Monday, July 17, 2017

Funeral Sermon for Charles L. Gralewski: "Life in Jesus' Word"

+ Funeral Service for Charles Louis Gralewski: November 4, 1936 – July 1, 2017 +
Isaiah 43:1-3, 25; Romans 5:1-11; John 3:16-18
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

For Chuck, words were his life. Like the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Paul, Chuck spent many years preaching and teaching God’s Word. In his 43 years of sales he used words as he served others in the food industry. And he never tired of reading and studying God’s word, whether it was something from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or inwardly digesting God’s Word in the book of Romans.

More recently, he shared his love and joy of words with Audrey in their daily life together, their love of receiving God’s Word together, and their conversations and adventures to Hawaii, among many other places. And of course, Chuck’s unforgettable, joyous words of greeting, “Hey, brother!”

Yes, Chuck had a love and joy of words. And yet, as great as these words were, God’s Word was his greatest joy.

That’s because he believed, taught, and confessed, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, that “There is no human word of comfort strong enough to those who have been afflicted by death. It is God’s own word alone which helps us to the right vision of things and which gives us a brave and quiet heart in such troubled times.”[1]

In life and in death, God’s Word was Chuck’s life. The Scripture readings we hear today proclaim God’s salvation, promise, comfort, and life that belongs to Chuck, and to each of you, in his Word. 

God’s Word calls us by name, just as he did Chuck. By water and the Word, God placed his saving name - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – upon Chuck in Holy Baptism, as he does in your Baptism. As the Lord created and formed us in the womb giving us earthly life, so too, he creates and forms us to be his children giving us eternal life in body and soul in those blessed baptismal waters. In Baptism you are, as Chuck is, a new creation in Christ. As the prophet Isaiah declares to Chuck and to you: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

God’s Word calls also us to a life of repentance of our sin while revealing our Savior from sin in Jesus, just as St. Paul declares in Romans 5:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 

Chuck knew that God’s word had plenty to say about our sin; that it separates us from God and from each other; that the wages of sin is death; that we indeed are great sinners. But he also knew that God’s Word had even more to say about our salvation in Jesus, a Savior greater than our sin. A Savior who took our weakness, failures, sin, and death upon himself. The cross is the path to victory. The cross is his triumph over suffering [and our sin and death] (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, p. 92).

For Chuck, and for you, “God is a God who bears. The Son of God bore our flesh, he bore the cross, he bore our sins, thus making atonement for us. In the same way, his followers are also called upon to bear…and that is precisely what it means to be a Christian” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, 92).

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This was the confession Chuck made at his confirmation, throughout his life, and at the end of his life. God’s Word gave Chuck life.

And yet, that is not the end of God’s promises for Chuck or you. God’s Word will continue to be Chuck’s life as well. As God’s Word declares in John 3:

God loved the world in this manner, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 

God’s Word is eternal life for Chuck and you as well. For God’s Word is unlike any other word. I may command the lights to turn on but they won’t; I may yell at the stoplight or the referees on TV but it won’t turn green any faster and the ref won’t reverse their call because of my word. But God’s Word, on the other hand, well, his Word does what he promises. God’s Word says let there be light; God’s Word calms the storms, heals paralytics, and raises the dead. And it happens. Jesus speaks and gives life to Chuck and to you.

God’s Word is Chuck’s life and yours yesterday and today…but also tomorrow and every day after, even to eternity.

God’s Word and promise of eternal life is the hope that Chuck died in, and the Word that will raise him and all the faithful in Christ on the Last Day. Everything Jesus did, he did for Chuck, and for you. He died to set you free from sin and death. He rose so that in him you will rise again. And just as the Lord called Lazarus forth from his tomb by his Word, so too, he will call Chuck and each of us from death to life…by his Word.

To quote Bonhoeffer once more…“The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day…I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ…Only in the Holy Scriptures do we learn to know our own history.”[2]

This is our hope and comfort. We live our life together under the Word of the cross awaiting with our dear brother Chuck, and all who rest from their labors, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, that great and glorious endless day. And in the meantime, God speaks and delivers his strength, healing, and life in his Word; hope, comfort, and salvation in God’s Word; pardon, peace, and promise in God’s Word.

God’s Word is Chuck’s life, and yours - today, and always.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, vol. 13, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007, p. 409.

[2] Bonhoeffer, Life Together, NY: Harper Collins, 1954, p. 54.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sermon for Pentecost 5: "Christ Crucified is Our Rest"

+ 5th Sunday after Pentecost – July 9th, 2017 +
Series A: Zechariah 9:9-12; Romans 7:14-25; Matthew 11:25-30
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Now that summer is here I can finally rest and relax. Now that I’m retired, I’ll have plenty of time to rest. Now that the weekend is here I’ll be able to rest after a busy week.

We’ve all had these or similar thoughts before. But then the family calendar fills up with road trips and adventures; retirement proves to be busier than a 40-hour work week; and the weekend is always too short to finish the to-do list.

When we feel like we need a vacation from our vacation; or when we’ve had a particularly long or stressful week at work; or when family, friends, or dear brothers or sisters in Christ suffer illness or die - we grow weary. We long for rest.

Rest for our body and mind is important for our physical and mental health and we pray for this in the Lord’s Prayer when we pray “give us this day our daily bread”. We pray for our heavenly Father to provide all we need for this body and life. And he does, daily without any merit or worthiness in us, out of his pure, fatherly divine goodness and mercy.

But we also pray for daily bread from the Lord’s table, healing, strength, and sustenance for our spiritual well-being as well. Rest for our soul.

This is the kind of rest our heavenly Father gives us in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day as we receive the Lord’s gifts.

But right about then our sinful flesh chimes in with a lame excuse like, “I just love to rest and be close to God on the beach” or wherever. Problem is, Jesus never promised eternal rest, forgiveness, life, and salvation to be given on the beach with our toes in the water and rear-end in the sand. Jesus promises to be with us in the word and water of Holy Baptism, the forgiveness of Absolution, the body and blood of the Lord’s Supper.

We rest in the grace, mercy, and peace of Jesus crucified for you. In the rest and peace of sins forgiven. In the rest Jesus provides: As the Psalms sayAs the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. (Ps. 42:1)

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Ps. 84:2)

Or, as St. Augustine once wrote, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until we find our rest in Thee.” The rest we need - the rest we long for - Jesus promises: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Israel longed for an eternal Sabbath rest. They were weary from from sinful rebellion, burdened by false teachers and idolatry; they were dead tired and dead in sin when the prophet Zechariah declared words of hope and promise for Israel and for all...Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
St. Paul also longed for rest from his daily war with his own sinful flesh. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Oh wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

Paul found rest – not in himself - but in Christ Crucified. Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The disciples too, longed for rest. As Jesus spoke of rest in Matthew 11 they were already beginning to feel the heavy laden cross of discipleship.

Like Israel, St. Paul, and the disciples we long for and need rest. Like Israel we’re daily surrounded by idols - both without and within - that threaten to lead us astray from Jesus crucified to the Jezebels and Delilahs of the world. The world offers ever increasing pleasures with an ever diminishing return. Hope and longing quickly turn to disappointment, despair and distrust.

Like St. Paul, we wrestle daily with (what Luther called) our maggot sack of the sinful flesh. St. Paul wrote Romans 7 when he was a Christian. He understood our heavy burden of sin. Paul doesn’t give us a spoonful of sugar with the Law. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

It’s not pretty, popular, or palatable, but it’s true. This body of death. That’s why we’re so weary and tired. It’ all symptomatic of our sinful heart of darkness within. Our conscience is heavy laden with the weight of our sins in thought, word, and deed, with what we have done and left undone. Who will rescue me from disease, disaster, despair, and death? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And like the disciples, Jesus must reveal his easy yoke to us. It comes only by grace, through the cross. Jesus teaches them, and us in these words, that the way to find rest is to trade the heavy burden of our failure, weariness, and sin for Jesus’ easy yoke.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

It’s worth noting that the noun for disciple and the verb “to learn” in this section are from the same root word in the Greek. It’s a reminder that the disciple - and that includes us - is always learning. And what are we to learn? Jesus’ promise:

Learn from me, that I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Jesus crucified is the refuge of the weary. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus’ death on the cross for you is our resting place. On the cross Jesus labored under the weight of our sin, bore the yoke of the cross, God’s punishment for sin, and the grave for you. Jesus exchanges the heavy burden of
our sin for his light and easy yoke of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Jesus had no place but the cross and the grave to rest his head so that you receive eternal rest in him.

Like Israel, our rest is found in King Jesus, who gives us his righteousness and victory over sin and death in the Absolution.

Like St. Paul, we find the end of our war against our sinful flesh in the flesh of Jesus crucified for us, given to us in his body and blood given in the Lord’s Supper.

Like the disciples, Jesus promises not to take us out of the world, but to overcome the world for us, and call us into his family by adoption through grace in Holy Baptism.

We may not always find lasting rest in this life. But the rest we need and long for is given just as Jesus promises: in his word, water, body and blood, we have an eternal Sabbath.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sermon for Trinity Sunday:

+ Trinity Sunday – June 11th, 2017 +
Series A: Genesis 1:1-2:4; Acts 2:14, 22-36; Matthew 28:16-20
Confirmation Day
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In Disney’s Toy Story trilogy, the toys who are the main characters belong to a boy named Andy. And like most young boys, Andy loves his toys, so much in fact, that he writes his name on the foot of each one. To be one of Andy’s toys, to have his name written upon their foot, means they are loved, they are treated more like family than toys; and above all, they are Andy’s own prized possession, they belong to Andy and no one else.

So, what does Toy Story have to do with Trinity Sunday and Confirmation day? Well, it’s not because of the famous Pixar trio of Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and Jesse.

It’s all in the name. No, not Andy’s name.

The Name. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today as we celebrate Trinity Sunday and Confirmation day we hear Jesus’ command and promise to his disciples, his church, and to you.

 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Baptize. Teach. This is what Jesus calls his church to do. Nothing else matters: baptize in Jesus’ name and teach Jesus’ Word. Receive Jesus’ baptism washed over you. Hear Jesus’ absolution declared to you. Take, eat and drink, Jesus’ body and blood given and shed for you. Everything else we say or do in this place exists to serve, support, and deliver God’s gifts.

That’s why our catechumens and families are here today. That’s why we’re here today. Not to witness a graduation from confirmation. There’s no such thing. Rather, to receive the Lord’s gifts in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day, and in the Lord’s name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

To continue to receive his gifts in water, word, body and blood is how we remain faithful to his command and live in his promise in Matthew 28.

Like our catechumens, you are baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We have a new identity. Beloved. In Holy Baptism, you are loved; you are no longer slaves to sin, but sons of righteousness; God writes his name – not on your foot – but upon your forehead and heart with the blood of his cross to mark you as one redeemed by Christ crucified. You are God’s own chosen people; you belong to him and no one else: not sin, death, or the devil.

Today, Jesus gathers us to receive his gifts in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This Name by which we enter God’s family is the Name by which we enter his house. We’re called to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures as his inspired Word, to confess the doctrine of the Scriptures summarized in the Small Catechism, to receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully, and to suffer all even death rather than fall away from Christ’s church.

To do this faithfully means to confess that we are unfaithful. To believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe, but only by the Holy Spirit. I do, by the grace of God!
For like our catechumens, we’ve confessed before our brothers and sisters in Christ that we intend to live according to the Word of God in faith, word, and deed…and yet we haven’t.

That’s why the most important vows and promises made on Confirmation Sunday aren’t the ones spoken by the catechumens, past or present. More important by far is Jesus’ Word, who by his Word keeps his vows to save you in his death and resurrection for you. As good as our confirmation vows are, Jesus’ promise to each of you in Holy Baptism is the greatest promise of all.

Like the disciples, the first catechumens, we have doubts, fears and, anxieties. There will be days when we fail to keep our vows and sin against the Lord, just as the disciples did. But there will never be a day when Jesus forsakes you. The love of Jesus crucified is with you always.

Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

A blessed Trinity and Confirmation Sunday to each of you.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sermon for Easter 7: "Kept in the Name"

+ 7th Sunday of Easter – May 28th, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Acts 1:12-26; 1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Names are important. Huntington Beach is known around the world as Surf City, USA. Parents choose their children’s names with meaning, family history, or the way a name sounds: Zoe is the Greek word for life in the New Testament; Jonah is Hebrew for dove and Jesus names Jonah when he gives the sign of Jonah predicting his own resurrection. We name our instruments, cars, boats, and airplanes, as our own Steve Snyder has written about. Names are important in everyday life.

And even more so in Scripture. Adam means earth for he was created from the dust. 
Abraham means father of many nations, for from his offspring comes one who will bless all nations. Even God has a name he gives his people to call upon: YHWH, the Lord, Jesus (which means YHWH saves), and many more.

As we pray in the confession every Sunday: Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Along with Jesus’ many names, he has many titles. He is prophet, fulfilling and proclaiming God’s Word as the Word made flesh. He is King, who rules and reigns in his death, resurrection, and ascension for us.

And in today’s Gospel reading we hear Jesus in his priestly role, praying to the Father, praying for his disciples, praying for you, that you would be kept in the name of the Lord. In his high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prays:

Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

This is the Name God revealed to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3. I am who I am.” “Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.’”

YHWH. I AM WHO I AM. This is God’s personal name. The Name of YHWH was a reminder that this God, and he alone, was their God, their redeemer and savior. With the Name of YHWH came his power and authority. Later in Exodus when YHWH instructs Moses to build a tabernacle for the sacrifices for sin, he declares:

In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.

Wherever YHWH’s name is, there is his peace, presence, and blessing. Miriam and the host of Israel sang of God’s salvation by the shores of the Red Sea: “I will sing unto YHWH (the Lord), for he has triumphed gloriously, the horse and rider he has thrown in to the sea.” God kept Israel safe and saved them by his name.

The Psalms are full of similar songs of praise, such as Psalm 100: YHWH is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. God promises to keep us in his steadfast love by his name.

Many centuries later, the prophet Isaiah declared that YHWH would also be known by another name…

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Immanuel, God with us. Through the prophets, and down through the centuries, God kept his promise by his name and revealed his name in yet another way. No longer would the Name of the Lord be seen in the burning bush. No longer would the tabernacle and temple be the place of God’s dwelling. Now YHWH’s glory, peace, presence, promise, salvation, blessing, and his Name, would be made known to you in the God-man Jesus.

As the angel told Joseph concerning Mary, She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

That’s what the name of Jesus means: YHWH Saves.

This is what the Father sent His Son to do, save you, me, and the world by his name. It’s good that Jesus gives us an example of prayer, as he does in the Lord’s prayer. We pray hallowed be Thy name. But even the best examples God gives us still reveal our sin. Because even though it’s true that God’s name is holy in itself, we don’t always keep God’s name holy among us. We curse, swear, or deceive by his name. We fail to call upon his name in every trouble, pray, praise, or give thanks to him. We live contrary to God’s name and the name he baptized us into in our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Jesus prays that we would be one, and yet we quarrel and bicker with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, we sow discord and despair with our words to others. We see the church in this country and around the world plagued by false teaching that profanes the name of the Lord in the church and among the unbelieving world.

As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6, And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

This is why Jesus prays for his disciples and for you. That you would be kept in the Father’s Name. It’s good that Jesus gives us an example of prayer in the Lord’s Prayer. But it’s also good that Jesus prays for us, to keep us in the name of the Lord.

That’s Jesus’ work as our great high priest; he is constantly praying for us, intereceding on our behalf, showing the Father his wounds that cover our sin, pleading with the Father to look, not at the filth of our sin, but at the blood of his cross. Jesus is enthroned forever as God and man, your advocate, so that you hear in this place that your sins are forgiven in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Father, keep them in your name…

This Lord who keeps you in his name also calls you by name, writes your name in the Lamb’s book of life.

Jesus reveals God’s name for you, YHWH saves. Jesus saves you.

Jesus gives you faith in his Word, that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:19-20).

Jesus joins you to his own death and resurrection; he keeps you in the ark of his church in Baptism where you are washed with water and word in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus promises that wherever two or three of us are gathered in his name, he is with us in the water, word, body and blood where he promises to dwell with us and for us.

As we come to the Lord’s table to receive his body and blood for our forgiveness we sing, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 

We come into God’s presence in Divine Service in his name, and we are sent out again into the world, into our vocations in his name at the end in the benediction as well.

Jesus sends his church into the world to teach his Word and baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, promising to be with us always, to keep us in his name.

Jesus calls us in our Baptism to honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.

As Jesus prayed for his disciples and sent them out, so too, he prays for us and sends us out into the world to declare the name of the Lord, who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Holy Father, keep us in your Name.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sermon for the Ascension of our Lord: "Jesus' Story"

+ The Ascension of Our Lord – May 25th, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesian s1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Note: Special thanks to Rev. Dr. Carl Fickenscher in the Series B, 2009 Concordia Pulpit resources (volume 19, part 2) for the theme and influence in this sermon.  

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

You can read The Lord of the Rings without reading The Hobbit or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without first reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. And you can certainly enjoy watching Disney’s Finding Dory without having seen Finding Nemo first. But sometimes the sequel doesn’t make much sense until you read book one or watch the first movie in a series.

The story of Jesus is no different. Listen to how Luke begins the book of Acts.

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up,

Luke is directing our attention back to his Gospel, the first book. Perhaps, like many readers who get to the end of a good book, Theophilus wanted more. Well, here’s the sequel in the book of Acts.

In Book One, Luke records the details of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. Book One ends with our Gospel reading for today, 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And yet, Luke tells us, this is only what Jesus began to do and teach. Like all good authors, Luke left the story of book one open for a sequel.

The Book of Acts is Luke’s Book Two. If Book One is the story of the work Jesus began and accomplished for us on the cross, Book Two is the story of how Jesus’ work continues through us. If book one is the story of the Gospel, Book Two is the story of Jesus’ gospel in the lives of his people then and now.

And of course, to understand all that, Book One is required reading.

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,  until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.  He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Luke wants us to read and hear his books together. Because without Book One (Luke’s Gospel), Book Two (the Book of Acts) doesn’t make sense. Without Luke’s Gospel we wouldn’t know the main characters in the book of Acts – Jesus, Peter, and the apostles. Without Luke’s Gospel, there’s no Book Two.

Both Luke and Acts are about Jesus. It’s Jesus’ story. Jesus’ life. Jesus’ death. Jesus resurrection and ascension. All for you. Book One is the historical account of everything Jesus did for you. Jesus was born for you. Jesus lived a perfect life obedient to the Father for you. Jesus laid down his life for you. Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil for you on the cross for you. Jesus rose again from the dead, assuring us of our resurrection from the dead.

In Book Two, Luke assumes we’ve read and heard this story before. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Without Jesus’ teaching in Book One, there would be no Word to proclaim in Book Two. Without Jesus’ suffering and death, there’d be no reason to speak. And without Jesus’ resurrection there’d be no hope; the story would be over.

On the other hand, without Book Two, the meaning of Book One would have been forgotten long ago. Book One isn’t the end of the story. Luke’s Gospel isn’t the kind of book we can read and just let dust gather on the shelf. In Book Two, the story of Jesus’ work, word, and teaching for us continues – and it continues through us as well. Jesus’ ascension may end his public ministry on earth, however, it’s not the end of the story.

The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection continues in Book Two. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

For the disciples, “Jesus is risen from the dead” became their motivation. Jesus’ resurrection turned unbelieving, scared disciples into faithful, bold apostles who carried this message to the ends of the earth. And though Jesus’ ascension meant that he would visibly leave his disciples – his work continued through them.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Jesus prepared the disciples for Pentecost, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They would be sent to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations.

The same story continues with us. The same Holy Spirit is poured out on us in the water and word of Baptism. And just like Jesus’ work he began in Book One of Luke’s Gospel and continued in Book Two, Baptism is God’s work he began in you on the day of your Baptism and continues in you throughout your life. In your baptism, the Holy Spirit is continually writing the story of Jesus for you, living in us, keeping us in the faith, calling, gathering, enlightening by the Gospel, pointing us to Jesus’ forgiveness, and giving us the fruit of faith in good works and love for our neighbors.

Though it seems like Jesus’ ascension is the end of the story, it isn’t. Jesus’ words are like the table of contents for Book Two. Jesus’s story of the Gospel spreads just as Jesus promised. It begins in Jerusalem and spreads to Samaria; by the end of Book Two it had reached what seemed like the ends of the earth in the 1st century.

Today, Jesus’ story continues. The ends of the earth have grown a bit since the first century. Book Two continues We’re part of the book of Acts. We each have our own Jerusalems and Judeas and Samarias: our children, friends, and family members; our coworker or neighbors you invite to Sunday School, church, and bible class. You don’t need to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Gospel, the ends of the earth are right here in Huntington Beach, in our soccer leagues, schools, and grocery stores.

Seems like an impossible, overwhelming task. Left to our own, it is. But Jesus promised to be with us in Book two. I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 

The disciples saw Jesus leave, but he was really going away in order to be with them. At his ascension, Jesus took his seat at the right hand of God’s power, which really isn’t a place at all. It means Jesus is constantly exercising God’s power on our behalf. It means he’s everywhere, always with us – not just in his divine nature, but also in his human nature. Jesus – true God and true man – is here with you just as he promises. Jesus prays for us, intercedes for us, guides and protects us. Jesus is continuing to write the story of our lives, our Book Two, because he has already written our names in his book of life.

Book Two has continued far beyond the completion of Luke’s second writing. In fact, Book Two continues to the end of time. Even the end of the Book of Acts leaves it open for a third book. Some of the best stories, after all, are written in trilogies: Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

Luke didn’t write a Book Three. But if he did, we could imagine how he might write the story, a never-ending story of Jesus.

And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Someday, there will be a Book Three, and it’ll begin like this, This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.

Jesus ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us and promised to return to take us home with him. And that is one book, one great story that will never end.

But I suppose that’s a story for another day, an endless day.

A blessed Ascension Day to each of you…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.