Big Words: Go
Acts 2:1-21 // John 15:26-27, 16:4-15
First in a series of six
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is Acts 2, to which I add from Acts chapter 1: “He ordered them not to depart Jerusalem but to wait… and later, “you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are exploring a new sermon series in these days, called Big Words. The words that have the greatest depth of meaning in English are always the simplest. In this sermon series, we examine those little words, and we ask, what do these little words mean and how do they help us to express the depth of our theology? Be, with, but, and for. These little words harbor incredible theological truths, and today we ask the question, on Pentecost Sunday, on the Sunday when the disciples were given the Holy Spirit, were sent, were told to go, what does that word “go” mean? What does it mean to go?
It’s a command. Go. Get away. Go. Get moving!
It’s a way to encourage. Go. Go for it!
It’s a way to end conversations. Go. As Pastor Griffin has got me saying at the end of conversations, “Well, there you go.”
It’s a way to describe life. Go. He’s going on his own path. He’s gone to his Lord. He’s heading toward greatness.
So, as we look at our text today, where did Jesus tell his disciples to go?
To answer that, we have to back up to the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts.
The days after Jesus’ death, the disciples were huddled together, with the door locked. Jesus appears among them in the locked room and says, Peace be with you. Then, he appears among them again, with Thomas, the doors still locked and says again, Peace be with you. Then he appears to the disciples going to Emmaus, then he appears to 500 or more witnesses of the resurrection, and then, forty days after his resurrection, he ascends into heaven.
In Acts 1, what does he direct them to do? They’re on a mountain outside of Jerusalem, hearing the last instructions of their Savior before he ascends into the heavens.
He tells them to go. Go back to Jerusalem. He tells them to go, go wait for the Spirit to come. You wonder how different their room would have looked after that. You wonder what different kind of air they would have felt, not one of fear or one of failure, or one of defeat, but instead one of triumph, of anticipation, of excitement and impatience to receive what their Savior was handing out to them
Our text begins with the disciples not knowing what to expect, but knowing that they will see it when they see it. They wait, not knowing what will come or when it will come, or what it will be – have you ever imagined the perspective of the disciples? – but when it comes it is all that God had ordained it to be. They are where they have been for the last 2 months, but the calling of their God to go and wait – to receive the Holy Spirit – changes everything they thought they knew about their surroundings.
There’s another answer to the question, where were they told to go?
As Jesus ascended, there was another side to his command to his disciples. First, he said, “Go and wait in Jerusalem.” Second, he said, “Go and be my witnesses to every nation.”
This is the definition of “go” that we’re more comfortable with, at least on some levels. He invites them to follow him and go out to all the corners of the earth, and he starts in Jerusalem.
God is bidding them to go, and at the same time he is drawing all the nations to them. He is preparing them by his Holy Spirit and he is preparing hearts to hear his message. He is calling the equipped and he is equipping the called.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be Peter, on that first Pentecost? His entire life so far has been forming him, with success and failure, coming from the most painful of betrayals, his entire life has been forming him for this sermon. But it isn’t the end. There is far more for him to do. There is a far greater calling, and throughout the book of Acts, you see Peter in the end, in a different place than he was in the beginning, both physically and spiritually.
So, what does this mean for us?
The calling of God, the way God calls us to go, I would submit to you, is twofold. Sometimes, to go might mean to stay. Let me tell you what I mean. TO go – that is to be sent on a mission – means that your mission is to those who are around you right now, even as God has a plan that moves you forward in the end.
Let’s take an example. If a woman was working in a strip club, or in the mafia, or perhaps (the most black-and-white of situations) in Nazi Germany, and became a believer or started taking their faith seriously, what would the calling of God be in her life?
Calling number one would be to be Christian to all those who are around you, to be a Christian to them because where you are is where God has called you to be in this moment. Let me say that again. Wherever you are, there is a calling that you have from God for that very place and time. How do I know? Because you are there. The first calling of a Christian is to be Christian to all those who are around you.
To be kind. To be loving – and remember be loving is to sacrifice for what another needs, not what they want, nor what they deserve. To have self-control and patience. To have joy and goodness, because the calling of God is to those who are around you.
Second, the calling of a Christian is to know that where you are isn’t where you will be. Look at Peter -- where he was in the Gospels was not where he was on Pentecost and that certainly was not where he ended up at the end of his life. That is to say, your God as the true vine is wanting you to grow fruit. Your God as the good Shepherd is wanting to lead you toward waters that are more still, to pastures that are even greener. That, as Pastor Griffin said a few weeks ago, your God is not satisfied with your status quo.
Because the journey of the Christian life orients us toward something entirely other. Most times we think of life beginning at birth and ending at death, but for the Christian, we are called to know we are on a different path. For the Christian, we orient ourselves not to the day of our birth but to the day when we are born anew in the waters of baptism. We see our end no so much as our last breath on our last day, but instead we see our end as the day when Christ comes to give eternal life me and all believers in Christ, serving him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Amen and amen.
John 17:11b-19 // 1 John 5:9-15 // Acts 1:12-26
Seventh in a series of seven, Jesus Building His Kingdom
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is John 17, Jesus’s prayer for his disciples: Holy Father (and I summarize) keep them in your name; keep them from the evil one. Give them joy. Make them holy.
Dear friends in Christ,
In our Easter sermon series we are focused on Jesus building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in recent months that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. Our Easter Sunday sermon focused on Jesus risen and living for us, the week after that Jesus preparing us to be kingdom builders, then Jesus persuading Thomas and us, then our Good Shepherd shepherding us, Jesus abiding in us. Last week, we explored what it means for Jesus to be choosing us. Today, Jesus prayingfor us.
If your mom wanted one thing for you, what would it be? Or rather, I’m going to say it a different way, if you had to articulate your wishes, what would they be?
In these days, Benjamin is learning to put on his pants and pull on his socks, which first causes me to remember again how many learned activities you forget that you learned and how difficult it can be to explain a seemingly simple task. But in these days the temptation is to do it all for him. It’s faster. It’s more efficient. There are certainly less tears.
Although, it might do for the short term, it doesn’t help him in the long-term. What he truly needs is for me teach him and to expect him to do better than he can do right now. And so, although it is more expedient for me to do whatever will make my child quiet and happy, my prayer for Benjamin these days has been that he would grow up big and strong and kind and wise, even though it is not easy. Or as Hebrews says, “No discipline is pleasant at the time.”
And so, if your mom wanted one thing for you, what would it be?
In our text for today, we see Jesus in his final prayer before the storm begins.
What is Jesus asking for? He uses three verbs; he has three parts to his prayer.
Part One. Jesus’s first prayer is that his dear and heavenly Father would KEEP them, and if you look at our whole text, you’ll find that he’s asking that his Holy Father would keep them in two ways. 1) In your NAME. and (2) From the EVIL ONE. But notice the verb first. It’s the Greek word ΤΗΡΕΩ – it’s the same word for when Jesus tells his disciples to keep his commandments. Isn’t that wild?
Jesus is asking his father to keep his disciples as he asks his disciples to keep his father’s commandments. Just as he’s asking the disciples to abide in him as he abides in them. He’s asking his father to diligently and wholeheartedly follow after his disciples. This entire section so far (and we’ve been going through it for weeks!)
And the two parts: 1) to keep them in your name. That’s the name spoken over you in your baptism. That’s the name that your sponsors promised to uphold in your life. That’s the name that we begin our service every week with. That’s the name that gives us a worth that isn’t based on abilities and doesn’t fade with time.
And to keep them in your name, he goes on to tell us two things: it’s NOT keeping them out of the world. It IS keeping them from the evil one. What does that mean? It means that we are not called to leave the world, but to be a light in the world. We are not called to separate ourselves but to know the hope that makes us different.
Lord God, keep us today. Keep us in your name, and keep us, even while we are in the world. Keep us from the evil one. Amen.
Second, GIVE them JOY. What is that joy? He says, it’s a joy that come from abiding in his father’s word. It’s a joy found in the places where Christ promises it. It’s a joy that – and listen closely here – it’s a joy that Jesus is expecting to enter soon.
Step back a minute. He’s between the Last Supper and his agony in the Garden, and he’s talking about joy? The darkness is getting deeper. He is dreading the cup that he will drink and in this last hour he’s talking about joy.
One preacher said it like this: “Joy is the product of abiding in commandments and love of God (Do you remember that language from the past few weeks?)… [It] is the experience of peace and contentment because we are kept in the Father’s Name.” This is the joy that widows and widowers can know – a joy that can hold even in the bitter. It is a joy that moms and dads know – it is a joy that keeps their children, regardless of how their life goes.
Lord God, give us joy that lasts, joy that finds significance in what you say, regardless of what circumstances, our intellect, or even our feelings dictate. Amen.
Third, he asks his holy Father to MAKE them HOLY. Notice the progression here. Holy Father, make them holy as I am making myself holy. The holiness of the Father is the holiness of the Son, and that holiness works a holiness in us. So, what does the word holy mean?
It means, “Set apart for special use.” It means that (this is Romans 8) “all things work together for the good of those who love him, who are called according his purpose.” It means that for those called by the gospel, enlightened by its gifts, sanctified (this word means to “make holy”) and kept in the one true faith, we have the everlasting conviction that God is using our words and our deeds in cosmically significant ways, that when we look back from a heavenly perspective, we will see our words and deeds affecting those around us in ways we wouldn’t have imagined, in conjunction with a plan so great that it only could start at the beginning of time and it only ends with the recreation of the universe.
Lord God, make us holy as you are holy. Set apart our words and deeds to do more than we can imagine. Remind us again and again how big the Body of Christ is. Amen.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town that God is keeping in the world in his name, even as he keeps it from the evil one. God is giving them joy that lasts in all circumstances. He is making them holy for a purpose only he can fathom. And among them are at least some no good sinners who are wondering if there is any point to it all. They doubt their place. They doubt they have worth, but in his quiet way, their savior feeds them with his Gospel, and his message, his prayer, for them stays the same on the good days and on the bad.
What does Jesus pray for us? That his Holy Father would keep us. That we would have joy. That his Holy Father would make us holy.
And if he prays for that, what should we pray for?
Amen and Amen.
Jesus Choosing Us
May 5 and 6, 2018
John 15:9-17 – No longer do I call you servants for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 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.
In our Easter sermon series we are focused on Jesus building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in recent months that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. Our Easter Sunday sermon focused on Jesus risen and living for us, the week after that Jesus preparing us to be kingdom builders, then Jesus persuading Thomas and us, then our Good Shepherd shepherding us, last weekend Jesus abiding in us, next weekend Jesus praying for us. Today, we explore what it means for Jesus to be choosing us.
The Frozen Chosen is a term used in at least five ways:
The turning point in world history, of course, is marked by Jesus Christ living the sinless life, suffering under Pontius Pilate all that he was appointed to suffer, being crucified until he was dead and buried, and rising up again on the third day. In our text for today, Jesus makes it a point to let his disciples that they didn’t choose him, he chose them. In Jesus’ day, it was common for men to choose a teacher and to attach themselves to him as his disciples, to learn from him, and to catch his spirit. But as Jesus often did and still does, he turned everything upside down, or as my Aunt Linny would say, kittywampus. In his quest to seek and to save lost sinners in all of world history, he does the choosing, he gives the assignments, he reaches out, he calls, he equips, he leads the way. Three truths about what it means to be chosen by Jesus Christ today.
No longer do I call you servants….but I have called you friends…Truth #1 is that we are Chosen not just to be servants, but (friends). In Jesus’ day, bondservants or slaves would simply receive the master’s orders and carry them out. The master would not confide his plans and his purposes to a mere underling.
But the status of his disciples would be different. To them Jesus had confided all that he had heard from his Father. They would be friends in every sense of the word. Jesus never wanted his disciples to be simply carrying out their duties, he wanted them to be intimately acquainted with all of his heart’s desire he wanted them to be angry with whatever made him angry, he wanted them to care about all that he cared about, he would invite them to lay down their lives for others, even as he had laid down his life for the world.
There is an old Russian proverb that says one old friend is better than two new ones. In Jesus Christ we have the oldest and best friend possible. He has loved us with an everlasting love, in all of our days, His inclination is to be kind with us, it is to be patient with us, it is not to keep a record of our wrongs.
The kingdom of God is like a father and a son who were in church one Sunday with hearts that were as sad and frustrated as they could be. In the months preceding that Sunday, the son’s marriage had stumbled right into divorce court, nobody was a winner, there were losers all the way around, the day before father and son had loaded up a uhaul truck and with the help of a used furniture store moved into a small apartment. The son was pretty stoic for the most part, he kept his emotions in check right up to the point at which we sang What A Friend We Have in Jesus. The tears flowed hot and heavy in that hour, and how comforting it was for them both to know that their friend Jesus and his father were crying right alongside of them.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit….Truth #2 is that we are Chosen not just to be friends, but to deliver Good News (for here and now). There’s another old saying that “if you really want to know who your friends are, just make a mistake.” Almost always, our best friends are folks with whom we have spent lots of time. Almost always, our best friends have experienced us being stupid or crabby or annoying or stubborn or mean or any combination of the above or maybe all of the above, and yet they forgive as they were first forgiven by God. They listen to our stories, in response to Jesus listening to their stories. Good friends find a way to be gentle when it’s time to be gentle, and they find a way to speak hard truths when it’s time to speak hard truths.
We are called not only to be friends, but to bear fruit in the lives of others near and far. Galatians 5 teaches us that the fruit (singular) of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Just as surely as the purpose of a vineyard is to produce grapes, the purpose of every Christian congregation near and far is to let their collective light shine before others that they might see their good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.
Jesus would look us in the eyes this morning and declare, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” And again, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Of course the first great commandment is to love God with all of our hearts and souls and minds. And the second is to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. The apostle John, the one who seems always to be writing about the love of God, says it this way, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”
In the early stages of Christian faith, we tend to keep the commandments out of a sense of duty. God says to do this and don’t do that or else, and so we obey. But the more and more our Good Shepherd follows us around with goodness and mercy, the more we find that the Ten Commandments are not burdensome. We find ourselves thinking of it as a privilege to give a neighbor a ride to the doctor, we find it to be a privilege to walk alongside of others when they are suffering the consequences of their own actions.
The kingdom of God is like a prominent member of the community who gets his name in the paper for driving while intoxicated. Some of his friends think to themselves “it’s about time he got caught.” Others talk about it behind his back and even delight in his misfortune, and then there are a few good friends, one right after another who text him, they call him on the phone, they show up at his court hearing, they knock on his door, they deliver the Good News of God’s forgiveness right into his soul. They deliver the Good News in a way that he will never forget. One by one, they deliver the Good News as one messed up sinner to another messed up sinner
Truth #3 is that we are Chosen not just to deliver Good News for here and now, but to deliver news of a victory that (stretches into eternity) Our lessons for the day are filled with victory language. Psalm 98 joyfully celebrates the victory won by our Lord through his crucifixion and resurrection in the sight of all the nations. It’s a victory freshly realized and celebrated in our first lesson today when Peter proclaims to the Gentile centurion, his household, and gathered friends who are then baptized into the family of God. In today’s Epistle lesson, the Christian faith is described as the victory of faith that has overcome the world. And in our text, Jesus makes a point that we have been chosen not just to bear fruit for here and now, but to go and bear fruit that abides.
The fruit that abides is the seeds of God’s Word that are planted, nurtured, watered, cultivated, and fertilized. The fruit that abides is faith that is created in the waters of Baptism, nurtured and watered in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, and cultivated and fertilized in the eating and drinking of the Supper. The fruit that abides is the work of the Holy Spirit not just through preachers, day school teachers, and Sunday School teachers, it is the working of the Holy Spirit through every day Christians laying down their lives for friends that are easy to love and acquaintances not at all easy to love in a thousand different ways in every one of our days.
Choice #20 The kingdom of God is like a congregation whose pastor took a call away from a little country church about two hours away back in 1976. This congregation proceeded to call not just one, not just five, not just 10 or 15, but 19 experienced pastors to come and be their undershepherd. All 19 of those pastors, for one reason or the other, declined the call. Finally, this congregation said to her District President and to her seminaries, send us a seminarian, send us a rookie, we don’t know anything about him, just send us somebody! That somebody was yours truly. Debi and I were sent there sight unseen. For Immanuel Lutheran, we were Choice #20, but for Jesus Christ, we were #1 choice.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, so also are you the #1 choice of Jesus Christ to bear fruit this very day in your marriages, to bear fruit in your family circles, to bear fruit at the Welcome Center, to bear fruit in the lives of those who are sick or alone or in prison. To bear fruit in a thousand different ways in the lives of people you know well and in the lives of people you’ll never see again. And not just fruit, but fruit that abides. Or to say it another way, to deliver news of a victory that stretches all the way into eternity.
John 15:1-8 // 1 John 4:1-21 // Acts 8:26-40
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is the Gospel lesson, John 15:1-8, “I am the vine, you are the branches. The one who abides in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit because apart from me he can do nothing.”
Dear friends in Christ,
In our Easter sermon series we are focused on Jesus Building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in recent months that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. Our Easter Sunday sermon focused on Jesus risen and living for us, the week after that Jesus preparing us, then Jesus persuading Thomas and us, and last week Jesus shepherding us. The next three Sundays we will focus on Jesus choosing us to be his disciples, and finally Jesus praying for us. Today, we focus on Jesus abiding in us.
I am the vine; my Father is the vinedresser. I am the vine; you are the branches. I am the vine; if you abide in me, you will bear much fruit. Jesus is using metaphorical language, and he’s using metaphorical language that he didn’t make up on his own. He’s borrowing it from the Old Testament, namely from Isaiah (chapter 5, called the song of the vineyard), from Jeremiah (chapter 2), from Hosea (chapter 10), from Ezekiel (chapter 19), and from Psalm 80. In each, the Old Testament writers are calling on the corporate identity of Israel – the whole kingdom, and you’ll note that all of the “you’s” in our text are plural. He’s saying, I am like a grape vine, you all are like all of the spurs and shoots that come up and produce clusters of grapes. My father prunes to make them fruitful. So, and this is his “therefore” statement abide in me.
So, what does it mean to abide? John uses it all over the place in our text for today. So, what does it mean? It’s an old-fashioned kind of word. When I looked it up in the dictionary, one of the most common usages was in the negative – I cannot abide this / I will not abide that! – and that basically means to agree.
But that can’t be what Jesus is saying in our passage. Branches don’t agree with vines. The Father isn’t just agreeing with his Son. You don’t hear Christ calling us to agree with him. No, instead, you can look at a similar word, abode. You abide (verb) in an abode (noun). To abide is to stay, to remain. It is to live in.
Three points from our text for our sermon, three points on what it means to abide, what it means to remain, to dwell in Christ.
Point number one, the purpose of the gardener is to encourage growth. That’s the first point of our text for today. “I am the true vine and (did you remember that this is the first thing Jesus says? I had to read it twice) I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. And do you notice how he does it in the text? He prunes. He cleans away the dead branches, so that more branches can sprout. He prunes those who bear fruit, so that they may be more fruitful. Can you imagine that?
That is, to say in in another way, in this metaphor the truth that comes forward is that the trials of your life, for the Christian, are meant to prune you back. One pastor said it like this: “Some of the biggest pruning moments in my life are the first 2 years of my marriage and my fight with brain cancer. I would never want to do them again. I would not wish them back for a moment. But I recognize that I would not be who I am without that pruning.”
This passage is key, because I listen to people struggle with this concept. They appreciate where they are and its hard to talk about where they have been. I would not be who I am without this, and yet, it was a terrible time. Here the ancient words of Scripture apply. The Father is a vinedresser who prunes us.
Second, the purpose of the vine is to bring life to the branches. Without the vine, the branches wither. Without being connected to the vine, the branches are cleaned away. Without the vine, the branches cannot bear fruit; they cannot do anything.
So, what is the vine? It is, first, Jesus. That’s pretty obvious. It’s the man, Jesus. But notice what the Gospel lesson says as well. Jesus equates his own identity and his own abiding with his word and the abiding of his word. Verse 7, “If you abide in me and my word abides in you.” That’s the message of the Kingdom. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven draws near.” It’s forgiveness. When we dwell – when we abide in forgiveness, and the word of forgiveness abides in us, that is Christ and it is life.
That’s a bold statement. Have you ever thought of that? It’s a bold statement to say that forgiveness is as essential to spiritual life as water and air are to physical life. So, what relationships are withholding water and air from?
Thanks be to God that while we were still dead in our trespasses, the author of life died in our place and rose up again with our new life. Thanks be to God that the cross held God himself, Jesus Christ, who was doing the will of His Father in heaven.
Third, the purpose of the branches is to bear fruit. Last week we left off with the interesting and challenging statement, Jesus is not ok with the status quo. This week, we see Jesus reminding us that the purpose of the branches is to bear fruit.
What is that fruit? Galatians 5 tells us. “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” One pastor would have us note, “Fruit is singular. You don’t grow just one of those nine qualities and call it good. In fact, if you lean on one to the detriment of others, it becomes toxic.” That is, joy without self-control turns unfruitful. Patience without gentleness becomes toxic. Kindness without goodness is unhelpful. The fruit grows together.
Let’s circle back to the beginning of this sermon. The question I asked was, what does it mean to abide? Right, because earlier, right at the beginning, I quoted Jesus as saying, “Abide in me.” But that’s only part of the statement. It’s “The one who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” And we see another dimension to this idea of abiding, that Christ abides in us and we abide in him.
Most of the time we think of that as a static kind of question. When you abide somewhere, you live there. You stay there. But, and here’s the but of the Christian life – but what does it mean if you are called to abide in a growing, living, dynamic love, if you are called into the mystery – for the Christian the greatest mystery – of the Trinity, the God who is three in one and one in three.
Here’s the truth behind that truth: the God who is three in one is love. Why? Because love can only come in giving and receiving it. Love doesn’t happen in itself. It happens in giving and receiving. The God who, in our text of the day, is at the same time the Gardener, the Father who prunes, the vine, Jesus Christ, which gives life, and the spirit, the Holy Spirit, which works the life and brings the fruit and uses the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of others.
C.S. Lewis, he says it really well. To abide in Christ is like entering into a dance. I quote: “And [the living dynamic activity of love of God] is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: … almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.” And later he explains more: “The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-[person] life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got enter that pattern, to take his place in that dance… If you want to get warm, you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet, you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.”
The kingdom of heaven is like a flock that is a kingdom, that is a body, that is a grapevine. They know in whom the trust, and its’ the same one that prunes them back. They see the promises of God not only in the good times, but also in the bad. They ache to draw near to the source of all that is fruitful in life; they ache to enter the dance.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young family that is remembering once again how the seasons of life change. Lean years and full years come and go. Healthy times and sick times come and go. Laughter and tears come and go. And through all of the dynamic changes of life, the ever-growing realization is there, that through it all, the love of Christ sustains.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that are remembering again and again that they are branches of the vine. They understand in their tough days that their Father is going to be pruning. They pray that they could have the privilege of bearing fruit, and they rest – they abide, they live, they move – in the truth that their life comes from the vine.
Amen and Amen.
Gordon Dumdei funeral
April 19, 2018
“The Good Shepherd”
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The kingdom of God is like a family going on a trip. They’re all packed up, the father is closing the garage door, and the kids are as happy as they can be. You ask them where they are going, and they don’t know. You ask them which highway they’re taking, and they don’t know. You ask them where they will be sleeping that night and when will they come back and they don’t know. But ask them who they are going with, and their faces light up, their smiles reappear, they answer, “We’re going with Mom and dad!” They knew with whom they were going, and that was enough for them.
So also was it true for Gordon as he approached his final hours. He didn’t really know how much longer he had, he didn’t really know exactly what life after death would be like, but he knew with whom he was going, and that was enough for him. He knew that Jesus Christ wasn’t just some hired hand who maybe would take care of him and maybe not. He knew Jesus Christ was the Good Shepherd who had laid down his life for the sheep, he knew that his sins had been paid for at the cross, he knew the resurrection on the third day had sealed the deal, he knew by faith that his name had been written in the book of life going all the way back to Holy Baptism, he knew that as often as he ate and drank at his Lord’s Table that his Lord loved him and was with him always, he knew by faith that through all the ups and the downs of life, His Good Shepherd was following him around with goodness and mercy.
So also is it true for us, as we fix our eyes today on our Good Shepherd. We travel our own journeys of life not knowing exactly what the twists and turns of life will be, but knowing who is with us and will never leave us. Even as we walk in these days through the valley of the shadow of death, we do so knowing that the Lord is our Shepherd, as often as the thorns and thistles of life threaten us, he keeps on leading us into the green pastures of his word, he coaxes us toward the still waters of his grace.Two truths we want to rest in as we think about what it means to be watched over, protected, and provided for by the Good Shepherd.
The first truth in which we rest is that Jesus was both sent and he came willingly at the same time. He was simultaneously drafted and volunteer. It reminds me of my brother Curtis who volunteered for the draft back in 1968. If my memory serves me correctly, he drafted into the army in those days of Vietnam, and if he volunteered he would spend three years instead of two, but he would have something to say about where he would be sent.
The fact that Jesus was both sent and he came willingly is meant to comfort us. Jesus said once that he and his father are one. They had one mission, one purpose, they were on the same page. In our text, Jesus makes it clear that he knows his sheep and his sheep knows him, just as the father knows him and he knows the Father.
My father grew up in the dusty depression years in North Dakota. From age 5-15 or so, he spent spring, summer, and beginning of fall months watching over the family flock. He and his brothers would use a sheep dog and a little pony, and they would spend long days watching over the sheep, making sure they didn’t get into the neighbors fields, making sure they didn’t scatter when lightning would strike and thunder would roar. My dad was a man of few words, and later in life, I was trying to draw him out a bit into some story telling. I asked him if he grew fond of those sheep, and he said, “No. I hated them. They were dumb.”
What a contrast we have in our Good Shepherd – no matter how dumb, no matter how foolish, no matter how often we stray into trouble, He keeps on being patient, he keeps on loving us, he keeps on helping us up and saying, let’s try that one more time. He keeps on finding a way to be fond of us, he favors us with his grace, He covers us with his forgivness.
Jesus is that Good Shepherd who not only loved His Father, He loved us. He came down into our world not only out of a sense of duty, but with a sense of compassion. No one forced him to lay down his life, he laid it down of his own accord, we rest this afternoon in truth #1 – that this Good Shepherd was both sent and he came willingly on our behalf. For the joy set before him, this shepherd fixed his eyes on the city of Jerusalem, he would not be distracted until he had endured the cross, suffered every bit of shame, and was crucified until he was dead and buried.
The second truth in which we rest is that this Good Shepherd didn’t stay dead. He rose up again on the third day, and because he lives, at least four things are true. 1) Because Christ is risen, we may be confident that He is who he said he was, the Son of God. 2) Because he is risen we may sure that all of Holy Scripture is true. 3) Because Christ is risen, we may be sure that the Father accepted the sacrifice of His Son as full and complete payment for our sins.4) Because Christ is risen, we may be certain that the day is coming when the archangel will shout, the trumpet will sound, Jesus will come back in all kinds of glory, and this kind and generous man of faith will rise up again. Already now, we believe that his soul, his spirit is in the presence of Christ. Already now, we know he is resting from his labors, already now, we know that no more troubles or trials can even get close to touching him.
So many sweet memories you all have of Gordon, this is most certainly true. He was easy to like, a pleasure to know, and as consistently cheerful a man as you could know. Some of you have fishing stories to tell about Gordon, others could tell about his golf game, many of you will long remember how he would wear button down shirts, not sweatshirts, he would wear dress slacks, not sweat pants, real shoes and not slippers. A man with his life in order, he was. If he said he would call you at 8:30 in the morning, he would call you at 8:30 in the morning.
We remember today how grateful Gordon was not only to share 43 years of God’s grace with LaJune, but also 27 years of his Good Shepherd’s love with Ella. There was no way of him knowing where his journey of life would go, no way of knowing which roads would be taken, which cities would be his dwelling places, no way of knowing how long the ride would be, but he knew who it was that was always with him, he knew his sins were forgiven, he knew his mansion in heaven was on reserve.
I will long remember him coming forward for communion, and as I handed him the little glass of wine, he would hold it up in the air, as if to say cheers, as if to say how blessed am I, as if to say, Jesus loves me, as if to say, I know in whom I trust, as if to say, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, I have everything I need, and down the hatch it would go, and on his way, Gordon would go, resting in God’s promises, standing in his grace.
For a couple of years now, Pastor Muther and I had the privilege of driving on down to Blue Earth, talking smart, visiting with, and then inviting Gordon to taste his Lord’s goodness in the mystery of Holy Communion. Always I would ask him if he was sorry for his sins, if he believed in Jesus as his Savior, and if he promised to live the strong Christian life to the best of his ability. Always he would say yes, and always he would receive God’s forgiveness into his heart and soul. After communion, we always prayed.
This afternoon, I close with a prayer similar to a prayer I often pray with the older Christians after communion, and with Gordon, the prayer went something like this. “Gracious God, I pray today for Gordon’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I pray that you would send your angels to be with them, that the wicked foe would have no power over them. I pray that all of Gordon’s descendants, family, and friends would be in the Christian faith, that they would be strong and growing in that faith through all the chapters of life, that they would be a blessing to so many others along the way. I pray that you would follow them around with the goodness and mercy that only you can give and that Gordon Dumdei would rest in peace. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther