May 20, 2018

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May 212018
 

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Ezekiel 37:1-10

 

The Old Testament festival of Pentecost, or Feast of Weeks, was one of the big three. It was listed with Passover and Tabernacles as one of the three times each year that the heads of the families of Israel were to travel to Jerusalem for worship. Passover was Israel’s Independence Day. It was a yearly remembrance of the fact that God spared the first born of Israel and brought his people to the Promised Land. Tabernacles was a celebration of the fruit harvest and a remembrance of the fact that they lived in a land that produced such wonderful fruit when their forefathers lived in tabernacles/tents in the wilderness for 40 years. Pentecost was a celebration of the grain harvest when Israel brought their first fruits to the Lord and indicated that they trusted him to provide for them by giving them the rest of the harvest.

As Luke tells us, Jerusalem was filled with people, faithful Old Testament believers who willingly took time off from whatever their jobs were, and spent the time and money necessary to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate, give thanks to God, and offer to him their first fruits. Just as the Lord still calls on us today to set aside time to worship, give thanks to God and offer to him our first fruits, trusting him to provide for us through whatever remains after we have given to him first.

These faithful Old Testament believers were in for quite a shock. Jesus has told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until he gave them the gift he had promised. They did what Jesus asked them to do, not knowing exactly when he would give them this gift. As they were gathered together to celebrate the festival of Pentecost, Jesus kept his promise. He caused people all over Jerusalem to hear the sound of a strong wind. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that the word for wind is the same as the word for Spirit, or that Ezekiel was told to prophesy to the four winds to breathe into the slain and give them life. And, as visible sign that he had poured out the Holy Spirit on his disciples, he caused what looked like tongues of fire to rest on them. The Spirit gave each of them the ability to speak in languages they had never learned. As you might expect, and surely as God intended, large crowds gathered to see what was going on. Amazed and perplexed they kept saying to one another, What does this mean?

What was going on? Obviously, God was acting. None of these things could be explained as accidental acts of nature. How can you have the sound of wind but not even a candle flicker? How can something that looks like fire rest on people without their hair staring on fire? How can Galileans, not know for being scholars, speak fluently in so many different languages? Peter spoke loudly and clearly and explained that these were miracles of God that were foretold by the prophet Joel. In the last days, those days ushered in by the ascension of Jesus, the Holy Spirit would come and enable people to prophesy. It would be through prophesying that God would work the greatest miracle of all. People would hear about Jesus, and everyone who called on the name of the Lord would be saved.

Pentecost was foretold through the prophet Joel, but the greatest miracle that happened on Pentecost, and that still happens today, was pictured for us through Ezekiel.

Imagine being in Ezekiel’s shoes! God takes you for a close inspection of a valley that is full of skeletons, human bones dried by the sun and scattered everywhere. Then, instead of asking what you might expect, maybe, “how did this happen?” or “why were all these people slain?” God asks, can these bones live?

You know the first thing that must have come to Ezekiel’s mind because it’s probably what you would think. “No way. Maybe if this were like Jairus’s daughter, someone who had just recently died, whose body was still intact, maybe such a person might be brought back to life, but human bones that are not even connected to each other anymore, how could that happen!” But Ezekiel overcame the thoughts of his human nature and answered in faith, Lord, you know. “I don’t know how such a thing could happen, but you are God. You can do all things. You know how to make these dry bones live if that’s what you want them to do.”

God still presents us with similar questions today. How could all that exists come into existence in just six days? How can Jesus’ body and blood be present in the Lord’s Supper? How can God raise Adam and Eve, or those who were killed in the fires of 911 that even melted steel? Our human nature looks at these things and wants to say, “No way. It can’t happen.” But when that temptation presents itself to us, like Ezekiel, we overcome it with faith by saying, Lord, you know. “You know all things. You can do anything, nothing is impossible for you, not even causing an immaculate conception in the womb of Mary. I admit I don’t know how any of these things are possible. But, if you say they have happened, or that they will happen, I trust your word.”

God’s question can these bones live, implied that he could make them live, but how? That’s the most surprising thing about this section of the word of God. In order to make the dry bones live, he told Ezekiel to prophesy to them, to preach to them. Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.

How foolish! Preaching to the living often seems foolish because the majority don’t seem to listen. How much more foolish to preach to dead bones! But that’s the point. Israel was saying that they were like dead bones. They had sinned and God had brought judgment on them. It seemed that he had forsaken them because even the Temple was destroyed and they were captives in a foreign land. Our bones are dried up. Our hope is lost, we have been completely cut off.

Maybe without knowing it they were describing what they should have realized all along. What they are describing is the state of all people by nature. Sin separates you from God. You are born dead in sin, like dry bones lying in a valley with everyone else born as a descendant of Adam and Eve. You are without hope. You may be physically alive, but you are spiritually dead, doomed to lie in death valley with not even a drop of water to quench your thirst. You need a resurrection, a spiritual birth, but you can’t do anything to bring that spiritual resurrection about. You are without hope.

Can these bones live? Can those who are born dead in trespasses and sins, like dry bones in a valley, live? Lord, you know. But how? Prophesy to them. Preach to them. Say to them, hear the word of the Lord.

But that seems to foolish. How can just speaking words do anything? How can just speaking words cause a spiritual resurrection? Shouldn’t there be more to it than that? Shouldn’t there be some medicine? Shouldn’t we have to do the work of assembling the bones first, correcting people’s behavior first, before we can expect them to be given life or to be brought to faith?

What happened when Ezekiel simply obeyed and did what God told him to do? What happened when he preached the word of the Lord to the dry bones? What happened when he preached to the wind? As I was prophesying/preaching there was a noise, a rattling, as the bones came together, one bone connecting to another… I prophesied/preached as he commanded me. Breath entered them and they came back to life. They stood on their feet, a very, very large army.

Thousands of dry bones stood before the Apostles on Pentecost. Thousands of people like you and me who were born dead in sin and separated from God; people who could not give themselves a rebirth and spiritual resurrection. And what did God tell and enable Peter and the Apostles to do? Preach to them. Tell them that God sent them the Messiah they were waiting for, but that they killed him. Tell them that God raised him from the dead because he had accomplished his mission of paying for the sins of the world. Tell them that there is salvation in no one else but him.

You know what happened when the Apostles prophesied on Pentecost. Three thousand people, the dry bones of three thousand people who had been separated from God, who had been without hope, came together and the Holy Spirit breathed life into them. They were brought to faith in Jesus. They called upon his name and were saved! All by the power of the word. All by the foolishness of preaching.

By God’s grace the miracle of Pentecost has been performed in you. Like the rest of men you were without hope, dead in sin, separated from God and headed to eternal destruction. But God called someone to be like Ezekiel for you. God called your parents, your grand parents, your pastor, to prophesy. He called someone to preach to you, even when you were a tiny infant. Through the word of the Lord, the Holy Spirit began his work. He put bone to bone, he covered bones with flesh, and then he gave you the breath of life, not physically in this case, but spiritually. He convicted you of your sinfulness. He brought you to see what Israel saw, that your bones were dry, that you were cut off from God and without hope, headed for eternal destruction. And then he made sure you heard about Jesus. He made sure that you realized that he came to take your place; that you killed him because he suffered for your sins. He made sure that you heard that God raised him from the dead; that he accomplished his work, paid for your every sin and reconciled you to God; that in him, and only in him, do you have hope, the certain hope of living body and soul with him forever. Through the preaching of law and Gospel, by the power of the word of the Lord, he gave you life and made you a part of his vast army.

As we look at the world and see how evil it is, as we hear about another school shooting, as we experience all kinds of trouble in this world, God might ask us, can these bones live? Can any of these people be brought to faith and live? His question implies that they can. But how? The same way the valley of dry bones came to life. They same way 3000 were brought to faith on Pentecost. The same way you were given spiritual life. God has chosen through the foolishness of the preaching of Christ crucified to give life to dry bones.

Like Ezekiel, as foolish as it may seem, prophesy to those around you who are without hope. Say to them, hear the word of the Lord. Jesus is the way the truth and the life. Everyone who calls on his name will be saved. Then stand back and watch God work his Pentecost miracle and bring dry bones, those dead in trespasses and sins, to life.


 

Trinity Graduation

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May 162018
 

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1 Peter 2:24

 

The theme of most graduation addresses seems to be, “good job. You made it. You have graduated. Now go and do great things.” Everyone is on an emotional high. It’s a great day, a day of celebration. Everyone is ready to go on to the next level and do great things. But the emotional high of graduation is often followed by an emotional low because going on and doing great things isn’t as easy as the speaker made it sound. In fact, unless we have a proper understanding of human nature and the proper motivation we will become very discouraged. We will find that we either can’t do anything great, or, if we do, it will seem meaningless.

Elisabeth, the verse you have chose provides us with a proper understanding of human nature, and it also provides us with the proper motivation for doing everything in life.

Peter, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, quotes from that great chapter of Isaiah, chapter 53. This word of God reminds us that we were sick and needed healing, that we had a debt of sin with God that we could never repay.

The Bible makes it clear to us that this is true of everyone. Every single person ever born into this world is born with a fatal disease, a disease inherited from Adam and Eve. It’s a disease that renders us unable to go and do anything good, at least not in God’s eyes. By nature, all we can do is sin and pile up a huge debt with God, a debt that no one could ever repay. It’s a disease that makes our bodies subject to sickness and eventually makes them wear out so that we face physical death. But the worst part of this disease is that it contaminates our soul so that we can’t live in God’s presence. He should send us off into eternal quarantine with the Devil and his evil angels.

There is only one cure for this terrible disease of inherited sinfulness. That cure is the wounds of Jesus. By his wounds you have been healed. Isaiah tells us how it works. He tells us that Jesus was wounded for our transgressions. We sinned but Jesus was punished. Think of his wounds. Think of what the whip did to his back. Think of the nail marks in his hands and feet and the spear wound in his side. He received those wounds because he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross.

That really sounds unfair, doesn’t it? If your classmate did something bad enough in class to get punished, maybe to lose a recess, would you volunteer to give up your recess so that they could go out and play? If your brother or sister did something to deserve a spanking, would you go to your mom or dad and say spank me instead? But that’s what Jesus did for you and for me. We sin. We deserve to have God wound us and to put us in the eternal time out of Hell. But Jesus volunteered to take our punishment for us. He was wounded in our place. He suffered Hell in our place. And because he did, we are healed. The disease of sin can’t keep us out of heaven.

When a secular speaker says, “now go and do something great,” he’s forgetting a very important truth of Scripture. We are born sinful. We can’t do anything great on our own. As Jesus says, without me you can do nothing. And the Bible also says, without faith it is impossible to please God, and if what you are doing isn’t pleasing to God, then no matter what it is, it isn’t great. It is only as we are connected to Jesus, the true vine, that we can produce good fruit, fruit that will last.

I’ve got a few quiz questions for our graduates tonight. If they don’t know the answer, maybe others can help them. What is the topic of the 2nd article? (Redemption) From what did Jesus redeem us? (sin, death, Devil) Now the harder one, but if you paid attention to Elisabeth’s verse, you will get the answer. FOR what did Jesus redeem us? (Serve/live for him now and forever) As Luther put it, so that we would be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.

That’s the part we often forget. Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross, he was wounded for our transgressions, SO THAT. There’s the reason, the FOR of redemption. He redeemed us not so that we would be free to keep on sinning. No. He redeemed us so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.

Our motivation for going and doing something great isn’t what those in the world think. They think it means getting noticed, becoming famous, or powerful. They think it means becoming rich. No, our motivation for doing something great is the great thing that Jesus has done for us. He healed from the disease of sin. He payed our debt to God in full. Because of what he has done for us we want to die to sin, to do our best to keep from doing things we know are sinful; and we want to do our best to do those things that we know are pleasing to God. How do you know what is sinful and what is pleasing to God? Read his word. Review the 10 Commandments every day.

Here’s the really neat thing. Do you know what is great in God’s eyes? It’s not becoming rich and famous. It’s not a big thing in the eyes of the world. It’s doing what you are asked to do every day with a heart that is filled with joy and thankfulness that Jesus bore your sins and healed you by his wounds. It’s living for righteousness. It’s serving God and your neighbor in love in everything you do every day. That may not get noticed by most people, in fact it may bring you trouble as it did Jesus. But it is what you are motivated to do because of what Jesus has done for you.

You have graduated. Now go and do great things, the things God considers great. Read and study his word every day and be reminded of the great things God has done for you in Jesus. Give thanks to him and serve him and your neighbor in love as you look forward to the time you when you will be able to serve him in everlasting righteousness in heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeremiah 29:11

I have another little quiz for our graduates. You see, we studied the Old Testament in Bible History this year. Just last week we were studying the time of Jeremiah. So, graduates, help us out. What was going on in Israel during the time of Jeremiah the prophet? (Nebuchadnezzar came and took captives, and eventually destroyed the temple and the city, just as Jeremiah had foretold.)

It wasn’t a pleasant time in Israel. They had suffered defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. They had lost everything. Their city was destroyed. Their homes were destroyed. Even the temple of God was destroyed. Many were taken captive and were living in a foreign land. Those who were left behind were destitute, struggling just to survive from one day to the next. Everyone knew someone who had either died in battle, or as a result of hunger or disease. None of us here tonight can imagine what it must have been like. We have nice houses. We have a nice church building. We are free, not captives. We have plenty of food of all kinds stored up in freezers and cupboards. We don’t know what it’s like to suffer defeat at the hands of an enemy and lose everything. We don’t know what it’s like to have to struggle to find enough food just for today.

We can’t completely identify with the people living in Israel at the time of Jeremiah, but we all do have troubled times in our lives. There have been times when we did have to struggle. There have been times when we have known what it means to lose a loved one. So, think of your most troubled time. Now think about how you would react in that troubled time if God came to you and said, I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. How would you respond in that situation?

Your first thought might be, “What? If you have plans to prosper me and to give me hope, this is a fine way show it, Lord! Letting me lose everything I’ve worked for doesn’t give me hope. Letting me be taken as a captive to a foreign land doesn’t look like a plan to make me prosper. What you are saying is pretty hard to believe, so maybe I’ll believe it when I see it.”

You might have had such thoughts when you were going through a difficult time and someone quoted you God’s promise to work in all things for your good. You might have been tempted to say, “How could this possibly be for my good? It’s pretty hard to believe that promise when everything seems hopeless.”

Thankfully, unlike the people living in Jeremiah’s day, we have the blessing of hindsight. We know the rest of the story. We know that God sent this trouble on Israel for the purpose of calling them to repentance because they had fallen away from him. We know that, in advance, through the prophet Jeremiah, he promised that their captivity in Babylon would last only 70 years. He promised that when the 70 years were up he would bring them back to Israel and his temple would be rebuilt. This was especially important because in order for the Messiah to come the temple had to be there. We know that God kept his promise. After 70 years in captivity Cyrus decreed that anyone who wanted to return to Jerusalem could do so. He even pledged money from his own treasury to help with the building of the temple in Jerusalem. When people heard the decree and saw the temple being rebuilt they must have thought, “wow! God really did have plans to prosper us.” Now we can have hope. Now that the temple is being rebuilt we can look forward to the coming of the Messiah. Now we can see that, despite the trouble we brought on ourselves, God still loves us and wants us to live with him forever. He keeps his promises no matter what.”

As you move on from grade school to high school, and from high school to whatever is next, you are going to have good days and bad days. It is especially on those bad days, on those days when you are tempted to think that your life is a mess, you did poorly on a test, your boyfriend dumped you, your friends made fun of you and the sky if falling; on days like those, remember what God says through Jeremiah. Whatever kind of day it is, good or bad, God’s promise is always the same. He says to you, I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

If he sees that we are beginning to take him and his promises for granted, if he sees that we are heading down a road that might lead us away from him, the good plans he has for us might be to discipline us. His discipline is always loving and always intended for our good. His plans are always to give us hope and a future. He always does everything he does with this goal in mind, that we remain in the faith and end up living with him in heaven forever. If we ever doubt that this is the case all we have to do is look at Jesus. In Jesus he proved that his plans for us are to give us hope and a future. In Jesus he carried out his plan of salvation. In Jesus he shows us that our sins are forgiven and that there is a resurrection of the dead. Only in Jesus do we have hope, the sure hope of heaven. Only in Jesus do we have a real future, the future of living with him in glory for all eternity.

In the midst of a very troubled time in Israel God promised that he had good plans for his people. He kept his promise. Whether we are living in good times or bad, God’s promise to us is that he has good plans for us. Because of Jesus we know what those plans are, to take us to live with him in glory forever. Trust his promises.

May 13, 2018 Sermon

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May 142018
 

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Acts 1:20-26

 

Yesterday was call day at Martin Luther College in New Ulm. Next week it will be call day at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon. Nebraska Lutheran has been calling a lot this year, for a campus pastor, for an administrator, and for a math teacher. Trinity has extended calls for a Principal and upper grade teacher. What’s this thing we call a “call”? How does it work? Why do we say it’s a “Divine Call”, or a call from God?

I thought that since our first reading for today was the account of the Early Christian Church extending a call to Matthias, it would be a good opportunity to consider this thing we say is a Divine Call, or a Call from God.

Luke sets before us the situation the Early Church was facing. Jesus had a fair number of disciples, but he appointed only 12 to serve the church as Apostles. Judas was one of them but had betrayed Jesus, and then, feeling great guilt but apparently not trusting that he could be forgiven, he committed suicide. Jesus had now ascended to heaven. He was not with them physically so that they could ask him a question. They wondered what they should do about the vacancy created by the death of Judas.

After searching the Scriptures, spending time in prayer, and using sanctified human judgment, the church called a meeting and Peter shared what the Apostles were thinking. Based on some passages from the Psalms and considering the fact that Jesus had appointed 12 from among all the disciples to be Apostles, it seemed good and wise to make the number 12 again.

As we heard on Ascension, Jesus our ascended Lord is the one who gives Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers as gifts to his church. By word and example, he has indicated that there are to be leaders in his church on earth. And he has also indicated the kind of leadership he wants them to provide. Today we call it servant leadership. Whether you are a Pastor, or a Teacher, or an Elder, or a Council person, you are not to be like the heathen who look at a position of leadership as an opportunity to lord it over others, or to enrich themselves. You are to model the leadership of Jesus who had all authority in heaven and earth and yet came not to be served but to serve, who willingly washed his disciples’ feet to give them an example of the kind of leadership he expects. Jesus gives Pastors and Teachers for the purpose of training, equipping and encouraging others to grow in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and to use their own gifts to serve God and others in love.

Like Peter and the apostles, we today recognize the need for servant leaders in the church. Like them, we pray and use sanctified human judgment to decide when there is a position that needs to be filled so that more people can be trained, equipped and encouraged to grow in faith and in service to God and others. But how do you fill that position?

Peter suggested that in filling the position left by Judas there would be some qualifications to consider. Since this position would involve exercising authority over men and women Judas’ successor would have to be a man. And, since they would be asked about all the things that Jesus said and did while he was on earth, it would make sense to choose someone who had been with Jesus his whole ministry, from his baptism to his ascension. There were two men, Joseph and Matthias, who fit those qualifications.

Today one of the things we ask those calling to fill a position is, what, in your best sanctified human judgement, are the qualifications needed for this position? Scripture answers part of that question clearly. The Holy Spirit guided Paul to write both Titus and Timothy that those who would serve in leadership in the church are to be blameless– not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. And, if the position requires exercising authority over both men and women, that position requires a male leader.

Other qualifications come from sanctified human judgment based on what we are asking a person to do. Will they be teaching? If so what grade levels? What abilities have they demonstrated through their college and seminary classes, and in their practice teaching and vicar years? What seem to be their strengths and weakness and how do those match what we might be asking them to do?

Such information is gathered from the church or school that is seeking to fill a position, and from records and evaluations provided by colleges, the Seminary, and current schools and churches. Many people working together (what we call Synod, Christians working and walking together) help the District President provide a list of people who fit the qualifications God and sanctified human judgment have suggested for that position.

Peter and the Apostles found that there were only two men who fit the qualifications they had proposed. That was good, but how do you decide which of the two should serve to replace Judas? You heard what they did. They prayed. They said, Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen. They put it in the Lord’s hands. They wanted him to be the one who would choose the successor of Judas. But, how would the Lord show them his choice? They didn’t ask for some miraculous sign. They decided to use lots, and to trust that whichever one the lot fell to, was the one that the Lord had chosen. They prayed and trusted God to answer their prayer.

Today, when a list of those with whom we walk and work together as a Synod is presented, we thank God for providing people who are qualified and eager to serve. As you know, we need many more to volunteer, to be willing to attend MLC and the Seminary, to be trained and equipped to serve in God’s church. We are facing a shortage of Pastors and Teachers, and especially Principals. If you are a teen, pray and ask God and those you trust if that’s something God has gifted you to do. If you are in grade school, start praying already now that God would guide you in determining how and where you can best serve him and your neighbor with the gifts he has given you.

Once the list of qualified people is presented to the voters or board, the group that has the authority to extend a call, qualifications are discussed. When everyone’s questions are answered as best they can be, we pray. Like the Apostles we ask that through us, through the vote, God would show us which person on the list he wants us to call. Since Jesus promises that where two are three are gathered in his name he is with us, and since he has promised to hear and answer our prayers in the best possible way, we trust that he is using our sanctified human judgment expressed through the vote to show us which person he has chosen. We consider the result of the vote to be guided by God, a divine call.

Some people wonder how such a system, a human vote, can bring about something we say is Divine! How can it be Divine, when there are so many fallible humans involved – some in deciding qualifications, some in matching qualifications and gifts, some in deciding who is on a list, and some in choosing one from the list through a vote? Are some people along the line not very sanctified? Are some thinking selfishly? Is someone considered qualified by one person but not by another? These things can happen. So how can anyone possibly consider a call issued by sinful people to be a divine call?

Peter was sinful and so were the others gathered to call a replacement for Judas. Yet, when the lot fell to Matthias, they considered him God’s choice. Sinful people wrote the Bible, but we consider it God’s word. God promises to work in and through us, sinful humans, to accomplish his purpose. He promises to work in everything for our good. He promises that he can and will make even our sinful choices serve his good purpose.

If we realize that we have acted selfishly, or that we failed to trust God’s promise to work in and through us, we need to confess our lack of trust. We need to hear the reminder that the Father sacrificed his perfect son to pay for our selfishness and lack of trust. We need to remember that if he was willing to sacrifice his son to pay for our sins, certainly he will provide us with all we need to carry out his work on earth. Jesus promised to rule and govern everything for us, for the church. He promised to be with us whenever we gather to pray and do his work. Inspired by what he has already done for you, trust his promises. Trust that he will always provide. Trust that actually does work through you to provide his church with the leaders it needs.

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