to repentance because he wants to forgive.  Already in the first chapter he said, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
            Yahweh promised a return from exile for his people. And this act of deliverance would point forward to something even bigger.  Already in the chapters leading up to our text, Yahweh has spoken about what he is doing to do through the Messiah – the descendant of David.  He spoke of how a virgin would conceive and bear and son.  He said of this son, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
            In the previous chapter he had just said of this descendant of David: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”
            And so in our text, which brings this first section of Isaiah to a close, the prophet writes: “You will say in that day: "I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.”  What is “that day”?  Well, it was deliverance from the Assyrians for Judah.  It was the Edict of Cyrus in 538 B.C. that allowed Judah to return from exile.  Yet each of those pointed forward to what the virgin born son, the child, the root of Jesse would do.
            That day is the day of salvation that has arrived for us because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God’s anger has turned away. It has because he unleashed all of it against his Son on the cross.  He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 
            But then on Easter, God raised Jesus from the dead.  He vindicated Christ as the Servant of the Lord who had been faithful unto death, by making him the firstborn of the dead.  In our Lord Jesus, God has defeated death and begun the resurrection that will be ours.  We now live as those who are forgiven and have in Jesus the living hope of the resurrection.
            And so with Isaiah we say, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”  God is our salvation.  Because of him – because of what he has done in Jesus Christ – we can trust and not be afraid.  We can trust in the midst of a pandemic with all its disruption and uncertainty.  We can know that there is no reason to be afraid because God loves us and death itself has been defeated.  Covid-19 is powerless against the risen Lord.  It cannot win because Jesus has risen from the dead and has already won.
            And so with joy we draw water from the wells of salvation.  In the water of Holy Baptism we have shared in Jesus’ saving death and so are forgiven.  And because of baptism we know that we will also share in his resurrection. As St Paul told the Romans about baptism, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  We turn in faith to the blessing that God has given us in our baptism, and there we find a source of comfort and joy.
            Indeed, Isaiah’s words are true for us as he says, “And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.’”  We give thanks to the Lord and sing his praises. And we make known his deeds among the peoples. We tell others about what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
            In a world paralyzed by fear that they will come into contact with a virus that will kill them, we declare that for us who are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, the virus is a defeated enemy because death has been defeated by Christ.  We have no need for fear.
            We can say on this day, “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.” We can sing on this day, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” And because the risen and ascended Lord will return in glory to raise us from the dead for eternal life in the new creation, we will be able to say on that day: “Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”