Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 5:17-26

Saint Paul summarizes the entire content of the Gospel in Second Corinthians chapter five: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. You have a different look at life once you take Paul’s words to heart. Everyone you know, everyone you meet, becomes someone for whom Christ Jesus died.

Why, then, have you not taken this truth to heart? Why do you remain angry with people? You may not be really angry with most people you know, but there are those who remain in your personal penalty box for some major or minor infraction. How does your keeping track of your neighbor’s sins against you stack up against your sins against not only them, but others whom you may not know, even against God Almighty? Today Jesus gives us encouragement to be reconciled to your brother.

When Jesus speaks about reconciliation, He is speaking about keeping the Fifth Commandment: You shall not murder. The Pharisees and experts in the law taught that not murdering someone meant you don’t take up a weapon and cause physical damage. What they forgot about the Fifth Commandment is that it includes more than a weapon. The Fifth Commandment covers every action that hurts or harms your neighbor.

Perhaps the most dangerous weapon in your arsenal is the least-likeliest to cause damage. The tongue causes more damage to your neighbor’s reputation than any other weapon. Your tongue causes irreconcilable differences between people. Irreconcilable differences are nothing other than continued hate. Jesus says in today’s Gospel that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, “Raca,” will have to answer to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, “You fool!” will be in danger of hell fire.

The danger of hell fire alone ought to move you to reconcile with your brother. This is why the Law is still preached to Christians along with the Gospel. Some Christians think that, because Christ has shed blood for our sins, we no longer need to hear the Law. Christ has fulfilled the commandments in His loving act of reconciliation on our behalf. This is true. It stands at the center of everything we believe, teach, and confess as Christians. Yet sin remains in our mortal bodies. As long as we are this side of the grave, we are at the same time both justified and yet sinners.

Even the most subtle sin of destroying your neighbor’s reputation with your tongue, or with your fingers on a computer keyboard, needs warning and admonition. Your hurt or harm against your neighbor is murder. You not wanting to be reconciled with your brother when something comes between the two of you is murder. Don’t go on the Internet and tell everyone how much you hate someone, either in vague words or in direct speech. Don’t run his or her reputation through the mud, and then think about reconciling once you’ve done your damage. Be reconciled to your brother. Go. Now. Don’t wait. Reach an agreement with him quickly.

Our Lord’s harsh words concerning reconciliation preserve us from the Pharisaical self-righteousness. Oh, well, at least I didn’t hit her with a blackjack. He wasn’t shot on sight, like he should be. True, yes, but your words about murder did the job just fine. Your “at least” isn’t good enough for God, Who expects absolute, total, complete, and perfect righteousness in fulfilling the Law. No gift, however perfect, can placate our heavenly Father. Only obedience is expected; obedience you cannot give.

The Law brings knowledge of sin. The Law brings terror. Even when your heart is set on walking in the Lord’s precepts, there’s always that gnawing knowledge in the back of your head that your walk won’t walk the walk. You are guilty of the Fifth Commandment. You have murdered your neighbor in your thoughts, words, and even deeds. You may have not shot him, but you have hurt or harmed him. You deserve everlasting death. Remember, death isn’t merely assuming room temperature. Death is total absence from God and His gifts. Death is rejection of what He gives you in Christ. Death is final and eternal.

Once the Law of God works repentance, you are prepared to receive the comfort of the Good News that Jesus Christ has taken the punishment you deserved for murder. Even though Jesus never hurt or harmed His neighbor in their body, He suffered the punishment of a murderer. He was sent to the cross, while a murderer named Barabbas was set free. What horrible injustice! We deserve what should come to us for what we do. Jesus deserves none of it, yet takes on all of it for your sake. “All our debt/Thou hast paid/Peace with God once more is made./O Lord, have mercy.”

Be reconciled to your brother. Christ has died for their sin, too. Reckon even your worst enemy as one for whom Christ died. That’s hard to do when animosity builds against your adversary. Consider that Jesus willingly suffered for you in order to reconcile you to the Father. Even when you willingly do something good for your neighbor, you tend to count the cost. You seek limits on your kindness. Jesus’ love for sinners like you and me knows no limit. His death for your sins doesn’t stop being salvific after the 17,000th sin. You are His brother. He is reconciled to you in blood and in perfect, holy righteousness. These are yours in Christ. These are yours to give to your brother when you are reconciled with him.

Speaking from experience, there is no better feeling than when you speak a word of reconciliation to your brother with whom you have a disagreement. It is as if cool, clear, fresh water springs from your mouth into their heart. You feel the same thing when your reconciling words hit home with your brother.

Reconciliation, though, is more than good feelings. It is the way of the Christian life. Christians do not hold grudges against anyone. Christians do not count the cost of how many times we say “I’m sorry” or “You’re forgiven”. Christians forgive. Christians give forgiveness in a seemingly reckless way to all whom they have hurt or harmed. It once was said about Christians, “See how they love one another!” That love has its roots in the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We love because He first loved us. As He loved us, so we love our brother and live in peace with one another.

King David sings in Psalm 133: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. Fellow oily bearded ones, rejoice! In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself. Believe it for His sake.

Trinity 5 – Luke 5:1-11

(Condensed from 2007)

At Your Word.  Simon Peter’s three simple words carry a lot of comfort.  What could be so comforting about something that rolls off his tongue almost as an afterthought?  Simon and the other fishermen toiled all night and caught nothing.  Now Jesus wants to go fishing in the middle of the day?  Is He crazy?  That’s the worst time of day to catch fish.  The fish are all at the bottom.  It will be next to impossible to catch fish.

Not so with our Lord.  Perhaps Peter knew it.  Maybe that’s why he says at Your Word I will let down the net.  Or maybe it is an innocent comment.  Or maybe he thinks Jesus is crazy.

Peter sounds a lot like you, doesn’t he?  Our Lord promises to give you everything you need to support your body and life.  But you won’t take His Word at face value.  You suffer so much pain and loss that it seems as if He doesn’t care.  Even though you can’t always get what you want, you get what you need…and that’s never enough.  You pray give us this day our daily bread more out of habit rather than trust.

That’s the thrust of Peter’s seemingly meaningless remark.  Peter thinks, “Lord, you’re crazy to suggest we go fishing at this time of day.  We’ve worked hard all night for nothing.  Now you’re playing the fishing expert?  I’ll go along with it because You said so…but only because You said so.”

Peter’s three little words show a lack of fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  Now you see why Peter quotes Psalm 34 in today’s Epistle: He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.  Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.  Peter learned the hard way to keep the Word of the Lord and not merely listen to it.

Peter’s words are spot on, I am a sinful man.  The miraculous catch of fish shows Peter that he is a sinner.  He did as the Lord commanded, but the intention of his deed was almost out of spite rather than a joyful response to Christ’s Word.

Then there is Peter’s request, depart from me.  Peter’s intentions were good.  But he missed the mark.  When God’s Word shows you are sinful, the last thing you need is the Savior leaving.  How often have you thought about not coming to Divine Service or not reading God’s Word because you are really sinful?  The last thing you need is to say something like “I’ve got to get right with God before God can get right with me.”  When you are at your lowest, that’s the perfect time to let go of your doubt and let God fill you with the sure and certain hope of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The pithy saying is true: God is in the small stuff.  You visit the doctor when you are ill.  You don’t think about the fact that the doctor is God’s Hands helping you get better.  You go and see him or her because they know how to help you.  Sometimes it takes a lot of prodding and poking to see a doctor.  We don’t like waiting.  It’s a hassle to deal with insurance.  The prescription may or may not help.  Because so many people bug you with comments about seeing a doctor, you go to get them off your back.  When you feel better, you thank your friends for annoying you like that.  You may even apologize for being hard-headed!

We have a Great Physician more powerful than any doctor in the world.  When you are sick in sin, you visit the House where the glory of the Lord dwells.  Sometimes you go out of pure habit.  Sometimes you go because there is no place left to turn.  You come to His House because He knows what you need and He is willing to give it to you.

Sometimes it takes a lot of poking and prodding to go to church.  Many people are anxious about coming back to church if they’ve been gone a while.  We don’t like the fact that church is different from the world.  It’s a hassle to dress up for church.  The prescription is not what we expect.  Yet the Lord gives the antidote to all your burdens in His House.  When you make it part of your weekly routine, you don’t even think twice about being here.  You come because you know you need more of what the Lord Christ offers here.

Jesus sends men to catch men alive.  That’s the thrust of what Jesus means when He tells Peter he will be a fisher of men.  Peter, James, John, and the rest will catch men alive and give them life.  It’s odd to say that the Twelve will catch men alive and give them life.  But that’s what happens when you are caught in the Lord’s net.  Outside the net, your life is really death.  Inside the net, your life is really life forever with the Lord.  It makes no sense to be caught in a net and be free.  But you are free from the trap of sin, death, and hell.  Holy Baptism brings you through water and makes you captive to Christ.  He catches you and cleans you with baptismal water.  He feeds you with His True Body and True Blood in His Supper.  He keeps you steadfast in the Faith to all eternity.

At Your Word.  What comfort those three little words bring!    The Lord catches you, keeps you safe in Him, and provides for you.  The Lord saves you not out of spite but out of great love and mercy.  It’s natural for us to think we’re smarter than our Lord God.  Nevertheless, we take Jesus at His Word and cling to His Word now and forever.

Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 6:36-42

Saint Paul writes in Philippians chapter four: Let your gentleness be known to everyone. In particular our gentleness is shown to our fellow man, especially those who are weak in the faith, Christians who have stumbled into persistent sin, and those who have fallen prey to sin. Our natural tendency is to throw the book at them, so to speak, and perhaps even to shun them. It easily happens that, if a fellow Christian sins, we ourselves sin against them. This is why Jesus takes pains to say: Be merciful. Do not judge. Forgive. Give.

We sin against our sinful brethren in Christ when we are merciless toward them. We immediately sit in judgment over them. We refuse to hear their side of the story. We do not let them defend themselves. Instead we are quick to reveal their sin to everyone who will listen. We even go as far as to condemn them outright. Unless you are given a vocation to judge someone, you do not judge anyone. The flippant phrase, “Go to hell!” is not yours to speak unless it is your place to speak it. The end game of two Christians dealing with one another’s sins is to win your brother back, not outright condemn him to hell with no hope of salvation.

We also play the game of hesitating with our forgiveness or even expressing forgiveness in an intricate way. The game often goes like this: “I’ll forgive you when I see enough sorrow and pity” or “Let me think about whether or not I want to forgive you.” Then you run to the Magic 8-Ball and see what it says. When two Christians deal with one another’s sins, they forgive and forget. The latter thing is hard to do, especially when the sin hits close to home. You don’t bring up past mistakes in your marriage. Why would you want to bring up someone’s past mistake and hold it over them as a bargaining chip of forgiveness?

Worst of all, we are merciless when we deprive our love to a fellow sinner. Jesus says in the verse before today’s Gospel begins: love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. That last clause says it all. You are the ungrateful and evil person. The Most High God is kind to you in forgiving your sins in His Son’s innocent suffering and death. His love for you knows no boundaries. He knows your sins no more for Christ’s sake. As the mercy of God in Christ has fallen on you, so in turn your mercy to your neighbor, especially your neighbor who knows not the Lord Jesus, and in particular your fellow Christian.

We sin against sinful brethren in Christ when we do not use the double-edged sword of the Holy Spirit: the living Word. We instead think common sense or sound judgment from reason will take care of the problem. If we were using rhetorical skills, common sense, sound reason, or anything outside of God’s Word, we are the blind leading the blind. Nothing good can come from it.

The Word of God is the infallible light that enlightens not only us, but also our neighbor. We use this Word, when it is our place to use it, in order to reveal his sin. We call that word “Law”. Yet the Law is the penultimate note from God.

The ultimate note is letting the Word free him from his error, from sin, and from the dominion of sin. That word is called “Gospel”. It is not given for us to beat someone over the head with the Law and let them go. The Law sinks its teeth into the sinful Christian, not letting go until it has shows sin. Once you see your sin and your lost condition, the Law is silenced because Jesus Christ has died for that sin and is raised for your justification. You are free. You are forgiven. You live because Christ lives.

Again, the end game of speaking the truth in love without compromising either the truth or love is to win your brother back. You win your brother back when you use the double-edged sword of Truth: the sword of the Spirit.

Our own sin must always appear to us as a beam. The sin of our neighbor must appear to us as a splinter. How quick we forget that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. So if we judge our neighbor, but are not strict with ourselves, it’s useless to give a graceful, appropriate admonition of our neighbor. Jesus reminds us, How can you tell your brother, “Brother, let me remove the speck in your eye,” when you do not see the beam in your own eye? We are hypocrites. We are an abomination to God. We disgust our neighbor with our admonition. We prevent the Word of God on our lips for an admonition from making an impression. On the other hand, when our neighbor sees that we exercise discipline on ourselves, we will find an ear easily lent for a hearing. First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck in your brother’s eye.

When you forgive your neighbor, and your neighbor forgives you, there Christ is in action in your lives. Christ alone is merciful to you, for His mercy is His Father’s mercy. Christ’s judgment of guilt, even though He is not guilty, changes your divine verdict to innocent. He forgives your sins. He gives in the way of more in baptism, in preaching, and in His Supper: more forgiveness, more life, more salvation, more joy, more peace, and more sure and certain hope.

As He has judged you innocent, so you in turn consider your neighbor innocent for Christ’s sake. When it is your place, as we sung today, when you must and ought to speak, the words you speak seek to win your brother in Christ back from sin to forgiveness. That’s the direction Christ has spoken to you as well.

 

The Visitation – Luke 1:39-56

Fecit mihi magna. He has done great things for me. Pope John Paul the Second was so taken with this verse from the Magnificat that he had it printed on a holy card for the day of his ordination. In spite of misplaced honor toward the Blessed Virgin Mary in Roman Catholicism, we agree with his choice of words. The Lord, the Mighty One, has done great things for me.

You can’t tell it from all the complaining we Christians do. We complain about walking by faith and not by sight. We complain about Jesus not having come yet to begin the New Creation. We complain that we can’t see the riches of God’s grace. We gripe about being the most despised and most rejected people in the world. We groan in our flesh because we know and feel how much we sin. Even Saint Paul gets in on the act in Romans chapter seven: Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

In addition to all the complaints are the curses of the Law in the conscience. The more we have satisfaction in Jesus Christ’s blood cleansing us from all sin, the more Satan works overtime to sully the conscience. We start thinking about death and hell rather than eternal life and eternal joy in the presence of our heavenly Father. We start to sound like Jacob telling Pharaoh, Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life.

There isn’t constant complaining among Christians. The Psalms have taught us to say, Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Isaiah has taught us to say, I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness. Even Mary’s song puts these words in our mouth and in our hearts: The Mighty One, the Lord, has done great things for me.

The great thing the Lord has done for Mary isn’t chastity, virginity, even sinlessness. Elizabeth tells her, Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Blessed indeed is Mary, for she is, as it were, the tabernacle with skin. The Lord has temporarily pitched His tent in her until His birth according to the flesh. The joy of Elizabeth’s words is directed to the Lord. The fruit of her womb brings salvation for Mary, for Elizabeth, for you, and for me.

When we have enough money or possessions, then we will be satisfied…or so we think. Learned people raise up themselves and despise those of simpler minds. The world is full of prideful people. Those who cling to Christ, though, are rich in spirit, knowledge, experience, and gladness. Money and possessions are gifts from God worthy of praise. However, the greatest praise is given to God for sending His only-begotten Son into time and space to bear our sin and be our Savior. From what Jesus has done for us comes all praise and honor to God.

Praise and honor to God isn’t mere lip service. Mary says, My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. The entire life of Mary, our entire life as well, bears witness of God’s greatness to me. Out of the billions of people on earth, the Lord deigns to save me, a lost and condemned creature, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. Sure He saves all mankind in His death, but He also saves me, little ol’ me!

No wonder Mary goes on to sing and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. God’s grace, His undeserved love for sinners, has happened to me. His grace recognizes me. He lives in me, for I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. That is why your soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. He is my God. He is my Savior.

So much for how Mary, and we, praise God. Why, then, does she, and we, too, praise God? Because He has looked with favor on the humble state of His servant. God has considered Mary, and you, from eternity. Think of it! God knew you before anyone else knew you. He knew your wretched state and did something about it for you. God took decisive action to be your God from the beginning and now has you in mind as He is about to carry out salvation in Jesus. Yes, He sees nothing but wickedness in you, but He has exalted you in Christ. No wonder you now praise God!

From now on all generations will call me blessed. All generations will praise God’s work for your sake. Think of those in your families who have gone before you in the faith. When they receive Christian burial, we praise God’s grace on them, not all the good things they did to earn God’s favor. We don’t worship our ancestors. Any praise we give them, and it’s OK to honor the dead without overdoing it, we praise God’s work in them.

The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name. He did it – not me. His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. His mercy knows no end. His mercy is why God gave us His Son. Mary ends her song with the words, He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering His mercy. God remembers His own mercy. What comfort these words bring us today. Two women bear two men whose words will change the course of history. John the Baptist will prepare the way for Messiah. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Word of God come down from on high, is the Way to salvation. He alone makes the necessary sacrifice for our sin. He alone is the mercy of God clothed in flesh and bone.

No wonder these words of praise from Mary’s mouth are frequently sung in church. We usually consider them around Christmas time, but they are good for consideration at any time. The little baby Boy in Mary’s womb is the source of praise and thanksgiving for countless Christians. He brings peace between God and man. His mercy endures forever. His bruised foot stomps the serpent’s head, giving us life and freedom. There is a time to mourn, yet there is also a time to rejoice. Today, as all days, is that time to rejoice, for fecit mihi magna, He has done great things to me. Holy is your name, for holy is His name upon you.

 

First Sunday after Trinity – Luke 16:19-31

Saint Paul writes in Galatians chapter two: When James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Christians excel at remembering the poor. Consider all the charitable organizations Christians have started. The first thing that might come to mind are hospitals. Christian hospitals remember the poor in providing health care without worrying about profit. Even our congregation remembers the poor with “Focus Out”, providing a ten dollar Berkot’s card for those seeking charity from us.

Our walk as Christians, however, doesn’t always match our talk. We like nice things. Our affluence sometimes harms our witness. We wish to help the poor, yet only from the comfort of our air-conditioned car with the window cracked about one inch to slip currency or coins through to the one in need. Even I don’t practice what I preach. If I helped every person I see in need, I couldn’t feed my family. We are jaded. We’ve seen too many professional beggars by the side of the road hustling cash, then walking a ways to their car to drive to another intersection.

There is another way to remember the poor besides giving them money or something tangible. Consider poor Lazarus and the rich man. Every day they saw each other at the rich man’s gate. The rich man was in a position to help Lazarus. Lazarus, though, was in a better position to help the rich man. The message Lazarus preaches in a sermon without a word is brought home by the stunning outcome of their deaths.

The first hint that Jesus has upset the apple cart is the rich man…in Hades, being in torment. It’s as if Jesus has led us down the garden path by telling us Lazarus is resting in Abraham’s bosom, then, out of the side of his mouth, mumbles something about the rich man in Hades. That’s not where we expect both men to be, especially if you’re a Jew and you’re listening to this parable. Even today we fall into the trap of thinking the poor go to hell and the rich go to heaven. Jesus loves a good success story and must turn away those who didn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps and did something about their situation.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The same goes for reversing the situation. Just because you are poor doesn’t mean an automatic trip to Abraham’s bosom, while those greedy rich people fry in the burning lake of fire. There is something else to this parable; something rich that can’t be kept in a bank or dressed in purple linen.

Lazarus is really the rich man. The rich man is really poor. That’s where Jesus upsets the apple cart. What makes both men the opposite of what our eyes see? To answer that question another question is asked: What is counted before God as righteousness? The answer is in today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis chapter fifteen.

God makes a promise to Abraham about an heir to Abraham’s family. Abraham was afraid that, because he was childless, no one would carry on the promise of the Seed of the woman Who comes to stomp the head of the serpent. Not only will Abraham’s very own son be his heir, God the Father promises more. He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Not only will Abraham have an heir, he also will be rich in offspring. By faith we are children of Abraham, too. Why?

Abraham believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. That’s what matters in our heavenly Father’s eyes. Believe what He says about His promises, especially the promise of the Savior, Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, and He reckons it as righteousness. You can’t put a wad of cash before God’s face and ask if that’s enough. You can’t pile up all your good works, even your good intentions to do good works, and ask God if that’s your righteousness. Outside of God’s promise to you, your righteousness is, as Isaiah says, filthy rags. Cling to His promise and you have everything necessary for salvation.

Even clinging to His promise is not your own doing. Saint Paul writes in Ephesians chapter two: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. The riches you have because of Jesus Christ, the Great and Precious Promise of our heavenly Father, are everything. Forgiveness is yours. Life is yours. Salvation is yours. You are an heir of eternity by God’s grace through believing in Jesus Christ.

When you fail at being His workmanship, when you fail in helping the poor, you are forgiven for Christ’s sake. We walk in our good works each day, doing what is given us to do in our callings in life as God gives us light. Sure there’s more to be done. Sure there’s much you’ve left undone. Christ’s blood and righteousness covers every failing. The rich man sees that from Lazarus, but it is now too late. Lazarus lay at his gate every day as a testimony of where true riches are found: Jesus Christ. The rich man couldn’t see that testimony until he needed that cool drink from Lazarus. Too late. What about his father’s house? They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. What if they don’t repent? Not even Jesus rising from the dead will convince them.

Trust not in rich men to clout for you before God’s face. Your riches are in Christ Jesus. His Word with water washes away sin and brings you sonship with God. His Word with bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. His Word of reconciliation brings peace and joy with God and with your neighbor. Where you fail to be Christ’s workmanship, Christ’s blood bespeaks you righteous. The Lord is your riches. He alone has dealt bountifully with you.

Feast of the Holy Trinity – John 3:1-17

The cross. The right arrow. The heart. I saw Professor Richard E. Muller write that simple diagram on the chalkboard so many times in seminary. Guys loved his classes because he was great for visual thinkers. He had a diagram for everything. The diagram of the cross, the right arrow, and the heart was perhaps the closest he could come to showing how God works, but even then a diagram couldn’t explain everything. It was merely a start of an explanation of a mystery as deep as God Himself.

Consider the diagram for a moment. The question lying behind it is “How does God get the benefits of the death of Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, into your life?” Notice the diagram doesn’t ask how you get the cross or how you get Jesus into your life. Neither of these things are any benefit unless you are talking about what Jesus’ death is for you. You can explain it until you are blue in the face. Ultimately, though, it is a mystery that is not explained, but believed.

The Athanasian Creed does speak of thinking about the holy Trinity in one right way. It also speaks of believing the incarnation of Jesus Christ. That’s where everything in the diagram begins. You start at Jesus taking on flesh for your sake. It’s a promise almost as old as the foundation of the heavens and the earth. It’s the foundation of prophecy and proclamation in Scripture. It is so holy that Isaiah needed his lips cleansed with a searing-hot coal as he saw the vision of the mystery of God in order to preach it. It’s a mystery so bottomless that Saint Paul can only step back with us and marvel at its holiness and its beauty.

It’s a mystery that confounds Nicodemus, yet is perfectly clear to Jesus. Of course it is clear to Jesus, for He is the Father’s only-begotten Son. He is the mystery in skin. He comes not only to proclaim the favorable season of the Lord, but also to do that favorable season in the shedding of His blood and in His rising from the dead.

If you’re confused about the whole thing, you’re not alone. Join Nicodemus and the long line of people who scratch their heads when contemplating God’s work for you. You can only being to appreciate it when the Holy Spirit gets you to stand still and receive every good and perfect gift from above. That’s what Jesus tries to do with Nicodemus. Don’t use your noggin so much, Nicodemus. It’s a mystery revealed only through the sacred Word and the preaching of the sacred Word.

The only way to know what way the wind blows is to feel it on your body and hear it with your ears. If you’re hard of hearing, you’ll certainly feel it on your body. The Spirit’s work in the Word preached, heard, and read is the only way you’ll know what way the Spirit works on you. You hear the Word. The Word works not only repentance, but also faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners. When you hear Jesus speak in His Word, you hear what the Father has to say about you. That’s what the Spirit makes sure you hear. The Holy Spirit keeps you close to Jesus, and in so doing, keeps you close to the Father in heaven.

How can these things be? There’s the question that has no explainable answer. Even Professor Muller’s chalkboard diagram can’t answer the question. The closest to a definitive answer is from Christ’s mouth with a twofold oath: Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen. Notice the use of first person plural by our Lord. We speak. We bear witness. What is spoken and borne witness is the mystery of salvation. No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

You were not there that dreadful Friday before the Passover when our Lord died for your sins. Yet by faith you believe that what Christ did that day, He did for you. You heard it spoken to you. You hear it spoken to you right now. A witness has been borne for your sake. The witness chiefly is Holy Scripture, for these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Yet how shall they hear without a preacher? The men who have stood in this pulpit through the years bear witness to Christ. As they speak, the Holy Spirit works in the words they speak to convict you of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Repentance is worked. Faith is created and renewed. You are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You are fed the very Body and Blood of Christ. Your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. A line is drawn straight from Eden through the pilgrimage to the Promised Land, where a bronze snake is lifted up on a pole to save the Israelites as they gazed on that snake, to Calvary, where Christ is raised up for your sins, through the empty tomb, to this church building at this very moment.

The Triune God is at work for you today. They work to bring the benefits of Christ’s death into your ears, your heart, and your life. All these things happen through earthly stuff like words, water, bread, and wine. All these things bear witness that God loves the world by sending His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. How can these things be? King David answers in Psalm 34: Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Don’t be afraid. Listen to the Lord in His Word and hear your salvation in Christ, for He alone has done it for you.

The Bronze Serpent and Jesus

The serpent, which bit and poisoned the Jews is sin, death and an evil conscience. I know that I must die and that I am under the power of death; I cannot free myself and must remain in this state until a dead serpent is set up for me, one which, because it is not alive, can harm no one, but rather benefit, as did the serpent of Moses. Now, this is Christ. I see him hanging on the cross, not beautiful nor greatly honored. If his death upon the cross were in fashion to win for him the plaudits of men, the flesh might say that he deserved his honors and his exaltation by his works. But I see him hanging in disgrace on the cross, like a murderer and malefactor; thus, reason must say that he is cursed before God. The Jews believed that this was true and they could only consider him the most cursed of all men before God and the world, for they remembered this passage in the Law of Moses: “He that is hanged is accursed of God.” (Deuteronomy 21:23)

Moses had to set up a serpent of brass, which looked like the fiery serpents, but did not bite or harm any one, nay, it rather saved the people. Thus, Christ also has the form and the appearance of a sinner, but has become my salvation; his death is my life; he atones for my sin and takes away from me the wrath of the Father. The living, fiery serpent is within me, for I am a sinner, but in him is a dead serpent; he was indeed regarded a sinner, but he never committed any sin.

If, then, man believes that the death of Christ has taken away his sin, he becomes a new man. The carnal, natural man cannot believe that God will gratuitously take away and forgive us all our sins. Reason argues in this manner: You have sinned, you must also atone for your sin. Then it invents one good work after another and endeavors to take away sin by good works. But the Gospel of Christ is: If you have fallen in sin, another must atone for you, if a man believes this, he becomes one with Christ, and has everything that is Christ’s.

(John chapter three), then, signifies that our works are nothing, and that all human power can do is useless, but faith in Christ does it all.

Martin Luther, First Church Postil for the Feast of the Holy Trinity (John 3:1-15)

God Give You A Mouth And Your Audience Ears

If Peter and Paul were here, they would scold you because you wish right off to be as accomplished as they. Crawling is something, even if one is unable to walk. Do your best. If you can’t preach an hour, then preach a half hour or a quarter of an hour. do not try to imitate other people. Center on the shortest and simplest points, which are the very heart of the matter and leave the rest to God. Look solely to His honor and not to applause. Pray that God will give you a mouth and to your audience ears…. You will most certainly find out three things: First you will have prepared your sermon as diligently as you know how, and it will slip through your fingers like water; secondly, you may abandon your outline and God will give you grace, You will preach your very best. The audience will be pleased – but you won’t. And thirdly, when you have been unable in advance to pull anything together, you will preach acceptably both to your hearers and to yourself. So pray to God and leave all the rest to him.

Martin Luther, Tischreden 2:2606-2607

Pentecost Day – John 14:23-31

I am grateful to Rev. Mark Buetow of McHenry, IL for his mnemonic device used in this sermon.

When men tried to make a name for themselves, they ended up scattered and speaking different languages. When Jesus ascends, He sends the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, through the preaching of Jesus’ name brings together people who don’t speak the same language. Those once scattered are now together again through the preaching of Jesus Christ.

That’s the blessing of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes with signs and wonders, with rushing wind and tongues of fire. These signs aren’t for their own sake. They focus your attention on the Word preached by preachers like Saint Peter. They preach the pouring out of the Spirit on the nations in order that they may hear and learn the name of Jesus. That’s what Peter preaches in the rest of Acts chapter two: Jesus, the Son of God, crucified for your sin, raised from the dead, and ascended on high. In His name is forgiveness of sins, poured on you in your Baptism. That’s the sermon that caused 3,000 souls to be brought into the church that day.

As it was then, so it is now. The Spirit brings Christ to you and brings you to Christ. How does He do it? Our Lord says how in today’s Gospel. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Pretty simple, eh? It’s hard for us to believe it, though. The Holy Spirit delivers Jesus. He does it in a way that you don’t get to dictate. The Spirit brings Jesus using Jesus’ words.

When you are brought to God’s house and are baptized with water and the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is at work. When you come to church and your pastor forgives your sins, preaches and teaches you God’s Word from Holy Scripture, that is the Spirit at work. When you receive Christ’s true Body and true Blood under bread and wine that are shown for us to be the Body and Blood of Christ, that is the Spirit at work.

A mnemonic device might help plant it home. You use mnemonic devices all the time. How do you know the colors of the rainbow? Roy G. Biv, that’s how. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Roy G. Biv. Here’s a mnemonic device to help you remember how the Holy Spirit works: The Holy Spirit brings God’s Holy people the holy B.A.G.S. I’m not talking about cornhole bags or grocery bags. These are holy B.A.G.S. They are Baptism, Absolution, Gospel preaching and teaching, and the Supper. Where the B.A.G.S. are, there the Spirit is working to forgive you and keep you close to Jesus’ words.

Now that you know where the Spirit is at work, it’s also important to know where the Spirit is not at work. Perhaps you have heard of Christians who believe the Spirit’s work is to manifest Himself through signs like speaking in tongues, so-called holy laughter, running, barking, and other experiences. Those things happened on Pentecost so that people would pay attention to the Apostles. The bigger deal, though, that day was the preaching of Jesus Christ by Saint Peter and the baptism of 3,000 people.

Not just “Pentecostal” Christians speak this way. Other Christians often get captivated by feelings and emotions, mistaking them for the work of the Holy Spirit. We may have heard Christians tell us that, when they came to our church or another church, they just didn’t “feel” anything happening there. Some might go as far as to say the Holy Spirit speaks to them about not only matters of faith, but also what clothes to wear, what car to buy, even what kind of flooring is appropriate for their home.

That’s not how Christians speak about the Spirit’s work. Jesus promises His Spirit comes nowhere else than in the B.A.G.S. If something is said to be the Spirit’s work, yet doesn’t come from the B.A.G.S, rest assured it is not the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes to bring us and keep us close to Jesus. He uses the B.A.G.S. to do it. You have certainty there.

Another difference between the true Holy Spirit in the B.A.G.S. and false spirits who are around us is the peace that the Spirit brings. Jesus tells His disciples: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. The Spirit brings peace that transcends our feelings. Feelings can lie. The peace of God that surpasses everything that our mind can do, even feelings, keeps our hearts and mind in Christ, our Lord.

The peace the Holy Spirit brings is the peace of Baptism that says in Whose family you belong. You are not an orphan. You belong to God’s family. The peace the Holy Spirit brings is the peace of Absolution. No sin stands between you and your heavenly Father. The peace the Holy Spirit brings is the peace of the Good News that Jesus is your Savior from sin, death, and hell. The peace the Spirit brings in under bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.

The Holy Spirit is at work in the B.A.G.S. giving you everything Jesus promises, especially the peace of forgiveness and life. You will not burn in hell. You are with Jesus, and Jesus is with you. He will raise you from the dead. In Him you are a new creation, waiting for the consummation of all things. The life of the world to come is yours because of Jesus, not because of speaking in tongues or interpreting tongues or holy laughter or any other so-called manifestation of a spirit. Your comfort is found in the B.A.G.S., for there is where the Holy Spirit gives you Jesus, and with Jesus, your salvation.

Seventh Sunday after Easter – John 15:26-16:4

Christ’s kingdom is a cross kingdom. Saints Paul and Barnabas were stoned in Lystra for preaching the Gospel in Acts chapter fourteen. In the face of bearing witness to Jesus Christ, Paul encourages the Christians there and elsewhere by saying through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 116: I believed, even when I spoke: “I am greatly afflicted.”

Christians throughout the ages have dealt with persecution by continuing to remain steadfast to Jesus Christ, ready to suffer even death rather than deny Him before men. In the wake of recent societal changes, however, it seems some Christians are ready to take their ball and go home, so to speak. There have been calls to retrench into local Christian communities in order to take care of each other and forsake the world.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, however, does not call us to sound a retreat, circle the wagons, and hide in our homes and church buildings. We shouldn’t become scared or angry that the world thinks it does God a service by barely tolerating Christians among them. Christ has previously said this would happen. Christ has also provided for rich consolation when it does happen.

Jesus tells the apostles before His ascension that you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. There’s more to the word “witness” than merely opening your mouth and telling the Good News about Jesus. “Witness” also means to be ready to shed blood, if necessary, for the sake of confessing Christ. Confessing Jesus as Lord is more than making some sort of testimony about what you believe. You confess whenever you read a Bible story to a child. You’re passing down the ancient confession of the Christian faith by relating the family stories; God’s family’s stories.

The Holy Spirit is with that confessed word you speak, whether to a child or to an adult. Jesus calls Him Comforter and Spirit of truth in today’s Holy Gospel. The Holy Spirit is first called a Comforter because He brings consolation against the evil spirit who rules in the world. You know there’s an evil spirit in the world because of the way people react when Jesus Christ is confessed. Some people tend to recoil in anger. Perhaps they are confused. Perhaps they have had a bad experience among Christians. Perhaps they simply despise any notion of God. No matter what the reason, as Jesus says, they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.

Jesus also calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth. The Spirit opposes all lies and false arguments. Jesus gives the Spirit Who makes you sure and convinced of the truth. Granted, though, that very few are argued into Christ’s kingdom. Apologetics, the practice of defending the Christian faith using Scripture to make logical, sound arguments for the Christian faith, has its place. Nevertheless, it is the preached Word of God, the Word of God confessed with the lips, used by the Holy Spirit, that changes the hearts of mankind. The truth in the preached Word sets them free.

Jesus says to His apostles, you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. Of the eleven with Him at that time, ten of them will die a martyr’s death; a death of witness to Jesus Christ.

Bearing witness to Jesus is more than opening your mouth and talking about what you believe. Bearing witness to Jesus also means to suffer. This suffering doesn’t necessarily have to take place on the gridiron, as St. Lawrence the Deacon died, or on an upside down cross, as St. Peter reportedly died. Suffering for Christ’s sake also happens on one’s deathbed, or even in a prolonged sickness. The sick person bears witness that Jesus will bring them comfort in affliction. The truth proclaimed to them that Christ has died, risen, and will come again, is borne in their bodies as they suffer pain.

It’s hard for us to see it when we’re right there next to one who suffers, or are even the one suffering. “What have I done to deserve this?” often comes to our mind. Your witness in suffering is united with the suffering of Jesus Christ. As He bore your griefs and carried your sorrows, so you carry His wounds within you, for you are baptized into His death and resurrection. Whether you die or whether you live, you belong to the Lord. You are a witness in life and in death, in health or in sickness. Where the world sees a pitiable sight, you see a lamb of the Good Shepherd who waits for healing, either temporal healing or ultimate healing in death.

The Holy Spirit also strengthens churches, especially when they suffer. Wherever the Lord sets up a church, the devil sets up a chapel next door, so to speak. You have seen it play out in this congregation, or in another congregation, through the years. You see and hear the divisiveness among God’s people. The wounds remain fresh even as the years go by.

In the midst of the chaos of Satan destroying a congregation, there stands the Comforter of priceless worth, ready to draw God’s people back to the preached Word, back to their baptism, back to the Lord’s Supper, back to forgiveness and salvation. No one congregation on earth is perfect. No one pastor on earth is perfect. The Church is full of 100% sinners and 100% saints. All the more do we cling to the Word of Christ confessed from lectern and pulpit. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us in Christ’s church, keeping us connected to the Savior.

Then there’s our life among our neighbors. Satan seems to set up a playground in the home. He seemingly moves mothers, fathers, and children like chess pieces. He sets everyone against each other. He makes everyone look like fools. Most of all, he sets up every obstacle to keep them from hearing the witness of Jesus Christ in the Divine Service. Before long, everyone at home is at war, and the Lord God is an unwelcome presence there. It can happen even in the homes of widows and widowers, even unmarried people. Why does God want me here? I’m worthless. It’s all a mess, and it’s all my fault.

The Holy Spirit must take up the sword of truth, the Word of God, and bear witness with that Word. He might say, “Whoa! Why are you up to talking like that? Can’t you think of anything but sin, death, and damnation? Take your eyes off this frightening sight. Don’t you know the man named Jesus Christ, of Whom it is written: conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, descended into hell, and on the third day rose again, and ascended into heaven?

“Why do you think this happened? Was it not that you might have consolation against death and sin? Stop being frightened and so despondent; you have no reason! If Christ were not with you and upholding you, and had not done these things for you, then you would have reason enough to be frightened. But He says, ‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ For that reason He suffered death for you, and for your consolation and safeguarding He is seated now at the right hand of His heavenly Father.”

There’s your comfort. There’s your witness. The Spirit witnesses Jesus Christ in the preaching of His Word and in His sacramental gifts. Jesus does not leave you as an orphan. He comes to you today in this place, in these gifts, and your heart rejoices. Do not be afraid. Do not sound a retreat. You are His witness. He will comfort you and speak His truth. You live, even in death, for Jesus’ sake. That is your confession, and it is good because Jesus is good.