Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ascension Day Prayer

Almighty Father, we draw near to You in prayer in the name of Jesus Christ our Mediator and Redeemer, who having delivered us from our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. 

We bless You and praise Your Holy Name for sending Him, not only the live and die for us and rise again, but also to ascend up on high, leading captivity captive and receiving gifts for men, that he might be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance and forgiveness of sins, imparting as our Everlasting Head, to all His members life and light, comfort, strength, victory, peace, and joy.

We have sinned grievously against You and deserve only Your wrath and punishment.  But we have an advocate with You, Jesus Christ the Righteous One, who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the world.  May our sins, though many, be forgiven us that being justified by faith we have peace with You through Jesus Christ.

Create in us clean hearts and renew a right spirit within us.  Give unto us that faith which purifies the soul, overcomes the world, and leads us to pursue good works.  Grant that as Your Son ascended into the heavens, so may we also, in heart and life ascend there and dwell with Him continually.

Look in compassion upon all mankind, whom Your Beloved Son redeemed with His most precious blood, that He may have all people for His inheritance and the farthest reaches of the earth for His possession.

May He, the King of Glory, be our Companion in life and our Deliverer in death, and a very present Help in trouble.  And finally when He comes in majesty to judge the world in righteousness, grant, we beseech You, that with all the blessed we may inherit the kingdom prepared for us and have our consummation and bliss in Your eternal and everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.
(Adapted from "The Lutheran Liturgy")

Easter Christians Are Witnesses to Salvation

Acts 1:1-11 When we think of our Lord’s ascension into heaven we tend to think of it as a well-deserved rest at the end of a long day of work.  Jesus did what he needed to do for our salvation and so he went back to heaven to take it easy until it is time to judge the world.  But that really is a misunderstanding of what it means that he is seated at the Father’s right hand in glory.
            From everlasting to everlasting our Lord has been working for our salvation.  From before the creation of the world he knew us and loved us and chose us to be his own.  He worked out his plan of salvation throughout history.  He entered into human history himself and died and rose again. 
And EVEN NOW that he has ascended into heaven and resumed his place at the Father’s right hand, he continues to work for us so that we would live with him in heaven. 
As we reflect on God’s Word tonight what we are going to see that our Lord is actively accomplishing his saving will in our lives and in the church and the world-- and we are witnesses of that salvation.  The bible says:
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. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
            If the ascension WAS about the Lord taking a much-needed break—who could blame him?  His entire life was dedicated to our salvation—every thought, word, and deed done for us so that we can have a life with God.
All of this is written down in the bible so that we can believe in him and have life in his name.  John said at the end of his Gospel that these things are written so that we would believe in Jesus.  That’s the point of the whole Bible—including the two books that Luke wrote.
The story of our Lord’s work of salvation is not like the story of the Greek and Roman gods or the pagan myths of the ancient world.  It is a story that is grounded in history.  People like us Jesus’ miracles and heard his teachings.  His death and resurrection are facts of history that people just like us witnessed.
Luke interviewed these eyewitnesses and gathered reports and traveled to the places of our Lord’s life so that he could write an accurate history of our Lord’s saving work. 
And not only did he write a human history—he wrote the very words of God, inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit so that those who read his words could come to faith in Jesus.
Theophilus was one who did.  Luke’s Gospel was the means by which God brought him to faith and with the “Book of Acts” Luke tells him the rest of the story—the story of the church- and the mission of Christ- and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, all of which Jesus accomplished AFTER his ascension into heaven. 
Our Lord continued to work for the salvation of the world even after his return to the Father.  He had a specific plan for the EVENTS of salvation-- but also for how that salvation would go forth into the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The Bible says that while staying with the apostles:
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.”
            Even though he would ascend into heaven, Jesus was not abandoning the church or leaving his disciples to their own devices.  He commissioned them to tell the world about all that he had said and done and he had a plan -and the provisions for that plan- to see salvation accomplished—throughout the world, down through history. 
His plan to save the world would begin were they were right then—in Jerusalem—close to home.  And he would provide them what they needed—the gift of the Holy Spirit that he would pour out on them in just a few short days.
As we read the story of the church in Acts -and as we study history to see how the church went from an oppressed, persecuted group of a few hundred to thousands and today to billions, the wisdom and power of our ascended King is on full display. 
Jesus has not been napping over these two thousand years since his ascension!  He has been graciously and wisely ordering the affairs of the church- and providing for us spiritually- and ruling the world so that all people can be saved.
In every place and time where the Good News about Jesus is preached and given in the Sacraments, there the Holy Spirit is given so that we can come to faith in Jesus and then take our place and do our part in his mission. 
Before his ascension, Jesus told his disciples that it was for their own good that he was ascending to his Father—and we see in what follows how true that is.  The Bible says that:
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.
            We know how the disciples struggled to understand what Jesus had come to do.  Even when they confessed him as the Christ and the Son of God they were still painfully mistaken about what that meant, thinking only of an earthly things—not salvation from sin or reconciliation with God.
But Jesus came to give his life as a ransom to set us free from sin.  He came to destroy death by rising from the dead.  He came to make us a part of God’skingdom and restore us to God’sfamily. 
He did not come to heal every sick person.  He did not come to raise every person form the dead only to see them die again.  And he certainly did not come to re-establish an earthly Israel filled with material blessings for a select few.
So long as Jesus was right there beside them, the disciples would always be tempted to long for these kinds of things and it is only after his ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we really begin to see them grasp the greatness of our Lord’s mission—that it wasn’t really about one little country or one particular group of people—but that Jesus’ mission encompassed the entire universe and all people. 
The salvation of the world is what he had come to accomplish and the disciples needed to turn their eyes away from their own narrow interests and take their place in his mission to make known the greatness of our Savior’s love for all people. 
The same is true for us.  We too are tempted to see our relationship with Jesus as having a “genie in a bottle” who will give us what we want and serve our narrow vision of what’s important.
But Jesus’ concern is for the world and for all people and he calls us to look beyond ourselves to the salvation of others.  And so Jesus blesses us with the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower our witness to his salvation.  Jesus told them:
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.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
            Jesus kept his promise.  Ten days after these words were spoken, he poured out the Holy Spirit on his disciples and immediately they began to bear witness to God’s salvation in Jesus.  Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit for the same purpose. 
That we believe in him and trust in him is a sure sign that we have the Holy Spirit.  The Bible says that:  no one can say:  Jesus is Lord EXCEPT by the Holy Spirit.  But that we know and believe in Jesus (as wonderful as that is!) is not the end of his saving purpose in our lives.
 Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit so that we would take our place and fulfill our purpose in his mission to save all people before the day of judgment when it will be too late.  The Bible says that:
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.”
            Jesus ascended into heaven with power and glory and was welcomed as a mighty, conquering king who is to be worshiped and adored and glorified forever.
            He will return in exactly the same way—in power and glory for the final deliverance of his people-- but also for the final destruction of his enemies.  Between his ascension day and his judgment day he has called us and equipped us by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses to salvation and do all within our power to make sure the number of his enemies is as small as possible!
And so our eyes are not directed to the clouds --but to our fellow man and to the mission that our Lord has entrusted to our hands, confident that our ascended King will accomplish his saving purpose through us.  May God grant it for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Easter Christians Are Engaged With the World

Acts 17:16-31 Each Lord’s Day we confess our faith:  that we believe in one God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   In confessing that faith, we are not ignorant of the fact that the vast majority of people in the world do not share our confession and faith.  We know that there are countless other things and idols and false gods that are worshiped in this world as God. 
But the Bible says:  Our God is in the heavens…their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.  Jesus says:  You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.  God says of himself:  I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to graven images.  In summary, the psalmist says:  all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols.  
Those who do not worship the one true God are idolaters and enemies of God and future inhabitants of hell unless they obey God’s command to repent and come to faith.   
Such is the world in which we live, including here in the United States.  And so then, what should our response be to this religiously pluralistic culture where God in his wisdom has placed us? 
Would God have us enter the walls of a monastery so that we are never confronted by someone of a different faith?  Would he have us be content to believe in Jesus while the rest of the world remains lost in unbelief?  Confessing the faith, surrounded by countless others who do not—how then should we live? 
We kid ourselves if we believe that life as a Christian in a religiously pluralistic world is something new.  It’s not!  Christians have always faced these challenges and what we see in our text today is that Easter Christians—people who have been changed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—we are expected to be engaged with the world, contending for the faith, bearing witness to the true God.  The Bible says that when Paul was in Athens “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” 
That word “provoked” means that he was outraged, indignant, appalled when he saw what people worshiped.  Their idolatry was robbing God of the worship and praise and thanksgiving that belonged to him- and they themselves were on the way to hell- and when he saw it he was stunned and shocked and had to speak out.  He could not remain silent!
How different is Paul’s attitude than so many in the church today.  We have been content to “live and let live”, to say: “well, you believe what you believe and I believe what I believe and we will just leave it at that”.  We are content with that approach to religious pluralism because it is comfortable and safe and, truth be told, cowardly.
But the Bible says that we are to “tell of the Lord’s salvation from day to day and declare his glory among the nations, and proclaim his marvelous works among the people.”  Easter Christians are not permitted to remain silent while God is being robbed of what belongs to him.  We are not permitted to “get along” with a godless culture while all around us people are “going along” to hell.  We must engage the world and speak out like Paul and tell the truth about God.
The Bible says that Paul “reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews” and “conversed with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers” all the while he was “was preaching Jesus and the resurrection”.
Here in Paul is a picture of the Easter Christian who has been changed forever by Jesus’ death and resurrection—a Christian actively engaged with the world around him—even those who do not share his faith—unapologetically, unashamedly telling the Good News about Jesus and especially his resurrection.
His bold witness to Jesus is important for us to remember.  There are all kinds of issues that get our attention today as Christians.  Marriage and sexuality and abortion are all hot button issues and we are called to speak to these issues as Christians—boldly saying, “Thus saith the Lord!”  But we make a terrible mistake if we stop there and never get around to Jesus. 
That Jesus was crucified for our sins and for the sins of the world—that he was raised from the dead to give life to the world—that he has ascended to be our advocate--this is the message that actually has the power—not just to change someone’s mind about a “hot button” issue—but to change them forever from an enemy of God to his child. 
This is difficult to do.  It takes more courage than we have had in the past.  We WILL face opposition.  But as we engage the world for Jesus there will be some people who are willing to give us a hearing.  The bible says that the pagan philosophers said to Paul,
“May we know what this new teaching is…for you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.”
They were right!  The message of Jesus is strange!  It is a message that the world does not know and cannot know by their reason.  They cannot think their way into it.  It has to be preached and taught and shared by those who already believe in Jesus. 
The Jews knew all about keeping the law and making their sacrifices but nothing of a holiness that they could not reach and nothing of a perfect, once-for-all sacrifice made for them.  The pagan philosophers knew all about the power of their intellect and the great questions of the day.  A billion people in our world today know all about submission to Allah.  Millions know the ethical requirements of Buddhism and the thousands of gods of Hinduism.  Even more have fixed their hopes on science and technology while even more live as servants to their flesh.
But none of them, by nature, knows anything about God’s love for them in Jesus Christ- and the sacrifice he made for them- and the life they can have with God simply by his grace.  It is strange to their ears no less than it was to the ears of the philosophers of Paul’s day and yet it is so compelling that there will be those who are willing to give us an audience if only we will engage the world around us and give reason for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ with charity and clarity.  Paul told the Athenians:  I perceive that in every way you are very religious.
What I want you to see as we discuss these next two sections of our text is that when we as Easter Christian engage the world and bear witness to Jesus Christ, we are called to do that with charity (that means with love) and with clarity (that we plainly, simply tell the truth). 
Please note that when Paul came upon this altar to an unknown god (even though he was appalled at the idolatry) he did not tear it down.  Please note that when he was confronted by the people’s complete lack of knowledge about anything that actually mattered eternally he did not say “you ignorant fools!” 
Paul loved them and what’s more he knew that God loved them and Jesus gave his life for them and so he had an obligation to engage them in a way that would bring them closer to the true God, not drive them away. 
As Easter Christians, called to engage the world for Jesus, we must love those who are caught up in lies- and set aside our righteous indignation -and start with where the people around us ar-e and try to find a way to connect with them.  That’s what Paul did.  He said:  I perceive you are religious in every way.
And they were!  They had hundreds of gods and thousands of temples and altars and countless cultic practices and rites of worship.  They were very religious and so is every man by nature in our world today.  How can they not be!  Man was created by God to know and worship him and the world around us and our consciences testify to his presence. 
Far from looking upon the world around us with contempt and scorn at the idolatry and false worship—it ought to grieve us in our hearts for the sake of the lost because WHO they were made for and WHAT they were redeemed for is unknown to them. 
We can and must meet people around us where they are and recognize in them a common humanity like our own and love them as God loves them.  But that love must also lead us to tell them the truth about God with clarity.  Paul said:  What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.  This must be the confidence of every Easter Christian:  “I know the truth about what matters eternally and I will gladly tell it to you!”  So said Paul!  
And from there Paul went on to tell them the truth about God—that there is one God who created the world and all that exists including man—that God continues to upheld and care for the world and all within in it—that far from being a disinterested observer, looking down on the world from above, but not really caring about it—the One true God made us and cares for us and directs our life so that we could know him and have a life with him. 
There had been a time when Paul was just like the Athenians, just like the Jews, a time when he lived in unbelief—a time when his ignorance caused him to believe that his persecution of Christ and his people was actually a service to God.  Paul knew about ignorant unbelief!
But that day was over for him.  The crucified and risen Christ met him on the Road to Damascus and changed him forever and now he had a responsibility to those around him to tell them the truth and he did that with charity and clarity. 
So it is and must be for us!  There was a time when we too lived in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief.  There was a time when were blind and deaf to the voice of God and his love for us—a time when we had to be called from death to life. 
Our salvation is no less the work of that same crucified and risen Christ as was Paul’s and no less than Paul we are called to engage the world around us for Jesus and lovingly and faithfully bear witness to the truth about God and the Good News of Jesus before this day of grace comes to an end.  That was the message of Paul who said that God: 
commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
            When it comes to engaging the world around us for the sake of the Gospel there are two days that matter.  This first is this day:  a day of God’s grace when we can take an interest in those around us and bear witness to them about the one thing that truly matters and that is God’s love for them in Jesus Christ.  There may be other days like this one—but this is the one we have to tell the truth about who God is God and his salvation in Jesus.
The other day that matters is the Last Day—a day that God has already appointed for the judgment of the world by his Son—a day when the opportunity to come to God and be saved by Jesus will be over. Between this day and that day God commands everyone, everywhere to repent of their sins and believe in the Gospel and that command and invitation is issued by us.  
As Easter Christians we are to engage the world because Jesus loves the world and wants all people to come to him and be saved.  We are not permitted to remain a holy huddle, glad for our salvation, while those around us are lost.  Instead, we are called by God to speak the truth with charity and clarity.  Amen.

Easter 6a General Prayer

Gracious heavenly Father, because Your faithfulness extends to all generations, we come to You in prayer in Jesus’ name, knowing that You will hear and answer us for His sake:

We confess that You are the Creator of the world, that You have established to earth and it stands fast to this day.  We thank You for those material gifts You give that sustain and bless our body and life.  Grant healing to those who are ill especially Don and La Nell and Matthew.  Send rain upon this dry land. 

Help us to delight in Your law and remember Your precepts so that our life with You and others would be marked by love and holiness.  Especially do we thank You for the marriage of Joy and Chris as they celebrate an anniversary.  Gran that their love for one another and You would grow each day. 

As we live in this world that is filled with idols and those who worship false gods, grant us courage and clarity to confess You as the one true God and Your Son Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world and the judge to come.  Make us ready to give a defense of our hope in You.  By Your Holy Spirit, open the ears and eyes and hearts of those who hear this message so that they too would confess You as their Savior God.

Care for all of our fellow Christians throughout the world who suffer for the sake of righteousness.  Make us zealous for what is good and ready to suffer for doing Your will.  Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to show our love for You by keeping Your commandments. 

We give You thanks that Jesus Christ has suffered for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, so that we might be brought to You through Holy Baptism.  When the devil accuses us and when our flesh tempts us, grant us the testimony of a good conscience that in those saving waters we have died with Christ and been raised with Christ and will live with him forever. 

We remember with thanksgiving those who have laid down their lives in the defense of our nation.  Make our country and its leaders and citizens worthy of so great a sacrifice.  Send a spiritual renewal upon our nation so that we would acknowledge as our one true King.

Whatever else You see that we need; whatever serves our neighbor and brings glory to You’ whatever extends Your kingdom of grace, grant to us dear Father in heaven for we ask all things in the name of Your Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.