Monday, May 20, 2013

Sermon for Pentecost: "The Language of the Faith"

+ Pentecost Sunday (Confirmation Day) May 19th, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “God likes matter...He invented it” (Mere Christianity, Book II, Chapter 5, paragraph 7). The same is true for language. God loves words.  By the Word of His mouth, He spoke creation into being: “Let there be light…and there was light.”
By the Word of His mouth God promised a Child who would save Adam and Eve and all creation from sin and death.
By the Word of His mouth God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed by his offspring.
By the Word of His mouth God spoke to the prophets of old. But now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.
In Bethlehem, the author leaped off the page. The eternal Word of God became flesh. So Jesus spoke and prayed the Word of God. Jesus kept and treasured the Word of God. Jesus listened and obeyed the Word of God.

He did all of this for you.
God works through means. Word and water wash away your sin in Baptism. Words deliver forgiveness to you in holy absolution. Words and bread and wine give you Jesus’ body and blood to forgive your sins in Holy Communion. This is the language of the faith.

In grammar this is called running the verbs. God runs the verbs…not us. That was the problem in Babel. Man wanted to run the verbs and everything else. So, God made Babel just like it sounds – a babbling confusion. It’s a reminder that man’s sinful ambitions always result in chaos. Babel had it backwards. Man can’t climb up to God. God comes down to us. That’s the joy of Christmas and Easter…but also Pentecost.

At Pentecost, the confusion of Babel isn’t undone. You still need to learn Spanish in high school or German if you collect coins or Klingon…if you’re a big nerd.  God doesn’t restore a common language. At Pentecost God does one better. He gives a common Savior to all, each in their own language.

In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit worked the same way God always works, through means, in this case words. Nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, subjects, predicates. Human language. That’s remarkable! God puts His Word into human languages. He did it through Peter and He does it for you…all by means of ordinary words. It’s really no different than Baptism where there’s ordinary water, or ordinary bread and wine being the Body and Blood of Christ. God works through means. Ordinary, creaturely, earthy means.

So, what does all that have to do with confirmation day, you ask? Everything. Words matter. What we say and how we say it matters. But not just on Pentecost or Confirmation day… every day. Pentecost is a miracle of both hearing and speaking. The Holy Spirit works on ours ear and mouths. O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.

Today is a day for hearing and speaking. In a few minutes we’ll hear our catechumens’ essays on the catechism. Then we’ll hear them confess the faith given to them at Baptism. Confirmation is a day for saying back to God all that He has spoken to us in His Word, in Holy Absolution, in Holy Baptism, in Holy Communion.

Jesus’ Words matter. And so do ours. “Whoever confesses me before men, Jesus says, I will confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

Today Bree and Darcy confess the same words we confessed at our confirmation: “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”

“I do, by the grace of God.”

Baptism, Pentecost, Confirmation, life, death, resurrection…all by the grace of God. Jesus died, rose, ascended and sent the Holy Spirit…for you. Free grace. Unconditional love. Outrageous forgiveness. It’s all yours in Jesus. That’s the language of the faith.

You first learned it in your Baptism. That’s your Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was poured out. And you were born from above in the font, the womb of the church. No wonder Pentecost is called the church’s birthday.

 We also continue to grown in the language of the faith in the church, in much the same way children learn to talk at home. Our heavenly Father gives us the pattern of sound words and we pray, praise and give thanks.  That’s simply what baptized children do.

And like human languages – the best way to be proficient - is to be immersed into it. Daily read, mark, and learn Jesus’ Word. Inwardly digest Christ’s Word from the page into your ears and from the altar into your mouth. That’s what confirmation – and the Christian life - is all about, hearing and speaking the language of the faith.
Today we hear and speak the language of the faith, all because Jesus gives us His Word and promise. And though it comes through ordinary words, water, bread and wine, it’s an extraordinary Word. For the same Spirit present at Pentecost with the disciples is here, giving you the Peace, Forgiveness, Life and Words of Jesus Crucified, Risen, and Ascended. 

This is most certainly true.
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Friday, May 10, 2013

An Ascension Column for the Local Paper

Note: The brief article below is something I wrote for an upcoming column in our local paper, the Huntington Beach Wave. Every year around Easter or Christmas time the local papers are quite good about putting advertisements and human interest stories about the various church holy days. However, I've never seen one describing Ascension Day. So, I thought I'd write a brief little explanation about this often forgotten and yet most significant day in the Christian church year. A Blessed Ascension to you all!

Why Do Christians Celebrate Jesus’ Ascension?

Most people know about the Christian holy days of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. But what’s Ascension Day? In France it’s a civil holiday. In Germany it’s called Himmelfahrt (roughly translated, “heaven bound”).  And yet, Huntington Beach’s Main Street saw no Ascension Day parade. Belle Terra wasn’t overrun by Ascension Day sales. Nowadays Jesus’ ascension is largely ignored or forgotten.

However, since the first century Jesus’ ascension is a joyous day, concluding the Easter season. It’s no day for moping about like Eeyore, “Oh bother. Jesus is gone. Now I’m all alone.”  Rather, Jesus’ ascension is good news for you. 

But what exactly happened at Jesus’ ascension? Was it like Buzz Lightyear blasting off? “To infinity and beyond!” Did Jesus leap tall clouds in a single bound? According to the New Testament the historical account is much less theatrical. The gospel of Luke simply says, “He parted from the disciples and was carried up into heaven.” 

So, where did Jesus go? Is he playing hide-and-seek? Can you find him on your smart-phone GPS? Not likely. The New Testament says Jesus ascended to God’s right hand. It’s not a location. It’s a position of power. Having conquered your sin and death, he sits at the right hand of God as a gracious king. Risen and ascended, Jesus benevolently reigns over you and all creation in peace and mercy.

Think of Jesus’ ascension like a welcome home party. Jesus, who was born in a lonely feeding trough, died alone on the cross, and was buried in a borrowed tomb, now returns to his heavenly throne. But Jesus doesn’t return to heaven empty handed. Where Jesus goes you go.

God became man to rescue humanity and bring mankind back to God. He takes our humanity with him into heaven, scars and all. Think about that next time you have a bad day, read depressing news, or when loved ones are sick or dying. The same Jesus who suffered and died for you now sits on the throne of heaven for you. He knows your sorrows, illnesses, fears, doubts, and pain because He experienced all of them for you. By his ascension, Jesus also lives forever as your Great High Priest. He prays for you even as he lived, died, rose, and ascended for you. Jesus’ ascension is good news for you. 

Jesus is ascended and will return one day. Until then, he is with you always. Jesus is not gone. He is ascended. And his ascension brings heaven near to you. Jesus promises to be there for you in his word, the Scriptures, the prayers, and in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24; Acts 2:42).  Happy Ascension Day!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

An Ascension Day Homecoming Party

A few years ago Rev. William Weedon was on Issues Etc. talking about (as I presume now through a scattered memory) Jesus' ascension. During his interview he mentioned a book by Otto Paul (O.P.) Kretzmann, one time president of Valparaiso University (1940-1968) and well known for his gifts of oratory, rhetoric and poetry. In conjunction with his discussion on Jesus' ascension, Rev. Weedon brought up a short piece written by O.P. Kretzmann in a book (now out of print) titled, The Pilgrim, published by Concordia Publishing House in 1944. The Pilgrim is a collection of articles which originally appeared in The Cresset, a publication of the Walther League, which also happened to be an organization for whom Kretzmann served as treasurer for six years. Within the pages of this book rests a marvelous piece on Jesus' ascension titled, Homecoming.

What is especially noticeable (in addition to the super prose) is the comfort which his writing brings the reader. One can hardly read this without being pounced on by joy, specifically that joy that is ours already in Christ's death, resurrection and ascension and even as we anticipate that joy on the day when "the term is ended and the holidays have begun" (to paraphrase Lewis in The Last Battle). If Jesus' ascension is his homecoming party - we too, like pilgrim sons and daughters exiled in a foreign land - long for our homecoming in the new heavens and the new earth. For in Christ's ascension we behold our own. Where Jesus goes, we go. He takes humanity with him, scars and all, but now glorified...back to the Father He goes. But He does not go alone. Jesus ascension is for you, and it is good news for you. And it is to that supernal joy in the Lamb's ascension and in our own future homecoming that O.P. Kretzmann directs us:

Now He as going home....In seven words the years of labor and sorrow end: "While they beheld, He was take up." ...There were no bells and banners on earth, but surely all the trumpets on the other side sounded as they had never sounded before...Surely the chiming golden bells of heaven sang their welcome, and angel choirs intoned the song of the throne: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength." ...On the anvils of God the nails had been forged into the scepter of a king..."He was taken up." ...The angel hosts sweep to either side, leaving the way clear to the Eternal Light that no longer blinds the eyes of us who stand gazing after Him....He leads a procession which comes from the ends of time and space, all the harvest of all the white fields the world has ever known, the pilgrims of the night who come at last to the dawn of an everlasting day...."He was taken up." The Child of the manger, the praying heart on the starlit lanes of Galilee, the hunger in the wilderness, the weariness of the Sychar Well, the tears of the Garden and the Hill, the thirst of the Cross - all over now....The robes of Transfiguration once momentary, now clothe Him forever, and angels and archangels sound the great doxology of His Waiting Church: "Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever." ...

An old story - perhaps too old for us to do more than glimpse its glory....And yet - we ought to remember it more clearly....It was the solemn moment in the story of the God and man when the visible Christ became the invisible Christ....From that hour everything concerning Him became visible only to the eyes of faith....The final line of demarcation in the world - between those who believe and those who refuse to believe - was now clear....Men can say that all this is not true and use the mind of man to reject the mind of God, or they can know that God once walked among them and that they now have a Friend in heaven who knows all that earth and time and pain can do to a man....

The Ascension did not take Jesus away....It brought heaven near....In the realm in which He now reigns time and space have no meaning....There is no up and down, no near and far, no darkness, and no distance in the world of faith....His homecoming has made heaven a home for us who still walk far from home....Wherefore stand we gazing into heaven? ...Our momentary task is here, but through the slow dimming of years we see the evening lamps of home tended by the pierced hands of Him who has gone to prepare a place for us....Is there a better way to live - or die? (The Pilgrim, O.P. Kretzmann, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1944. p. 14-15).

Kretzmann weaves the language of Scripture with his own picturesque language. And in addition to the Scriptures, there's no better place to learn about the joy of Christ's ascension than in the hymns of the church, like the one below.  A blessed Ascension Day to you all!

1    See, the Lord ascends in triumph;
    Conqu’ring King in royal state,
Riding on the clouds, His chariot,
    To His heav’nly palace gate.
Hark! The choirs of angel voices
    Joyful alleluias sing,
And the portals high are lifted
    To receive their heav’nly King.

2    Who is this that comes in glory
    With the trump of jubilee?
Lord of battles, God of armies,
    He has gained the victory.
He who on the cross did suffer,
    He who from the grave arose,
He has vanquished sin and Satan;
    He by death has crushed His foes.

3    While He lifts His hands in blessing,
    He is parted from His friends;
While their eager eyes behold Him,
    He upon the clouds ascends.
He who walked with God and pleased Him,
    Preaching truth and doom to come,
He, our Enoch, is translated
    To His everlasting home.

4    Now our heav’nly Aaron enters
    With His blood within the veil;
Joshua now is come to Canaan,
    And the kings before Him quail.
Now He plants the tribes of Israel
   In their promised resting place;
Now our great Elijah offers
    Double portion of His grace.

5    He has raised our human nature
    On the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heav’nly places,
    There with Him in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
    Man with God is on the throne.
By our mighty Lord’s ascension
    We by faith behold our own.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sermon for Easter 6: "Before and After"

+ 6th Sunday of Easter – May 5th, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27; John 16:23-33

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

Before and after. You’ve all seen these kinds of photos in weight-loss commercials, girly magazines or home renovation shows. One day the home looks like an episode of Hoarders, then poof…the next day: outdoor living room, heated bathroom floors and a living room that transforms into a home theater with the push of a button.  Even if we know they’re fakes, or exaggerated, we like before and after photos. They appeal to our sense of longing for things to be right, or at the very least, better than when we started.
Today’s readings are a bit like that…a before and after story.

Look at Paul’s life before his conversion; now look at Acts 16. Look at the church on earth. Now look at the church in heaven in Revelation. Look at Jesus’ disciples before his death and resurrection in John 16; later they’ll be preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins in the public squares and synagogues. Before and after.

However, our sinful nature has this notion, that (in the words of the John Lennon song) every day, in every way, things are getting better and better. We think “before and after” ought to mean my life will be “better and happier.” Our fantasies rarely meet reality especially when we apply take the way the world thinks and expect Jesus and our Christian faith to play along nicely. But don’t blame TV or airbrushed magazine photos. Those are merely symptoms. The problem is our expectations. And deeper still…the problem is our disease of sin.
Jesus also tells a “before and after” story. But it’s radically different  from ours (thankfully). Jesus was with His disciples on the night before His crucifixion. Praying. Eating. Drinking. Washing their feet. And teaching.

Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34).
I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:2-3)
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
I am the Vine; you are the branches. (John 15:5)
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. (John 16:20)
I have said these things to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33).

 Jesus spoke all these words – and more - before his death, for His disciples. But also for you, so that you would be prepared for what happens after his resurrection. Jesus promise is two-fold: He promises tribulation and triumph both on account of His Name.

It makes you wonder, is the Christian life hard or easy?
Now, TV and radio preachers will tell you, with smooth tongues, slick hair and a smile, that if you have Jesus, then everything in your life will be better, happier, and more prosperous. And if you do suffer it’s because you haven’t given enough…or or prayed enough or had enough faith. They declare our emotions and prosperity and happiness as gospel. That might sell books and pack stadiums and fill the airwaves on Sundays, but that’s no gospel, no good news…and no salvation.

In fact, Jesus says the exact opposite – in this world you will have tribulation. We don’t need a God who has no room for suffering or pain. Those are cheap and easy to find. But, a God who’ll stick his hands and head and body into the filth of our suffering and sin to make us clean – now there’s a God who has done something about your suffering.
Just look at the apostles’ lives. If anyone knew tribulation, it was them. Persecuted. Beaten. Stoned. Martyred for the faith.

Peter was crucified upside down in Rome (unwilling to die in like Jesus). Philip and Bartholomew were also both crucified upside down. Andrew: crucified on an olive tree. James: beheaded. Thomas: run through with spears. James, the son of Alphaeus: stoned to death.

Paul’s life was also marked by suffering: imprisonments, beatings, rejection by his own people, expulsion from the synagogue, antagonists and false teachers, congregation problems, health problems, a shipwreck until his beheading in a Roman prison.  

Although John didn’t die a martyr’s death, he knew tribulation: exiled on Patmos while his churches were besieged. Christians were tortured and martyred. False teachers wormed their way into the churches and deceived Christians with seductive lies. The fabric of society was coming apart at the seams. Government was corrupt, the family was weakened, immorality reigned. Everyone did whatever they thought was right in their own eyes.         Sounds familiar doesn’t it. Just another day in the life of the first century Christian church.

“In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world”
There’s an old saying, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. You can see why after a list like that. But what really makes that statement true isn’t the blood the martyrs, but the blood of Christ, the Chief Martyr. The martyrs’ blood cries for justice. Christ’s blood cries out with righteousness. Christ’s blood makes peace for the disciples. For the world. For you.

“In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” How? Look no further than Jesus Crucified and Risen.
That’s how the disciples go from running away from Jesus and denying Him to giving their lives, often by horrible, torturous deaths, as martyrs for Christ. That’s how they go from caring about what the world thought about them to not caring at all what the world said about them or did to them.

Before and after.
What a difference Jesus’ cross and resurrection make. By His death and resurrection...The power of hell is destroyed. Satan’s accusations are hollow. The sting of sin and death has been drawn from your flesh like a venomous bee sting, sucked out by Christ’s death for you.

Jesus has overcome the world. Neither the devil, nor the grave, nor the world could overcome Jesus. And neither will they overcome you.
 “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Yes, in this world we will have tribulation. We will have fall victim to cancer or dreadful diseases. We will suffer sudden, inexplicable tragedies. We will experience financial and family crises. We be racked by grief, sorrow, and death.
“But take heart, be of good cheer,” Jesus says. I have overcome the world. I have overcome your disease. I have overcome your tragedy. I have overcome your doubt and fear. I have overcome your sin and death. There is no greater tribulation than the cross. Jesus suffered pain, beating, hell and death for you. And His tribulation is greater than all your pain, suffering, sin, and death.

That’s great you say, but I’m still in the world. I still see suffering and death all around. And that’s precisely why Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, why He speaks them to you today…because you are still in the world with all its temptations and sin. Because you still need His crucified and risen peace. Because you have not yet arrived.
In this world you will have tribulation…But in your tribulation, you are not alone. When one member suffers all suffer.  When Corinth suffered and the churches of Ephesus and Smyrna suffered, Paul and John suffered.  And when you suffer – whatever it may be - you are not alone. Look at the people in front and behind and next to you in the pews. The church is not an army of one. It is the body of Christ. And when one member suffers, He suffers with you even as He suffered for you.

So, is Christianity hard or easy? Well honestly, it’s both. In this life a war rages on. You’re on the front lines. The church is an outpost, an oasis. And yet, Christ is your Mighty Fortress: inside the walls of his body you rest in peace. The battle is won. Christ is risen. He pours out living water from his side into the font and over your forehead washing your tribulation away. He seats you at His banqueting table where He feeds and nourishes you with His flesh and blood.
On days of tribulation it’s comforting to have words like these from Revelation: And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Revelation 21:22-23).

That’s the difference between those “before and after” photos and John’s vision in Revelation. What John saw is not only your future reality. It’s present tense. Heaven, eternal life, salvation: it’s all yours because you belong to the Lamb. Jesus has made peace with you in Baptism. Jesus speaks His peace to you in absolution. Jesus feeds you His peace in His Supper. Your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life – before the foundation of the world - and today and forever. All that John reveals is already yours. In the new creation there is no before, the former things are gone; there is simply an endless happily ever after.

In this world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. Jesus is your peace in a world of tribulation. Jesus has overcome the world for you.

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