“Ascension Day, the Forgotten Festival” (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 25, 2017

“Ascension Day, the Forgotten Festival” (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

Welcome to the Forgotten Festival! Today is Ascension Day, or, as it’s more properly called, the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. But there is reason to call it, as I say, the “Forgotten” Festival. Because even though Ascension Day is classed in the church year as a major festival, which means it’s a day for all churches to hold the Divine Service of Word and Sacrament, the sad fact is that in recent decades many congregations and many Christians have forgotten all about celebrating this important festival.

It used to be that you could go to any Lutheran church–or any liturgical church, for that matter, Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran–and they would have Ascension service on this day. But with the decline of Christian culture in our country, it’s pretty hard to find churches that are having service today. And where you do, it’s usually only the hardy few who turn out. You see, by definition the Ascension of Our Lord always comes forty days after Easter, which means it always falls on a Thursday. And it’s hard enough these days to get people to come to church on a Sunday, let alone on a Thursday.

By the way, there is another major festival in the church year that likewise has fallen on hard times, and that is the Epiphany of Our Lord. Epiphany is twelve days after Christmas, thus it always falls on January 6, which means it almost always falls on a day other than Sunday. Besides which, early January is cold and dark, and that cuts down even further on attendance. So I guess we could say that Epiphany and Ascension are the two Forgotten Festivals.

But happily, we do not forget these festivals here at St. Matthew’s! And today, being Ascension Day, I want you to know why we do not forget this day. For the Ascension of Our Lord is a wonderful, marvelous event, deserving of a day all its own. My goodness, the fact that Christ “ascended into heaven” even rates a line in all three of the ecumenical creeds! Tonight, then, I want to tell you why we remember and rejoice in the Ascension of Our Lord.

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Published in: on May 25, 2017 at 8:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Easter Joy Continues!” (John 20:19-31; Acts 5:29-42; 1 Peter 1:3-9)

Second Sunday of Easter
April 23, 2017

“Easter Joy Continues!” (John 20:19-31; Acts 5:29-42; 1 Peter 1:3-9)

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

Yes, he is risen indeed! And guess what? He is still risen! Christ didn’t stop being risen once Easter Day was over. And so the Easter season continues–and with it, our Easter joy. It’s the Second Sunday “of” Easter! Thus our theme for this morning: “Easter Joy Continues!”

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Published in: on April 22, 2017 at 9:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Pentecost: A Firstfruits Harvest Festival” (Acts 2:1-41)

The Day of Pentecost
Sunday, May 15, 2016

“Pentecost: A Firstfruits Harvest Festival” (Acts 2:1-41)

What do you know about the Feast of Pentecost? If you’re like most people in the church today, I’m guessing not too much. Oh, maybe you know it has something to do with the coming of the Holy Spirit. And you would be right. But there’s more to it than that. OK, let’s see. Maybe you’ve heard that Pentecost is called “the birthday of the church.” Well, alright, there’s something to that. Maybe somewhere along the line you heard that people can wear red to church on Pentecost Sunday. And that does match the color of the paraments. But if it’s just a silly custom of wearing red, then there’s not too much to that.

So what do you know about the Feast of Pentecost? By the way, why do we even call it a “Feast”? Well, in church lingo, a “feast” is when it is appropriate to have the sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood, as we do on every Sunday and major church festival. Oh, there’s that word “festival,” which is another way to say “feast.” And Pentecost certainly is a major festival in the church. In fact, the Day of Pentecost is one of the three highest, most major festivals in the church year, along with Christmas Day and Easter Day. But compared to Christmas and Easter, Pentecost kind of gets short shrift. We’ll try to remedy that today.

Now what I’m about to tell you about Pentecost may surprise you a bit: Did you know that Pentecost originally was a Jewish festival? That’s right. We’ll explain. And another thing: Pentecost was a harvest festival, a firstfruits harvest festival. We’ll explain that too. And we’ll tie it all together, along with Pentecost’s tremendous meaning for us today, all under the theme, “Pentecost: A Firstfruits Harvest Festival.”

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Published in: on May 14, 2016 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Behold, I Am Coming Soon” (Acts 1:1-11; Revelation 22:1-6, 12-20)

Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 8, 2016

“Behold, I Am Coming Soon” (Acts 1:1-11; Revelation 22:1-6, 12-20)

Take a look at the picture over our altar. Of course, it’s a painting of the Ascension of Our Lord, that time when Jesus ascended into heaven. But if you didn’t know that, and you just look at Jesus there midway in the sky, you might wonder: Is he going up or is he coming down? It looks like it could be either. For just as Jesus ascended into heaven on Ascension Day, so too will he come down from heaven when he returns in glory on the Last Day. That’s the point of our message this morning, namely, that Christ’s ascension points us to his return. Not only so, today we’re even given a glimpse at what’s in store for us when he does return. For today our ascended Lord gives us his promise, “Behold, I Am Coming Soon.”

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Published in: on May 7, 2016 at 9:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Our Guiding, Guarding Good Shepherd” (John 10:22-30; Acts 20:17-35; Revelation 7:9-17)

Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 17, 2016

“Our Guiding, Guarding Good Shepherd” (John 10:22-30; Acts 20:17-35; Revelation 7:9-17)

Today is “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Every year on this Sunday in the Easter season we focus our attention on Jesus as our good shepherd. On this day every year our psalm is Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd.” On this day every year the Holy Gospel is a portion of John 10, the chapter in which Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Every year on this Sunday the other readings and our hymns also carry this theme of Jesus as our good shepherd. And so it is today. Thus our theme this morning: “Our Guiding, Guarding Good Shepherd.”

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Published in: on April 17, 2016 at 12:16 am  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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“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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“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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“Silas: Fellow Worker, Faithful Brother” (Acts 16:19b-40)

Commemoration of Silas, Fellow Worker of St. Peter and St. Paul
Tuesday, February 10, 2015

“Silas: Fellow Worker, Faithful Brother” (Acts 16:19b-40)

Back in 1969, the first moon landing took place, Apollo 11, and the first man set foot on the moon. Most of you probably know his name, Neil Armstrong. “One small step,” and all that. There was another man on that trip who was the second man to step on the moon, and some of you may know his name, too. That’s right, Buzz Aldrin, the #2 guy on the first trip to the moon. But that was the first trip. Later that year there was another trip to the moon, Apollo 12, and even if I gave you the name of the lead astronaut, Pete Conrad, I bet you no one here could come up with the name of the second man. Give up? Alan Bean. Alan Bean was the #2 guy on the second trip. But no one remembers him.

The saint we are commemorating today, St. Silas, is the Alan Bean of the Book of Acts. Because, like Astronaut Bean, Silas was the #2 guy on the second trip–in this case, the second missionary journey of Paul. Of course, we all know about Paul. And most of us know something about Barnabas, the #2 guy on the first trip. But the #2 guy on the second trip–now that’s getting a little fuzzy. We don’t know too much about Silas, the second “second banana.”

Now the “official” description you get for the Commemoration of Silas, as you find it in the hymnal, is, “Fellow Worker of St. Peter and St. Paul.” “Fellow worker”: Hey, that sounds like all of us! For we are all fellow workers, aren’t we, in one form or another, pastor and people alike, in a lead role or a supporting role–all of us, fellow workers in the church’s great mission of spreading the gospel. Silas, then, may have something to say to us today.

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Published in: on February 10, 2015 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Living Room of Peter’s Pentecost Sermon” (Acts 2:14a, 22-36)

The Holy Trinity
Sunday, June 15, 2014

“The Living Room of Peter’s Pentecost Sermon” (Acts 2:14a, 22-36)

Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity. On this day we sing hymns emphasizing the Trinitarian nature of the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On this day we say that really long creed with the funny name, the Athanasian Creed, which goes into the most detail on the relationship of the three persons in the Trinity. Today we are celebrating, not some dry doctrine with no connection to life, no, rather we are celebrating a living reality–the reality of who God is, as he is, as he has acted to save us and give us life, as he has revealed himself to us in Holy Scripture. Today we are confessing the truth of the Holy Trinity, over against all heretics that have arisen in history, from the Arians of the fourth century to the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses of our day. The living reality of the triune God and the true and saving doctrine concerning the same–that’s what this Holy Trinity festival is all about.

Now there is much about the mystery of the Holy Trinity that is hard for us to understand. How can there be three persons and yet only one God? How can this triune God have always been, uncreated, from eternity? I suppose that if we could fully understand God, we would have to be God!

But while there is much that remains hidden to us mortal creatures, there is also much that has been revealed. God wants us to know him, in a living, vital relationship, and to know what we need to know about him in order to be saved. And that’s where our Scripture readings today come in.

Today I want us to focus on one of the readings, the one from Acts chapter 2. This reading picks up where our reading from last week left off. It’s Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Last week we heard the first part of his sermon, the introduction, what I called the “front porch” of his sermon. Today we continue with the main part of that sermon, what I’ll call “The Living Room of Peter’s Pentecost Sermon.”

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Published in: on June 14, 2014 at 2:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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