Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Commemoration of Constantine, Christian Ruler and Helena, Mother of Constantine

Today we remember and given thanks for Emperor Constantine, Christian Ruler and Helena, Mother of Constantine.  Constantine I served as Roman Emperor from A.D. 306 to 337. During his reign the persecution of Christians was forbidden by the Edict of Milan in 313, and ultimately the faith gained full imperial support. Constantine took an active interest in the life and teachings of the church and called the Council of Nicaea in 325 at which orthodox Christianity was defined and defended. His mother, Helena (ca. 255-329), strongly influenced Constantine. Her great interest in locating the holy sites of the Christian faith led her to become one of the first Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Her research led to the identification of Biblical locations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and beyond, which are still maintained as places of worship today.

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, through your servant Constantine, your Church flourished, and by his mother, Helena, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem became a holy place for many pilgrims.  Grant to us this same zeal for your Church and charity toward your people, that we may be fruitful in good works and steadfast in faith.  Keep us ever grateful for your abundant provision, with our eyes fixed, as Helena’s were, on the highest and greatest treasure of all, the cross of Christ; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter - Cantate - Jn 6:5-15

                                                                                                            Easter 5
                                                                                                            Jn 6:5-15

            The Gospel lessons for all of the Sundays of Eastertide – the Sundays after Easter itself – come from the Gospel of John.  First we hear about Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in the locked room on the evening of Easter, which was followed a week later by Jesus’ revelation of himself to Thomas.  On the next Sunday we hear about Jesus as the Good Shepherd in John chapter ten.
            After that, all of the lessons come from John chapter sixteen, plus two verses from the end of chapter fifteen. This material is all part of the section of the Gospel that is often called the “Farewell Discourse.”  These are the words that Jesus spoke to the disciples after the Last Supper as our Lord and his disciples made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. These are all words that were spoken on the night when Jesus was betrayed.
            At first glance that seems rather odd. After all, we are celebrating the season of Easter and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not Maundy Thursday.  But actually on closer inspection it soon becomes clear why these reading were chosen.  These readings are preparing us for what is about to happen.  They tell us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not the end of God’s saving work.
            Jesus begins our text by saying, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?'
But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”  From the beginning, Jesus made it clear that he had not come purely on the basis of his own plan.  He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”  The Father had sent the Son into our world in the incarnation.  The Son of God, the Word, had become flesh and dwelt among us because the Father had sent him to carry out his will.
            In our text Jesus looks ahead, beyond his passion and resurrection, to what is going to happen after that.  He says that he will be returning to the Father – returning to the One who sent him. The disciples’ heads were surely spinning as they tried to take it all in.  They did not understand what Jesus was saying – that would only be possible after the resurrection.  But any talk about Jesus leaving caused sorrow to fill their hearts.
            Jesus speaks about his ascension.  He speaks about the event that we will celebrate in a little less than two weeks.  Sent from the Father to carry out the will of the Father for our salvation, Jesus was now going to return to the Father. The disciples would no longer see Jesus. And of course, we no longer see Jesus.
            Jesus states in our text, “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”  And it’s not just the disciples who felt that way.  We do too.  We want to have Jesus here with us in the same way the disciples did during his ministry leading up to Holy Week.  We want to see his miracles and hear him teach.  If we only had that, everything would be so different!
            We may feel that way.  But such ideas can only exist if we ignore what the Gospels actually say.  They are clear that Jesus performed miracles and taught … and that many people rejected him.  And we are not just talking about his enemies like the Pharisees.  After one of Jesus’ greatest miracles, the feeding of more than five thousand people, Jesus taught that he was the bread of life – the true bread that had come down from heaven. In the end, some of his own followers – his disciples – said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  Then we learn that after that many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said on that occasion, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
            We often have it all quite wrong. When considering Jesus and his saving work, we think only about his incarnation, his death, and his resurrection.  Christmas Eve, Good Friday and Easter Sunday - I just mentioned the three biggest occasions of church attendance. And two of those require a person to come to church in the evening instead of a Sunday morning.
            But this morning, Jesus speaks about his ascension. And he tells us that it is something of great importance.  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.”  Our Lord says that only his ascension will permit the sending of the Holy Spirit. 
            Two chapters earlier, Jesus had said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.”  Jesus says that he is going to send another Helper – the Spirit of truth.  The word used here in Greek is Paraclete, it is probably better to use that term, since the functions of the Spirit are broader than any one word: he helps, comforts, leads and guides in John’s Gospel.
            To describe the Spirit as another Paraclete, puts the Spirit on the same level as Jesus in importance for us.  Our Lord says that we need the Spirit – the Paraclete – and that the sending of the Spirit can only occur if Jesus departs.  That’s simply how God works.  And I guess in a way that even makes sense to us – the incarnate Lord in the Gospels is seen in one place, but the Spirit will carry the work of Jesus to all places.
            Jesus teaches us this morning about the importance of the sending of the Holy Spirit.  Now in John’s Gospel Jesus gives the Spirit to the disciples as he gives the Office of the Keys – the loosing and binding of sins.  But the Church has placed these readings in this time of the Church year because it is leading up to Pentecost – the outpouring of the Spirit that is part of the end times.  We learn that Jesus’ saving work does not end with his resurrection.  In fact, it cannot proceed as it must for us without his ascension and the sending of the Spirit. The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord and the Feast of Pentecost are crucial for you and your salvation. They need to be celebrated as the big time salvation events that they are.  And we do indeed have the Divine Service on both days.
            In our text, Jesus tells us about what the Spirit – the Paraclete will do.  We hear: “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
            The Spirit convicts the world about sin because those of the world do not believe in Jesus Christ.  No one can come to the Father except through Jesus.  To reject Jesus is to reject God – and rejecting God is the root of all sin.  Certainly, you believe in Jesus.  But what thoughts, words and actions come forth from you that do not arise from faith in Christ? What are the things in your life that contradict faith in the Lord?  The Spirit convicts us of these too in order to lead us to repentance.
            The Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness, because Jesus has gone to the Father, and we see him no longer. The ascension of Jesus Christ is his exaltation and the declaration of his righteousness – of the fact that he has carried out the Father’s will.  In the next chapter Jesus prays: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
            People in Jesus’ day, and in our day as well, reject Jesus as Lord.  But the ascension of Jesus was the declaration by God that Jesus Christ had done everything necessary for us.  And in this we find great comfort, for where there is repentance and faith in Christ we know that there is forgiveness and salvation because of him.
            Finally, Jesus says that the Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  There are only two lords in existence – the true One and the false one.  For the world – for those trapped in sin who do not believe in Jesus Christ – the devil is lord.  He rules them, though they do not recognize it.  They think they are free, but that is a lie from the father of lies.  Instead, he seeks to drag them to destruction because is a murderer – always has been; always will be.
            The devil may have trapped the world in sin and death through the Fall.  But the incarnate Son of God entered into the world to free us and give us life.  During Holy Week Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Through his death and resurrection Jesus Christ has judged and defeated the devil. 
            Where the devil sought to bring you death, now Jesus gives you life.  You have indeed by been born again – you have been born of water and the Spirit. Through faith you have life now, for Jesus said, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.”  It is already yours now, and because the risen Lord won it, this life will never be taken from faith.  As Jesus said before he raised Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter - Jubilate - 1 Pt 2:11-20

                                                                                                Easter 4
                                                                                                1 Pt 2:11-20

            James Leistico was a pastor in our district during most of the time I have been at Good Shepherd.  His experience in the Southern Illinois District actually extended back even before he was ordained, since he did his vicarage at Our Savior Lutheran in Carbondale.
            Awhile back, Pastor Leistico received and accepted a call to a Lutheran congregation in Windsor, Canada.  Windsor may be just across the river from Detroit, but that small distance makes a very big difference.  In that journey you go from one country to another.  Around 1990 a group of us from Concordia College, Ann Arbor drove over to Windsor just to be in Canada. The trip involved nothing more than a brief stop at the border to explain where we were from and where we were going. Today, if you don’t have a U.S. passport you aren’t going to get into Canada or back into the U.S.
            Pastor Leistico and his family are U.S. citizens living in Canada.  This means that they have to navigate the Canadian bureaucracy as it relates to foreigners living in that country.  Pastor Leistico came to Ft. Wayne for James Peterson’s call service, and so I had a chance to visit with him. 
            It was interesting to hear about what it is like to live in Canada as a U.S. citizen.  Pastor explained that periodically he has to renew his status as a foreigner who is allowed to live in Canada.  The funny thing about this, is that in order for him to do so, he has to pass an English test.  He has to prove he can use and communicate in the English language.  Since he has been doing this for his whole life, we agreed that the English test is not much of a hurdle.
            The apostle Peter begins our text this morning by saying, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”  Writing to the Christians in Asia Minor, what is today Turkey, Peter addresses them as people living in a foreign country. They are sojourners and exiles. They are not citizens of that land.
            Peter speaks about the status and situation that they have as Christians.  Legally, some of these Christians may have been citizens of the Roman Empire, or of the city in which they lived.  But the apostle wants them to know that as baptized believers in Jesus Christ they were not citizens when it came to the really important things.  When it came to a matter of their standing before God, they were sojourners and exiles as they lived in the world.
            Peter says the same thing to you.  You are, of course, citizens of the United State. But when it comes to what really matters – when it comes to your standing before God – you are sojourners and exiles in this world.  You are because you have experienced something that has completely changed your reality – it has completely changed you.
            Peter begins this letter by writing: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
            You are not the same person as you were when you were born.  Instead, you have been born again. The source of this new birth – this new life and status – is the event we are celebrating during this season of Eastertide.  You have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Son of God died on the cross.  His dead body was buried in a tomb. But as he had told his disciples, on the third day he rose from the dead.  And he wasn’t just alive again.  He was alive with the resurrection life that can never die again. Jesus Christ has passed through death in order to conquer it forever.  He has begun the resurrection that will be ours, and already now he gives eternal life to us.
            God gave this forgiveness and life to you through his word.  Peter writes at the end of the previous chapter that, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”  God has included water in his command and combined it with his word in Holy Baptism.  He has given us a fixed and objective event through which you know you have been born again and become children of God.  You do not have to wonder whether it is true for you.  Why?  You have been baptized! 
            Because God has done this, Peter writes in the verses immediately before our text: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  In the new birth worked by the Spirit – in the application of Christ’s death and resurrection to you – God has given you a new status.  You are a royal priesthood called to serve in the vocations where God has placed you.  You are a holy nation and a people of God’s own possession. You belong to him.  This has changed everything. As Peter says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
            God has given you this new life and status.  You are sojourners and exiles living in a fallen world. And in our text, Peter describes what this means for the way we now live.  He writes: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
            The passions of the flesh are still present. They are present in the world around us. They are present and still cling to us because of the old Adam. They are all the ways that we let sin run the show as we give in to those things that we know are against God’s will. Peter warns us that these sins wage war against the soul. Giving in to sin, makes it easier to give in to sin. Continue that process and you end up in a very bad place.  Peter warns against this.
            Instead, the apostle gives us a different way.  He says in our text, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”  Through his death on the cross, Jesus has set you free.  You are free from sin.  But this freedom is not meant to provide cover for us to engage in sin.  Instead, Peter says we are to live as what God has made us to be – his servants.
            This is possible because of what Jesus has done for us.  Just after our text, Peter says about Jesus: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”  Peter says that Jesus bore our sins in his body.   He did this to win forgiveness. He did this so that now sin will no longer reign over us.  Instead, we are to die to sin and live to righteousness.
            Peter doesn’t express things exactly like the apostle Paul, but their ideas are very similar.  Christ died on the cross bearing your sins.  What happened to Christ, through Christ happened to you.  Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit you have received forgiveness and Christ’s sacrifice changes you.  Christ died for your sin, and now you die to sin.  Christ rose from the dead, and so you have been born again to live to righteousness – to live in ways that are true to God’s will. As Peter says later about how Christ’s death on the cross relates to the way we live: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”
            Living for the will of God by the work of the Spirit will put us at odds with the world.  After all, as Peter says in the first verse of our text, we are sojourners and exiles.  He says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” 
            Our translation here is a little weak.  More literally Peter says that the world “slanders you as evildoers.”  We live at a time when the world calls evil good, and good evil.  To uphold and advocate God’s ordering and gift of sexuality and marriage which is so clearly taught in the Scriptures will bring you the world’s hatred.
            But remember, our whole existence as Christians is shaped by the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Resurrection is a Last Day event.  Jesus’ resurrection means that the Last Day has already started.  And if it has started in Christ, it will certainly arrive for us. It will arrive when Jesus Christ returns in glory on the Last Day.
            Peter says that on the day of visitation the world that has seen our deeds will glorify God. It is unclear whether this describes those former enemies who have come to faith, or whether it means that in the overwhelming glory of Christ’s arrival, even those who rejected and hated him will have to glorify God for the way his people lived.
            Either way, the resurrection of Jesus gives us the living hope that allows us to keep our eyes set on the final goal.  We are able to live according to God’s will, and even experience hardships as a result of it, because we know that we will not always be sojourners and exiles.  Instead, we are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  We will be the ones at home in the new creation because through Christ God has made us chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.