Monday, May 2, 2016

Sermon for Feast of St. Philip and St. James: "The Lord Builds His Church"

+ Festival of St. Philip and St. James, Apostles - May 1, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Isaiah 30:18-21; Ephesians 2:19-22; John 14:1-14

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

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

Today the Christian Church remembers two pieces of this foundation: St. Philip and St. James (the lesser/younger).

Through his prophets and apostles, God laid the foundation. God built the house, every wall, room, and floor on the Cornerstone of Christ Jesus, not with brick and mortar, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. Some planted, others watered, but God gave the growth. As Jesus promises the disciples before he ascends to heaven: “I am with you always.”

Today is a blessed reminder that in every age, God builds his church.

From the early church to today, he added stones to the foundation such as Athanasius, Ambrose, and later Augustine. There was Basil, Bede, and Johann Bugenhagen. Luther, Melanchthon, and Martin Chemnitz, and many more.

Two thousand years later, God continues to build his Church. This past week was call day for our seminaries. God added more stones to the foundation. Laborers sent into his harvest. I remember sitting through a similar service myself just about 8 years ago, and by God's grace here I am still.

But the feast of St. Philip and St. James isn’t just a day to thank God for the church fathers, known and unknown who proclaim the Word to us.

Today is also for us, the hearers of the Word. As Paul reminds us, you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

Like Philip and James, God’s Word must come to us. Jesus speaks and makes saints out of sinners, disciples out of fishermen, and citizens of God’s Kingdom out of exiles and strangers from heaven. Jesus makes us a temple of the Holy Spirit out of a heart that was a den of thieves.

Jesus does all of this for you the same way he did for Philip and James: by His Word spoken and delivered for you. By his life, laid down for you. By his resurrection from the dead for you.

Philip and James don’t have long, fantastic tales written about their work as apostles. We do know that Philip told Nathanael to “Come and see” Jesus (John 1). Later he invited some Greeks to hear Jesus as well (John 12). And, as we heard today, he asked Jesus to show him the Father.

About James we know even less. His mother was one of the women at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday, and he’s listed among the disciples.

It seems like we know nothing about these men. But what we do know is enough. We know Jesus called Philip and James to be his disciples. We know Jesus sent them out as his apostles. And that is enough. They heard Jesus’ Word. Jesus sent them to preach and teach everything that he had given them. And that’s what Philip and James did. Acts 2:42 tells us the same: they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

That’s the simple answer that church consultants, endless vision statements, and countless books have missed. How does Christ build his church? Teaching God’s Word. Eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper. Fellowship in Christ with each other. And the prayers, that is the Divine Service.

Though we don’t have all the details, that’s what Philip and James were called to do. God calls us to do the same.

After all, the feast of St. Philip and St. James really isn’t about Philip or James. It’s about Jesus crucified for you. Jesus the Cornerstone of the Church for you.

That’s why Philip and James didn’t spend time counting or comparing how many people they saved by preaching the Gospel or baptizing. They didn’t water down the Gospel to make it make it more appealing to the Greeks. They didn’t try and spice up their church services with a little creative worship to attract the Romans.

For Philip and James, Christian faith was remarkably simple: listen to Jesus’ word, and proclaim Jesus’ Word faithfully to all.

Sounds so simple. And yet it’s the hardest thing to do. How many things distract us from Jesus and his Word? O Lord, let me count the ways! How often have we looked to and put our faith in the empty promises men when searching for answers on how best to declare and defend the Gospel, when our Lord has already given us everything we need in his promises of Word, Baptism, Absolution, and Supper? How much time to do we spend grumbling about our neighbor instead of looking and asking for ways to serve them in body and soul?

Philip and James teach us that if we’re looking for a sinless church this side of Eden, we’re going to be deeply disappointed. But if we’re looking for a church where Christ is present with sinners, well then, we’ve come to the right place. For unless the Lord builds the house, those who build labor in vain.

Wherever the Good News of redemption is preached and the Holy Supper celebrated, there Jesus gathers the crowds of the faithful witnesses of all times.

In his Church, Jesus pours heavy from the cup of salvation for you. In his church, you are no longer strangers, but fellow citizens and saints. In Jesus you are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. In Christ’s church you are never alone.

This is a sublime comfort for us in the church on earth. Here, around the Lord’s Table, Jesus is present with us and we have communion with one another. Though veiled from our eyes we, the church on earth, are joined by the church in heaven. This is what we mean when we confess in the Creed that we believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. The communion of saints.

It is the church of Philip and James and the apostles and prophets before them. It is the church of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is the church of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men. It is the church of Bob Drews, Ryan Willweber, and all the faithful departed. It is the church where we are no longer strangers but fellow citizens. And where Christ is our Cornerstone.

Today we join Philip and James and all the faithful in hearing Jesus’ Words, receiving them with joy, and responding with thanksgiving. Using the Philip’s words, we say to our neighbor, “Come and see!” Come and see your sins forgiven. Come and see heaven on earth. Come and see water that washes away your sins. Come and see bread and wine that feed you with eternal life. Come and see Jesus for you.

A blessed feast of St. Philip and St. James to each of you…

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

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