Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Proper 09, Series A July 3, 2011
Lessons for Third Sunday after Pentecost
Zechariah 9:9-12 ~ God promised peace through the Messiah as exiles returned to rebuild Jerusalem.
Psalm 145:1-14 [Antiphon vs. 19]
Romans 7:15-25a ~ Only God in Christ can rescue us from the conflict of wills in our lives.
Matthew 11:25-30 ~ Jesus offers weary people his easy yoke in place of their heavy burdens.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Rest for the Weary
The people of Jerusalem, returning from exile in Babylon, were discouraged by the monumental task of rebuilding the city. They were encouraged by God's promise through Zechariah: "See, your king comes to you." That very King, who had come into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, is the One in whom the Apostle Paul found comfort and rescue as he struggled daily against the work of sin in his life. That very King is the One who reveals the Father's love and power through his death and resurrection and still invites us daily to lay down the burden of our sin and to rest in the comfort of his easy yoke.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus, You of the easy yoke and light burden, when I struggle against the power of sin in my life, rescue me from this body of death so that I may know the peace of sins forgiven and promise of life in heaven. Lighten my heart with the power of Your love. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: We demonstrate that we fear, love, and trust God first, when we return the first fruits of our lives to His service.
OFFERING PRAYER: O Lord, we are burdened by our love of things,
While joy comes from living in service to You.
Release us from bondage that ownership brings
And strengthen our trust and reliance on You.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Political struggles in this world mirror the conflict of wills in our hearts. We are worn down by our support for particular ideologies, our pursuit of certain agendas, our trust in favorable powers. We long for peace in our world and in our lives, but the resolutions we seek only bind us in further conflict and insure our spiritual death. Only the promised Messiah, who was anointed the Prince of Peace, offers us rest in His unbounded grace and the eternal security of His love.
Monday, June 27, 2011
Good morning, fellow redeemed!
Our Father who art in heaven.
What does this mean?
With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence, we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.
The great gift given in prayer is beyond our comprehension. God invites us to believe that He is our true Father...we may ask as dear children... God gives us the command to pray to Him, as well as the promise that He will hear us as we pray in faith. Christ, we are judged worthy to pray to our Father.
Martin Luther wrote in the Large Catechism that we should pray the Lord's Prayer, a most excellent prayer, because God loves to hear it. Abraham on his journey...Moses in the wilderness...Solomon as God appeared to him at Gibeon...Daniel as he pondered one of many dreams...Jesus on numerous occasions...the apostles as they met to consider replacing Judas...the company of disciples after Peter's release from prison. All of these have a common element. In every episode, in prayer, God's promises are recited back to Him. Why would anyone do that? God's people recite His promises back to Him because He loves to hear His people relying on Him. Thus, the Lord's Prayer, full of God's promise, is the one God loves to hear.
The Lord's Prayer, complete with ins, ands, and such, and with the doxology, consists of 70 words in English. In 70 short words, God's people pray the prayer God loves to hear. May it always be on our lips.
This Week at Mt. Olive
We praise God for the safe return of campers Julianna Stacy, Summer King, and Trevor Johnson. From what I've heard, it was fun time. This week, many more are at Camp Lone Star, battling heat and chiggers, but building relationships in Christ and learning His Word.
Eight people attended last week's Adult Information Class. I hope to have the same eight, plus a couple this week on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. This week, we cover the Ten Commandments, teachings about God and man, and maybe even get into the Creeds a little.
Also this week, we journey into chapter 2 of "Why I am a Lutheran: Christ at the Center." This group meets on Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m.
Emma Wright was very thankful to the congregation for the outpouring of love shown to her at the time of Emmet's death. David Simonds expressed similar thanksgiving as Zora has gone through surgery and into her recovery period. Must be a pattern - God's people at Mt. Olive sharing the love of Jesus!
Finally, a plug for VBS. Every year, Vacation Bible School makes two huge pleas, one for FUNDING, and the other for VOLUNTEERS. As to the volunteers, many are under the mistaken impression that they have little or nothing to offer in Vacation Bible School. Opportunities to serve during this important week abound. Some may be able to serve for an entire week. Some may be able to bring a platoon of friends to help. Others may be able to offer a single day, but in that day fill a critical part in an important skit (thanks, Gary!). As you consider a monetary offering for VBS, please consider also a service opportunity.
For those who have served in VBS in the past, if you have a great story in your service, please send it to me and allow me to use it!
I will be out of the office Friday for closing session at Camp Lone Star.
Zora Simonds, recovering from surgery
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell, KY), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi), reservists Andy Epley and Michael Baker
Those who are homebound: Ruby Rieder, Ann Cleveland, Walter and Pearly Theiss (Houston)
Vacation Bible School preparations at Mt. Olive
Michael Shumway, Sunday School teacher for this coming Sunday
Pastor Justin Beck, installed yesterday at Trinity
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, June 27
Tuesday, June 28
Adult Information Class
Wednesday, June 29
Lutheran Book Club
Christians distinguish between three different uses of the Law of God. In our confirmation classes we use the picture of a curb (that serves to restrain the worst in humanity), a mirror (that serves to reveal the truth about our own sinfulness), and a rule (that is a guide and measure of how the Christian shows gratitude for their salvation).
Different uses of the Law is not an idea that Christians have imposed upon God’s Word-- but are revealed in the Bible-- and especially in Romans.
In the opening chapters of Romans, the apostle Paul talks about the first use of the law—the law that is written on every person’s heart so that even those who do not know the Ten Commandments can still know what is right and wrong—even if many choose to sin against their own consciences.
In Romans chapter eight Paul talks about the third use of the law—how it is only those who are saved—only those who walk according to the Spirit-- who can actually fulfill the righteous requirements of the law.
It is in the seventh chapter of Romans—especially the verses that we have before us today--that Paul talks about the second use of the law that reveals our sin and our need for a Savior. By the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul writes:
Do you not know, brothers —for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?
The Christians at Rome knew about the law. Both the Jewish and Gentile believers knew the Ten Commandments and the laws of Rome. We also know the law—the commandments of God and the laws of the society in which we live. And all of us together—ancient Christians and modern-- know the truth of what Paul writes: that the law only applies to living persons and that when a person dies they are set free from the law and can no longer be prosecuted or punished. We all understand that general principle. Paul goes on to a specific application of that principle. He writes:
A married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
This is a specific example of the general principle above as it applies to marriage. A wife is bound to her husband for life-- but if he dies, she is free to marry another man-- for death severs the legal connection she had to her first husband. We understand this as well—we do not throw widows onto the funeral pyre when their husband dies. Parted from their husbands by death, wives are free to be joined to another—and this really is the point for what follows regarding our former connection to the law-- and our new connection to Christ. Paul writes:
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
The examples that Paul uses above—of freedom from the law’s demand through death—is also true of us in a spiritual sense. Death has changed our relationship with the Law.
Christ’s holy life and his innocent death on the cross fulfilled the law’s demands—both in the obedience God expects of us and the death for sin he demands of us—one innocent man, God’s own substitute, given for a world full of sinners.
But Christ’s death on the cross benefits no one who is not connected to him by faith. His death must become our own if it is to break the hold that the law has on us and the only way for his death to become ours is through faith in Jesus.
In Romans chapter six, Paul makes the point that the baptized, believing child of God has died with Christ and been raised with Christ—that Jesus’ death and resurrection has become our own through faith—so that a brand new relationship has begun for us just as real as when a woman marries a new husband after the old one passes away.
This new relationship with Christ ( in place of our old life under the curse and condemnation of the law) has been brought about by God for a purpose: that we would bear fruit for him—good works that serve our neighbor and bring glory to God.
This fruit that we bear as Christian people is completely different than the fruit that springs forth from the person under the law. Paul writes that:
While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
Before we came to faith in Jesus Christ, there was fruit-bearing—but it was the sinful fruit of death because it came not from our connection to the true vine Jesus Christ—but it came from the sinful passions of our fallen flesh—passions that were “aroused by the law”.
Now what does Paul mean that our sinful passions were “aroused by the law”? Let me give you an example. When you see a sign that says: “Do not touch--wet paint”—what is the first thing you want to do? You want to touch it!
That is the perverseness of our sinful nature when it comes to the law-- that even when we know that something is wrong—even when we know we shouldn’t do it—that it is forbidden only serves to make it more enticing. Drug and alcohol abuse—illicit sexual affairs and the use of pornography—gossip that is shared among friends-- have an added allure to our flesh because they are forbidden by the law.
And acting on the desires of our fallen, human nature, our sinful passions become the evidence for the death sentence that God has pronounced upon sinners.
But for the believing child of God who has died and been raised with Christ in baptism-- this is all in the past because a new life in the Spirit has taken the place of our old life in the flesh under the law.
The question then is this: Does this new life in the Spirit lead us away from God’s will as it is expressed in the law? No! In fact, it is only those who walk in the Spirit who can fulfill the righteous requirements of the law because their obedience flows from the love of Jesus rather than the compulsion of the law. Paul writes:
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? Paul recognizes that he might be misunderstood. After all, if it is a good thing that we have been set free from the law through Christ’s death for us and our death in him—and if our sinful passions are aroused by the law—does this somehow mean that God is responsible for our sin since he gave us the law? By no means! But there is a connection between our sin and God’s law: the law reveals our sin. Paul writes:
If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
When Paul says that apart from the law he would not have known sin, he does not mean that he would not have known right and wrong. He spends the first two chapters of this letter teaching that very thing—that even Gentiles who do not have the law given at Sinai still know what is right and wrong. But what we do not know by nature—and what we cannot know apart from the law-- is the depth of our sinfulness that extends not just to the immoral actions that every society condemns—such as stealing—but also extends to the sin that is hidden in our heart.
That is why Paul uses coveting to make his point—that the demands of the law extend not just to adultery and murder and stealing—things that every culture forbids and punishes--but goes all the way to the desires of our heart that lead to these sins—desires that are hidden to others—but known by God. Only through the law can we see the depth of our sin and the greatness of God’s holiness—spiritual truths that grow ever greater the more closely we look into the mirror of the law. Paul writes that:
Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.
Once Paul’s eyes had been opened by the law to just exactly what sin was, then he saw it everywhere in his life! So it is with us. Once the law reveals that it is not only adultery that is a sin but the lust in our hearts—not just murder that is the sin but the anger—not just idol worship that is a sin but the worry—then we see sin everywhere—in our actions and thoughts and motives-- so that the law acts like gasoline in taking a spark and turning it into a raging inferno that cannot be hidden away—but is seen for the soul-destroying fire that it is. Paul had gone through that very thing. He writes:
I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.
When Paul learned the depth of his sin through God’s commandment on coveting (that God cared not just about his outward actions but what was hidden in his heart) he was awakened from his blissful ignorance and sleepy false security—to the true state of his soul: that he was a sinner through and through and that the God whose holiness is revealed in the law must punish sin with death. He knew about himself that he was spiritually dead, alienated from God, an object of his just wrath.
Every person who would have life in Christ must come to that same place of recognizing that in ourselves, according our flesh, even doing the best we can to keep the law—there is only death. The demands of the law are that we would be holy even as God is holy and to fail at just one point of the law—is to be a lawbreaker through and through—under the penalty of death in time and eternity. Paul writes that:
The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
God made a promise concerning the law: do these things and you will live. There is a promise of life attached to the commandments by God --but only if they are kept perfectly. Just one man who ever lived did that-- and his name is Jesus—and truly there is life in him. For everyone else, the commandments reveal the deadly nature of sin within us—that we want, above else, the things that God has wisely denied to us.
But sin blinds us to the truth that the commandments are given by God for our good. The law appears to be a terrible imposition on our freedom. We chafe under its restrictions.
Sin also deceives us into believing that we alone, of all people, can escape the consequences of our sin--that we alone of all people can do something to make things right again between us and God. But there is an inescapable, divine decree attached to the law: the wages of sin is death. So it is for all of us—not because God’s law is deadly—but because our sin is deadly. Paul writes:
So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.
Here then is the crux of the matter: is God responsible for our sin? Is his holiness expressed in the law and his refusal to abide with sin—the reason for mankind’s spiritual plight? No! It is our sin that brought us to a place of alienation from God and set our feet on the road to death.
The purpose of the law is to reveal that truth to us—a truth that would be forever hidden from us if God did not step in and show us just exactly what he expects of us in the law—and that is a holiness like his own.
The law shows us the truth of how far we are from that holiness—that the gap between sinners and a holy God is beyond measure—and that we need a Savior—someone who can make a way for us back to God.
Only in Christ can the chasm between the sinner and God be bridged. Jesus lived the holy life that God expects of you and me. The moral perfection that God demands of us—Jesus provided for us every moment of his life. He went to the cross as the perfect, sinless sacrifice for the sin of the world—yours and mine-- and God raised him from the dead on the third day—his resurrection the promise of a new life for you and me.
In the waters of Holy Baptism, through faith in Jesus, his holiness was given to us as a gift and God’s wrath was taken away. We died to the curse and condemnation of the law and were made alive through the One who was raised from the dead.
God accomplished our salvation this way for one purpose: that we would be the people he created us to be in the beginning—people who serve him gladly and willingly and without compulsion—people who are led by the Spirit to freely produce the fruit of good works-- simply because we love our heavenly Father and are thankful for what he has done for us in his son Jesus. Amen.
Monday, June 20, 2011
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
Today is Juneteenth. On this day in 1865, Union troops under General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, bringing the news of freedom for slaves in the Lone Star state and sufficient troops to enforce the order. Former slaves were offered the relationship of employer-employee from their former masters under the order. Some left, suspicious of such an arrangement. Some former slaves left to look for long lost family members. Some left, heading north in hopes of achieving full freedom.
Today is also Holy Trinity Sunday. As we confess with the Church the Athanasian Creed, we're reminded that the blessed Holy Trinity is not a what, but a who. This is the living God who gives to us Himself. The Father comes to us through the Son by the Holy Spirit. It is this living, Triune God who frees us from the bondage of sin in order that we may live as God's people - belonging to the Father through the Son by the Spirit.
We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity. Many have tried to shoehorn this teaching to suit their own rational thinking. But, as I've said many times, if the Trinity makes sense to us, then we've taught the living God wrongly. The true God is a divine mystery - hidden, yet revealed in God the Son in the flesh.
This Week at Mt. Olive:
A Pastor's Information Class is beginning Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. at the church. This class is an invitation for you, the members of Mt. Olive, to invite your friends to hear what we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess. It's also a class for those who have been worshiping us or those who are considering joining us. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for many who read this update, this class is offered to those who went through Confirmation classes several years ago and need a refresher (yes, it's that important).
Two things resume this week. First, Wednesday Morning Bible Class resumes at 9:30 a.m. and we'll continue 1 John.
Second, Lutheran Book Club resumes Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. Right now, we're meeting at the church and I'll bring some goodies. The book we're reading is "Why I am a Lutheran: Christ at the Center" by Rev. Daniel Preus.
Finally, a regular quarterly Voters Assembly meeting is being held this coming Sunday, June 26. Worship will be the regular schedule of 8 and 10:30, with the meeting beginning at 9:15 a.m.
Zora Simonds (David's wife), Lucinda Rodela (a friend of mine) - undergoing tests or treatment this week
Travis Gunn, my second-cousin, as he mourns the death of his mother, Jeri
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Ft. Campbell), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi)
Those who travel during this busy summer season
Our leaders in this nation at all levels as they struggle with budget issues
Lori Stacy and myself, Sunday School teachers for this coming Sunday
Preparations for Vacation Bible School, which begins next month
The holy Christian and apostolic Church as she continues to proclaim the blessed Holy Trinity
This week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, June 20
Board of Elders
Tuesday, June 21
Pastor's Information Class (Fellowship Hall)
Wednesday, June 22
Bible Study (1 John)
Lutheran Book Club (Fellowship Hall)
Sunday, June 26
8 and 10:30 a.m.
Voters Assembly meeting
Proper 08, Series A June 26, 2011
Lessons for The Second Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 28:5-9 ~ Prophecies of peace are authenticated only in their fulfilment.
Psalm 119:153-160 (Antiphon: Psalm 89:1)
Romans 7:1-13 ~ Only death can free us from the power of sin working through the Law.
Matthew 10:34–42 ~ New life in the Kingdom comes when Jesus’ hearers die to the old world.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Dying to Live
Jeremiah warned the prophet Hananiah that his easy message of "Peace" at a time when the people were turned away from God would not lead to life but to death. St. Paul clearly connected the power of death over us with sin in our lives working through the Law of God. Jesus cautioned his disciples that looking for peace and life without facing off against the sins and temptations of the world would result in the loss of the crown of eternal life
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Most gracious God, you often hide your purpose in unrecognizable ways. Help me always look behind the obvious to see your hand of love hidden even in strife and conflict. Help me see the rebirth of my life through Jesus' death, and renewal in the sorrow of my repentance. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: If we could truly see our lives from their fulfillment, we would consider all our goods as instruments in service to God’s tasks.
OFFERING PRAYER: All we have and all we are,
We dedicate to You, O Lord;
Sanctify us for Your tasks
That serving You is our reward.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: A prayer attributed to St. Francis ends with the words: “it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Life is best understood looking from the end, backwards to the beginning. Prophecies are only known to be true when they are fulfilled; the effects of sin are not appreciated until it has put us to death. Jesus said that we only find life when we lose it! The life of faith is a journey in the dark, with only the light of Christ’s empty tomb before us. In Christ we can see our present in the perspective of His death, and our future in the certainly of His resurrection.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
From beginning to end, the Bible regards God as the Creator of heaven and earth. The Holy prophets simply assume that the story Genesis tells of God and man and creation is true-- and explains the world as we know it.
When Jesus taught on men and women and marriage he went back to the first chapters of Genesis. The Holy apostles did the same.
For nearly two thousand years the whole Christian church has confessed: I believe in God—the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. The Lutheran church confesses the same: I believe that God has made me and all creatures. Our own church body teaches that “God has created heaven and earth in the manner and space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures by God’s almighty creative word in six days and we reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture.”
For thousands and thousands of years, to be a believer in God- IS to believe that the words that we have before us in our Old Testament lesson today tell us the truth about God and the world and ourselves. That truth is what we are considering in our meditation on God’s Word this morning. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Moses wrote: “In the beginning God-- created the heavens and the earth.”
Before there was space—before there was time—before there was matter—there was God. He simply is—and was—and always has been—and always will be. When Moses asked God his name at the burning bush so he could convey it to the enslaved Israelites, God answered and said: Tell them I AM has sent you.
God is not a part of creation as pagans believe—God is not the creation of man as humanists believe—God is the Creator of both the world and mankind—and he has accomplished the creation of all that exists in heaven and on earth simply- by- the- power- of- his- Word.
In six days, God called into existence everything that exists-- such is the power of his Word—and so it still is today. God’s Word ALWAYS accomplishes its creative and saving purpose. When God says: you are forgiven—you are. When God says: you are my child—you are. When God says: you will live with me forever—you will.
And so who is this God who simply IS? Who is this God whose Word always accomplishes its creative and re-creative purpose? Is he simply an impersonal force in the universe?
No! The God of creation is the Holy Trinity—confessed in the creeds of the church—believed in by the hearts of all who will be saved—and revealed in the pages of the Bible from the very first verses of Genesis. Moses writes:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said…Let there be light.
The God who IS—the God who is from everlasting to everlasting—the God who created the world—IS the Holy Trinity: the Father who creates—the Son who is the Word through which the world is created—and the Holy Spirit who bears witness to it all—One God in three persons, there at the beginning, creating the world—One God in three persons saving the world through the Father’s plan, and the Son’s work, and the Spirit’s witness. THAT IS THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD.
The idea that the world simply came into being on its own- or that it has always existed- or that it is the product of some kind of random cosmic event- is not found in the Bible.
The Bible teaches that a personal God of love and wisdom brought it into existence by the power of his word and called it good. Believers for thousands of years have simply affirmed what the Bible teaches and what we can observe around us.
Only in the last 150 years or so has there been a serious assault upon the biblical doctrine of creation.
Now, the Bible is not a biology or chemistry or geology textbook. The Bible does not set a date for creation. Christians do not object to the idea that a species can adapt to its environment.
But what we do object to—what we reject out of hand-- is the idea that the world around us is the result of a blind, meaningless process lasting billions of years where trillions of accidents, one after another, somehow all worked out just right for the world that we live in to exist.
That idea is absurd on the face of it and completely different than our own experience-- and everything that we observe around us.
None of us sits down to our laptop to do our homework or surf the Internet and say to ourselves: isn’t this machine a marvel what the sands of time and bits of substances have been able to manufacture all on their own. Ridiculous! We know that some very, very smart people are responsible for that computer and how it works. And as complex as a computer is—it is nothing compared to the human brain or the human eye or even the simplest cellular function of life.
The story- of the creation of the world- that is told in the first chapters of Genesis- DOES however correspond to what we can observe and know from science: that we live in an orderly universe—that simple life preceded complex life- that a world for life to live in preceded them both- and that living things reproduce according to their kind.
The first chapter of Genesis is the story of a mighty, wise, loving God who created the universe and all that is within it and ordered it in such a way that trillions and trillions of events and processes and living things all correspond to one another—moment by moment-- in such a way that life exists- and is supported- and continued. THAT IS THE TRUTH ABOUT THE WORLD.
The scientific disciplines- and those who work in them- exist only because the first scientists believed in and worshiped the God of creation and knew him to be a God of wisdom and order whose handiwork in the universe could be observed and measured-- and assumptions made on the basis of that scientific work.
All true science still follows that pattern and when it does not—as with evolution—it is because scientists have abandoned that for which they are trained—for that which they are not trained—and that is theology. They and all who follow them in denying the Creator have substituted the false god of their own intellect for the one true God and forgotten that they are his creatures. God said:
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
With these words we come to the purpose and pinnacle of God’s creation and that is the creation of mankind—male and female together—created in the image of God.
We are creatures—not gods—and certainly not the God WHO IS. Instead, we are living beings, created by God.
But neither are we merely creatures like plants and animals—for we were created in God’s image.
Almost from the beginning, mankind has rebelled against this truth that we are creatures of God. Adam and Eve wanted to be their own gods—deciding for themselves what was best for them—and their sin continues to this day with each of us chafing under the yoke of our creaturely-ness.
But mankind’s rejection of God’s created order- and his relationship to man -also goes in the opposite direction—away from claiming divinity for ourselves-- to regarding human beings as merely creatures.
We are told that we are no different—and certainly not any better-- than any other creature—that we are simply animals—at highest point in the evolution of primates to be sure—but in the end, no different in our essence from any other primate.
Believing that lie is why so many people live like animals--at the mercy of their biology-- with any call for them to live as moral creatures seen as the worst kind of imposition and interference with the slavery they call freedom.
To those in our culture who would raise the human person up to the place of God and make man the measure of all things—the bible says that God is God and we are his creatures.
To those in our culture who would tell us that we are merely animals at the mercy of our basest instincts, the Bible says that we were created in the image of God.
That we are creatures made in the image of God IS THE TRUTH ABOUT OURSELVES and that reflected image of God- in man- is exactly what we see in these verses that deal with our vocation as parents and stewards. The Bible says:
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
The love that exists between the three persons of the Holy Trinity was creative and productive—and it resulted in the creation of the world around us and especially the creation of mankind in God’s image.
That there is a human race is because the Triune God created us as the fruit of his love --to receive his love. And created in the image of God-- mankind (male and female) become partners with him in bringing forth new life-- to love and care for.
The love that exists between a man and a woman in marriage is —by God’s design and intent—procreative—it brings forth children as the fruit and recipients of their love-- just like God did in creating mankind.
And the command of God given to mankind in the beginning to “fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it” is our calling to make a world for our children by being stewards of God’s gifts to us-- just as he created a world for us to live in—in the beginning. The vocation of parents and stewards is one place where the image of God in man is clearly revealed.
These first few chapters of Genesis are not myth—they are not legend—they are not the best story that pre-scientific peoples could come up with to understand their own existence. They are the truth about God, the world, and ourselves.
They reveal that there is one God in three persons who created everything that exists. They explain just exactly how the world around us came into being—as the product of a powerful and wise being. And they tell us about ourselves—that we are created in God’s image to be people of love who work to create a world of beauty and goodness for those we love. Amen.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Good morning, fellow redeemed!
I know this is a little late - I was out of town Sunday and Monday evenings and didn't have an opportunity to get an update together.
When I was in choir at Concordia Lutheran College, Austin, Texas, while on tour my freshman year, we went to see a large mural titled, "The Miracle of Pentecost." Through the years, there have been numerous explanations that try to unpack the title, "The Miracle of Pentecost." Some say it was the disciples speaking in other tongues, or in "tongues," while other have other explanations.
The explanation of the great miracle of Pentecost is really fairly simple, and is the explanation given by Luke in Acts 2: people were hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed in their own language! Peter's sermon called all hearers, even the people of Jerusalem who had officiated Jesus' death, to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
The festival of Pentecost marks the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Some have said that there is only one person of God who has appeared in different modes, and this was just one more of them. But, this heresy ignores Jesus' words in John 14 about Himself and His Father. It also ignores Jesus' promise of the Holy Spirit. The truth is, the Holy Spirit is eternal, just as the Father and the Son are eternal. The Spirit was present at creation, hovering over the face of the waters (Genesis 1). Now, at Pentecost, in fulfillment of Jesus' promise, the Holy Spirit appears, teaching the disciples all things, bringing Jesus through the proclamation of His Word.
We're just about done with this week at Mt. Olive. Just a couple of notes:
Please continue to pray for Trevor Johnson who is at Camp Lone Star this week.
Please pray for Julianna Stacy and Summer King who will attend Camp Lone Star tomorrow and through the weekend.
See you all on Sunday morning!
Pastor Kevin Jennings
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
“Are you searching for more meaning in your life? Are you looking for more purpose in what you do but don’t know where to start? Do you feel stuck in certain areas in your life and feel like spiritual guidance could help? Our spiritual panel is taking your questions. There is Elizabeth Lesser, who as co-founder of Omega Institute, has studied and worked with leading figures in the fields of healing and spiritual development for decades. There is Michael Bernard Beckwith, founder and spiritual director of Agape International Spiritual Center and featured teacher in the film and book The Secret . There is The Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, a well-known liberal and progressive church where the focus is on human rights initiatives.”
And there you have the introduction and panel of experts on Oprah Winfrey’s website: Spirituality 101.
We live in a nation of consumers. That is true of our economic life as a nation and it is true of our spiritual life as a nation.
Church hoppers go from congregation to congregation trying to find that perfect fit and there are thousands of different denominations that are happy to try to please them. All of the non-Christian world religions are represented in our nation with places like Dearborn Michigan becoming largely Muslim. And then there are the countless, odd mish-mash spiritualities that try to combine eastern mysticism, new-age philosophy, and native-American religion with crystals, sweat lodges, and incense into something that can answer mankind’s deepest need for a life with God.
To all of this nonsense that passes for spirituality in our country, Jesus says very simply: If anyone thirsts, let him come to me. In other words, if you are searching spiritually, if you desires a life with God, if you really want to discover the meaning, value, and purpose of your life, then come to Jesus-- for he is the source of true spirituality.
In our Gospel lesson today, John tells us that Jesus spoke these words on the last day of the feast, the great day. The feast that is the setting for the words that our Lord speaks to us today is the Feast of Tabernacles—the Jewish festival where the people of Israel remembered and gave thanks to God for his provision during their years in the desert.
Despite their grumbling and complaining, God was faithful. In the middle of the desert—for decades—for millions of people—God satisfied their thirst.
As part of this festival, priests would descend from the temple mount, fill golden vessels with water from the spring that fed the Pool of Siloam, and walk back up to the temple where they would pour the water near the altar of the Lord and the worshipers would sing these words from Isaiah:
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. With joy I will draw water from the wells of salvation.
It was at this very moment in the sacred liturgy of the temple—when there was a connection in the minds of the Israelites between God’s provision of the past—and the words of Isaiah promising the water of salvation—that Jesus stood up in the midst of the crowd and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”
It was not an accident that Jesus was there that day—it was not an accident that he stood up at that very moment and drew Israel’s attention to himself—it was not an accident that John recorded this scene and Jesus’ words. It all happened the way it did because Jesus has something that he wants to teach you—something that he wants you to know: that he is the source of all spiritual life and spiritual gifts: a life --and gifts-- that he wants to give to you and to all people: if ANYONE thirsts. Anyone!
The gift of the Spirit that Jesus wants to give—the life with God that he bestows—is for all people. ALL people! There is no barrier of age or gender or ethnicity or socio-economic status to receiving the gift of the Spirit from Jesus. The Spirit’s gifts--and a life with God-- are intended for all people—because all people, whether they recognize it or not—have a thirst, a hunger, a yearning which only God can fill.
Now, people try to fill that God-shaped hole in their lives with all kinds of substitutes that can never satisfy: material possessions, various kinds of addictive substances like drugs, alcohol, and pornography, and countless false, deceitful religions and spiritualities. But St. Augustine got it right seventeen hundred years ago when he said that our hearts are never at rest-- until they find rest in God.
Unfulfilled spiritual thirst is what moves people from church to church—from religion to religion—from spirituality to spirituality. They were created to have a life with God—to be more than simply biological creatures at the mercy of their flesh. They were given a desire to have a life with God. But that desire is not properly directed unless it is directed towards Christ—and will not be fulfilled-- unless it is filled by Christ. Jesus says: If anyone thirsts, let him COME TO ME and drink.
The invitation of Jesus to have a life with God and receive the gifts of the Spirit—is for all people—but it is fulfilled in only one person—and that is Jesus--not in Mohammed—not in the Ten Commandments—not in some new age guru—not even on Oprah’s website: Spirituality 101. The deep longing for a spiritual life that Jesus calls a “thirst” can only be quenched by him.
Maybe you think that my criticism of Oprah and her ilk is unfair or unjust. But to direct people away from Jesus—to send them searching hither and yon for spiritual meaning—to tell them that their deepest desire for God can be found in a variety of places—is to deny them the very thing they are searching for: a spiritual life that is found only in Jesus and in the living water of the Spirit that he alone can give. Jesus says: let them come to me and DRINK.
And so what is this “drinking” that satisfies our spiritual thirst? It is nothing else than believing in Jesus. He says: Whoever BELIEVES in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
Long before Jesus went up to the Feast of Tabernacles, Isaiah had prophesied that a true spiritual life that actually connects people to God-- would only come through faith in the Messiah—who is the well of salvation—a never-ending supply of spiritual life.
If you read the rest of the seventh chapter of John’s Gospel account of Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles you will see that the assembled pilgrims there were divided about Jesus. Some regarded him as merely a prophet. Others rejected him out of hand. Still others believed him to be the Messiah. So it still is today.
Another one of Oprah’s favorite guests is a guy by the name of Eckhardt Tolle—a self-proclaimed spiritual guide and author—identified by Times magazine as the most popular “spiritual” author in the United States-- who believes in Jesus exactly the same way he believes in Socrates and Buddha and Lau Tzu and Ralph Waldo Emerson—as merely an enlightened teacher.
But to regard Jesus as merely a prophet or merely a teacher or merely a moral guide is to deny his exclusive claim to be the one and only God-given way to a life in the Spirit.
Those who reject Jesus’ claims to be the source of all spiritual gifts and a life with God-- are subject to a lifetime of spiritual futility: going from one teacher to another—engaging in one esoteric spiritual endeavor after another—never really having a spiritual life at all—just one empty emotional episode after another.
But those who drink of the living water that Jesus gives—those who believe in Jesus—know that the words that he spoke that day are true-- because their own lives are transformed-- and the living water of the Spirit poured into them—flows from their lives.
Those who believe in Jesus and are filled by the Spirit have a deep and abiding sense of peace that is not tied to their external circumstances-- but comes from knowing that they are right with God. They are filled with joy in the moment and hope for the future. They can love those who don’t love them- and forgive those who misuse them- and bear with those whom others find unbearable.
In other words, they are filled with the living water of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised: He said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive. What did Jesus mean when he said that those who believed in him—were to receive the Spirit—that the spiritual gift he would give was somehow in the future—pointing to Pentecost?
After all, it’s not as if the Holy Spirit had not been present in the life of God’s people before Pentecost.
We know from the first chapter of Genesis that the Holy Spirit was there as the world was being called into existence by God’s Word -and we know that the Spirit was there with Moses and the elders of Israel at Sinai as God spoke to them from the fiery cloud- and we know that the prophets spoke by the Holy Spirit- and everywhere the Word of God was preached, God promised that his Spirit was at work—accomplishing his saving purpose--bringing forth faith in those who heard his Words.
But the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost- that Jesus was promising in these verses- was an even greater outpouring of the Spirit than had ever been given before- because it would bear witness to the COMPLETION of God’s saving work-- and it would EMPOWER the mission of God to take that salvation to the world-- so that everyone could have a life with the Father in the Spirit through faith in Jesus.
Where before the Spirit had borne witness to a coming One, revealed in bits and pieces of prophecy—now the Spirit would testify to Jesus of Nazareth—conceived in a Virgin’s womb—born in Bethlehem—a refugee from Egypt—humble and merciful and good-- just as the prophets had taught he would be.
Where before the Spirit had shown in Jewish ceremonies and sacrifices how things would be made right between God and man—now the Spirit would bear witness: that Jesus’ death on the cross atoned for the sins of the world—that Jesus’ resurrection was God’s promise of life after death—and that Jesus’ ascension was God’s assurance that all things would work for the good of those who love him.
The living water of the Spirit who was poured out on Pentecost and is still given to believers-- was sent by Jesus to bear witness to Jesus-- and so it is today. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word as it is preached and read and received in the sacraments for one purpose: that we may believe in Jesus Christ and have a deep and abiding spiritual life in his name.
Let’s return for a moment to Oprah’s website: Spirituality 101—and listen again to her questions. “Are you searching for more meaning in your life? Are you looking for more purpose in what you do but don’t know where to start? Do you feel stuck in certain areas in your life and feel like spiritual guidance could help?” There’s not a problem in the world with those questions—everyone is asking them. The problem is in her answers.
The Good News for us here today is that our spiritual search is over—a life with God --and the gifts of the Spirit-- are found in Jesus. Amen.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
The Festival of Pentecost, Series A June 12, 2011
Lessons for The Day of Pentecost
Numbers 11:24–30 ~ Two of the elders of Israel inside the camp prophesied also.
Psalm 104:24–34, 35b (ant. v. 33a)
Acts 2:1–21 ~ On Pentecost the Holy Spirit spoke through the tongues of the disciples.
John 7:37–39 ~ Streams of living water will flow from the hearts of believers.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: God’s Power for God’s People
In the wilderness, God’s Spirit gave the elders of Israel power to prophecy so that the people could be built up in the fear of the Lord. On Pentecost people from around the world heard the wonders of what God had done in His Son Jesus Christ, and the number of God’s people grew. Jesus promised that the power of His living word would flow from the hearts of believers. The power of the Spirit brings people to repentance and gives birth to faith in their hearts.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: O Holy Spirit, Light divine, You shine in my heart with Your illumining power. Help me see where I have failed to witness to Christ my Savior; give me power to overcome my fears so that I may proclaim His name through the loving deeds in my life. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Stewardship is about joyfully returning to God a portion of that bounty which God first bestowed on us, so that our gifts, and our lives, may be blessed in His service.
OFFERING PRAYER: Through the stewardship of Your gifts, dear Father,
may we share our faith with one another,
that many may come to know the good news
that Jesus is their Savior and their brother.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: The work of the Holy Spirit is to call people to faith and keep them in faith. It is God’s plan to use believers as His instruments to tell His saving Word in the languages that people can understand. We who have been called to Christ don’t share His Word at every opportunity. In fact, too often we even prevent others from speaking up for Christ. God’s Word of promise will flow from forgiven hearts like water from a refreshing spring.
Sunday, June 5, 2011
Anxiety is a universal part of the human experience but surely we modern Americans are the most worried, anxious people who have ever lived. I read a report this week that said that 15 % of Americans are on some kind of anti-anxiety medication and 2 of the top 10 most widely prescribed medications are for anxiety.
Now, I’m not a doctor and I don’t even play one on TV—and so I have no counsel on whether it is right for you to take these medications or not. I’m just a pastor--but what I do know is that there is a spiritual component to worry and anxiety. Lives filled with cares and concerns say something about our life with God. And so today we are going to hear about God’s cure for anxiety. The bible says: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God
Anxiety and worry are spiritual problems. In fact, they are reflective of the first sin that is our common heritage as human beings: the sin of idolatry—the sin of wanting to be our own god. Now it may not seem that way when we are anxious and worried because there is usually a pity party that goes along with it—“oh, woe is me”—but what’s behind worry and anxiety is the desire to run our own lives and to choose for ourselves how we want things to be--in other words, to be our own god.
Anxiety and worry—frustration and fretting—are symptomatic of people who have never come to grips with the fact that no matter how hard they try-- they are not God-- and cannot order the universe to suit themselves.
That is why the first step in God’s cure for anxiety is to come to place of repentant humility where we recognize that we are not God and that there is another-- Who Is. We can kick and scream about it like a petulant child. We can try to manipulate him and make deals with him like pagans. Or-- we can rejoice in the Good News that we are not God and that there is someone Who Is God—powerful and mighty to be sure—but also as a God of love who took on our flesh and died upon a cross.
It is those mighty hands—pierced with nails upon the cross—that rule the world --and our lives-- and that is why we confidently humble ourselves under his mighty hand without fear or worry or anxiety because we know that he rules- in love -for our good. The Bible says: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
I used to always say that it was not so much God’s will that I was worried about—but God’s timing—that what ever God wanted was fine by me—but that I wished he would hurry up. Of course you see the fallacy and faithlessness in that kind of thinking right off the bat—for God’s timing IS a part of his will—and an important part.
The Bible says that for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. Jesus rules the world in order to bless us—in other words, he desires to exalt us—to lift us up out of the hardships and difficulties that cause us to worry and be anxious—but at just the right time in our life—and not before—for the waiting times are also a part of his loving will.
Maybe you are not spiritually mature enough right now to handle some particular blessing without it becoming an occasion for sin. Maybe God wants to deepen your faith and trust with a delay. Maybe God wants to teach you how to really pray that his will would be done when things don’t go as planned. Maybe, just maybe—God really is your loving heavenly Father and has the wisdom to know that perfect moment to deliver you from those things that trouble you. And of course he is! That is why you can cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
And so how do we do that? How do we cast our anxieties upon the Lord? First of all, we admit our frailty. The vast, vast majority of things that happen to us in this life are beyond our control. We were not created to bear the weight of the world upon our shoulders and we might as well just come to grips with it and admit- that those burdens that make us anxious- are too much for us to bear. And then:
Secondly, we acknowledge the Lord’s strength. He is the Creator of the world and the One who causes it to exist moment by moment. He bore the weight of humanity’s sins upon his own shoulders and carried them to the cross. He defeated the strength of the devil and delivered us from his dark dominion over us. The One who has saved us is certainly strong enough to bear those troubles and fears that cause us to be anxious and worried. And finally we:
Accept his gracious invitation to cast our anxieties on him—confident that he cares for us. This requires a great deal of faith and trust on our part-- but he is worthy of that faith and trust and has proven it at the cross.
Jesus’ care for us is certain—but it still does not keep us from all difficulties--- for we live in a world where there is evil. The Bible says: Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. We need to be aware that there is a spiritual component to situations and circumstances that cause us to worry and be anxious. God is working them for our good-- but we can be just as certain that the devil will try to use them to hurt our faith.
The devil has been defeated—but he is still dangerous—just like a rattlesnake that can still strike after it is dead—just like a guard dog on a chain—and if we’re not careful about temptation or if we get too close—the devil is right there to hurt us.
God may be using an illness to remind us that this life is not all there is and that we should live for eternity. But the devil will use it to tempt us to believe that God does not love us. God may be using the current economic hard times to remind us that we do not live by bread alone-- but the devil is right there tempting us to doubt God’s provision. God may be using the daily frustrations of family life to teach us patience and sacrifice-- but the devil is tempting us to abandon our family for what seem to be greener pastures.
In all of the things that cause us worry and anxiety, there is a spiritual dimension where God is working for our salvation and the devil is working for our destruction. And so recognizing this spiritual reality and the presence of evil, what should we do? The Bible says: Resist the devil, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
Instead of simply giving up and giving in to anxiety and worry (which are really a lack of trust in God and an acceptance of the devil’s lies about us and God) we should fight back—Paul says: resist the devil, firm in your faith.
There should be no confusion about this. That we have to fight against temptation and resist the devil’s lies is not a sign of weakness or faithlessness on our part—in fact, it is one of the surest signs that we really are believers. It is only the child of God who wants to trust God more—it is only the child of God who does not want to fall victim to temptation. And this involves a spiritual battle—not just between God and the devil, the good angels and the bad angels—but a battle for us too.
We are called to stand firm in our faith—to believe what the bible says about God: that he loves us with an everlasting love—that he is working all things for our good. We are called to stand firm in our faith and to believe what the bible says about us: that we can fight the good fight of faith—that we do not have to walk in sin—that we can resist the devil’s temptations-- because other believers have.
The trials and tribulations and temptations we face that give rise to anxiety and worry are not new or unique to us and we should get over our pity parties and recognize that other Christians have faced them and remained faithful. Joseph was tempted to sin sexually with Potiphar’s wife but remained faithful. The widow on the brink of starvation gave her last mite and trusted in the Lord’s provision. Paul learned that God’s grace—not his own health—was sufficient for him.
This is the testimony and example of the saints of the past who were no different than we are in the frailty of their flesh—and had no different God than we have in the Lord—and yet they remained firm in their faith, confident in the goodness of God even in hard times—which, after all, will not last forever. The bible says: And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
One of the most important parts of God’s cure for anxiety is a proper view of time and eternity—that we know “the length of eternity and the shortness of time”. In times of anxiety and worry we tend to get those mixed up—we think of the particular situation or circumstance that makes us anxious as something that will last forever. But it won’t—only eternity lasts forever.
When we begin to see the hardships of life in the light of eternity -they begin to look very different indeed! They really are only for a little while compared to the length of eternity-- and they really are only a small thing compared to the greatness of the glory to which God has called us in Christ.
The point is this: the gracious God who has promised you eternity and a share in the greatness of his glory will help you in here in time with the small troubles of life. Our God is the God of all grace—grace for the moment—grace sufficient for the situation—grace that relieves our worry and anxiety because we have his promise that he will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us.
In other words, no matter what the situation that make us anxious—the Lord will bring us through it safe and sound. That is why we can say with Peter: To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
We began our sermon on God’s cure for anxiety by admitting that the cause of our anxiety really stems from the fact that we want to be God and rule our own lives. But we are woefully insufficient to that task—and that causes us worry and anxiety because we are helpless in the face of things greater than ourselves. But that doesn’t mean that there is no help for us—there is—and it is found in the Lord.
Jesus invites us to cast our anxiety on to him and trust that he is mighty enough and strong enough and wise enough to carry that burden and see us through and cause all things to work for our good. He has given us the enduring sign of that promise in the cross—and having blessed us with his very life, how will he not bless us with every other good gift.
Our Lord and Savior and King reigns at the right hand of the Father—he has dominion over all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and that is the best possible news for us. Let us cast down the idol of our own will from the throne in our hearts—with all the worries and anxieties that come with it—and yield ourselves to the Savior’s will with faith and trust. Amen.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Ascension Day is one of those church festivals like the Baptism of Our Lord where we need to see the connection between the event in our Lord’s life-- and our own lives here on earth-- if we are to understand it as Good News for us.
We certainly recognize that Jesus deserved to be seated at the Father’s right hand for laying down his life for our sins and rising again to give us eternal life. The glory and power and honor of this day in our Lord’s life-- is simply what he deserves for who he is and what he has done for us.
But how does his glorious ascension benefit us who are still on this earthly sojourn through the valley of the shadow of death?
Those are the two poles that stand at the beginning and ending of our text today: the pilgrim people of God, living their lives in a broken world, standing in the need of prayer—and our Lord seated at the right hand of the Father, far above every other name, rule, power, dominion, and authority.
Is there a meeting place between those vastly different poles that benefits us and works for our salvation? The answer to that question is: Yes!
It is our ascended Lord who hears and answers our prayers. It is our ascended Lord who sends the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith. It is our ascended Lord who rules the world and works all things for our good. It is our ascended Lord who continues to intercede for us and for our salvation.
This is what our ascended Lord does for us and it is the best possible news that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand. St. Paul writes:
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,
How many times over the course of our life have we called out to God in prayer? How many times have we told a friend or loved one: “I’ll pray for you”. That we pray—and are prayed for--is an acknowledgement that our human resources are insufficient for life in this world—that we need help beyond ourselves—help that can only be found in God- and so we go to him in prayer.
But anyone who has ever prayed has faced the temptation of wondering if it really does any good—if we are not just speaking to a vast, empty cosmos. Or if there is a God who listens, is he concerned enough with what is going on in my life to help. The Good News for us on Ascension Day is that he hears and helps!
The Bible never speaks of prayer as an empty gesture or meaningless, religious act. The believer’s prayer is always heard and answered. And in our text tonight we see who it is that hears and answers: it is the ascended Lord.
The one who loved us enough to take upon himself our flesh and die for us-- is also the mighty One who is above every other earthly power: above the leaders of this world—above the forces of nature—even above sickness and death.
The One who hears and answers our prayers is not only humble and compassionate and kind—but he is mighty and strong to save-and when we go to him in prayer we can be confident that he hears and answers and will come to our aid in a way that strengthens and sustains our Spirit-given faith in him. St. Paul says we can be confident that:
The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
If we’re really honest with ourselves, we know that many of the things for which we pray (while they may be important to us) are not really eternally important—that they are really not the one thing needful which is, saving faith in Jesus Christ.
That is why it is such good news that our ascended Lord puts first things first when it comes to our salvation and sends the Holy Spirit to open our eyes of faith so that we can trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. He promised this very thing during his earthly ministry.
Jesus told his disciples that they would be clothed them with power from on high. He said it was better that he ascended than stayed with them so the he could send them the Counselor. And he breathed on his disciples and said: Receive the Holy Spirit. What a precious gift the ascended Lord gives in the Holy Spirit so that we can believe in Jesus—since we cannot do this on our own! The Bible says:
All of us were born dead in transgressions and sins—that the man without the spirit cannot accept the things that come from the Spirit of God—that we must be born again by the Spirit—and that no one can says “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus doesn’t want anyone to perish in their sins but to come to faith in him and be saved-- and so he keeps the promise he made to his disciples and sends the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith. And he also works just as mightily to keep us in faith. Paul comforts us with the Good News of the ascended Christ’s power—what Paul calls:
The immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might
Certainly one of the most heartfelt prayers throughout our earthly journey is that the “one who has begun this good work in us would bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We know that our journey of faith is not only about starting well—but finishing well—since it is only those who abide in faith who will be saved.
We also know about ourselves how difficult this is to do and everything that stands in the way: we have to fight against our own flesh that wants us to follow the ways of the unbelieving world rather than the way of Christ--we have to remain steadfast in the face of the devil’s temptations--and all of the evil of this world is allied against us.
Besides these spiritual enemies, we Christians are also affected just like everyone else by the broken-ness of creation that sends droughts and diseases and downturns into our lives.
These spiritual and physical enemies are powerful obstacles to fighting the good fight of faith and finishing the race of faith. But Christ’s ascension is our assurance that we have a mighty king who fights for us—one who is above every power and authority—one who is right there with us each step of the way in life, powerfully working all things for our eternal good to bring us safely to our heavenly home.
St. Paul says that in Jesus there is an immeasurable power at work in the lives of those who believe so that no matter what happens to us in life—no matter what situation or hardship we face—no matter how insurmountable the powers allied against us—they are still not greater than the power of the ascended Christ who promises to make them work for the good of all who love him.
And when we fail at times to hold fast to him—we can be confident that his love and mercy and forgiveness and life still avail for us before the heavenly Father as our righteousness and salvation for Paul tells us that God “ raised him from the dead and seated him with the Father at his right hand in the heavenly places.”
Jesus is constantly lifting up before his Father in heaven his death on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins—his own life is an enduring witness to the certainty of our own resurrection for where the head is, the body will certainly be—and as the ascended Lord he lives to make intercession for us when we sin.
As we pray for forgiveness, Jesus stands at the right hand of the heavenly Father lifting up his perfect sacrifice on the cross that reconciles us to God and he will continue to do so until we lay down our sinful flesh and are delivered from this vale of tears. Jesus’ salvation is not ancient history—but as the ascended Lord, it is our present and our future for Paul tells us that Jesus is:
Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
As we live out our lives here on earth, our Lord’s ascension to the Father’s right hand is an incredible comfort for we know we are not alone in a vast empty cosmos devoid of any kind of real meaning, but Jesus rules the world in power and might for the sake of his people the church. And so…
When the economy crashes—when the rain refuses to fall—when we hear that dread word “cancer”—when our children move away, when our spouse dies and when we face our own last days—it is Jesus who reigns supreme over each of these moments—for our good—mighty in power and strong to save.
We can be confident that his gracious rule over the world and the church and our lives will always work to our salvation and that is why his ascension to the Father’s right hand is such Good News for us on this day. Amen.