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? 

Monday, May 01, 2017

Sermon on John 10:11-16, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter 1 Yr Lectionary, Misericordias Domini, "Known by the Good Shepherd"

Expanded sermon outline:
Shepherd theme in Bible—several uses: 1) describe God in His relation to 2) His people as flock or lambs, 3) but also the leaders, priests, and prophets. Bad shepherds—Ezekiel 34 (wider context) and Jeremiah 23—false teachers, abusive, rule with force and harshness, neglect to feed, protecting personal gain and trampling the poor and needy. Sheep are scattered, none to seek them. God Himself will intervene.
Actions of God as shepherd—Psalm 23, protects, leads, feeds, comforts. Personal knowledge, love, care. Ezek. 34, search and recovery, heal and strengthen, destroy the enemies, justice. Zechariah 11-13, shepherd of the doomed flock, to be betrayed, pierced, mourned over, and struck, so the sheep are scattered. Leads to Jesus’ description: John 10—lays down His life for the sheep
Knowing God as our Good Shepherd—comfort and reassurance, not a hired hand. Not distant, detached, unconcerned with what happens to us. Belonging, invested, has something at stake in us; precious—won’t let us remain lost and endangered. Great love! Great news!
But it’s one thing to consider from the side of how God loves and cares for us. Another to reflect on how Is 53, we all, like sheep have gone astray. Lost, wandering, runaways, forsaken the safe pastures for “greener pastures” and left the Shepherd who loves us. Or think we don’t need a shepherd. Pretty well take care of myself, thanks!  For our sin, for our sake, He had to be crucified, lamb led to the slaughter. Costly price of our straying—His suffering and death—but we have returned to “the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.” But greater love has no one than this, than that He lay down His life…
14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.   "Christ says: 'I am the Good Shepherd and know those who are Mine, and I am known by my own--just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father.' 'Knowing' here does not just imply 'recognition'. Instead it means--according to the nuance of the original Greek--to simultaneously love, to accept some one from the bottom of the heart, and consequently to care for him....This is a powerful passage. From it we can see that just as much as the heavenly Father is attached to Christ (His Son whom He inwardly loves) so also Christ is attached to His beloved sheep, whom He likewise inwardly loves from the bottom of His heart." (Johann Gerhard, Sermon on John 10)
Personal knowledge and deep love. If someone tells you: “I love you like your my own son or daughter,” you know that’s not a casual friendship or love, not even just a really close friend—they’ve extended to you the family bond of love and kinship that’s ordinarily reserved only for those closest to us. I don’t have the right to be treated as a sibling or son in your family, and all the rights and privileges that entails. We can’t just invite ourselves into that bond with anyone we please. It has to be given to us. God welcomes you and I into His family on just such personal and loving terms. God’s knowledge of us is so deep and thorough—nothing hidden from Him—but still this tremendous love. Lays down His life.
16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Jesus looks outward, beyond those already gathered. God’s mission—seek and save the lost. Is 56, God speaks of gathering the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, bringing them to His holy mountain: “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8 The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” We are some of the “others” outside of Israel. Many more yet remain. God intends to gather one flock, one shepherd. Simple unity around Jesus—the church as One. Echoed in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
Yet why so many divisions? Different churches? Sad reality—reality that Jesus prays in John 17 to fix--22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Many divisions come from falling away from the word, which is why Jesus so earnestly warns against wolves (in sheep’s clothing)—false teachers sent by the devil to “steal, kill, and destroy”. These require us to stand firm on the word of God against thieves or wolves. But some divisions come for petty or foolish divisions and controversies—mountains out of molehills—selfish pride in the way. Outwardly the church is sadly divided—but the spiritual reality Jesus tells: one flock, one shepherd. That is the reality now in time, church is true believers who hear and follow the voice of Jesus, the One Shepherd, but also the future reality yet to come—the full restoration of the unity of the church around Christ in heaven. But now or then, it is still one flock, one shepherd. Jesus knows His own, and it is a great blessing to be known by Him, to be sought after when we were lost, to be carried when we were found, to be laid down in green pastures to feed and be kept safely in His church and in His arms. To be known by Him is to be loved from the bottom of God’s heart! The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. Shepherds and the theme of shepherding and sheep are a theme that runs all through the Bible. Name some major characters in the Old Testament who were shepherds.  How does the Old Testament portray God as Shepherd, and His people as His flock? Psalm 23; 95:7; 100:3.
2. Read Ezekiel 34 and Jeremiah 23. Who are the “shepherds of Israel” that God harshly criticizes in these passages? What are they doing to the sheep? What is God going to do in response? Ezekiel 34:11-16. How will God Himself care for the sheep after this?
3. How does Jesus directly claim this title in John 10? How does His ministry agree with the work of the divine shepherd described in Ezekiel 34?
4. What is the difference between the work of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and a “hired hand?” Why is their concern (or lack of concern) for the sheep so different? What different descriptions of the work of the Evil One are used in John 10:1-18?
5. What actions prove the goodness of the Good Shepherd? John 10:11, 14-15; Isaiah 53:6-7; Why do we need a Shepherd?
6. Explain and describe what it means that Jesus knows His own, and His own know Him. Read through the whole of John 10 for examples. Why is it a comfort for us to know this? How do we respond to and follow His voice?
7. Who are the “other sheep” that Jesus has? John 10:16. Isaiah 56:6-8; Romans 1:16. How does Jesus gather them in? How do we gather (or get gathered in? Romans 10:14-17. What beautiful truth does this verse (John 10:16) also reveal about the Church, under God’s shepherding? What sad fact often seems to run against this? compare and contrast to John 17.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Sermon on John 20:19-31, for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Quasimodo Geniti (1 Year Lectionary), "Confessing Thomas!"

Sermon Outline, expanded: 
**Church Trivia--the Latin name for "Quasimodo Geniti" Sunday comes from the words of the Introit: "Like newborn... (babes crave pure spiritual milk)" (1 Peter 1)--and the character in the novel "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" was named "Quasimodo" because he was abandoned at the church on that Sunday, and the priest gave the name.**

  1. On Easter evening, what still trapped the disciples? Fear. John 20:19? What did Jesus’ words, actions, and presence bring to the hearts and minds of the troubled disciples? Peace. John 20:19-20. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you…not as the world gives…” (John 16)
  2. When Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the disciples, what did He empower them to do? Forgive sins (of the repentant), withhold forgiveness (from the unrepentant) John 20:21-23. How does the church still do this publicly today? Matthew 16:19; 18:18. When does it happen in the worship service? Confession and absolution, start of service. Why are ministers of Christ authorized to speak this message? By Christ’s authority, spoken in John 20. Do they have independent authority to change the terms of His forgiveness? No! Can only mirror the forgiveness that Christ has already won. Mouthpieces to announce His forgiveness to all who turn from sin, and to call to repentance those who do not. When is the forgiveness of sins to be “withheld” or “bound?” When a person does not confess their sin before God. 1 John 1:8-10. For what reason? To bring them back to repentance so that they may finally be forgiven.
  3. Thomas was tested whether he would believe the report of the resurrection of Jesus, without having seen it. The other disciples had already seen, had a leg up on him. Often called “doubting Thomas”—which unfortunately highlights his lowest point—but if we were to focus on the apex of his faith, in just a few verses later, he might be called “Confessing Thomas!” or “Believing Thomas!” But Thomas experience helps us because  Thomas was stuck where many other people are stuck—can’t believe in the resurrection of the body. Now if a doubter or skeptic believes that—it’s not unusual, because it goes against our senses. Everything we see is that death is a one-way street. But just how far are you willing to take that? Is it an unshakeable belief? Nothing can challenge that? There is no life after death; no one can ever rise from the dead? Free to live that way, but have to ignore the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. The testimonies of many eyewitnesses (1 Corinthians 15 list!).
  4. Or, what about skepticism about believing the testimony of others? How skeptical are you willing to be? No one is consistently an unrelenting skeptic of everything that they haven’t seen or experienced with their own senses, or else you’d have to deny everything known about the past, anywhere and anytime, and about things, places, and events you’ve never seen for yourself.  Everyone has a threshold of evaluating what has compelling evidence to believe it.
  5.  How did Thomas and Jesus both measure how he did on this test? John 20:25, 27. Thomas: I will never believe. Jesus: do not disbelieve! How was his unbelief transformed into real, living, confessing faith? John 20:27-28. Saw the nail marks and spear wound—“Jesus’ credentials to suffering humanity” (see Jesus of the Scars poem…) and knew this was the very same Jesus who had been crucified and died on the tree. Knew that no fraud had been perpetrated on him, and there was only one thing to say: “My Lord and My God!” Only God could defeat death—doubt transformed to faith.
  6. How does this encounter address the claims of some that the resurrection is just an “idea” or a “spiritual hope”, but doesn’t have to do with real history, and whether or not Jesus actually came out of His grave? Had to be living, in the flesh, heart pumping, lungs breathing, brain waves moving…real living resurrection, or it’s all a lie and hopeless. Why  does this show that it is essential that Jesus actually was alive again? A dead Jesus forgives no sins! A dead Jesus saves no one! What hopes and doctrines would all be lost and shattered if Christ were not raised? 1 Corinthians 15. No rescue from sin or death.
  7. Why must faith avoid the opposite extremes of, on the one hand, gullibility and believing everything uncritically, and on the other hand, being skeptical of everything and unable to believe anything you didn’t see for yourself? Bible encourages “healthy skepticism” to not be deceived or taken in by clever teachers, but to test everything. Tells us to be wise, mature, reasoned. Does not  encourage gullibility or naiveté. How do we find the right “middle?” Who is at the center of faith’s “target?”  Jesus Christ, the Risen Son of God, and the faithful testimony of the eyewitnesses. John 20:28-31. All of John’s Gospel points to the importance of believing in Jesus Christ so that we may have eternal life and be saved.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sermon on Job 19:23-27, Easter Sunday, "I Know that My Redeemer Lives!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The book of Job is a remarkable book that is like a magnificent mountain range of great peaks and valleys worthy of deep reflection and exploration. Job was tormented by horrible suffering, having lost all of his children in a single day, all of his servants were killed by raiders, and he lost all his flocks and herds. As if that were not enough, he was then inflicted with painful sores all over his body, from head to foot. The book as a whole answers Satan’s jeering question, of “Why do the righteous serve God?” and the closely related concern of “How can the righteous trust in God in the midst of suffering?” While Job is by no means a perfect example of a believer bearing up under their sufferings and still trusting in God—he is certainly one of the most remarkable examples in the Bible. And our Old Testament reading from Job 19 has everything to do with the reason why. If the book of Job is a complex mountain range with great peaks of wisdom throughout it—then these verses in chapter 19 are one of the highest and most glorious peaks of all. In these verses Job confesses a faith that resonates down through more than 3,000 years of history till today, expressing his highest faith in God as our Redeemer, and the promise of the Resurrection.
Job’s faith was truly a “resurrection faith”, because he embraced promises of God that were miraculously and wondrously fulfilled the first Easter morning, many generations after his own death, because “Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!” After all he suffered, Job’s undying hope was “I know that my Redeemer lives!” He longs for these words to be immortalized in stone forever—but better than any monument, His faith rings down through the millennia to us today, and continues to inspire hope in the midst of suffering. Even inspiring a young Samuel Medley to write the famous hymn, by the same name. Those words have been written on the hearts of hundreds upon hundreds of generations of believers, long after any stone monument would have faded. In the midst of whatever trials, struggles, losses or grief you personally carry—cling to your Living Redeemer, Jesus Christ! He lives, He lives who once was dead! If no other help comes than this—that we are redeemed from the grave, that is a marvelous, sweet, and comforting sentence, that “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.
The word “redeemer” has a rich background in the Old Testament. It’s the Hebrew word goel. In the book of Ruth, Jesus’ ancestor Boaz is a “kinsman-redeemer” to Ruth and Naomi. In other words, he’s a family relative who bore the responsibility of rescuing them out of their distress. In the Psalms and Proverbs, a redeemer is defined as someone who “takes up the cause” or “pleads the cause” of someone in need. A redeemer is strong and able to speak up for the defenseless—to advocate and help them. To “redeem” their life. “Redeem” also means to “buy back” something. To purchase someone’s freedom—either by relieving a debt or burden, or by freeing them from slavery.
Jesus fills all these descriptions and more—and Jesus is the Redeemer that Job longed for. The Redeemer who would set his feet on the dust of the earth, in the end. Job looked forward to “my Redeemer”—one who could take up his cause, who could redeem his life from this suffering and misery. Jesus redeemed us from the curse and power of sin when He bore that awful burden on the tree of the cross. His suffering, dying breaths, His precious blood bleeding out, His priceless words of love, forgiveness, and truth, were all emptied out, poured out, as the costly price of our redemption. He paid the price in full—payable on death, to redeem us from sin and death. But His death did not go down in defeat; rather 3 days proved His victory, because Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! And you are redeemed by His blood, same as Job.
Earlier in the book Job repeatedly cries out that God is tormenting him with all these troubles—and repeatedly expresses his longing that God were a man, that he could speak to him. For there to be an arbiter or mediator—a person who could fairly hear and advocate for Job. He is sure that he has a witness in heaven who will stand up for him—someone to testify on his behalf. In all these longings, we and Job together receive our answer in Jesus Christ. Long after Job, Jesus came down to earth, to be the mediator between God and man, our defense attorney or advocate, who stands for us. All of our sin and guilt is laid upon Him, and His righteousness testifies in our defense. Look to your Redeemer for deliverance, and pray to Him as your Mediator!
Job continues to proclaim his “resurrection faith” with these words: “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” Job looks far beyond his present suffering to the hope that his Redeemer gives—that even after his body has entered the grave and decayed—yet in his own flesh, He will see God. In other words, Job is confessing our same Easter faith in the resurrection of the body. The body that rises to live before God, and the eyes with which we will see Him, will be our own, and not another’s! A glorious and healed body—free of sickness, pain, suffering, and death—but your own body nonetheless! You won’t be given some stranger’s body, but with your own eyes you will see God.
Sadly, for a variety of reasons, sometimes people “hate” their bodies—or at least they think or say things like that. Whether for health reasons, or self-esteem reasons, or because of some injury, emotional or physical to the body—some people actually regard their body as a trouble or problem. But this is not how we ought to think! Whatever flaws or imperfections we have or think we have in our bodies, are not even going to be a memory in heaven. In whatever marvelous way that God brings it about—you will be the perfectly restored new creation in Christ’s own image—but very much yourself. And there will be nothing to “hate” or dislike about our bodies; nothing weak or infirm; but we will enjoy all the goodness and fullness of the physical life and creation that God will make anew—yet without the fear and horror of sin. We can rejoice in our new bodies, living past this veil of tears in the joy and feasting of heaven.
On that first Easter morning, the fears and horrors of what the disciples of Jesus had just witnessed on Good Friday were all fresh in their minds. While some hid in fear, others, mostly the women and John, we know for sure, kept watch over the gory scene of Jesus’ death. Here was a man, truly more righteous than Job, suffering untold pain and agony—all unjustly. For no crime that He committed, with no lie in His mouth or sins upon His hands, Jesus was suffering, dying on the cross. How much more than Job, was Jesus the Righteous Sufferer? And all those fresh memories, searing with pain and grief, were in the minds of the women as they tearfully went to the tomb of Jesus, to pay what honor they could to their fallen teacher; their beloved brother, Lord, and Master.
And what a shock and astonishment to be greeted at the tomb, where His body was supposed to be laying in peaceful rest—to find it empty, and an angel sitting beside! “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” With complete shock and disbelief, the women ran in fear—because this was incredible news! News that was so incredible, it took some time to sink in. Sometimes I don’t think we don’t account for the sheer shock that they experienced, humanly speaking, before they saw the risen Jesus and began to believe this wonderful, astonishing news. But the clouds of fear and the horrible memories dispersed soon enough, as it dawned on them that Jesus had really kept His promise to die, and be raised up.
We gather this Easter, some 2,000 years later. And at least 3,000 plus years later than Job. And we’re joined with saints of ages past, and saints all across earth below, who are united in this holy and profound faith, that confesses “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.” We’re united by a faith that serves God—not because of the ease or the rewards in this life—for often there may be suffering and crosses instead. But a faith that serves God because of the confidence that we have a living Redeemer, an advocate, mediator, or defender—one who stands in our defense, and redeems our life. One who secures our redemption, not just for this short life, but for eternity. We’re united with Job and saints above and on earth below, by the faith that confesses Jesus—knowing that God is indeed good, and has interceded for our sins so that we can stand as righteous before Him. Our faith serves God, not because we can earn His approval or favor, not because we will get some guarantee of wealth or ease of life—but because through thick or thin, through blessing or sorrow—this sentence never fails us: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”
It’s a sentence that was never born from wishful thinking or a life out of touch with reality, but a sentence that was forged by a solemn trust in God even in the midst of terrible sufferings. A solemn trust built by God’s own grace and promises, that taught Job to trust God whether he received good or evil from God’s hand. When we confess those same words, “I know that my Redeemer lives”, we set our eyes on Jesus, who physically rose and walked from His own grave and death, and stood up, alive upon the earth, in the witness and eyesight of not only the apostles and women, but on various occasions up to 500 people. It is a sentence that has not been eroded or erased by the sands of time, but is inscribed on living hearts forever as a solid confession of faith in Jesus. He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleuluia! Amen. 

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Though many people focus on the element of suffering in the book of Job, God ultimately doesn’t answer the “why” of suffering in the book. However, that suffering serves to display a question that is explored by the book—“Why do the righteous serve God?” and therefore also “How can they trust Him in the midst of sufferings?” What faith does Job confess in Job 19:25?
  2. What losses had Job experienced in chapters 1-2?
  3. Why is the faith he confesses in Job 19:25-27 a profound expression of faith both in God, and in the resurrection of the body? How does he describe this hope he confesses? What does that say to us about the future state of our body, after death, and our experience of seeing/being with God?
  4. In the Bible, what is the role of a “redeemer” (Hebrew: goel)? Proverbs 23:11; Lamentations 3:58; Psalm 119:154. Hint: what do they  “plead” or “take up?” See also the book of Ruth, and the character of Boaz.
  5. Job 19:25 is one of a series of passages in the book that cry out for there to be a mediator/redeemer/arbiter/witness etc, that Job could appeal to, or argue his case with, or that would defend him. Job 5:9; 9:32-35; 10:4-5; 13:15-18; 14:7-17; 16:18-22; 19:23-27; 33:23-28. Why is it so important to Job that he have a man that he can speak to? What “cause” of Job, is he confident this redeemer will take up?
  6. How is Job’s hope and longing wondrously fulfilled in Christ? Galatians 4:5; Titus 2:14. How did “my Redeemer” stand upon the earth?
  7. In Job 19:26-27 he graphically describes what will happen to his body when he enters the grave, but also how it will be restored. What questions does this answer about our resurrection? Cf. 1 Cor. 15:35ff

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sermon on Philippians 2:5-11, for Palm Sunday, "The Mindset of Christ"

Sermon outline and talking points:

·         Many passages show Christ as “servant.” Mark 10:42-45—last and servant of all, ransom for many. John 13, washing feet. 2 Cor. 8:9, rich, became poor. Or the humility, lowliness and simplicity vs. His hidden glory and worthiness—birth in manger,  no place to lay His head, donkey entering Jerusalem. But at the cross, humble obedience is clearest.

·         In our everyday world—rank, wealth, power, or birth convey certain advantages or privileges. Owners and CEOs of big businesses don’t do low or menial tasks. Kings and presidents are honored, paraded, and red carpet is rolled out. Don’t usually see people do things that are “beneath them.”

·         Moments of lavish honor paid to Jesus: gifts of Magi, anointing by perfume/oil/tears, Palm Sunday processional, expensive myrrh and spices for burial. Never refused, but never demanded or expected. Accepted humble hospitality, and demanded no high privilege or treatment. Did not consider even death “beneath Him”—but humbly obeyed.

·         Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus  Jesus’ mindset, an attitude—shaping all His actions. Clearest display at the cross. For Christ, then also for us, have this mindset: ”who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

·         We are to imitate—not His divinity, but His mindset: not regarding His equality with God something to be held over others, or that everything was beneath Him. Of course everything was beneath Him, as He was God! But didn’t live like it. Became a servant, a man. Did what was needed without thought or regard to His importance, as real as it was.

·         Whether real or pretended importance—what is our attitude when an act of service is needed? When a Christian response is called for? Maybe little or no honor or recognition attached. Maybe unpleasant or dirty work. What attitude? Beneath us? Protest? Yes, but a chip? Grumbling? What about humble obedience? Joyful and willing service? No thought of honor, recognition or reward? Simple contentment to help, serve, see someone blessed, or the intangible reward of seeing the joy, relief, comfort, etc of the person who needs that help?

·         Mindset of Christ not just about “service” or “volunteerism”, but what He accomplished. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He wore the servant’s form, the human form, because it was necessary for Him to die. Could not die as an “unclothed” spirit. Had to enter flesh, become like us in every way, except without sin. The “down and dirty work” that required Jesus’ willing, humble obedience—becoming sin for us, that we might become the righteousness… bear betrayal, false accusation, hatred, scourging, stripping, crown of thorns, mocking, spitting, striking, nailing, thirsting, dying. His mindset of humility, obedience, love, greater than any nails that held Him to the cross—pure determination to bear the full cost of sin that everyone of us could be forgiven. Not our sins only, but the whole world. So we would receive a priceless gift.

·         Worldly mindset—boast, show off, propel yourself or climb to the top, demand your rights, don’t settle for less than your supposed importance or privilege demands. We see how God rewards this attitude: “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Mindset of Christ—total obedience to God without protest, accept what was given, do the greater good for mankind.

·         “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” God’s highest honor is to raise Jesus to the highest position with a name over all others, to receive the worship of all, and that all would confess His name for salvation, the whole world through, above, and under. This brings glory to God Himself, to have His Son honored, in the same, but lesser way that parents are greatly honored when their children win awards. End trajectory of history—this confession: “Jesus Christ is Lord” will be undeniable. Every person at last will admit it. Salvation for all who believe and confess it by faith! It’s the gift brought by the mindset of Christ—His life given to save ours!

Sermon Talking Points

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  1. In Philippians 2:5 Paul tells them to “have this mind…which is yours in Christ Jesus.” He’s urging them to the mindset of Christ—“think this way”. Paul uses similar words to talk about a Christian mindset or way of thinking in 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 2:2; 3:19 (a contrast); 4:8. Why does the Christian “mindset” or way of thinking seek after harmony? What does it focus on, and what does it avoid?
  2. This “mindset of Christ” is shown by certain specific actions of Jesus. Where is this most clearly shown? Philippians 2:6-8. Why were Jesus’ actions at the cross so unusual and amazing for a person of His authority, identity, and power?
  3. How does this “Gospel deed” of Christ’s humble, obedient death for us, transform our hearts and minds to His mindset? What acts of service might we be called to do? What attitude will shape how we conduct ourselves?
  4. In Philippians 2:6, it says that Jesus was equal with God, but in verse 7, what form did He take? Was death beneath His dignity? Why did He submit to it anyway? 1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 12:2.
  5. Jesus’ humble, suffering death became the way that God raised Him up to the highest honor. He took the lowest place so that we could be raised up (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9). Why does this idea of lowering ourselves, or becoming a servant, go so much against the grain of our human nature? Mark 10:42-45. What do we see as the way to greatness? How does Jesus contradict this?
  6. One day every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. It will be undeniable. This fulfills a prophecy of Isaiah 45:21-25.