A myHT Fortress

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Spirit Gives You Jesus: A Homily for Pentecost

John 14:23-31

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

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

The Holy Spirit brings all things to your remembrance. That’s for sure! Ask any of this morning’s confirmands. For every year of their time at St. John’s, the Holy Spirit has been working the Word of Christ into their hearts and minds, as they learned Scripture and Catechism passages by heart. The Spirit has taught them all things and brings to their remembrance all that Christ says.

But you don’t always welcome the Spirit’s work. Often you turn a deaf ear or a blind eye, refusing God’s Word. You have been lazy, no matter what your ability or intelligence, you have not given 100% effort to memorizing – learning by heart – the Word of the Lord. You have not always taken seriously the gift of salvation given in Holy Baptism, perhaps even giving into the teaching of others that this is merely a sign or remembrance, not a true means of God’s grace. You have not always shown respect to the teachers, or bosses and co-workers in your life, doing the work that is given you to do.

The people of Babel did not welcome the Spirit’s work. They were acting in defiance to the Lord. All the people since after the Flood were living in the same region. Many were rejecting God and rebelling. They tried building a great tower that would be higher than any water level could ever reach, and coated it with pitch to water proof it. They were, in essence, saying to God, “Just try and flood us again!” However, instead of destroying them, the Lord confused their language and doomed their act of defiance.

Dear friends, dear confirmands, do not despise the work of the Lord. Do not defy Him! Repent! But you can’t even do that! You are not able to repent.

But our dear Lord Jesus sends you One who can. He sends the Holy Spirit to bring you to repentance and work forgiveness and faith into your hearts. “He will teach you all things.” The Holy Spirit is promised by Jesus to teach all things – that is, all things about the Holy Trinity. He teaches you about your sin through God’s Law, showing your need for our Savior. And He teaches you that God, in His great love, has sent His Son to die for you and take your sin away. He gifts you with saving knowledge and faith in the true God, who has revealed Himself to us in Christ Jesus!

Teaching Christ to you – that is His work. The Holy Spirit is all about teaching Christ to you. He does not want the attention for Himself. The Spirit is the Helper who is directing you to Jesus. He teaches and delivers Jesus to you in every faithful sermon you hear. He teaches and delivers Christ when someone is baptized. He teaches and delivers Jesus to you when you receive the Body and Blood of Jesus!

The Holy Spirit would be dishonored if you focused on Him. He is constantly bringing Christ to you, forgiving you, and bringing you life and salvation. He gifts you with Christ Jesus!

And He “bring[s] to your remembrance all that [Jesus] ha[s] said to you.” The Spirit brought to remembrance all that Jesus had said to the apostles when they wrote the New Testament and preached to the first generations of the Church. He continues to bring to remembrance all that Jesus has said when pastors preach the Gospel.

But perhaps the most crystal-clear moment when the Holy Spirit brings to your remembrance what Christ has said is when at His altar we hear: Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”

In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Dear friends in Christ, today, after hearing these words for years, fifteen youth join us in receiving these words that the Spirit brings to remembrance. Even more importantly, these are words with which Jesus remembers us to His Father. You are nourished. You are strengthened. You are given a taste of heaven, as our dear Lord comes to you and the Spirit gives you Jesus!

Praise the Lord! That is what the Festival of Pentecost is all about. The Spirit gives you Jesus! Rejoice, dear friends in Christ, because indeed, the Spirit is giving you Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ask, That Your Joy May Be Full: A Homily for Rogate

John 16:23-33

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

Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24.)

“I believe in the power of prayer!” Oh really?! Stop and think about that statement for a moment. “I believe in the power of prayer.” If that is the case, in what or whom are you placing your faith?

Take time to consider the doers of the verbs. If you are the one praying, and you believe in the power of prayer, you are believing in your own words, and thus, your faith is in yourself! Good heavens! Did you catch that?! You have just made yourself a god!

The cancer patient sits at her computer, and is amazed at emails coming from all over the world. Friends, and friends of friends, have placed her on prayer chains all over the globe. She receives great comfort in that. But are her chances of beating the disease increased, simply because she has thousands upon thousands praying for her, as if it’s better to have more people trying to twist God’s arm? God is going to be gracious in comforting and caring for her, out of His mercy, not because she has some magic meter measuring prayer content.

When you believe you can make God do what you want, you are offending Him and sin arrogantly. As you pray for luxuries and advantages or other selfish things that are not kind or beneficial to others, are you really praying for the right things? When you try to strike up bargains with God and ask for grades you don’t deserve, or job perks or complements that others deserve, are you asking in faith?

The Lord wants you to pray, to be sure. He wants you to ask in faith for the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation. He desires that you ask Him for the protecting and providing that He gives as your Divine Shepherd. He wants to give you all things as He describes in the Lord’s Prayer.

Your life is to be a life of prayer. “Pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) God says through Saint Paul. Constantly you are to thank and praise Him, intercede for the needs of others, and ask for what is needed to sustain you in body and soul.

Do you do that? Do you ask perfectly and constantly? Is it with pure faith and love, and holy intentions? No.

But Jesus does! Christ our High Priest prays perfectly and constantly. “Christ Jesus is the One who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34.) What an amazing and comforting promise! Jesus who died and rose for you, now prays for you! He asks the Father on your behalf! He died to purchase and win forgiveness and life for you. He lives and reigns as He delivers them to you. And He prays for you, that the Father would send everything you need for salvation – and along the way, He gifts you with many blessings in this body and life.

And as we pray, the Lord answers what we ask, and more. Take Zechariah for example. He was in the Temple, praying for the Lord to send the Messiah. God sends the Angel Gabriel to say He was answering that prayer, and what’s more, He would send the son that Zechariah and his wife always wanted.

The Lord not only answers your prayers in providing the needs you have, but grants the forgiveness, mercy, and love whose need you might not even have realized or desired. God gives the gift of repentance and works a renewal of faith in your heart, as He answers Jesus’ prayers for you!

For centuries, the Church around the world has celebrated Rogate, this 6th Sunday of Easter, as a day to rejoice in calling on the Lord in prayer, especially asking His blessing on the fruits of the earth. The Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel. At Baptism He gave you the right to call on God as His children. Now the Father in heaven hears you as His baptized children, a delights to have you call on Him “as dear children ask their dear father.”

When people mistakenly say they believe in the power of prayer, the better understanding is to say: “The Holy Spirit has given me belief and trust in the mercy of God, and that our merciful Savior tells us to ask the Father through Him.” The power is not in the prayer. In fact, the amazing quality of it all is not even “power.”

Far more amazing and awesome is the merciful love of God, and how He gives to us, both good and bad things, that our faith may be strengthened and that we may experience His love and grace. God may or may not answer your prayers in the way you desire, but He always answers the prayers of Christians. He wants you to ask Him for all that you need, and then you will witness the great and wondrous ways He delivers His grace and keeps His promises. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24.) Amen.

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

Christ Declared to You: A Homily for Easter 5

John 16:12-22

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

The year was 325. The location, a city called Nicea, in what is now Turkey. Heretics had threatened the Church with false teaching, saying that Jesus was not completely God. Others in the recent past had said that Jesus was only God, and was not truly human.

All the bishops of the Christian Church, throughout the world, gathered and debated through the summer over the issues. How would they deal with these enemies of God? And what would be the guidelines?

The answer arose from their discussions, as a creed – a formal summary of what the Church believes – was formulated. Since the second generation of the Church, they had confessed the Apostles’ Creed. But something a little more thorough was needed. Thus the Nicene Creed was formed.

A young deacon named Athanasius, from Alexandria, Egypt is credited with much of the thought that carefully crafted this creed. And sometime later, after Bishop Athanasius had been called to glory, an even more extensive creed was called for. It was a longer discussion on the Holy Trinity, whom Athanasius had defended, and so this creed was named in his honor. (That is the Athanasian Creed that we confess each year on Holy Trinity Sunday.)

And just what is this faith? And who is this God of whom these ancient bishops speak? Our Lord Jesus Himself tells us, in this morning’s Gospel. Jesus describes the Lord whom we confess, and the faith which He gives.

Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit when He says: “He will guide you in to all the truth.” Elsewhere in the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus says to God the Father, “Your Word is Truth.” God gives us His Word as a precious Gift, the Gift of truth which tells us of God’s salvation. This saving truth of the Gospel, given freely to all.

Sometimes, however, we are not so eager to hear God’s truth. There are many moments when we listen to our own thoughts more than God’s. We live in this post-modern era, when anyone can declare his or her opinion to be equally valid and truthful. We are told there are many truths – that Christianity is too close-minded and judgmental to claim the only truth.

My friends, when we rebel against God, insisting that our own opinions and so-called “truths” are just as good as His, we are grossly insubordinate, and heading down the path to hell. We often create our own heresies, by building up our own opinions and praising ourselves at the expense of Christ and His true faith. We desperately need the Holy Spirit to bring us God’s truth – the only truth which can save us!

For some, the Holy Spirit first comes through hearing this saving truth proclaimed. Our Savior’s called servants week after week deliver this saving truth, through which the Holy Spirit is working, guiding us in the faith.

For many, their first contact with God, outside the womb of their mother, is through the womb of the Church. In the saving waters of Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit bestows the Truth of Christ. He casts out any evil spirits, opens our ears to the Gospel, and removes the stain of sin in our lives. He makes us sons of God, delivering us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

Besides declaring us God’s children in the present, the Holy Spirit has more work, according to Jesus: “He will declare to you the things that are to come.” Now, that isn’t promising us that God is giving a fortune teller. The Holy Spirit is not some free psychic, or twisted horoscope.

But He does tell us about our future. He tells us about the new heavens and the new earth in which every Christian will someday spend eternity with the Lord. He calms us with the assurance that not one of God’s children will be lost. That we, with all of God’s baptized children, will be gathered to God when it is our time to depart this world.

What is the purpose of the Spirit telling us Christ’s truth and what is to come? Jesus says: “He will glorify Me.” How? “He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” That is the joy of what Luther called, “The Blessed Exchange.” Jesus trades us all our guilt, sin, and imperfections, for His holy perfection. He was humbled, so we can be exalted. He died so that we can live. And now, His Word does what it says. His Word declares us forgiven saints, and so we are. It is not simply a wish; it is so!

All of the wondrous blessings which come from God are ours, simply because Christ sends the Holy Spirit to give them to us! And the Spirit gives us the faith to receive these gifts, making them known to us. And when Jesus has revealed Himself to us, by the truth of His Word, through the Holy Spirit, we rejoice that, along with those bishops of some 1,600 years ago, He has allowed us to gold the faith of what the Creed originally called the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”

You mean he leads us to the Church of Rome? No. In the last 500 years, the word “catholic” has been misunderstood as meaning only the Roman Church. In actuality, it means every Christian who holds to the entire teaching of Christ, given through His apostles – the true faith of all places in all times. It is all of Christendom.

We rejoice further that the Holy Spirit has guided us into the truth about God the Son. The Spirit sent by our Risen Jesus “calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies, and keeps us in the true faith.”

God miraculously has come into the flesh. That is the ultimate mystery of our faith. That God came into the flesh through the Blessed Virgin Mary. And that He continues to come into the flesh, when His Word is heard and when He washes us in Holy Baptism, and when He joins His Body and Blood to bread and wine on altars across the world.

If someone denies any of these, they do not hold to the historic, catholic, Christian faith. And they are lost. But thanks be to God, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit has called us to this faith, and blesses us to know Him through His gifts.

Just as He blessed Joey with this washing of new birth at the hospital this week, and as He blesses all newly baptized, with the gift of the one, true faith, beginning to guide him in all truth, declaring to him what is to come, and glorifying Jesus Christ.

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

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pastor, You Know What I Love?

Comment from a friend and parishioner yesterday:

"Pastor, you know what I love about your sermons? They don't have a lot of 'filler.'"

My homiletical style has always been on the shorter side, and to the point. Don't waste their time with a bunch of stories that cloud the point, so no one remembers it. Preach the Gospel, not a ton of illustrations and only a little Jesus thrown in at the end! :-)

Gotta love St. John's, Chicago!