Monday, June 14, 2021

“God’s Kingdom Growth” Mark 4.26-34 Pentecost 3B June ‘21

1.                Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer. Amen. We know not how, and we do not know when, but God works according to His perfect will and His perfect timing in the growth of His Kingdom. The message from God’s Word today comes from Mark 4:26-34, it’s entitled, “God’s Kingdom Growth,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

2.                In many aspects of our high-tech world these days, we’ve come to think of things that are automatic to also be quick. We can set up automatic payments for our bills so that when we have a charge, our bank account automatically pays it, and we don’t have to worry about it. We can set up our contributions to the church automatically so that at any time we designate, our congregation gets the support it needs, and we don’t have to think about it. No waiting. But automatic things also have their drawbacks: they can be too quick. Who of us hasn’t sent a confusing or embarrassing text message to someone because our phone quickly auto-corrected what our fingers tried to type, and it was off and gone before we caught it?

3.                But, in the parable of the growing seed from Mark 4:26–29, Jesus says that the planted seed of God’s kingdom grows automatically, but it isn’t always quick. The Greek word is “automatos” in vs. 28, it can be translated as something that happens without a visible cause, like plants growing without help. God sometimes takes his time in allowing that seed to grow. We can’t rush it along, even if it is automatic. We’re called simply to go about our various callings in life night and day and see how God provides growth for his kingdom—sometimes in the perfect patient time.

4.                In Mark 4:28 Jesus says that, “The man then goes about his business night and day, and the seed grows without his knowing how: “The earth produces by itself.” The Greek term here is “automatically”—no further intervention is needed or required. The earth produces first the blade and then the ear and then the full grain. The growth happens, and it is good, but the man doesn’t know how—only that in time, a plentiful harvest will come. That’s why it is important for us to hear these parables in Mark 4 today as they concern the nature of the growth for the seeds which land in good soil and bring forth fruit for God’s kingdom.

5.                The first parable from Mark 4:26-29 invites reflection on the timing of the growth of God’s Kingdom. It begins with a man who scatters the seed. He doesn’t know how the growth works. He simply does his work, goes to bed, and rises each day. Once it is planted the seed does its thing. But the growth doesn’t happen immediately. It comes in stages—first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain. Finally, when the grain is ripe, the man returns to bring home the harvest. This first parable seems to encourage patience. Plants grow slowly and without the sower’s full understanding. So, it is the same with the reign of God.

6.                The second parable in Mark 4:30-32 has to do with the extent of the growth. It focuses on the size of the seed that is sown. This seed is very small—much smaller than the other garden seeds. But do not be deceived. After it is sown and grows to maturity, this little seed surpasses all the other garden plants. Fully grown, it provides a home that is safe and secure for all the birds of the air. This second parable seems to encourage trust. The plant that comes from this seed will grow larger than you might imagine. Again, so it is with the reign of God.

7.                If we look back a little further in Mark’s Gospel, we are reminded how Jesus had only recently called His disciples to follow Him in Mark 3:13-19. They had already witnessed incredible works, but they were still on the front end of their life with Jesus. Mark doesn’t give us many clues about what they were expecting Jesus to be or do. But you get the impression that, through these brief parables, Jesus was teaching them His reign would not grow as they might expect.

8.                We stand on the other side of Jesus’ life and ministry. We have read about His teachings and heard about His healings. We have mourned His death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and rejoiced in His resurrection. We have observed His giving of the Holy Spirit and have been grafted into the Church. This all took place through the Word of God.

9.                But, there are so many who have not believed. They may have heard the Word, but they show no signs of faith or life in Christ. In fact, the number of people in America who identify as Christian is falling—and these numbers were pre-pandemic. We can think of our loved ones who have heard of Jesus and what He has done for us to win our salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil, but they show no signs of believing. In such a context it would be easy for Christians to become discouraged and grow weary. It would be natural to question whether God, who desires all be saved, is really in charge.

10.             Into this uncertainty and weariness, these two brief parables offer a word of promise. The promise is simple: God works as we proclaim the Word of Christ. Like plants which begin as nothing but seeds, the life of faith grows from nothing but the commands and promises of Jesus spoken by God’s people. We know not how as Mark 4:27 says, “27He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” We do not know when God grows His kingdom, but God works according to His perfect will and His perfect timing.

11.             We must remember that the growth of the kingdom of God is up to God, not us. For what does the parable say? Mark 4:26 & 28 says, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. . . . The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” Christ’s death on the cross has redeemed the whole world, and the kingdom of God is already sown everywhere that Gospel is preached—in you and me, in the people of God in the Church, in your unbelieving loved one, in your atheist neighbor, when they’ve heard the Gospel.

12.             The only growth that is going to happen will occur by God’s design. It is God who grants the growth automatically.  Maybe it’s not all at the same time or in the same way for every person, but God assures us that the kingdom is there whether people recognize it or not. If it were up to us to accomplish faith or church growth, then surely in 2,000 years we would have figured it out. Only God has the ability to bring about the perfect kingdom.

13.             Yet the question still lingers: What do we do then? What do we do about declining churches? What do we do about our seemingly lost loved ones? The answer to those questions is what we need to hear again from Mark 4:27: “[The man] sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” Like the man, we go about our day-to-day business as a child of God in our God-given callings in life. Love and mercy received from God is love and mercy given in our homes and schools and workplaces and communities.

14.             We are a people who are called by Baptism into Jesus’ death, formed by grace and forgiveness, shaped by mercy received at the Lord’s Supper, who live by faith and prayer, patience and hope. We confidently ask for God to grant the growth that he wills for us, for those we love, for the Christian Church throughout the world, and for those in whom the kingdom of God is still but a seed. In the end, the harvest will come only when the grain is ripe and when the Lord has given growth to the kingdom as he desires. It is then that the faithful will be gathered and the mystery of how the kingdom grew will be revealed.

15.             We will be tempted along the way to try to help things along by our own effort or strength. But just as you can’t force a flower to bloom or don’t always know exactly what makes your mother’s casserole taste so good, in time, the kingdom’s beauty and goodness will be revealed and will be far more joyous than you could have imagined. So rather than stress, know that when it comes to God’s kingdom growth that by the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God will grant the growth in his time and his way. For now, we each live in faithful patience night and day as a child of God, praying in hope for the growth that he has promised will come. Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting. Amen.

“The Family of God” Mark 3.20-35 Pentecost 2B, June ‘21

1.                Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The message from God’s Word today is taken from Mark 3:20-35 and is entitled, “The Family of God.” Today we learn from Mark’s Gospel that through Jesus, we have been taken from Satan’s family and brought back into the family of God, in which there is forgiveness and life eternal. Please pray with me: Merciful Father, when sin had stolen us from You and held us captive to death, You determined to restore the family You had made and sent forth Your own Son to win us back into Your family. Grant us grace that we rejoice in this gift and be sustained through forgiveness until we dwell with You on high; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

2.                Before God created the world, there was from eternity the concept of family. From eternity, there was already the Father and the Son. When God created Adam, he breathed the Holy Spirit into him, and another son was created, a son with a beginning in this world, but a son who, unlike the animals, was made in the image of God. But then God created something totally new. He created woman. It is no coincidence that God keeps moving in his creative process. His grand finale is a daughter! She is not just a daughter, but she is a being who, with the man, has the potential for procreation, for creating additional family members right along with God. Though the animals were given a similar gift, only humans would generate additional children of God. Only humans would procreate immortal individuals—and all this is possible because of God’s invention of motherhood.

3.                God also instituted only for humans the foundational family framework: marriage. From this framework come children. It’s clear that children are carried, born, and nursed with a built-in link to their mothers. They will have to live a while to be bonded to their fathers. In the end, God’s goal was to create family, and not just beings who would live as members within love-centered groups consisting of a father, a mother, and children. God ultimately wants us to live as immortal members of His family. As sons and daughters of God.

4.                In his creation, God’s goal was to have family. God’s creatures were lovingly commanded to be fruitful and multiply—have families. Humans were unique, created in God’s image—a family reference (Gen 1:26). Image” includes the understanding of being one’s child. For example, Adam’s son Seth is described as being in Adam’s image in Gen 5:1–3. We still use the term in our phrase “spitting image.” So, Adam and Eve were sons and daughters of God by creation (Lk 3:38). Unlike any other creature, God wanted man to be family. God instituted marriage—a foundational family concept—for humans (Gen 2:18–25).

5.                God also created us to want to have families. Families are most commonly established by birth—blood relatives. Children naturally want to be in a family, to have parents. Parents usually want children. But, foster children, stepchildren, and biological children are all equally loved as family. Adopted children are of the same status as children of a blood relationship. Then families are also established in marriage, a union as strong as blood relations.

6.                All these family concepts are used by God to describe his relationship with humanity. In Jesus, God ultimately became our blood relative, our Brother. From eternity, Jesus had a Father, but no mother. As God’s Son, he is without beginning. A mother indicates a beginning. In time, the man Jesus has a mother, but no earthly father. In our text (Mk 3:21, 31), we get a glimpse of Jesus’ earthly family—mother, brothers, sisters, but still no human father (Mk 6:2–3). Thus, as a man, Jesus is our Brother. But as God, Jesus is also betrothed to his people. Marriage, is also a family relationship God uses to describe his relationship to his people. Christ desired to take us the Church as his Bride.

7.                God’s goal is still to have humanity as his family. In disobedience, man lost the image of God. Man broke God’s desired family. Man ceased to be children in God’s family. Of course, Satan had a hand in this (Gen 3:1). So, humans now have the devil as their father. Jesus tells us this in John 8:41, 44. Man is born in Satan’s domain (Eph 2:1–3). Jesus was even accused of involvement with Satan’s family as our text from Mk 3:22–27 says, “22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” Now marriage and bearing children are under a curse (Gen 3:16). Now many, many sins are related to broken families. Betrayal, like Adam blaming Eve (Gen 3:12), adultery, fornication, divorce, unloved and unloving children, disobedience in families.

8.                But God desires that we be adopted back into his family (Gal 4:5–7). The Son of God becomes the seed of a woman promised in Gen 3:15. As the Son of God, Christ is of God’s family. And he becomes the new Adam to bring man back into God’s family. As predicted in Gen. 3:15, Jesus must crush the serpent’s head. Jesus in our text today from Mark 3:27 describes this as, “[binding] the strong man.” Jesus must plunder Satan’s goods, taking his “children” away from him. This is why exorcisms are spoken in the Rite of Holy Baptism. The sponsors confess that a child does “renounce the devil” and all his works and all his ways.

9.                In order to restore the image of God in man, Jesus must destroy sin and death. Death belongs to Satan. Jesus takes it upon himself (Heb 2:14). Sin is the root of death. (Eating the forbidden fruit caused death; the wages of sin continue to be death.) Therefore, to restore God’s human family, Jesus had to destroy sin (1 Pet 3:18).

10.       In Jesus, God’s goal is reached. His family in this creation is restored. Jesus did destroy sin and death and crush the power of Satan by dying and rising. Jesus now has eternal brothers, sisters, and mother In our text from Mark 3:33–35, 33[Jesus said], “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” We, as the Church of God are now also Christ’s Bride (Eph 5:32). In Christ, we now again possess the image of God (2 Cor 3:18; 4:4). Therefore, God’s family does God’s will. We believe in Jesus, who did God’s will (Jn 6:29). We are now empowered to behave as family, as God’s children (Eph 5:1, 2).

11.       Our restoration as God’s children is beyond the grasp of the world. So, the apostle John writes in 1 John 3: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:1–2).

12.       As we live out our lives in this fallen world, we struggle. We have pain. But we know that as God’s children, we have eternal life. We shall “be like Jesus.” We are waiting for our glorious immortal bodies, bodies like what was intended for God’s children. Thus, in conclusion, hear how St. Paul explains our immortal family, speaking of each of us as sons: “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom 8:19–23) Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting. Amen.





“Baptism Connects Us to Christ” Romans 6.3-11, 1 Peter 1.3 Chris Herte Funeral…

 1.                Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are all here today, with our various backgrounds, because we have been drawn by a common tragedy: the death of Christopher Herte, a beloved son, father, and friend. We are here because we have a single purpose. We want to share our comfort with Chris’ family struck by this tragedy. We want to remember this man who touched our lives in different ways, whose death has touched us all the same, with shock and sadness.

2.                In the name of Jesus, who lived and died for us and rose again, I greet all of you who are here today. I greet you as fellow pilgrims who are traveling through this life toward a life to come. I especially greet you members of the bereaved family and friends, especially Larry and Sandy, Alyssa, Jordyn, and Mekenzie, Lynnze and Leigh. I pray that you may receive a special measure of God’s mercy, grace, and peace in these days. I know that God will grant that, for his promises are sure. I join all of you in this time to seek words of comfort from our gracious God and to remember with you, Christopher, a son, a brother, a friend, a man full of life. We are here to remember Christopher, who was a gift from God to us.

3.                When tragedy enters the life of a believer in Christ, the Christian turns immediately to God and his Word, for only in the eternal love of God can understanding and comfort and strength be found. We turn to God today because he loves us forever, and we know that he alone can provide the patience, comfort, and strength we so desperately need. God alone can provide comfort in our times of sorrow because through baptism He connects us to Christ.

4.                If God had no message for us in such a time of disaster and grief—if he didn’t reach out, offering us love and hope—we would be tempted to turn against God and blame him for the anguish that has come to us. I suppose when all of us heard the shocking news of Christopher’s death, we immediately asked the age-old question “Why?” Why did God let this kind of thing happen? Why didn’t he stop the process?

5.                Such questions will never be answered fully on this side of eternity, because we can never understand what goes on in a person’s mind, especially in the extremity of death. In a time of confusion such as this, it is good that we not become preoccupied with God’s governance or the reasons behind what has happened. Nor should we ever assume guilt that is not ours by thinking something we said or did might have made the difference, or that something we didn’t say or do would have changed the outcome. This kind of assumed guilt is not fair to ourselves, or to the memory of Christopher.

6.                Instead, we ought to concentrate on the fact that Christopher was a gift from God that was given to us, the over 40 years of his life far outweigh the event that took place a few weeks ago. Let the fact that Christopher was God’s gift fill your hearts and your minds this day. As long as you live, be thankful to God for the years that Christopher walked with us.

7.                You can bear the burden of this sorrow if you remember God’s Word to us today: The Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:3, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). When Peter wrote these words, he likely was thinking of how his readers recently had been baptized. At this moment, we think of the miraculous new birth in Holy Baptism that God gave to Christopher on November 18th, 1973, at All Saints Lutheran Church in Oak Creek.

8.                Baptism says God has chosen us, and his arms are open wide to us. He takes us—sinful people that we are—and draws us into the very life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. All that Jesus did for us becomes ours in Baptism. In Baptism, God connects us with Christ, both His death and His resurrection. Now to say that Baptism “connects us to Christ” is to say that prior to our Baptism, we were disconnected from Christ. Scripture confirms this. In fact, “disconnected” might be an understatement. In Ephesians 2, Paul describes our condition prior to Christ as being “dead in our trespasses” (Eph 2:5). He also describes us by nature as being “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3)—in other words, by our very nature, as we are conceived and born, we are under the wrath of God because of our sin. To say that we were disconnected from God by our nature is definitely an understatement.

9.                That’s why God is at work in Baptism to connect us to Christ. First, God connects us to Christ’s death in and through Baptism. Paul writes in Romans 6:3-4, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.” We are so closely connected with Christ’s death in our Baptism, that it’s as if we’ve traveled back nearly 2000 years and are there with Christ, in the tomb with him. Dead with Jesus on Good Friday as the sun is going down and the preparation of his body for burial comes to a close for the day. And every time we baptize a child or an adult, God is at work joining that person, young or old, to the death of Christ.

10.             But God doesn’t leave us in Christ’s tomb! In Baptism, just as he figuratively buries us with Christ, so he also raises us with Christ to new life. Paul writes in Romans 6:4, “in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Notice, this “newness of life” is something we are walking in right now. It’s not something we have to wait for our death to experience; we have it right here and now through God’s action in our lives in our Baptism.

11.              Jesus died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins. His death counts for us. Then he rose from the dead, and he shares with us his life with God, which doesn’t stop at the grave. The new birth in Baptism is birth to a life of hope, because it unites us with Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead. That’s why Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:3, “He has caused us to be born again to a living hope.” That hope transcends this earth and fills all eternity with glory. That hope of salvation belongs to all baptized believers. God’s grace is powerful enough to forgive each of us who trusts in Christ, regardless of our circumstances. If we didn’t believe that, none of us could sleep at night.

12.             Now hear this again: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Pet 1:3). These words are all the more remarkable because they were originally spoken not in days of sunshine, but in days when the persecuted Church faced darkness, suffering, and anguish. It’s a miracle of faith when an afflicted person speaks such words during a time of trouble and uncertainty.

13.             God helped those persecuted believers to praise him. And he will help you say those words as you recall that God has touched you with his love through the life of Christopher at least four major times: when God gave Christopher life and he was born, when God brought Christopher into the family of his Church by giving him the new birth of salvation and the forgiveness of sins in Holy Baptism back in November of 1973 at All Saints Lutheran, when God’s Spirit led Christopher to confess Christ publicly in his confirmation vows in June of 1987 at Trinity Lutheran Church in South Milwaukee, and now, these past few weeks, when God used Christopher’s death to bring you closer to one another and to himself. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

14.             We must not forget that our connection with Christ in Baptism has future blessings for us and for all Christians. Paul writes in Romans 6:5, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” There is still more to come! Just as Christ was raised from the dead, physically, bodily, raised from the dead, so will we be raised from the dead! So will all who are connected to Christ and his resurrection through Baptism.

15.             This is the sure and certain hope we have as the baptized children of God. Death is not the end. Death doesn’t have the final say. Death is but a doorway into an eternal life in the presence of God with all who have gone before us and all who will come after us.

16.             And with those who have gone before us into the presence of the Lord, we await that day when Christ—the one with whom we were buried and raised to new life in our Baptism—will return. He will not return in humility as he came to be with us the first time. He will come in all power, glory, and majesty.

17.             On that day, our bodies will be raised, just as his body was raised. On that day, our bodies will be changed to be like Jesus’ glorious body. Our bodies will be, to quote Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, “incorruptible, imperishable, and immortal.” In other words, our bodies will no longer suffer any of the effects of sin. No arthritis, no cancer, no high blood pressure, no heart attacks. And our bodies will no longer be subject to death, for death itself, the penalty for sin, will be no more.

18.             And on that day, all of humanity will stand before Christ. On that day, the books will be opened. But not to fear. Through Holy Baptism Your name is written in God’s Book of Life. Then, you will be eternally as you are today: connected to Christ. Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting. Amen.


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

“The Mystery That Saves” (John 3.1-17) Holy Trinity B May ‘21

1.               Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer. Amen. Trinity Sunday is a day we confess the mystery of our faith. It is a mystery that saves. The message today is taken from John 3:1-17 and is entitled, “The Mystery That Saves,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

2.               A Pastor was once visiting a church with an artist. He had taken her there to see the stained-glass windows. But, at that point, they were standing in front of the altar. She wasn’t a believer and so, wasn’t familiar with our traditional Christian symbols. Carved into the marble face of the altar was the traditional symbol of the Trinity. Three circles, overlapping one another, held together by a triangle. Each was traced in gold. The triangle was in the center, grounding the symbol, and the circles extended beyond it. For a Christian, this symbol was easy to read. Three persons in one God and one God in three persons. The circles represented the persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and the triangle represented one God.

3.               But, for this artist, the mysteries of the Trinity weren’t something she was seeing. Instead, she said to her Pastor friend, “I like that symbol.” “The Trinity,” the Pastor said. “Whatever,” she answered. “I’m talking about the combination of the hard and the soft.” The Pastor looked closer. “The curved lines of the circles and the points of the triangle,” she said. “The circles are soft and easy to experience but then the hard edges of the triangle come and interrupt you, making you reconsider what you are seeing.”

4.               While this Pastor’s non-Christian friend had no idea what the Trinity means, I think her description can be helpful. Encountering one God in three persons and three persons in one God can often involve this interplay between the hard and the soft, the pointed and the smooth, the difficult and the easy. Consider our gospel reading today. Nicodemus, a teacher of the law, comes to Jesus at night. He has heard and seen the ministry of Jesus and believes He is a “teacher come from God” (John 3:3). But, in this late-night conversation, Jesus takes Nicodemus into the hard and the soft, the pointed and the smooth, the difficult and the easy, the limits of his understanding and the beginning of God’s grace.

5.               In this conversation, Nicodemus encounters a hard truth about himself. As a teacher of Israel, Jesus tells him that he doesn’t understand everything (John 3:10). The ways of God bringing life “from above” are a mystery to Nicodemus. Although Nicodemus has taught the stories of Israel, although he has read how the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 37 called the Spirit of God to come from the four corners of the earth and bring the bones of Israel to life, he still doesn’t understand. Nicodemus is limited in his understanding and Jesus presses into that limitation, bringing Nicodemus to the hard truth that there is an end to his understanding. But, at the end of Nicodemus’ understanding, is the beginning of life. It is life which comes as a gift, life which flows from the mystery of God.

6.               On this Trinity Sunday we recognize that the Holy Spirit brings man to the only knowledge that saves—that of the only God, the holy God, through His only Son, Jesus. Jesus says in John 3, “Truly, truly, one can see the kingdom of God only by being born anew” (John 3:1–3). Nicodemus opens his inquiry with an “only” of his own: Jesus couldn’t do the miracles he’s doing unless God is with him. That’s a good start, but it shows us Nicodemus doesn’t yet know Jesus as the only Son of God. He doesn’t yet know the triune God. Fact is, Jesus has the only “onlys” that count here. The only way to see the kingdom of this only God (to be saved), Jesus says, is rebirth (John 3:3). The Greek gennēthēi anōthen means “born anew.”

7.               But, we and our world think we can know God—or what we want our god to be—by other means. By intelligence, science, or logically deciding for him. By our feelings or best guesses, without really knowing what he says in his Word. Truly, truly, one can be born anew only by water and the Spirit (John 3:4–8). Nicodemus doesn’t get it; his thinking is earthly. Jesus is talking about a miracle from above. Born “anew” also translates as “from above.” Being born again, knowing the Holy Trinity, is totally passive by us, only a work of the Spirit.

8.               But the Holy Spirit does work that miracle! In Baptism, we are “born anew” “from above.” When water is applied with God’s Word, the Holy Spirit comes down and creates faith in us, a whole new person who knows God. Truly, truly, we know we’re saved, because these words of the only Son of Man are the words of the triune, the only, God (John 3:9–17).

9.               Although God’s ways are hard and beyond our understanding, they proceed from grace. The hard ways of God reveal the softness of His heart. God’s grace enters into that which is painful, that which is difficult, and brings about life. God is painfully creative.

10.            God the Father sees the world He has created: Fallen, Rebellious, Broken, Riddled with death. But, God the Father will not abandon His creation. Instead, He sends His Son Jesus into the world to bring life, new life. Life from above, born by the power of the Holy Spirit, that all people might be saved through Him.

11.            But, this way of life, isn’t easy. Like the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21), Jesus will be lifted up on the cross. He will experience divine punishment. Painfully bearing the sin of all people, your sins and my sins. Jesus will powerfully bring God’s grace to all. Yes, He will be lifted up on the cross and die. But He will also be lifted up from the tomb and rise. He will then be lifted up to the heavens and ascend, and be seated at the right hand of God, the Father, from where He will send forth His Spirit, through water and the Word, to bring life. We are baptized in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three in One, One in Three, graciously joined in a mystery.

12.            Trinity Sunday is a day we confess the mystery of our faith. It is a mystery that saves. The ways of God are beyond our understanding but at the heart of this mystery is a love that saves. Some mysteries are puzzles to be solved. Others are questions to be answered. But, this mystery, is a love to be experienced.

13.            Jesus says, “We speak . . . we know . . . we have seen . . . our testimony” (John 3:11). He’s talking about the Holy Trinity. The Son, Jesus, speaks what the Father and Holy Spirit know one God in three persons. Hear what he speaks: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The Father gives the Son to die on the cross. The Holy Spirit brings you to believe it. And you have eternal life! Only by birth from above, only by a washing of water and Spirit, and only because Jesus speaks for the Father with the Holy Spirit can we know and believe heavenly things.

14.            A child was digging up a seed that had been planted. He was curious and wanted to figure out how this seed became a plant. But, all he ended up with was pieces of dirt and a small sprout in his hands. This adventure brought him no closer to understanding the mystery of life. Now, as an adult, he plants seeds and trusts in their growth.

15.            There are some mysteries we don’t understand but that doesn’t mean we can’t experience the blessing of their life. In some ways, the Trinity is like that mystery. Deep within the heart of God, one God in three persons and three persons in one God, is the gift of life. It’s a life which is abundant, gracious, freely given, able to take our painful limitations, able to enter into our sin and our suffering, able even to grasp the limits of death itself, and break through with salvation, that, “Whoever believes in Jesus Christ should not perish but have everlasting life.” Today, we rejoice in that mystery. The mystery that saves. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting. Amen.



“The Spirit Who Guides Us in All Truth” John 15.26-27, 16.4-15, May ’21 PentecostB

1.                Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The message from God’s Word as we celebrate the Day of Pentecost is taken from John 15:26-27 & 16:4b-15. Somedays we are simply looking for a mark, a rock at the foot of a tree, something to direct us forward, a few words to let us know we are going in the right direction. Today, Jesus promises us, “The Spirit Who Guides Us in All Truth,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

2.                Recently, a man was hiking on a poorly marked trail. The AllTrails app that he was using had identified a 5-mile loop and an 8-mile loop hikers could follow. While the 8-mile loop seemed pretty clear at the trail head, as he went along it became a bit sketchy. The trail slowly disappeared and a well-worn path turned into a pathless woods. As the man looked around, trying to identify something resembling a trail, he noticed a small pile of rocks positioned at the bottom of a tree. He went in that direction. After hiking that way for a while, he noticed another similar group of rocks at the bottom of another tree. Some kind hiker had gone before him and left these small marks to guide his way.

3.                The experience of this man getting lost on the hiking trail really helps us in our Gospel reading for today from John 15 & 16. Jesus is speaking to His disciples about sending His Holy Spirit. But, Jesus does not use the title “Holy Spirit.” Instead, He speaks of “the Helper” and “the Spirit of truth.”

4.                The term ὁ παράκλητος (Paraclete) is difficult to translate. Comforter, counselor, advocate, mediator, intercessor, and helper are a few of the ways it has been done. The Spirit is someone who appears on and in another person’s behalf. He gives aid, counsel, comfort, defense, and help. The Greek word refers to a person who provides legal assistance, who solicits for another’s defense. That is the role of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises the Spirit will guide us in the Truth. Jesus says in John 16:13, “13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” So, who is this Counselor?

5.                This Counselor was sent by Jesus with a special mission. He is to convict or rebuke the world in three areas: sin, righteousness, and judgment. People rarely see themselves as sinners in need of rebuking. But, the Holy Spirit is sent to help us see our sins. The Counselor came to help us see that the mindset of the world is in reality the mindset of deadly sin. The Spirit convicts us of our sin and leads us to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. St. Paul writes in 1 Cor 12:3, “3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” Through Baptism he gives us new life. In Jn 3:3–5 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

6.                As we live our Christian lives, struggling against the sinful nature we still have, the Spirit keeps giving us strength and keeps praying for us before the Father in heaven. St. Paul writes in Rom 8:26–27, 26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit as our guidance counselor for life. The Holy Spirit came not simply to rebuke our sin but also to guide our lives. Sometimes the Counselor comes to us through a friend, a neighbor, or a pastor. (Rom 8:13–14)

7.                If there ever was a trail which has disappeared into the forest, it is the path of Truth. Our culture’s slow shift away from Christianity has made daily life bewildering. Things we used to hold in common with the world – marriage, male, female – are no longer so clear. Public reception of our Christian faith has changed too. From new atheists who think we are ignorant and anti-science to public protestors who denounce us as hateful and homophobic advocates of patriarchy and white supremacy, the way is bewildering.

8.                We are not asking for a map. We don’t need to know every twist and turn in this journey of life. But somedays, we are simply looking for a mark, a rock at the foot of a tree, something to direct us forward, a few words to let us know we are going in the right direction. The truth is, we live in a world where many people turn to various guides to find their way through life: whether it’s technology or the Google search engine, materialism, more money, more power, the quest for pleasure, etc. But, people feel abandoned, empty, afraid, and lost.

9.                Many of us also have that fear. When I drop my three-year old Julia off at the Early Childhood Center in the mornings, I sometimes get that look on her face that says, “Have I been abandoned?” “Is Mom or Dad going to leave me?” Not only children feel abandoned, afraid, empty, or lost. Adults too experience these things. People see their marriages falling apart. People who lived 50, 60, 70 years in one house suddenly find themselves living in a nursing home. People who were never gravely ill learn they are dying of cancer. People by the millions feel abandoned, empty, afraid, and lost. To whom do they turn for a counselor?

10.              Today, Jesus offers a word of hope. He promises to send us the Helper: The Holy Spirit. Pentecost is our celebration that this promise from Jesus has come true. He has ascended into Heaven and sent His Holy Spirit who speaks His words to us, for us, among us, and with us. Hearing Jesus, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, helps us make our way in the world.

11.             In particular, Jesus identifies three works of the Spirit. This Holy Helper will help us see how the world is wrong when it speaks about sin, wrong when it speaks about Jesus, and wrong when it speaks about Satan. Jesus says in John 16:8-11, 8And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” Jesus is the Son of God, even though many in our world do not acknowledge Him (verse 9). Jesus has been vindicated by His Father. Although many thought He was just another moral teacher, a misguided revolutionary, an idealistic leader, a problematic prophet whose reign would end with His death, Jesus has been vindicated by His Father after His death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, raised from the dead, and revealed to be the Savior of all (verse 10). And Jesus has defeated Satan. By ending Satan’s reign, Jesus now rules over all things (verse 11) and will bring them to their final restoration.

12.             So, the Holy Spirit offers us these three truths about Jesus: A.) He is the Son of God. B.) He has been vindicated by His Father. C.) He has defeated Satan, so He now rules over all things. These three truths are a comfort to the world-weary traveler. When I come to church, I hear these things preached. When I open the Scriptures, I understand these things in what I read. When I speak with other Christians, I hear these things confessed in our conversation. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is at work. Our Holy Helper is offering us these three truths. This Spirit is the one we celebrate today. Hearing Jesus, by the guidance of the Spirit, helps us make our way in the world.

13.             Recently, there have been reports of a decline in church attendance. Interestingly, it’s not so much that fewer people are going to church. It’s just that more people are going to church less often. While I can understand the diversity of ways in which people can participate in church, I am less understanding of the decreasing frequency of contact. If anything, I find myself wanting to have more physical contact with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ rather than less. I find myself wanting to listen to a sermon a second time or call up previous services on-line that were my favorites. Why?

14.             Because, for me, going to church is like coming across one of the trees in the forest, a tree that has been marked to point out the way. I have been wandering in the world, confused by what I’m seeing and hearing. Then I come to worship and I hear these fundamental truths preached by the Spirit. Jesus is the Son of God. He has been vindicated by His Father after His death and resurrection from the dead. He has defeated Satan, so He now rules over all things. Like three small stones placed at the bottom of a tree, these truths help me realize someone has gone before me. I have a companion on this journey. The Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus, who helps me has been here. That Spirit reminds me of what is most necessary. That Spirit helps me follow Jesus in a world which has lost its way. Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting. Amen.