Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 104:25-34
Acts 2:1-21
John 7:37-39a
“Dry Bones”
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
During my days in Seminary, one of the classes I attended was Homiletics. Now the word Homiletics is just a fancy word used in Seminary for preaching, to give a sermon. So since I’m not in Seminary, from here on out I will use the more English word, Preaching.
So in my Seminary years, one of the classes I attended was for Preaching. I mean, that much should be obvious. Seminary… teaching how to be a pastor… pastors much preach… so yes, one of the classes I took was a preaching class. But while I was going through this class, my professor, Pastor Amy Shiffrin, who wasn’t well known for her preaching skills, kept on harping on one particular message. The purpose of preaching is to bring life to the dead. Let me repeat that again, the purpose of preaching is to bring life to the dead. If there is one thing I would like you to walk away with after this service it is that message. The purpose of preaching is to bring life to the dead. She harped on this message so much, because just like this sermon, if there was anything her students walk away with from her preaching class, it was this particular message. And woe and behold, I most definitely did.
Now it wasn’t her class that uniquely gave this message, for this message was a reoccurring theme throughout my Seminary life in of itself. In fact, I still hear it when I go to my Lutheran retreats and Convocations. Thus the reason why this message stuck wasn’t simply because of her class, thought that was the most importantly thing she taught me in her class, but because this is the overarching theme of the NALC with regards to preaching.
But what does this mean? What does it mean to say that preaching brings life to the dead, or at least its intended purpose?
The answer can be found by answering a different question. What happens when you preach the Word? Why, when the Word is preached, the Holy Spirit, which gave you the strength and faith in the first place to preach, externally enters into the ones who receive the Word. Basically when you preach, you are not preaching mere words, but The Word, and when you preach The Word you are not merely preaching of The Word but invoking it. The Word, the Holy Spirit is there when you preach it. For us lowly servants are but instruments of the Lord used as messengers like the angels to spread the Good News. Through us, the Word speaks. Through us, the Spirit, which proceeds from the Father and the Son, is truly present. We who are filled with the Spirit, speak the Spirit, and thus when we speak the Spirit, out of our mouths comes the Word which enters into the hearts and minds of others and fills them.
But why is this so important? If I was to preach the Good News to my neighbor and they converted to Christianity, did I convert them or did the Holy Spirit convert them? It was the external Spirit! We have no ability to argue someone into believing into Christ, but it is through the Spirit alone that the seeds of faith are planted.
God is the source of Life. Without Him we are dead. When we sin we die. To sin is to turn away from God, He who is the source of life. To sin is to deny life. In fact, due to original sin, we are already born dead, born sinners. There is no life within us because we are born incapable of knowing God, let alone loving Him. We are born lost, rejected, confused. There is a reason why Christ said let the dead bury the dead. For without Him, you are truly dead, in fact you are already dead and if you wish to be alive then you must follow him. Let the dead bury the dead, but we who are Christians instead bring life to the dead. Instead of letting the dead remain dead we speak the Good News, the Word, so that through the Holy Spirit they may come to life. The point of preaching is to bring Life to the dead! The point of preaching is to supply the Holy Spirit, the source of life, to those who sin, the source of dead. This is why we preach.
So we preach not only to those who are lost and do not know God, but also to those who are sinners. For regardless, all sin does is kills us. Yet, through the Word, Jesus breathes new life into us, forgives us our sins which causes us to die, and does this daily for our sake.
In the Book of Ezekiel, Jesus speaks through the prophet Ezekiel, providing for us a vision which perfectly paints this imagery of preaching life to the dead. In it the Lord brought Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones and asked, “Son of Man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel said, “O Lord God, you know.” So the Lord commanded, “Prophecy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breathe to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breathe in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” After he did all this, a great army, filled with the Breathe of God, stood before Ezekiel, and the Lord said, “Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
Now the words from Ezekiel are interesting, for the Lord begins by commanding the Son of Man to prophesy these dry bones to life. Well who do we usually think of when we hear the name Son of Man? And does not Christ bring the dead to life? But the order of God’s command is most interesting. First, He commands the dry bones to hear the Word of the Lord. Then, the Breathe of God brings them to life. Last, after being brought to life these bones will know the Lord. And it is not like these bones truly represent bones for the Lord Himself says these bones are Israel. Instead I ask this, is not the order of God’s command similar to the order of conversion?
First you preach the Good News. Then there are those who willingly listen, who hear, the Word. As they hear the Word, the Spirit, which in Hebrew also means Breathe, of God enters into the hearer and brings them life for only God is the source of life. And alongside this life is faith, and it is because of faith in God, which only comes from the Holy Spirit, that we come to know God and maintain our knowledge of God.
The thing is this, before Pentecost, these Dry Bones was all of Israel. On top of that, before any of us received the Holy Spirit either through Baptism or through Preaching, we too were the Dry Bones. And until we hear the Word again, due to sin we become like the dry bones again. Yet because God sent down His Spirit in tongues of fire to bless His disciples by breathing His Spirit into them, the disciples were capable of going out with power to Spread the Good News and so bring life to the Dry Bones of the House of Israel. God placed His Spirit into them, brought them to life, opening their minds to the truth, and gave them the authority to speak. And they spoke. They spread the Good News with power, and those who listened so too was brought to life, filled with the Spirit, filled with its strength, and like the disciples so too did they spread the Good News. One by one the Dry Bones of Israel were being lifted out of their graves and rose as Christian Soldiers, a mighty army of those filled with the Spirit, armed with the Sword of God which was the Word.
And from generation to generation, the Spirit of God passed from one person to the next, bringing to life these dry bones, and a new generation of Christian Soldiers was born out of new life. And this kept on going until the Holy Spirit enter into you and so to saved you through the cross of Christ and brought you to life. And every single time you hear the Word, know this, the Spirit is indeed entering into you and is providing you with life.
Let the dead bury the dead, Jesus said, but through Christ we are not the dead, for we are truly alive. The living do not bury the dead, per se, no instead the living bring the dead to life, but not through our own power but through the power of God alone. We are alive because of Him, and through Him, we like the fire touched disciples, may also bring the dead to life.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, source of Life, you promised in the days of old to breathe life into the dry bones of Israel. On the day of Pentecost you fulfilled your promise by breathing life through the fiery Holy Spirit into first your Disciples and through them throughout all of Israel and the World. Continue to provide your Spirit and help your Church to breathe life into the congregations and into those who do not know you. In your most holy name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sorry this is late, Better late than never. Thank You!

Acts 1:1-11

Psalm 110

Ephesians 1:16-23

Luke 24:44-53

 

 

“The Ascension of our Lord Jesus”

 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.

 

        Pentecost is just around the corner, the day that Holy Spirit will come and cloth the disciples with power from on high, yet it is not here. This was Jesus’ warning before he officially departed from His disciples, ascending into heaven, for His final words before he blessed His disciples and then ascended were, “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” When will this day of power be? And why are you leaving us? Many of the disciples may have been lost in their despair upon finding that their Rabbi was leaving them again. He had just died and they were wrought with pain upon seeing their Lord crucified and buried. Now He is leaving them again. They may glorify the fact that he is ascending into heaven, but none the least some may have also been saddened over the fact that Jesus was once again leaving them.

 

        What were they to do? Their minds were opened by Jesus to understanding Scripture, thus enlightening them to the reality that Christ had to suffer dead, rise after three days, and that this Christ is Jesus Himself. Jesus opened their minds to also understand that in Jesus’ name sanctification is possible. He revealed all this, then blessed them, and then… he left them… again. What were they, the disciples to do? Should they be happy or sad? They knew Jesus wasn’t going to Hell or Sheol, which is limbodic death for Jews, for they physically saw Jesus rise to heaven. Happy that Jesus is in heaven with His Father, or sad because Jesus wasn’t physically with them?

 

        Many of you may understand this feeling for many of you have lost loved ones who are dear to your hearts, loved ones who also loved the Lord. And upon losing your friend, spouse, brother, sister, parent, you get mixed feelings. Happy because you know they are in heaven, but sad because they are not with you. The happiness we feel is out of Christian selflessness, the sadness is because, one we are selfish, but also because we understand that death is horrendous. This is why we teach that upon death, through faith in Christ, you are not truly dead, but are truly alive for all eternity. Yet, these mixed feelings still exist. It is appropriate mourn, for a loss has been experienced. It is also appropriate to leap with joy, for we know the truth of what happens after death.

 

        Likewise, the disciples may have such mixed feelings, and the only thing they have to help guide their next action, are Jesus’ words of staying in Jerusalem and to be patient. Jesus gave them a promise, but he did not tell them when this promise would be fulfilled, only that it will be fulfilled, thus they must patiently wait. They knew not that Jesus was referring to Pentecost, a Jewish holiday which marked the 50th day of the Passover, and for us the 50th day of Easter, exactly seven weeks after the day we celebrate the rising of our Lord from Hell. The disciples did not know this, for they knew not if this wait was to be a day or fifty years. They had no reference, only a promise and a command for patience. So they waited and had faith in Jesus. They worshipped him faithfully in the temples and they did have great joy for they knew Jesus was in heaven.

 

        And once the Holy Spirit did bless them, their eyes were fully opened to a reality that we who have been blessed by the Holy Spirit through Baptism grew up knowing. Jesus is not gone. He is not far off. He never left them. He is here.

 

        Yes, Jesus is in heaven, but that does not make Him like a clockmaker God who makes a clock, winds it up, and then leaves. Jesus never left us. Why, neither has God the Father ever left us. If we believe that God the Father is indeed here and is in fact everywhere to include on that throne in Heaven, then Jesus who sits at the Father’s right hand side, and is God Himself, must also be here and everywhere. Jesus has never left us. In fact, He is even more present.

 

        And if we need physical proof that Jesus is here, for some are too dependent on their eyes and hears and nose and mouth and touch to believe in anything, then look no further than Communion. Did Jesus not tell us that the Bread and the Wine used in Communion is indeed His Body and Blood? Did He not speak through His servant Paul the words I will repeat during the blessing,

 

“In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

 

Does Jesus lie? No, and before any one suggest He is talking metaphorically, read all of St John, chapter 6, for Jesus makes it quite clear he is not talking metaphorically but literally. So, does Jesus lie? Is He, is God, a liar? No. So let me say Jesus’ words again. This is my body. This is my body. This is my body.

 

        Jesus is not far off for we have proof here that not only is Christ with us, he is indeed physically with us, via the bread and the wine. He is here. But not just that, for not only is Jesus physically present through the Eucharist, because we physically consume the literal body and blood of Christ, then we know with sheer certainty that Jesus is in us, and we in Him. For through Communion, and each and every time we have communion, Jesus abides in us and we in Him. This is why it is encouraged to have Communion, as long as it is done properly and in the proper setting, as often as possible. To be honest, I’m jealous of the Roman Catholic practice of daily mass. Oh, Pastor Chris, your catholicism is showing, please hear me out. The reason I’m jealous is because, to those who do receive communion daily, they are daily receiving Christ in their bodies, they are daily receiving the sanctification and spiritual sustenance only possible through Communion daily, and they are reminded daily that Jesus is not far off but is in fact still here with us physically. That is why I’m jealous.

 

        Now what is the beauty of knowing that through Communion that we abide in Christ and He in us? What is today all about? Christ’s Ascension! And if Christ has Ascended then where is He? Is He in Hell? No. Is He in Sheol? No. Is He in Heaven? Most certainly! And if Christ who is in Heaven also abides in us, what does that mean when we breath our last breathe? No more will Christ go to Hell, and no more will Christ die, therefore we cannot carry Christ to Hell nor put Christ to death again. If we truly abide in Christ, and He in us, then when we die there is only one destination for us, and that is most certainly Heaven! That is the beauty of knowing that through Communion we abide in Christ and He in us.

 

        So just like how Jesus ascended into heaven, we who are Christians can have faith that through Him we too will rise into Heaven, to be with Him and all the Saints who are also in Him. So do not fret, but rejoice. For Christ will never die again, He is and will always be the Risen Lord, he has a place for you in Heaven, and though He is in Heaven, He is also still here.

 

Let us pray,

 

        Dear Heavenly Father, through the ascension of our Lord we know that your Son lives and will live forever as God the Son. We ask that though we may not see His face that we do not give into despair and forget that He is still present within Communion. And through Communion please invigorate us, sanctify us, and keep us in your grace, so that when we too leave this world, we, like your Son, will rise and be with you in Heaven. In your most holy name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Acts 1:1-11

Psalm 110

Ephesians 1:16-23

Luke 24:44-53

 

 

“The Ascension of our Lord Jesus”

 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.

 

        Pentecost is just around the corner, the day that Holy Spirit will come and cloth the disciples with power from on high, yet it is not here. This was Jesus’ warning before he officially departed from His disciples, ascending into heaven, for His final words before he blessed His disciples and then ascended were, “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” When will this day of power be? And why are you leaving us? Many of the disciples may have been lost in their despair upon finding that their Rabbi was leaving them again. He had just died and they were wrought with pain upon seeing their Lord crucified and buried. Now He is leaving them again. They may glorify the fact that he is ascending into heaven, but none the least some may have also been saddened over the fact that Jesus was once again leaving them.

 

        What were they to do? Their minds were opened by Jesus to understanding Scripture, thus enlightening them to the reality that Christ had to suffer dead, rise after three days, and that this Christ is Jesus Himself. Jesus opened their minds to also understand that in Jesus’ name sanctification is possible. He revealed all this, then blessed them, and then… he left them… again. What were they, the disciples to do? Should they be happy or sad? They knew Jesus wasn’t going to Hell or Sheol, which is limbodic death for Jews, for they physically saw Jesus rise to heaven. Happy that Jesus is in heaven with His Father, or sad because Jesus wasn’t physically with them?

 

        Many of you may understand this feeling for many of you have lost loved ones who are dear to your hearts, loved ones who also loved the Lord. And upon losing your friend, spouse, brother, sister, parent, you get mixed feelings. Happy because you know they are in heaven, but sad because they are not with you. The happiness we feel is out of Christian selflessness, the sadness is because, one we are selfish, but also because we understand that death is horrendous. This is why we teach that upon death, through faith in Christ, you are not truly dead, but are truly alive for all eternity. Yet, these mixed feelings still exist. It is appropriate mourn, for a loss has been experienced. It is also appropriate to leap with joy, for we know the truth of what happens after death.

 

        Likewise, the disciples may have such mixed feelings, and the only thing they have to help guide their next action, are Jesus’ words of staying in Jerusalem and to be patient. Jesus gave them a promise, but he did not tell them when this promise would be fulfilled, only that it will be fulfilled, thus they must patiently wait. They knew not that Jesus was referring to Pentecost, a Jewish holiday which marked the 50th day of the Passover, and for us the 50th day of Easter, exactly seven weeks after the day we celebrate the rising of our Lord from Hell. The disciples did not know this, for they knew not if this wait was to be a day or fifty years. They had no reference, only a promise and a command for patience. So they waited and had faith in Jesus. They worshipped him faithfully in the temples and they did have great joy for they knew Jesus was in heaven.

 

        And once the Holy Spirit did bless them, their eyes were fully opened to a reality that we who have been blessed by the Holy Spirit through Baptism grew up knowing. Jesus is not gone. He is not far off. He never left them. He is here.

 

        Yes, Jesus is in heaven, but that does not make Him like a clockmaker God who makes a clock, winds it up, and then leaves. Jesus never left us. Why, neither has God the Father ever left us. If we believe that God the Father is indeed here and is in fact everywhere to include on that throne in Heaven, then Jesus who sits at the Father’s right hand side, and is God Himself, must also be here and everywhere. Jesus has never left us. In fact, He is even more present.

 

        And if we need physical proof that Jesus is here, for some are too dependent on their eyes and hears and nose and mouth and touch to believe in anything, then look no further than Communion. Did Jesus not tell us that the Bread and the Wine used in Communion is indeed His Body and Blood? Did He not speak through His servant Paul the words I will repeat during the blessing,

 

“In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

 

Does Jesus lie? No, and before any one suggest He is talking metaphorically, read all of St John, chapter 6, for Jesus makes it quite clear he is not talking metaphorically but literally. So, does Jesus lie? Is He, is God, a liar? No. So let me say Jesus’ words again. This is my body. This is my body. This is my body.

 

        Jesus is not far off for we have proof here that not only is Christ with us, he is indeed physically with us, via the bread and the wine. He is here. But not just that, for not only is Jesus physically present through the Eucharist, because we physically consume the literal body and blood of Christ, then we know with sheer certainty that Jesus is in us, and we in Him. For through Communion, and each and every time we have communion, Jesus abides in us and we in Him. This is why it is encouraged to have Communion, as long as it is done properly and in the proper setting, as often as possible. To be honest, I’m jealous of the Roman Catholic practice of daily mass. Oh, Pastor Chris, your catholicism is showing, please hear me out. The reason I’m jealous is because, to those who do receive communion daily, they are daily receiving Christ in their bodies, they are daily receiving the sanctification and spiritual sustenance only possible through Communion daily, and they are reminded daily that Jesus is not far off but is in fact still here with us physically. That is why I’m jealous.

 

        Now what is the beauty of knowing that through Communion that we abide in Christ and He in us? What is today all about? Christ’s Ascension! And if Christ has Ascended then where is He? Is He in Hell? No. Is He in Sheol? No. Is He in Heaven? Most certainly! And if Christ who is in Heaven also abides in us, what does that mean when we breath our last breathe? No more will Christ go to Hell, and no more will Christ die, therefore we cannot carry Christ to Hell nor put Christ to death again. If we truly abide in Christ, and He in us, then when we die there is only one destination for us, and that is most certainly Heaven! That is the beauty of knowing that through Communion we abide in Christ and He in us.

 

        So just like how Jesus ascended into heaven, we who are Christians can have faith that through Him we too will rise into Heaven, to be with Him and all the Saints who are also in Him. So do not fret, but rejoice. For Christ will never die again, He is and will always be the Risen Lord, he has a place for you in Heaven, and though He is in Heaven, He is also still here.

 

Let us pray,

 

        Dear Heavenly Father, through the ascension of our Lord we know that your Son lives and will live forever as God the Son. We ask that though we may not see His face that we do not give into despair and forget that He is still present within Communion. And through Communion please invigorate us, sanctify us, and keep us in your grace, so that when we too leave this world, we, like your Son, will rise and be with you in Heaven. In your most holy name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Acts 8:26-40

Psalm 22:24-31

1 John 3:18-24

John 15:1-8



“The Curious Ethiopian”

 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.

 

Ten years ago, when I went to Fort Jackson for basic training, there was only one kind of book I and the other trainees were allowed to read, religious scripture. Not books about religion or study books on various subjects that are religious, but only holy texts related to any religion. You could read the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, but not Sci-fi books, nor  American History books, nor even the Book of Concord. Only Holy Scripture. Because of this I ended up reading the Bible quite a bit; anything to fill up the long gaps between training so I didn’t lose my mind to boredom. The same was true for many of the other Trainees. And it is because of this that many who never lifted the Bible started reading Scripture which led them toward the road laid down by Christ Himself. I can imagine the interaction these newly born Christians would have with a life-long Christian. So what led you towards Christ? Why, Boredom did.

 

But on a serious note, these Trainees were picking up the Bible, and many were confused and lost. What does this mean? What am I reading? They would then reach out to either a chaplain or a fellow Trainee to help them be a guide, someone who could help navigate them through Scripture and help them receive the Holy Spirit so that their eyes would be opened and the Truth, which is only found in Scripture, revealed. It was because of this search amongst the Trainees, a search for an adequate guide, that I eventually received my call into ministry.

 

Leave me alone; let me read my book in silence. I was quite the unsociable type, very introverted, still am, but more so back then. And because I loved reading, I usually filled my time at Basic Training by reading the Bible. Many Trainees knew I was a Christian, and a life-long Christian, not new to the faith, but many falsely assumed I was well learned in the faith; believe it or not, I wasn’t. But they ended up coming to me for answers and guidance and I couldn’t shoo them away, so I tried my best to help them out in hopes that they would be satisfied and not interrupt me again. They kept on coming back… and eventually asked if I would become a Chaplain.

 

Some of you may have similar stories or know of someone who went through the same narrative. Some of you may have been like the Trainees who read the Bible, but had no clue what they were reading and need a guide to help them see and hear Scripture as it is. It is a curious thing, for I have given several sermons, and even more devotions, about going out and spreading the Good News, but seldom do I speak about the curious incidents when someone who is not a Christian seeks you out. And it is indeed curious because we do acknowledge that the world naturally hates God and Jesus and Scripture. Christianity and the Culture will always be at odds. But occasionally, you will come by a person who out of curiosity will open the Bible.  And as they read, they are faced with the same internal struggle most Christians face: the battle between the Sinner and the Saint; the struggle between faith, which comes only from the Holy Spirit, and our cultural norms; the combat between the Old and the New Adam. The only problem, they are lost and have no clue what to make of Scripture. Such people would either run away from Scripture, but others would either seek out aid or welcome aid. This leads us to the story of the Ethiopian.

 

Now there is one major difference between my Trainees and the Ethiopian, as well as myself and Philip. Whereas the Trainees were compelled to come to me, the Holy Spirit compelled Philip to go to the Ethiopian, stating, “Go over and join this chariot.” As Philip approached he heard the Ethiopian reading aloud Isaiah 53. You may recognize the verses because I have said them during our Lent Wednesday services and on Good Friday, “Like a sheep he was led to the Slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” We know that these verses in Isaiah were referring to Jesus, but did the Ethiopian? So, Philip asked the Ethiopian as he approached, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Now, unless this Ethiopian was a Christian the answer would obviously have been no for not even the high Priests fully comprehended these Scriptural texts until far after Jesus’ death. The Ethiopian was not a Christian, thus his response, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

 

Here is the thing, and you have heard me say this many a times, unless the Holy Spirit guides us, none of us would know, let alone love, God, therefore without the Holy Spirit acting as our guide there is no hope for us to understand Scripture, let alone have faith in it. How can I? How can I understand Scripture? How can I understand, unless I have a guide? I can’t. I literally cannot, nor will I ever, understand. And why? Because without the Holy Spirit opening my eyes, I, a sinner, will always look away, preferring to be blinded by the veil of sin; for it is the Holy Spirit alone that lifts the veil of sins away from our eyes and allows us to see the truth, that the Sheep who was led to the slaughter like a lamb silent before its shearer, the Sheep who was humiliated and denied justice, whose life was taken away; this Sheep is Jesus Christ who died on the Cross so that you may be saved.

 

Had Philip not acted as the Ethiopian’s guide, revealing Scripture, preaching the good news about Jesus, the Ethiopian would not have understood, the Ethiopian would have been left in the dark, and the Ethiopian would not have asked to be baptized and, after his baptism, rejoice.

 

Before his baptism, this Ethiopian was like the branch that did not abide in Jesus.

 

We read in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ teaching on what it means for Him to be the true vine and us the branches. We are all branches, each and every human, but only those that abide in the vine bear fruit. Obviously, the branch that is not attached to its vine but lies on the ground is incapable of bearing fruit. Why, because it is dead, withered, lifeless. The Vine is the source of life, and only branches attached to the vine are also alive and only living branches can produce fruit and the fruit it produces are proof that the branch is attached to the vine. Sounds like a Faith alone argument; well that is because it is. The fruit are good works, and good works cannot be produced unless the producer, the branch, is alive, but the branch is not alive, aka saved, unless it is attached to the Vine which is the source of life. If a branch is not attached to the vine, it does not abide in the vine, it is dead. Same goes for humans, for if they do not abide in Christ then they are not truly alive but are dead and can only produce dead faith. Only a Christian, one who abides in Christ, one who is saved from death and is now alive, truly alive, can produce good works.

 

The Ethiopian, before his baptism, did not abide in Christ, he was a dead branch, and this is why he was unable to understand Isaiah 53. But after Philip baptized the Ethiopian, the Ethiopian rejoiced because through baptism he did abide in Christ and Christ in him. Whereas he once was lost, now he is found. Whereas he once was dead, now he lives. Whereas he once did not understand, now he does.

 

Dead branches cannot hope to understand, that is why they need guides to help them, to help them the same way a gardener would cut a slit into a vine and slip a branch into the slit, tying it down, so that the branch would become one with the vine. So too does the Father send the Holy Spirit to help us branches attach to the Vine. The Ethiopian is such a branch. For the Holy Spirit sent Philip as a guide to lead the Ethiopian towards baptism and through baptism the Holy Spirit entered into the Ethiopian thus providing him with enough reason to rejoice; why, because he is saved and he knows he is saved.

 

You are no different, you are all branches attached to the true vine, you all abide in Jesus and He in you, and through your baptism the seal of God has been placed on your forehead, declaring you a Child of God. You are saved, never forget this, never forget this.

 

Let us pray,

 

Dear Heavenly Father, there are many who yet do not know You and are lost even when they read Your Word. Guide us by Your Spirit, use us for Your name sake, so that as instruments we may serve as guides. Help us proclaim the Gospel and baptize, so that others may receive your Spirit. In Your Holy Name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Acts 11:19-30

Psalm 98

1 John 4:1-11

John 15:9-17



“Christian Love”

 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.

 

As I read the many scriptures that revolve around love and as I hear the many songs and speeches throughout the year with regards to the same, occasionally I am reminded of the love I received from my own mother, and today of all days is such a time. Yet in this confusing time where the culture is forcing its expectations on women and most especially mothers, I ask, “What is a mother?” To be more exact, it’s probably better to ask this, “What makes a mother?” Why love, it is a mother’s love that makes the mother. So what is a mother’s love? Instead of using examples of multiple mothers and each of their parenting styles, as well as cultural norms on parenting to help me understand a mother’s love, let us instead look towards God who created women.

 

Women provide something special, something that men cannot provide. And when it comes to parenting, the gifts that God provided for women makes them great mothers, and the gifts that God provided for men make them great fathers. Mothers are not Fathers, nor are Fathers Mothers. Women are not men nor are men women. God made them separately and different so that together in unity they may become whole. It is the reason why we state that in marriage two become one, for one fulfills the other. Man and woman, together in unity, and eventually together in unity through parenting. For it is essential for children to have both a Father and a Mother, working together in ways that only a Father could and a Mother could. Because of this, we acknowledge that God intended that child be raised under the care of a father and a mother, each providing something crucial. For the mother, that is a mother’s love. 

 

Now what is a mother’s love? God has blessed many women, but the one we hear of most is the mother of His Son, Jesus, who is Mary. It is simple, but in Luke after finding Jesus in the temple and going back home it says this about Mary, “And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” She treasured carrying Jesus in her womb, she treasured his birth, she treasured raising Him, and she treasured Him even as he walked as a grown man. Mary has gone through a lot, but her salvation was found in bearing Jesus. Do not misunderstand what I say, for I am not suggesting salvation through works. What I am saying is that there is a special kind of joy that only a mother can produce upon seeing their child. It states in Psalm 127:3, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” This is a blessing provided by God; a blessing that wells up within mothers an overwhelming joy. This is a mother’s love. Giving birth to Jesus must have been the happiest day of Mary’s life, and until the day she died, she always treasured her son, her Lord, her Savior.

 

The love a mother possesses is a special kind of love; one that no matter what a child would do, regardless the mother would still love you, treasure you, and worry their poor hearts over. Proverbs is a good source for understanding this, for in chapter 10:1 it reads, “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.” She will always worry and love you till the day she dies, so instead of being a source of pain, from Proverbs 23:25, “Let your Father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice.”

 

As for other verses in Proverbs that refers to mothers, a great source would be Chapter 31:10-31, the ending of Proverbs which lifts up women and proclaims in the eyes of God what is righteous femininity. A good summary is that a mother, a wife, the keeper of the house, is strong, trustworthy, prepared, wise, kind, and worships God.

 

A mother’s love is a remarkable thing, it is a gift given to women first and foremost by God, and has similar qualities to the Love which comes from God, who is the source of love. For God is love itself, and without Him no one is capable of loving. His love is surpasses all understanding, His love is righteous, His love is unconditional, His love shows us what is good. Whatever the world teaches is not love, in fact it is a false image, a pale comparison, twisted by Satan, into that which persecutes true love. For if anyone can love then they love God, in fact if you can love your neighbor, truly love your neighbor, then that is proof that you love God. For only the one who loves God is capable of loving others. And how can you love God if you do not listen to Him? So those who do not listen to God are also incapable of loving thy neighbor, truly love thy neighbor.

 

Yet because of sin, we cannot love God, so out of the surpassing unconditional love of God the Father, did He sent His Son to die on the cross, and serve as a sacrifice for our sins, so that through the salvation that comes from Christ are we capable of loving God. Here is the thing, we cannot love God and because we cannot love Him we cannot love our neighbor, but because God first loved us he gave us the means through faith and not works the ability to love Him and it is through this gracious gift of salvation that not only are we finally capable of loving Him but also through Him our neighbor. This Christian love for our neighbors is not our own but comes from God, the source of all love.

 

God loves us unconditionally, and it worries Him when we act like fools, and the most foolish thing we can do is deny His love. We deny this, and not only do we still live in damnation, but we continue to harm all those around us. God did the most loving thing anyone could do for anyone, He died for our sake. He did this not to only just save us but to also save our communal relationships. He did this so that we may be able to receive the gift of Christian Love and serve our neighbors in a way that is befitting of Christ’s sacrifice.

 

What does this Christian Love look like? It is one that is self-sacrificing. It is one that puts the needs of others before your own. It is one that holds no patience towards evil. It is one that defends others from evil even such defense may cost you dearly. It is one that is courageous in a twisted world. It is one that is wise enough not to confuse the words of demons with the Word of God. It is one that baptizes, teaches, and disciple all nations. It is one that recognizes that the only source of love and salvation and joy and hope is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is one that has the audacity to provide both Word and Sacrament, acknowledging that, because these are the only sources of God’s Salvation which came from the most loving thing He ever did for Humanity, providing Word and Sacrament is the most loving thing a Christian can do. Yes, speaking the Good News, baptizing your kids as soon as possible, raising Christians, discipling those who are new to the faith, providing the means for Communion, and the willingness to lay down your life like a good shepherd in order to defend the faith, these are all forms of true love, of Christian Love.

 

Out of Christian love we look at our neighbors who do not have Christ in their lives, seeing the turmoil they wallow in and the inevitable damnation they will face, for all are already damned. Yet it is through the grace of God, the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we know that we who do have faith are most definitely saved. So out of Christian love, as we look at our neighbors who do not have Christ in their lives, we act with the goal that they may receive the Holy Spirit and so too be saved. And until that day comes, we like God the Father and like those who possesses a Mother’s Love, would look with a sense of sorrow as we patiently, with long suffering, wait for the day that they too like us are saved. That is Christian love. That is what it means to possess the love of Christ in one’s own heart. And of course, none of this is possible, whether it is Christian love or a Mother’s love, without the aid of God who ultimately the source of love, for God is love.




Let us pray,

 

 

Dear Heavenly Father, source of life and all that is good, you who possess all knowledge and wisdom, and determines the nature of all things, we ask that you provide for us your humble servants a portion of your loving kindness, the wisdom to recognize this love, and the strength to express it. In your most holy name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Acts 4:23-33

Psalm 23

1 John 3:1-2

John 10:11-18

 

 

“The Self-Sacrificing Shepherd”

 

Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.

 

        Here on Catawba Island we have a Volunteer Firemen force. Any of you can join. In fact I have a recruitment sheet in my office in case any wish to volunteer. They meet every Monday to conduct training, to prep the vehicles and make sure all is in order. If anything was to happen and they are in need they are at the ready. They get no pay, they are not hired hands, but are purely giving up their time and service for the sake of the community. The job they do have the potential of being very dangerous, this they are already aware of, but for the sake of the community they are willing to courageously tackle the danger in order to save those in need. They don’t needlessly give up their lives, but they are willing to put themselves in harm’s way in order to preserve the lives of others. They won’t run away, they won’t cower in fear when the rising heat of a treacherous fire rears its ugly face as it attempts to devoir both life and property. And again, they do all this as volunteers.

 

        Do not be mistaken, for I am not disparaging hired firemen, that is not my intention, but what I am doing is pointing out the selfless, the self-sacrificing, service of one who is willing to face danger in order to protect others, no matter who that person may be. They are very much like the Good Shepherd who is Jesus, and not at all like the hired hand who runs away when faced with danger.

 

        So who is the hired hand? They are the ones who say I was hired for a particular thing, only thinking about their self-preservation, to include getting the money needed to put food on the table. When faced with trouble, trouble that might jeopardize their potential to continue receiving money they buckle, they collapse in fear, they run away. They are not invested in the preservation of others. So when the decision between self-preservation and preserving others must be made, they will always choose to preserve themselves. They are not working for the sake of others out of love toward these others; they are not working for the sake of others because they have invested every tear, drop of sweat, and blood into them. There is no sense of belonging or servitude or honor or duty or leadership. They care only for themselves. So when trouble happens, they will avoid such trouble out of selfishness.

 

        The hired hand was hired to take care of the sheep, but that is all. The hired hand doesn’t truly care for the sheep, all they care about is the money involved in caring for the sheep. Thus, when the wolves come will the hired hand lay down his life to protect the sheep or will he run? No sane person would willing give up their life for sheep unless love their sheep so much that they were already willing to give up everything, even life itself, for the Sheep. And this is the Good Shepherd.

 

        The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. He does not work for money, but works for the sheep because the sheep is the source of His joy. The sheep are not His servants, but He is a servant to the sheep. His joy is found in being with the sheep and knowing that His sheep are safe and secure and well fed and at peace. Thus when the wolves comes which jeopardizes the safety of the flock, out of concern for the sheep’s safety, the Good Shepherd fights until the danger to the sheep is no more.

 

        Jesus is our Good Shepherd and we are His sheep, and we know that we can have faith in the security and the peace and the providence that comes from Him alone. We are assured of this because Jesus already died for us. Here’s the thing, a Good Shepherd is willing to die for His sheep; well we know with certainty that Jesus has indeed already lay down His life for the sake of us His flock. For the wolf that came in the middle of the night, coming to rear its terrible head at us defenseless sheep, for by ourselves we are defenseless, was Satan Himself, with the wolf known as sin on his right side and the wolf known as damnation on his left. They came to devour us, but Jesus who is just and righteous stood in front of us and confronted the enemy. He is our defense, our mighty fortress. Well, he took on the old satanic foe, and in battle, he won victoriously. Yet the battle he was involved in had a cost, and that was death itself. Jesus willingly gave up His life to save us. Jesus died. Yet it was through His death that the enemy was conquered. But lest you believe that the enemy won as well by putting Jesus to death, our Lord and savior rose, and is once again at the gateway guarding His sheep, defending us, alive and well.

 

        There may be devilish hordes that fill the land, all threatening to devoir us, but because we know that Jesus will defend us no matter what, is willing to die for us, as we have proof of this, we tremble not, no, but instead unmoved we stand, for they cannot overpower us. In order for them to overpower us, the demons need to first get through Jesus. But Jesus will win. So us sheep can look upon our Good Shepherd with peace of mind knowing that in Him, all is well. Have faith in Christ, and graze in the pasture greens safe and secure from all alarms.

 

        Now there is only one flock and one shepherd. The hired hands are not shepherds, only the Good Shepherd is the shepherd. And there are many sheep out there who are of the shepherd but not in the flock yet. The Good Shepherd is currently searching for these lost little sheep, who suffer the fears of not knowing when they might get attacked and devoured. The Good Shepherd finds them and brings them under fold, into the one and only true flock, defending them from the evil wolves that prowl in the darkness. Now there is only one true flock because there is only one true shepherd. The sheep that are led by hired hands are not a true flock but are being led astray with a false sense of security, for when the wolves descend upon them, their hired hand will run away and the supposed flock will be destroyed. Thus there is only one true flock because only a Good Shepherd will defend the sheep from wolves, and there is only one Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

        Nothing on earth can protect you from the devilish wolves. Nothing on earth can protect you from Hell. No earthly made schemes, no crafty philosophical arguments, no worldly desires or means, no man-made gods, no fake religions or human spirituality, no man-made traditions, no institutions or governmental laws, no good-intentions, no gold or pearls, no possessions, no nothing can protect you except for Jesus Christ alone. This is why Jesus is the one and only Good Shepherd, for only Jesus can protect you from the wolves that will devour you. Only Jesus can give you the reassurance and peace of mind associated with protection. Only Jesus can promise you safety. Why? Because He has already proven it through His death!

 

        All these other precautions that we ourselves hired in order to protect us little sheep cannot hope to win against the wolves, in fact some of these hired hands might be themselves wolves in sheep clothing, or rather shepherd clothing. Believing you are born already good, wolf in shepherd clothing. Believing you are born with the Holy Spirit already within you and thus baptism should wait until after professing faith, wolf in shepherd clothing. Believing in the sanctity that comes from humanity, aka human narcissism, wolf in shepherd clothing. These and many more are misguided beliefs that make us think we are safe and secure, but in all reality protects us the same way a nerf gun would protect you if a tommy gun wielding mafioso invaded your house.

 

        Nothing except for Jesus can protect you. Plus he is not hired; in fact he was our shepherd since the beginning of time, already wielding authority and a willingness of His own accord to give up His life. He did not give it up because some contract was formed. We didn’t demand Him to die for us. We didn’t search for him like some employer and give him a sheet to sign saying that He must serve us. We did not create him, we have no authority over him, we do not force him into servitude. Instead, He who has authority over us, chose to serve us and chose to give himself up for us and chose to die for us and chose to rise again to continually protect us. This is why He and only He is our Good Shepherd, our champion, our Lord, our savior, our Mighty Fortress; this I can say is most certainly true.

 

Let us pray,

 

        Dear Heavenly Father, there are many false gods and things propped up by humans pretending to be protectors scattered throughout the earth. Give us the wisdom to know that all these are worthless when the Devil comes, for against the Devil, we and all these things will surely fail. Instead help us to look towards with peace and faith and joy and hope toward the Good Shepherd who has already defeated the Devil and will continue to fight by our side, protecting us from all the evil that assails us. We pray in your most holy name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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