Monday, February 28, 2011
Transfiguration, Series A March 6, 2011
Lessons for the Festival of the Transfiguration
Exodus 24:8-18 ~ Moses entered the cloud of God’s glory and received the tablets of the Law.
2 Peter 1:16-21 ~ Peter recalled the Majestic Glory of Jesus to affirm the truth of the Scriptures.
Matthew 17:1-9 ~ Peter, James, and John saw Moses and Elijah, and Jesus transfigured in glory.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: The Final Epiphany
Light, a constant theme through all the Epiphany season, is today described as shining like the sun from Jesus' face and his clothes. Peter declared that God's witness through the prophets, pointing to Jesus, is a "light shining in a dark place." Moses, one of the prophetic witnesses and one of the witnesses at the Transfiguration, saw God's glory "up close and personal" on Mt. Sinai. The light of God's presence in Christ enlightens our lives.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus, just as the disciples saw your glory and heard the witness of Moses and Elijah and our heavenly Father, so I have seen your glory in the witness of Peter, James, and John. Let their word be enough to keep my faith sure until the time comes when you will receive me into your eternal glory. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God has burst into our world with a vision of His glory that gives us promise and hope of His victory. With that assurance, all our lives, our goods, and our powers are taken captive by His claim.
OFFERING PRAYER: Shelters we would like to build, O Lord, and rest here in this place,
But You have called us forth from here to share Your love and grace.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We need the witness of God’s glory to get us through tough times, but when we see God’s power and majesty, it is more than we can stand. We either dismiss it as the product of imagination or miss the point entirely. God will not let us off the hook so easily. He has placed His word before us in Jesus, His beloved Son, and in the clear witness of His prophets. In Christ, God has burst into our world to rescue us.
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
Every once in a while, one of our older members tell me something, reminding me of something I learned a while back and had somehow become lodged in the logjam that is my memory. One of the truth with which farmers have had to deal throughout the ages is times of planting and times of harvest rarely wait for anyone. As Lutheran families established farms in the United States, this truth applied no less to families as they struggled to survive and then make a living. As it's been related many times, during those times of planting and harvesting, families would work in the fields to complete the needed tasks regardless of what day it was, even if that meant Sunday morning.
For the unlucky ones who couldn't take the morning off for Sunday, the church had a practice to keep the workers in the field "up to speed" with what was happening in the church. During the liturgy of the Eucharist, as the pastor began to intone the Lord's Prayer, the church bell would ring: Our Father who art in heaven [ring], hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; Give us this day our daily bread [ring] and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil [ring]. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen
Those working in the field would hear the bells, knowing that the Sacrament of the Altar was being celebrated and the Lord's Prayer was being prayed.
It is always humbling for me as a pastor to visit someone who is in and out of consciousness, that, when I start reciting the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and a Psalm, that person floating in and out of consciousness is suddenly jolted into the present through the primary texts of the faith. And they say God doesn't work in His Church anymore.
Lent is now a scant 10 days away. This blessed season is always a good time to try to reclaim good spiritual disciplines such as daily Scripture study and a review of the primary texts of the Christian faith, not to mention the Small Catechism. Take some time over the next ten days to give some thought to a time of devotion, study, and prayer during the blessed season of Lent.
This week at Mt. Olive Lenten preparations begin. This coming Sunday, March 6, is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent begins. This year, as part of our entry into Lent, we will "bury the Alleluias" before the last hymn. I invite all families to print the attached coloring page, color the alleluia, cut it into the shape of a rectangle, and bring it to church next Sunday. There, we will bury the alleluias, looking forward to returning them to the sanctuary on Easter Sunday.
I will be out of the office on Tuesday, but Lutheran Book Club will meet Tuesday evening. This week, Mere Christianity Book 3. By consensus last week, the Book Club will continue to meet during Lent. After Mere Christianity, we'll be looking at Why I Am Lutheran by Pastor Daniel Preus.
Finally, it's always a welcome surprise to look out on the congregation and see some of the young people who have returned from college for the weekend. I'd like to invite all college student, both here in Corpus and abroad, to send me a blast: Where are you attending, what are you studying, and how are things going for you? I'd be happy to include this important information about our brothers and sisters in Christ who are expanding their knowledge.
Catherine Worley, Maureen's daughter, who will be undergoing surgery Wednesday.
Emmett and Emma Wright, Shirley Middleton (Ruth Prytz's daughter), Bob Whitworth, all who are recovering
Walter and Pearly Theiss, Ann Cleveland, Norene Estes, and Ruby Rieder, the home bound among our family of faith
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorenson, Ryan Radtke, Dru Blanc (Corpus Christi)
The Church throughout the world as she proclaims Christ crucified in this last week of Epiphany
This Week at Mt. Olive
Monday, February 28
Tuesday, March 1
Lutheran Book Club (at the home of the Blanc family)
Wednesday, March 2
Thursday, March 3
Pack 278 Cub Scouts
Guitar Worship practice
Pastor Kevin Jennings
Sunday, February 27, 2011
It is God the Holy Spirit who calls men into the Holy Ministry of Word and Sacrament. He does this through the congregation. But no less than the call that went out from Jesus to the apostles—it is the call of God. The man who is thus called by God, is placed into that office by his fellow pastors through the rite of ordination—a practice going back to the apostles that you can read about in the Bible.
When a man is ordained into the pastoral office, his brother pastors gather around him and lay their hands on him and set him apart for service in the Lord’s vineyard with prayer and the Word of God—each pastor choosing a verse or two from the Bible with which to bless the new pastor. The verse that I always use is the second verse of our reading today. It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.
Speaking those words, I go on to remind that pastor of the sacred trust that is being given into his hands—preaching and teaching of the Word of God—the administration of the sacraments according to Christ’s institution—and the eternal souls of his flock, each of which he will be called upon to give an account of on the Last Day.
I speak these words with sobriety, fear, and trembling-- for to be entrusted with the holy things of God- and the souls that Jesus has ransomed with his blood shed on the cross- is a sacred calling and serious responsibility. In writing to the young pastor Timothy—Paul called the work of a pastor a “noble task.”
The congregation at Corinth needed that reminder. The first four chapters of this letter Paul wrote to them deal with the pastoral office and their mistaken thinking regarding it. They saw the pastor the same way that so many people in our nation view TV preachers—as a kind of personality or celebrity—and if they liked one man’s particular style they listened to what he had to say—and if they didn’t like his style they rejected his ministry. Paul writes chapter after chapter correcting this misconception and he concludes with the words we have before us today: the pastor is a servant of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God. Paul writes:
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.
It seems as if the Christian Church is always trying to avoid one of two ditches when it comes to the office of the ministry. Our friends in the Baptist churches hire their pastors just like they hire youth directors and worship leaders and church musicians. And if Brother Bob does something they don’t like- or if he ruffles a few feathers- or steps on the wrong toes—the pulpit committee gets together and fires him.
Our friends in the Catholic church regard their priests as an indispensable part of getting to heaven—men gifted by God with special powers the laity don’t have—forgiveness of sins dependent upon their ministrations. And because of this mistaken view, their priests are exalted to a degree that places them above reproach—a position that does not serve the people of God well--as we have all seen over these last few years.
The Bible teaches something different than either of these views. The Bible says that pastors are servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. And so yes, theirs is a humble position—they are servants, duty bound to obey Christ’s Word—following his lead as they serve the people of God.
But they are also stewards of the mysteries of God—entrusted with the most precious things that God has to give: his Word and Sacraments and through them the salvation that Jesus has won on the cross at the cost of his life’s blood.
Justifying faith in Jesus comes to us only when we believe the Word of God that is preached to us and receive in faith the sacraments that are administered to us by pastors. This is the standard that we are to measure pastors by—whether or not they have exercised their stewardship of the mysteries of God faithfully. Paul writes:
It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
We need to understand what Paul is—and is not—saying when it comes to evaluating the ministry of pastors. The Christians in Corinth were judging their pastors based upon things that did not matter—on matters of personality and style—since all of their pastors shared a common, apostolic preaching and practice. This standard of “personality and style” is the measure that Paul says is irrelevant and he refused to be judged by it.
But he was NOT saying that he refused to have his ministry judged at all! In the next few verses he admonished them not to go beyond what is written in the Holy Scriptures and says that he has applied this standard to himself and other pastors.
Christians and congregations are commanded to search the scriptures to make sure that what is being preached and taught and practiced in their church conforms to the Bible. That was the standard in Corinth and that is the standard today—not the pastor’s individual style—not his particular personality—but does his preaching and teaching and administration of the sacraments conform to the Word of God?
Not even the conscience is a reliable guide apart from the Bible. Paul didn’t think he had failed as pastor, but he knew that there was coming a day when his ministry would be judged by the God who knows even what is in our heart. The same is true for every pastor --who will be called to give an account of his ministry. But that same judgment to come is also true for the people that pastors serve. Paul writes:
I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
Paul and Apollos and every pastor who would ever follow them have a responsibility to let God’s Word be the perfect guide for the conduct of their ministry. But that is no less true for everyone who sits in a pew! God’s Word is the standard for the faith and life of the Christian. Pastors ought to exemplify that standard in the conduct of their ministry so that each Christian can learn that lesson and apply it to themselves.
The Corinthians Christians were outside the standard of God’s Word when it came to how they regarded their pastors-- and they were outside the standard of God’s Word in how they regarded themselves. They found their identity and importance on the man they followed as pastor -when they should have found their purpose and value in who they were in Christ- and the gifts they had received from him.
A return to the cross was needed. It is there at the foot of the cross that we see the truth about ourselves—pastor and people. Pride. Boasting. Divisions and distinctions are revealed for the sins that they are at the cross. All us stand there at the cross perfectly united in our need for Jesus’ love and forgiveness—each of us beggars of his grace.
Where is there any place for pride in our hearts when we see our sin for what it truly is? What distinction that divides the human family is greater than the broken-ness that unites as sinners? What one good thing is there in our life that we did not receive as a free gift of God’s grace from the victorious man of the cross?
All of us have to learn that lesson again and again just like they did in Corinth. Paul writes:
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!
Paul IS NOT saying that these things are true—he is repeating back to them what they are claiming for themselves so that they can hear what they sound like to others. In effect he says: “Are you listening to yourself”? “Do you hear what you’re saying”? “Do you know what you sound like right now?” “You’re rich!?” “You’re kings!” “Oh, if only that were true I would be sharing in your blessings instead of having to write you this letter!”
Paul is ridiculing their exalted view of themselves to get their attention—popping their ego balloon because they are full of hot air. The Corinthians were an exceptionally gifted congregation—but rather than letting their blessings bring them closer to God—their flesh misused those same blessings to exalt themselves. None of us are immune.
Prosperity can lead us to trust in money rather than God and look down on those in need rather than help them. A great intellect can lead us to stand in judgment over God’s Word rather than let it rule over us. Happy homes and loving congregations can blind us to the lost and lonely in the world rather than expand the love and openness that we are to have for others.
But God intends that the blessings he bestows upon us—beginning with salvation—would more and more shape us into the image of his Son Jesus. That’s the way it was for Paul and the pastors who followed him. Paul writes:
For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
Through Paul’s work and the work of the other pastors who followed him, the Christians at Corinth had become wise unto salvation and strong in the Spirit. The weakness and foolishness of the cross had done its saving work as it was preached and administered in Baptism and given in Holy Communion.
That is a wonderful promise to each of us—that God the Holy Spirit is still doing his saving work through the means of grace. And so when we return to our baptism in Holy Absolution--when we hear God’s Word preached--and when we receive Christ’s forgiving presence in Holy Communion—we can be certain that we too are being made wise unto salvation and strong in the Spirit.
But the word of the cross had also done its work in Paul and the other apostles and pastors. In hunger and thirst and homelessness—as they were reviled and persecuted and slandered—they were formed more and more into the image of Christ who suffered all these things first. The content of their holy office was Christ and he was at work through them: in their lives-- and in the lives of the people they served.
That is the entire purpose of being a servant of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God—that the saving life of Jesus Christ would be brought to bear on the lives of sinners to the glory of God and their own salvation—beginning with the pastor himself. May God continue to bless the work of his servants and stewards throughout the Church! Amen.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Lent is now only a couple of weeks away, and an exceptionally long Epiphany season is nearing its end.
I'm certain at least some folks knew yesterday (22 FEB) was George Washington's birthday, and more probably knew that Monday was President's Day. But, I would hazard a guess only a few know that today, in the Church, is the feast day of Polycarp of Smyrna. Strange name, incredible history and meaning behind it.
Polycarp was born about 69 A. D. In his early years, he was a disciple of John, the beloved disciple, in Ephesus. Polycarp's deeds in the Church are somewhat shrouded in mystery. Once, upon meeting Marcion, one of the Church's first major heretics, Polycarp is reported to have refused to acknowledge him, and even called Marcion "a child of the devil."
Polycarp was arrested during a persecution in the area of Smyrna in the mid-150's. Being nearly ninety years old, the Roman governor urged the aged bishop to curse Christ, sacrifice to the genius of the emperor, and live. Polycarp's response is the stuff you can't make up: "For eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He has never injured me. Therefore how could I curse and blaspheme my King, who has given me salvation?"
Being steadfast in the faith, Polycarp was handed over to be burned at the stake. It is reported that, as he sat in the flames, he prayed, "O God, the Father of Your Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of You, the Maker of all creation, I call upon You, I confess You, that You are true God; I glorify You because of the high priest, Your beloved Son, with the Holy Spirit; receive me and make me a sharer in the resurrection of Your saints. Amen."
Tradition says that Polycarp actually survived the flames and was finally put to death by being run through with a sword.
Polycarp remains significant to the Church today. He is the bridge between the apostolic age and the age of the confessors in the second and third centuries. Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians remains today. Also, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, written by Irenaeus, one of Polycarp's disciples, and Caius, one of Irenaeus' associates, remains to this day an encouragement to believers around the globe in times of persecution.
O God, the maker of heaven and earth, You have boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior and steadfastness to die for the faith to Your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp. Grant us grace to follow his example in sharing the cup of Christ's suffering so that we may also share in His glorious resurrection; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect. So said Jesus in the Gospel from Matthew 5 today. Perfect, complete, whole, fulfilled, that's the sense of the Greek word used for perfect here. Yet, in retrospect, in the description of life as Jesus has described, where obedience goes beyond outward performance, all the way into words, all the way into thoughts, we are uncovered to be sinners. In today's Adult Bible Class video, Dr. Beiermann said that, as sinners, we are less than human because we are not the way God created us to be in the beginning. Thus, we are not complete or whole or fulfilled - not perfect.
It is only in Christ, the perfect God-man, that there is wholeness. The forgiveness of sins we enjoy now points to the return of our Lord in glory, the day in which all who have trusted in Christ as Lord will be restored to the way God created us to be: whole, complete, fulfilled - perfect.
Lord Jesus Christ, we have made ourselves incomplete and imperfect by our sins. Forgive us, and give us the great comfort and assurance of restoration on the day of resurrection. Hear us for Your mercy's sake. Amen
This afternoon, many of the young people, some of their guests, and some of the parents enjoyed Fear Factor Games, what has become an annual tradition for Mt. Olive's Youth! This year, Jello, eggs, shaving cream and water balloons, oranges, pudding, mustard, toast-margarine-jelly all dotted the games enjoyed by all. Hopefully, we'll have some pictures up on the web site before the end of the week.
Back after a three-year hiatus, the Fellowship Committee is sponsoring a Fondue is Fun night on Saturday, March 5. This is the Saturday before the beginning of Lent - a good time to enjoy before the beginning of the fast. Tickets are $10 each and may be purchased from Stephanie Waterman.
Mt. Olive is now in week 3 of giving for the Ten for Ten stewardship plan - giving 10% for 10 weeks.
This is the time to plan for summer camp at Camp Lone Star. Information and instructions for registration are located on the table in the narthex at the church. For each of the past couple of years, Mt. Olive has sent 17 or 18 young people to this excellent week of summer fun.
The Lutheran Book Club meets this week on Tuesday evening at the home of Dru and Tammy Blanc. The book of study is "Mere Christianity" by C. S. Lewis. Last week, we discussed some of the main themes of Book 1. This week, we hope to tie up any loose ends from Book 1 and discuss the some of the themes of Book 2.
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke, Dru Blanc (Corpus Christi)
Emma and Emmett Wright, Ann Cleveland, Ruby Reider, Norene Estes, Walter and Pearly Theiss, our home bound members
The Church throughout the world as she prepares to enter the great fast of Lent
Those who have wandered from the faith, that they may be returned to the fold of the Church
Our nation and her leaders as we deal with the changes and economics of this world
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, February 21
Board of Elders
Tuesday, February 22
Lutheran Book Club
Wednesday, February 23
Thursday, February 24
Cub Scout Pack 278
7:00 p.m. or so
Guitar Worship Rehearsal
Monday, February 21, 2011
The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the epistle lesson appointed for the day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last week we heard the Good News that we are God’s building—that far from abandoning us or giving up on us when we do not progress in our Christian faith as fast and as far as we should—God continues to patiently build us up just like a construction manager raising a building from the earth one girder at a time.
Today we hear from the apostle Paul just exactly what kind of structure God is building out of our Christian life: that we Christians—collectively and individually—are the temple of God—the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit! That is the glorious building that God is constructing out of our lives! As we meditate on God’s Word, we are going to talk about the foundation for that temple—and how it is built—and what it means that we are the temple of God. Paul writes:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
The Corinthians demonstrated their immaturity by placing a big emphasis on the individuals who served them as pastors. Paul knew it was only by the grace of God that any of them were permitted to serve God in this way at all. And so there was no pride in Paul when he called himself a skilled, master builder. Who he was came as a gift of God—and the foundation that he laid there in Corinth upon which stood the living, breathing temple of God—had been given to him as a gift by Jesus Christ.
Earlier in our series we heard Paul say that he consciously made a decision to proclaim nothing else than Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world. This “word of the cross” was the necessary foundation for everything else that would follow—everything else would be built upon it—and without that foundation—a dwelling place for God could never be built in a Christian’s life. So it still is today!
The irreducible minimum for the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Corinthians’ lives was a confident faith and trust in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the sins of the world—that in him, a way had been made back to God so that now man could dwell with God and God could dwell in the midst of his people’s lives. That foundation laid by Jesus 2,000 years ago still stands and to try and build a life with apart from this foundation is impossible.
Just like with any building—if the foundation is not sound—the structure itself cannot remain standing. That is why Christian pastors are so insistent that the justifying work of Jesus Christ is carefully preached and taught to God’s people—because the foundation must be true if the spiritual temple built upon it is true.
But Paul goes on to say that not only must the foundation be sound—but the living, breathing temple of God that is built upon it in our lives must also be constructed out of those things that are true and beautiful and precious and lasting. He writes:
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Paul had laid the foundation for the temple of God that was being built out of believers’ lives there in Corinth-- he had showed himself to be a skilled, master builder. But he could not stay there forever—other men had already, and would continue to come along, who would be responsible for the spiritual building project in that place and throughout the world as the Church grew.
The men who followed him in Corinth—and the men who serve God’s people today as his pastors--have the same responsibility to choose spiritual bricks and mortar and girders and beams that are best. And then and now, individual Christians have a responsibility to see that the best spiritual materials are chosen because your life is the temple being built.
None of us would intentionally let a contractor choose cheap building materials when it comes to our homes—and most of our houses will not be standing one hundred years from now. How much more do we need to hear and heed these words of Paul that what our living, breathing, eternal temples ought to be built out of-- is the very best—what Paul calls gold, silver, and precious stones!
Now obviously, he was using a word picture for those things that are true and beautiful and good and lasting. Pastors have a responsibility to build on the foundation of Jesus’ blood and righteousness by faithfully using the Word and Sacraments—eternal things--to build up the people of God into a beautiful dwelling place for God.
But the people themselves, you folks sitting here today, also have a responsibility to insist that when it comes to building up your spiritual life, your pastor holds fast to the Word of God and administers the sacraments according to Christ’s institution. You have a responsibility that you make use of the means of grace in this place and take advantage of opportunities to study his Word. And you have a responsibility to avoid those things that can tear down the temple that God is building in your lives.
Paul calls these types of things wood, hay, and straw and they are being used all over Christendom by pastors- and allowed to be used- by their people. Marketing strategies and gimmicks—sermons that could just as easily be delivered at self-improvement and self-empowerment seminars—lies and false gospels nowhere taught in the Bible and yet taught as truth in Christian churches. None of this rubbish is suitable to build up the people of God for it will not endure!
There is coming a Day when what has been used to build living, breathing temples for God will be shown for what it is: that which can endure the purifying fire of God—or--that which will be burned up as chaff on the Last Day.
Those pastors and people who have made use of that which is valuable and good and lasting will receive their reward—gracious gifts of glory. While those who have used what is cheap and temporary will see their life’s work reduced to ashes—though God promises to save even those folks if only the foundation of Jesus Christ remains true. But those who have destroyed that foundation—those who tried to build on something else—will be destroyed. Paul writes:
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
When we understand who we really are, then we will understand everything that Paul is teaching us today. We ARE God’s temple—as individual Christians, as a congregation, as members of the Body of Christ—we ARE God’s temple—the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit—our lives set apart for the living presence of God—each part of it holy to the Lord.
The only way for that to be true-- is to be built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and the only way for us to endure the fire of God’s judgment-- is for each part of our spiritual lives to be built out of spiritual building blocks that God himself gives in Word and Sacrament. God desires that this living, breathing temple would endure forever—it is the entire purpose of his interaction with mankind.
And so for anyone or anything to destroy that living, breathing temple by tearing down the foundation of Jesus that it is built upon —is to engage in outright warfare against the purpose and plans of God himself—and with that rebellion will come destruction. The foundation must remain sound if our lives are to endure the fiery judgment to come. Paul writes:
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men.
The world regards the word of the cross as foolishness and weakness--and yet the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is really the strength and wisdom of God. We know this and believe this to be true! But none of us are immune from the temptation to set that rock-solid foundation aside.
The devil tempts us to boredom when it comes to hearing about the death and resurrection of Jesus each weak and gives us itching ears that wants to hear something new.
Our own flesh regards the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood as an occasional extra rather than an essential building block of faith that builds us up as a temple to God.
Pastors and congregations and church bodies want to treat the church as a business, and employ the methods of the world to accomplish its mission rather than step out in faith with the values and ways of the Kingdom.
To attempt to build a life with God in this way is futile—in other words it cannot and does not work. Adopting the wisdom of the world, we deceive ourselves into believing that the necessary foundation of Jesus-- and the careful, spiritual building blocks of Word and Sacrament --can be dispensed with.
But Paul calls this so-called wisdom: folly—with the only cure for it a return to the weakness and foolishness of the cross and the man who died there. There in that place and in that man is where we find all that we need for this life and the one to come. Paul writes:
For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
For the Corinthian Christians and for the Kingsville Christians there is no need to pick and choose which pastor to align ourselves or attach ourselves to-- for they are merely servants to bring us to Christ and bestow Christ’s gifts upon us. There is no reason to pick and choose which events and circumstances and persons to regard as blessings from God-- for he causes all things to work for our eternal good—to be a part of that grand temple he is constructing of our lives.
And so blessing and hardship are equally part of God’s master building plan. Joys and sorrows are written into the blueprint of our lives as a necessary part of the dwelling place he is constructing in us. Even death now serves his purposes as the tool God uses to move us from this earthly life to our eternal heavenly life. All things become part of his construction plan for the sake of the One who has chosen to make us his dwelling place and earthly temple.
The Good News for us today is that we are the temple of God. A rock-solid foundation for our life has been laid in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God himself has appointed workmen—his fellow servants to build us up spiritually through Word and Sacrament. And God is carefully working out his perfect plan for our lives so that they would be a shining, glorious example of what it means that God chooses to make his dwelling with men. May God grant this to be true of each of us for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Epiphany 7, Series A February 20, 2011
Lessons for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Leviticus 19:1–2, 9–18 ~ The holiness of God is to be reflected in the kindness and generosity of His people.
1 Corinthians 3:10–23 ~ We are all temples of God’s Spirit, building a witness to Christ in word and deed.
Matthew 5:38–48 ~ Just as their Father in heaven, His children go the extra mile to return good for evil.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Holy God; Holy People
It’s a tall order, but St. Paul says it is God’s work in us through Christ Jesus, by the power of the Spirit that has claimed us and made each of us God’s holy temple. By our lives we reflect the steadfast love of our holy God in the way we treat others. As we allow the poor to glean from the generosity of our lives, as in kindness we return good for evil to those who mistreat us, so we witness to the love of God who, in Christ, “does not deal with us according to our sins nor repay us according to our iniquities.”
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Loving Lord, You have given me so many ways to show my love to You in the way I treat those around me. Empower me by Your Spirit to tell them of Your love and to demonstrate it in my life. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: All the material blessings in our lives and all the gifts of God’s grace are at our disposal to demonstrate the steadfast love of our heavenly Father in kind and generous dealings with those we come into contact with each day.
OFFERING PRAYER: Holy God through holy people, dealing with the world’s sad poor,
Use our lives and bless our offerings, opening up Your Kingdom’s door.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: The Epiphany readings have revealed Jesus’ identity in word and deed. Today they point to God’s people as an epiphany of His grace, but if God’s glory is seen in the building of a great temple, then our lives are too often a mean hovel. The descriptions of kind and generous actions in our lives that should reflect God’s holiness are clear and specific: do not deal falsely; do not lie; do not bear a grudge; turn the other cheek; go the extra mile; be true children of our heavenly Father! With a record like ours, we may well be disinherited, but God has put His Spirit in us and made us His holy temple, built on the foundation of His grace in Christ Jesus! Our lives are transformed to demonstrate His steadfast love.
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
Even though I preached the Epistle this morning, the Gospel for today (Matthew 5:21-37) is an important text to hear. "You have heard it said,...but I tell you." In every one of these sayings of Jesus, His lesson goes from the outward demands of the Law to the demands of the whole person in the Law. In effect, these sayings of Jesus tell us just what horrible sinners we really are.
Who is it that keeps the Law to this level? Who is it who is able to keep the Law not just outwardly, but with his whole being? It is our Lord Jesus Christ alone! In His perfect obedience, His keeping of the Law goes beyond the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. And, by faith, His perfect obedience becomes ours. And, in the life of faith, our Lord Jesus gives us His example as a guide.
Congratulations to Sarah and Abigail Waddle in the most recent UIL art competition, for high levels of achievement. Well done!
I don't remember if I mentioned this last weekend, but congratulations to Andrew Jones for achieving the rank of Eagle Scout! Well done!
I'm really jazzed about this week's possibilities at the Lutheran Book Club. The first book of study is Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. My desire is not a philosophical discussion, but good Christian interaction over a book recognized for its value. Don't know much about the book? I'm going from what I learned in the preface, to tell the truth. The Lutheran Book Club will meet Tuesdays at the home of Dru and Tammy Blanc at 7 p.m. I don't have my directory in front of me right now, so I'll send out the address tomorrow. Please, if you have the book, read through Book 1 in preparation.
The Church Council meets Monday night at 7 p.m., but I'm told that there might be change to that day and time. More bulletins as they are warranted.
Walter and Pearly Theiss as they complete their move to the Humble area
Emmett and Emma Wright, Ann Cleveland, Bruce Blake, and all the sick, recovering, and mourning
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), Dru Blanc, John Sorensen, and Ryan Radtke (NAS corpus Christi)
The Church throughout the world as she proclaims Jesus Christ and Him crucified
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, February 14
Church Council (pending)
Tuesday, February 15
Lutheran Book Club
Wednesday, February 16
Thursday, February 17
Cub Scout Pack 278
Sunday, February 13, 2011
The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the epistle lesson appointed for the day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Why don’t you act your age—not your foot size!” “How immature!” “You’re acting like a baby!” “Oh, for goodness sake, grow up!” Those are the kinds of expressions we hear from kids at school and from our parents—from our friends and families and from our spouses-- when our maturity level is not what it ought to be.
But I don’t know if any of us expect to hear these words from our pastor. And yet, the Corinthians did—and through Paul’s words—we do too. “Grow up!”
You see, not only are we expected to grow up physically and emotionally and intellectually—but God expects us to grow up spiritually—that over the course of our Christian life we would become more mature in our Christian faith—more mature in our Christian outlook—more mature in our Christian life—that we would “grow up.” Paul experienced that in his own life of faith. He said:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
And God expects the same of us: that we would “grow up” spiritually into the mature sons and daughters that he created us, redeemed us, and sanctified us to be. And so that’s what we’re going to talk about today: what spiritual immaturity is- what undermines our spiritual growth -and how we can “grow up” spiritually. Paul writes:
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready…
When someone tells us to “grow up” it’s difficult to hear that in any other way than as an insult—and we quickly get defensive. That’s why I want you to focus on that one little word that begins our text and informs us as to how we are to hear these words to “grow up”—and that is the word “brother.” Paul addressed the Corinthian Christians—and he addresses the Kingsville Christians—as brothers and sisters in Christ—members of the same household of faith—children of the same heavenly Father. And so God’s command through Paul to “grow up”-- is spoken out of genuine love and concern for our spiritual well-being—that there would be growth and progress in our spiritual life.
When people in Corinth began coming to faith in Jesus and then joined together in a Christian congregation—they were infants in the faith—they were newly re-born believers in Jesus—just beginning to learn what it meant to be a child of God.
And so Paul taught them simply: he told them about their sin and need for God—he told them about the Savior God had given in Christ—he told them how the Spirit had worked to bring them to life. It’s the same thing we do in Sunday School & confirmation & new member classes. And through the word of the cross they became children of God.
Five years had passed from the founding of that congregation to this letter—five years from when they came to faith in Jesus-- to where they found themselves spiritually when they received this letter. The problem was: they hadn’t progressed much at all in those five years—they were still infants in the faith—they hadn’t grown up or matured.
When it comes our children’s physical growth and maturation—five years is a phenomenal amount of time—a newborn baby that is absolutely helpless, incapable of communication, and barely aware its surroundings, five years later has become a little boy with lunch box in hand heading off to the first day of school—able to tie his shoes and go to the potty by himself. Fantastic progress has been made in those five years!
But those five years between the Corinthians being born again- and the occasion of this letter- had not yielded five years worth of spiritual growth and maturity. Yes, they were saved—yes, they were Christians—but they hadn’t grown up in their faith.
What about us? What positive changes have the last five years brought in our life of faith? Do we have a deeper knowledge of the things of God? Have we grown in Christ-likeness? Are we more spiritually mature today than we were back then? That’s what our heavenly Father wants to see in his children. But if not, then these words from Paul about the need to “grow up” spiritually-- are spoken to us too.
And so what was the problem that was impeding the Corinthian’s growth in the faith? What is it that keeps us from becoming mature Christians? Paul writes:
You are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
Earlier in our sermon series on these opening chapters of First Corinthians we talked about how there was factionalism and division in the congregation stemming from their individual attachments to some pastor who had served them—how, what should have been a harmless preference-- had turned into a hurtful problem.
In their hearts they were jealous of one another—each wanted the prestige that came from being attached to some great pastor. And this attitude showed up in how they treated one another—fussing and fighting and failing to get along. Jealousy and strife was the sinful attitude and behavior—but what was at the root of it went much deeper.
The Corinthians were living according to the flesh—what Paul calls being “merely human”. In other words, they were living like the unbelieving world around them—living according to their old, sinful nature-- living as if they had never come to faith at all. That new person that they were through faith in Jesus—that new person that was supposed to grow and mature in Christ-likeness—that new person which was called forth from the waters of Holy Baptism to walk in newness of life was nowhere to be seen.
What about us? It doesn’t have to be strife or jealousy or divisiveness that reveals an immature Christian faith—it can be any attitude or action that looks like the unbelieving world rather than the new person we are in Christ.
Maybe it’s the way we regard money—that we count it as “ours” rather than the Lord’s-- to be spent however we see fit with giving to the church as an afterthought rather than a priority.
Maybe it’s the content of what we watch on TV or see at the movies --and our viewing habits aren’t really informed by God’s counsel that our minds be filled with those things that are pure, noble, beautiful, and praiseworthy.
Maybe it’s a constant cycle of conflict in our marriage and family because we are not loving our wives and respecting our husbands and obeying our parents.
Maybe it is our attitude towards others and we find ourselves unforgiving and embittered towards someone rather than filled with loving-kindness for them.
Anytime some facet of our lives looks like the unbelieving world rather than Jesus—anytime our actions and attitudes are guided by our flesh rather than the Spirit—there is a lack of spiritual maturity in that part of our lives and we need to grow up. And so how does that happen—this growth that God is looking for from us? Paul says:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.
The solution to growing up spiritually begins with knowledge--that we know and understand what God’s will is for our lives-- and what he teaches about each part of our lives as his people. We don’t chastise kindergartners for only knowing their A, B, C’s (after all they have to begin somewhere) but neither are we content that they possess only that knowledge when they get to fifth grade. They should have matured in the things they know and their ability to do them—their knowledge ought to have expanded. So it is in our spiritual lives. Paul says in Romans chapter 12:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For a Christian to be conformed to the world: is immature—it is fleshly—it is merely human. To grow up in our faith we need to be renewed in our minds and understand what the will of God is for our lives.
That’s what Paul was doing for the Corinthians in these verses—he was telling the Corinthians-- not only that the way they were thinking about the pastors who have served them was incorrect and sinful—but he was also explaining how they ought to think about their pastors—that pastors were merely servants who did the thing that needed to be done for the people of God in that moment.
The same thing is needed if there is some facet of our lives that has not attained spiritual maturity—we need to search God’s Word for what our heavenly Father has to say about money and entertainment and family and relationships and believe it and order our lives accordingly. But to do that—we need God’s help.
Our heavenly Father is the One who caused us to be born again and he is the One who helps us grow up in our faith to reach spiritual maturity. Paul writes: For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.
Earlier in the sermon I mentioned how important it was that we hear this call to “grow up” spoken in the context of that word ‘brother”—that Paul has our best interests at heart when he tells us to “grow up”. I hope these closing words will provide the same comfort.
When we look back at the last five years of our lives of faith, maybe we don’t see a lot of spiritual growth—maybe we haven’t become more Christ-like—maybe our knowledge of the things of God hasn’t really deepened all that much. It’s easy to become discouraged. But Paul reminds us: We are God’s field. We are God’s building. In other words, the God who saved us by the blood of his Son hasn’t given up on us anymore than we give up on our children when we are teaching them to tie their shoes or ride a bike.
Like a farmer plowing a field or a craftsman building a building—God is at work in us. He knows what he is looking for in us and so he patiently works through pastors (his fellow workers) to shape us into a finished product: the mature Christian who is fruitful in good works and whose life is beautiful monument to the glory of God and the goodness of Christ.
When we listen to the pastor’s sermon on God’s Word and study the Bible in Sunday School and receive the Sacrament of the Altar—there in those moments-- and through that man-- and by those humble means—God is work in us, helping us to grow up in our faith in Jesus.
Most of us have seen the bumper sticker: “Be patient—God’s not finished with me yet” and usually we can add our hearty “Amen!” But the good news is that slogan is true of us too. We’re not as mature a Christian as we ought to be—we haven’t grown up into all that God wants us to be. But the Lord’s not finished with us yet and he will help us to grow up in our faith as we hear his Word and receive the sacrament. Amen.
And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Monday, February 7, 2011
Epiphany 6, Series A February 13, 2011
Lessons for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 ~ Hold fast to God's way, for it is the way of life; any other way leads to death.
Psalm 119:1-8 (antiphon vs 1)
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 ~ As people of faith mature spiritually, they unite in the work of the Lord.
Matthew 5:20-37 ~ Jesus exposed the rabbis’ teachings as compromise and taught God’s radical demands.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Advice Worth More Than You Can Pay
In this world, advice that is too freely given is often worth nothing! But Moses gave valuable advice to the Israelites as he prepared to leave them before they entered the promised land: “Follow God's laws and live!” Jesus pointed to the difference between the teachings of the rabbis and the intent of God's law which goes to the heart of the matter and reveals what is the matter with our hearts. In his letter to the Christians of Corinth, St. Paul revealed the Spirit of God as the only source of a wisdom that can teach us the true worth of the gift of salvation that we have received from God through Christ Jesus.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord God, giver of all good things, thank you for the wisdom that comes to me through your Spirit to guide me in knowing and living by your will. Help me remember the value of your gift of forgiveness and salvation in Christ my Savior so that I may live at peace with you and with my neighbors. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: The greatest spiritual gift is not attainable at any price but only when we recognize that it is freely offered through the invaluable sacrifice of our Lord’s life. Now we are free to use the goods that come at greater cost to ease the lives of those who cannot afford even the basic of needs. With that gracious help, we demonstrate God’s greater gift.
OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, in these gifts we bring today,
Remove all hindrances away,
That what we give to You may prove
Your greater gift of Jesus’ love.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We think more expensive means better quality and, translating that to spiritual matters, expect more complex laws and ways to be more helpful. Only the Spirit of God can lead us in understanding spiritual matters. Jesus said the rabbis with their extrapolations of the commandments had not improved them, but rather ruined them. “Let ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and ‘no’ be ‘no’.” Moses taught simply, follow the Lord’s ways and live. Any other way is the way of death. The radical, undiluted law of God urges us to seek the free gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
Car advertisements aside, the Super Bowl commercials so far have not disappointed: the focus is on the marketing devices and gimmicks, not the product. I already have a few favorites, one involving a pug and the other involving product placement.
This is diametrically opposed to the proclamation of the Church. Our message is Jesus Christ and Him crucified - period. The wisdom of God is forever located in Him. Whenever the Church tries to mirror the age around it, inevitably the proclamation of Christ becomes obscured and the aims of man become the focus. Instead of looking trendy or smart, the Church winds up looking silly.
Lord of the Church, keep us grounded in the message of the cross, Jesus Christ and Him crucified. By Your Holy Spirit, keep us faithfully proclaiming this message, and faithfully witnessing to the Lord of glory who was crucified for sinners. AMEN
Yesterday, the funeral for Ruth Prytz was a joyful occasion. Whenever we sing the last stanza of For All the Saints, the imagery of the stanza inevitably leads me to see the countless throng of the saints, those of every race and language and tongue, singing in the robust voice of those redeemed, rested, and resurrected in Christ the crucified, praising the Holy Trinity in the song that never ends. Thank you to all who served to present the meal afterward.
Also yesterday, it was a time of achievement for Andrew Jones, who received his Eagle award, the highest rank in scouting. Congratulations, Andrew!
This week, the Lutheran Women's Missionary League will set the program at its Tuesday meeting, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Also this week, Choir rehearsal is set to begin. Hopefully our Lord will preserve us from inclement weather this Wednesday.
Finally, I'm really jazzed about the reemergence of the Lutheran Book Club. While this is begun with the Young Adult Bible Study, this group includes all ages. What you need is a willingness to keep up with the reading, a readiness to discuss, and eagerness to grow. The first book we will read is Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Copies are available through half.com, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and you might be able to scare up a copy at Half-Price Books. If you're interested in joining us, send me a blast and I'll get you a copy of the study guide. The Lutheran Book Club will meet on Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. at the home of Dru and Tammy Blanc, beginning February 15.
Bruce and his family as they mourn Donnae's death
Esther and her family, as they mourn Ruth's death
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), Dru Blanc, John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke (NAS Corpus Christi)
Our home bound members: Emmett and Emma Wright, Walter and Pearly Theiss, Ann Cleveland, Ruby Rieder
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, February 7
Tuesday, February 8
Circuit 27 pastors' conference
Wednesday, February 9
Thursday, February 10
Cub Scout Pack 278
Sunday, February 6, 2011
This last month we have been looking at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. We have talked about how these words answer the great questions of life: who am I—what is my life’s purpose—and where am I going when this life is over. We talked about how the answer to those questions—Jesus Christ—has united us to one another and to God. And then last week we talked about how this “word of the cross” that unites us as Christians, also has the power to divide us from those who are not Christians.
The assumption that lies behind what we have learned is that we believe what Paul has to say: that the great questions of life are answered by Jesus—that his atoning sacrifice has united us to God and to one another in the church—that there is a division between those who believe these things and those who don’t. These things we believe.
But what we haven’t asked yet is this: Where did this faith--come from? How I am able to believe God’s Word and trust in Jesus Christ when so many in the world around me—do not? The answer to that question is the person and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives--and that is what Paul talks about today. He says:
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
The Corinthians would have expected that anyone coming to them with some new, important message would have been a persuasive speaker and a great debater like they were used to hearing from the philosophers of the day. They would have expected what Paul calls: “lofty speech and plausible words of wisdom”.
But Paul made a conscious decision NOT to do that. In fact, he says that when he spoke to them he was “weak and fearful and trembling”. But his message was life-changing! I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And in their lives-that message- was a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.
The Corinthians began their journey of faith where everyone begins their journey of faith--regarding the word of the cross as foolishness and weakness—spiritually dead. But as Jesus Christ was preached to them, the Holy Spirit worked through that message and their hearts were changed- and their eyes were opened- and they were born again.
This remarkable change wasn’t accomplished because Paul was a great speaker—it wasn’t accomplished because he won some argument—it was accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the word of the cross. So it is in our life of faith. The pastors who baptized us and taught us the faith and preached to us all these years didn’t save us. Rather, our salvation comes through the work of the Spirit as the message of the cross is preached and given in the sacraments.
And the value of God’s way of bringing us to faith, is that there can be no doubt that it is his work that we are saved—not because we were caught up in some emotional event—not because we were taken in by some smooth-talking preacher—but because the Holy Spirit has worked faith in Jesus in our hearts. That rock-solid foundation for our faith is something that transcends the passing wisdom of this age. Paul writes:
Among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
The wisdom of God is not like the wisdom of this day that can be known through reason and measured scientifically—but it is real wisdom. In fact, it is a wisdom that never fades away, like various scientific theories that have come and gone along with the scientists who came up with them. Instead, the wisdom of God is a wisdom that endures from everlasting to everlasting for its source is from before the foundation of the world.
God’s eternal purpose in creating the world and creating us is that we would live with him forever in perfect fellowship—his glory reflected upon us- and in us -and through us- to others. This is what Paul calls “the secret and hidden wisdom of God”—secret and hidden only because our eyes cannot see it or our ears hear it or our hearts imagine it—secret and hidden because it musts be revealed to us.
This wisdom of God—his desire that humans would have fellowship with him—is possible only through his Son. Jesus is the bridge that connects us to God. The greatest minds of the ages could never have conceived such a thing—because if they could, they never would have crucified the one and only God-given way back to God.
But what sinful man did in spiritual blindness--God designed and decreed for the eternal glory of those who love him so that Jesus’ death would bring everlasting life with God-- back to us. Jesus is the Lord of Glory not only because he possesses the glory of God himself—but because he is the only way that we can dwell forever in that glory.
Life in God’s presence is why we were created and God’s eternal saving purpose cannot be reasoned out by us, it has to be revealed to us through the Spirit. Paul writes:
The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
What God has planned from eternity for our salvation—what Jesus has accomplished in his dying and rising for our salvation—has to be revealed to us- and made known to us- and we have to understand it and believe in it- if we are to be saved.
Without the Spirit’s work in us, the loving purpose of the Father and the saving works of the Son will do us no good whatsoever. Those who do not believe in Jesus are lost. Yes God loves them—yes Jesus died for them—but each person must receive that for themselves in faith to be saved. We need the help of the Holy Spirit for this.
While we cannot know or understand the wisdom of God on our own—the Spirit knows it intimately because the Holy Spirit IS God and just as our own spirit knows what is in our hearts and minds, so the Holy Spirit knows the saving will of God towards us and conveys it to us through the preaching of the cross of Christ. Paul writes:
We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
In Romans chapter 10 Paul carefully explains this necessary connection between “our believing” and the “Spirit’s work” and the “preaching of the Gospel by men”.
He says that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead—we will be saved. But then he asks the question that we began with: How can we call on the Lord if we don’t believe in him? How can we believe in him if we’ve never heard of him? How can we hear of him if no one preaches? For faith comes from hearing—and hearing through the word of Christ.
The Holy Spirit is the One who brings us to faith in Jesus --he is the One who reveals the saving will of the Father—he is the One who stretches out our hand to receive the gifts of God. But the Holy Spirit does that enlightening, sanctifying work through the Gospel that is preached- and the sacraments that are administered--by pastors.
Paul says: WE IMPART THIS (THAT IS SALVATION) IN WORDS TAUGHT BY THE SPIRIT. When the pastor preaches the Good News of Jesus-when he baptizes us into Christ’s death and resurrection-when he administers the saving fruits of the cross in Holy Communion-when tells us that our sins are forgiven-we can be confident that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Gospel to impart God’s gift of salvation to us. Paul says:
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Jesus once told Nicodemus: You must be born again—flesh give birth to flesh—but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. Paul says the same thing: the person that we are by nature-- cannot accept the things of God—we must be born again spiritually. This new birth is not something that we can bring about in ourselves anymore than we were responsible for giving birth to ourselves naturally—we must be born again by God.
That is exactly what the Holy Spirit has done in us by the Father’s will through faith in Jesus. We no longer possess only a sinful nature—but now we are a new person spiritually. We have been given the ability to know and understand and believe the wisdom of God that is hidden from our senses and our intellect. We have a spiritual knowledge and insight and confidence that the world does not—and cannot—have.
The judgment of the unbelieving world on those things that matter eternally—those things that we have been talking about over this last month—are simply wrong. They don’t know the answer to life’s great questions. They don’t believe that Jesus has reconciled them to God. They think everyone will be saved. Who God is- and what he is about in the world- and what his attitude is towards us—is hidden to them—BUT—it has been revealed to us in Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
Today we give thanks for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He has brought us to faith and he will work in our lives to keep us in faith until that day that we are safely delivered into the presence of the Lord. Amen.