Friday, June 16, 2017

Sermon on Isaiah 6:1-7, for Trinity Sunday (1 Year Lectionary), "The Fire of Holiness"

Sermon Outline:
·         Isaiah’s experience is largely unrelatable to us; feeling of absolute fear for his life, 1) seeing God in His glory, 2) inner sanctuary of the Temple (Holy of Holies). Raw terror of being where no human dares go—don’t have that same sense of fear of authority today to have a close comparison. Not a brush with death (Esther before King Xerxes or Moses and the burning bush are close examples; maybe also ancient Hawaiian kapu about the shadow of an alii falling on a commoner). Different from how people often think of God “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. 1Tim. 6:15-16. Unapproachable—so when Moses, or Isaiah or others are brought into God’s presence, the response is fear, retreat, face-down submission.
·         But the surprise is that God doesn’t use this power to trample or obliterate them, but purges away their impurity and bestows His holiness. God wants to draw humans into His worship, not as though He needed anything, but so that we might be saved. so that in all things, as has been stated above, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped. Therefore, whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity. Ath. Creed basically means that denial of the Trinity is denial of the Christian faith—rejection of how God has revealed Himself. But Creed is not just about correctly “categorizing” or “explaining” God, but drawing us into worshipping the One True God, and knowing Him for salvation. They are statements of praise or doxology that enlarge or magnify God by describing His greatness, awesomeness, and power. Teach who He is, so we praise Him right
·         “Train of His robe”—actually ‘hem”—suggests Isaiah couldn’t describe God much above “floor level.” Cf. Exodus 24:10 pavement beneath God’s feet—words fall short to describe God Himself, but rather how His glory or holiness radiates out to things around Him and beneath Him. Even seraphim (the burning ones), the most holy angels that attend God’s presence, can’t look at Him but hide their faces and feet.
·         Fire associated with God’s holiness—seraphim, smoke, burning coal, purging lips. “let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28b-29). God’s fire consumes what is unrighteous, unholy, wicked, impure. Fire can be a great blessing, but never easily controllable. Destroy or cleanse. Fascinating and terrifying (Oswalt, 184). God’s fire of holiness purifies and devours sin, so that we can be made holy like Him. Cf. Faith more precious than gold, that perishes by fire (1 Pt. 1:7) Faith survives the fire by God’s mercy
·         Makes our encounter with the Living God frightening, because our sin is like gasoline to the holiness of His fire. Like Isaiah’s terror: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the Kind the Lord of Hosts!” Not even a cry for mercy—convinced he was wrecked, undone, lost. What is our consciousness of sin? Deny it? Smuggle it into God’s presence? Put forward our “righteous deeds” for His approval (only to find they are filthy rags)? Or do we, like Isaiah own it and our helplessness to stand before Him? Want to be purged of these things?
·         Fire image—commentator Oswalt describes how God takes away the sin and guilt in which we have lived for years—a wrenching and searing experience—like a burn and scar. Do we stubbornly refuse to bow the knee before God, because we think we can fix ourselves, or don’t need His help? That was the uncleanness that Isaiah found in his people, and even himself. A man/people of unclean lips! God grant that we be given Isaiah’s humility and genuine repentance. “Apart from the fires of self-surrender and divine surgery the clean heart is an impossibility.” Do we submit to that searing pain of His holy fires purging away our sin? Ah, to be free, holy, pure (even with scars!) and to know that we are cleansed of that old sin! Joy vs. laboring under the delusion that we have no sin. Separation from our sin cannot be a painless experience as it’s so deeply ingrained in us
·         Angel descends to Isaiah, burning coal to lips (Ouch!?) “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Fire purged away what was unclean, sinful, unholy—but God permitted Isaiah to live, and in fact pardoned Him, because God had taken the sin away. Picture of how God intends to interact with us (and original audience Israel).
·         Isaiah’s crisis was not his alone, but saw his guilt in context of the nation… same problem. Crisis in the book of Isaiah—how can arrogant, sinful Israel become the nation by which the nations will learn of God? God had a holy purpose for them. By the same experience of humbling before God, repentance, God’s atoning for sin. Isaiah was a prophet describing God’s program of atonement for sin: Isaiah 1:18  “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. Isaiah 53:4–6  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 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.  
·         God’s program was to reduce Israel to one man, One faithful servant of the Lord, Jesus, who would bear the sin of the world upon Himself. Become afflicted, wounded, and die for our sins, so we could be healed. The cross needed to happen so God could say to us, behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. God bore our sins in the cross so we could be forgiven  Hard to miss association to the Lord’s Supper. Jesus gave it to His disciples: “Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood which is shed for the forgiveness of your sins.”  God places the cleansing fruits of His atonement in our mouth for our forgiveness. We receive what He accomplished for us there on the cross.
·         Crisis of Isaiah/Israel/us how do sinful, unclean people get transformed into a people of purpose? To witness to the nations of God? By God’s forgiveness, makes us clean again, holy, set apart for His purpose. Isaiah was commissioned by God “Who will go? Here I am, send me!” Isaiah would proclaim God’s redeeming work through the Messiah He would send. 7 centuries till Jesus.
·         Holy, Holy, Holy—threefold, in worship of Trinity, also superlative, as the highest and holiest of all. Again, see this not to analyze and reduce God to several simple parts that we can grasp, but to evoke worship and awe. Trembling and earthquake in Temple at God’s voice—but God’s presence was not there to destroy, but to cleanse and redeem Isaiah. This is the God revealed in Christ Jesus. Thankfully, not in terror and raw glory, but the humble, approachable child in the manger, the gentle Jesus who welcomed children into His arms, the incomparable King who forgave His bitterest enemies while they tormented Him on the cross. Not timid to rebuke the wicked or proud or self-righteous, but full of compassion to those who listened, who humbled themselves, who sought mercy. Full of mercy for all who needed it. God reveals Himself to us in Jesus to show us God’s holiness but also His goodness and love. This transforms our approach to God, as the author to the Hebrews says in Christ Jesus we can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb. 4:16) because of Jesus’ intercession. Having God reveal Himself to us in this way, what more but to worship God with reverence and awe, and offer to Him acceptable praise? Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name Thee; though in essence only one, undivided God we claim Thee, and, adoring bend the knee, while we own the mystery. Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Note on the Athanasian Creed: The end of the creed makes reference to all people rising and giving an account concerning their deeds, and that those who’ve done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire. Examine these Scripture passages that refer to the judgment: Matt. 12:35-37; 25:31-46; John 5:21-29, esp. vs. 24, 29 & John 6:28-29; cf. Rom. 8:1. While works are examined in the final judgment, those who have faith are spared judgment and condemnation on account of Jesus’ righteous life.
  2. When Isaiah has a vision of the Lord “sitting upon a throne” inside the Temple, where does Scripture tell us God’s throne was? 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; Psalm 80:1. Isaiah, since he was not the high priest, would have been forbidden to enter the Most Holy Place, or innermost part of the Temple. What was Isaiah’s response to this? Isaiah 6:5. What was he immediately aware of? Cf Exodus 33:20; Judges 6:20-23. Can we relate in any way or from any experience, Isaiah’s sheer terror at being somewhere he dare not go? What kind of experience would relay a similar feeling? Why is that an uncommon feeling or experience today?
  3. Isaiah recognized not only his own guilt, but the guilt of his people. Isaiah chapter 6, through Isaiah’s experience, is relating an important question that is explored in the writing of the prophet—“How can sinful, arrogant Israel become the holy people of God, through whom the nations will learn of God?” How does Isaiah experience the solution to this dilemma? Isaiah 6:6-7. How does God bring that same solution to us? Isaiah 1:18; 53:4-6, 10-12.
  4. The holiness of God is something completely “other” from ourselves. The word “holy” means “separate” in Hebrew. God is separate from His people in His perfection, power, and loving-kindness (among other things). God is absolutely uncompromising in His expectation of faithfulness from His people—anything less brings destruction. But God provides the answer for our sinfulness (Romans 3:28; Isaiah 41:14; 48:17) (The Lutheran Study Bible, Holy, Holy, Holy, p. 1099). 

Monday, June 05, 2017

Sermon on Genesis 11:1-9 & Acts 2:1-21, Pentecost (1 Year Lectionary), "Babel and Pentecost"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Today is the Festival of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples of Jesus, so that they were able to speak and be understood in a multitude of known languages, by a large crowd of gathered worshippers from scattered Mediterranean nations. The apostle Peter then got up to publicly explain to the crowd what was going on with this language miracle. Pentecost means “fiftieth”, and it had been 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead, and also 50 days after the Jewish Passover meal.
Look at our Old Testament reading today. The Tower of Babel story is paired with the readings about that remarkable Pentecost. These two events, are separated by a few thousand years of human history, and take place in very different settings, one on a monumental construction worksite in ancient Mesopotamia, and the other at a house near the Temple in Jerusalem—but nevertheless they are intricately linked, and have more in common than just the topic of languages. In many ways they are a reversal of each other. The Tower of Babel is the account of God defeating human pride and scattering and confusing the peoples and languages—while Pentecost is the account of confused people of many languages being unified in understanding around the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Let’s look a little more closely. In the ancient history of humankind, God tells us that there was once a single human language. This is sometime after the Flood of Noah’s day. God had told Noah and his family to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. He wanted them to repopulate the planet, which indicates spreading out and resettling the earth. But at the Tower of Babel, the people sought a different goal—to make a name for themselves and to keep from being scattered across the earth, by building a tower up to the heavens. A monument to their achievement. A friendly observer might say that they were trying to create “community” and “significance”, which are not in themselves bad things—but that was not the problem. The problem was that they were displacing God’s plan with their own plan, and instead of finding community and significance as God intends to give it, they went their own way and tried to create it themselves. They were idolizing themselves and trying to exalt themselves like gods on earth. God saw their unity that was bent toward disobeying His will, and God determined it was troubling enough to break their unity and scatter them. Better for them to be divided than to unite in rejecting God. Sadly, their unity could have been used humbly and with God’s blessing to fulfill His commands, but instead by their disobedience, He had to frustrate their plans.
The Tower of Babel explains to us how God confused the languages and scattered the people across the earth. It’s the explanation for the different language and people groups we have today—but with the reminder that we still all descend from one common human race. St. Paul also taught this to a crowd of philosophers in Athens: that God made from one man every nation on earth, and determined the periods and boundaries of the places where they would live (Acts 17:26). Our common human ancestry is a necessary reminder against the evils of racism, and endless conflicts between nations over land and territory. It reminds us that whatever else divides us, that we share the common gift of our shared humanity from God above, and that His command to love our neighbor as ourselves is universal.
But if the Tower of Babel story has these features: that God moved the people from one language to many; that men were trying to raise their own glory and achievements up to the heavens; that God was going to scatter the nations;  that God was breaking apart an ungodly unity; and that they failed to make a name for themselves—then the story of Pentecost has these reverse features: God brought the speakers of many languages to understand a unified message; the glory of God’s great deeds were being raised up to the heavens; that God was gathering the scattered nations together; that God was creating a new and godly unity, and that this unity came in the Name God glorified for Himself—the Name of Jesus. And that all who call upon the Name of Jesus will be saved! The trajectory of the Tower of Babel story is towards disunity, scattering, and confusion—while the trajectory of Pentecost is towards unity, gathering, and clear understanding. The Tower of Babel was a vain attempt to raise men’s names up to the heavens in glory—Pentecost instead raises up Jesus’ Name to the heavens in glory, for our salvation. In short, God gave a miraculous sign that He had begun to “reverse the curse” of Babel.
Still today mankind chases after glory and pride that we create apart from God. Still today we attempt to “play god” in ways too numerous to mention, and try to sit ourselves on the throne of God’s authority. Still today God lifts up and brings down the mighty from their thrones. Human pride and achievement throughout history have never brought permanent or lasting community, peace, or even monuments, for that matter. At most, the disrepair of ancient monuments tell us of the collapse of civilizations that died out centuries or millennia ago. For all their power and technology, they still have fallen into the dust of history like the rest of mortal men. But still today God has a bigger plan and better goal for our lives than our human attempts to etch our names into the heavens. God desires to give us community and significance, to be sure—but on His terms, and in ways that honor Him. God has an everlasting Word and an eternal community that will endures long after all empires and powers have risen and fallen.
Zoom out momentarily to the big picture of the whole Bible and story of salvation, and you’ll see that God is building for us a “city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10, 16; 12:28; 13:14). He desires to gather all people to His heavenly Jerusalem, the eternal home of all who call on the name of Jesus and are saved. But zooming back into our lives and Pentecost, understand that God desires community, fellowship, and significance for us, that is centered around Him. And He has a particular plan to achieve that, that He has carried out in Jesus Christ.
It was the first Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, that His disciples went public with that message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. On Good Friday, they had been reduced to 11 men frightened for their lives, and a handful of faithful women. They were powerless, cowardly, and dejected. By 50 days later, just before Pentecost, their number had grown to 120. On the day of Pentecost, that number exploded to 3,000! (Acts 2:41). A short while later, to 5,000, and then continued growth beyond (Acts 4:4; 5:14; 6:7). Today more than 2 billion people claim the name of Jesus. That incredible growth and transformation came because of what the disciples saw for themselves—the Risen Jesus. It was by their unmistakable witness of His resurrection and by His gift of the Holy Spirit, that they were emboldened to proclaim God’s salvation plan to all, at great personal risk and loss to themselves, but for the gain of God’s spiritual kingdom.
Through the proclamation of the apostles on Pentecost and afterward, the Holy Spirit signaled to the world that God is gathering people of all languages to unify around the Name of Jesus Christ. In 2:11-12 the crowds exclaimed “we hear the telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God! And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to on another, ‘What does this mean?’” God’s deeds were being exalted, Jesus’ saving works were being proclaimed in many languages to many peoples. Peter goes on to explain the miracle by telling them about the teaching of Jesus, His unjust crucifixion and death, and God’s subsequent raising of the innocent Jesus to life again. This, Peter says, is the explanation for the miracle you are seeing and hearing. He called them to be baptized and saved, calling on the Name of Jesus. He was holding up for them a godly purpose for unity and community, showing them how God was going to return the scattered people to Himself.
The Holy Spirit still today proclaims the Name of Jesus for our salvation—as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit will always bear witness about Him and bring to our remembrance all that Jesus has taught. The Holy Spirt still calls and gathers Christians together in community—across and beyond barriers of language or culture or class—and to people of one human race He proclaims the forgiveness of sins and peace with God that we have in Jesus Christ. He makes the mighty works of Jesus to be known so that we would have a Name to glory in—but His Name, and not our own. And He gives us purpose and significance by loving us and sending us out to all the world to bear witness to His Name and His love for us. So let us rejoice that God has made a Name for Himself in the sight of all the nations, and that He gathers His scattered children to be His own under the care and love of Jesus Christ His Son. In His Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Compare and contrast Genesis 11:1-9 & Acts 2:1-21. How does Pentecost (Acts) show a reversal of many of the details of the Tower of Babel (Genesis)?
  2. What was the sin of the people of Babel? Genesis 11:4? What did they seek to gain, and what did they seek to avoid? Why was that contrary to God’s command in 9:1, 7? How did God ensure that it happened? Genesis 11:7-9; 10:32.
  3. Why is the Tower of Babel important in explaining 1) the origin of people groups and languages, and 2) the common ancestry of the human race? Acts 17:23-27; Genesis 10:32. What implications does that have towards racism and relations between different people groups?
  4. How does Genesis 11:7 hint at, but not fully reveal, the teaching of the Trinity? Cf. Genesis 1:26; 3:22.
  5. In Acts 2:11, what did the crowds hear in their own languages? Where before (at Babel) they had sought their own glory by their own works, who was now receiving glory, and whose works were proclaimed and understood by all? What is God-pleasing and desirable about this unity? 1 Timothy 2:1-4. How can this basis of unity help to bridge the divisions between people across the world? Why will Christ still remain a dividing point for many? Matthew 10:32-39
  6. In Peter’s Pentecost sermon, he explains that the work of the Holy Spirit, poured out that day, will culminate in this truth: (2:21) “Everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.” Read further in Acts 2:41. How did this message ignite the “birthday of the Christian Church? What recent event was the literal life of this message? Acts 2:31-32, 36.
  7. To whom does the Holy Spirit still point today? John 14:26; 15:26. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sermon on Ezekiel 36:22-28, for the 7th Sunday of Easter, Exaudi (1 Year Lectionary), "God Vindicates His Name"

Sermon Outline:
Context: Prophet Ezekiel, less than 600 years BC; on the world stage the Babylonian empire was rising, and over a couple of decades during the lifetime of Ezekiel, his homeland of Judah was overthrown. Ezekiel > exile early with the king, nobles and officials. Writes of God’s promised restoration of Israel—His redemption plan.
Ch. 36 God lays out His agenda to act for the sake of His holy name. He’s going to act to vindicate His Name. Restore honor and holiness of His Name. Why needed? What had they done? Defiled or polluted the land—not with toxic waste or chemicals, but a pollution of toxic deeds/actions/beliefs. Worship of idols (Ezekiel calls them fecal deities, or something more disgusting..), bloodshed in the land, expelled from their land by the curse for their obscene disobedience. Problem—the dishonor was not “contained” to the people of Israel alone—they had profaned or dishonored God’s Name also. This is the effect when we bear God’s Holy Name—we represent Him. Honor or dishonor
God declares why He will act—not for their sake, but for His Holy Name. Recalls Deut. 9, coming into promised land—not because you were a righteous or holy nation, (stubborn!), but to show to all the nations God’s power and glory. Same here. In the sight of the nations, among the nations, God will restore the holiness and honor due His Name by taking matters into His own hands. Grace alone! Not because of their goodness, but God’s grace alone, for the sake of His own name. So that the nations will know that God is the Lord
Do we dishonor or profane God’s Name? Lord’s Prayer “Hallowed be…” Keep God’s Name holy by living godly lives…profane His Name by teaching or living contrary to His Word. Protect us from this Heavenly Father!  1 Timothy 1:8–11 (ESV) 8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
Broad range of sins that profane God’s name, and we are to avoid them. Abuse of parents, murder, sexual sin, slave dealing (or kidnapping?), lying, making false oaths, and everything else contrary to sound doctrine. The evil of the world must be set apart from Christians and God’s Name. Not to pollute or profane God’s Name by engaging in these practices
Instead, called to live a life worthy of His Name, in all godliness and self-control. Repentance and forgiveness, even for the chief of sinners.
How’s He going to do it? Vindicate? His punishment was already upon the people—now it was time for grace. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
First—purge them of their uncleanness and idolatry—sprinkle water, cleansing. Hard to miss association with baptism and the washing/cleansing in the blood of Jesus. Isaiah 52 “sprinkle many nations”, Hebrews 10:22 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 12:24 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Baptismal waters bring us the cleansing performed for us by Jesus’ death on the cross. Purity, holiness, restored honor from all your guilt and shame, no blot or blemish
Second—new heart and new spirit. Heart transplant! Old stone, stubborn, inflexible, unable to be reformed—new flesh! Living, beating, shaped by Spirit of God
Third—Spirit within you! Walk in my statutes, carefully obey my rules. God transforms from the inside out. Life is redirected from sin and evil, foolishness of sinful pursuits to godliness and wisdom and good. Learning from and obeying God’s commands. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your holy name. Amen. Delight and obedience, to glorify God’s Name. holiness of name
Fourth—dwell in the land—I will be your God and you will be my people. Return from exile, God’s presence with His people. Revelation—God will be the God of His people for eternity. Intimate presence of God among His people—He had left their Temple before because of the great insult to His Name and holiness that they had brought through idolatry. Now He promises to be back among them as their God.
By these four gracious acts, God is restoring the honor due His Name, vindicating the holiness “before the eyes” of the nations (and Israel).
This would come to full realization in Jesus Christ, God carrying out His full agenda to restore the holiness and honor of His name, in the sight of all nations—bore great dishonor and His Name was profaned, defiled as He hung on the cross. Polluted with our sins. But in death He buried our old heart of stone, together with the uncleanness and pollution of our sins, sprinkled clean water on us, to cleanse, restore, make whole again.
Acted for the sake of His Name, not on account of our righteousness, poured out grace abundantly. Work of the Holy Spirit is prophesied, transforming hearts, new obedience, faithfulness. God has restored the honor of His Name and made us cleansed and holy, fitting bearers of His Name to bring glory to Him. Give thanks that God acted, and that we are the undeserving beneficiaries of His grace! Lord keep us obedient to you so that we may honor and glorify your Name in the sight of all people. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. What can cause God’s land to be defiled? Psalm 79:1; Ezekiel 36:16-21. How does this mean that God’s Name was profaned by Israel? What was their punishment for this? Ezekiel 36:18-19.
2. What was the reason God acted to “vindicate His Name”, and what was not the reason? Ezekiel 36:22. Compare this to Deuteronomy 9:4-7. In both cases, what is God trying to teach His people?
3. In what way had Israel “profaned” or defiled God’s Name among the nations? Ezekiel 36:22-23; 13:19; 22:26. When God acts to vindicate the holiness of His Name “before their eyes” (36:23) or “in the sight of the nations” (20:22), what does He intend to show them?
4. What is considered “profane?” 1 Timothy 1:8-11. How does God address such gross sin? 1 Timothy 1:12-15. How do we live a life that is worthy of the Lord, and honors His Name? Philippians 1:27; Colossians 1:10.
5. What are the actions that God takes to vindicate and honor His own name before all people? Ezekiel 36:24-28.
6. How will He cleanse them from their uncleanness? Ezekiel 36:25. In what ways does God cleanse His people through “sprinkling?” Isaiah 52:15; Hebrews 10:22; 12:24. What cleansing comes through the washing of baptism? Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5-6.
7. What kind of “heart transplant” does the Holy Spirit give us? Ezekiel 36:26-27. What was our heart condition before, and what is it after? What new willingness flows out of this “heart transplant”? (v. 27); Romans 7:22 (and following). What remains a struggle for us?
8. Ezekiel 36:28—God promises to dwell with His people, and be their God. Why is this both essential for our survival in faith, but also deeply comforting?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Sermon on John 16:23-30, for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Rogate ("Ask!"), 1 Year Lectionary

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In our Gospel reading from John 16, Jesus tells His disciples “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
·         Jesus urges us to ask boldly and He will answer! amazing promise, but this simple promise creates a crisis of prayer or a crisis of understanding for countless people.
·         two ways to understand: one leads to a crisis of prayer and doubt. the other to fullness of joy
·         Reread. Where is emphasis? Next sentence “in my name.”
·         natural tendency: latch onto “whatever you ask”—because we want to take Jesus’ words as a genie-in-the-bottle promise. Examples: cars, wealth; healing grandma—we wonder “what gives?” >>Crisis: ask, but don’t receive! Have Christians “mastered” this promise?
·         neglect the qualifier: in my name. bulletin quote: “in the name of Jesus” not a magical tag that we attach to prayers, to get whatever you want. Rather
“Jesus promises you whatever is in His name. All that’s in His name, He says the Father will give you.” Picture it like this: God has a big treasure chest and written around the outside of that chest are the letters J-E-S-U-S. Everything inside of that chest is in the name of Jesus. The Father promises you any and everything that He’s put into that chest. It’s yours. After all, Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give it to you.” So, the big question is: what’s in the name of Jesus? Because whatever is in that name is what the Father promises to give you!

·         NT search: includes forgiveness, God being with us, the holiness of God, hope, blessing, Jesus’ presence, baptism and the right to become children of God, salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and much more! these and more are attached to the name of Jesus. Seek and ask for these in the treasure box of the Name of Jesus, we are assured by Jesus that He will give them to us. Spend too little time reflecting on and asking for what’s in His name! This is the way to enjoy the fullness of the promise—many Christians who have learned contentment
·          Understanding Jesus’ promise in this way, leads us into the fullness of joy. find His joy in His Name. Chasing the “whatevers” of this world—treasures outside that chest, is a quick way to disappointment. Store up treasures on earth, Jesus warns—and you never know when they will rot, rust, fade away, be lost or stolen. But treasures in heaven—i.e. spiritual things, these can’t diminish or be lost or stolen.
·         The problem: we stand next to that treasure box, the name of Jesus—and we turn up our noses and look longingly at all the stuff outside it. Selfishly or greedily, we want “that”, whatever it is, instead of what God’s offering in the name of Jesus.
·         Predictable outcome—one way leads to joy and contentment in all circumstances, high or low. The other way leads to a never-ending hunger for more, and a lot of grief. James 4, dark effects of that mindset: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions.” God isn’t interested in providing us with the things we don’t need, that aren’t in Jesus’ name because for one thing, those aren’t the real treasures, and for another thing, we use them wrongly. But this doesn’t mean God doesn’t provide for what we actually need and bless us in many unexpected ways.
·         But then Jesus says: “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God”. direct to God the Father, assurance He personally loves us, because we love and believe Jesus is His Son. This verse is so important on a day like today, when we see the kingdom of God enlarged by several baptisms, and several confirmations and professions of faith. The Father Himself loves you because you love Jesus and believe Jesus came from God. This is why our youth will come forward to confess their faith. It’s why children are welcomed into the arms of Jesus for His blessing, in baptism. It’s why adults come to profess their faith that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. All ages, follow the call of discipleship, to believe and follow Jesus. They’ve come to the treasure box of Jesus’ name, and are asking for the gifts inside—and God is freely granting them.
·         How far will I go with Jesus? Confirmands’ vows: “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” And they answer, I do, by the grace of God. It should catch our attention that this is a deeply solemn promise—saying that we intend to remain faithful to God, even till death. The next question similarly asks if we will stand by this confession and church, even to death, rather than fall away from it. And you notice that the answer is, “by the grace of God.” It’s something we could never do on our own strength, but only by God’s grace. Can’t say it without thinking of Peter—“even till death!”
·         But even if I should stumble on the journey of discipleship, or in a moment of trial lack the courage—not saved because we gave our life for Him, but because He gave His life for us. This is why Jesus’ love is a love above all loves—not to be traded or surrendered for anything. John 3:16. God’s love, Jesus’ death, priceless value placed on you. In His Name, sins forgiven, salvation delivered, washed under baptismal waters, dressed in innocence, sin is purged away. This is why we love Jesus and believe in Him. This is why we say that by the grace of God we’ll stick with Him till death. Wouldn’t say that about any person from ancient history, 2,000 years ago in a place I’ve never been—but because of the extraordinary fact of His death on the cross for us, the perfect example of humility and earth-shattering divine love, expressed in words of forgiveness spoken from the cross, and because of His glorious resurrection from the dead, that convinced even former enemies like Paul, that He was the Son of God, and that turned disciples who, like us, might doubt whether we could, except by the grace of God, stand by Jesus, even till death—His resurrection turned them into the most courageous men and women who spread the Gospel all over the world, till generations later it has reached us today. To the One who loves us so deeply, and teaches us that God, His Father loves us the same—to Him we are bold to ask all that He has promised us, in His Name. Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In John 16:23 Jesus refers to an approaching moment: “In that day…” When is He referring to? John 14:18-20. What would happen, and how would it change the direction of their prayers? To whom could they ask direct?
  2. How does the meaning of 16:23 change if you put the emphasis on  the phrase “whatever you ask” vs. the phrase “in my Name?” How could that lead to misunderstandings of this verse? How does Jesus in verse 24 guide us to which should correctly be emphasized? How does this lead us to correctly understand the verse?
  3. What will we find promised “in Jesus’ name?” 16:24; 27; 33; John 3:16; 5:24; 6:27, 63; 7:37-38; Luke 11:13; James 1:5, etc. Meditate on the picture of a filled treasury of spiritual gifts, marked with the Name Jesus, in contrast to the worldly treasures we long for outside that treasury. Cf. Matthew 6:19-21.
  4. How can you express the Father’s love for us, as we love Jesus? It is incomparable. For young and adults, who confess their faith in Jesus, why is this a love above all other loves, a love that is not to be traded or surrendered for anything, even in the face of death?
  5. What has Jesus given to us and for us, out of His great love?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Sermon on John 16:5-15, for the 5th Sunday of Easter (1 year Lectionary), Cantate (Sing!), "Spirit of Truth"

Sermon outline:
·         Sorrow on disciple’s hearts—Jesus’ farewell speech (before cross, resurrection, ascension). Leaving them—we also long to be comforted by Jesus’ personal presence. Jesus’ ongoing presence—the Spirit, teaching, Lord’s Supper, joined in living relationship and salvation through baptism. Not orphans—but they won’t see Him. Disciples’ sorrow—this is not to our advantage! Jesus’ answer—it is to your advantage, because the Spirit is coming! Now Christ’s ministry, not in one location—but ministers through His Helper, the Holy Spirit, to the entire Christian ministry across the earth. Jesus is everywhere His Spirit is outpoured, and the works of the Spirit are done, and people directed to Jesus.
·         Works of the Spirit (others listed John 14-16)—convict the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment. As Christians we often want to celebrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and being led by the Spirit, etc—but do we rejoice that “convicting us” is central to the Spirit’s work? Can’t have it any other way—if we want to be taught and comforted by the Spirit, must also be convicted of our wrong doing. He must assault the works of the devil, which include our sin, unbelief, self-righteousness.
·         Clarified:  concerning sin because they do not believe in me. This is the major sin of the world! Unbelief! All others stem from this. It’s the bad root that must be uprooted and replaced with a living attachment to Christ the Vine—also work of the Spirit. Faith is the new root of life in Christ. Unbelief in Jesus is the sin that condemns. All the other stuff is the bad fruit on the tree. You can pluck all the bad fruit you want off the tree, but if the tree and the root is bad, it won’t change. Becoming a Christian is not a “cut and paste job”. Only by being grafted into the New Vine, Christ, can we bear good fruit. Change in belief, in identity. Spirit’s power, not ours to accomplish.
·         Unbelief in Jesus: independence from God—refuse to rely on God’s help, or to acknowledge or praise God for creating us, redeeming us, etc. Unbelief denies God’s role in our life, without which we could not even exist—even if we never acknowledge Him. Living as though there is no higher authority
·         Concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer. The Holy Spirit convicts us about righteousness because we must know and understand what true righteousness is. Gerhard writes that people naturally think that a life that is honorable and filled with achievements counts as righteousness before God. Consider how many times you hear at a funeral how someone was “such a good person.” Not always meant in terms of that person deserving eternal life in heaven—sometimes just trying to “speak well of the dead” and remember them well—but how often is it said in that context or understanding? Even Lutherans who have heard all their life long and been taught from their pastors that we’re saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, still have answered in large numbers in surveys, that being a good person gets you into heaven. Wrong! The Holy Spirit must convict us of righteousness to clear away that false self-righteousness, and to establish in its place the true righteousness of Jesus Christ, who is going to the Father.
·         Thing about unbelief and righteousness—mostly can’t see it, unless a person tells us what is going on in their hearts. Outward good deeds we see—but this is the point—that is not what justifies before God. Faith, hidden in the heart, the work of the Holy Spirit, declares us righteous before God.
·         Concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 12:31 (ESV) Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. Coming hour of Jesus’ crucifixion and death—this would be how the ruler of this world—the devil, would be judged and cast out. Holy Spirit convicts us of this reality—the devil rules over the world of chaos, rebellion, and disobedience to God’s order, but he’s been cast out and judged. Disarmed, defeated, chained. When we abandon God’s design, His commands, for our own way, we’re living under the rule of the devil. That life will be filled with evidence of discord, suffering, bad consequences, etc, that witness to us against a life of sin, and by the Spirit’s conviction, should steer us to repentance.
·         As with false righteousness (i.e. trusting in ourselves), so also with false-judgment, we want to judge ourselves, rule ourselves. This is the lie of autonomy—that we are independent, self-ruling, self-governing people. Even the devil “the ruler of this world” tried to bribe Jesus by thinking that He could rule everything, if He just worshipped the devil. Not true, but we’re enticed by the same lie. Think that we can make up our own rules as we go along, and there is no one higher than us to answer too. But this is a gross deception, as we must all answer before God in judgment.
·         So what is the right judgment that the Holy Spirit leads us to? The judgment that the devil and his weapons of sin and unbelief stand judged and are cast out. That the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been exalted and glorified, and that this righteousness of Jesus is the only thing that stands up before God. The righteousness by which we are forgiven and judged innocent on account of the mercies of Jesus Christ. This is the judgment the Holy Spirit brings to our hearts. Earlier in the Gospel Jesus speaks about faith and judgment: John 5:24  “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Faith in Jesus is the only way to pass through the judgment from death to life.
·         12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Spirit of Truth—in opposition to all lies, deceptions, and errors—fed to us by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, which is all too happy to aid and abet the devil for our own pleasure or personal gain. Our sinful flesh means that we have a built in conflict of interest with the truth. The Truth, however, will set us free. Spirit of truth continues Jesus’ work. Not His own authority, but from Jesus’ authority which comes from the Father. “Proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Sent by both to carry God’s message to mankind.
·         Some, from a spirit of error, will try to rip out of context that Jesus has things to say “but you can’t bear them now” to imply that Jesus had radical new ideas which were yet to be told, and are not contained in the Bible, but would later come from the Spirit. This is obviously contradicted by the immediate context—“not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak,…take what is mine and declare it to you.” Spirit’s work is to highlight and glorify Jesus. Not to depart from or add to what Jesus taught. Beware of those who would us this verse to smuggle foreign ideas into the Bible. Read the whole passage!
·         Truth is needed now more than ever—especially the Way the Truth, and the Life. With hearts full of sin and blindness, the world is busy building props and pretensions that hide the True God from us. And from that unbelief springs all the other bad fruit and sin in this life. But Jesus stands as the One who was sacrificed and glorified, to cast out the ruler of this world, and who was raised up for our justification, that the bad root of sin and unbelief would be put to death and replaced with a new, living, growing bond to Himself, the Vine, in whom we will bear much fruit. Jesus as the Truth is the only real solution for a world under the rule of sin and evil, and for that reason we continue His proclaiming ministry, convicting hearts by the Spirit of sin, righteousness, and judgment. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. John 16:5—where or to whom is Jesus returning? Though Jesus’ disciples (including us) view Jesus’ departure as a disadvantage; what reason does Jesus give us that it is actually to our advantage? John 16:6
  2. Name as many of the jobs or duties that the Holy Spirit will perform, according to Jesus. John 16:8, 13-14; John 14:17, 26; 15:26. Carefully examining Jesus’ words in each of these verses, is there anything to suggest that the Holy Spirit will teach new and innovative things that diverge from Jesus’ teaching? How do these verses instead express a complete harmony between God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
  3. Who is the “ruler of this world” that Jesus says is “judged” in John 16:11, and when and how does it happen? John 12:31-33; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14.  
  4. In John 16:12-14, how would the Spirit be the further instructor of the disciples? How does Jesus always remain at the center of the Spirit’s teaching? And that in turn all goes back to whom? John 16:15.
  5. Why is the truth under so much attack today? How is truth lost or undermined? When truth is lost, what do we lose with it? John 14:6. How do we regain and establish the truth? How does the truth confront us or make us uncomfortable? How does it reassure us of God’s salvation? 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Sermon on Isaiah 40:25-31, for the 4th Sunday of Easter (1 Year Lectionary)--Jubilate (Shout for Joy) Sunday, "Who is Like God?"

Sermon Outline:
·         The conclusion of a conversation (begins vs. 9): “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him says the Holy One.” Isaiah 40:25-31—God is asking, Have you considered His greatness? The size and reach of the universe? We have the most meager and inadequate measurements to try to grasp it. Man has not instructed God in wisdom or understanding, as if we could teach Him anything—neither about justice or knowledge. Compared to God, we are utterly nothing—dust, a drop in the bucket, nothing and emptiness. God is incomparable to anything we might compare Him too, and the thought of comparing Him to idols and false gods is an utter insult and foolishness. He is the One who laid down the foundations of the earth and stretched out the heavens like a tent. Our existence is momentary in comparison.
·         Don’t like to think of ourselves this way, as dust and nothingness, and it is greatly humbling, but the truth. How often have we challenged God’s wisdom or justice, whether openly or secretly? We forget our place when we try instructing God. God is God, we are not. Dangerous when we arrogantly presume to instruct or question God. We don’t have the total knowledge to understand any situation. Our own wisdom is nothing in His sight, however convinced we may be of our own view of the situation.  
·         As witness to His power, God cites His creation of all the “host” or stars of heaven. “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number calling them all by name, by the greatness of His might, and because He is strong in power not one is missing.”
·         In the night sky we can see at most about 3,000 stars with the naked eye. When Galileo turned his telescope skyward, he increased the number of stars he could see 10X, to about 30,000. One hundred billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy alone. And the Milky Way is just one of 100 billion galaxies in the known universe!! Multiply that and there is an unfathomable number of stars in the universe. Jeremiah 33:22  “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant.”
·         Crude estimate: 1 followed by 25 zeroes. And God knows them all by name! Not one is missing or forgotten. And no less amazing, He numbers every hair of your head (Matt. 10:10). Knowing this about God, how can we think that He doesn’t know or care about every least thing that is happening in His universe. It is not a careless waste or vast meaningless expanse, but it’s His glory and wisdom to display and to know. These verses are a comfort when we fear that we have been lost in the midst of all this grandeur and enormity—but God is intimately aware of everything, including us.
·         Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?’ It’s easy to feel forgotten and lost in the universe—insignificant place, smallness, seeming that God doesn’t pay attention. My “right” or justice is neglected by God. When we sense that injustice in this world, or against us goes unchallenged, or when we cry out for help, and no apparent answer.
·         God’s answer: 28    Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29          He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:28-31. Calls back to God as Creator—the Everlasting God. Expresses His total control and awareness of creation. While we wrestle with exhaustion, weakness, and reach our point of surrender—no strength to go on—this is not true of God. God not only is untiring in His work and care—but also supplies His strength and renewal to those who wait for the Lord—rely on Him.
·         One of the hardest things—to wait for the Lord. Waiting involves patience, faith, dependence. When we are eager for a quick solution to our problems, waiting is the hardest thing. It means a solution hasn’t come yet. How long must we wait? This question is asked of God dozens of times in the Psalms. Over and over, why don’t you answer. But they always put their trust in God’s goodness and salvation, even though they don’t know how long. Hebrews 11:13 (ESV) “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Even till death! Never received the things promised, only had faith in them from a distance.
·         But what is the reward of waiting? 31but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. For those who are laid low by the sins and struggles of life, feeling in the pits, or in the muck and mire of whatever troubles beset them, the picture of soaring on wings of eagles is uplifting. That our strength would daily be replaced and renewed means that we will be able to continue to run the race, to carry on and not faint or surrender.
·         How does God bring you this strength and renewal? Day by day we surrender the sinful flesh through repentance, and baptized into Christ He crucifies and buries our old sinfulness, together with all its arrogance and pride, its self-pity and victimhood, its doubtfulness and impatience, and Christ also raises us with Him to newness of life. In that newness of life Christ supplies us with humility and trust, with compassion for the needs of others and perspective on our own crosses, so that we bear them together. He fills us with the hope, faith, and patience that we need to wait on the Lord, especially in the hardest times. The Holy Spirit richly and daily forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers, and keeps us together in the Church of Jesus Christ in the one true faith. Gathered in the name and the remembrance of Jesus, we also feed here on the strengthening food of Christ’s body and blood. In fellowship with Christ and with each other, God renews and strengthens us by the Bread of Life, so that we may run and not be weary, walk, and not grow faint. Truly, we can confess and say, “Who is like God?” Powerful, glorious, and gracious. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Isaiah 40:25-31 is the conclusion of a conversation and challenge to consider who God is, and what He does. The discussion begins as early as Isaiah 40:9. Read from there through vs. 31. What rhetorical question does God raise in vs. 25? In what way is God incomparable? Cf. v. 18.
  2. In Isaiah 40:12-14, what are the things about God and what He has done that we are unable to measure? What does that tell us about God, and about our relation to Him? In vs. 15-17, how does God measure us?
  3. What is ridiculous about comparing God to an idol or false god? Isaiah 40:18-20; 44:9-20; 46:1-7.
  4. In Isaiah 40:26, was are the “host” whom God has created, brought out by number, and called by name? Psalm 147:4; Nehemiah 9:6. How does God’s incredible attention to detail in the enormous vastness of the universe speak of His care for us? Matthew 10:30.
  5. What circumstances sometimes lead us to fear that God has forgotten us or neglected our “right” (i.e. to care for justice)? Isaiah 40:27; 49:4, 14. How do we know that God has not forgotten, and that He is in control? Isaiah 40:28-31; 49:14-16.
  6. What does God do for us when we are weakened or exhausted by the trials and sufferings of life? Isaiah 40:28-31. Why can’t we understand or comprehend His ways?
  7. Why is it difficult to “wait for the Lord”? Isaiah 40:31. What is the blessing of doing so? Psalm 103.
  8. In John 16:16-22 Jesus talks about the themes of waiting for Him, suffering, and the reversal of our sorrow to joy. How do these words increase our hope?