Trinity 1 June 23, 2019
Faith and Love Go Hand in Hand
v.19-20 There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores…
Dear friends in Christ, the theme for this Sunday could simply be put as that old Lutheran axiom, "Faith alone saves, but saving faith is never alone." We see this reflected in each of our texts for today. In the O.T. reading, Abram is comforted by the Word of God concerning God's promise to give him an heir of his own body (though Abram had already been waiting for decades at this point). Yet, in the face of the Lord's clear Word, "[Abram] believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). So righteousness is received by believing the Lord's Word—faith. Furthermore, St. John records in our epistle the close connection between faith (love of God) and good works (love of neighbor). He writes, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him; whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:20-21).
And then we have our Gospel text, in which Jesus is telling the Pharisees (lovers of money and of self) a story about an unnamed rich man, and a poor man named Lazarus, whose name means "God is my help." The rich man dressed in the finest of clothes, lived in the poshest of neighborhoods, drove the fanciest cars, ate the choicest foods, and drank the finest wines. Being blessed with such material wealth and possessions he believed himself to be rigtheous—assured of a place in God's kingdom. How could God not love him? Just look at how great he was—what God had given him? This man lived in celebrated luxury—showing off ostentatiously—but he was truly poor in deed. For he lacked the one thing needful: faith.
How can you be so sure, pastor? After all, he is familiar with Abraham and the Scriptures. And yet, he had no love. How do we know that he lacked true faith in God—because he failed to love his neighbor in obvious need. The poor man, Lazarus, was laid outside the rich man's gate. No doubt Lazarus could hear the partying and the feasting going on inside as the rich man hosted the Who's Who of the local community. Lazarus' mouth watered at the smells wafting out of the kitchen—even as he hacked and coughed, growing weaker and weaker as the sores on his body opened and oozed pus and blood. But the rich man took no notice. He ignored the plight of this poor, sick man, even though he had every means, every opportunity to exhibit Christian love and charity. Lazarus, having been tossed before the rich man's gate like a sack of garbage—is ignored—except to be booted out of the way when the rich man left the house in his Ferrari. Only the dogs offered Lazarus any consolation—any mercy—by licking his wounds.
However, as is often the case with Jesus' stories, there is an abrupt and sudden reversal of fortunes. When does this happen? Upon the death of both men. Lazarus "died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side." How jarring this must have been for the rich man. He who had assumed throughout his life that, because of his great fortune and wealth, God had surely blessed him, and that he was therefore in a right relationship with God, only to find upon his death, that he was outside of the household of faith. Yet his lack of faith soon becomes evident to all when he opens his mouth to speak.
The rich man, being tormented in hell for his sin and unbelief, seeks not mercy from God almighty, but from Abraham! Nor does he even seek to be released from the anguish of hell, but rather only mild temporary relief, by using Lazarus as a servant. When he is chastised by Abraham, he then switches tactics, seeking to prevent his brothers from entering hell; again he desires Lazarus to be sent as a messenger—a tool. But Abraham rebukes him once more, saying, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them." They have the Word of God. Let them read from Holy Scripture what true faith is about—let them learn from the Word of God about the Word of God made flesh—He who comes to save His people from their sins—He who comes to suffer the torments of hell in the place of sinners and so set them free from bondage to sin and death—for a life to be filled with faith and hope and love. AGAIN the rich man argues! "'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'"
Beloved, faith and works go hand in hand, but this faith is only brought about by the saving Word of God alone. This Word that is proclaimed into your ears this day, moves you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to repent of your sin—your failure to love as you ought—both God and neighbor—and to look to Christ alone for your hope and salvation. To cry out, the Christian plea of faith, "Kyrie Eleison! Lord, have mercy!" We cry out not to any of the saints, be they Abraham, Moses, St. Peter, or St. Paul, but only to the One who can truly save—the Lord Jesus. He who has had mercy on us by coming to us—taking on our flesh—being burdened with the guilt and shame of our sin—suffering hell and the full wrath of God for our every sin on the cross—dying the death that we deserve—and then rising again to new and everlasting life. Christ Jesus has died for YOU! His blood has been poured out to wash you clean of every spot and stain—to soothe your troubled consciences—and to strengthen your weak flesh—in His saving work and life.
At times, dear friends, we are tempted (especially we Lutherans) to live our lives as if our good works don’t matter. "Good works do not save!" we rightly state, but that does not mean that we are neither called to do good works, nor that our good works are unimportant or unnecessary. For a faith without works is a dead faith—a false faith—a faith that leads only to hell. True and living faith in Christ always results in good works. The rich man did no good works—did not love his neighbor Lazarus whom he had seen—and so it is clear he did not love God whom He had not seen.
Listen to what James says in his epistle (2:13-18), "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." James is teaching exactly what Jesus is in our Gospel reading. Faith and works go hand in hand. We who have faith and trust in Christ to forgive our sins—also live our lives in love and service to our neighbor.
Beloved, you have heard Moses and the Prophets and the whole counsel of God. You have heard His Word that you are a sinner in need of His grace—a sick and dead man with no hope. Christ has come and opened His heart to you by pouring out His life's blood for you on the cross. Though convicted of your sin, you trust in God's Word of promise to you, just as Abraham did. You look to the covenant of grace God made with you in your baptism and rejoice. Knowing that though you are a sinner, you are a sinner for whom Christ has died, and who has been cleansed and healed by the saving blood of Jesus Christ.
Longing for God's grace and mercy, you are fed each week with the very Body and Blood of Christ from the Lord's own table. He does not provide you with mere table scraps to sustain you—but rather the rich banquet of the very Son of God—which is but a foretaste of the feast that shall never end. Though you may receive bad things in this life, yet you trust in God's Word that you shall be comforted in eternity—dressed in the robe of Christ's own righteousness, and living in the very home that Christ has gone to prepare for you, feasting for eternity with Abraham and Lazarus and all the saints.
Truly, we can rejoice in the words of that old Lutheran hymn, "Faith clings to Jesus' cross alone And rests in Him unceasing: And by its fruits true faith is known, With love and hope increasing. For faith alone can justify; Works serve our neighbor and supply The proof that faith is living" (LSB 555 v.9). Uplifted by the Word of Christ that dwells in you richly, and through which you hear and receive the forgiveness for all of your sins—your works of faith and love shine forth—all in joyful response to the One who died and rose again for you. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
In our text from John, Nicodemus comes to Jesus to ask him a question. Nicodemus himself is a religious teacher. I like to think of him as a seminary professor. Dr. Nicodemus has heard the teaching of Jesus. He heard how Jesus taught that salvation did not come from works of the Law, but only through belief in the Son of Man. This puzzles Nicodemus. This contradicts what he has taught for his entire life. But after seeing the mighty works of Jesus, he has no choice but to confess, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2) So Nicodemus comes to Jesus in humility. He recognizes this contradiction between his own teaching and the teaching of Jesus, who obviously has come from God, and seeks to have his error corrected by Jesus.
Jesus, knowing what is on Nicodemus’ mind explains the problem to him. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6) This is a major problem for us also. How can you, one of sinful flesh, be begotten of the Spirit of God? Jesus says this twice. Unless you are begotten from above, that is, begotten from water and the Spirit, you cannot be saved. (John 3:3, 5). It does not matter how great your deeds are, or how much better you imperfectly follow the law compared to the next guy, or how great you can convince yourself you are. You are NOT ABLE to enter the kingdom of God. You are sinful flesh. But, because of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, all of this is changed. JESUS WAS LIFTED UP UPON THE CROSS SO THAT YOU COULD BE BEGOTTEN FROM ABOVE THROUGH WATER AND THE SPIRIT. In your baptism you are born from above, born from water and the spirit. As one born of water and the Spirit, you WILL enter into the kingdom of God.
We will speak the Athanasian Creed today after the sermon. There is a section at the end of that creed that states, “Those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.” (verse 39) Now wait a minute. Is this section of the creed undoing all of John 3? Absolutely not! What is the truly good work that is worked in us as sinful human beings? It is faith in Jesus Christ! And remember what Paul says, this faith is a gift! It is given to us by grace so that no one may boast. All other good works we do flow from our faith in Christ.
Jesus goes on to tell Nicodemus how this will come to pass. The Son of Man descended from heaven. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15) Jesus uses this Old Testament story to explain the crucifixion to Nicodemus. The reference to the bronze serpent is a mini salvation event pointing to the ultimate salvation event; Jesus Christ upon the cross.
By Jesus’ death and resurrection, the vast distance between you and the Father is closed. God, who is spirit, assumed flesh. As the Athanasian Creed says, “[Jesus] is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born of the substance of His mother in this age.” (verse 29) What a wonderful thing to celebrate today, on Fathers’ Day. God, your Father, creator of heaven and earth, loved the world in this way, that he sent his only begotten Son. Jesus Christ became flesh and was lifted up upon the cross so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. This is the mystery of the Christian faith that we confess! As Paul writes in 1 Timothy, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up into glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16) It is through faith in Jesus Christ alone, his death and resurrection, that Nicodemus, you, me, and all people have access to the Kingdom of God.
In the Athanasian Creed we confess, “It is necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (verse 27) This statement is clearly backed up by the words of Jesus in our reading from John 3. Flesh begets flesh. And flesh cannot enter the Kingdom of God. But, because the spirit of God assumed human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, you are born from above by the Spirit of Christ. Because you are born from above (because you are Baptized in the Triune Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), heaven is no longer closed to you.
This is your catholic faith! This isn’t referring to “Roman Catholic”. This word “catholic” is the word used in the Athanasian Creed. The last section reads, “This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.” (verse 40). The word “catholic” with a small “c” means “universal”. This creed is a confession of the catholic (or universal) Christian faith. And the catholic faith is this, that you are a child of God, born of the Spirit of Christ, who was lifted up upon the cross for the forgiveness of all of your sins. All Christians confess this one catholic, universal faith.
This catholic faith is your identity. Through Jesus Christ, you are begotten from above through water and the spirit. In your Baptism, your sinful flesh is drowned and dies so that a new man, born of water and the Spirit, can rise again. You are begotten sons and daughters of the Father. You have been sanctified. You have been made holy by the Word of God who became flesh and was exulted upon the cross. You will soon approach this altar and receive Jesus’ true Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins. This is holy food for holy people. This is God, who is spirit, made flesh and blood for you! It is for you, who were of the flesh, but have been born from above, of water and the spirit. With all of the constant change swirling around you, your identity remains the same forever. This is now who you are in Christ: a Baptized, believing child of God.
Dear saints, this is your catholic faith: You have been Baptized into the triune name of God, and been born from above of water and the spirit. Because, by God’s grace, you believe this faithfully and firmly, YOU WILL BE SAVED.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.
Pentecost Sunday (Confirmation Sunday @ St. Paul) June 9, 2019
Dwelling in Peace with God
v.23 Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
Dear friends in Christ, what a blessed day this is in the life of the church! For this is the day in which we celebrate the coming—the sending—of the Holy Spirit by Christ and the Father to the church—this 50th day of Easter—also known as Pentecost. It is a day in which we remember with joy the tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church—wherein God manifested His presence with His people—giving them courage, comfort, and peace. [It is also a day in which we celebrate the confession of faith of two of our own: Destry and Addyson—as they confirm their baptismal faith before us all this day. A faith created and sustained by the Holy Spirit for, as the Scriptures declare, "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except in the Holy Spirit."] And we desire this manifestation of God in our own lives, too, don't we dear friends? We want the Lord to be with us in every trial, every tribulation, every joy, every thanksgiving. But how? How does God do this?
A very good question. In fact, that is the very question, asked by Judas (not Iscariot) of Jesus that immediately precedes our text. Jesus is with His disciples in the upper room. The Supper has ended. Very soon Jesus will be betrayed by Judas Iscariot to the chief priests, which will end in His suffering and death on the cross. Jesus has been instructing His disciples that even though He is going to go away for a little while, yet He will return, but He will also send them the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, "And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." To which Judas then asks, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world? Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."
So, how will God manifest Himself—make Himself known—reveal Himself? Through His Word that is kept by those whom He loves and who love Him. From this Word of Christ comes the outpouring of the peace of God—the all encompassing peace of the Holy Spirit—a saving peace grounded in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for sinners. Those whose lives are rooted in this saving Word of Christ in the Gospel need not worry about troubled hearts—or hearts filled with fear. Rather, those who cling to the promises of Jesus in His Word stand upon Him who died and rose again—having their sins fully forgiven by His shed blood—and knowing that the holy God: Father Son and Holy Spirit have made their home—their permanent dwelling place—in the believer.
Such is the case for you, dear Christian friends (especially Destry and Addyson). God has worked through His Word and Sacraments to give you His peace—to make His home in your heart—thereby preserving you from all onslaughts of the devil, the world, and your own wicked flesh. Jesus will not manifest Himself to the world, or make His dwelling place with them, since they reject His Word of truth. They would prefer to instruct Jesus on what is right and wrong, rather than be taught by Him regarding what is good and virtuous. We have seen this just this past week, as our communities celebrated another year of Pride Week, in which the sexual sins of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer community were put on full display—indeed, celebrated as that which is good, right, and salutary.
Amazingly, the world will tolerate any and all false claims—even false religions (we see how other religions are extolled), but they will NOT tolerate Christ and His Word. They cannot abide by it. It must be undone and broken. The sinful world seeks, then, to undo Christ and His Word at every turn. We are inundated with it in our culture, day in and day out. Sexual sins (heterosexual and others), along with unchastity, idolatry, filthy talk, etc. are exhorted and uplifted as something to rejoice over, rather than to repent of, and turn to Christ for forgiveness.
Beloved, be mindful of this, and do not fall victim to the devil's temptations. Do not succumb to the pressures of this world. For if you truly desire to see God manifest Himself—to dwell with Him forever in His kingdom—you must love Him and keep His Word. There is no other way. There is no room for mere lip service to the Word of Christ, followed by lives lived in rampant sin and wickedness. We are called upon as Christians to repent—to flee from sin and everything that goes against God's Word. For whoever does not keep God's commandments, but detests, despises, and opposes them—who even goes so far as to persecute those who truly love and hear God's Word—is not a child of God but an enemy of Christ and a child of Satan.
Do we as Christians fail to keep God's Word—to love Him and His commandments as we ought? Of course! But, called by the Holy Spirit, we repent and turn away from these things—confessing them as sinful and wrong—and seeking by the grace of God given in Christ Jesus—to do better—to live in accordance with His will—to receive with joy His mercy and forgiveness.
As you are faced with this dilemma in your life. As you sweat and grow weary under the constant pressure of Satan and the world to deny your Christian faith—to acquiesce and give in to the unbelief around you—fear not, and be not dismayed. For herein Christ promises that those who love Him and guard His Word—He will come with the Father to make you His dwelling place. Think about that! What more blessed thing could happen to you poor sinners than that you should be the dwelling-place, the pleasure garden, paradise, and kingdom of God's high majesty? In Him, all that you are and do will continue and persevere against all the gates of hell—against all the rage and fury of Satan and the world.
Beloved, this is much to the devil's consternation, but he and the world must let it be, whether they like it or not. For the Father Son and Holy Spirit have declared, "Behold, devil and world, We have built the house, founded the church: We will also preserve it from you, and you shall not prevail against it, but rather shall be broken upon it." So dear friends, take heart, for though the world and Satan may rage, storm, kill, and slaughter, yet Christ remains and abides with you. You are His Inn and dwelling place. Though the enemy take your body and your life, they cannot take Christ from you.
Indeed, the Holy Spirit will be with you, teaching you, until the Last Day. The church will remain in the world among all the unbelievers and idolaters, even among the devil and all his evil angels—as a lily among thorns. For you have the guarantee: He will abide with you forever. This will never fail you, so you can securely and joyfully boast that, because you have Christ's Word and believe, you also have the Holy Spirit, who comforts, teaches, and sanctifies you. For these are the works of His office. This is why He is called the Paraclete, Consoler, Comforter, and Spirit of truth.
The Holy Spirit comforts you in the midst of your sin—in the midst of your enemies—with the Word of Christ. He who has proclaimed to you, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." You have this abiding peace with Christ because He dwells in you, and because He earned this peace with His own suffering and death on the cross. His peace He gives, the highest treasure, so that you may have a fearless and joyful heart and a peaceful conscience in God. For in Baptism, God gives you the forgiveness of your sins, shuts hell, and opens heaven to you. In the Supper He gives you a living food and drink to comfort terrified consciences and give strength to failing hearts. In the Word He saves you through the preaching of Christ crucified for you.
So, when the world rages and storms against you, you do not fear. You do not blaspheme God and curse His Word. But rather you invite the devil and the world to rage and fume and afflict you. For you stand secure in the preaching of Christ Jesus as Saviour and Lord. He will establish your hearts on Him to rest in confidence in His precious blood. It is upon Him, this rock of Christ, that Satan and the world will be dashed to pieces and undone on the Last Day.
Look with what confidence our Lord Jesus went to His cross, saying, "Rise, let us go from here." For He knew the devil (the ruler of this world) had no claim on Him. For the attempted consumption of Jesus by death and the devil would end in utter failure. Christ, the life of all the living, would stick in the devil's throat and burst apart the chains of death. And neither do they have any claim on you, dear brothers and sisters. For Christ's going to the cross—His suffering and death—has served to bring you all good—indeed, all grace, salvation, blessedness, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. He who has claimed you as His own in Baptism, dwells with you in peace, now and forevermore. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Easter 7 – Exaudi (Vicar Anthony Mandile Installation)
1 Peter 4:7-14
v.8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Alleluia! Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Dear friends in Christ—especially Anthony—we rejoice on this day for the safe arrival of our newest summer vicar. We have much planned for you to grow in your understanding of the pastoral office and ministry during your short stay with us. We look forward to learning from you and being mutually encouraged by the Word of God. But it won't always be easy. It won't always be bright smiles and potlucks. There will be annoyances—especially when Pastor Quast wants you to do something strange—or when you finally grow weary of my weird idiosyncrasies and whatnot (at least you can commiserate with Jolene when that happens!).
Herein, of course, St. Peter has some wise words for us in our text. "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins." Believe me, there will be a LOT of loving going on this summer. St. Peter is talking about how we as Christians are to relate to one another as the people of God. We are to keep on in this Christian love until Christ returns—whenever that might be. And the church has followed this admonition for two millenia.
This is a great word, isn't it? Everyone likes to talk about love. Everyone likes to hear about how we should love one another. The world takes this verse and runs with it. Combining it with verses like 1 John 4:16, which states that "God is love." The world takes these verses and would brow beat the church with them so as to make us give in on certain moral teachings and Biblical values. It goes something like this: "If you really are a Christian, and really love God, then you shouldn't tell me that I can't sleep around outside of marriage/that homosexuality is sinful/that transgenderism goes against God's created order or that abortion is wrong. After all, love covers a multitude of sins, and God is love, so if you really want to love me like a Christian should, then you'll let me do what I want."
Beloved, this is what happens when we rip verses out of their context. We can make them sound like they mean anything we want them to. But let's go back a few verses in our text and see what Peter was actually talking about. He urges the Christian church to (1 Peter 4:2-5, 7-8) "live for the rest of the time in the flesh [while waiting for Christ's return] no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead…The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins."
So, in context then, loving one another means living self-controlled lives according to God's will and Word—NOT giving in to the passions and desires of our sinful flesh, but fighting against them with the strength that God supplies. We love as God has first loved us in Christ Jesus. We proclaim the full truth of God's Word to the nations and to the church—God's full Law in all of its severity, in order to bring about repentance—followed by God's Gospel in all of its sweetness, in order to bring people to faith and to comfort terrified consciences with the powerful message that Christ Jesus has suffered and died in their place to take away all their sin. This is the task of all Christians, dear friends, but particularly those who hold the pastoral office, which you seek, Anthony. And so this will be your primary task as you serve as vicar this summer.
As Christians, we are to preach Christ to the world. Christ the Judge and Christ the Savior. Christ who will punish the unbeliever's sin on the Last Day, but who also died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, which the believer receives by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Each Christian has been given gifts by God to serve their neighbor in love. Peter urges all Christians to be good stewards of God's grace: those who speak are to speak God's Word plainly and truthfully—pointing people to Jesus—even as the Holy Spirit does. Whoever, serves, is to serve one's neighbor in love with the strength that God supplies. Why do we love and serve one another in this way? Peter says, "in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."
That is great and wonderful. This brings joy to the Christian's heart—that we are freed by the love of God for us in Christ Jesus—freed from all sin, death, and hell—to serve others in love and faithfulness—not for our glory, but for the glory of God alone. We don’t love and serve our neighbor to earn "brownie" points in heaven. We don't do so to look good in others' eyes. Renewed by faith given by the Holy Spirit, we do so only so that Christ may be glorified and uplifted. It is always about Him. Every Word of Scripture proclaims Christ to us. And the Holy Spirit works through such proclamation to bring people to penitent faith—contrite for their sin—but trusting in Jesus to forgive that sin by His bloody cross.
However, do not think that the world will rejoice in this message, dear friends. Peter forewarns us here that Christians who love and serve others in this way—who faithfully proclaim the Word of God's Law and Gospel—will not be warmly welcomed. Indeed, you will suffer. The fiery trials will come upon you, even as they have already come upon other Christians through time down to our own. Christians suffering persecution of their livelihoods for refusing to use their businesses to celebrate abominable sexual practices and the destruction of the family and innocent life. "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you."
So what are Christians to do when we suffer persecution? Rejoice! Rejoice and be glad that you are also given to share in Christ's sufferings. For as you share in the sufferings of Christ—suffering for the sake of His holy name—suffering for holding on to His teaching and His Word—you also shall share in His glory. His glory that is to be revealed on the Last Day when He comes in power to judge the living and the dead. That day you do not fear—for that day is the day of the completion of your redemption and salvation. He who has bled and died for you on the cross will bring you to everlasting glory with Him.
Beloved, you continue to love and serve, even as you suffer. You continue doing so because you know that Christ's suffering on the cross for you has won your salvation. You have already been granted full forgiveness and eternal life and salvation. The Holy Spirit has worked mightily through the preached Word and Sacrament to give you the saving benefits of Christ on the cross.
What can the world do to you now? What can they take from you when you have everything you need and more in Jesus Christ. He who has called you by name in your Baptism, feeds you this day with His very own body and blood that He gave up into death in order to procure your redemption. His blood—given into death in love for you—covers over the multitude of your sins. Therefore, go forth in the name of Jesus. Confident in His never ending love for you. Rejoice in His mercy and love. Rejoice in the gift of the promised Spirit who comforts you with God's own holy Word day in and day out. Rejoice in the Good News that you who share in Christ's sufferings, will also share in His glory. For Alleluia! Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Easter 6 – Rogate (Memorial USA)
v.33 [Jesus said], "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world."
Alleluia! Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Dear friends in Christ, today is Rogate or "pray" Sunday. The sixth Sunday of Easter is set aside especially to uplift Christians in the duty and privilege of prayer—granted to us as a gift through faith in Christ. This year, this Sunday also happens to fall upon Memorial weekend in the U.S.—a time set aside to remember and honour all those who have died while serving in the United States armed forces. Truly, there is a great deal for which we ought to give thanks to God and pray.
Of course, prayer is becoming more and more of a lost virtue in our day and age—even among Christians. We struggle with finding the time and energy to humbly fold our hands, bow our heads, and offer up our petitions, thanksgivings, and praises to the One who is Lord of all. We scarcely have time to say a few quick words before gulping down our supper on our way to our evening activities—and by the time those activities are completed—after a long, hard day—it is difficult to focus the mind and heart before sleep overtakes us in our beds. And yet there is much for which we must pray.
St. Paul in our epistle reading today gives us some particular direction in this regard. Indeed, he urges "that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." I just attended the Minnesota LCMS pastors' conference a couple of weeks ago, where one of the main speakers was a pastor from the Minnesota Family Coalition—urging us (pastors and congregations) to lift up our leaders: federal, state/provincial, and municipal, in our prayers. The men and women who serve in these capacities desperately need our prayers and support as they seek to govern justly and wisely and make good and decent laws. We must try to get to know them—love them and support them—especially in prayer.
The past couple of weeks have seen both the good and the bad in terms of laws enacted by elected leaders. We have been blessed to witness some astounding pro-life laws pass in certain states. This is good news for the cause of life, and we ought to rise up and give thanks to God for these leaders and for any law that promotes and protects the gift of life that God gives. We have also seen some disturbing laws passed—most recently, the Equality Act just passed by the House in the U.S. This law is almost like an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which stated that it was illegal to discriminate against anyone based upon their race, ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, disability, etc. That was good law. However, the Equality Act comes with a twist. It inserts the phrase "sexual orientation and gender identity" under the heading "sex," meaning that it will be illegal to discriminate against anyone based upon their sexual preferences or current gender identities. We have had such a law in Canada since 2010.
So what? Isn't that a good thing? We don't want to discriminate as Christians, do we? Of course Christians don't condone discrimination, but this new law will open the door to force people to act against their religion and their own consciences—even down to the very words we say. To operate in the public sphere (which has also been broadened to mean more than hotels or grocery stores, but now includes any act, good, or service done in the public realm) will effectively put people of conscience on the chopping block should they disagree with the LGBTQ agenda. No one will be protected—not the baker, the florist, the photographer, the teacher, the pastor, the church—no one. Again, we have much to pray for.
The situation seems to be rather desperate. We have effectively lost the culture war. Our children and grandchildren and we ourselves are being constantly bombarded with ideas and messages that are in direct conflict with what the Holy Scriptures teach about human sexuality and identity. The world is fine with our teachings on greed, respect, work ethic, etc., but cannot and will no longer stomach the Christian teachings on sexual morality or life: from heterosexual fornication outside of marriage, to pornography, homosexuality, transgenderism, etc., to abortion and euthanasia—the message is coming across loud and clear. If you hold to Biblical teaching on these issues—you are a bigot, a hater, and no longer deserving of basic rights and protections. We have seen people lose their livelihoods to this already—and there will be more.
So, beloved, what are we to do in this desperate situation? Roll over and give up—give in to the culture around us—forsake the Scriptures and our faith in Christ? No! God forbid! What then? Should we separate ourselves as much as possible into tiny Christian communes away from it all—live more like the Amish—maybe even move out of the country to another place where Christianity is more welcome and tolerated? Again, not a good option for most of us. What then are we to do? First, we must pray. As St. Paul urged us to do, and as Christ commands his church—pray. Pray without ceasing. Pray for those in authority. Pray for wisdom—cool heads—for changed hearts and minds. Speak out in love the truth that God has given to us, even while receiving hatred and scorn and mockery—remembering to keep your enemies forever in your prayers—that God would have His way with them and bring them to faith in Christ through your gentle and persistent witness.
Our text focuses on the night when Jesus was betrayed. He is speaking to His disciples, telling then that the Holy Spirit will come and comfort them, even as they suffer. Jesus tells us this to give us peace—for in this world we have trouble. As I have just outlined, boy do we have trouble—tribulation—hardship—affliction as a direct result of persecution. Yet what else does Jesus say? Take heart! Be courageous! Have confidence and firmness of purpose in the face of danger or testing. How? How can we remain steadfast and strong in the face of such adversity—when our livelihoods—our freedoms—our families—even our lives are threatened? By remembering that Jesus has overcome the world—He has conquered it—been victorious over it (this is the Greek verb of the noun for the goddess of victory—Nike).
Jesus, with His suffering and death on the cross, has been lifted up so that all who look on Him in faith may believe and receive the forgiveness for their sin He earned with His own shed blood. Moses lifting up the bronze serpent on a pole in the middle of the desert so that those bit by venomous snakes could be saved, was but a foreshadowing of the greater One who would be lifted up in order to save all mankind. By His sacrifice on the cross Jesus has broken the curse of sin, destroyed the power of death, and cast down the devil from his rule of this world. Jesus lives! Jesus reigns! He is God in the flesh! It is to Him that we look and pray in good times and in bad. It is Christ whom we trust in no matter what. We don't need to explain away His Word—be embarrassed by it—but boldly proclaim it. He who has given us this Word is not a bigot or a hater, but the epitome—indeed, the very incarnation—of love itself. He loves all people—and desires everyone to be saved by coming to faith in Christ alone for their salvation. And we proclaim this full and free forgiveness to EVERYONE—NO MATTER WHAT. Be they our persecutors or enemies—or misguided souls who have fallen into sin—the blood of Jesus is enough to cover it all—to redeem it all—and bring life.
That means that our sin—our failure to keep God's commandments—to speak out—to live out our Christian faith (be it in sexuality or life issues)—even our failures to pray as we ought—are forgiven by the blood of Jesus. We turn to Him now in prayer and supplication and intercession and thanksgiving. For He has given us our lives—and preserves our faith by the giving of His own Holy Spirit. You, beloved, are His children. You have been washed by the blood of this Lamb of God who came to suffer and die for all sin. You look to Him who was lifted high upon the cross and see your salvation. No matter what the world may throw your way—no matter the tribulation and persecution you may be called upon to endure—you stand victorious already—for the Lord Jesus has declared you forgiven and free and granted you eternal life in His blessed name. And He has crushed all your enemies under His foot when He gave up His own life into death on the cross. But now it is He who reigns victorious, now and forevermore. In Jesus you have overcome the world. For Alleluia! Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.