Monday, June 22, 2015

Sermon on Job 38:1-11, for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, Father's Day, "The Immense and Human-sized God"

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). In the Name of the Father of Lights, and of Jesus Christ His Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Father’s day, like Mother’s Day, is not really a “church holiday”, but a national holiday that’s always on a Sunday. Even though it’s not a church festival, per se, God’s Word and the Church obviously has much good to say about the roles of fathers and mothers. But for some people, they can also be painful or awkward days for many reasons—we’ve never had a father in our life, or the father we had was bad, or because you were never able to be the father you wanted to be, or because I have fallen far short of my hopes and desires in being the “ideal dad.” But whether it awakens painful memories and awkwardness, or whether it fills you with great respect or admiration for a wonderful earthly father, for whom you are thankful, or somewhere in between—Father’s Day is a great opportunity to talk about our True Heavenly Father, the Father of Lights—the Creator and Maker of all things. “Our Father, by whose name, all fatherhood is known” (LSB 863:1).
The Old Testament reading from Job 38 struck me immediately as an amazing “father to son talk”, from God our Heavenly Father to Job. Job is such an amazing and expansive book, that it could never be squeezed down to a single sermon or even series of sermons. It’s one of those Bible books that you need to sit down and read through again and again. But even after your 5th time or more, you’ll feel like you barely scratched it’s depths. But if you don’t know Job, here are a few introductory points. Job suffers incredible losses of family, possessions, and physical health, and never has any understanding or answer of why it is happening to him. His friends come to comfort him, but almost all prove to be “miserable comforters” who come to completely wrong conclusions about his situation, and even blame him and speak in error about God. Job, for his part, pleads his innocence and the unfairness of it all, and cries out terribly to God for an answer or some deliverance. He at times goes as far as accusing God of using him as a target for His “arrows” as though God were ruthlessly picking on him for no reason. But Job never abandons his trust in God, and his final confidence that whether God gives from him or takes away, Job will always still bless the name of the Lord. And for that faith and patience, God gives Job his final commendation, and holds him up as an example.
Our reading today, Job 38, is just the beginning of God’s first spoken response and answer to Job. Job and his friends had argued back and forth and speculated unproductively about God and the what, why, and how. But finally God Himself answers. And it’s not the soft, gentle, father to son talk we might be hoping for. If you know the story of Elijah, in another part of the OT, you see a beautiful example of God coming to the discouraged prophet, and speaking to him in a “gentle whisper”. God comforts and consoles. But here God speaks to Job straight out of the whirlwind—the complete picture of what his life had become—spinning out of control and being ripped apart like a tornado. And this is how God answers: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” Job, already feeling pretty sorry for himself, is warned by God that he’s speaking foolishly, and has gone way out of his league. But get ready to stand up and face action like a man. God effectively says, “You answer to me—I don’t answer to you.”
God proceeds to describe in vivid poetry, how He built the world and universe, like He was wielding a God-sized measuring stick and pouring the foundations of the earth. A construction project the like of which our most fabulous sky-scrapers and ancient ruins cannot even compare. He describes how angels sang in amazing chorus to see creation take place. He asks Job where were you when I did all this? Who, but God, could tame the whole raging ocean that encircles the globe, and wrap it up and calm it like a newborn infant kicking and screaming, and place boundaries and stops for its proud waves? God continues to lay out His “job description”, if you will. He shows Job the size of His shoes, and asks if Job can handle.
Job eventually gets enough chance to admit he spoke of what he didn’t understand, and now he’ll keep his mouth shut. Feeling pretty small. At this point, we may wonder, why did God need to proclaim to Job His power and might, when Job was already feeling small and helpless?
I suppose that if our problems in life were all rather small and trivial, it would be sufficient to have a “god” that just cheered and entertained us when needed. But we don’t have a small god who is limited, distant, or “on call” for the rare occasion when we decide we need His help and want Him to come running like our servant. Rather, God is the infinitely powerful Creator and Master of all the universe. The wildest and most enormous creatures and forces of nature were made by God and answer to His command. He is all seeing, all knowing, and He is immense. Since God is so great, I can know that my problems are easily handled by Him.
But notice, that the conversation is not what we might expect from a bad example of a human dad puffing up his importance before his son, going on about the big, important things he does, and then saying something like: “I don’t have time for your little problems! I’ve got more important things to do!” Rather, God is speaking to Job, He has heard Job’s complaint and is answering. He has not merely cast off Job like a puny speck, and told him to stop wasting His time. A God that hears and that speaks is a wonderful thing.
But if you look back through the rest of the book, you find that Job’s longing toward God is greater than just that God would be big enough to handle his troubles. He knows that He is. But Job also longs desperately that God could be a man like him. That He could have a mediator to take His case before God, or that He could contend with God Himself. What Job urgently longed for, what He believed in and hoped for, but never saw—is what we now have in Jesus Christ. God coming in human flesh. The incarnation. God becoming a man like us. And in Christ Jesus, we have the one true mediator between God and man. The immense and almighty God became man-sized for us. He came down to our level, to reach us, to see and hear and touch and help in the flesh.
Jesus is the mediator Job hoped for. And in one of the most powerful confessions of his faith in God that Job made in the whole book, are those famous words: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he shall stand on the earth. And after my flesh has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” Job longed for his Redeemer, Jesus, who would one day stand on the earth. And Job trusted in the resurrection of the flesh, the body, and that future glory in which we will see God. All of this came to fulfillment when Jesus lived, died on the cross, and was raised from His grave. Jesus is our Redeemer, and he suffered and experienced temptation and trial in every way that Job and that we have—and He did it without sin.
So not only has God come down to our size, human size, and experienced life with all its sorrows and difficulties, but He also lived that life for us. His suffering was not in vain, it wasn’t a gimmick, or just for the sake of sympathizing with what we’ve gone through. His suffering actually accomplished something for us. The forgiveness of our sins. Victory in life over the grave. The swallowing up of death forever, so that when Jesus raises our bodies, we will no longer live in this valley of the shadow of death. Jesus suffered to give us His life and bring us into His future glory, so that we might one day stand side by side with Job, and see God with our own eyes in the flesh.
Job was left with almost all of his questions unanswered, even when God spoke to him. Job was put back in his place to remember that he was just a creature, and not the Creator. That his time on earth was precious short, and his knowledge and power were nothing to measure up against God’s. And we are left much the same way. We don’t have answers to all the “whys” of life, and the suffering and death of our loved ones, or even ourselves. Our time on earth is just as short, and I know that God would not “bow” to any arrogant suggestion that our knowledge or power is far superior today to anything Job as an ancient man could know or do. We are far from solving the most important mysteries of life, and the greater our knowledge grows, the more we realize how much we don’t know, and the more we realize this universe is enormous beyond anything Job ever imagined. But we are held just as much in awe at the power and immensity of God who made it all. And we are held just as much in faith and love at the goodness and mercy of God who came to earth in Jesus Christ, and redeemed us from our sins and sufferings. We have an advantage on what Job knew in at least that much—that we have seen and known God’s salvation plan come to its realization in Jesus.
We know that we have a mediator to take our prayers, our requests, and intercessions to God—and that God hears them for Jesus’ sake. We don’t understand God’s will and timing, in the why’s and when’s of how He answers our prayers yes or no. But we have a God who knows our needs better than we do, and expresses them by the praying of the Holy Spirit. And we have Jesus who intercedes for us because of our sins, and pleads for God’s mercy. So yes, we too have a Redeemer, and our Redeemer lives. Life may be a whirlwind, and God may often need to humble us, but He will also sustain us and carry us through. God is greater than the whirlwind, but He’s approachable too. If we can hear God as our Father, speaking to His dear children, we can trust that He knows, He loves, and we’re in His immense and human sized hands. So give thanks that we have a God-size God for our God-sized problems of sin and death—and give thanks that we have a man-sized God in Jesus who came to teach, suffer, and proclaim His rescue for us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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    1. The book of Job is a profound story of how a man put his trust in God despite all circumstances. It wrestles with the question of evil and human suffering, and where is God in the midst of all of it. By chapter 38-42, the end of the book, Job has not received answers to all of his questions. But what has he learned about who God is, and whether God cares?
    2. Job’s troubles were like a “whirlwind” as his life was spinning out of control and being ripped apart by a tornado. Does it surprise you that God speaks to Job out of the “whirlwind?” Read 1 Kings 19:1-18. Was there anything similar or different about the situations that explains why God in Job’s case spoke from the whirlwind, and in Elijah’s case spoke in the low whisper and not the strong crashing wind?
    3. What comfort comes in knowing that the terrifying power of the wind and the waves are handled by God as easily as swaddling an infant child? Job 38:7-11; Mark 4:35-41.
    4. Read all of Job 38-42. What does it teach Job and us about the whole scope and awesomeness of God’s “job description”, and all He is responsible for and able to do? How did Job feel at this realization? Job 40:1-5; 42:1-6. How often do we need to be appropriately humbled by God, to know who He is, and who we are? (cf. Romans 3:19-20). What happens when we forget our place, and think either that we are “gods” or judge Him?
    5. While Job is humbled, how does God’s conversation with Job and God’s approval of Job’s faith (42:8), and His restoration of Job (42:10-17), show that God had not simply cast off Job as a worthless speck, but loved him and was in control of everything Job couldn’t understand?
    6. In Job 9:32-35; 13:3; 16:19, Job longs for a witness, arbiter, or mediator between him and God. He longs for God to be a man, that he could speak to Him, and that God would understand. How is Job’s longing fulfilled and answered in Jesus Christ and the incarnation? Job 19:23-27; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; John 1:14. How does God intimately know all our sufferings? Hebrews 2:9-11; 14-18. How does that make God all the more approachable? Hebrews 4:15-16.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, "Body and Home"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul uses the analogy of a tent to describe life in our earthly body. Not everybody loves tent camping, but for many it’s a fun, summer family activity. But even die-hard campers—have stories of the frustrations of tent-living—floods and leaks, mosquitoes, cooking problems or food issues. And mostly we can laugh about them—because tent living is usually no more than a temporary vacation for us. But for Old Testament Israel, for 40 years, a whole generation of hundreds of thousands of people lived in tents on the move. Generations of Israelites afterward were to commemorate this in the Feast of Tabernacles or “Tents”, when they would live in a tent for one week, as a reminder of how God preserved Israel through the 40 years in the wilderness. The 40 years was no “fun camping trip” that could be cut short when things got uncomfortable and they wanted to head home early for the comforts of a bed and solid shelter overhead and underfoot. It was long-term.
When we think of it this way, Paul’s analogy of a tent to describe life in our earthly body is very fitting. There are frustrations of long-term life in this “tent” this body. But still, just like camping, there are incredible joys and freedoms to be experienced—and with the proper attitude of seeing God’s providing hand in it all—life in the wilderness for 40 years, and life in our physical body can be a joy and blessing as well, however long God grants us. If we’re not so narrowly focused on only the problems of “tenting”—we can actually enjoy the goodness and beauty of what God has made. Part of the enjoyment of this situation is to come to terms with the fact that this is not our permanent home or dwelling—that this “tent” or body is due for a permanent replacement. A building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Looking forward to moving into our new and permanent home in heaven is exciting and encourages us. At the same time, we are not to “hate”, loathe, or despise this physical body, as though our objective were to be rid of the body.
We do groan in this tent, being burdened. This is a simple realization that bodies ache, they suffer, they feel the effects of sin. They age and wear out like a tent. Tents aren’t made to be permanent structures, and anyone determined to live permanently in a tent is going to need a replacement much sooner than they think. Modern medicine can only extend our earthly lifespan so far, and despite the audacious claims of some to find a “cure” to our mortality—we all face the eventual wear down and failure of our body, the earthly tent. Young people mostly don’t feel or fear the limitations of their body, until they have a broken bone, or close call, that reminds them they are not invincible. Some lives undoubtedly are cut short long before we would expect, and filled with greater suffering than others. Older people tend to be more aware of their bodies’ aging and deterioration. Sometimes it brings on depression, despair, or even anger.
As an American culture, we are very uncomfortable in many ways with signs of aging, disease, and seeing death around us. Multi-billion dollar industries make their profits by exploiting our fears and insecurities about our bodies’ changes and signs of aging, and sell endless products to delay, mask, or repair any of these signs. It becomes dangerous and sinful when this turns into vanity, self-loathing or hatred. Going to extremes with our bodies—either buying into the false promises that we can forever hold onto youth and life, or on the other hand abusing and mistreating our bodies because we “don’t care anymore” and wish to be “rid of our body”. Both attitudes are unhealthy, but easy to fall into with the influences and messages we hear around us.
Paul draws us back to the Biblical ethic. We groan—we know this frail, mortal body has its problems—but we are not seeking to be “unclothed” or stripped of our earthly body/tent. Rather our longing is to be further clothed, so that what is mortal is swallowed up by life. The Christian’s attitude is not “how soon can I get rid of this awful body?”—but “I’m longing for the eternal body that God has promised me in Christ.” Your eternal destiny is not to be “homeless,” “tent-less,” or “body-less”, but to have the “house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” The eternal destiny of believers redeemed in Christ Jesus is to have an eternal home that’s not perishable, that doesn’t wear out, suffer, or “get broken”, but enjoys the fullness and goodness of the imperishable, spiritual body that God has made for us in Christ Jesus. This new body is our “further clothing”—the life that swallows up death.
This is a long-standing promise from God. In Isaiah 25, He describes the heavenly banquet He’s preparing for all peoples on His holy mountain. God says He will “swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Is. 25:8-9). It’s an amazingly beautiful promise, that God is going to swallow up death with life, and take away all sadness and reproach. Reproach is all the shame of our sins. All of the burdens, groans, and evil of this mortal life traces back ultimately to sin as the root cause. Our lives are broken and decaying because of the effects of sin. But Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection both swallows up death and removes the reproach of our sin. We are forgiven and made alive through Jesus’ saving work—so let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation!
This is the antidote to fearful, anxious thinking that our life is being swallowed up by death, and that we need the miracle drugs or surgery to put the brakes on aging. It’s not the grave that yawns to swallow us up—but life that swallows up death. By faith we believe this, and death should not terrify us, but we should be calm in the hope of eternal life. That is our permanent home. It’s also reason for us to see the value and purpose for our bodies, and what God has left for us to do in them, as we live in this earthly tent, the body. More on that later. But facing death, aging, and all the other groans of this body are not matters for the faint of heart. We walk by faith, and not by sight, Paul says. It would be easy-peasy if we could see and know every step of the way. You don’t need trust when you can see plainly and place your steps with certainty. But God calls us to walk by faith. Not that God is planting obstacles or stumbling blocks in our way—sin does that, Jesus warns. But we do have to trust that Jesus is going to lead us, guard our steps, and keep us from stumbling, even when we can’t see the way.
But the faith we are called to is not blindly walking off a cliff. God who have prepared us for this future life and resurrection has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. The Holy Spirit in you, is God’s guarantee, His down-payment or deposit, that He’s going to complete the whole thing. God is invested in you, and is not going to back out of it. We indeed might foolishly back out of God’s gifts and risk losing them, but God does not break His promises or guarantees, and even when we are unfaithful, He is faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. The Holy Spirit as God’s down-payment or deposit, means that God, who has “begun His good work in you, will bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). God is not going to leave the job half-done, or “default” on the “debt.” God is true to His Word, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is shown in the fruits of faith in Jesus Christ and in love toward our neighbor.
This is why we have good courage to “survive” this “tenting” experience, and have the right heart and mind in trusting God and His faithful care for us. God shows Himself to be reliable, so that we can trust Him through the inevitable dark times and places where we cannot clearly see our path, and walk by faith and not sight. The times when the fears and weaknesses of living in this tent/body are no joking matter, and it seems to our eyes like we’re left on our own. From the perspective of eternity, it won’t seem so, but here and now there will be real trials and tests of your faith.
But here and now, we have reason and purpose to live. Whether at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him. We are a new creation in Christ Jesus. God has invested in us, body and soul, with His whole self. His only Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for us, fully in for our salvation—so that rising to life again, He has a true stake in our lives, as God’s redeemed and adopted children. We were redeemed, bought with a price, therefore we are to honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). If you have trouble, for any reason, in believing or understanding what purpose and use God has for you and your body (you are a package-deal, after all—can’t have you without your body), then please talk to your pastor or another mature Christian. Our value and purpose in life does not slowly diminish and fade in this life, till eventually you are basically worthless. That is the lie of our culture—don’t believe it. Rather, know that you are redeemed and precious to God, bought with a price, and no matter the condition of your earthly tent, Christ has everything in store for the final redemption of your bodies, and the raising of them to glory. From that side of eternity, everything we experienced in this “tenting experience” will seem but a light, momentary affliction, in comparison with the eternal weight of glory.
The final note of the passage is judgment. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” All people, believers and unbelievers alike, must appear before the judgment seat of Christ—as we confess in the Creeds, He will come again to judge the living and the dead. But this passage also speaks of rewards—receiving what is due for what we have done in the body, whether good or evil. So how you live your life matters. But is Paul saying that salvation is by our good works, and damnation is by evil works? We find a little help by reading further in the chapter. Paul says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation—the old has gone, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). Then he goes on to add that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). And “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21).
Judgment before the seat of Christ is not a simple weighing of good versus bad deeds in a scale. Christ has removed our trespasses or sins from us, and He has made us a new creation in Him. All good works we do, that are counted and rewarded by Him, are by virtue of the new creation that He has made us. Further, He became our sin so that we could become His righteousness. The scales are turned to the good for our sake, because of the incredible goodness of what Jesus has done. We are saved by God’s gift through faith in Jesus. Rewards in judgment for the believer, are simply the overflow of God’s generosity on top of generosity toward us, as He works out the fruits of His new creation in us. Punishment for those who have done evil in the body, comes by rejecting God’s free gift; rejecting His forgiveness and righteousness. Then our guilty deeds remain with us, and we receive the just penalty.
But God has not prepared us for wrath, but for salvation, and because we face the judgment as a new creation in Christ Jesus, and with His generous gifts, we can do so with good courage. We come to the judgment not based on our own merits, but solely on the merits of Jesus Christ. Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! (Romans 8:1). Our redemption stands secure only in Him. Take heart! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

    1. What does the “tent” or “earthly home” represent, that Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2? What is the “building not made with hands” talking about? Why is it “eternal”? 1 Corinthians 15:42, 49

    1. What does 2 Corinthians 5:2-4 tell us about an appropriate Christian attitude toward our body? Is self-hatred or self-loathing of our created body acceptable? Explain in Christian terms why not. What then is our desire and hope?

    1. How does God guarantee this hope? v. 5. How is the Holy Spirit like a “deposit” or “down-payment?” Ephesians 1:13-14. Why can we be sure that God makes good on His promises? 2 Timothy 2:11-13.

    1. How does our confidence and courage in what God will do shape the way we live here and now, and how we think about and treat our bodies? 1 Corinthians 6:18-20.

    1. Is it wrong to have a longing for heaven? How is that longing balanced by a regard for our body and the Lord’s purposes for us here and now? Philippians 1:20-24, 29; 2 Corinthians 5:9

    1. How does facing the judgment seat of Christ at the end of everyone’s life, direct our attitudes and behaviors? Does Paul state this in a threatening way, to create fear? Why can the Christian face the judgment seat of Christ with confidence? Romans 8:1-17. How does this assure us that our justification, or being declared right in God’s eyes, is still by faith alone in Christ alone? How does this transform the way we live?

Monday, June 08, 2015

Sermon on the Service of the Sacrament, for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, "Worship Instruction: Why we do what we do, part 2"

Last week we talked about worship and the reason why we do what we do. We reviewed the order and purpose for the first half or more of the worship service, called the Service of the Word. We talked about the theology of worship, and how worship is like a “W”, not an “M”—because worship begins and ends with God and His gifts that flow down to us, and we return our thanks and praise to Him. Worship is not an “M” because it does not begin or end with, or center around me—but is initiated and sustained by the blessings of God’s gifts. Carrying that same thought into our teaching today, we are going to look at the second part of the worship Service, the Service of the Sacrament. In the Service of the Word God serves us through Jesus’ words, which give eternal life. In the Service of the Sacrament, God serves us through Jesus’ body and blood, given in the Lord’s Supper.
Before we dive fully into discussing the Service of the Sacrament, let’s pause and look at three items you should always recognize in a Lutheran church, and many other Christian churches as well. The pulpit, baptismal font, and altar. They may vary in size, design, or location, but these three objects and their prominence tell a great deal about the beliefs of the people who build the church, and what our theology of worship is. Worship spaces and architecture can communicate a great deal of Christian teaching, even without words. From the pulpit God’s Word is proclaimed, the words of Jesus, which are eternal life. From the baptismal font we receive and celebrate the gift of baptism, in rebirth of water and the Spirit. From the altar we receive Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. These three items visibly remind us that here among God’s people, He has promised to be present and to serve us through these gifts of Word and Sacrament. They are the means or channels that Jesus has established to grant His gifts to the church. In Word, water, bread and wine, body and blood, Jesus is present serving His people. Pulpit, altar and font draw us to and point us to Jesus.  
So why does the pastor wear what he wears? Let’s be clear that it’s by a tradition, and not by God’s command, and there is no one “right way” in this matter. This is a matter of what can or cannot be usefully taught or represented by it. We believe as Lutherans that traditions that uphold and proclaim the Gospel, and do not hinder or oppose it, can have a positive (though not absolutely necessary) place in the church. Explanations may vary, but what I have been taught and found meaningful for myself and teaching others, is this—the black uniform of the pastor reminds me of my own sinfulness, as a curb to my own pride. The white collar over my throat reminds me of the calling from God to speak the Gospel—the good news of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.
The white robe is a reminder of baptism and the righteousness of Jesus Christ that covers all our sins. As Scripture reminds us about forgiveness: 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.” And Galatians 3:27 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Every Christian is clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ that covers all their sins. And the “stole” that a pastor wears is a reminder that Christ has called us to bear His “light and easy yoke”—and that a pastor is “yoked together” with Christ, to work in the ministry to which Christ called us. We are therefore “under orders” by His gracious rule. The uniform is not necessary or commanded—but is a teaching tool that is intended to draw the focus away from the individual person, and toward the office to which Christ has called me, and the gifts He has called upon us to faithfully steward.
As the pastor stewards these gifts in the Service of the Sacrament, the second part of the worship service revolves around Jesus’ giving of the Lord’s Supper. Prepared beforehand by confessing our sins and receiving absolution, we pause again to share the peace, showing that we harbor no grudges or bitterness or un-forgiveness against anyone, but approach the altar in brotherly love and unity of faith. In the Sanctus, or Holy, Holy, Holy, we sing the threefold song of the angels that circle God’s heavenly throne, as seen in Isaiah’s vision in chapter 6, and also in John’s Revelation of heaven. Together with that heavenly hymn of praise, we sing the earthly cry of “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” These were the words the crowds sung to Jesus on Palm Sunday, as He rode triumphantly into Jerusalem before His death on the cross. Hosanna means “save us now.” In this song we acknowledge again that heaven and earth have met in Jesus Christ, who comes from the Holy Trinity in heaven, and came to earth to suffer and die for our sins, saving us from sin and eternal death.
The Words of Institution are the words that Jesus spoke on the night when He celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples, and established the Lord’s Supper as an ongoing testament and remembrance of Him. He took bread, broke it, and gave thanks, saying “Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you.” Jesus’ own clear words tell us what this bread is—His body. In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” In Jesus’ own clear words, He tells us the cup is the new testament in His blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins. We eat and drink His body and blood in a holy mystery that requires our repentance and faith. “New testament” tells us that a whole lot more is going on here than just a nice ritual that reminds us of something. Jesus was signing and would in His death be ratifying His last will and testament for His disciples. He was putting into effect the new covenant that God had long promised, a covenant for the forgiveness of our sins, to remember them no more. The Lord’s Supper delivers forward to us the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won for us on His cross.
And perfectly timed with that acknowledgement, and as we begin to receive Christ’s gift for ourselves, we praise Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John the Baptist first called Jesus this, when He saw Jesus coming to the waters of baptism. When we come to communion, we bring our burdens and sins, and lay them down at the feet of Jesus, who lifts and carries the heavy burdens of the sins of the world to His cross. Through His forgiveness He grants us peace with God.
As we have been “taken in” during the worship service, brought in to God’s gifts and blessings, so also worship prepares us for our sending—sending out. We pray after the Lord’s Supper, “we give thanks to You, Almighty God, that you have refreshed us through this salutary gift.” Salutary means “wholesome”, “healthful”, or “beneficial”. We have been refreshed and strengthened for good spiritual health in heart and mind, by God’s Word and by the Lord’s Supper, where we are forgiven and strengthened by Jesus’ own body and blood.
And having received this healthy meal, we “implore”—that is we beg or earnestly ask God—“that You of Your mercy would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another, through Jesus Christ Your Son our Lord”. So we are praying that Jesus’ gift we have received would strengthen us in two directions. Vertically in faith or trust toward God. And horizontally in love toward one another. The love of God that has fed and nourished us through His Word and Sacrament, is now strengthening us for our sending out to the world, where we “tell everyone what He has done” and “rejoice and proudly bear His name.” As we have received love from God, we are to love and serve our neighbor in return. We serve them with God’s Word when we tell what He has done for them, and we serve them with actions when we care for their needs, show Christ’s compassion, and live out our Christian calling in the callings God has given us.
Each of you has several specific ways in which you serve your neighbor in the responsibilities you have been given. That is the arena that God has given you to practice the command to love your neighbor as yourself. And when we leave this church, we are sent back out onto the mission field, which surrounds us everywhere! Everywhere that we live, work, and play, is an opportunity to give witness to our Lord and His love. God has called His servants in the church to prepare us for this task. Ephesians 4:11–12, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Pastors or “shepherds” equip the saints”. We serve you in worship by the Word of God, so you are equipped to serve others, building up the body of Christ. As members of the body of Christ, your hands, feet, hearts, minds, voices, and talents are the ways in which the body of Christ serves our neighbor in love. As Lutherans, we call this great truth the “priesthood of all believers” or the “royal priesthood”—to use the term from 1 Peter. This would be a topic for a sermon in itself, but in short you as Christians, by virtue of your baptism, are called to serve and pray for your neighbors, and this is a royal calling from God, because you are members and heirs of God’s kingdom!
Worship closes at all our services with the Benediction. Probably the oldest part of the Christian worship service, that has been used since 3,500 years ago, when Aaron, the High Priest of Israel, and brother of Moses, was commanded by God to bless the people of Israel and put God’s Name upon them. These words, from Numbers 6:24-26, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” The first thing to notice is the threefold repetition of “The Lord”—which like the threefold “Holy, Holy, Holy”, are both Old Testament hints at the Trinity. God has never changed in His nature as 3 in 1. Only the fullness of how He revealed that to us in time has changed.
That God instructed His people to be blessed in this way is simply marvelous in itself, and shows the character and heart of God. By our sins and stubbornness we have done much to earn God’s wrath and displeasure—to see His face frowning on us because of our sin. The book of Hebrews tells us how earthly fathers (Hebrews 12:10), “disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he [our heavenly Father] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” If as imperfect parents, we have turned frowns toward our children’s bad behaviors, and attempted to correct them, how much more the perfect, wise discipline of our loving eternal Father. And yet as we have confessed our sins, been cleansed and forgiven by both His Word and His own body and blood—we have been restored through Jesus Christ to full communion or fellowship with God. Only by His removal of our sins, can we now safely have fellowship with God. He has removed the barrier between us, and God’s smile and favor has been restored toward us. Just as a parent’s face softens with love toward the tearful or remorseful child, so also God’s heavenly face shines down lovingly upon us as we hear the benediction. The Son of Man first served us, gave His life as a ransom for us, and adopted us as God’s own children. And the face of God that we see in Christ Jesus is the face of His mercy and grace welcoming us and giving us His peace. What better sending?
And with the closing “Amen” we declare, sing, or exult our “Yes! Yes! It shall be so!” to God’s Word. Amen says “I believe it” and means we have put our confidence in God to do what He has promised, and to answer our prayers according to His will. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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    1. Review: Why is worship a “W”? (Meaning the direction flows from God down to us and returns back to Him)  Who is the first to serve? Mark 10:45; 1 John 4:19. What is our response to Him?
    2. What three items are prominent features in almost all Lutheran churches? What gifts of Christ do they point us to, and how do they illustrate that Christ first serves us in worship? John 6:68; Matthew 28:19-20; 26:26-28
    3. How does the pastor’s uniform remind him of his sin? Of his calling to proclaim Jesus’ forgiveness? How are all Christian’s reminded of the righteousness of Jesus that we are clothed in? Isaiah 1:18; Galatians 3:27. How are pastors to steward Christ’s gifts? Luke 12:42-48; 1 Cor. 4:1-2.
    4. What do the words of the Sanctus or “Holy, Holy, Holy” teach us about God and Christ? Isaiah 6:3; Matthew 21:9. When and where were these words originally spoken?
    5. What do we mean by the “Words of Institution”? Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. What does Jesus say the bread and wine are?
    6. What is a “testament?” What is so significant about Jesus establishing a “new” testament? Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 9:15-18.
    7. Why are the gifts we have received in the Lord’s Supper and the rest of service “salutary” or “healthy and wholesome?” How have we been refreshed? What are we prepared and sent out to do? 1 Peter 2:9.
    8. What are your callings or “vocations” in life? In the areas of society, family, or church? What responsibilities are you given, and how is that guided by your Christian faith and what Jesus has done for you?
    9. How are pastors to help Christians carry out these responsibilities? Ephesians 4:11-12.
    10. The closing words of the service are perhaps the oldest in all the service. Numbers 6:24-26. Why did God command this blessing over His people? What does it mean to have God’s discipline? Hebrews 12:10. What does it mean to have God’s favor shine upon us? What does Amen mean?