“The Helper: The Paraclete of Pentecost” (John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15)

The Day of Pentecost
Sunday, May 24, 2015

“The Helper: The Paraclete of Pentecost” (John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15)

“To You, O Paraclete, we raise / Unending songs of thanks and praise.” Did you catch that last line of the hymn we just sang? And did you wonder who or what this “Paraclete” was? Well, it seems to be a reference to the Holy Spirit, because earlier in that stanza we’ve been praising the Father and the Son, so this must be the Holy Spirit. But why call the Holy Spirit “Paraclete”? Is that because the Spirit came down in the form of a parakeet at Jesus’ baptism? No, wait, that was a dove, not a parakeet. And besides, this is “Paraclete,” not “parakeet.”

Alright, so what in the world is a “Paraclete”? Well, if you noticed the fine print at the bottom of the page of that hymn, Hymn 500, you saw that there was this explanation: “‘Paraclete,’ another name for the Holy Spirit, comes from the Greek, meaning ‘comforter’ or ‘counselor.’” And so it is. “Comforter,” “counselor,” “advocate”–these are all ways the Greek word “Paraclete” can be translated. Or, as the term occurs in the Holy Gospel for today, there the word “Paraclete” is translated as “Helper.” Jesus uses this term “Paraclete” several times to tell the disciples he is going to send them the “Helper.”

That’s what this day, the Day of Pentecost, is all about: It’s about the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ sending the Paraclete, the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to the church, to help the church, to help us Christians, in several ways. So let’s find out how, as we now consider our theme, “The Helper: The Paraclete of Pentecost.”

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Published in: on May 24, 2015 at 1:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Confidence, Unity, and Joy: God’s Gifts to Our Church” (1 John 5:9-15; John 17:11b-19)

Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2015

“Confidence, Unity, and Joy: God’s Gifts to Our Church” (1 John 5:9-15; John 17:11b-19)

Today we are very happy to receive yet another family into our congregation. That makes seventeen new members added to our little church so far this year. Seventeen! That is remarkable. From out of the blue, quite unexpectedly, God has gifted us with these brothers and sisters in Christ, who are joining our church. Thanks be to God!

Yes, today we give thanks to God for the gift of these new members, who already are being a real blessing to our church. But now I want to tell you about some other gifts that God has for our church, and these are gifts that are spoken of in the Scripture readings for today. And they are these: “Confidence, Unity, and Joy: God’s Gifts to Our Church.”

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Published in: on May 16, 2015 at 11:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Past, Present, and Future of the Ascension” (Luke 24:44-53; Ephesians 1:15-23; Acts 1:1-11)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 14, 2015

“The Past, Present, and Future of the Ascension” (Luke 24:44-53; Ephesians 1:15-23; Acts 1:1-11)

“He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.” That’s what we just confessed about our Lord Jesus Christ, isn’t it? This portion of the Apostles’ Creed captures what this day, Ascension Day, is all about. These three things: He ascended into heaven. He sits at the right hand of the Father. And he will come again. A past act. A present reality. And a future hope. And all of these things are good news for you. So now let’s consider these blessed truths, under the theme: “The Past, Present, and Future of the Ascension.”

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Published in: on May 14, 2015 at 10:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying” (1 John 5:1-8)

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 10, 2015

“Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying” (1 John 5:1-8)

“Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying”: That’s the hymn we just sang (LSB 597). Listen again to the words of the first stanza:

Water, blood, and Spirit crying,
By their witness testifying
To the One whose death-defying
Life has come, with life for all.

The One to whom the Spirit, the water, and the blood are testifying is, of course, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who has defied and defeated death for us, who comes with life for all, and whose Easter victory we are celebrating during this season.

But now where did the hymn writer get the idea for this hymn and the very words that he uses? He got them from our Epistle for today, from 1 John chapter 5. And in particular, from verses 6-8, reading again as follows: “This is he who came by water and blood–Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” This is our text.

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Published in: on May 9, 2015 at 11:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“We Love Because He First Loved Us” (1 John 4:1-21)

Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2015

“We Love Because He First Loved Us” (1 John 4:1-21)

Love, love, love. How often do we hear that word “love”! We use it so freely, so loosely. We use it for McDonald’s hamburgers: “I’m lovin’ it.” We use it for clothing and cars and hairstyles and lots of things we like, but instead of saying “like,” we say “love.” I found myself doing that just the other night: Lance Lynn struck out a batter with the bases loaded and two outs, and I said, without thinking, “Love it!”

Well, a step up from that very loose use of “love” is when we apply the word to people. But even there, it can be overused. So many pop songs have “love” in the lyrics, but what they mean is “I’m really infatuated with you” or “You really turn me on.” Meh, that’s a little weak. Better is when we use “love” about people for whom we have a strong and lasting personal affection. “I love my grandma.” “I love my daughter.” That’s pretty good. That’s the love of personal affection.

But we can do even better than that. There is the love of commitment, of caring and serving others, even the love of self-sacrifice for the good of another. Now that is really the best and highest use of the word “love.” And where and how do we learn that kind of love? That’s what we’ll take up now, under the theme, “We Love Because He First Loved Us.”

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Published in: on May 2, 2015 at 11:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“One Name, One Flock, One Shepherd” (Acts 4:1-12; John 10:11-18)

Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2015

“One Name, One Flock, One Shepherd” (Acts 4:1-12; John 10:11-18)

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” the day in the church year every year when the propers–that is, the various parts of the service–revolve around Jesus as our Good Shepherd. The Holy Gospel is always a portion of John 10, in which Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. The Psalm is always the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd.” The Hymn of the Day, which we just sang, is “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.” And so on. This theme of the Good Shepherd really comes through loud and clear.

Now the First Reading today, from the Book of Acts, chapter 4, doesn’t exactly fit the Good Shepherd theme. There is no mention of sheep or shepherd. But still, it is an appropriate reading for the Easter season. For it describes how the apostles Peter and John were “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead,” which is the great emphasis for Easter and these weeks that follow. And what Peter says here about the preaching of the resurrection in Jesus’ name does tie in well with what Jesus himself says in John 10–as we shall see now, as we focus our attention on “One Name, One Flock, One Shepherd.”

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Published in: on April 26, 2015 at 12:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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“To Understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:36-49)

Third Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2015

“To Understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:36-49)

Have you ever thought about what the Bible is all about? I mean, if you had to boil it down to just a few short sentences, what would you say is the main message of the Scriptures? You know, a lot of people have a lot of different opinions about the Bible and what it is saying. They pull this verse or that verse out of context and twist it like a wax nose to make it suit their purpose. People approach the Bible with their presuppositions and then find in the Bible what they want to find. But what really is the main message of the Bible, if you had to sum it up? And how would you know if you had summed it up correctly?

Well, today I’m here to tell you that there’s no need for guesswork or random speculation. No, because someone today is going to tell us what the Bible is all about. And more than that, he is someone who knows what he’s talking about. It’s Jesus himself, of course. So let’s listen now as our risen Lord Jesus Christ opens our minds “To Understand the Scriptures.”

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Published in: on April 18, 2015 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Faith, Fellowship, and Forgiveness” (John 20:19-31; 1 John 1:1 – 2:2; Acts 4:32-35)

Second Sunday of Easter
April 12, 2015

“Faith, Fellowship, and Forgiveness” (John 20:19-31; 1 John 1:1 – 2:2; Acts 4:32-35)

Did you get any gifts for Easter? Maybe an Easter basket, filled with chocolate bunnies and jelly beans and Easter eggs that you open up and there’s a coin inside? Well, I can think of some Easter gifts that are even better than that. And today I want to tell you about them. They’re right there in our readings for today, and they are these Easter gifts, three of them: “Faith, Fellowship, and Forgiveness.”

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Published in: on April 11, 2015 at 11:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Just as He Told You” (Mark 16:1-8)

The Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter Day
Sunday, April 5, 2015

“Just as He Told You” (Mark 16:1-8)

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

And you say that with such conviction! As you should. The announcement of Christ’s resurrection elicits from us a hearty response of faith and joy. And rightfully so. This is the heart of our great hope as Christians, that Christ our Lord has conquered sin and death for us and has secured for us the sure and certain hope of our own resurrection and everlasting life.

Which makes our Gospel reading today a little strange. It doesn’t end the way we would like it to end. We want those woman at the tomb, who had just heard those great words, “He has risen”–we want them to join us in a hearty “Alleluia!” We want them to go away from the tomb with a spring in their step and hearts full of confidence and assurance, ready to tell everyone they meet the good news they just heard. But they don’t. That’s not how this reading ends. Instead, it ends with them being seized with trembling and astonishment. It ends with–and Mark’s whole gospel ends with–what seem to us these most unlikely words, “for they were afraid.” Now really, Mark, is that any way to end the story? Boo, we demand a rewrite!

But this morning I want to tell you that this ending does work. It’s an ending we can relate to. It’s an ending Mark’s original hearers could relate to. And really, it focuses our attention on the basis for our faith and our hope, and that is, the sure and certain words of Jesus. That comes through in this little phrase that the angel uses, when he says, referring to Jesus, “Just as He Told You.”

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Published in: on April 5, 2015 at 12:18 am  Comments (1)  
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“Eloi, Eloi, Lema Sabachthani?” (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12; Psalm 22; Mark 15:1-47)

Good Friday
April 3, 2015

“Eloi, Eloi, Lema Sabachthani?” (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12; Psalm 22; Mark 15:1-47)

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” This is one of the seven words from the cross, that is, one of the seven times Jesus spoke during his crucifixion. “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” This saying of Jesus is recorded for us in two of the four gospels, in Matthew and Mark, where it is the only word from the cross that is recorded. For the other words from the cross, we have to go to Luke and John.

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” I think what is so striking about this word from the cross is that it is spoken, and recorded for us, in another language. That language is Aramaic, which is sort of a cousin to Hebrew. Aramaic was the everyday language that Jewish people like Jesus spoke at that time. And we find several times that Jesus’ words in Aramaic are recorded for us in the Bible. In Mark’s gospel, for instance, we hear Jesus raising a girl from the dead, saying, in Aramaic, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, arise.” Jesus heals a deaf man, touching his ears and saying, again in Aramaic, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” When Jesus prays in the garden, he starts his prayer by saying, “Abba,” which is Aramaic for “Father.” And now here today, this word from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

Fortunately for us, who do not speak Aramaic, Mark always provides a translation every time he quotes Jesus in that language. And so it is here, where Mark gives the meaning, and it is in the form of a question: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But that in turn raises the question of the meaning beyond a mere translation. Why is Jesus saying this? Why has God forsaken him? And what does that mean for us? Those are the questions we will explore now, as we ponder the meaning of “Eloi, Eloi, Lema Sabachthani?”

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Published in: on April 3, 2015 at 4:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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