Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sermon for the Feast of St. Philip and St. James - Jn 14:1-14

                                                                                               St. Philip and St. James
                                                                                                Jn 14:1-14

In 1997 the shoe company Nike ran a television ad that showed Michael Jordan arriving at a basketball arena and entering into the players’ locker room. In the background Jordan spoke these words: “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” By the time Michael Jordan’s career was over, he had gone on to miss another 3,000 shots for a total of 12, 345.

Whenever Michael Jordan dies, there will be tremendous coverage of the event by the media. He will be lauded as the greatest basketball player of all time as reporters do pieces that look back at his career and consider his legacy. When this takes place, I am pretty sure that no one is going to put together a piece that shows nothing but Jordan taking shots and missing them. No one is going to put together a piece that showing Jordan missing all those game winning shots. No one is going to put together a piece that shows nothing but Jordan turnovers.

They won’t do this because that’s just not how it works. When we remember people who are famous for their accomplishments, we look back on their successes and the reason they are famous and remembered. And that’s why the Gospel assigned for the Feast of St. Philip and St. James seems like such an odd choice. After all, we are remembering today and giving thanks to God for two of Jesus Christ’s handpicked apostles. We are thinking about two of our Lord’s authorized representatives – two of the men included when Paul says in our epistle lesson that as believers we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” And yet in our Gospel lesson we hear Philip speak words that show he is rather clueless about Jesus. In our text, we hear Philip fail. It is the Feast of St. Philip and St. James. But the truth is that we really don’t know anything about James. The poor guy is often known as “James the less” in order to distinguish him from the other James, the brother of John, who was part of Jesus’ inner circle.

Philip was from Bethsaida and appears to have been one of the first disciples. Jesus told Philip, “Follow me,” and he did. We learn that Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And when Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip replied, “Come and see.”

During Holy Week he was again involved in bringing people into contact with Jesus. Some people of Greek background came to Philip and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” So Philip went and told Andrew, and then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

Philip was involved in bringing people into contact with Jesus. But in our Gospel lesson Philip shows that he himself does not yet understand what was happening in Jesus’ ministry. Like last week’s Gospel lesson, our text is found in the Farewell Discourse of John’s Gospel. Jesus says that he is going away. And then he adds, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” 

Thomas was confused. He said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus declares that no one can come to God the Father except through him. He says that to know and see Jesus is to know and see the Father. And then Philip jumped in when he said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Jesus responded, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”

Philip wants more. He wants more than Jesus. Martin Luther used Philip’s words to illustrate what he called the “theology of glory.” Luther was describing how sinful people don’t want the way God chooses to deal with us. Instead, we want things directly. We want things that are openly mighty and powerful and impressive. As we face the struggle against sin and as we face the many challenges of this fallen world such as illness and strained relationships in our family, we want God to do things differently.

What God has given us is a single man who lived 2,000 years ago. This man has declared “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This one single man says that he alone is the way to the Father. He says that he alone is truth itself. He says that he alone is life – abundant and eternal life. 

It is a bold claim. For many, it is a scandalous claim. The idea that one particular man who lived at one particular time can be the key to all of life is offensive. Because if it is only Jesus, then all the other ways are wrong. The idea that one particular man who lived at one particular time so many years ago is the key for my life is offensive because it means I am not in charge. 

And it is offensive because it seems so inadequate. It is one man who died so long ago. It is one man who now works … well, through what is happening right now. He works through the reading and preaching of the Word. He works through water and the triune Name in baptism. He works through the pastor who stands before you and claims to speak for God in Holy Absolution. He works through bread and wine and the words Jesus spoke on the night he was betrayed.

And yet, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. His Means of Grace are what we need as we face sin and a fallen world. Jesus Christ was just one man. But he was not just a man. As John tells us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He is God in the flesh – true God and true man. Jesus lived and died at one particular time long ago. But it was not just any time. It was instead the fullness of time – the precise moment in God’s ordering of history when he acted in Christ to give us forgiveness and life.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life because he spoke the word of the Father. Jesus said, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life because he did the work of the Father. Jesus the Son of God was sent by the Father and he declared, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” This he did as he died on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And that brings up back to St. Philip and St. James. Not only was Jesus a particular man who was unlike any man who has lived before, he also did a particular thing that had never been done before. He rose from the dead. This was not just coming to life again. It was a transformation by which he will never die again – by which he can never die again. And then, to top it off, he ascended and returned to the Father. In his ascension and exaltation he showed that he had completed the Father’s will.

St. Philip and St. James lived at that particular time and were with Jesus. And though Philip doesn’t yet get it here in our text, that changed. It was changed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. St. Philip and St. James stand as part of the apostolic witness to the resurrection of Jesus. They were with the risen Lord for forty days. They saw his ascension. In fact that was part of the criteria for being an apostle. When it came time to choose a replacement for Judas, Peter said, “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

And now, as we learned last week, their witness is heard through the inspired, apostolic word. The ascended Lord sent forth the Holy Spirit. He called to their remembrance what Jesus had said and done. He bore witness to Jesus and used the apostles to bear witness. He used them to produce the inspired, apostolic word.

As we now receive that word, the Spirit works in us God’s work. Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” We believe in Jesus the crucified and risen Lord for the forgiveness of our sins. We believe in Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. We believe in Jesus, and we know that in him we see the Father – his love and salvation for us.

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.