Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter - Cantate: Jn 16:5-15

                                                                                          Easter 5
                                                                                          Jn 16:5-15

The actor Jack Nicholson has had a long and illustrious career. Nicholson has been nominated for the Academy Award twelve times – the most for any male actor. He has won the Academy Award for Best Actor twice, and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor once – one of only three actors to win three Academy Awards. Nicholson and Michael Caine are the only actors to be nominated for the Academy Award for acting in every decade from the 1960’s through the 2000’s.

Obviously Nicholson has provided many memorable performances. One scene that certainly is included on that list comes at the end of the movie “A Few Good Men.” Nicholson plays the role of Marine Colonel Nathan Jessup. Jessup had ordered a “code red” – a disciplinary action that violated official Marine Corps policy. The action had resulted in the death a Marine, and now the two Marines who carried out the code red are facing court martial proceedings.

Defending them is Navy JAG lawyer Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise. At the end of the movie in a risky move, Kaffee questions Nicholson’s character, Colonel Jessup. He tries to bait Jessup into admitting that he ordered the code red in an increasingly antagonist line of questioning.

Finally Jessup snarls “You want answers?!” and Kaffee yells back, “I want the truth!” Then Nicholson delivers the now famous line as he roars, “You can’t handle the truth!!!” In the Gospel lesson for today Jesus tells the apostles that they can’t handle the truth – not yet. And in fact it is going to be necessary for Jesus to depart and for the Father to send the Holy Spirit in order to make it possible for them to understand.

Our text today is part of the discussion that Jesus had with his disciples as on the night of his betrayal. After the Last Supper, Jesus and the disciples are making their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus begins talking about what is going to happen and how now is going to depart. For this reason, these chapters are often called the Farewell Discourse. In our text Jesus says, “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.” Our Lord says that he will be leaving the disciples, and naturally this is not what they want to hear. It brings them sorrow. They want to be with Jesus. In the same way, how many times have you thought that believing would be so much easier if you just could have been there with the Lord?

But Jesus declares that this gets it all wrong. He says in our text, “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 he must return to the Father in order for the Holy Spirit to be sent. This going to the Father is an upward movement that will include Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. It involves Jesus’ accomplishment of the Father’s will – the saving mission that the incarnate Son of God had been sent to carry out.

Now it is not as if the Son and the Spirit cannot be present here in our world at the same time. Instead the Son must carry out his saving role so that the Spirit can then lead the disciples to understand what Jesus means for them. Our Lord goes on to say, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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 disciples had been with Jesus since the beginning. After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension it is the Spirit who would help the disciples to understand and bear witness to what Jesus had done. In chapter fourteen Jesus says, “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.” 

The Spirit would cause the disciples to remember and understand what Jesus had said and done. He would help them bear witness to Jesus. In the previous chapter Jesus said, “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 Spirit will bear witness to Jesus and give understanding about what his death and resurrection means. And for this reason Jesus says in our text that the Spirit will convict the world. Our Lord announces, “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 of sin because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. By rejecting Jesus – by refusing to believe in him – the world is remaining in sin that brings God’s judgment. 

The Spirit convicts of righteousness because in ascending to the Father, Jesus has demonstrated the truth of his saving work. The saving action of God to put all things right has occurred. To refuse to believe in the One who has accomplished this is to miss out on the salvation that God has given.

And the Spirit convicts the world of judgment because the ruler of this world has been judged. At the beginning of Holy Week Jesus announced, “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.” By his death and resurrection Jesus Christ has won the victory over the devil. He has defeated the one who wanted to rule God’s people. The devil has been judged. But to reject Jesus is to remain with the evil one and share in that judgment.

As we listen to Jesus’ words it becomes very clear that Jesus and the Spirit stand in opposition to the world – to all of the ways that the devil and sin separate people from God. The question this raises is whether we share in this same stance.

Immediately before our text Jesus says, “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.”

So how is it with you? Are you living in ways that demonstrate Jesus has called you out of the world through the Gospel? Are you living in ways that show you are not on the side of the world? Or are you going along with the ways of the world in what you think and do and say? Are you going along with the world in what you look at and listen to? 

The ruler of this world has been judged. The victory over sin and death has been won. That is true now. But as we look for our Lord’s return when he will carry out the final judgment, the world is still very much at work in the ways of the devil and sin. Jesus said in the previous chapter: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” 

The only way that we can remain faithful to our Lord is by listening to the truth about Jesus. It is the Spirit who continues to speak this truth to us. He does it now through the inspired Word of God. It is through the words of the apostles – the witnesses who were with Jesus – that the Spirit continues to take what belongs to Jesus and declares it to us. He gives us the full truth – that understanding that was not possible until our Lord Jesus died on the cross, rose from the dead and ascended to the Father.

In our Gospel lesson Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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.” 

We rejoice that our Lord had done just this thing. By his death and resurrection he has given us forgiveness of sins and rescued us from the devil. In his ascension to the Father he has demonstrated to all that his saving work has won salvation for us. The Father has sent forth the Spirit and in the word of Holy Scripture we now receive the witness of the Spirit about Jesus.

The Spirit continues to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment. Yet he has caused us to be born again through water and the Word, and now through that Word of God he seeks to sustain us in faith toward the ascended Lord as we look for his return. To receive this benefit we need do only one thing: listen to God’s Word.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Commemoration of Anselm of Canterbury

Today we remember and give thanks for Anselm of Canterbury. Born in Italy in 1033, Anselm is most closely associated with England, where he served as Archbishop of Canterbury for many years. A brilliant scholar and writer, Anselm used his political skills with the British kings on behalf of the established Christian church, affirming that it is the leadership of the church and not the state which has the responsibility of establishing structure and maintaining order among the clergy. Anselm is especially remembered for his classic book, Why God Became Man, which taught that the reason for the incarnation was that Jesus, the Son of God, would suffer and die in place of sinners.

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, you give the gift of teachers to your Church.  We praise you for the gifts of grace manifested in your servant Anselm, and we pray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Commemoration of Johannes Bugenhagen, Pastor

Today we remember and give thanks for Johannes Bugenhagen, Pastor.  Bugenhagen (1485-1558), from Pomerania in northern Germany, was appointed pastor of Wittenberg in 1523 through the efforts of Martin Luther and thus served as Luther's own pastor and confessor. One of the greatest scholars of the Reformation era, he helped translate the New Testament into Low German and wrote a commentary on the Psalms. He also worked to organize the Lutheran Church in northern Germany and Denmark, journeying to Copenhagen where he crowned both King and Queen and consecrated seven men to the offices of superintendent and bishop.

Collect of the Day:
O God, our heavenly Father, who raised up your faithful servant Johannes to be a pastor in your Church and to feed your flock: Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that they may minister in your household as true servants of Christ and stewards of your divine mysteries; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mark's thoughts: The Martin Luther who is never heard today

There is a Martin Luther who is never heard today. Everyone knows the Martin Luther who declares that Christians cannot be saved by works. They know the Luther who proclaims the Gospel - the free gift of forgiveness in Christ for every repentant sinner.  That Luther appears in quotes and memes on the internet all the time

But there is another Luther who is never heard today.  This is the Luther who strongly confesses that the Gospel has deep meaning for the way Christians live.  He is heard again and again in the Church Postils.  I have described this in posts about how Luther speaks about the Christmas Gospel and in how Luther talks about Jesus as an example.   

I was reminded again of this by a recent post from Pastor Tapani Simojoki.  He provided an excerpt from the Church Postil for the Third Sunday after Easter on 1 Peter 2:11-20 in which Luther says:
We have heard above that the two parts are to be together in a Christian and emphasized in Christian teaching. The first part is faith, that we are redeemed from sin through the blood of Christ and have forgiveness. The second part, after we have [faith], is that afterward we should become different people and live a new life. In Baptism, or when we begin to believe, we receive not only the forgiveness of sins (which is the grace that makes us God’s children) but also the gift that must do away with the remaining sins and kill them. Our sins are not forgiven so that we would continue in them (as St. Paul says in Romans 6), as the insolent spirits and despisers of grace allege. Rather, even though sins have been blotted out through Christ’s blood, so that we do not need to pay or make amends for them, and we now are children of grace and have forgiveness, yet that does not mean sin has been entirely done away with and killed in us.
The forgiveness of sins and the killing of them are two different things. Both of them must be proclaimed against those who confuse and turn things upside down with false doctrine. Against the first, the pope and many others have taught that the forgiveness of sins is to be obtained through the trickery of their own self-chosen and invented works and their own satisfactions. This error always continues in the world from Cain at the beginning to the end. Then, when this error has been put down, there are again false spirits on the other side, who have heard the preaching about grace and boast about it and yet produce nothing more from it, just as if that were enough, and forgiveness should do nothing more in us than that we remain as we were before. Afterward, there were just as many as before, when we still knew nothing at all about Christ and the Gospel.
Therefore, those who want to be Christians must know and learn that, since they have obtained forgiveness without their own merit, they must from now on not allow or indulge in sin, but rather oppose their former, evil, sinful lusts and avoid and flee their work and fruits. That is the summary and meaning of this Epistle reading.
Luther’s Works, Vol. 78: Church Postil III (St. Louis: CPH, 2014), 154–155

This Luther must be heard.  He does not just assume that living a new life in Christ and killing sin is true for the Christian.  In the Church Postils he regularly speaks about it. Lutherans who fail to do so risk becoming the "false spirits on the other side" to whom Luther makes reference.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter - Jubilate: Isa 40:25-31

                                                                                               Easter 4
                                                                                               Isa 40:25-31

I wish I had just half his energy!  If only you could take that energy and bottle it!  Most likely you have heard people make statements like this, or you have said it yourself.  We say things like this when we are around young children – especially little boys – because they just seem to keep going and going.  They are busy and active, always moving around and doing something.

This can be a challenge because as parents we don’t have boundless energy. Our lives are not only about play. We have a host of things that have to be done – tasks that we must take care of in addition to keeping an eye on a young child. Throw several children into the mix and it can wear you out.

But of course, even young children do not have endless energy. They too eventually become tired. And usually in the afternoon that leads to the parent’s best friend: the nap. Little children go and go, until finally, they are tired and need to rest.

In our Old Testament lesson today, Isaiah is contrasting Yahweh with human beings. He says that Israel’s God is the One who has created all things. He has all understanding. He also has all strength and power. Yahweh is completely different from human beings, who do become tired, weary and exhausted. After all, even young men become tired, faint and weary. Yet because God is the One who loves and cares for his people, he is also the One who renews the strength of those who trust in him.

In the Old Testament lesson this morning, Isaiah writes words of comfort for an event that hadn’t even happened yet. Isaiah lived in the eighth century A.D. In his day the Assyrian Empire was the great super power of the near eastern world that threatened both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. In 721 B.C. God used the Assyrians as the instrument of his judgment against the idolatry and unfaithfulness of the northern kingdom. Israel’s capital, Samaria, was destroyed and the people were taken into exile. In their place, the Assyrians brought in conquered peoples from other areas.

However, in our text Isaiah isn’t talking about what is happening in this own time – in the eighth century. Instead he is speaking comfort for a disaster that has not yet occurred. He writes words that address the people of Judah in the sixth century B.C. Another empire will arise, the Babylonians. They will overcome the Assyrians and become the new ruling power in that part of the world. The Babylonians will be the instrument that God uses to punish Judah for her idolatry and unfaithfulness. They will destroy the temple and take the people into exile in Babylon. 

That disaster is still in the future as Isaiah writes in the eighth century. But already, God speaks a word of comfort and hope that will be true for Judah. God will act to bring back the people from exile. He will return them to their own land. Isaiah begins this chapter by writing, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.” God promises that he will act on behalf of his people. Isaiah announced, “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” The prophet goes on to say, “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”
The temptation in exile would be to give up hope. Even though it was their own sin that had brought this punishment upon the nation, there would be some who would want to blame God. There would be those who wanted to criticize the way God was doing things. Isaiah asks the question, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?
So often that is where we find ourselves as well. The circumstances of life as fallen people in a fallen world challenge our faith in God. They threaten to squelch hope as we face unexpected – and unwanted – challenges. We see life going in ways that don’t fit our plans and we want to criticize the way God is doing things.
God’s answer through Isaiah is to say: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” On numerous occasions the book of Isaiah calls attention to the fact that Yahweh is the Creator. The fact of the matter is that there is no one else like him. God begins by saying in our text, “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.”
If you want proof, Isaiah says to look up at the stars. He writes, “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.” God has no lack of understanding. He has no shortage of power.
And the good news is that God uses this on our behalf. He uses it for the sake of those who struggle with all of the ways that sin manifests itself in our lives. Isaiah says, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
God does this for those “who wait for the Lord.” Judah had to wait some seventy years in exile. And then, rather suddenly, the Persian empire under King Cyrus arose and conquered the Babylonians. In 538 B.C. Cyrus issued an edict that the Judahites could return to their own land and rebuild the temple.
This act of rescuing his people was a type. It was an event that pointed forward to an even greater rescue that God was going to provide – a rescue that he has now provided in the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. Through Jesus’ death on the cross God has released us from the burden of sin. By his resurrection from the dead he has freed us from the slavery of death. Buried with Christ in baptism we now live as the forgiven children of God. And because we have shared in the death of the risen Lord, our baptism provides the certainty that we will share in his resurrection as well.
This does not mean that the struggle against sin has ended. It does not mean that the hardships of a fallen world have ceased. But now the risen and ascended Lord Jesus continues to do that same thing that Isaiah describes in our text when he writes: He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
Jesus gives us strength through his Means of Grace. He feeds us with his Word, and his true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. He refreshes us with the good news of forgiveness in Holy Absolution. Through these means the Holy Spirit strengthens us in faith. He nourishes the new man in us.
And as he does so, something else happens. We who were faint and weary become the means God uses to support those around us who are weak. We become God’s instruments whereby he cares for those exhausted by life. You don’t have to look very hard to find the people who need this. They are there in your family, in this congregation, or next to you at school or work. The undeserved and unmerited love which you have received in Jesus Christ becomes something that you pass on to others by being there to help and assist them.
Until our Lord returns in glory, there will always be the temptation to give up hope; to surrender to sin; to question God. At those times we return to Isaiah’s words: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”
The God who created all things has now acted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to bring renewal and re-creation. He has given us new life through the work of the Holy Spirit in water and the Word, and in Christ we are already now a new creation. Through his Means of Grace our Lord Jesus continues to renew and increase our strength so that we can live in faith toward God and love for our neighbor.