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No Need To Worry

Sermon: “No Need To Worry”

Lectionary Series C; The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, August 11, 2019 – Proper 14

Gospel Reading: Luke 12:22-34

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Are any of you ever anxious? Ever afraid? Do any of you ever...worry? If so, now that Disney has recently released a new version of the Lion King, I have some comforting words from my friends Timon and Pumba: “Hakuna Matata!” What does that mean, you might ask? Well, let me tell you. Or better yet, let me sing it for you:

Hakuna matata! What a wonderful phrase.

Hakuna matata! Ain’t no passing craze.

It means no worries; For the rest of your days.

It’s our problem free; philosophy; Hakuna matata!

If only it were as simple as singing a silly song and adopting a Hakuna Matata philosophy, and poof, all anxieties and worries were gone. But it just isn’t that simple, is it?

We worry about all sorts of things? What do you worry about? Last weekend our nation was gripped with worry as two mass shootings took place in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Lives were lost, people were wounded. Thinking about all of those victims might have given us a moment of pause or filled us with worry about going out in public ourselves.

What do you worry about? Do you worry about storms? Do you worry about finances? Do you worry about your kids? Do you worry about the future? Do you worry about all of those unknowns that arise in life? What do you worry about?

In one way or another, it would seem that none of us are immune to worrying. Which means that none of us are immune to the sin of failing to trust in the almighty God. That is, after all, what worry and anxiety are all about. A lack of trust. But it goes deeper than that.

In a word study done on the Greek word for worry, it reveals that the best translation would not be “worry,” but rather “lifting yourself up.” Worrying lifts us up above God, in place of God, rather than taking our place under God’s generous hand; we are exalting ourselves to be our own gods when we think our provision is all up to us.

So, worry is a sin against the first commandment where we are called to not have any other gods, where we are to fear, love, and ‘trust’ in God above all things.

Unfortunately, we put a lot of things above God. Consider last week’s Gospel reading where Jesus told the parable of the rich fool. The man’s land produced plentifully, and he wondered what he should do because he had so much grain. His conclusion was to tear down his barns, build bigger ones to store his grain and goods, and relax, eat, drink, and be merry. God’s response was to call such a man a “Fool” and take his life from him.

And so it will be for those who place their trust in themselves or the things of this world. This should be a wakeup call to us Americans who have more things than we will ever need in this life. If we place our trust in ourselves or prioritize the things of this world to provide us all that we need, we put our eternal salvation in jeopardy…which is why God calls upon us to trust in Him above all things. Stop worrying about the worldly stuff, and trust in God. Easier said than done. (Pause)

But have you ever had one of those moments in life where you worry about something, and no matter how hard you seem to try, you just can’t get it off your mind. It just keeps swirling around and around. You might look back now and think what a small, petty thing it was to worry about. But back then, it was like this massive mountain you couldn’t see past, go around, or climb over. Ever had those moments? I know I have. And I hate them.

It’s no wonder that Jesus says, And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Luke 12:24). How true is that?! Worrying never adds anything to our lives. It only takes away. It takes away time. It takes away sleep. It takes away appetite. It takes away energy. Worrying is so ridiculous, when you think about it. It’s an absolute waste of time and energy. … So, why do we do it? Why?

We worry because we are weak in faith. Like the disciples who were listening to Jesus, we too can have such little faith. Trust does not come easy for us. And Jesus knows that all too well. So, He gives us a couple of object lessons to help us in our weak faith.

First, he tells us to Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them (Luke 12:24). Looking out at my garden, we have these birds that are constantly in there. I can attest, not-a-one of them seems to be struggling for food. The point is, they are cared for and provided for. So it is that we are cared for and provided for, for we are of much more value than birds.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Jesus gives a second object lesson. Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! (Luke 12:27-28). (Pause)

Even though we are surrounded with infinite evidence of the Father’s care and provision, we still think it is not enough. We never think we have enough. The grass is always greener elsewhere. The Jones’ always have more. It is a relentless onslaught of discontentment that fills our hearts and our minds with worry.

And what Jesus makes clear is that the reason we worry is that are hearts and minds are set on the wrong things…worldly things…which is why our text for today redirects us to what truly matters…the kingdom of God.

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you (Luke 12:29-31).

The Father knows what we need, even better than we do. It’s like when I was growing up. I would constantly ask my parents, “What’s for supper?” Their response was, “Food.” I would follow up, “What food?” And their response would be: “Have we ever let you go without a meal? Now get out of the kitchen.” It used to drive me nuts to not know what we were having for supper. But now I find myself using a similar response with my kids when they ask the same question I used to ask.

Perhaps a better example is that of the prophet Elijah. It was a time of famine. There was no food, and yet God directed him to travel anyway. While on those travels, God nourished him with water from a brook and He commanded the ravens to bring him bread and meat. Elijah then journeyed on in the strength of the Lord.

The point is that whether it be Elijah, or like when I was a kid, or those birds, or the lilies, we have no need to worry about being provided for because our Father up in heaven knows exactly what we need, and He will be faithful to provide it. Now it may not be what we want or what we like. It may mean we may have to endure hardship, or suffering, but we have no need to worry.

Our Good Shepherd is always looking out for what is best for us according to His will and in His time. Our text says, Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).

May we find comfort in the fact that there is nothing the Father wants more than to have you and me with Him for all eternity. In fact, we are of such great value to Him that He sent His one and only Son to die for us to secure our salvation. That was the price He willingly paid for us…we who are of so much more value than the birds.

And if He is willing to lay down His life for us so that we can have eternal life with Him, then what reason do we have to worry about the things of this temporal life? None. None at all. Death has been defeated. Just imagine how much worrying there would be to do if we didn’t have salvation to look forward to. Imagine if we had to earn our way into heaven with our works. Now that would be something worry about.

But as Christians, we confess our worries and anxieties. We confess the ways we have lifted ourselves up above God. And we place our trust in the One who went all the way to Jerusalem trusting that His Father would raise Him from death.

For it was Jesus who came to this earth to give us the kingdom. It was Jesus who gave up the food of this earth to fast in the wilderness for forty days and defeat the devil’s temptations. It was Jesus who was stripped of His clothing, and left for dead on the cross of Calvary. It was Jesus who cried out in thirst before He breathed His last breath on our behalf. It was Jesus who gave up all the things of this world to ensure the kingdom would be ours.

And it most certainly is. So there is no need to worry. Jesus is right here, right now, feeding your faith, strengthening your faith, sustaining your faith, for the journey ahead with His Word and Sacrament. And should those worldly worries creep back in, Jesus is right here to give you the daily bread you need to continue on in the faith according to His will and in His way and in His time. Hakuna Matata! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

One Thing is Necessary

Sermon: “One Thing Is Necessary”

Lectionary Series C; The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, July 21, 2019 – Proper 11

Gospel Reading: Luke 10:38-42

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever had an unexpected guest at your home? Someone knocks on the door and says, “Surprise!” What immediately goes through your mind? Oh my goodness! The house is a mess. I have nothing planned for supper. What am I going to do? Immediately, your mind just starts racing, trying to figure out what on earth you are going to serve them for supper. You frantically start running around the house, trying to put together a meal. And not just hot dogs and mac and cheese. Something that makes it look like you had something nice in mind for that night’s meal. As you scurry about, every once in awhile, you might bend down to pick up something on the floor to tidy things up. Anything you can do to make it look like you were ready for this surprise guest. Have you ever had an unexpected guest at your home?

Our text gives every indication that Martha had an unexpected guest arrive at her home, and it was none other than the Son of God. No pressure there. And most likely, it wasn’t just him, twelve disciples strolled into the house with Him. Just imagine how stressed out she must have been. To have thirteen unexpected guests arrive. We can totally visualize Martha just freaking out. Oh my goodness! What am I going to do? What am I going to serve them? This is the Son of God. Hot dogs (kosher, of course) and mac and cheese are not going to cut it.

Have you ever had an unexpected guest arrive at your home? Abraham did as well in our Old Testament lesson. He had three unexpected guests arrive as well. Most believe it was the Son of God and two angels. And what does he do? “Quick, Sarah, please make bread, kill the calf. We have guests, and not just any guests, but God is here.”

Have you ever had an unexpected guest arrive at your home? And have you ever forgotten what is most important when a guest arrives? For Martha, what was most important was to make sure that she was a good host to her guests. In no way, did she want them to go hungry, and in no way did she want them to think that she was not a good host.

But is that what was most important? I am reminded of talking to a man in Kenya. There we were, sitting at breakfast, chatting away. And he was telling about how in Africa, what is most important is relationship. He looked at me and said, “I am sure that throughout this conversation, you have been focused on the time, and what is next on your schedule.” And he was right. He said, “That is not the way we think in Africa.” He continued, “No one will judge you if you are late in Africa because of a conversation you were having with someone else, because what is most important is not time, but relationship.” I must confess that I was both humbled and convicted at that very moment.

We put so much stock into our schedules, our to-do lists, and what we are able to get done in a day. We think that if we are not busy, we are lazy. If we don’t get things done, then we are failures. But how often in the shuffle of life do we fail to recognize the importance of relationship.

There Martha was busily and frantically trying to get things done for her guests so that they would have meal to eat. And it wasn’t that what she was doing was wrong. It was just that she was missing the more important thing to do.

Martha’s sister, Mary, on the other hand, knew exactly what to do. She sat at Jesus’ feet and listened. Can’t you just see her, with legs in criss-cross applesauce position (as they say in preschool), head cocked back, intently looking up at her Lord and Savior, soaking in every word that He was saying? Soaking it in as if every word He said was necessary for her survival.

Is that how we listen to our Lord? Do we listen so intently that we just can’t wait to hear what is next Word is for us? Or are we just too busy to stop and listen?

We live in such a busy world. Ever looked around a restaurant and seen a couple sitting there across from each other? But instead of talking to each other and listening to each other, they are both on their smartphones. Ever been in a conversation with someone, and all of a sudden their phone dings or vibrates or makes whatever noise it makes, and their attention is immediately drawn away from the conversation they were having with you? Or have you ever been that person who got distracted?

We don’t seem to have the ability to focus anymore on what is most important. Sure we can argue that we are communicating more than ever, but how can we say we are improving our communication if we rarely communicate without distractions? How can we say our communication is improving if we don’t stop and listen? And I mean, really listen, so intently that we can repeat back what the other person is saying.

Mary was on the floor listening to Jesus. And there was Martha, no doubt stamping her foot on the floor, glaring at her sister, with hands on her hips. And she even had the audacity to demand of Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”

Now any of us who have siblings know what this is like. There we are working our tails off, and in our mind, our sibling is doing nothing. Nothing. Help a brother out here. In this case, “Help a sister out here.”

But, no-o-o, Mary just sat there. She just sat there, and in Martha’s mind, she did nothing. Oh, how Martha must have been just fuming. Again, anyone who has siblings can relate to this feeling Martha had. We have all said at one time or another to ourselves or even outloud: “But I’m doing everything, and my sister or brother, they aren’t doing anything.”

Jesus, however, just blows the whole situation up when he replies to Martha’s demands. Listen to this. But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken from her.”

What?! What did He just say? Martha must have lost her mind at that point. And how many of us busy-bodies would have done the same, at least internally? You see, our minds, our American, can-do, must-do, always-do, minds can’t equate that somehow sitting and listening and growing in relationship is somehow more important than doing something. Because if you aren’t doing something, then what are you doing? Nothing. And ‘nothing’ in our minds is not an option.

But Mary wasn’t doing ‘nothing’. She was listening to Jesus. Just like the Father said at the Transfiguration back in Luke, chapter nine: This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him! And this is what we have come here today to do as well. We have come here to listen and to grow in relationship with Jesus. And that, my friends, is the good portion, and it will not be taken from us.

Jesus says that one thing is necessary. And when He says that, picture Him pointing to Himself as He says it. Because He is the One thing that is necessary. When He is in the room, nothing else matters. It is as our Psalm for today said: One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.

Jesus would have been just fine with a simple meal. He wasn’t looking for an extravagant meal. He was on His way to Jerusalem, and He was gracious enough to stop in at Martha’s house and talk to them while He was on His way…on His way to die on Calvary.

In the busyness of life, we can so often lose sight of the bigger picture. I confess that happened to me on so many occasions at the National Youth Gathering. There I was serving as Communion Coordinator trying to figure out every angle of U.S. Bank Stadium to commune 22,000 people in 28 minutes at 132 communion stations. It was no small task. But, in the evenings, during the mass events surrounded by all of those youth and chaperones, I couldn’t get my mind to just slow down and focus on listening to the presenters and sing the songs. I found my mind racing, occasionally jotting notes on my phone or in my binder. Now the good thing is that everyone was communed in the allotted time, but I look back and regret how much I missed.

I wonder if that entered Martha’s mind as Jesus told her that one thing is necessary. Here she had been frantically moving about her house trying to prep a meal, but she had missed the one thing necessary: Jesus.

How often do we fall prey to the same thing? How often do our busy schedules keep us from the one thing necessary? So, I challenge you; the next time a Sunday rolls around and your schedule is so busy, think about this story. Or the next time you are tempted to skip your prayer time or devotion time. Think about the fact that one thing is necessary. One thing. It’s Jesus.

Oh, how easy it is to take for granted that Jesus comes to us. As a culture we flock to see musicians and celebrities, but what about Jesus? What about the Son of the Almighty God? He comes to us here in His house. He invites us to listen to His Word, to receive His body and blood. He gives us Himself. (Pause)

There we were at the National Youth Gathering, and what an honor it was to jump in line and receive our Real. Present. God. (point to banner) in, with, and under bread and wine in the largest service in our synod. 22,000 people communing together. 22,000 people present to listen to Jesus, to touch him, to taste, to feel him. It was simply remarkable.

And so it is as we gather here at Zion, week after week. Where else are our sins forgiven? Where else are our eyes directed to His cross that He bore for us? Where else are we given the hope of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting? Where else are given the one thing that is necessary? Where else do we receive Jesus? In His name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Christian Community

Sermon: “The Christian Community”

Lectionary Series C; The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Epistle Reading: Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

When Emily and I first came to Zion twelve years ago, it was easy to notice that we were not from around here. We didn’t know how to navigate Carver County. We didn’t know much about farming. And our last name wasn’t ‘Hoese’.

However, after the course of twelve years, we, along with our children have been welcomed into this community. We may still be learning to navigate Carver County, we still don’t know that much about farming (though we are learning, especially after our privilege of attending Breakfast on the Farm), and we still are trying to figure out how all the Hoeses’ connect. That all being said, we rejoice in being part of this community.

A community can be those gathered in a same town or zip code like we have here in the town of Mayer. And a community can also be those who have something in common with one another like a fraternity or a sorority at a college or a group of employees at an organization or institution. Communities come in all shapes and sizes.

As Christians, we are brought into community with one another. Though we come from different towns and zip codes throughout the area, we most certainly have something in common, which Paul refers to in our Epistle reading for today:

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).

Having just heard those words of Scripture, take a good look at the cross before us. Take a good look. What was a symbol of defeat and humiliation to the Romans who crucified Jesus on the cross, is a symbol of complete and total victory for the Christian community. The crucifixion of Christ changes everything. It shapes. It molds. It directs. It saves.

Each time we gather together here in the house of God, our eyes are directed to the cross. And as our eyes are directed toward the cross, we fix our eyes upon Jesus, the One who died on that cross in order to save us from sin, death, and the devil.

For Paul, Jesus’ death on the cross shaped, molded, and directed his interactions with others in many communities. With his eyes firmly fixed on Christ, his focus was not on himself. He only wanted what was best for the community. And that was that they received Christ as Savior and Lord.

Is that the focus of our Christian community here? This congregation has been blessed to be here in the town of Mayer for over 100 years. But there have been a lot of changes in the course of those 100+ years. It will not be long and the new census will be taken and a new sign will be posted stating the population. It said 554 when I came here in 2007. It says 1749 after the census in 2010. What will it say in 2020? Perhaps 2500? (Pause)

One thing we pastors have noticed is that it is becoming quite rare that people are looking for a church anymore when they move to a new community. Here in our community, we were once almost solely tied to agriculture. Now, that is not the case. Now we are most certainly a bedroom community to the Twin Cities. Now, people have no problem traveling for their jobs, for their groceries, and even their church. So, what will make people consider Zion as a community that people desire to be a part of?

Now, there is certainly no silver bullet answer here. But Paul’s words in our text give us pause about how a Christian community ought to interact with one another. That, in and of itself, ought to prove helpful if we desire others to come be a part of our Christian community.

Listen again: Brothers [and sisters], if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone things he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load (Galatians 6:1-5).

Our community is a community of sinners. Let’s not mince any words about it. We are sinners. We mess up, big time. There is not-a-one of us here that has not fallen prey to the work of the evil foe. There is not-a-one of us here not wrestling with sin even now. The church has all too often been pegged as a place for people who have it ‘all together’. Let’s not kid ourselves. We don’t. We don’t have it all together. We are sinners in need of a Savior.

And what’s more, we are responsible for caring for one another in the love of Christ. We aren’t called to gossip about people’s sins or hit them over the head with whatever they are struggling with. Instead, Paul encourages us to be bold in our witness by restoring sinners with a spirit of gentleness. If someone is caught in sin, we are called upon to care for them. If they remain in their sin, they are at  risk of severing themselves from Christ and eternal salvation. This should concern us…concern us to the point to go and talk to them about it.

All too often, however, fear takes hold of us though. We don’t want to rock the proverbial boat. What if they reject me? What if they tell me off? And though that may be a possibility, what happens if no one from the Christian community goes and talks to them? Nothing. Nothing will change, and the person will most likely remain in their sins. And it’s not that we will be held accountable for their sins. Their sins are their sins. But shouldn’t we out of love and concern go and care for them by telling them the truth? Sin kills…eternally. Jesus knows it. We know it. Let us not remain silent, and let us speak in a spirit of gentleness.

Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit at work in us, given to us in our Baptism. We don’t have to manufacture gentleness, it is a gift of God to us so that we may share it with others. Plus, have we also considered the alternative? What if the person we spoke to repented, turned from their sinful ways, and returned to the faith? Have we considered that?

Imagine the impact that approach would have on our community of faith here at Zion. Imagine the impact that would have upon us each individually. Imagine the impact that it could have in our community of Mayer. It’s as one song says: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Love for Christ and love for each other.

So often the reason that people don’t want to be a part of a Christian community and a congregation is because they think it is a place full of hypocrites. Well, that’s true. We are hypocrites. We say things and don’t follow through all of the time. We think far too much of ourselves when we profess that everything is supposed to be about Christ and His work. Paul warns against this, because far too often with the work we do in the church, we seek credit, and a pat on the back rather than letting God have all the glory. Far too often we think it is our church, not Christ’s church.

And that’s where we need to once again be redirected back to that cross. As I said, the cross changes everything. Jesus’ cross was for Paul a place to come and die. It was a place where he ended, and Christ began. It was a place where sins were removed, and new life began.

It is the same for us. We come into God’s house and into this Christian community, not to offer God something from ourselves. We are nothing without Christ. We are nothing without His crucifixion. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. Sinners need to confess. And that’s why we come here. That’s what binds us together. We are sinners in need of a Savior. As the hymn goes: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”

The only way we are able to love one another in this Christian community with a Spirit of gentleness without it going to our head is because of Christ. His saving work in us is what shapes and molds our interactions with others. We don’t love others in order to get something in return. We love because Christ first loved us. His shed blood is lavished upon us. His love is alive and well within us. ‘He’ is alive and well within us, and so we can’t help but love others.

Our text says, the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap to eternal life (Galatians 6:8). Like a farmer who plants in the spring, they do so with the hope of reaping a harvest in the fall. So it is with us as we love others. Whether they are sick with disease, discouraged with depression, reeling from a broken relationship, or steeped in sin, we reach out in Christian love toward them because we care for them.

But like that harvest, it takes time before we see any fruit from the labor. In fact, we may never see the fruit from the labor. It may come long after we are gone. Only God knows. I have come to that realization again and again with my loved ones who have wandered from the faith. I may have been called to plant a seed, but it is God who does the watering. Only He knows when their will be fruit for the harvest.

So Paul encourages us with these words: And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).

It can most certainly be a weary road to love others as Christ loved us. Days, weeks, months, maybe even years of rejection can wear on us. But, Paul says not to give up. And how could he say that? Paul was not relying on his own strength. Rather by the Spirit of God given to him in his baptism, Christ was at work in him.

Christ did not give up as He went to the cross of Calvary. Though He most certainly grew weary, His love for His Father and for us, compelled him to press forward through the streets of Jerusalem and all the way to where they nailed him to the cross. There as He bled and died our death, He did good to everyone, and most especially to those of the household of faith. For we who believe and confess Him and Savior and Lord, we shall be saved.

This is the message He has given to our Christian community as we look to Him and His cross. And this is the message He gives to us as we interact with others within our community here at Zion and those who are yet to join with us in Mayer and beyond. (Pause)

So once again, take a good look at that cross. Let us see here before us that all of our strength, everything we need in this life as a Christian community comes from Christ Himself who never gave up and bore that cross to save us for all eternity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Freedom in Christ

Sermon: “Freedom in Christ”

Lectionary Series C; The Third Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Epistle Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

How do you define freedom?

This week our nation will celebrate once again that we are a free country. Ever since 1776, we have been celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July. With barbecues and fireworks, we will gather and rejoice in being the land of the free and the home of the brave. As we do so, we ought to take a moment to give thanks to God for those who so sacrificially gave their lives and their service to afford us the freedoms we do have in this country. Freedom is not free.

How do you define freedom?

When I left for college in Chicago all the way back in the last millennium (it was 1999), I am pretty sure my words could have echoed the line from Martin Luther King Junior’s famous speech where he said, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!” Now in no way was that because I didn’t like my childhood. But as my parents said goodbye to me with tears in their eyes outside my dorm at Concordia River Forest (now Concordia Chicago), I was ready to be out on my own. In fact, I had been ready for quite some time. I often joked that I had had senioritis since I was a preschooler. And now that college was beginning, my days of freedom were now here.

How do you define freedom?

The dictionary defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”

This definition seems appropriate when we consider that we often view freedom as a license to do whatever we want to do. No boundaries, no restrictions, no rules. Now I get to call the shots and do whatever I want to do. And though that may sound awesome, is this the definition of freedom that we want to live by? Or is there a different definition of freedom for us as Christians to consider?

How do you define freedom?

Our text says: For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Galatians 5:1, 13-14).

In love, Christ calls us out of slavery and into freedom in order that we may love our neighbor as ourselves. This call to freedom in Christ is vastly different than the dictionary definition of freedom. This call to freedom is one of love. Where the dictionary definition would mirror the college student’s craving to do whatever they want without restraint, as Christians, we are called to freedom that binds us to Christ and love for our neighbor.

It may sound odd that freedom is being bound to Christ and to the neighbor. In fact, that may not sound like freedom at all. But consider the alternative for a moment.

If we are not bound to Christ and serving our neighbor, then what are we bound to? We are bound to the desires of the flesh. What are these? Well, they are broken up into four categories: The first group is a list of sexual sins: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality. The second group is a list that is a direct violation of the First Commandment (You shall have no other gods): Idolatry and sorcery. The third group deals with personal relationships with others: enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy. And the fourth group is indulgence in sensual pleasures: drunkenness and orgies.

The apostle Paul then offers a grave warning to those who do these things: “You will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This should be a wake up call to all of us, should we be steeped in any form of these sins which were just listed. Should we be enslaved to any of these sins, we need to repent.

And the word ‘enslave’ is intentional. To be caught up in any of these sins is like being chained on a leash like a slave where Satan is the one who is calling the shots. And the end result if we choose to follow the lusts of our flesh is to bind ourselves to the punishment of eternal damnation. “You will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

God is here speaking through the apostle Paul out of great love and concern for you and me and all people. To live a life of worldly freedom where we think we can do whatever we want without restraint has its consequences. We may think otherwise as we are indulging in whatever we want in this life with its endless buffet of sinfully, gluttonous choices, but it will only take us down in the end.

That is why God calls us to so much more. So much more than a life of guilt and regret and consciences that are weighed down by the sins we have committed. He calls us to freedom in Him. Freedom in Christ.

Freedom is being released from the slavery and bondage of sin and the penalty of death that goes with it. Freedom is having the leash that Satan has attached to us cut off. Freedom is no longer being burdened by sin and guilt and a burdened conscience.

This is the freedom Jesus gave to us as He bled and died our death on Calvary, when He said, “It is finished.” The sin, the guilt, and the death that went with it, is gone. Done for. We are free. Free from having to earn our salvation by works of the law. Free from having to pay the price of death because of our sins. Free to love Him with all of our heart, soul, and mind. Free to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are free.

He has called each us to this freedom in Himself in our baptism. In our baptism, Christ Jesus Himself, the Son of God, bound Himself to us. It was then and there that He gave us His Spirit willingly and freely, because He wanted to. Because He loves us. And from that point on, the Spirit of the Almighty God has been at work in and through us.

We are now conduits, channels of Christ’s love. As Jesus says in the book of John: I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).

God calls you and I to bear the fruit of Christ’s love. With Christ connected to us, we can’t help but be channels of His love toward others. It is the natural outpouring of one who is set free by Christ to love Him and serve others.

And what does that fruit look like? Well, as good as the strawberries, cherries, and watermelons of summer may be, these fruits of the Spirit are far better.

The fruits of the Spirit are broken up into three groups. The first group is of the inner life of one who is led by the Spirit: love, joy, and peace. The second group is the work of the Spirit’s dealing with others: patience, kindness, and goodness. And the third group is in regards to the attitude of one who has the Spirit of God at work in them: faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

But here comes the best part: against such things there is no law. There are no limits to how much fruit you produce when it comes to the fruits of the Spirit. No one ever said, “that was far too much patience or kindness you showed me.” And what’s more, there is no sin in doing them and no burden of a guilty conscience in doing them either. And why? Because these are the fruits of the Spirit of the living Christ who is alive and well within us.

This is the freedom in Christ that He has called us to by the Gospel and enlightened us with His gifts. He has called us to produce fruit. He has called us away from a selfish life of serving the flesh to a life of contrition and repentance. Because we are not our own, we have been bought with a price. The price of Christ’s life. After all, freedom is not free. And it certainly wasn’t for the Son of God who bought our freedom with His holy and precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death.

So, as we live in the blood-bought freedom of Christ, let us crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. Let us drown the Old Adam so that a new man will daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. As baptized believers, let us live by the Spirit and let us also walk by the Spirit.

And that’s how we ought to view it. Our life of freedom in Christ is like going on a walk with our Lord who joins with us to carry us to the cross and through the empty tomb. And all along the way, He is right there with us, leading us, guiding us, supporting us, and strengthening us so that we may love Him and serve others.

What would life look like if it were shaped only by Christ’s love? Love does what it does, not because it has to, but because it wants to. That is why God sent His Son. He was free to do with us whatever He wanted. In love, He chose to serve us. In love, we have the privilege of serving others.

So, how do you define freedom?

As Christians, our freedom is defined by Christ who freely bought it for us and bound Himself to us for all eternity. This freedom in Christ is truly something to celebrate. Make no mistake about it, when the Son sets us free, we are free indeed. Free to use our God-given freedom to serve one another in Christ’s love. In His name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Outstretched Arms of God

Sermon: “The Outstretched Arms of God”

Lectionary Series C; The Second Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9

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Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here am I, here am I,” to a nation that was not called by my name. I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices (Isaiah 65:1-9).

Have you ever longed for the return of someone you love to come back into your life? Have you ever ached from the inside out as you think about their absence? We see in our text that God knows exactly what that is like.

We live in a world of broken and shattered relationships. Wounds of the past permeate our minds in the present. We can’t seem to get over the fact that what once was is no more. One who was once here, no longer returns.

As we consider our sermon for today, the image I want you to keep in mind is the outstretched arms of God. Waiting arms. Longing arms. Loving arms. Arms desperately looking to embrace His beloved children. Our text says it this way, I spread out my hands all the day.

All the day. Just think about that for a moment. God’s hands are outstretched all day long. Waiting, longing, aching to wrap His people in a loving embrace.

But our text reveals the unfortunate reality that there is no one for him to embrace. Just before our reading for today, it says in Isaiah: There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you (Isaiah 64:7b). No one calls upon God’s name. No one. No one takes hold of God. No one.

Here God is, with arms outstretched, ready to be sought, ready to be found, literally calling out, “Here am I, Here am I”, and no one comes. No one comes to God. Instead, they are a rebellious people.

Isaiah describes their rebellion in graphic detail. They walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks; who sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat pig’s flesh, and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels; who say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you” (Isaiah 65:2b-5a).

Those who should be following the Almighty God have traded Him in for a life of pagan worship and rituals. Not only were they worshipping false gods, but they were steeped in trying to consult the dead. The things that God had declared unclean, they were delighting in. But worst of all, they were literally proud of their sinful rebellion against God. Their arrogance dripped from their lips as they said, “I am too holy for you.” Too holy for God?

That’s what is at the heart of rebellion. It is to think that we know better than God. Oh, how blind the sinner becomes when one thinks they know better than God. No longer is sin seen as sin. Instead sin is delighted in, and even declared as something that is good, even though God certainly says otherwise.

This leads us all to take a good, hard look at ourselves and see where we have gotten too comfortable with our sin. Perhaps we don’t even call sin a sin anymore. Perhaps we have even become proud of our sin. Maybe we brag about it to others. And in our bragging and boasting, what really becomes apparent is that we are no longer ashamed of our sin.

In Isaiah’s day, there was no shame of sin. How is today like his day? Do we have no shame, no embarrassment before God when we sin? Turning on the television, scanning through the internet, engaging in conversation, it would seem that we are a people much like those in Isaiah’s day. We have become proud of sin, almost arrogant. And to what end?

In the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they both chose to disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit. Immediately, when they heard God walking in the garden, they covered themselves and hid. They were ashamed of their sin. They were embarrassed. And because their sinful rebellion, there was a consequence. Death.

Death has been the result of sin ever since. Everyone here is going to die. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s true. Where do you stand with the fact that one day you will die? Nearly every time we have a funeral, I bring up the fact that this (death) is what we will all have to face. So, if death were to come today, are you ready?

You see, in our text God’s arms are outstretched to a people that He loves dearly. There is nothing more that He wants than for them and us to repent of our rebellion and come to Him and be embraced by Him and live with Him forever. Perhaps those of you who have loved ones who have wandered from the faith can relate to God’s longings.

To see the ones you love drift off into a life of sin and death aches something awful. There is nothing you want more than to see that person with you as you join in fixing your eyes on Christ for all eternity. But as you know, for those who do not repent of their sins, they will not be there.

Oddly enough, we live in a world that has adopted universalism quite substantially. That is the notion that everyone is going to go to heaven. But that is just not the case. God may be a loving God, and He is, but He is also a just God. Listen to our text which says right after the people say they are too holy for God.

These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all the day. Behold, it is written before me: I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their bosom both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together, says the Lord; because they made offerings on the mountains and insulted me on the hills I will measure into their bosom payment for their deeds (Isaiah 65:5b-7).

God is serious about sin. He is calling every one of us here to repentance. He wants us all to regularly look at His commandments. He wants us to examine ourselves according to His Word, not ours. Our word does not usurp His. You see, He does not want any of us to become subject to His wrath and the fires of hell. That’s why He tells us the truth about sin. Sin kills.

He knows that more intimately than anyone. He sent His only beloved Son who stretched out His arms on the cross of Calvary. It was there that he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Here we behold the justice of the Almighty God as His Son is pierced for our transgressions and He unleashes His wrath against sin upon Him…not us. Here we see the love of God on full display as He beckons us to come to the cross where His Son’s arms were stretched out for our salvation. Waiting arms. Longing arms. Loving arms. Arms desperately looking to embrace His beloved children as He calls out “Here am I, here am I.”

I’ve told you once, I’ve told you twice, and I will tell you again: Jesus is the worst at playing Hide ‘n’ Go Seek. He does not hide from us. He tells us exactly where He is for us. He wants to be found. He is in His body given for you. He is in His blood shed for you. His arms are outstretched as He calls to you in His Word, His Word that is firmly fixed in the heavens. This is where He calls out to you, “Here am I, Here am I.”

God calls to us once again today to come to His cross, to repent, and be forgiven. Turn from your sinful rebellion and live…eternally. This is the amazing grace of God, as we just sang:

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see!”

Through our text today, God has opened our eyes to see that in our sinful rebellion, we are wretches who are in desperate need of a Savior. The good news we behold in the midst of such sinful depravity is that God has not forsaken us. We are not left to be condemned. Listen to what He says:

Thus says the Lord: “As the new wine is found in the cluster, and they say, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,’ so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all. I will bring forth offspring from Jacob, and from Judah possessors of my mountains; my chosen shall possess it, and my servants shall dwell there (Isaiah 65:8-9).

You see, you are those good grapes left in the cluster. You who repent and follow Jesus in His Word will be saved. You are His chosen ones, baptized into His name. There is nothing He delights in more than hearing your confession, because there is nothing He delights in more than delivering His forgiveness to you. He loves you this much (stretch out arms).

So as God's grace has touched your life today; now that you are no longer lost but have been found, now that you are no longer blind but can see; since God has brought you through so many dangers, toils and snares; since His Word your hope secures; since His amazing grace will prevail in heaven's joy and peace - how will you respond to His open, aching, loving arms?

See here this day that God’s arms are outstretched for you, all day long. Waiting, longing, aching to wrap you in a loving embrace for all eternity. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Who Is Your Model Father

nullGrace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Beloved of Jesus Christ: Today is Trinity Sunday and Father’s Day.  This confluence occurs every 11 years.  Trying to speak of the Triune God is like trying to put your arms around a sky full of clouds, or like trying to empty the Great Lakes with a one-gallon bucket.  It is hopeless.  Wasted effort.  We neither have the intellect nor the background to absorb all the fine points about the Trinity. It was for this reason, that Martin Luther fixed our attention in the Catechism on the centrality of God’s sending His Only Begotten Son-taking our humanity to Himself, as the Son of Man, and experienced our entire life, conception to death, in our stead, and for our benefit, being the ultimate, final sacrifice for sins at great expense to God

John 8:58 “Jesus said to them, [the Jews who desired to kill Him,] ‘Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM, is our text.”  That the Jews did not understand Jesus’ preaching is evident in Chapters 6, 7, 8. There is a stark contrast in their dealing with The Father.  Their idea is fleshly, thus a defective model, for their model lacks spiritual understanding, wisdom and truth.  It is works rather than grace!

In Chapter 8 Jesus applies the commandments, exposes their lack of knowledge, their faith in their being descendants of Abraham, and their unbelief all at the expense of the promises of God.  Adultery, Light of the World, and Truth echo “Now some of you don’t believe.”  For Jesus said, revealing His crucifixion and their part in it, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.” “I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins, for unless you believe that I AM HE, you shall die in your sins. [8.23,24]   Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world.  “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” [3.16] God gifted His prize creation, His own Son, offered to the world for the forgiveness of their sins, overcoming death, and promising eternal life.

He tells them that He will be lifted up [like unto Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness] and with the result that some believed Him. [28]

He continues speaking the truth.  In order to be saved, we must have the knowledge of the way of salvation, and the truth.  One truth that everyone must live with and under is that the soul that sins shall die.  We shall all die. Death is a consequence of the Fall into Sin.  In that Fall, God sentenced Adam to labor in the earth, and Eve, labor in childbirth.  They received the promise of a seed, a descendant, who would crush the head of the serpent and who would be bruised by the serpent.  To this, our condition, Jesus teaches.

The truth: 31 “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”[32]  “They replied, we are Abraham’s offspring [seed], and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, “You shall become free?”  We cannot appeal to Luther or to our ancestors or to earthly wisdom to receive the truth.  Faith alone receives the truth in the Word.

Jesus continues, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” [34] The slave is not free, The Son is free, in fact, if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.  The Son remains in the family; the slave to sin, who is not free, does not remain in the house.  Jesus, ”The Son, has made us free, through His death and resurrection. You shall be free indeed.”[36] This is the message The Father wants us to both hear and believe as His disciples in our life of faith.

Jesus “I know that you are Abraham’s offspring [seed]; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.” [37] The Jews do not hear this charge against them.  They say they are not sinners, yet they desire to kill Jesus ignoring the Father’s- You shall not murder.  We are to be careful that we, by our behaviors, do not attempt to kill Jesus.  We can do this when, as baptized children of God, we walk like the world and according to the flesh rather than as Christians, led by the Spirit who are keeping the commandments by faith in God’s grace. The Trinity is part of our daily life.

Jesus says: “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.” [40] This is the sin of sins for Jesus.  “You are doing the deeds of Your father.” [41] The Jews reply, “We are not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.”  Jesus has already told them that He does not judge, there is One who both is seeks and judges.  The hardness of their unbelief is clouding their thinking, preventing their believing.  Jesus convicts them: “But because I speak the truth, [the truth which will set you free,] you do not believe Me.”  Now, dearly beloved, Jesus is showing us through these encounters, the Father’s heart for His possession, the household of Israel. He wants to save them, He wants them to confess, Jesus as Lord, but they resist, rebel, refuse.  Jesus asks the important question: “Which one of you convicts Me, Jesus, of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 46   Jesus is God, Sinless!

Dearly beloved.  Jesus says to us: “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason, you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”[47]  We either hear the word with understanding or we have no part in God.   John has in mind, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the Light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it.” [Jo 1:1-5] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 14.  “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” [18] This we are to confess and live.

The Jews, in unbelief, say to Jesus, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” [48] This is giving a false testimony, publiclyThey despise the Samaritans as corrupted seed. Jews avoided all demon possession [and possessed] as being the work of the devil.  As Jesus corrected them, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.” [49]   Jesus honors His Father, and our Father in heaven. The Good News is when we dishonor Him, we have Jesus’ honoring Him accounted to us as baptized children of God. We are forgiven. It is an awesome thing to give Honor which is due the Creator of all things.  We have that honor through faith in Christ. We are to live as ones giving Honor to Christ. Pray, Praise, Give Thanks and call upon Him in all trouble.

Jesus does not seek glory.  Jesus said, “I do not seek My glory; there is One who seeks and judges.” Dearly beloved God is the One who seeks and judges.” [50] “And without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” [Heb 11.6] God is the One who seeks and judges the hearts of men. He is looking for faithful, obedient followers who stand in awe of Him and His creation; who stand in Awe of how wonderfully made we are; who stand in Awe of His love for us in Christ; who stand in awe of Him who treats us as adopted children, with full the benefits of sonship, and who forgives us all our sins.  He gives us the gifts of Christ’s perfect obedience and His fulfillment of the commandments, in our stead, that we might stand in reverent awe of God’s grace and mercy.

It is TO he who so lives, that Jesus says; “Truly, truly I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” He shall never be a spectator at death, for he will pass into eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus.  Now this is truly good news.  Even though I die, yet shall I live, is the promise of Jesus’s resurrection to us.  Don’ t be like the Jews. No simple answer, ancestry or excuse. Let us rather confess our sins and receive the forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake. This is God’s desire for us and the Spirit’s work in us.

They heard Jesus glorifying Himself. “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing, it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, He is our God;” and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I shall be a liar like you, but I do know Him and Keep His Word.” [54,55] This is the Father I want. This is the God I want.  This is the One I want to love, trust and obey the rest of my life.  It is He who is to receive all glory.  How about you? We cling to the Son who is known by the Father and who knows the Father, our Father.

This is the One whom I can count on, for He keeps His promises, especially, the most important, the Seed, The Christ, Jesus Christ, my Lord, and Savior who has revealed to Me the triune God, His blessings of the person and work of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, for the salvation of my soul, and yours.  We stand in Awe today, that God loves us in Christ and makes it possible for us in repentance that leads to forgiveness to receive grace and mercy and forgiveness and hope and joy, and all the blessings earned for us in Christ, yea even heaven.  I do know Him, and I keep His word.  This blessing I also desire for you!   Read 58

Once more the Jews resist the loving grace of Christ. Jews say: “Have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and he was glad.” [56]  The point of today. Jesus said; and says to us, now, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born [that is had existence, had being, as each of us has] I AM.”  I am God in the Flesh. Believe it, confess it, and thrive in it. Heaven depends upon it. I Am Lord and Savior, the Anointed One come to redeem Israel and you.  Praise and thank Him for dying and rising that we might have eternal life.   Live to the Triune God!   Amen

He Ascended Into Heaven

Sermon: “He Ascended Into Heaven”

Lectionary Series C; Seventh Sunday of Easter; The Ascension of Our Lord

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Gospel Reading: Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

This past Thursday was the Ascension of Our Lord. It is a day in the church year that is all too often overlooked. Yet, this should not be the case, especially considering that we confess in the Creed each week: “He Ascended Into Heaven”. The Ascension of Our Lord serves as a bridge between Easter and Pentecost. But it is far more than a bridge. It is the coronation of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Perhaps when we think of a coronation, what comes to mind is a high school coronation of a homecoming king and queen and their court. Though this is somewhat helpful, it pales in comparison to what the coronation of Christ was like.

As Americans, we probably struggle to grasp the significance of a coronation. We do not have a monarchy. We do not have a king or queen. The closest we have to a coronation is an inauguration. And though thousands attend the inauguration of our president, it seems to fail in the realm of the pomp and circumstance as a king or queen sits upon their throne and the crown is placed upon their head.

In fact, as I thought of a coronation, the only images that came to mind for me were from movies. I am a big fan of the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien. I love the books, and I love the movies. There is a scene at the end of the final film. The great enemy Soron has been defeated. The people then gather in victory at Osgiliath, the great white city, and there in the upper outdoor court, everyone gathers from far and wide to behold the coronation of their king. King Aragorn stands before the people as the crown is placed upon his head. And as soon as the crown is placed upon his head, the people let out a shout of joy and victory. It is a beautiful image to consider in light of the Ascension of Our Lord. Perhaps you have others that come to mind.

The Ascension of Our Lord took place in Bethany on the Mount of Olives. The disciples were all gathered round, and then Jesus blessed them. And while He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried upon into heaven. And then they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple blessing God.

It seems hard to fathom that they worshipped Him and rejoiced. It has been my experience in life that good-byes are hardly a time for rejoicing. Coming from a blended family growing up, I have had my fair share of good-byes. My older siblings would visit for a month in the summer. That was often the only time I would see them in the year. And every time I went to the airport, it would rip my heart out to say good-bye yet again. Good-byes are painful. To endure a good-bye is like having a piece of you torn away from your body. At least that is the way it feels to me. I hate good-byes.

Yet the disciples were rejoicing and worshipping when Jesus left and ascended into heaven. It would seem that such an occasion would leave them downtrodden. Here Jesus had journeyed with them these last three years. They had seen Him die and now rise back to life. Now He was leaving again. It would seem that they would feel abandoned, if anything else.

But this was no abandonment. This warranted no hard good-bye. The Ascension of Our Lord to be coroneted as King of the universe was a time of celebration. And it still is to this day. As I said before, the Ascension of Our Lord is more than just a bridge between Easter and Pentecost. It is a bridge between heaven and earth.

As Jesus departed from this earth to take His rightful spot at the right hand of God the Father, He did so for us. Remember what Jesus said to His disciples: Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:1-3).

Jesus is up in heaven preparing a place just for us. Just think of the love and care, the attention to detail, the great lengths He is going to in order to make sure all is prepared for our arrival. He can’t wait to have us with Him for all eternity, so He is making sure that our entrance into His house will be far beyond what we could ever ask for or imagine.

But He knows there is more to the journey that remains for us. So, Scripture also says that Christ is the one who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Romans 8:34). From His throne, Jesus is praying for us, pleading for us, bringing our requests to God the Father Himself. And there is nothing more that the Father delights in hearing than the voice of His Son. So, let us call upon Jesus’ name. He is our advocate with the Father (1st John 2:1).

As our advocate then, He exercises His authority and power for our benefit. Through the means of grace, through Word and Sacraments, Christ the King protects us from the evil one. Through the means of grace, Christ the King prepares us for His final return giving us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Now to our human minds, it often doesn’t make sense how words and water, simple bread and wine can do all that. To our minds it would seem to make more sense if Jesus would have just stayed on earth. But His being on His throne in heaven in no way diminishes the impact He still has here on earth.

The Ascension of Our Lord is in no way a retreat into heaven, but it is instead an advance of Christ’s saving work here on earth. Not by our own reason or strength are we able to grasp this to be true. In fact, all too often we take God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament for granted, failing to prioritize it in our busy lives. Which is why, just like the disciples who stood looking into heaven, we need help to believe that the Ascension of Our Lord is no abandonment, but it is exactly what we need from our King.

It is as Jesus told His disciples, Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7).

This is why the disciples worshiped and rejoiced as they saw Jesus go up into heaven as He had opened their minds to the Scriptures. They knew He was not abandoning them. He was sending them the Helper, just as He promised. He was sending them out to be His witnesses, to proclaim the good news of great joy that would be for all people. And all along the way, He would be there to help them, support them, equip them, and strengthen them.

And the same is true for us as we are called to be His witnesses. With the same Spirit that was given to the disciples, so too are we sent and clothed with power from on high. In the Spirit given to us in our baptism, we are called upon to Share Hope and Teach Christ in the confidence of our King who sits upon His throne in heaven. Let’s constantly ask ourselves, who in our midst needs to hear this good news of great joy just like us? A family member, a friend, a co-worker?

We are called upon to give witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Though His throne on earth was a cross where He bore on His head a crown of thorns, He is now enthroned and exalted in the halls of heaven. The great divide that existed between humanity and God has been ended. When Jesus ascended and took His spot at the right hand of the Father, everything was now done. Sin, death, the devil, it was all done for. This is the message that is placed upon our lips as we join with those disciples in worshipping and rejoicing.

We have a God whose work of redemption for us is complete. We have a God who is ruling over the entire universe for us. We have a God who is preparing a place for us. We have a God who is interceding for us. And so let us rejoice in our God, our ascended King.

This is why we gather here today. Like those disciples who were continually in the temple blessing God, so it is with us. Because this is where our strength comes for serving as His witnesses. This is where His Word and Sacraments are. This is where Jesus is at, our ascended Lord and King.

We gather to worship at the feet of our King whose final reign is now at hand. And it won’t be long and we will soon see Him descend from heaven with a cry of command and the voice of an archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God. It won’t be long and we will always be with our Lord. Praise be to Christ our King! In His name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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