Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Saving Works of the Holy Trinity

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the second lesson appointed for the day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

This morning we will confess our Christian faith, in the words of the Athanasian Creed—that very long creed that we confess once a year on this Trinity Sunday. We will confess that “we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” We will confess that Jesus is one Christ “not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God.”

And as we do so, and as the lines of this Creed go on and on, carefully distinguishing between, and defining, the three persons of the Holy Trinity, there is always the temptation to ourselves, “What on earth does this have to do with me?”
Hopefully we will feel a little bit of guilt or unease about thinking that way because at the beginning and end of the Creed we will affirm that those who do not believe in the Faith confessed in the Athanasian Creed—those who do not keep it whole and undefiled—those who do not hold to it faithfully and firmly—cannot be saved-- and will instead perish eternally.

That’s a sobering thought-- and it is meant to be-- for the Creeds deal with the questions at the center of our human existence: who is God- and how can I know him- and what must I believe to be saved?

The Creeds of the Church—the three ecumenical creeds that are the shared heritage of every part of the Church and are confessed by every Christian on earth—answer those questions this way: 1. There is one God in three distinct, yet equal persons and 2. Jesus Christ, the God/Man is the only Savior of the world and 3. we must believe in him and what he has done to be saved.

The truth about the Trinity and the truth about Jesus as they are confessed in the creeds are the two irreducible biblical truths that must be believed for salvation.
In stark contrast to the religious pluralism that is so prevalent in the world today, and especially in our own country, the Christian Church confesses- and has always confessed- that those who do not believe in this one true faith confessed in the creeds—no matter how outwardly pious or kind or religious they might be—will not be saved.

It matters eternally what we believe-- which is why for a lot of Christians, Trinity Sundays makes them a little bit uneasy—they want to believe that these things about God and Christ are true—but the Athanasian Creed in all its careful details seems difficult to understand.

That is why it is important for us to recognize and remember that the ecumenical creeds—even the Athanasian Creed--are simply a summary of what the Bible teaches-- and so long as we believe what is written in the Bible we can be confident that we are abiding in the Truth and will be saved.

Today in our lesson from Acts—which is a continuation of last week’s Pentecost lesson-- we have a beautiful picture of the truths about God and Christ that we confess in the Creeds, that: the gift of the Spirit was given by the Father so that the world could call upon the Son and be saved.

Today we hear the second half of Peter’s Pentecost sermon and it has the same Trinitarian shape: That God the Father knows our helplessness in the face of sin and death and has planned for our salvation—that the Son has accomplished our salvation by his death, resurrection, and ascension—and that the Holy Spirit has called us to faith in Jesus and has joined us together in a confessing community known as the Church where that same faith in the Holy Trinity is confessed and taught and lived out.

We’re not going to look in detail at every verse of our lesson today in the sermon-it’s simply too long. But we are going to see how the truth about God and the truth about Christ confessed in the Creeds-- is not some theological abstraction that has nothing to do with our lives--but is the truth about God revealed in the Bible—truth that changes our lives for time and eternity. Peter preached:

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

If you knew nothing else from the Bible, it would be enough to know what Peter preaches: That God loves you and that he has sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to live and die and rise again so that you might have eternal life through faith in him. Peter goes on to show how even David’s psalms written many years before Jesus teach this simple Good News.

The Bible contains history and poetry and prophecy and guidance for daily living—but every part of the Bible serves this one purpose—to make Jesus Christ known to you as your Savior and the only way to a life with God.

From the very beginning, when Adam and Eve fell into sin and death, and all of us with them, God was not content that even one of his children should not live with him forever --and so before we were ever born—God knew us and loved us and planned for our salvation—and to do that, the Father sacrificed that which was most precious to him—his own Son—so that WE could be his sons and daughters through Spirit-worked faith.

In light of the Holy Trinity’s saving work, let me ask you a question in all seriousness: Since our salvation is GOD’S first priority for our lives—shouldn’t it be ours too—shouldn’t every thing we do and say and hope for and plan for--be done with a view towards strengthening our life with God?

We have all kinds of plans for our lives—all kinds of things that we want to accomplish—so many things that compete for the first place on our “to-do” lists—but God has only one: that we live with him as his children for time and eternity—and everything else that he allows in our lives and accomplishes in our lives is done for that one, loving purpose.

When we live apart from his purpose—when we show with our decisions that we are headed in a direction away from God—when we break our fellowship with him through our sinful choices—what we discover about ourselves is that it is not just Adam’s disobedience that has wrecked our lives and broken our relationship with God—but our disobedience as well. That is why God sent Jesus—to be that obedient Son he desired each of us to be and to restore what we have destroyed by our sins.

Peter’s Pentecost sermon is such a wonderful summary of what Jesus did to save us from sin and death—a summary that is beautifully mirrored in the Creeds: that by Jesus’ birth to the Virgin Mary he was the promised heir of David--that he was crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men—that God raised Jesus from the dead-- and at his ascension the Father exalted him to his right hand where he rules over the world for us.

That is what Jesus has done for our salvation and for the salvation of the world and God has made him both Lord and Christ— our Savior and our master.

The question for us on this Trinity Sunday: Do we believe it? Not just the historical data about Jesus—even the devil knows that is true. But do we believe that this Jesus of Nazareth that the Bible reveals and the creeds confess-- is our one and only Savior from sin and death-- and our one and only king-- who has the right to rule over every part of our lives? Do we believe it-- or do our lives reveal something else? Sadly, often times they do.

Peter began his sermon by talking about how Jesus was crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men but he concludes this way:

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” “WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED.”

The Jews to whom Peter is preaching, thousands of them assembled for the harvest feast of Pentecost, may have been in Jerusalem for the previous Passover when Jesus died—but many of them were not. Some of them may have raised their voices when the crowds called out to crucify Jesus—but many of them did not. Some of them may have mocked the Lord as he died—but many of them did not.

And yet by their sins they crucified Jesus just as surely as Caiphas and Pilate and the soldiers who drove the nails—and so did we. And to that painful news—our reaction is the same as theirs: When they heard this they were cut to the heart

They were “cut to the heart”. Those words have always been, for me, one of the most vivid phrases in the Bible because it perfectly captures the reaction of anyone who has really seen the consequences of their sins from God’s perspective—not just that we have wronged our neighbor—but that we have offended God and contributed to the death of his Son.

That we can see this painful truth about ourselves is only by the work of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sins through the preaching of the law so that we would no longer justify our sins or make excuses for our sins or place the blame for our sins somewhere else—but that we would see the hard and painful truth about ourselves and our own sin-sickness—for that damning diagnosis is where true spiritual healing begins--and just like a patient sitting across from a doctor we want to know what can be done about it. With the Jews that day we ask, “What shall we do”?

And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Repentance and faith. That was sin’s cure for the Jews that day and it is the cure for the people here this day: repentance and faith in Jesus is the only way to salvation-- and wholeness-- and peace with God.

By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit working in human hearts through the preaching of law and Gospel, three thousand people came to faith in Jesus Christ on Pentecost—both adults and children. Three thousand people were given the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism—the very presence of God in their lives-- convincing them that Jesus was both Lord and Savior and that all of the promises of God were true in him.

The Holy Spirit has been working in exactly the same way for the last two thousand years: through Word and Sacrament convicting people of their sins and convincing them that Jesus Christ is their Savior from sin and death—changing lives for time and eternity.

But the Holy Spirit does even more. He takes that one-on-one relationship that we have with God through faith in Christ and joins us together with every other person in the world who has that same relationship. When we confess our Christian faith in the words of the creeds, we join our voices to that of the whole Christian church stretched out across space and time.

That our personal faith in Jesus draws into the community of the church, is a necessary result of the truth about the Triune God—that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in perfect community with one another and so those people who enjoy fellowship with this one true God-- must also be in communion with one another—bound together in a common, Trinitarian “faith and life” that is lived out in the church.

In that light, I hope that you will give the Athanasian Creed your special attention this morning because the biblical doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the most wonderful and comforting doctrine in the Bible: it tells us of the Father who has known us and loved us from eternity. It tells us of the Son who has saved us by his death and resurrection. It tells us of the Holy Spirit who has brought us to faith and into fellowship with one another in the church. Father-Son-and Holy Spirit. One God in three persons: the Holy Trinity.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

Pentecost - the Jewish festival also called the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Booths - was fifty days after Passover. It was a drinking feast, one in which large quantities of new wine were consumed over the days of the feast. It's no wonder that, when some heard the apostles speaking in other languages, they figured these Galileans had been hitting the wine before everyone else.

But, we know how this goes. It was not wine being poured out, but God the Holy Spirit being poured out upon Jesus' chosen disciples, whom He had sent to be His apostles.

The miracles of Pentecost are numerous. The mighty rushing wind, the tongues of fire, the apostles speaking in other languages, all number among these miracles. Perhaps greater was the transformation of twelve men who were proven cowards into twelve bold proclaimers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Still greater was three thousand of those who heard the message were brought to faith by the Spirit. Even greater is that this same Spirit still works through the same message preached by similarly broken men to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ their Lord and keeps them there with Jesus Christ.

Pentecost is often a forgotten festival in the Church Year, overshadowed by graduations, ends of school years, and coming vacations. Yet, it is in the Pentecost miracle that the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church and keeps it with her Lord Jesus Christ.

Since it's Monday, I'm not going to give the Monday evening scehdule. I'll simply continue with Tuesday.

This week, nine young people will sit in my office to be questioned by me concerning the basics of the Christian faith. I'm confident that these young people will make a good confession.

That brings me to my second point: How would the adults, mainly the adults who were confirmed many years ago, fair under the same questions? Do these adults know the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer? How well do these adults know the section of the Catechism titled "Christian Questions and Their Answers"? Here's an opportunity for adult Lutheran Christians to review the basics of their faith!

Also, we welcome Jennifer Doerk who recently completed Adult Instruction Class!

Bonus question: What three things should every person who communes know? Answer: The Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer.

In any event, please pray for these young people as they prepare to make public confession of their faith on Sunday morning!

This coming Sunday also, I'll begin a promotion for a summer project at Mt. Olive. Beginning on Father's Day, as a church family, we will begin listening to the New Testament. Our goal will be to listen to the New Testament 20 minutes a day for forty days. CDs will be given to each family, and a bonus Kidz Bible will be given to children. The CDs are produced by a group known as Faith Comes by Hearing. Our goal during the listening will be to provide the cost of recording one book into a language indigenous to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

I will be out of the office Friday.

Prayer Concerns:
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Andrew Epley (returning to Iraq), Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Dru Blanc, John Sorenson, Ryan Radtke, Michael Baker (Corpus Christi), William Worley (Kingsville)
The holy Church throughout the world as it proclaims the Holy Trinity this Sunday
The confirmands of Mt. Olive and of all churches, that they would remain faithful unto death
Gricel Shumway, recovering from surgery

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Tuesday, May 25
6:30 p.m.
Confirmation Interviews begin

Wednesday, May 26
8:30 a.m.
School Chapel

9:30 a.m.
Bible Class, 1 Thessalonians 4

6 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

7 p.m.
Choir Rehearsal

Thursday, May 27
6:30 p.m.
Confirmation Interviews begin

Saturday, May 29
10 a.m.
Confirmation Walk through

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Trinity, Series C May 30, 2010

Lessons for Holy Trinity (Lutheran Service Book)

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 ~ Wisdom, the eternal Word of God, is the active force in the creation of the world.
Psalm 8 (antiphon: v. 9)
Acts 2:14a, 22-31 ~ Peter appealed to David’s authority to witness that Jesus was David’s son and Lord.
John 8:48-59 ~ The Jews of Jesus’ day could not understand how Jesus could be greater than Abraham.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: "Yet There Are Not Three Gods, but One God."
This Sunday we move from the Time of Festivals in the church year, which celebrate events in Jesus’ life, to the Time of the Church. Trinity Sunday commemorates the Triune God. We are one with all the faithful who struggle to explain what scripture says about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while still maintaining that our God is One. The pre-incarnate Son of God, represented as Wisdom by Solomon in Proverbs, was present and active in the creation of the world. Peter explained that the Son of promise was King David’s Lord. Our Lord Himself told the people that His day included Abraham’s time.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: O God of my beginning, I thank you for life; O God of my living, I thank you for grace; O God of my ending, I thank you for hope. Help me to live each day in the joy of your salvation that I may be ready to die in the certainty of your love. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Everything that exists has been made by God’s command to serve His will and bring Him glory. Everything entrusted to our care, whether material or spiritual, is at our disposal for service to the only true and triune God. May He grant us wisdom to use it to His glory and for our good and the benefit of our neighbors, especially those who need the most.

OFFERING PRAYER: From the foundation of the world, O Lord, these molecules of earth,
Called into being by Your creating voice,
Have a certain value of their own, but they are given greater worth
By Your blessing, when we commit them to Your choice.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: The Lord God is known by His works. He has created this world and still preserves it; He redeemed lost mankind from the powers of sin and death; He claimed Abraham and all who believe in Him as His own for all eternity. But we measure God by our own expectations and attribute the existence of this world to chance. We try to explain things in temporal terms we can comprehend. God has completed one more remarkable work to show forth His glory: by the incarnation of His Son, through His suffering and death, in His perfect life and victorious resurrection, He has covered over our incredulous doubts and called us to faith.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Pentecost, Series C May 23, 2010

Lessons for Pentecost (Lutheran Service Book)

Genesis 11:1–9 ~ God confounded the pride of the earth by confusing the language of its people.
Psalm 143 (Antiphon: Psalm 143:10)
Acts 2:1–21 ~ The Holy Spirit overcame the confusion of languages to proclaim the wonders of God.
John 14:23–31 ~ The Holy Spirit brings peace to Jesus’ followers and unites them in obedience to the Father.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Making a Name and Building an Empire
Today's lessons make the clear distinction between the way of the world and the Lord's way. The way of the world is to make a name for oneself in God's face, but God turns His face from our confused efforts at empire building. On the first Christian Pentecost, by the power of the Holy Spirit, people from various nations under heaven heard in their own languages that God’s kingdom has been established in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus promised to send us the Holy Spirit to lead us in the knowledge of peace and the empire of His love.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Holy Spirit, ever loving, calling all of us as one, fill my heart with trust and mercy; keep me faithful to the Son. Make me strong to face life's trials. Bring me comfort in my grief. You have turned my heart to Jesus, and in Him I find relief. Amen

OFFERING PRAYER: When the bricks begin to tumble from the turrets that we build,
Recall us, Lord, to service, obedient to Your word.
Grant us in grace to use these gifts in ways that You have willed,
That in our giving we may share the peace that we have heard.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: The wonder of God’s good creation is disturbed by the strident voices of dissension and discord. Our own attempts to bring agreement through influence and persuasion only cause greater strife. But God has worked peace and unity through Jesus’ obedience to the Father in His humble death and glorious resurrection, proving that the prince of this world has no hold on Him! Jesus gives us that peace in the forgiveness of our sins. By the power of the Spirit, He sends us out to proclaim God’s mighty work and share His reconciling peace.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: When we use material goods to build our own power and influence, we add to the confusion of this shattered world. God calls us to use the gifts of His creation through the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim His wonders, fulfilled in the obedience of His own Son, who has brought us peace by overcoming the prince of this world.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the second lesson appointed for Pentecost. I bring grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today, when we think of Pentecost, we think about the New Testament gift of God’s Spirit upon the church and of course that it true. But it was a Jewish harvest festival long before it was a Christian holy day—in fact, that is why the disciples and those Jews from all over the world were there in Jerusalem in the first place—to celebrate the harvest festival of Pentecost.

The really miraculous and wonderful thing is that this harvest feast of physical gifts was transformed by the sending of the Holy Spirit into a harvest of souls that has been celebrated and lived out in the church for the last two thousand years.

Today we will see how God’s sending of the Holy Spirit accomplishes this harvest of souls—1. that the gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift for the proclamation of Jesus Christ—2. that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to all believers so that all can have a part in his mission—3. and that the gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift given in preparation for our Lord’s return so that many can call on the name of the Lord in faith and be saved. Luke writes:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?

In our Old Testament lesson for today we hear the story of the Tower of Babel and how the Lord confused the languages of the world. What may not be readily apparent at first reading is that God did that as an act of his mercy.

Humanity was in a bad place spiritually and was headed in a direction that would lead them farther and farther away from God. Their technological achievements led to a pride in themselves that lifted them up in their own minds almost to the place of God. There’s some important modern applications in their story for another day-- but suffice to say, before they could fall farther into sinful pride, God stopped them by confusing their language.

What happened on Pentecost thousands of years later was the lifting of that curse on account of what happened fifty days before Pentecost in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The curse of Babel and the judgment of God on account of man’s sin was laid upon Jesus-- who really did bridge heaven and earth and once again joined God and man together-- not by the works of man’s hands reaching up into heaven—but by the work of God in Christ who reached down into this broken world and was nailed to a cross—atoning for our sins.

What God divided at Babel on account of man’s sin-- he united on Pentecost on account of Christ’s sacrifice for sins-- and at just the right moment, thousands of faithful Jews from all around the world heard the message of the Gospel miraculously being preached in their own language by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I want you to understand that it was no accident that the gift of God’s Spirit came upon the church on the Jewish harvest feast of Pentecost so that something much more valuable than crops could be harvested—human souls.

It was no accident that Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims so that at just the right time the Gospel of forgiveness could be proclaimed to as many as possible.
It was no accident that people from all over the world were there so that the message of Christ’s peace could be taken to every place.

The God of creation doesn’t do accidents—then or now. We exist at this place and time and with the gifts and abilities that we have been given so that by the power of that same Holy Spirit WE can join in this Pentecost harvest miracle of sharing Christ with the world for the salvation of souls.

Much too often, we have a tendency to look at what we don’t have when it comes to the mission of Christ-- instead of believing that the same God of Pentecost is still present among us--equipping us perfectly for our part in his mission.

We are where we are- and we know what we know- and we have what we have- so that we too can proclaim Christ to our part of the world as Savior and Lord—a message that is for all people. Luke writes that, assembled there in Jerusalem that Pentecost festival there were:

Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"

What does this mean? That is a question that people from nations all across the world are still asking about Christians—maybe not the meaning of rushing winds and tongues of fire—but about our lives and faith and message.

What does it mean that Christians teach there is only one way to God? What does it mean that Christians believe that there is forgiveness for even the worst of sinners? What does it mean that Christians will still lay down their lives in martyrdom rather than deny Christ? What does it mean that Christians think very differently about moral issues than the rest of the world? What does it mean that Christians care for and love not just their friends and family but also their enemies?

And these questions about meaning are our God-given opportunities—our Pentecost moments-- to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world. The apostles had an opportunity to proclaim him to the people of the surrounding nations—but not to folks from South Texas—that’s our job for this time—and the gift of God’s Spirit was given for that very purpose—of proclaiming Jesus Christ with power and boldness and clarity where we are-- because still today, there are people who will ridicule and call into question our proclamation.

But others mocking said, "They are filled with new wine." But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

“This isn’t from God—they’re just drunk”. Scorn and ridicule. It is always going to be that way to one degree or the other when it comes to those who faithfully bear witness to Christ and call the world to repentance and faith.

The Bible tells us that the preaching of Christ is foolishness to the unregenerate mind—that it is the height of foolishness to those who are perishing in their sins to believe that their salvation is found in a Jewish man who lived two thousands years ago.

Only God can change hearts like that! That is why God’s gift of the Spirit is so important! God the Holy Spirit empowers those who speak the Gospel and fills their proclamation with the power of God himself so that hearts that are dead in sin and trespasses are made alive by the power of the Holy Spirit-- and what they once regarded as the height of foolishness—Jesus--becomes instead their life—and those believers who once shrunk back in fear-- step forward to bear witness to Christ.

That is what we see so clearly in the life of Peter from Pentecost on. Where just a few short weeks before Peter had abandoned and denied Christ because he was too afraid to answer a little girl’s questions about Jesus, now with the gift of the Holy Spirit he was transformed into a powerful witness for Christ.

That gift and promise of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is not just for the twelve disciples but is promised to all of God’s people and always has been. Peter quotes the prophet Joel:

" 'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

From the moment that we are baptized and come to faith in Christ, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is how we believe in the first place! That gift is strengthened and sustained in us again and again as we hear God’s Word and receive his sacraments. And it is a gift for all people.

In Joel’s prophecy we see that the gift of the Spirit is for young and old. It is for men and women. It is for people in every station in life no matter how humble-a promise that the power and presence of God himself dwells in the lives of all believers regardless of age, or gender, or status. That promise was fulfilled on Pentecost and the privilege to speak about Jesus on behalf of God—to prophesy--was given to all Christians.

And all Christians need to be about the Lord’s work because the events of our Lord’s death and resurrection—his ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit ushered in the Last Days—this time of grace in which the church has lived for the last two thousand years before our Lord’s return, calling the world to come to Christ and be saved while there is still time.

That saving mission is why we exist as individuals and as a congregation at this moment—it is why all of God’s people are gifted with the Holy Spirit—so that we might be the Noah’s of our day, warning people of the wrath of God’s judgment to come, but also, and especially, inviting them to trust in Jesus and be saved before it is too late. Luke writes of that day when the time of grace will come to an end—a time when there will be:

wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

The Bible tells us clearly that it is the Lord’s will that everyone be saved-- but for that to happen they must call upon him in faith. That is why God has given the church the gift of the Holy Spirit—so that the saving Name of Jesus would be proclaimed to the ends of the earth-- so that people can know him and believe in him and call upon him.

For thousands of years, it was sufficient for salvation to believe in the Messiah to come. But when the second person of the Trinity entered into history and took on flesh and blood in the person of Jesus of Nazareth-- it was necessary for salvation to believe in a particular person who was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth and preached in Galilee and died and rose again in Jerusalem.

To be saved it was necessary for people to call upon the name of Jesus in faith-- and the Holy Spirit was given on Pentecost so that Name could be proclaimed by all Christians for the salvation of the world.

The same is still true today--salvation comes only by faith in Jesus. As the day of our Lord’s return in glory grows ever closer and the day of grace draws to an end--we thank God for his gift of the Holy Spirit—a gift that is given to all believers so that Jesus can be proclaimed for the salvation of the world and a rich, abundant harvest of souls be gathered in. God grant that we would all do our part in his mission. Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

District Stewardship Survey

I was recently asked to serve on the Texas District Stewardship Task Force. We are surveying folks in the Texas District to get a handle on how our members and church workers and congregations approach stewardship. You should have received the survey via email. If not, link will be provided at the end of this post so that you can complete it. Please make sure that this is distributed to your members as well. Thanks for your help!

Monday, May 17, 2010

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

The celebration of the Ascension of Our Lord is always bittersweet. Gone are the Easter hymns for another year. The Paschal Candles moves to its regular place beside the baptismal font, and the white-draped cross exits the sanctuary until next Ash Wednesday. Christ has ascended.

Yet, as much as we'd like for the Easter celebration to continue, the celebration of Ascension brings us the great news that, even though we don't see Christ in the flesh before us, we do see Him by faith. He is as near to us as the Sacrament of the Altar, as the Gospel of which He is the principle message.

Christ has ascended to the future, as always, going in the way which we will follow on the Last Day. In Christ, the future of the faithful is secure because Christ has ascended with the promise of His return in glory. In these days of economic and political uncertainty, when security is shaky at best, our future is secure because Christ has ascended.

Mt. Olive has become known in recent years for the annual Vacation Bible School. In a ministry that has swelled to close to 150 children on a daily basis, it's also become a major endeavor for us. In order for us to bring about another great year of Vacation Bible School, a few needs need to be met. One, Vacation Bible School (VBS) functions on the faithfulness of the great corps of volunteers at Mt. Olive. Not only do our own people provide needed services, they also invite their friends to help. Second, Vacation Bible School functions on a smooth registration process. Finally, Mt. Olive's VBS functions because of the generous giving to this great ministry. Fund raising information for VBS is available in the narthex at the special display.

By the way, this year's VBS will be 28 JUN - 2 JUL.

Saturday night, a great time was had at the home of Bill and Mavis Waterman as we celebrated Cinco de Mayo (on Quince de Mayo).

Summer is rapidly approaching, and that means Summer Sunday School is rapidly approaching, too! Summer Sunday School at Mt. Olive is done in a convocation style, meaning that all the lower grades attend one class, while the upper grades attend another. Needed right now are teachers each Sunday for both levels. The commitment is simple: one Sunday (unless you want to do more) in one level. If you're interested, please see Kim Waddle.

Also this summer, beginning Father's Day, Mt. Olive will begin a program titled "If You've Got the Time." This is a project to listen to the New Testament in 40 days. CDs will be provided by Faith Comes by Hearing.

The Sr. Youth of Mt. Olive (MOSH) will be hosting an event on 6 JUN at the home of Dru and Tammy Blanc. A meal of hamburgers and hot dogs will be provided, along with some soda, and maybe even another surprise.

Prayer Needs:
Those who serve in our armed forces: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Andrew Epley (Iraq), Dru Blanc, John Sorenson, Ryan Radtke, Michael Baker (Corpus Christi), William Worley (Kingsville)
Those who travel during this busy season
The holy Church throughout the world as she prepares to celebrate Pentecost
The Confirmands of Mt. Olive as they prepare for their individual questioning

This Week at Mt. Olive
Monday, May 17 (Happy birthday, Dad!)
6 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

6:30 p.m.
Board of Elders
Girl Scouts

Tuesday, May 18 (Happy Anniversary, Jay and Connie!)

Wednesday, May 19
8:30 a.m.
School Chapel

9:30 a.m.
Bible Study (1 Thessalonians 3)

6 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

7 p.m.
Choir Rehearsal

God bless!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Peter and Judas: The Difference Forgiveness Makes

The text for our meditation is the first lesson appointed for the day. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“He was numbered among us and allotted his share in this ministry.” These may be the most tragic words in all of Holy Scripture! They were spoken about Judas by Peter as he and the rest of Jesus’ disciples were assembled together in those days following Jesus’ ascension and before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The same week that we are in right now in the church year.

What incredible, wonderful days those were for the disciples! Jesus had risen from the dead. The One that they had seen die on the cross rose up again. Not even death had power over their Lord and Savior!

Jesus stayed with them over a month following his resurrection. Teaching them. Eating with them. Just enjoying fellowship with them. And then at his ascension the disciples saw him once again take his rightful place as the One who rules heaven and earth. He promised to come again in the same way and promised to be with them always. The same promises he makes to us here this morning.

In the meantime, the disciples were to go back into Jerusalem where Jesus said that they would be clothed with power from on high. That is where we find the disciples in our text today—waiting for the Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit.

They spent those days following the ascension of the Lord worshiping in the temple and praising God for what he had done for them in Jesus Christ. They were grand and glorious days for the disciples–full of joy and hope-- and the promise of a new and exciting life.

For all of them-- save one. For all of them except, Judas Iscariot. Their fellow disciple–their friend who had shared in their ministry.

When we hear that name “Judas” today we think “traitor”. We would never name our child Judas. But to the disciples’ ears the name “Judas” was the same as saying Bill or Ann or Bob. We have a difficult time thinking about him as they must have thought about him: just one of their friends. Judas. One of us who shared in our ministry.

All of the disciples, including Judas, had been together with Jesus for three years. They had the closest of relationships. They had walked together and talked together–worshiped together and laughed together. Judas had been with them from the beginning and what things he had seen and heard during those three years!

He had seen a few loaves and fishes feed thousands. He had been there when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. He had seen Jairus’ daughter raised from the dead and Lazarus come out of his tomb. He had been with Jesus and the disciples in that triumphant entry into Jerusalem and shared a last supper with them–the night Jesus was betrayed. He had been with them through thick and thin–he was one of them and he shared in the ministry.

But during those days between Christ’s ascension and his sending the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, Judas was not there. He had betrayed Jesus into the hands of those who eventually executed him. The disciples must have questioned this among themselves over and over again.

“How could this be? He was one of us, he shared in the ministry. He saw what we saw and he heard what we heard. Just think of what he is missing now! The Lord has risen from the dead–our betrayal-- and his death—are not the end of the story at all–we all failed him, even betrayed him, but he forgave us and restored us and we have an exciting life and ministry before us. How could this happen, the disciples must have asked? “He was one of us and shared in our ministry.”

Scripture offers us few clues as to the motivation of Judas that transformed him from a disciple into a betrayer. But this is what we know: though God knew in advance it would happen, Judas was responsible for his actions. At some point in time during his three years with Jesus, Judas had begun to live a double life and it involved money. He grew more and more greedy. Sure, he had heard Jesus tell the people that you can’t serve two masters–that you will love one and hate the other–that no one can serve God and money. But for Judas, these were just words.

Maybe there was even a smirk on his face as he said to himself, “Oh yeah, what do you know, I’m doing it right now and I’m doing all right”. But of course what Jesus meant was that no one can serve two masters forever without consequences-- and how horrible are the consequences! Judas gave Satan a foothold in his life and Satan took it with a vengeance.

Judas found out that Jesus was right after all–you can’t serve two masters-- and somewhere Judas stopped living a double life–he hated Jesus and loved his evil ways. The Bible says that on the night when Jesus was betrayed Satan entered into Judas and took full possession of that which was already his.

You see, dear friends in Christ, Judas made a terrible trade. He traded away: his life with Christ, forgiveness of sin, the fellowship of other believers, and ultimately his own soul for thirty pieces of silver. He didn’t sell Jesus. Jesus became a slave of his own free will so that we would be freed from bondage to sin and death and the devil. No, Judas sold his own soul. He thought he was getting the freedom and independence that comes with money, but he was in reality, buying his own slavery to Satan. “How could he do it” the disciples must have asked, “he was one of us and he shared in our ministry”.

The story of Judas- and his betrayal of Jesus- is not told by the Gospel writers so that we can talk about what a bad man Judas was. It is not written so that we can waste our time trying to reconcile the philosophical problem of God’s foreknowledge and our free will. It is not told so that we can raise our voices in holy indignation at his betrayal of our Lord.

Instead, the story of Judas is conveyed to us by the Gospel writers as a warning. When we see what happened to Judas, we ought to take heed lest we fall in the same way. These tragic words, “He was one of us and he shared in our ministry” are a warning to us, given in love, from Almighty God here this morning.

In that light, I want to ask you a question in all seriousness. No one will know the answer but you and God. Have you made some terrible trade like Judas? At some point along the way in your life of discipleship, have you begun to serve two masters–confident that no one will ever know? Have you traded away the joy and peace that comes from knowing the resurrected Christ for some lie and deception and counterfeit of Satan? Money? Pornography? Cheating in School? Substance abuse?

Are you leading a double life? Have you ceased being a “whole-hearted” disciple of Christ and become only a uncommitted pretender: going to church, helping out, putting money in the plate-- but all the time in your “heart of hearts” loving and serving some sin more than Jesus? Have you made some terrible, soul destroying trade?

If so, Satan wants to do to you what he did to Judas. You see, Judas’ fatal mistake was not his double life or even his betrayal of Jesus, these sins could be forgiven. No, his fatal mistake was the despair and despondency that got in the way of his repentance and return to Jesus. It is Satan who wants you to despair. He wants you to believe that it is too late to return to Jesus. He wants you to think that God will never take you back. He wants your soul for time and eternity.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, do not give in to despair over your sin or doubt God’s love for you! There is no need-- just like there was no need for Judas to do what he did after he came to his senses and saw the horrible mistake he had made. Our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ has a better way--a way to forgive you and restore you and make you his precious child once again.

I direct your attention to the man in our text who is conducting this meeting of the believers to choose a new apostle. Peter. Peter. Confident. Joyful. Unashamed. Strong in the Lord. Holding his head up. Leading the church. And yet, how close he had come to following in the way of Judas!

The fact of the matter is, Peter fell even farther than Judas did! Peter was in the inner circle of the disciples. He had been witness to even more of the wonders of the Lord than had Judas. He was the leader of the disciples. But he had denied the Lord when the Lord needed him the most. He had made a solemn oath to never betray Jesus but to save his life he called down curses upon himself to convince a little girl of his lie-that he had never known Jesus at all. And when the rooster crowed twice–when Jesus looked right straight into Peter’s heart–with that gaze, Peter saw the truth about himself–he saw the depth of his sinfulness and betrayal--and Peter went out and wept bitterly at his own weakness and failure.

Peter and Judas. Two disciples. Two betrayals. The unbearable, crushing weight of sin upon two human hearts. One of them-Judas- bore that horrible weight all by himself into eternal damnation and one of them-Peter- took that sin burden and laid it at the feet of the crucified one who lifted it off his shoulders and placed it on his own.

In this week, between the Ascension and Pentecost, we see two very similar disciples in two very similar situations with two very different outcomes. Judas hung himself. At some point his decaying body fell from the rope and he burst into pieces upon the ground–a truly horrible death.

Judas’ life ended in despair. Though he had heard Jesus say that he was the resurrection and the life–though he had seen Jesus forgive sinner after sinner–though he had witnessed Jesus restore that which was broken by sin--he refused to receive it for himself.

He refused to believe that mercy and forgiveness were intended by God for him too just as they are for all people. He refused to receive in faith the power and goodness and love of Jesus that fixes what is broken and makes beautiful what is ugly in all people who put their faith and trust in him.

He was blind to the power of the resurrection to heal his soul and the only thing his ears could hear was the satanic lie that it was too late, until finally, with his death, it was.

On the other hand, Peter inherited eternal life and received a martyr’s crown. The Greek word for martyr is the same word as for witness. Not only was he was a witness to the physical resurrection of Jesus, but his entire life was transformed into a witness as to the power of the resurrected Christ to fix our broken lives.

That power of the resurrected Christ to forgive and heal and restore the broken-ness in your life is just as true at this moment as it was that day for Peter. Jesus Christ, the resurrected Lord seeks you out this morning just like he sought out Peter after the resurrection for the purpose of forgiving you and restoring you as his disciple and assuring you of his everlasting love. Nothing you have done in the past–no mistake that you will make in the future--is greater than the power of the resurrected Jesus in your life to make right.

If you have made some terrible trade–if you have fallen from the heights of a disciple of Christ to the low of one who has denied Christ by your actions, I encourage you in the Lord to turn away from despair and despondency and turn in faith to Christ for healing and strength.

The disciples were assembled in these days between Ascension and Pentecost to prepare for their new life as witnesses to the resurrection. A replacement had to be chosen to fill Judas’ spot so that in all things, even in the painful things, Scripture would be fulfilled. The Lord chose a man named Matthias to fill Judas’ spot. It is the first and last time Matthias’ name is ever mentioned in the Bible. We know nothing else about him other than he was a witness to the resurrection.

Let the same be said of us. For just as surely as the Lord chose Matthias to bear witness to the resurrection-- so has he chosen you and me for that same purpose—to bear witness that in Jesus Christ—in his death and resurrection—there is forgiveness and new life for us no matter what we have done. Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Ascension of Our Lord

The text for our meditation on this Ascension Day is the first lesson appointed for the day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the introduction to his Gospel, Luke tells Theophilus that he is writing his account of Jesus Christ so that Theophilus may know with certainty the things he has been taught concerning Christianity.

We don’t know who this Theophilus was except that in the way he was addressed as “the most excellent Theophilus” he was very likely a person of influence. It was important for the well-being of the early Christian church to have people of power and position on their side --and so in a meticulous, methodical way, Luke lays out the story of Jesus Christ so that Theophilus may know the truth—with certainty.

Luke is also the author of the Book of Acts from which tonight’s text is taken and we see that this book is also addressed to the same Theophilus, but this time his title is removed. So what you ask? Well just this, early Christians did not address one another with titles such as “Most Excellent” which means that Luke’s Gospel was the instrument that the Holy Spirit used to bring this Theophilus to faith in Jesus--and now with his next book, Act, Luke wants to make sure that Theophilus knows the rest of the Gospel story from the ascension onward-- which is the story of the Holy Spirit and the church.

Through these same words, written nearly two thousand years ago, the Lord speaks to us here tonight on this Ascension Day about those things that he wants us to know with certainty and believe with all our heart: 1. that Jesus is just exactly who claimed to be: the Savior of the world—2. that this Good News of salvation is for all people, in every place and time—3. and that Jesus will return as he ascended: as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Luke writes:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

In these opening sentences you have a brief little summary of the contents of Luke’s “first book”—his Gospel: the things that Jesus did and taught—his choosing of the apostles—his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension—and the promise of the Holy Spirit.

This is the story of Jesus inspired by the Holy Spirit and written down by Luke for exactly the same purpose as he wrote to Theophilus: that we may know with certainty that Jesus is who he says he is-- and that his ascension is the visible demonstration that he has accomplished what he was sent by the Father to do—and that knowing these things, the Holy Spirit would give us the same measure of faith that he gave to Theophilus who was the first person to read Luke’s words.

By profession Luke was a doctor—but he was also a very fine historian. Besides being inspired by the Holy Spirit, he gathered sources and weighed evidence and interviewed first hand witnesses-- to make sure that what he wrote about Jesus was true and reliable and could be counted on to lead people to faith in Jesus.
God does not ask us to believe that we came from space ships. God does not ask us to believe that Jesus visited the new world in places and cultures for which there is no historical or archeological record. God does not ask us to believe in fantasies or fables or fairly tales.

Instead, the story of Jesus, written in the pages of Sacred Scripture, is grounded in a particular point in time-- with Roman and Jewish leaders we know from the historical record. The story of Jesus is grounded in particular places that you can still visit today. The story of Jesus is grounded in particular cultures for which there is rich archeological and anthropological evidence.

Luke’s biography of Jesus and history of the early church is accurate. But even more than that—his inspired words are the power of God unto salvation through which the Holy Spirit worked faith in Theophilus’ heart as he read the story of Jesus—just as the Spirit works in our hearts the same way tonight to bring us to faith.

Theophilus didn’t get to see the many convincing proofs of the resurrection that the disciples of Jesus saw. He read about them in Luke’s books. But as he read about them, the Holy Spirit worked faith in his heart and he became one of those blessed ones of whom Jesus spoke who did not see-- and yet believed.

We are a part of that same blessed group. On Ascension Day we look back over the last six months of the church year and see through the Gospel story the birth of our Lord and the Magi’s visit. We walked with Jesus on the road to the cross and we saw his suffering and death. During this Easter season we have also seen that death was not the end for Jesus—but that he rose again and appeared as the risen Lord to over 500 of his faithful followers.

This biblical picture of the Lord has been revealed to us for one reason: that just like Theophilus, we might know with certainty and believe with all our heart that Jesus is just exactly who he claimed to be: the Savior of the world who has brought us into God’s kingdom through his death and resurrection—and who desires that others would have a place there through our witness in word and deed. Luke writes:

While staying with them Jesus ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

It is necessary that each of us believes that Jesus Christ is our Savior from sin and death if we are to enter into the kingdom of God. The Holy Evangelists like Luke write their Gospels for that very purpose. But much too often, we stop there-- and our own personal salvation becomes the pinnacle of God’s work in the world. Particularly here in the United States, our national personality of rugged individualism turns Christianity into a story where the only characters are “me and Jesus”.

But just as much as God loves us and works for our salvation-- so he loves the world and works for the salvation of the world. This Good News about who Jesus is and what he has done- -is for all people. That Christians forget this at times-- is nothing new.

Even after all they had seen and after all they had been taught--the disciples still thought that the goal of the Messiah’s work was about restoring the fortunes of physical Israel. They still didn’t understand that Israel had always been—at its heart—a spiritual kingdom comprised of all those who had faith in God’s promises. But at Pentecost they were about to get a powerful, visible demonstration of that wonderful truth that the kingdom of heaven is open to all people through faith in Jesus.

Just as he had promised, Jesus would send the Holy Spirit upon the apostolic community-- and in a miracle that would make it clear that the Good News of the Gospel was for all people--pilgrims from all over the world who had traveled to Jerusalem for Pentecost would hear the Good News of Jesus proclaimed—each in their own language. As they took this message back to their own countries, more and more people—both Jews and Gentiles-- came to faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The Holy Spirit was given for that very purpose of inspiring and empowering the proclamation that Jesus of Nazareth is the Savior of the world-- so that those who believe in him-- can share him with others.

The words that we hear Jesus says tonight, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” were not just spoken to those present at the ascension-- but they are spoken to every Christian, in every time and place—right down to this moment. YOU ARE MY WITNESSES. Jesus wants us to know that we are his Spirit-empowered witnesses in the world-- for the sake of the world’s salvation.

There is much that we do not know in life—there are times and seasons and circumstances and situations in our lives where the Lord gives us the same answer that he gave to the disciples who asked about the restoration of Israel: it is not for you to know the Father’s business.

But what Jesus does want us to know tonight, is that our lives have meaning and purpose no matter what our situation or circumstance-- and that divine purpose is to bear witness to God’s love for all people in Jesus Christ to every corner of the world.

The apostles never got to travel to Kingsville or Bishop or Alice or Ricardo or Riviera—but we have—and this little corner of the world is our mission field—and the Holy Spirit has been given to us by the ascended Lord so that we would bear witness to Jesus in our daily lives in what we say and do. We are who we are-- and what we are-- and where we are-- so that through our witness as many people as possible might come to know Jesus as their loving Savior before they meet him on the Last Day as the Mighty King and Righteous Judge—for that is how he ascended and that is who he will return. Luke writes:

When Jesus had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

At his ascension, our Lord did not go up into heaven as the Babe of Bethlehem—he did not return to his Father’s side as the poor, itinerant rabbi who had no place to lay his head—he was not lifted up from human view as the Suffering Servant.

Our Lord ascended into heaven as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who had conquered the enemies that had ruined his Father’s world and wrecked our lives-- and he took his rightful place at the throne of Almighty God from whence he had come. That is the way that he will return—as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords-- and at his return every knee will bow to him—either in love or in fear.

That is why it is so important for us on this Ascension Day to learn these things that the Lord wants us to know: that Jesus is the one and only Savior whom God has provided to the world--and that because his salvation is intended for all people, he gives us the Holy Spirit so that we might bear witness to him and bring others to faith in him. And that united together with all who believe, we look for him to come again the same way he ascended: as the most highly exalted King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Easter 7, Series C May 16, 2010

Lessons for Seventh Sunday of Easter (Lutheran Service Book)

Acts 1:12–26 – At the direction of the Spirit, the group of believers selected Matthias to take Judas’ place.
Psalm 133 (Antiphon: Psalm 133:1)
Revelation 22:1–20 – Jesus, the First and the Last, receives the redeemed in the heavenly Jerusalem.
John 17:20–26 – Jesus prayed that His followers be united in love to give witness to the Father’s love.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: All are One by God's Design.
Before His crucifixion Jesus prayed for His disciples and for all who would believe in Him through their words, that we may be one in Him with the Father, united in His love and His glory. In answering that prayer the Holy Spirit guided the little band of believers as they chose Matthias to replace Judas as a witness and apostle. All the redeemed gathered in the heavenly Jerusalem, will be united in Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Ever and the Always. Yes, He is coming soon to welcome us into the complete unity of His glory.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus, as I recall Your ascension into heaven, help me remember that You are always present with Your people, the Church, guiding and leading us by the power of Your Spirit, molding and shaping us together in one family as we deal with one another in love, until You come again on that last great day and receive us to Yourself in heaven. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God has given us many material gifts, all to be used in ways that express His love to our fellow people, so that they may know our Savior is the Son of God the Father and Lord of love.

OFFERING PRAYER: You love us with eternal love and send us out to share it!
Make us liberal with our love, to risk and boldly dare it!
And just as boldly, let us share Your grace and righteous merit,
That through these gifts we may proclaim a kingdom to inherit.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: It is God’s will that all believers be united in expressing His love, which we have known through Jesus’ death and resurrection. To live in this kind of love, we have to die to our individual “rights” and our will to assert ourselves over others. We cannot do that! We must depend on the gift of God’s reconciling oneness in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. The unity of believers in faith and life promotes the expansion of the Kingdom of God which will finally be seen by all when He who is the First and Last comes in His glory.

Monday, May 10, 2010

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good morning, fellow redeemed!

I hope everyone had a great Mother's Day celebration. If you had the opportunity, I hope you called your mom, or better yet visited her, to wish her a blessed day. Even though I put Mother's Day in the category of Hallmark Holidays, the day seems to have a certain sanctified quality to it. Oh, I know all the stuff about Mother's Day and the sappy ways florists and other merchants almost guilt us into buying their goods. But, Mother's Day is beyond all that.

Mother's Day is an opportunity to reflect on God's gracious providence. How is order preserved in this world except through God's gracious providence. Yet, borrowing an illustration from Dr. Robert Weise at Concordia Seminary, it's not as if the Lord is up in heaven with a big "L" on His chest, punching buttons and making things happen. If that were true, then all of the natural disasters on this planet would indicate a god who is really ticked off and out to get us.

Instead, consider how God preserves order on this earth. It's through the most basic level of authority, and therefore the highest: mothers and fathers. Take away the authority of mothers and fathers and no one on earth has any authority. Yet, God in His mercy has established what I believe are two of the highest, most critical vocations for the workings of His creation, the vocations of mother and father. Talk about these vocations, and you're talking about good order.

By the way, here's Dale Meyer's devotion for today:
For this Monday after Mother's Day, consider what Martin Luther wrote about honoring parents.
"To fatherhood and motherhood God has given the special distinction...that He commands us not simply to love our parents but also to honor them. With respect to brothers, sisters, and neighbors in general He commands nothing higher than that we love them. Thus He distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to Himself.

"For it is a much greater thing to honor than to love. Honor includes not only love but also deference, humility, and modesty, directed (so to speak) toward a majesty hidden within them. It requires us not only to address them affectionately and reverently, but above all to show by our actions, both of heart and of body, that we respect them very highly and that next to God we give them the very highest place. Young people must therefore be taught to revere their parents as God's representatives."

This Week at Mt. Olive:
The Lutheran Women's Missionary League has extended an invitation to join them at their annual dinner this Tuesday night. The LWML is meeting on Tuesday night, 6:30 p.m., at Nolan's on Airline. The chicken fried steaks and po' boys are good, best of all, nothing is very pricey there. If you'd like to attend, please call the Church Office - this will help in reserving space.

The Choir resumes its rehearsals Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. Of note, the choir will be singing at the Confirmation service on Sunday, May 30.

Thursday night, the guitars will be strumming once more in rehearsal. The next guitar service will be this coming Sunday, May 16.

The Fellowship Committee is sponsoring at Cinco de Mayo party at the home of Bill and Mavis Waterman on Saturday, 15 MAY. Dinner includes fajitas. The cost is $10 per person. If you'd like to attend, please call the Charlene Westrup or the Church Office.

Next Sunday, May 16 will be the next installment of Guitar Worship. Two Sundays so close together? Yes, mainly because we missed April.

Also concerning Sunday: We'll be celebrating the Ascension of Our Lord. I'll be writing more about this on Thursday, which the actual Ascension Day on the Church's calendar. This important, often forgotten, feast day probably gives us more comfort than we can ever imagine.

Prayer Concerns:
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), John Miller's niece (Afghanistan), Andrew Epley (Iraq), Ryan Radtke, John Sorenson, Dru Blanc (Corpus Christi), William Worley (Kingsville)
Those who graduate this month, including Samantha Jacobs and Deysi Epley (TAMUCC), Stephanie Muhr (Texas State University), Matthew Willoughby (Tuloso-Midway)
The Confirmands who will make public profession of their faith later this month
The holy Christian and apostolic Church throughout the world, as she proclaims the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus and His return in glory.
The baptismal faith of our children.

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, May 10
6 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

6:30 p.m.
Girl Scouts

7 p.m.
Church Council

Tuesday, May 11
6:30 p.m.
LWML meets at Nolan's on Airline
Pastor's Information Class

Wednesday, May 12
8:30 a.m.
School Chapel

9:30 a.m.
Bible Study (1 Thessalonians)

6 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

7 p.m.
Choir Rehearsal

Thursday, May 13
7 p.m.
Guitar Worship Rehearsal

Saturday, May 15
Cinco de Mayo party at the Watermans

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Good News For Women

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the first lesson appointed for this day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

You see them being interviewed on CNN and PBS. You can hear their opinions on the Discovery Channel and the History Channel. You can read their comments in Time and Newsweek. They have clerical collars around their necks and the titles of Rev. and Dr. and now even Bishop before their names. Who are they? They are feminist theologians and clergy and church leaders.

Usually when you hear them and see them on TV and read their words in various print media they are castigating the church for its patriarchal past and criticizing the church for its outdated, antagonistic views on women. And my response when I see and hear them on TV and read their words is always the same: why don’t you actually open up and a Bible and read it.

And when you do so, what any honest student of the Bible will find-- with even a brief reading of Holy Scripture-- is that God tells the story of his love for the world not just in the lives of Adam and Abraham and Joseph and Paul and the Twelve--but also in the lives of Eve and Sarah and Mary and in the faithful women of the cross and empty tomb—in the life of Lydia who we hear about in our first lesson today.

It is abundantly clear in Holy Scripture that the story of God’s love and grace and forgiveness is a story that embraces all people—including women-- and that the gift of God’s Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is for: slave and free—Jew and Gentile—men and women.

We see how true that is in the Book of Acts. Not only does God use Paul, the Hebrew scholar and free Roman citizen, to accomplish his mission—but he also uses the gentile Timothy and the slave Onesimus and the woman Lydia to share the Good News of his salvation with the world.

On this Mother’s Day we can thank God because the mercy of Jesus Christ extends to women no less than to men! We can rejoice to see how their lives as Christian wives and mothers and daughters and church workers and businesswomen have changed the lives of those around them for the better—for time and eternity. We see these biblical truths vividly portrayed in the story of Lydia—an early Christian believer. Luke writes:

A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.

Every time you hear one of these people on television telling you how terrible and oppressive the church has been to women, and how women have been short-changed by bible-believing Christians, what I want you to understand and remember from our lesson in Acts is how, from the very beginning, the church has reached out--especially to women-- with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We read this story about how Paul and Silas and Timothy and Luke purposefully sought out the place where the women of Philippi gathered for prayer so that they could speak to them about Jesus-- and two thousand years later we say, “well of course—why wouldn’t they?”

But what we don’t see-- because the world and humanity has changed so dramatically in the intervening years-- is what a radical act this was on the part of these Christian men—how different their attitudes toward women were than the prevailing societal views. For example, rabbinic Judaism of that day regarded women as second-class citizens at best and beasts of burden at worst.

But the apostles and evangelists and pastors of the early church knew and believed something totally different about women: they knew from the Lord’s own example that women were objects of God’s love and concern no less than men—they knew that women’s souls were eternally valuable to God—they knew that that God wanted all people, men and women, to have a life with him through faith in his Son.

This attitude of God towards women-- in contrast to the mores and values of the society of that day-- was beautifully modeled by the Lord Jesus during his earthly ministry. Women were his followers. Women were his students. Women supported his ministry. Women were used as positive examples in his teaching again and again.
Where the men of Christ’s day shunned the particular troubles and travails of women—these hardships and heartaches that are unique to women received special care and concern from the Lord.

Where men of his day refused to acknowledge women as fully human—Jesus sought them out and taught them and welcomed them and made a place at this table for them and engaged them in conversation again and again.

Where men abandoned our Lord in his moment of deepest need at Calvary-- it was faithful women who were found at the foot of the cross-- and where men were hiding out in fear after the resurrection-- it was the faithful women who were charged by Jesus with the first apostolic mission of taking the Good News of the resurrection to the disciples.

Paul and Timothy and Silas and Luke knew the example of the Lord and his love and concern for women and modeled that same kind of love and concern as they took the Good News about forgiveness in Jesus out into the world. And that there were just a few women gathered together for prayer that day in Philippi made no difference—those few women were just as important to them as the thousands of pilgrims that had gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost- and the hundreds of learned scholars assembled on Mars Hill- and the emperor himself in Rome.

The Good News for us on this Mother’s Day is that the love of God in Christ is meant for all people and would be taken to all people—especially women. Luke writes about one of these women:

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God.

Every time you see one of those TV specials or read one of those magazine articles about how the church is oppressive to women I want you to remember that the very first recorded convert to Jesus Christ in Europe was a woman—a very special woman—a woman that even modern people two thousand years later can recognize.

We know from ancient Roman history that, at this time, Philippi had a corporate guild of dyers and Lydia was no doubt a member of that guild-- and because purple was the most sought after color of all in the ancient world we know that Lydia was capable, successful, and wealthy. The fact that Lydia had an economic life outside the home, I believe God intends as a special comfort for modern, Christian women.

The majority of Christian women today work outside of the home and I know that this is not done without some degree of guilt. Most of us were raised by moms who were able to stay at home and be full-time homemakers and many women today wish that they could do the same.

But the world has changed- and now many women work and feel guilty about it- wondering if they are doing the right thing by their families. There are some parts of the church that are not particularly helpful to women in this—some preachers and teachers—and other women—who add to working moms self-imposed guilt by almost equating being a stay at home mom with being a true Christian and a working mom as coming in a distant second in their piety.

These preachers and teachers are wrong. If you are able and want to stay at home-- God bless you! But if genuine economic realities necessitate your working, I want you to remember Lydia’s story and take to heart the Good News that there is not a particular kind of lifestyle or family style that is a pre-requisite for being loved by God. The love and mercy of God in Christ did not pass Lydia by because she was a working woman—but was given to her too. Luke writes that:

The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.

Before her conversion to Christ, Lydia was a Gentile believer in the God of Israel. She would have known that a Messiah had been promised and she believed in that promise—but she did not yet know that he had come and lived and died and rose again as the prophets had promised he would—she did not yet know that the Messiah had taken on flesh and bone and was named Jesus.

If she were to be saved and have a life with God, she still needed to hear that Good News that the apostles were sent to bring and so she listened to what they had to say. Paul wrote in Romans chapter ten that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” That is how conversion worked in Lydia’s life and it is how conversion works in every believer’s life. The Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the power of God unto salvation and the Word of God is sent into the world and does not return to the Lord without accomplishing the saving purpose for which it is sent.

That is exactly what Lydia experienced that day as she heard for the first time the Good News about Jesus—that his righteous life was lived for all people—that his death was the fully atoning sacrifice for the sins for all people—that his resurrection was the hope of life to come for all people—including her—and she came to faith in Jesus by the power and work of the Holy Spirit in her heart.

As with Lydia, so with every believer, that our salvation—from beginning to end—is the work of the Triune God who has known us and chosen us from eternity—who has sent his Son to die for us on the cross and rise again—who has called us to faith in him by the Holy Spirit-- so that from beginning to end it is the God of love who gets all of the praise and glory for what he has done for our salvation.

Lydia’s conversion is a picture of every conversion—no ranting of some wild-eyed preacher to work up his subject—no manipulative altar call with soft music in the background to get us to come to the front—no emotionally agitated decision on the part of the hearer. Simply the still, small voice of the Spirit of God powerfully working in our hearts through the Good News about Jesus and the God-given confidence and trust within us that says “I believe”—just like with Lydia. Luke writes that, after hearing the Good News: she was baptized, and her household as well, When Jesus gave his church the Great Commission he said:

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”.

Now it is self-evident that in the word “nations” Jesus was not talking about baptizing geographic areas delineated by physical boundaries and ruled by some particular form of government—he was talking about the people in the those areas—all the people without restriction--and so Lydia, a gentile woman, was baptized-- and so were those in her household irrespective of age or gender or ethnicity.

The Good News about Jesus and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit was for all of them and Lydia wanted to make sure that those among her family and friends heard it and received it. Luke writes:

She urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay. "And she prevailed upon us.

In Lydia’s example of taking the Gospel to her home, we see a beautiful picture of Christian womanhood that has repeated itself countless millions of times over the last two thousand years of the church’s history: faithful Christian women, not counting it good enough that they know Jesus as Lord and Savior, but making it their first priority in life that everyone in their homes knows Jesus as well.

There is simply no way to calculate the spiritual good that Christian women have accomplished over the course of salvation history for the eternal welfare of their friends and families through their Christian lives and through their witness to Jesus Christ—Christian women who have been insistent that their friends and their families hear the Good News that the hope and peace and forgiveness that we have in Jesus is for all people.

As we see this so beautifully portrayed in the life of Lydia we have an opportunity on this Mother’s Day to once again thank God that the Good News of salvation in Jesus is also for women. Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your heart and min in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Pastor Jennings New Blog

Check out Rev. Kevin Jennings' (pastor of Mt. Olive-Corpus Christi) new blog! Thoughtful--and thought-provoking--reflections on various topics of interest. A link is provided under "Links of Interest".

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Do You Hear The Song?

Rev. 21:1-7 (ESV)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. [2] And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. [3] And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. [4] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." [5] And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." [6] And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. [7] The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Today’s reading from Revelation almost seems like cheating. We’ve heard three readings from the Revelation to John so far – the beginning, the reappearance of Jesus; the ascension as the Lamb who was slain, who was raised, now takes His place in the throne room of God. Last week, we were given a glimpse of the multitude of the Church Triumphant and their song of triumph.

Now, though, fourteen chapters hence, we reach the climax of the book. It’s like we read a couple of really neat chapters and then went to the end to find out how everything turns out. If that’s all we do with this reading, it’s the old, “Hmmm. Okay,” and then go on about our business. That happens because our reality is one where half truths and lies, failed relationships and cheating, weak and deteriorating bodies are all the norm. It’s what we live with every day. If there’s no context, then chapter 21 of Revelation is just another pie-in-the-sky, Mother Goose tale.

But, what episodes have been bypassed as we page to the end of the story? There are the four horsemen of the apocalypse who bring violence and imbalance and death on a global scale in chapter 5. There are the souls of the martyrs under the incense altar of heaven crying out for vengeance, and being told to wait. There are the three woes of chapter 8, followed by the trumpet angels as the boom of judgment is lowered upon the earth. In chapter 11, there are the two witness who faithfully proclaim their Lord, and then are put to death as God’s protection is seemingly taken away from them. There is the great beast and his inscription on the foreheads of the nations, and the great prostitute of Babylon who grows drunk on the blood of the martyrs, whose lies make the lies we hear and tell seem like pitiful rumors. And, don’t forget the angels and their bowls full of God’s wrath that are poured out on the earth.

The scenes of the chapters we’re bypassing are frightful to say the least. In fact, the disasters are global. The ecological disaster makes this week’s oil platform disaster look like a bath tub, and the destruction poured out makes what we consider monumental happenings to be mere Tinkertoys.

The truth is, before ascending to the pinnacle of good news, we need to descend fully into the pit of really bad news. It’s all around us, the pit of bad news. Think of the death and the crying and mourning and the pain. Christians continue to come to faith, only to be betrayed by those around them and then put to death because of their faith. Churches venture into places where they shouldn’t be, teaching and professing that which is contrary to what the Lord of the Church has taught. Disasters of global proportion are unleashed against unsuspecting populations and the gaps in economic imbalance rival the grand canyon.

But, then again, it’s always been this way. As I regularly tell Bible classes, we just have better media coverage today. History is full of the death and pain and crying and mourning and anguish, and there hasn’t been a generation that hasn’t wondered when it will all pass away. The natural reaction is to attack the pain, to make it go away and stop. But it doesn’t stop, and when one attack relieves a pain, a new one takes its place.

It’s like a symphony of anguish in which each day a new tune of pain is composed in which the day’s anguish is worst than the last. When will the symphony come to its finale? When will the last movement close?

It’s wrapped up here. The old heaven and the old earth, the ones we know with all of their imperfections, that bear the brokenness as a result of our sin, pass away. The sea, that great source of chaos for God’s people is gone. A new heaven and a new earth appear, with the sign of God’s grace: the heavenly Jerusalem. As God’s people had been given the assurance of His gracious presence through the ark of the covenant, now, with no temple needed, God dwells among His people in His holy city. The symphony of pain and anguish has had its last curtain call. In its place is the music of peace and triumph and safety and blessing.

And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” With the enemies of God’s people banished for all eternity, all things are restored to the way the true God had intended them – new.

Today, as we look forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises as we read in Revelation, we look backward to the historic event of our salvation, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross colors all of our life, even the pain and the anguish we endure today. For, it is in the cross that all things are made new today in the forgiveness of sins as Christ exchanges His righteousness for us, and takes our sin and rebellion onto Himself. It’s at the cross that the very Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, offers up Himself as the very atoning sacrifice for all sin, and the empty tomb, His declaration is that His sacrifice is complete – there is nothing more to do.

It’s at the cross that all things are made new, and those who trust in Christ the crucified will enjoy the presence of almighty God in His holy city even as they receive His gifts of Word and Sacrament now. God the Father had the first word in creation also refused to let sin and death have the last word for His creation. Instead, the last word is Christ, and His answer was given at the cross: It is finished. The last word from our Lord is a word of life, and in this word of life, all things are made new by the triune God who possesses the power in Himself to be the first and last word. What a song of praise will respond!

But, even though these things are made new in forgiveness, we also know that Revelation 21 has the character of the now and the not yet. Yes, we experience the newness and restoration of forgiveness. God’s great gifts are showered upon us through Word and Sacrament and, by faith, we are confident of His grace and mercy today. We live in the now.

But we also know the frailty of our flesh and the world in which we live. We love the hymns and the assurances we receive this morning, but we also know we have to leave this place and go back out there where things are not merciful and our faith is challenged daily. We’d like to think things are really getting worse, but they’re not. It’s the way rebellious, sinful man has always been. We live in the not yet, awaiting the time when the heavenly Jerusalem will be fully realized. We still live in a world where the symphony of pain and anguish seems so loud. What will overpower it? What will keep us faithfully following?

In the book of Revelation, a song is begun in chapter 4 and reaches its fevered pitch in chapter 19. Do you hear it? It’s the song sung by the heavenly chorus of angels, joined by those who have gone before us in the faith and are awaiting the resurrection. Sometimes, when the symphony of pain and anguish get going, the song’s hard to hear, but it’s there. It’s still being sung. We hear it at our Lord’s table and as we go back to the promise of our baptism. We hear the song with every amen to every promise of God. There’s no title to the hymn, but often we give it one.

Do you hear the song – the song of the victory of the Lamb who was slain, the song proclaiming God to be worthy of all praise and honor? It’s the song of the faithful in Revelation 7 as they stand before the throne, the song sung as the great beast and the great prostitute of Babylon are destroyed. It’s the song we long to sing: the Distant Triumph Song – the song that grows a little louder each day as the reality of the heavenly Jerusalem and the dwelling place of God with men for all eternity grows nearer. In this Good Friday life, as we long for the eternal Easter season, as the symphony of pain and anguish seem almost insurmountable, our Lord brings us to faithfully follow the distant triumph song, even as He faithfully speaks to us and feeds us and strengthens us. Behold, He says, I am making all things new, and the day when it is done will indeed come. Amen.