Second in a Three Part Series
John 17: 11b-19 – “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
When it rains, it pours. That’s the way life felt one day to Calvin in the Calvin and Hobbs comic strip. First, Calvin sits on a wad of bubble gum. Next, his teacher catches him glancing at his classmate’s paper. Then a bully knocks him down in the hallway. The water fountain sprays in his face. The bug he’d brought in for show-and-tell escapes. He gets picked last at recess. There is a hair in his lunch, and when he heads to the swing set, all the seats are occupied. Finally he misses the bus and has to walk home in the rain. In his bedroom that evening, Calvin looks at his trusted tiger and says, “You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.”
We’ve all had the adult version of one of those days. When we think to ourselves and maybe say it out loud. When it rains, it pours. And on our particularly difficult days, we may even take our “woe is me” attitude a step further. We might even wonder out loud to God why bad things happen to a good person like me. Which is really bad theology. First the idea that you and I are good people, apart from Christ. And secondly the idea that we deserve better luck than we are getting is a lousy way to begin the day. Better that we learn from Jesus today. To learn from Jesus to get down on our knees and pray as Jesus prayed. To pray, “Father, help me today to be in the world but not of the world. Protect me from the devil and every one of his demons……” Or to say it another way, “Father, sanctify me with the truth. Your Word is truth.”
Our sermon today is the second in a three part series. The first sermon was “Chosen”, and the third sermon will be “Unshakeable”. Today’s sermon explores what it means to be sanctified. In his explanation to the Third Article, Luther wrote, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him, but He has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith……” What does it mean to be sanctified and kept in the true Christian faith? Two answers to that question. First, To be sanctified is to be (kept) by our Father even as we (keep our eyes peeled) for the enemies of our faith.
Before we say much more about what it means to be sanctified and kept in the Christian faith, we want to keep in mind how we came to be people of faith in the first place. We want to make sure we are keeping the horse (justification) before the cart (sanctification) One of our early Lutheran writers (Adolph Koeberle) referred justification as the mother of sanctification. To be justified is to be declared holy by God on the basis of what Christ has done for us. To be sanctified is to be made holy by God through daily repentance and faith. By drowning the old and nasty and ornery old Adam so that the new and delightful life that we have in Christ will rise up on the inside of us and rule. We are justified by the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus Christ, and we are sanctified as we fight the good fight of faith/ run the race marked out before us/ renounce the devil and every one of his evil ways and works, in daily and deliberate and devoted fashion. The horse is justification, that is to say that Christ was and is and ever shall be for us. The cart that it pulls is sanctification, that is to say that Christ is in us. In history Christ has accomplished our salvation, and in the means of grace that salvation has been and continues to be delivered to us. Our ongoing prayer and desire is that God would keep us in that faith and that we never stray from, much less lose that faith.
Twice in our text Jesus declares that He has guarded/ kept His disciples in the Name of His Father, and twice more He pleads with His Father to keep them in His Name/ to keep them from the evil one. In Holy Baptism, the Name of the Triune God was placed on our foreheads and on our hearts. In Divine Service we begin by invoking that Name, and in the Benediction we hear again and again, “The Lord bless you and keep you…..” How does, in fact, the Lord keep us safe? Peter, a man who knew all too well about having good intentions and yet falling into temptation, wrote that we, “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Paul pointed the Thessalonians to the Word of God as that which is at work in believers. Jesus said simply, “Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.” The Holy Spirit sanctifies us as often as we use our ears to hear, as often as we remember what we have learned from our mother’s knees, as often as we taste at our Lord’s Table just how good He is, as often as we cry out for His refuge and strength – that often we receive exactly what we have asked for.
Even as we trust our Father in heaven to send His holy angels to watch over us, that the wicked foe would have no power over us, we want to recognize our own responsibility to keep our eyes peeled for the enemies of our faith. We are watched over, even as we are called to be watchful. Attended to by our guardian angels, even as we would be reminded today to be attentive.
Recognizing our (vulnerability) and remaining (suspicious). In Matthew chapter 7, Jesus warns us to Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Ask a man with a drinking problem how dangerous it would be for him to have a case of beer in his fridge and a bottle of rum in his cupboard, and he would tell you how easily he can fall. Ask a person who is trying to lose weight how tempting it can be to have pastries and ice cream and cookies just a few feet away, and that person would likely launch into a story of how good intentions can go awry. At our Saturday morning session of Men Who Need Help, we men who need help landed on the topic of how contentment in marriage can turn into complacency in marriage. Contentment with God’s rich blessings in marriage – good. Complacency in marriage in terms of having no desire to be a better husband or to have a better marriage- not good at all. And so we ask our Father in heaven this very day, Lord, help us to recognize just how vulnerable we are. Work within us a spirit that remains suspicious of that little voice inside of us that says “go ahead and take that path of least resistance. A spirit that remains suspicious of a world that says, “go ahead and eat and drink and be merry, you have worked hard and you deserve to be happy. A spirit that keeps one eye fixed on Jesus and the other eye looking out for the adversaries of Jesus.
To be sanctified in the truth is to be (acted upon), even as we (act). That’s another way of saying that although we are saved by the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone, faith never comes alone. James says it this way, that faith without works is dead. Luther wrote in famous fashion “Oh, it is a living, busy, active, powerful thing that we have in faith, so that it is impossible for it not to do good unceasingly! Nor does it ask whether good works are to be done; but before the question is asked, it has wrought them and is always engaged in doing them.
In terms of sanctification being a matter of being acted upon, our Psalm for the day refers to the sanctified Christian as a tree that is firmly planted by the streams of water. Trees that are Growing and flourishing in days of prosperity as well as (adversity). Trees bloom and expand and do well when the sun is shining and the rains are falling and the weather is seasonable. The bear fruit in season and their leaves don’t wither. (days of prosperity) But nature tells us that days of adversity are a necessary part of the process as well.
Scientists tell us that as well. In a book “Ownership Spirit”, author Dennis Deaton tells of an experiment near Tuscon, Arizona, where an experimental glass building envelops 3.14 acres of land. One of the purposes of the facility was to construct a closed system where the complex interrelationships of life forms could be studied. One of their original theories was that if they could create a perfect growing environment, life could be sustained in remote places like outer space. What they soon discovered about trees in closed structures is that they began tipping over once they reached a certain height. These trees lacked “stress wood”, which would be developed in the outdoors as a result of gravity, wind exposure, snow buildup, soil movement, etc. The author noted a law of nature which would apply to all living species, from plants to animals, including human beings: “Living things are strengthened by struggle.”
As trees grow deep roots in response to battering winds, so do we develop strength and character as we respond to challenges. Luke recorded in Acts 14 Paul and other disciples reacting to a recent stoning and getting dragged around by encouraging early Christians with the saying that “through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God.”
It’s comforting to know that God’s Spirit is growing us up into Jesus Christ both in good times and bad. Both when the winds of life are calm and when they are of hurricane force. Both when our days are smooth and when nothing is going right. Both when we are sitting still and listening to the preaching of God’s Word and when we are putting into practice what we preach. Both when we are succeeding and when we are failing, the Spirit of God is teaching and the Father is protecting and the Son is growing up on the inside of us. Sanctification is at the same time the Father keeping us from the evil one and we doing battle with that evil one. It is both passively receiving the righteousness one for us at Calvary and actively exercising our human responsibilities.
One strategy for actively taking the battle to the enemies of the faith is by Doing at once the (very opposite) of what the evil one proposes. The kingdom of God is like a woman who fights off the temptation to complain about what is wrong in life by thinking about that which is right. It’s like the traveler who fights off the desire to murmur about the delays and detours of the day by counting his blessings which are in fact too numerous to count. It’s like the person who fights off the inclination to rant and rave by going off into his quiet place to pray. Like the teenager who fights the temptation to be lazy by getting a job and staying busy. Like the man who fights off the urge to curse his enemies by praying for them.
The day Sara’s family was born again / The author of “Glorious Ruin (How Suffering Sets You Free) tells of a young woman named Sara who was telling the story of her family’s public fall from grace. “She grew up in a privileged family – enormous house, beautiful clothes, expensive cars and schools, country club membership…Family was strict and her dad’s insane temper could be set off by the slightest offense…..When she heard her dad’s Porsche rumble into the driveway, she would hide in her room, never knowing when her father would explode in anger. One day her dad came home, gathered his terrified family for a meeting, and told how he had been caught embezzling. He wept as he confessed his wrongdoing to his children and indicated that they would have to start over. Sara describes that day as the day her dad was instantly better. Through a combination of suffering and public humiliation, Sara’s family was born again. All of heaven rejoiced over a single sinner that was brought to repentance. Not by his own reason or strength did her father come to Jesus Christ or believe in Him. The Holy Spirit called and He gathered and as the days when on He enlightened and He sanctified. And Sara discovered what I invite all of you to learn this very day about the work of the Holy Spirit. When it rains, it pours.
John 15:9-17 / Acts 10:34-48 /I John 5:1-8
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.
Dear Friends in Christ,
You may have read a story about a month ago where a 37 year old man was driving along with his 3 year old daughter and slid off the road near a bend and went into the Zumbro River. Another man named Jerry and his mom were driving along that same road when he noticed the car in the water and quickly jumped in to help. When he was interviewed about it, he said that he could barely see the car in the water, and when he looked more closely, he saw a man inside the car, pounding on the window. He also saw a child in the backseat. He did what many would do. He jumped into the water and was able to rescue the man and his little girl. When asked to reflect on his act of heroism, he replied, "I would hope anyone in my situation would have done the same thing. I was just in the right place at the right time."
I suppose many would agree that it was just a stroke of good luck that he was in the right place at the right time. Or could it be that we have an all-knowing God who appointed that particular man to be in that specific place at just the right moment? And could it be that the Holy Spirit guided this particular preacher to use this specific story to teach you a valuable lesson in this exact moment of time? In today’s appointed lessons, the Spirit of God would remind us that Christians in every generation aren’t just meant to wander aimlessly through their days with nothing significant to do and maybe getting lucky once in a while, but rather that we are chosen by Jesus Christ to spend our days engaged with Him on a mission to rescue sinners drowning in their own cesspool of sin. Or to say it another way, chosen to bear fruits that abide. Today’s sermon is the first in a series of three sermons with one word themes, “Chosen”, “Sanctified”, and “Unshakeable”. Two parts to our sermon – 1) The early disciples were chosen… and 2) All Christians are chosen…
The early disciples were chosen to testify as (friends of Jesus) instead of slaves. In our first lesson appointed for this Sixth Sunday of Easter, Peter referred to the first century apostles as men who had been chosen by God as witnesses. They were the ones who had seen the Risen Christ with their own eyes. Listened to Him with their own ears. Touched His wounds with their own hands. They did with Jesus what friends do with each other. They ate and they drank. They laughed and they cried together. They were willing to serve as slaves with a sense of duty and obligation, but Jesus invited them to come up higher. To testify as cherished friends instead of going through the motions slaves.
In Deuteronomy 7, we hear Moses calling out Israel to a higher status. Once they were slaves, but now “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are the face of the earth.” In the New Testament, Peter writes it this way, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession……” Not because His people were or are such a lovely and impressive people did God choose them or us to be His witnesses, but simply because His message was and is so lovely and so impressive. That’s why God has elected us both to be saved and to bear the message of salvation. Both to have our sins forgiven and to bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. Which is the second point we want to make about the early disciples. First they were chosen to testify as friends of Jesus instead of mere slaves.
Second, they were chosen to preach (towards) the forgiveness of sins. At first glance the message of forgiveness seems to be a truth that we all agree on. Preachers who proclaim that God is love and that Christ died for all and that heaven is going to be a wonderful place will get very little arguments out and about in the real world. It’s when they say that there can be no forgiveness of sins without repentance that folks start to get annoyed. And when preachers start to define sin and name the prominent sins of the day that their annoyance turns into hostility.
When preachers say that the fruits of the Spirit are love / joy / peace / patience / kindness / goodness / faithfulness / gentleness / self-control, listeners the world would agree and say that everybody should feel pretty good about themselves and go home happy. But when we start to say what the fruits of repentance are, Minnesota Nice turns into Minnesota Ugly. Our popularity diminishes every time we insist that sex is a gift of God to be enjoyed only in the context of marriage and that by the way, marriage was God’s idea and ought to be defined the way He instituted – that’s when our friendships start to get strained and our Facebook conversations take a turn for the worse. Where there is no repentance, the commandments are in fact burdensome / souls stay troubled / relationships go south / life gets empty.
On the other hand, wherever there is honest confession of sins, there is a washing away of those sins. And wherever there is a washing away of sins, there is the peace that only Jesus Christ can give. And where there is the peace of God, there is peace like a river and before you realize what’s happening, there is fullness of joy as pictured on the front cover of your bulletin today. Joy that starts with a conscience that is clean and then it bubbles up into a desire to share and before you know it, Christians in every station of life are experiencing full-fledged victory. The kind of victory Green Bay Packer fans like to tell us Vikings fans that they know and we don’t. The kind of victory that doesn’t come and go but stays with you and keeps on raising its banner high and even higher for all to see. The kind of victory Christians in all generations are chosen to never stop thinking about. Never stop talking about.
Our second main point today is that all Christians are chosen to bear fruit that will (multiply) all the way into eternity. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
The kingdom of God is like a little boy who goes to a Christian School in a small town and learns that Jesus loves Him no matter what. Somewhat against his will, he memorizes the Small Catechism. On the day of Confirmation he wears a white robe and waves not only a palm branch but goodbye for a time to the sanctuary. 15 years later he brings his fiancé into his pastor’s office and agrees somewhat against his will to four sessions of pre marriage counseling. He gets married and three years later they bring their baby somewhat against that baby’s will to get baptized. Six years later, they send that child to that same school where he learns that Jesus loves him no matter what, and then the teacher takes out that same list of memory work. And so the cycle goes – Christian congregations and schools and Sunday Schools and Confirmation Classes and baptism classes and pre marriage counseling classes and informal conversations galore – the chosen people of God going out as friends of Jesus bearing fruit that abides, and even better than that – it multiplies and it spreads into places as near as Alma City and as far away as Zlehtown Liberia – and even better than that, the cycle gets repeated in generation after generation, and even after death parts us.
In closing today, I invite you to think about what it means to serve with joy in the (Mother Church). The first thought you have when you hear the phrase “mother church” might be the Roman Catholic Church, which is in fact the original Christian Church from which many Protestants, including Lutherans broke away. For me, the mother church is Peace Lutheran in Barney, ND, a tiny little place where my Aunt Margene held me as I was baptized, that place where I memorized the Small Catechism including 701 Bible verses therein included and yes, pretty much against my will, that place where Law and Gospel were first preached into my heart in regular and faithful fashion.
For many of our children and grandchildren, this is the Mother Church. In this sanctuary, Jesus Christ keeps on coming, not by water only, but by the water and the blood. This is where the Spirit keeps on testifying and the water connected with the Word keeps on flowing. This is where the victory keeps on getting celebrated and the forgiveness keeps on refreshing and faith keeps on getting strengthened. You are in the right place and in the right time, not by accident or some twist of faith, but by design. In this place, whether you are a mother or not, married or single, sailing along smooth or struggling in rough waters – it doesn’t make a difference- you are equally loved, equally set apart, equally valuable, equally chosen for a variety of assignments that are equally pleasing to God and all the company of heaven.
Every time a single sinner repents / every time a little sincerely apologizes / every time a man with a drinking problem says I need help / every time a woman with an attitude problem says “I messed up” / every time a sweet little old lady says I can do better than that / every time a crabby old German Lutheran says I need to lighten up a bit / every time a busy mom says I need to slow down / every time a lazy teenager says I need to speed up /every time a messed up person says is there somebody around here that would walk alongside of me, that often Jesus and His angels rejoice. That often heaven’s choir sings. That often Mother Church has an opportunity to be in the right place at the right time. That often Christians have a chance to bear fruit that abides and to ask the Father for whatever they want, and He will give it to them.
The kingdom of God is like a young mother who knows where her place is in almost every part of her day. It’s at the side of her child helping her to pick out the right clothes for the day, telling the little boy for the umpteenth time that it will be Cheerios and not ice cream for breakfast, insisting that homework will get done before it’s play time, and scolding the naughty one for being rude to grandma. She knows without a doubt that she has been chosen by God to follow up in faithful fashion on her own choices in life. She finds a fair amount of joy in seeing her children survive most days and thrive once in a while. She finds even greater joy when her kids say thank you, when her husband is attentive, and when hard work pays off.
But her greatest joy of all is a happiness that the world has no idea how to find it nor what she is even talking about. It is the joy she finds at the end of the day as she cringes with horror at what had happened. The laundry had piled up and the kids were driving her crazy and her husband was even more inattentive than usual. The dog was tracking mud faster than she could clean it up and the messy diaper made her want to throw up and then it happened. Her fuse blew and she let loose with a lingo that would give her grandma a stroke and make a social worker come knocking. And then she remembered what she had learned from her mother’s and grandmother’s knees. She remembered what love was and is and ever shall be. That Christ died for her. That He rose up again for her. And that until that day when He came back for her, He had chosen her to bear fruit that would multiply all the way into eternity. Then she knew what Luther meant when he urged mothers in particular to find delight, love, and joy without end in the midst of “bitterness, drudgery, and anguish”
I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…Our baby boy Noah is going on 26 years of age, and I don’t know what his favorite song is. But when he was a little over 3 years old, his favorite song was “Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird / if that mockingbird don’t sing / Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring/ and if that diamond ring turns brass / Mamas’s gonna buy you a looking glass / If that looking glass gets broke/ Mama’s gonna get you a billy goat / If that billy goat gets bony/ Mama’s gonna buy you a Shetland pony / and if that Shetland pony runs away /Mama’s gonna buy you another someday.”
Virtually every day of his first three or four years of life, Debi sang him that song, and almost always he would fall asleep in her arms listening, listening to her tender and full of affection voice. At nighttime she would sing a different song that started out “all night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord.” On at least one occasion he stopped her from singing the evening lullaby and said, “No, mom, don’t sing lullaby, sing mockingbird, and then he held up ten fingers and said, sing it this many times.” Woe be to anybody else who would try to lullaby Noah Lee to sleep.
So also on this Good Shepherd Sunday, woe be to any other voices which would try to lead the flock of Jesus Christ into the green pastures or near the still waters. Earlier in John 10, we hear the voice of Jesus speaking of himself in the second person “After He has gathered His own flock, He walks ahead of them, and they follow Him because they know His voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from Him because they don’t know His voice.” Our sermon theme today is “One Flock, One Shepherd.” I invite you to think with all of your mind /heart/soul about whose voices you are listening to these days and which paths you are traveling. Two lessons the Spirit of God would teach us today.
The first is (Sheep) Always straying, (Good Shepherd) always nearby. The prophet Isaiah said it this way, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Sheep experts tell us that sheep generally stick together in a flock for protection, but that when they do not feel threatened, they are likely to stray. In other words straying is not necessarily a sign of rebelliousness. So also do Church experts tell us that many who have grown up in the Christian faith may have wandered away from the visible church but they are not necessarily in open rebellion against Christ. They just may not feel the need for what He is offering. Which is pretty comforting, if you think about it. To know that not only does our Lord not give up on us when we stray, His eye is on us wherever we go and no matter what kind of trouble we are getting ourselves into. And even more than that – He’s not just watching us from a distance, He’s following us around. He is actively and equally focused on each one of us. As a grandpa would follow around his 4 year old grandson at a church function, trying to keep him out of trouble, so does our God pursue us in all the circumstances of life, trying to keep us out of trouble!
What a privilege it is to remind you today that whether or not you have been following in a close way your Savior, He has been following you around with goodness and mercy. He pursued us even as we (crucified Him), and He pursues us today even as we (close our hearts) to our neighbors in need. In Acts 4, Peter is explaining that they had healed the crippled beggar in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – the one you folks crucified! The stone you rejected, you who were supposed to be building the church, this stone has become the cornerstone! Even as those early Pharisees and Sadducees and ruling elders chased down and arrested and trumped charges against and beat Jesus to a bloody pulp, until He was dead and buried, even then He was in fact chasing them down and laying down His life on their behalf.
To this very day, He is pursuing this little flock in this little town, even when and especially when we stray. Even on those days we live for ourselves and close our hearts to our neighbors in need. John writes to the early Christians in our Epistle lesson for today that “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” It seems to me that we do a pretty good job in this place of loving those who are easy to love, but the Bible says that even the pagans can do that. It’s easy to be kind to those who are grateful for our kindness and it’s easy to be patient with those who are not testing our patience. But what is our attitude towards those who keep on digging their own holes and making their own beds with bad decisions and horrible habits and lousy attitudes? Oh how often and how seriously we stray by the way that we think and speak and live!
Thanks be to God that He keeps on pursuing us in the preaching and teaching and remembering of His Word in this place. Thanks be to God that He keeps on pursuing us in the waters of Holy Baptism and in the bread and the wine of the Holy Supper in this place! Thanks be to God that His desire to show mercy is so much stronger than our desire to go our own ways and do our own thing! His rod and His staff, they keep on comforting us. His table keeps on getting prepared for us in the presence of our enemies. Our heads keep on getting anointed. Our cups keep on overflowing. Our souls keep on getting restored. We keep on straying and He keeps on staying close. More than that, He somehow finds a way to lead us in the paths of righteousness.
He leads us as often as we (listen to His Voice), and He follows us around as often as we insist on following the (wrong leaders) Sheep have a reputation for being not that bright. A few years ago, a true story came out of eastern Turkey, where hundreds of sheep followed their leader off a cliff. They plunged to their deaths while their shepherds looked on in dismay. The newspaper reported that four hundred sheep fell 15 meters to their deaths in a ravine in Van province near Iran. The good news was that the four hundred sheep that died actually broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived. The report also includes the footnote that “Shepherds from Ikizler village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free… The loss to local farmers was estimated at $74,000.”
In Old Testament days and in Jesus’ day, the shepherds, the religious leaders had a reputation with God of being not at all faithful. They were the hired hands who every time they saw the wolf coming they would leave the sheep and flee. They saw their work as a job to do and they cared little or nothing for the sheep. They fed their own fat stomachs instead of the sheep under their care. They slumbered and they slept on the job in contrast to the one true God who never slumbers and never sleeps. The One Who stays awake and speaks truth with a sure and a steady voice. The One Who frequently whispers and once in a while He shouts not what we want but what we need to hear. The One Who promises in simple fashion, “blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.”
Dear friends, by nature we listen to the wrong voices and we are drawn to follow the wrong leaders. You know who I am talking about. The ones who say that there are many different roads that lead to heaven and that in the end pretty much everybody will be saved. The ones who say that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere in what you believe. The ones who say that God is love and that He really could never stay mad at you for any length of time and why can’t we all just get along. The ones who say that the church ought to follow popular opinion on issues like the sanctity of life and definition of marriage. Even worse than those who would not preach the Law in all of its severity are those who would not proclaim the good news with every bit of its sweetness. The ones who say that certain sins are so serious they cannot be forgiven. And that some sinners have wandered so far from the faith that they are a lost cause.
To which Jesus would reply, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Our second and final truth to remember this morning is Apparently divided, in reality united. The Holy Christian Church is in fact divided and united at the same time. Although the church is divided in terms of how the Bible is to be interpreted and applied to life (Lutherans call that concord), she is united in terms of being called to one hope, belonging to one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Unity). Although we are divided in terms of how we practice what we preach in this place (harmony), we are united in terms of what we believe, what we confess, and what we preach.
Apparently divided, in reality united. With that in mind, we keep on trusting / keep on doing what we have been called to do / keep on preaching. As we do so, we should remember that The preaching of the Risen Christ greatly annoyed the (hired hands) of Jesus’ day, and still does so today. The scribes and the Pharisees and the ruling elders were hoping they could be done with this Jesus of Nazareth, but it wasn’t meant to be. They weren’t all that interested in making room for new people in the fold of God’s love, but God was and is and ever shall be wanting it to be known there still is room. Church people are inclined to go only so far in terms of laying our lives down for brothers and sisters in the faith, but Christ knew and knows no such boundaries. And so we keep on trusting, we keep on doing what we have been called to do, we keep on staying close to a shepherd in a class all by Himself. And to the extent that we stay close to that one and good shepherd, His Spirit helps us to be a flock where people are loved not just not just with pious words and polite conversation, but with actions and habits that see all the way into eternity. A flock where hospitality is deep, forgiveness is real, and to which strangers are drawn. Drawn to a path that seems really easy some days and almost unbearably difficult other days, where two paths are regularly cautioned against.
Two paths to avoid. The first is the one where we are content with our (differences). This is the path where we fall prey to the idea that the church should just tolerate pretty much every new idea that comes along. The path where sinful behavior is ok and God is love and therefore we should not judge. A pastor named Erick Anderson said it this way, “tolerance and narcissism are very closely related. After all, we expect others to treat us as we treat them. Tolerance these days is rarely about sticking up for the marginalized. It’s a self-serving, quid pro quo arrangement. If we refrain from judging the behavior of others, what right do they have to judge ours? “Live and let live” is about securing for ourselves the right to live however we please, judgment-free……Absolute tolerance is a myth. The unforgivable sin of postmodernism is to tell someone they’re wrong…..The rhetoric of tolerance is appealing, but it’s often just narcissism in disguise.
A second path to avoid is the one where we forget what we have (in common). This is the path where we magnify our differences and do not remember the unity we have been given in Holy Baptism. The unity we express in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed. The unity we celebrate at our Lord’s Supper. The unity we are to guard with every fiber of our being and enjoy in every moment of every day. To guard with every fiber of our being and enjoy As our Good Shepherd guards this flock with every fiber of His being and enjoys in every moment of every day, and into the evening. As a good mother would guard her baby boy with every fiber of her being and enjoy in every moment of every day, and into the evening.
All night, all day – that’s the song Debi would sing to Noah at night –as often as he was too sleepy to ask her to sing the song he preferred (Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird)…..All night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord. All night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord. Now I lay me down to sleep, angels watching over me, O Lord. Pray the Lord my soul to keep, angels watching over me, O Lord. All night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord, all night, all day, angels watching over me, O Lord.
The kingdom of God is like a little child feeling safe in his mother’s arms and listening to her sweet and familiar voice. The weather outside if frightful, but you couldn’t tell by looking at this picture. All night, and all day, all is well with his soul. His mother is doing all the worrying for him, and he doesn’t have a care in the world.
Focus: God chooses us.
Function: that the hearers receive gratefully God’s good gifts.
We are beggars; this is true.
These are the last writing of Martin Luther. They were found in his pocket in 1546 as his heart burst. At age 62, he was on his way back from his family home where he had been mediating, of all things, a land dispute. Can believe that? The man who rocked the Catholic Church like a hurricane, who through the Spirit’s power singlehandedly challenged the pope, the emperor, the most powerful men of the known world, who had the ear of princes, this man spent his last months talking to little counts in his little home county of Mansfeld in his little hometown Eisleben.
At the end of the negotiations, he complained of chest pains, and at 2:45am on February 18 1546, he had a massive heart attack, and he died.
The full writing on the scrap of paper in his pocket read like this: “No one can understand Virgil's Poems unless he has been a shepherd for five years. No one can understand Cicero's Letters, unless he has busied himself in the affairs of some prominent state for twenty years. Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Scriptures sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years … We are beggars: this is true.”
Today we meditate upon three characters within our story – the lame beggar, Peter and John, and the Sanhedrin. This story is one of a beggar who clung to Peter and John. Peter and John were going to the temple when they saw him. He asked for some change and Peter looked at him with that peculiar sort of a look and said, “Gold and silver I have not, but what I have I give to you.” And he healed him.
First, the beggar was, in fact, a beggar. This is true. He wasn’t particularly kind or just. The text doesn’t say if he lived a good life or a bad life. It only says that he was lame and he was begging. I would suppose after they had seen the risen Christ, as Peter and John went up to the temple to pray, they saw many beggars. They probably went up past this man and hundreds others time after time. So, you have to ask, why this time? Why this man?
That’s the same question that many Christians ask, with a guilty conscience. Through no merit of my own, I’ve had a tradition of Christianity in my life. It was passed down by my father, by my father’s father, and by my father’s father’s father, all the way back to our roots in Germany. Why would I be born into a family like mine? Why am I chosen? Now, the first answer of a faithful theologian has to be, “I don’t know.” We don’t know the “Why’s” of God. He has reasons and we only have reality. But that only scratches the surface.
Suffice to say, there is a longer and more satisfying answer for any who want to hear it (and please talk to me later if this is your struggle), but our text moves on and so should we.
Do you see what the beggar does after that? After they restore his life, the beggar clings to Peter and John. He cannot get away. It’s like the first time you said “I Love You” to that girl in high school, in college. You can’t get away. You cling to each other. There’s nothing better than just simply being. What if we thought this way about all the gifts that God gives? What if we had that wonder about everything that God did for us? We would cling to him for the glory of the sunlight every morning. We would cling to him for the songs of birds, for the mystery of electricity, for the use of our bodies.
I think of this when I see a young child playing in the waters. It’s fantastic and new and mesmerizing as they slap the water and watch ripples go out. You set him down and he’s entertained for hours. The temptation we have as we pass through life is not to savor but to guzzle, not to taste but to shovel that down. It’s to slap the water so many times that we care not for the beauty it makes. In fact, as Christians, our life as we pass our 60th year, our 80th year, our 100th, should do the opposite. It should instead teach us to savor, more and more, each little aspect, each detail of this gift.
But seeing this extraordinary thing happen to an ordinary man, the people flock around Peter, and Peter has to address them. He says, “Your God did this. I was just a conduit. Your God did this, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of your fathers did this, yes, the same one that you crucified. He blotted out the ripple effects of sin – because that’s what that lameness was, that’s what all blindness and health concerns and cancer is – the brokenness of sin in the world.” Then, Peter did something even more amazing. He turns and proclaims that this stuff, this physical healing, is small potatoes. Or, I looked it up this morning, fingerling potatoes. He’s not looking to share small potatoes, he’s looking for the Real Deal, the Yukon Gold.
The real deal is in fact that the effects of sin aren’t just dealt with. Jesus deals with the root. He digs it out. He pulls it out. This beggar, he had a spectacular miracle happen to him, but the greater thing was the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins.
The ledger of that beggar’s sins was long, just like ours is. You look at your ledger and you can see debt after debt and interest piling on. But Jesus doesn’t nit-pick with a few details up at the top. He doesn’t look at one budget line here or one bank note there. No, he goes to the bottom line. He goes down to the amount that we owe, and he blots it out.
Stephanie, our treasurer, will tell us, that’s not good accounting practice. Debts don’t just go away because you scratch it out from your checkbook. We sometimes wish we could do that, but we can’t.
And, she would be right. It wasn’t free. It wasn’t arbitrary. Jesus paid for our debt out of his own account. He spent his life, the life of the Son of God, to pay for the sins of the world, so that he could blot out our sin, blot it out so dark that it can never come back.
If we first look at the healed beggar, then second, we look at Peter and John to realize that all of us in the church are beggars. We are beggars. This is true. Before we were saved, we were beggars. After we are saved, we are still beggars. Long life isn’t assured. Love isn’t assured to us. White picket fences aren’t assured. 2.5 kids aren’t assured. Health isn’t assured. You could die slipping out of your bathtub this evening. Your whole life is a gift. In our Lord’s Prayer, as we ask in just a little bit, we beg for our daily bread. We beg for God’s kingdom to come. We beg for the crops to grow and the rain to fall, and even the best of farmers cannot make the seed to grow into a row of corn, and only the best of us can only wonder when something as magical as life slips into our hands before it slips away.
This is in fact the beauty of our theology, that when it comes to salvation, you bring nothing to the table. My salvation isn’t contingent on how interesting the sermon is on any given night (thank goodness), nor does it hang on your response to the Jehovah’s Witness that comes to the door. It does not even hang on your deathbed confession of faith. No, the same thing that saves the tall, the handsome, the well-spoken and the strong is that which saves the voiceless, the weak, the doubting, and the tortured.
It’s God’s grace. This is a reason to be a Lutheran. Luther says it like this: I by my own reason or strength cannot come to him,” and so he comes to me. In the waters of holy Baptism, the water combined with God’s Word and included in God’s command, God picks you up into your arms, treasuring you before you know what you are. And his grace carries you through all your abilities, expanding and growing as you become an adult person, until you hit your peak, when you slide down that bell curve settle down, and you lose all that you have. God’s baptismal grace holds you even after you’ve lost all that you are, when you cannot hold that hand that holds yours as you draw your final breaths. God’s grace carries you from before you knew how to speak until after you’ve forgotten. Just look at Martin Luther’s life.
And that’s all because God decided he would.
Thirdly, we turn to the Sanhedrin and we find that it is an offense to preach the Gospel. You’ll make enemies. Notice that Peter’s speech here doesn’t do the same thing that it did on Pentecost. In chapter 2, he gains 3,000 from preaching the Gospel. In chapter 4 the disciples are hauled in front of the Sanhedrin and chewed out for the first time. The second time, they’ll be beaten with rods, and the third time Stephen will be killed. If you look at the start of chapter 4, you find that there are some people who oppose the Gospel and some who listen. It wasn’t the Apostles’ job to make anyone believe the Gospel. It was their first job to preach it clearly.
And they also had a further responsibility. The Gospel makes enemies, and do you know what Christians are to do with their enemies? Jesus says this, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you.” What do you do with enemies of the Gospel? You make a special effort to heap upon them love and grace and charity. You make a special effort to mourn with them in times of mourning. To give cups of cool water. You don’t tone down the severity of the Law, but you go to them and say, “The same law that cuts your heart is the same one cutting mine as well. Let me take you to the place where I let that burden down.” You go to them, like one beggar to another beggar, showing them from where you received bread.
How would this change the way we keep our grudges? How would it change our daily interactions with difficult people if we prayed that God would give them every good thing? How would we look upon those who wish us hurt and destroy us if we prayed every night that their souls would be bought by the blood of Christ and that we would have a seat right next to them at the banqueting table?
We are beggars. This is true. We do not even deserve the bread given to us. And for that, thanks be to God. Amen and amen.
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Tonight we focus on verse 33 in particular on the phrase “Great Grace.” It seems as though more grace, fresh grace, greater grace, rested on the early church after the imprisonment and deliverance of their leaders. We are to understand that the holy fervor manifested by them at this time at this time was not accounted for by such things as the incoming of wealthy members or the multiplying of their numbers, but by the increase and enlargement of the grace that rested on them. Great grace is the one secret of great spiritual power.
This was not the first bestowment of grace on this early church / Pentecost/ miraculous gifts. This outpouring of the Spirit was well received and used. Because it was well received and used, more grace was given. The further grace enabled them to suffer nobly and well; to testify for Christ even before governors and kings, and to pray together and live together and work together, in loving union and mutual forbearance, and charity. The Bible says that "To him that hath shall more be given;" God's grace is indeed "free," absolutely free, but God has added this promise to it, that if we use it wisely and well, more grace will be added. One author in the Pulpit Commentary writes, “ To those who are faithful in using grace the promise applies, "He giveth more grace." Then, if we feel the need of and long for "great grace," let us see that we deal rightly in response to the leadings and movings of the grace we have. Empty the vessel in service for others, and God will be sure to refill it. Trim the lamp, and let its light shine brightly all around, and God will be sure to replenish it with abundance of fresh oil. - R.T.”
LCMS emphasis: “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”:
“Witness” means the testimony that is given, specifically, telling the good news about Jesus--bearing witness to Christ and the salvation that is found in him. For “Witness” you see the Greek word “Martyria,” because “Witness” or “Testimony” is how that word is always translated.
“Mercy” is the term used to cover works of Christian love and service that benefit persons in need in a very practical way. Next you see the word “Diakonia,” which is generally translated not as “Mercy” but as “Service.” However, “Diakonia” still is a good word to associate with the church’s works of mercy, since “diaconal” ministry is practical service done for the neighbor in need.
And “Life Together” refers to the church’s common life as brothers and sisters in Christ, our unity as God’s family in the life that we share. “Koinonia,” “Fellowship,” the “Common Life,” the “Life Together” that the church shares. “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: “Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia.” Whichever way you say it, these words describe what we do and how we live as Christ’s church.
Trinity Lutheran / Annual Voters’ Meeting / 26 baptisms / 15 weddings / 16 deaths / 24 junior confirmations /11 adult confirmations /1726 baptized members / 1289 confirmed members / 534 average attendance / 79 gained by transfer, profession of faith, baptism and 77 lost to death or transfer or release / $1,249,905 budget. Numbers / part of the story.
First, “Witness,” “Martyria.” We find this emphasis in verse 33 of our text: “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” The apostles were giving their “testimony.” That’s how the “martyria” word is translated in this verse, as “testimony.” The apostles were giving their “testimony” or “witness” to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” That’s why this text has been selected for use during this Easter season, because it shows the apostles bearing witness to the resurrection. You will see this in just about all the readings from Acts that are used in the Easter season--they all have to do with the church’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the heart of the Christian message. That Jesus died and rose again and what that means for us--this is the gospel itself. This gospel is what makes Christians. It’s what forms and gives life to and expands the church--the witness or testimony to the resurrection of Christ. You would not be a Christian and saved and going to heaven if it were not for this preaching of the Lord’s resurrection. There would not be a TLC/TLS were not for the apostolic witness to the resurrection.
Jesus had to die for you if you were going to live. It is Jesus Christ, dying on the cross for you, as your substitute . . . it is the holy Son of God, dying for all the sins and all the sinners of the world, in our place, taking the punishment we deserve, the righteous for the unrighteous . . . it is this sacrificial death of Christ that is the only way any of us has redemption from the fallen sinful nature we share, forgiveness for the countless sins we commit, and righteousness to enter into God’s heaven. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus by definition means that Jesus rose from the dead. He died, and the reason he died was this: to save us from our sins and eternal death. The message of Christ’s resurrection is tied to the meaning of his death. But now has Christ arisen, and we rise with him! We rise to newness of life, and when that happens to a whole bunch of us, there is the church! “Witness,” then, “Martyria,” is essential to the formation and the expansion of the church.
Now this word “Witness” literally has to do with eyewitnesses, people giving testimony to things they themselves have seen and heard. Notice, it is the apostles who are giving their witness, because those men had literally seen the Lord Jesus risen from the dead. Thomas and the rest of the apostles actually saw and heard Jesus in person standing there in their midst. The apostle John starts his letter by speaking of that “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands”--John is talking about Jesus himself, in the flesh--“we have seen it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life.” The apostles were literal eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Christ.
We have the apostles’ own testimony in the pages of the New Testament. And we have seen and heard, too, in a sense. We see Christ with the eyes of faith that the Holy Spirit has given us. We hear the saving message that is still proclaimed to this day. Remember what Jesus said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The church today still gives witness, testimony, “martyria,” to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Every day we witness to Christ as individuals / church. Some days we fall short, other days way short. Other days, we witness well, and other days better yet. Some days our bad habits are really bad, and other days worst yet. Other days our good habits seem to be ruling reasonably well, other days even better yet. Debi and story of bad angels / good angels. At end of day, pray, Lord forgive any bad I have done or good I have failed to do. Bless anything good I may have accomplished.
Let’s go next to “Mercy.” “Diakonia” is the word used, “Service,” but in the sense of diaconal service, that is, works of mercy. It’s right here in our text. Verses 34 and 35: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
Now what’s the first thing you think of when you hear these verses? Be honest. That the early Christians were Communists? And that this was some sort of “failed experiment” that didn’t last? Wrong on both counts. The Christians were not Communists, or even Socialists. The difference is this: Communism or Socialism or forced governmental redistribution of wealth, taking people’s money away from them, against their will, and giving it to others: that is wrong, that is immoral, that is a form of stealing--it’s a form of involuntary servitude, really. But that is not what was going on here. No, the Christians’ helping of those in need was entirely voluntary. It was done out of love, the mercy engendered in Christians’ hearts by the mercy God has showered upon us. So this type of “redistribution of wealth” is very good, it is highly commendable, and it is true to the church’s character. (Good stewardship message – we are managers instead of owners / Dan and Kendra Hoehn benefit coming up)
When there are people in need here in our own community, especially in our own congregation, we help them out in whatever ways we can. Look around you. Do you see people with needs? Whom can you help? How can you help? Look also at the people who are not here tonight. What are their needs? Illness, loneliness, financial need? These are your opportunities, this week, this month--these are our opportunities as church--for putting into action acts of mercy done in Christ’s name. Food Shelf / Caring Fund / story of lost dog Tucker / At end of every day, pray, Lord forgive all the bad I have done and all the good I have failed to do, bless anything I may have done right.
“Witness.” “Mercy.” Finally, “Life Together.” “Koinonia” is the Greek term. It means “having things in common.” And that’s what we see in the Book of Acts. Verse 32: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”
Now we’ve already said that the church “had everything in common,” in the sense of their willingness to give to those who were in need. But their Life Together, their Koinonia, was more than just shared wealth. The things that those Christians had in common, the things that we have in common, start with the things of God. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” This is what we have in common. One bread, one cup, the body and blood of Christ--this Holy Communion, this Koinonia, is what makes us the communion of saints. These are the things we have in common--God’s gifts, the things of the gospel--that form us into a united community. And then the love and the mercy and the life together flow from that. “Those who believed were of one heart and soul.” That’s us, because our heart and soul are being knit together with cords of love, the love of God we all have received and believe.
“Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: It’s not just a slogan. It’s the banner under which we live and move and have our being. “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”: “Martyria, Diakonia, Koinonia.” The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town that falls short of God’s glory in every one of their days, but their Savior has gone before them. He has gone the distance and has done it in a perfect way. Some days their witness is winsome and other days it is awful. Some days they show mercy in a way that is beautiful to see, and other days you just want to cringe and back away. Once in awhile their life together is smooth and pleasant and full of great grace, and other days the Lord sees fit to discipline them in a painful way. In every one of their days, they have developed a habit of praying before they go to sleep, Lord forgive what we have done wrong and the good we have failed to do. Bless anything we may have done right today. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther