“Ascended and Still Present” (Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 21, 2020

“Ascended and Still Present” (Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23)

Where is Jesus, and what is he doing? That’s a good question to ask on this Ascension Day. Where did Jesus go when he ascended, and what is he doing now? Alright, you say, I know the answer to that; we just confessed it in the Creed: “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” OK, fine, but what’s the big deal about that? Is that enough to have a whole special festival service, to come out and have church on a Thursday? Well, I would say, yes. But I want you to be able to say yes, too. I want you to know why the church historically makes a big deal about this day–more than just, “Well, it’s forty days past Easter and that’s when Ascension falls on the calendar.” Today then, let’s find out where Jesus is, what he’s doing, and what this means for us, under the theme: “Ascended and Still Present.”

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Published in: on May 20, 2020 at 10:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Making Known the Unknown God” (Acts 17:16-31)

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2020

“Making Known the Unknown God” (Acts 17:16-31)

The reading today from the Book of Acts is the story of Paul preaching at the Areopagus in Athens. There Paul was preaching not in a Jewish synagogue where he could assume some biblical literacy. Rather, he was speaking in a Gentile, pluralistic marketplace of ideas. And so this text has great relevance for us today, for this is the world we live in. Thus our theme this morning: “Making Known the Unknown God.”

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Published in: on May 16, 2020 at 10:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Real Normal” (Acts 2:42-47)

Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2020

“The Real Normal” (Acts 2:42-47)

We’re hearing a lot of talk these days about “the new normal.” “The new normal”: It means that the way we’ve been living these last seven weeks is how we’re going to have to continue to live for the indefinite future. Depending on the state you live in and who your governor is, you’re going to have to stay at home, self-isolating, and not do any unessential travel. If you do go out for anything deemed essential, you’re going to have to practice social distancing–stay six feet apart from anybody. You’re going to have to wear a mask–or not wear a mask, depending on who you listen to. You should wash your hands every twenty minutes and not touch your face. You need to stay shut in and locked down. Flatten the curve, slow the spread, and wait a year or two for a possible vaccine, which may or may not come. And this is supposed to be “the new normal.”

And for churches, this has been especially rough. Religion was deemed “non-essential.” We were told not to hold public services. In some places, you could have services, but only for ten people or fewer. In other places, you couldn’t have services at all. They even sent police around to give tickets to people attending drive-in services, people staying in their cars in parking lots. The police would write down license plate numbers to keep track of violators. And again, depending on your state and your governor and the local officials, they may be telling you, “Get used to it. Do your services online. This is ‘the new normal.’”

For our congregation, St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Bonne Terre, Missouri, we voluntarily decided not to have services temporarily, out of concern for public health and safety. This is now the seventh straight Sunday we’ve missed, plus services on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. We’ve tried to do the best we can in the meantime, doing these live mini-services on Facebook. You’re still getting the Word of God, the gospel of Christ, proclaimed in this way, and that’s good! But in some respects, it’s not the same. Virtual church is not the same as real church, full-bodied church, the church gathered as the people of God.

Right now, we are still in exile. As the psalmist wrote about a previous time when God’s people were in exile: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.” Their exile lasted seventy years. Our exile has lasted seven weeks. But it still stinks. It’s not normal. The new normal is not “The Real Normal.”

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Published in: on May 2, 2020 at 7:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Tongues for Telling the Mighty Works of God” (Acts 2:1-21)

The Day of Pentecost
May 20, 2018

“Tongues for Telling the Mighty Works of God” (Acts 2:1-21)

It’s the Day of Pentecost. It’s nine o’clock in the morning. And the disciples are together in one place. It was true back then, and it is true today–yes, here, this morning. Back on the Day of Pentecost in the Book of Acts, it was nine o’clock in the morning–“the third hour of the day,” as our text puts it–and the group of disciples was together there in Jerusalem. Now today, on this Day of Pentecost, also at nine o’clock in the morning, this group of disciples is gathered here at St. Matthew’s in Bonne Terre. So in both cases, is there something we can expect to happen? There is. Both back then and now today, we can expect the Holy Spirit to be empowering disciples with “Tongues for Telling the Mighty Works of God.”

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Published in: on May 19, 2018 at 8:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“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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