The Familiar

Text: Mark 6:1-13

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Familiarity breeds contempt. You’ve probably heard that old saying or proverb before. The idea is that the more familiar or well known or common something is or becomes the less we respect and appreciate it.

I tried this week to find out where that saying or proverb comes from, but I didn’t have much luck. Apparently the earliest known reference to those words is in a book of poetry written in the year 1386, nearly 700 years ago, but it is more than likely that the saying already existed long before that point. It is almost a universal human truth, probably going right back to Adam and Eve and the fall into sin. The more acquainted we are with someone or something the less we value them or it.

Our gospel reading today demonstrates just how true this proverb is and always has been. Jesus goes to Nazareth, the town in which He was raised, and He preaches at the local synagogue. Now, you’d expect that everyone there would be happy to see Jesus. He is undoubtedly the most significant, influential, and famous person to ever come out of their little, tiny, insignificant village. This ought to be a grand-homecoming party for the ages. But it wasn’t.

Jesus preached in the synagogue that morning and the people were amazed and astonished. They said to each other, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And then they “took offense at Him.”

Taking offense or being offended in the Bible doesn’t mean quite the same thing that it means in the world today. In the world today everyone gets offended about everything. You look at a person the wrong way and they get offended. You share your personal opinions too loudly and people are offended. But these “offenses” really are just hurt feelings. In the Bible taking offense or being offended is not a matter or hurt feelings, it is about being scandalized or stumbling in faith. When the people of Nazareth took offense at Jesus it was not simply because something He said offended them or hurt their feelings, it was because they refused to believe in Him.

The question is why, why did they take offense, why did they refuse to believe in Him? The answer is because familiarity breeds contempt. Jesus was so familiar to the people in Nazareth. They had watched Him grow up, they seen Him as a boy who was just like all the other boys in town, they had hired his (earthly) father, the carpenter Joseph, to do work in and around their homes, perhaps Jesus had even helped his father as an assistant or taken up the family business as a carpenter for a few years Himself. Regardless, the people in the Nazareth synagogue that day looked at Jesus and saw the same old Jesus they had always known. They saw a carpenter from Nazareth. They could not believe His words about the Kingdom of God. They could not believe that the son of Mary who lives just around the corner could possibly be doing all miracles that they had heard about Him doing in other places. He was just so ordinary, so familiar, and they could not see past their familiarity and they held Him in contempt refusing to believe in Him.

Now we have to ask ourselves what this has to do with us today. We are not, after all, members of the synagogue in Nazareth who watched Jesus grow up and are so familiar with Him that we find it hard to believe in Him. No, we look back on Jesus and know that He was not just some carpenter, He was the Saviour of the world. We look back on Him and know that He was not simply the son of Mary, but also the Son of God in human flesh. We know and believe these things, so what does this have to do with us?

We need to look at the ways that Jesus comes to us today to see the answer to that question. Jesus walked into the synagogue in Nazareth that day and started preaching, but that is not exactly how Jesus comes to us today, is it?

Jesus has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God on high. As such, Jesus fills all things and is in all things and surrounds all things. But Jesus has promised to come to us today in very specific ways. In fact, you could say that Jesus has promised to come to us in very ordinary or familiar ways. He has not promised to come to us through flashy miracles that will draw the eyes of thousands of people or through great displays of power that will impress us and embolden us in faith. Jesus has promised to come to us through simple, ordinary, familiar things like water, bread and wine, and words.

Let’s start with the water. In the water of Baptism Jesus has come to us. In that water He washed us and made us clean, cleansing us from each and every sin. In that water He reached down from heaven, marked us with the sign of the holy cross, wrote the triune name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on our hearts, and made us His own.

            Then there is the bread and wine. In that bread and wine Jesus comes to us with His own body and blood to forgive our sins, strengthen our faith, and fill us with His love so that we might love God and love one another. In that bread and wine He feeds us with Himself with the food of everlasting life.

And then there’s the Word. The Word is in the other two (with the water and the bread and wine) too, but in His Word, in the words of Scripture as we read it, as it is read in the service, and as the pastor preaches it, Jesus Himself comes to us and speaks to us. He announces to each of us each and every time we hear it the forgiveness of sins that we have in His name through His suffering and death on the cross. Each time He declares His undying love for you that sent Him to the cross to bear your sin and the sin of the entire world.

These things are so simple, so ordinary, and so familiar that there is a very real danger that we might overlook them, underestimate them, or take them for granted. It’s even possible that we, like the people in the Nazareth synagogue that day, might take offense at them (in the biblical sense of that word) and not believe in them.

I want to share with you two examples from quite recently in my own life of how real a possibility this is. Both of these examples are specific to God’s Word, but the principle applies to Baptism and Holy Communion too.

First, I was reading a bedtime Bible story from a children’s Bible to my kids. This is something we do every night. I happened that night to choose the story that we read last week in our gospel reading, the story of Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, that night. When we reached the end of the story and read the part about Jesus taking the little girl by the hand and raising her from the dead I heard all of a sudden a gasp from beside me. One of the girls had been holding her breath. She was enthralled by the story, almost in tears, caught up in the drama of the events that we had just read about, fully in awe of the power of Jesus to heal and save and His compassion and love that would bring Him to this little girl’s bedside so that she could be restored to life. This made me think, how often do we read the same old familiar stories and not take them to heart?

Then, just a few days later, I was doing my morning devotions and discovered that one of the readings was from the book of Acts. It was one of the same readings that we had studied in Tuesday/Wednesday morning Bible study not long ago. Instantly I found myself thinking about skipping that reading because I have already studied it and I know it. Surely such a reading would have nothing left to teach me. But then it hit me, “How arrogant can you get?” I thought to myself, “This is God’s Holy Word, surely it has more to teach you than you can ever know!” But familiarity breeds contempt.

Brother and sisters in Christ, Jesus comes to you today. He comes to you in such familiar things, in water, bread and wine, and words, with mighty works of power. He comes to you in these familiar means to forgive your sins and give you life. He comes to you in these familiar means to heal and save your sin sick soul. He comes to you in these familiar means to pour our His love and compassion on you. He comes to you in these familiar means to assure you of His constant presence with you and to strengthen you for the living of this life so that you may endure into the life to come. These familiar means are a reason to rejoice. Let’s not let the familiarity breed contempt, let’s let it breed joy. Let’s let it breed joy that knows and rejoices that our God would come to us to save us now and forever. Let’s let it breed joy in knowing that Christ Jesus is here now among us to heal and save. The joy of the familiar. In His name, Amen.

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Waiting

Text: Mark 5:21-43

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our Old Testament reading today from Lamentations 3 says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” In our gospel reading we see this truth played out in action.

In our gospel we met a man named Jairus. Jairus comes into our gospel reading today because his daughter, who we learn later on is just 12 years old, is dying. We are going to work our way through Jairus’ story this morning and I would like us to try and put ourselves in his shoes. Let’s image that we are Jairus and we have come to Jesus looking to have him come save our dying daughter.

Imagine Jairus’ relief when he hears that Jesus has just crossed the Sea of Galilee and is standing on the shore just outside of town. This poor father who is worried to death about his little daughter and feels so helpless because nothing he does seems to improve her situation all of a sudden has hope. Jesus is coming.

Jairus has heard about Jesus. He has heard about the healings that Jesus has performed. Everywhere Jesus goes the sick are healed, the blind are given sight, the deaf have their ears opened, and He even casts out demons. Everyone has been talking about it. Whatever is ailing his little daughter, no matter how severe it might be, Jairus knows that Jesus can help. So without a second thought, there wasn’t a moment to lose, Jairus sets off running to find Jesus and bring him to his little girl.

It probably didn’t take Jairus long to find Jesus. He just had to follow the crowds, they would lead him to right to where Jesus was. And when he did find Jesus the crowds probably all stepped aside to let an important man like Jairus (he was a “ruler” of the local synagogue) get through. So before too long Jairus found himself standing in front of Jesus, but he didn’t stand there long. Right away Jairus fell down at Jesus’ feet and said, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come lay your hands on her so that she may be made well and live.”

As Mark tells the story here Jesus doesn’t say a word. He just starts following Jairus off towards his home. As our Old Testament reading today put it, His steadfast love never ceases, His mercies never come to an end, and His compassion knows no bounds. His love, mercy, and compassion extend to all who come to Him in faith. Jesus gladly goes to Jairus’ home. But He doesn’t go quickly.

Jairus probably ran out to find Jesus when he heard that Jesus was in the area. His need was urgent. And I think Jairus probably would have liked Jesus to move quickly as they set off towards his home where his daughter lie dying in bed. But Jesus moves slowly. The crowds are still pressing around Him and Jesus slowly but surely makes his way through the throngs of people to Jairus’ house.

Imagine how Jairus is feeling as he watches all this happen. Imagine the fear, the panic, the frustration, and everything else he must have been feeling as he watched Jesus slowly pick his way through the crowd. The waiting must have been killing him.

For us I think the best comparison would be if we called an ambulance for our loved one and then watched as the ambulance driver refused to use the siren or lights, stopped at every red light, and then got caught in a traffic jam. We would be losing our minds watching that happen and we would be writing up a draft of the lawsuit that we would throw at them if this didn’t all work out in the end. Jairus, I’m sure, felt the same way.

Then it got worse. All of a sudden Jesus stopped in the middle of the crowd. “Who touched me?” He said, “Who touched my garments?” At least before He was moving slowly, now He isn’t moving at all. Imagine how Jairus is feeling!

Jesus’ disciples pick up on how Jairus must be feeling too. They look at Jesus and say, “You are surround by people and they are all bumping up against you, rubbing shoulders, and reaching out to touch you. How can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ Keep moving, Jesus, Jairus’ little girl needs you!” But Jesus still doesn’t move.

Finally, out of the crowd, one woman came forward and, like Jairus, she fell down at Jesus’ feet. She’s the one who touched Jesus. She explained to Him that she had been bleeding for twelve long years and tried every cure known to man. Nothing had worked. She had prayed and waited, but for twelve long years nothing had happened. She had all but given up any hope of a cure. But when she heard Jesus was coming she had hope again. If anyone could heal her it was him. She didn’t dare to talk with Jesus, but if she just touched Him she knew she would be healed. So that is what she did. She touched him. She reached out in faith, touched the corner of his cloak, and immediately, she was healed. Jesus looked at her and said, “Daughter (interestingly, this is the only time Jesus ever calls anyone “daughter”), your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

Now imagine how Jairus was feeling as all that happened. They were running out of time and he knew it. If the waiting wasn’t killing him before it must be now.

If I were Jairus I think I would be thinking something like “Can’t you see, Jesus, that my daughter’s situation is an emergency? Her situation was far more urgent than this woman’s! My little girl is going to die if we wait any longer! Surely this woman could’ve waited one more day or one more hour for her cure. My little girl doesn’t have that long!”

And then it happened. Someone came from Jairus’ home. It was too late. The girl was dead. Jesus had lingered too long. He hadn’t come quickly enough. The waiting had killed her. It was no use now. Don’t bother Jesus any longer.

Imagine the sadness, the pain, the anguish. Some of you don’t have to try hard to imagine it because you’ve been there. You’ve lost a child or someone close to you has lost a child. The grief is immense. And in the midst of that grief Jairus is standing there looking at Jesus, the one in whom He placed His faith, the one who was supposed to be able to save His daughter, who willingly lingered, delayed, and did not make it in time. Imagine what is going through Jairus’ mind.

Jesus doesn’t need to imagine, He knows what Jairus is thinking and feeling. He knows the grief, the pain, and even the anger that Jairus is feeling. He knows that Jairus thinks there is no more hope. He knows that Jairus’ faith in Him is waning or maybe gone altogether. Jesus knows all of it. He looks at Jairus and says, “Do not be afraid. Only believe.”

If I were Jairus I’d be thinking something like, “Don’t be afraid? My little girl is dead! I’m beyond afraid, I’m broken! Only believe? Believe in what? In you? I did put my trust in you and look where that has got me!” But Jesus just kept walking to Jairus’ house.

When He got there he left most of his disciples outside, walked in the front door, asked all the people why they were wailing and crying, said the girl was only sleeping, went upstairs into the girl’s room, took her by the hand, said “Little girl, get up,” and immediately the dead little girl got up and started walking around the room.

“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

Jairus waited. The waiting nearly killed him, it did kill his daughter. But when Jesus came the healing, the new life, was immediate.

The woman who had been bleeding for 12 long years waited. She waited and waited but her situation only got worse. Then Jesus came and she touched Him. Her healing was immediate.

Waiting is an exercise of faith. It tests our faith, our confidence in God’s promises to us. Waiting is a test that we often fail. As we are forced to wait we wonder if God really cares, if Jesus is really there for us and with us, if there really is hope beyond this vale of tears filled with sickness and death. Doubts creep in and confidence in God’s goodness starts to wane. Frustration builds and faith starts to dwindle. But when we are faithless, when waiting has reduced our faith to nearly nothing, the one we wait for remains faithful.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

The one we wait for sent for His Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law. Thousands of years after the Promise was made to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, after generations had passed and God’s people had truly started to wonder if there ever would be a saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. The Father fulfilled His promise. That same Saviour gave His life on Calvary’s cross for you, me, and all mankind. He is the eternal sign of God’s steadfast love that never ceases, His mercies that never come to an end, and His great faithfulness. In His death we have forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation.

None of this means that all our worldly problems will be taken away or solved. All our diseases are not going to be healed in this life and our dead are not going to be raised right here and right now, but even on this Canada Day it is worth remember that, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Jesus will come. He will come and His healing will be immediate. On that day our waiting will end. On that day we will be healed. On that day he will take us each by the hand and say to us, “Little child, I say to you, arise,” and we will rise.

 “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” In Jesus name, Amen.

Pointing to Christ

Text: Luke 1:57-80

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

As a parent one thing that I have never really been able to handle is screaming. Crying is one thing, but screaming is another. It’s not so bad when they are just little babies, but when they reach that 1 year mark (or sometimes earlier) kids develop this ability to scream in a way that pierces ear drums and brings all activity in the home to a halt.

I remember when Hannah (our oldest) reached that screaming stage. The worst was at meal times. She would scream because she wasn’t getting what she wanted. She could not talk yet and we were not able to read her mind either. We were doing our best to guess what she wanted, but we were getting it all wrong and screaming ensued. I did not know what to do. I couldn’t handle the screaming. That is when Leah (my wife) had a marvelous idea, we taught Hannah some sign language.

This is a popular parenting thing now a days, you see. Before young children are able to learn to speak and communicate with words they are able to learn to gesture and make signs with their hands. Often times teaching them a few simple signs saves a great deal of screaming and crying as young children who are not yet able to speak try to communicate what they want.

So we taught Hannah some simple signs. She learned the sign for “more”, “eat”, “drink”, “finished”, “thank you” and  “sorry.” We did the same with Rachel, she learned pretty much the same set of signs, and now we are in the process of teaching Olivia to sign too.

There is one sign that we never specifically taught our kids, however, but they all seem to have learned it pretty well on their own. Olivia’s got it down these days for sure. When she doesn’t know the sign for exactly what she wants or does not want mess around trying to communicate with specific signs she has learned that a single finger extended in the direction of whatever it is that she wants will do just fine. She has learned to point.

Pointing is pretty much the clearest and simplest form of non-verbal communication possible. When someone points people look, they pay attention.

I want to talk about pointing today because that is what John the Baptist is known for, that is his calling card, he points. If you were to go to an art museum where they had paintings of John the Baptist or if you did a google search online for images of John the Baptist you would see picture after picture, painting after painting of John pointing.

I want to show you a few of those pictures this morning because I think they can help us understand John the Baptist a little better.

1

Here you have John standing and pointing.

He is holding the Old Testament in one hand and there is a lamb holding a cross at his feet. You can’t see it in this picture (this is a close up of a much larger painting), but John is pointing at Jesus on the cross. This scene is meant to remind us of John 1:29 where John saw Jesus passing by and said to his disciples, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Our eyes are meant to follow John’s finger and look to Jesus. Today we are celebrating John’s birth and this is what John was born to do, he was born to point us to Jesus.

John was born in a rather miraculous fashion. John’s parents were Elizabeth and Zechariah. Both of them were old, well past the typical child bearing years, and they had no children. They knew that they were unlikely to ever have children. But they prayed. Elizabeth and Zechariah prayed and asked that the Lord, if it be His will, would grant them to have a child. And guess what, He did it.

One day when Zechariah was serving in the temple in Jerusalem (he was priest) an angel appeared to him and told him that he and Elizabeth would have a son. Zechariah was a man of faith, he trusted in the Lord, but this seemed like a bit too much, he didn’t believe it. The angel reiterated the promise and assured Zechariah that it would happen. As a sign the angel said that because Zechariah had not believed God’s word spoken by the angel he would not be able to speak until the baby was born. Sure enough as Zechariah walked out of the temple that day he was mute, unable to speak and he remained that way for 9 months until John was born. But when John was born, more specifically on the eighth day when John was circumcised, Zechariah got his voice back. He could speak again.

The first thing that Zechariah did when he was able to speak again was praise God. He praised God for His faithfulness in keeping His promises. Not because God had kept His promise to Elizabeth and Zechariah (although that too was a reason for rejoicing) but because God had kept His promise to Abraham and David and to the entire nation of Israel and really to all people. He had kept His promise to send a Saviour. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son John was not that Saviour, but he would be the one to prepare the way for the Saviour, he would point people to the Saviour.

After Zechariah had praised God for His faithfulness, he turned his attention to the precious child that he now held in his arms and said, “You, my child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
  In other words, Zecahriah says here that his dear son John will point people to Christ, the source of their salvation and the forgiveness of their sins, that they might find peace in Him. John the Baptist matters to you and me today and we celebrate his birth today because he still points us to Christ and that peace.

I want to show you another picture now.2

This painting has John the Baptist in it too, but we will get to him in a minute. This painting is actually two pictures in one. It is from the year 1529 and was painted by a fellow named Lucas Cranach in Wittenberg, Germany. This painting is called an allegory. It does not picture one specific event from the Bible, but brings many events together into one image to convey their meaning. In order to get that meaning we need to look at each image separately.

First let’s look at the right hand side of the image.3

This side represents God’s Law. You can tell this side is about the Law because in the bottom right hand corner Moses is there (in green and yellow) holding the Ten Commandments. Those Ten Commandments gave ten very simple and clear laws or commandments or rules for people to follow. But there is a problem. The problem isn’t with God’s Law, but with us. That problem is demonstrated in the upper left hand corner of this picture. There you see Adam and Eve. They are standing beside a tree and wrapped around that tree is a serpent. Adam and Eve had one simple commandment to obey and we know what happened there. In the middle of this picture you see the result. A man is running in the middle of the picture. His arms are flung into the air in terror and there is a fearful look on his face. He is being pursued by two enemies death (the skeleton) and the devil (the beastly looking creature. They are chasing him into the fire of hell (the left hand side of the picture.

This man isn’t any person from the Bible, he doesn’t really have a name at all, this man is you and me. He is you and me under God’s Law. God’s Law is holy, righteous, and perfect and we are not. We cannot keep His simple and clear commands intact even for a single day. The result is what you see in the picture. The result is terror and death. But that is not the end of the story.

On the other side of this painting you have the gospel side of things.4

First you have a woman standing up on the hill, that’s Mary. There is a child coming down from heaven toward here, that’s Jesus being conceived in His mother’s womb. Then, right in the middle of the frame, you have Jesus on the cross. Next to Him is the empty tomb. In front of that empty tomb is Jesus risen from the dead trampling Satan underfoot. At the foot of the cross is a lamb. Then, in the bottom left corner, you have John the Baptist wrapped in a red robe. With one hand he is pointing up at Jesus on the cross and with the other he is pointing at the lamb. It’s like he is saying this (Jesus on the cross) is that (the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world). And look who is standing there beside John. It’s the man from the other side of the picture, the man who represents you and me. Look at him. The terror is gone, the fear is gone, he’s not running any more, he is perfectly calm. His eyes are following John’s finger and he is looking up at His Saviour on the cross.

There is one more detail that you need to see. It’s hard for you to see it from where you are sitting, but from the place where Jesus’ side has been pierced on the cross there is a stream of blood flowing. It’s tiny and difficult to see, but it flows from the cross straight to that man’s heart, to our hearts, it’s the blood of Jesus, shed for us, that covers all of our sins. It’s the blood of Jesus that gives us peace. John points us to that blood, the blood of Jesus shed for us, and shows us the peace that it gives.

Now I want to show you one last painting. John the Baptist is not in this painting, but there is someone else pointing at Jesus. This time it is Martin Luther.5

Martin Luther is that man on the right hand side all by himself. He is in a pulpit (although it looks more like a window to us!)  preaching to the congregation gathered on the left hand side. As he preaches he points that people to Jesus.

I’m not showing you this picture to suggest that Martin Luther is the next best thing since John the Baptist or to elevate Luther or anything like that. I’m showing you this picture because it demonstrates how the ministry of John the Baptist, the ministry of pointing people to Jesus, continues today.

John the Baptist died a long time ago. In fact, John died before Jesus even died on the cross so he wasn’t literally there standing pointing at Jesus while He hung on the cross. But John’s words and his pointing to Jesus carry on today, they never end. God’s Word still points us to Jesus and the places where He comes to us, in Baptism, in Holy Communion, and in the preaching of God’s Word, so that we might know His salvation and peace. Martin Luther did that, he pointed people to Jesus, and so do we today.

This is what the church, the one holy Christian and apostolic church, is always doing; we point people to Jesus. This is our purpose in this world. The church stands like John did down at the Jordan River and points people, people like that man who was running in fear in the last painting, people like you and me, to their Saviour, to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

You and I, Christians who have followed the finger of John the Baptist pointing the way to Christ and know the peace that Christ gives, now have the joy of pointing others, our friends, neighbors, family members, and everyone else we meet, to that same Christ. We can only do that because our eyes have been pointed there already, however. We can only point others to Christ because John has already pointed us there. We can only point people to His salvation and peace because we know that salvation and peace. So thanks be to God for John the Baptist, the miraculous son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who was born to point us to Jesus. In Jesus name. Amen.

Results

Text: Mark 4:26-34

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

I would not make a good farmer. When I was a kid I always admired farmers and I kind of wanted to be one someday. We lived in town and I’ve never really had that much experience with farm life, but there were some farmers who went to my church when I was a kid. And I idolized those farmers. In particular, I idolized them because they drove tractors. I had my own set of toy tractors that I drove around the basement as I pretend to be a farmer. I wanted to be like those farmers from church. I wanted to drive a tractor and plant crops like they did. I wanted to be farmer.

I realize now, however, that I would not have made a good farmer. I would not have made a good farmer because I am a results oriented person, I am motivated, encouraged, and inspired by results. Seeing the fruits of my labours is what keeps me going. Seeing results is what inspires me to keep working. Seeing success keeps me motivated to continue.

Being results oriented as I am does not necessarily disqualify someone from being a good farmer. Farmers do get to see the results of their labours when harvest time comes around. The problem that I would have as a farmer, however, is that I am also impatient. I thrive on seeing the successful results, and I would want to see those results now. I would want to see the fruits of my labours now. I would want to see the success now.

If I were a farmer I think I would be so determined to see the results of my hard work that I would be out in my field the very next day after planting my crops and for everyday afterwards looking for something to grow. I would be out there with a magnifying glass looking for sprouts in the dirt.  Once the crops had started to grow I would be out there each day with a ruler to measure just how much they had grown since yesterday. I would drive myself crazy, I think, looking and searching for results. Not only that, but I would probably become quite discouraged if the results were not to my liking. No, I would not make a good farmer.

The funny thing is, however, that being a results oriented person is not that helpful as a pastor either. Farming is not a results oriented job (at least not immediately) and neither is being a pastor and preacher of God’s Word. The lack of results can also be discouraging for pastors and preachers of God’s Word.

Jesus knew this truth very well. His own preaching had been met with mixed results. Some people loved to hear Him teach and they followed Him everywhere hoping to hear more words from Jesus. Others could not stand to hear Jesus teach and wanted to silence Him as quickly as possible. Others, even Jesus’ own family, heard Him teach and thought He was crazy. Still others heard and listened for a while by then fell away. The results had been mixed.

Jesus also knew that His disciples were, like me, results oriented people. All of us are, to a certain degree, I think, results oriented. We all like to see the fruits of our labours. We all like to see the successful fruits of our hard work. And the disciples of Jesus were probably no different. In particular I imagine that Peter, Andrew, James, and John were results oriented people. They were fishermen before Jesus called them and fishing was and is a results oriented business. There are two stories in the New Testament about how the disciples were out fishing and were deeply discouraged when after fishing al night they had caught nothing until Jesus told them to cast the net on the other side of the boat and they hauled in such a multitude of fish that the nets started ripping apart. They were driven by results.

So Jesus, knowing that the results of the preaching of God’s Word, the calling of people to repentance and the proclamation of the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name, would be mixed and knowing that His disciples were likely to become discouraged when the results of that preaching were not to their liking, told the parables that we find in our gospel reading today.

There are two parables in this reading today. The first is a parable about seeds. The farmer sows the seeds in the ground and without any effort on his part the seeds grow “automatically.” The second parable is about seeds too. This time it is about a mustard seed. The mustard seed seems wholly unimpressive, too small and insignificant to make a difference or accomplish anything, but that seed when sown in the ground grows up to become the most impressive of the garden plants. The theme of both of these parables is similar. Jesus’ message here is that the preaching of God’s Word will, in the end, produce results.

In the Old Testament book of Isaiah In God says, For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Through the prophet Isaiah God is reminding His people here about the power of His Word. It will do what He sends it to do. In particular, it will call people to repentance and will proclaim to them the forgiveness of sins. Nothing we do can make God’s Word more effective or less effective. God’s Word will produce results.

This is essentially what Jesus is saying in the parable about the farmer who sows the seeds. Jesus has established in an earlier parable that the seeds represent God’s Word. The sower sows the seeds, the people proclaim God’s Word, and the seeds grow, God’s Word creates faith in the hearts of people. God’s Word, the seed, accomplishes what He sends it to do and it produces results.

This is comforting news for you and me because when we look around us it doesn’t often seem as if God’s Word is doing much of anything. The results seem to be missing.

As we look around us today the pews are pretty empty. In fact, they are pretty much as empty as they were last week and the week before that. It can be pretty discouraging and we can’t help wondering, where are the results?

In the same way, it is discouraging to look at our own families, our own children or parents or siblings, and see more people who do not seem to believe. We’ve tried to share God’s Word with them, we taught it to them when they were young, we talk about it with them when we get the opportunity, but it seems to make no difference. Again, the results seem to be missing.

Jesus insists, however, that God’s Word and the preaching of it, the proclamation of God’s Law and Gospel, will bear fruit. It will produce results. We don’t know when or how it will happen, but God’s Word will not return to Him empty.

What does that mean for us? It means that we keep on proclaiming that Word of God. That’s true for me, your pastor, but it is also true for you too. If you have tried to share God’s Word with someone or raise you children in the Christian faith and your efforts seem to have failed this is Jesus’ encouragement for you not to give up. He is encouraging you to continue to reach out in love to friends, neighbours, and family members with the Word of God because that Word, like seeds cast into the soil of a field, will produce fruit.

That then brings us to the second parable, the mustard seed one. Perhaps you feel like your words, even as you share God’s Word, are insufficient or insignificant. Perhaps your words, even as you share God’s Words, seem like a tiny little seed dropped into the soil of a massive garden. Again, Jesus wants us to know that those tiny, seemingly insignificant, words will produce results. That mustard seed, as small as it is, grows to produce a plant that birds can nest in. God’s Word, as insufficient and insignificant as it might seem as we share it with others, will likewise produces results.

Jesus speaks these parables to us to encourage us. He is reminding us of the power of His Word and encouraging us to trust the power of that Word. The challenge for us, however, is that we still cannot see the results. We don’t see people flocking into our churches to hear God’s Word and the people that we share God’s Word with don’t seem to be listening. But God’s Word works. We might not see it any time soon, we might not see it in this life at all, but God’s Word will bear fruit. The words of Paul in our epistle reading today are helpful here, “We walk by faith and not by sight.”

The ultimate proof that God’s Word works lies in Jesus Himself. He is the Word of God made flesh after all. And He, the Word of God made flesh who dwelt among us, was cast into the ground and buried after He had suffered death upon the cross. Cast into the ground and dead any hope of “results” from His ministry would have seemed to be lost. But like a seed that is cast into the ground He bears much fruit. He is the first fruit of those who have fallen asleep in death and have now risen from the dead and you and I are the fruit the He bears, we are the results. We are the results of His death and resurrection as we have been completely forgiven and covered by His holy, precious blood. Because He lives and is risen from the dead we live too. And in Him we have the hope that on the Last Day when He comes again we will rise from the dead just as He is risen from the dead. Our lives, the forgiveness, life, hope, and salvation that we have, are the results of what He has done. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, produces results.

So we should not be discouraged. We might not see the results or at least not the results that we are looking for, but there will be a harvest. The seeds will grow. They will produce a crop. And Jesus will come to gather His people in. Let us therefore proclaim this fruit-bearing, result producing, successful, powerful, Word of God all our days that more and more may come to know the saving name of Jesus Christ. In His name. Amen.

Stolen from Satan

Text: Mark 3:20-35

Grace, mercy and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In our gospel reading today Jesus said, “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” If you’re wondering what this means or wondering why in the world Jesus is talking about stealing and plundering then you are not alone, these do seem to be some unusual words from Jesus. There is, however, substantial good news for you from Jesus in these verses, however, so we should take some time to think about them.

Jesus said these words about plundering the strong man’s house when some scribes from Jerusalem made the accusation that He was casting out demons in the name of the devil and that He Himself was possessed by a demon. This was, of course, a preposterous suggestion, but the scribes were desperate. Huge crowds were going after Jesus. The people were following Him everywhere and the scribes simply could not approve of His teaching. They were sure that if Jesus was allowed to continue and if the people kept going after Him that He would be the downfall of their entire nation and people. Grasping at straws and trying to draw people away from Jesus they start telling people that He is in league with the devil.

Jesus responds to this accusation and He says that it is total nonsense. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Jesus says, “If a kingdom is divided against itself (that is, if Satan is fighting against himself), that kingdom cannot stand.” The same is true, Jesus says, of a household or a family. If a family is fighting against itself how will that family hold together? It won’t! In the same way, the suggestion that Jesus is casting out demons in the name of Satan or is somehow in league with him is ludicrous. “But,” Jesus says, “no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man.”

Jesus lays it out here. He tells the Pharisees and you and me exactly what He has come to do. He has come to bind the strong man and loot his house. Who is this “strong man” Jesus is talking about? The strong man is Satan, the devil. He is the “prince of this world,” our enemy who is stronger than us and holds us in his deadly grip. Jesus has come to be a thief and plunderer. He has come to bind and loot the strong man. He has come to handcuff the devil and plunder His house. He has come to steal you and me from Satan’s grip and restore us to the Kingdom of God.

To understand what Jesus means here and why it is necessary that He come to plunder Satan’s house it would be helpful to take a look at our Old Testament reading today. We started our reading in verse 8 of Genesis 3 and there we pick up the story right on the heels of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Satan is there too, of course. He tricked and deceived them and now he is delighted by his success. He revels in the knowledge that he has stolen Adam and Eve, the apple of God’s eye, the pinnacle of His creation, away from Him.

As we read the words of this Old Testament reading we can see how successful the devil has been. He has really and truly stolen Adam and Eve away from God. He hasn’t simply tempted them to do something bad or tricked them into disobedience, he has turned them against God. When God comes walking through the Garden in the evening Adam and Eve hear Him coming. What do they do when they hear Him coming? They hide. Never before had they hidden from God. The thought of hiding from God (as preposterous as it is!) had never even crossed their minds before. But now Satan has them so wrapped around his finger that he has them convinced that they must hide from God because they have disobeyed Him. He has convinced them that God will never forgive them. He has convinced them that that moment God sees them He will surely kill them. So they do what any terror stricken human being would do when faced with their greatest fear, they hide. As they cower there in the bushes Satan is right there with them admiring his handiwork. And he has a lot to admire because he hasn’t just stolen Adam and Eve away from God, he has stolen you and me too. As Adam and Eve cower there in the bushes you and I are right there with them.

Satan has stolen all of us away. He has stolen all of us from our loving God and Father. And we see it every day in our lives. We see it when we are tempted day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment to do the very things that God has commanded us not to do. We see it when, more often than we would care to admit and, quite frankly, more often that we are even aware, give in to those temptations and do the things that God has commanded us not to do. We see it in our own lives when we look at other people and think wicked thoughts. We see it when selfishness trumps love for others in our lives and we live as if we mattered most of all. We see it when we speak careless, hurtful words about other people. And, above all, we see it when we do all of these things in a single day or hour without even batting an eye thinking that it’s not really a big deal. Satan’s really got us too. He has stolen us, all of us, away from our God and Father.

But God is not going to take this thievery lying down. When God came walking through the Garden He knew full well what Adam and Eve have done. He is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of heaven and earth, after all. When God came walking through the Garden that day He came for one purpose. He came to seek and find His lost, fallen creatures knowing that they have disobeyed Him. He comes to steal them back from the evil one. When God calls Adam and Eve come crawling out of the bushes and there they stand guilty, caught red handed, before Him. As they stand God speaks a promise. Speaking to Satan, the serpent, He says, “I will put enmity (that is, I will make you enemies) between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise (crush!) your head and you shall bruise (crush!) His heel.”

It’s as if God said to the devil, “You think that you have won these dear creature of mine over to yourself and stolen them away from Me forever, but my word of promise will make them mine again. What was stolen will be stolen back. I will send a Saviour, He will bleed and die and once again you will seem to be victorious, but through His death you will be utterly destroyed. These dear creatures that you have stolen from me are MINE and will be mine forever.”

And that is exactly what God has done in sending His Son to us. He sent His Son to bind the strongman, to tie him up, to chain him to the wall, and plunder his house. He sent Jesus to defeat this enemy of ours forever. Jesus did that as He went about healing people and casting out demons. He demonstrated again and again the power that He had over the forces of evil. But ultimately Jesus did that when He was nailed to that cross and Calvary and bled and died. Through His death He overpowered the strong man. Through His death He defeated our enemy. Through His death He has bound the devil in chains. Satan, the strong man, is bound and now Jesus plunders his house.

You were plundered from Satan’s house the day you were baptized. Jesus reached down from heaven that day with nail marked hands full of love, mercy, and forgiveness and He grabbed you and made you His own. In water and the Word he stole you away from Satan and there was nothing that the devil could do about it. Old Satan just stood there in the corner bound and had to watch it all happen as you, his prized possession, was stolen away from him and restored to Lord our God who sent His Son to die for you. You have been plundered away!

What does this mean for you? First of all, it means that the enemy that you struggle with now is a defeated, bound enemy. Satan has no power over you. Even as he tempts you and tries you, even as he tries to steal you back, he is bound and defeated. He cannot win.

Secondly, it means that you are free. You are not bound by sin and death. You are not under Satan’s power. You are free to love your neighbor. You are free to worship the Lord and rejoice in His loving kindness. You are free to confess your sins without any need to cower in fear. There is no need to hide. You are forgiven.

Thirdly, and finally, it means that you live in God’s Kingdom now. You live in God’s kingdom and you will live in that kingdom forever. That kingdom will never fall. No one will plunder you from that kingdom. This world and all that is in it will pass away. Your body will even die and be laid to rest. But God’s Kingdom will never fall, it will never pass away. Your body that dies will rise and will live in that Kingdom forever.

Thanks be to God, whose love was so deep that He would not let us be taken from Him, but plundered us from the devils house through the death and resurrection of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God in Jesus name. Amen.

Sabbath Rest

Texts: Mark 2:23-28 and Psalm 81

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Take out the insert from your bulletin and turn to the front side of it where it says “Second Sunday after Pentecost” up at the top. Not the side with the Scripture readings (we will get there in a minute), but the side that has the Introit, Collect of the Day, and Gradual on it. In the middle of that page you will find the collect or prayer of the day. Each Sunday we have one of these prayers. We usually pray it towards the beginning of the service, before the readings. The collect or prayer of the day is chosen/written to reflect the theme of the readings and the service each Sunday. If you are ever sitting there in your pew before church starts and wondering what we will be thinking, reading, and praying about today the collect of the day is a great place to look. Things usually are summed up there quite nicely.

This is particularly true concerning our collect of the day today. We prayed these words just a few minutes ago: “Eternal God, Your Son Jesus Christ is our true Sabbath rest. Help us to keep each day holy by receiving His Word of comfort that we might find our rest in Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

There are two important points in that little prayer that I want us to take some time to think about this morning. First, Jesus Christ is our true Sabbath rest. Second, we ought to keep EACH DAY holy by receiving His Word of comfort. We will talk about each of these points in turn.

In our gospel reading today we are confronted with the first example in Mark’s gospel with the Sabbath controversy that seems to follow Jesus around wherever He goes. We are only in chapter 2 here but there is already much controversy about Jesus and His disciples. The Pharisees see Jesus and His disciples walking through the grain fields on the Sabbath. We can’t say this for sure, but they were more than likely on their way to the synagogue for Sabbath worship. As they walked along they picked heads of grain from the fields and ate them. The Pharisees saw all of this happening and confronted Jesus about it.

“Look,” they said, “why are they (Jesus’ disciples) doing what is not lawful (right/proper according to the Old Testament Laws) on the Sabbath?” The Old Testament Law forbade all kinds of work on the Sabbath. Our Old Testament reading today talked about that. Harvesting was one kind of work that was specifically prohibited. The Pharisees were zealous for God’s Law and were bound and determined to keep it to the letter (and beyond!) so they were convinced that what the disciples were doing that day was “harvesting” and therefore a violation of God’s Law.

Now, there are all kinds of ways that Jesus could have responded to them. He could have just ignored their foolishness and kept on walking. He could have argued with them about how picking heads of grain here and there as you walk through a grain field hardly constitutes harvesting. But Jesus doesn’t do either of those things. Instead, Jesus first responds with an example from the Bible of a time that David broke God’s Law by going into the house of God and eating the bread that was designated to be eaten only by the priest because he and his troops were hungry and then He drops this bombshell on them: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” He said, “So the Son of Man (that is Jesus) is lord even of the Sabbath.”

The Pharisees saw the Sabbath, the keeping the seventh day of each week holy by not doing any work, as a requirement that God had established for His people to show their faithfulness to Him. For them the Sabbath was an obligation that people owed to God. Jesus says, however, that they have it all backwards. The Sabbath was established by God for the sake of the people, He says. It was to be a day of restoration and recovery for them, not a day of slavish obedience on which they had to worry and fret about not doing any work. The Pharisees had it all wrong. Not only that, but Jesus also says that He is, in fact, the Lord of the Sabbath.

When Jesus says that, when He calls Himself that Lord of the Sabbath, He doesn’t simply mean that He is God and He made that Sabbath and therefore He has the right and prerogative to determine what is proper and improper on the Sabbath. That is all certainly true, but Jesus means more than that here. What Jesus really means is that He is the true Sabbath rest. He is Lord of the Sabbath. He is the Lord of rest.

In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 11, Jesus says, Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The rest that Jesus offers here is more than a nice holiday. It is more than one day a week on which we are blessed to rest from our labours. It is real, true rest. The rest that Jesus is talking about here is rest that flows from His cross. Rest that looks up at our Saviour hanging there bleeding and dying and hears Him say, “It is finished.” It’s a rest that sees and hears all of that and knows that our salvation is accomplished, finished. It’s a rest that knows that our sin is taken away and our guilt is covered. It’s a rest that knows that whatever striving or work would be necessary to secure God’s favour has been completed by Jesus on the cross. It’s a rest that knows even now, in this life, amidst all the work that needs to be done and the burdens that we carry, that we have rest because our Saviour has done for us all that was needed to secure eternal rest in heaven for us. We rest in His loving arms flung wide and nailed to the cross right now waiting for the day when we enter the fullness of His glorious rest. Jesus is our true Sabbath rest.

That is the first point that the collect of the day today wants us to understand. Jesus is our true Sabbath rest. The second point flows from it. Earlier we prayed: “Help us to keep EACH DAY holy by receiving His Word of comfort that we may find our rest in Him.”

Jesus is our true Sabbath rest. For you and I that means that the Sabbath isn’t really just a day. The Sabbath is not just a single day each week on which we rest and hear God’s Word. The Sabbath is each day, every day, for us who are in Christ Jesus.

Martin Luther understood this as he wrote about the third commandment in the Small Catechism. Regarding the Sabbath and keeping it holy he says, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Notice that he does not identify and particular day on which we should hold God’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it. This is not just about going to church on Sundays. This is about keeping each day holy by receiving Jesus’ words of comfort so that we might find rest in Him.

The single greatest problem facing Christianity today is that God’s people do not read His Word nearly as often as they should. This is true for our church too. The biggest problem facing our church, our congregation, is not that we are all getting older or that young people don’t seem to come to church anymore. It’s not that we don’t have the energy to do what we used to or that our members are dying off. It’s not that our society/culture doesn’t care anymore what we have to say. It is that we don’t read God’s Word nearly as much as we should. Please notice that I am saying “we” here. I am just as guilty as you are. We all need to be in God’s Word more.

There is nothing that God desires more than that we would simply hear and learn His Word. The Words of Psalm 81 that we spoke this morning make that beautifully clear. We started and ended the Psalm with the words of verse 13: “Oh that my people would listen to me!” The Lord cries out. “Oh that my people would listen!”

The people in this Psalm are preparing for a festival, a celebration. They are calling on one another to sing to the Lord and shout for joy, to make beautiful music to the Lord on the trumpet, lyre, and tambourine. “It is our feast day,” the proclaim, “the feast day the Lord has appointed for us!” But in their excitement for celebrating this festival, in their zeal for keep the Lord’s command and observing the feast, they have forgotten that which is most important of all: to listen to the Lord’s Word. As they call for the celebration to begin the Lord laments, “Oh that my people would listen to me!”

            We too get caught up in all kinds of different things, many of them good and seemingly God pleasing, that distract us from readings and hearing God’s Word. God calls out to us today to, “Oh that my people would listen to me!”  

But what if we did listen? What if we did read? What if we did take God’s holy Word to heart, hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it? What would we hear? Psalm 81 talks about this too. Right in the middle of the Psalm, in verse 5, the psalm writer says, “I hear a language (a voice) I had not known.” Then he explains what that voice says and the message is the same throughout:

“I relieved your shoulder of the burden.” In other words, I took your burden upon my shoulder bearing your sin on the cross. I give you rest.  

“Your hands were freed from the basket.” In other words, I have accomplished the work of your salvation. I give you rest.

“In distress you called and I delivered you.” Your salvation is complete. I give you rest.

“I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your

mouth and I will fill it.” I have saved you from slavery to sin and death. I will continue to provide for you. I will give you rest.

What would we hear if we read and heard God’s Holy Word? Above all else we would hear the voice of Jesus, our true Sabbath rest, and we would hear Him speak words of comfort and rest into our weary and troubled hearts.

This collect, this prayer for our service today, could well be our prayer every day. “Eternal God, Your Son Jesus Christ is our true Sabbath rest. Help us to keep each day holy by receiving His Word of comfort that we might find our rest in Him.” Amen.

           

How Can This Be?

Text: John 3:1-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“How can this be?” Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and that is what he was left saying and thinking to himself. “How can this be?”

Nicodemus knew that Jesus was a teacher sent from God, but he did not understand (yet!) that Jesus is in fact the very Son of God, being of one substance with the Father, who stood there before him in human flesh. He looked at Jesus and saw a teacher. A good, holy teacher sent by God, but just a teacher. Nicodemus was a teacher too. He was an intelligent and learned man. He knew the Holy Scriptures inside out and backwards probably. He came to Jesus that night in secret to learn more about His teaching, but he could not wrap his head around what Jesus was saying. Jesus just kept talking about the necessity of being “born again” and all Nicodemus could say was “How can this be?”

You don’t have to be a highly educated teacher like Nicodemus to understand the impossibility of being born again. Nicodemus puts the question to Jesus rather sarcastically, “Can a man enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” The answer is obviously no. Nothing about what Jesus is saying here makes sense according to any kind of worldly, human reason or intelligence. But faith in Jesus, faith in the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is not about what makes sense to you and me, faith is trust in what this Triune God has done for you, me, and every other person on this sin infected planet through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

You and I know what Jesus was talking about when He told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again. We know, thanks to hindsight and the gift of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus was referring here to the water of baptism where the Holy Spirit is poured out on believers and they are “born again” as children of God. We are not stumped like Nicodemus was by Jesus’ words. But Nicodemus teaches us an important lesson today. A lesson that is particularly relevant on Trinity Sunday. That lesson is that our reason and intelligence, our ability to think, learn, and understand, must remain the servants of God’s Word rather than trying to become the masters of it.

Nicodemus came to Jesus that night with good intentions, I think, but as He spoke with Jesus his reason and intelligence became a barrier for him. His intelligence and knowledge, his certainty that human beings are only born once, prevented him from hearing what Jesus was saying to him that night. The same danger exists for you and me. We are not all religious teachers like Nicodemus was and most of us are not nearly as learned or intelligent as he likely was, but God has blessed us with reason and intelligence in the same way that He blessed Nicodemus with reason and intelligence. We, like Nicodemus, are able to think logically, to figure things out, to understand and solve complex problems, to read, to study, to add, to subtract, and to do all kinds of others things. This is a gift from God. He has blessed us with minds that think, understand, and inquire. But there is danger when this gift runs amok and leaves us wondering “How can this be?” when we hear God’s Word.

The Holy Trinity, which we celebrate in particular today, is a perfect example. Using the gift of reason that God has given us we know that 1+1+1=3, but God’s Word reveals to us a God that is three in one and one in three. The Athanasian Creed is so long because for centuries people tried (and still do try!) to rationalize and understand this mystery according to human wisdom and intelligence. Every such attempt led people away, however, from how God has revealed Himself to us in the Bible.

God’s Word says clearly and emphatically that there is only one God, but also insists just a emphatically that this one God consists of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are not to be confused with one another or divided from one another. This defies any kind of human reason or understanding. There is no arithmetic, new math, or fancy counting that can make sense of that and there are no illustrations (clovers, apples, and the sun included) that can explain this quandary away. One in three and three in one makes no sense. God’s Word demands, however, that we worship this God who is one in three and three in one because this Triune God is the source of our life, salvation, and hope for life everlasting.

This is where our reason and intelligence must take a back seat and become servants. God has blessed us with these gifts, but they were never intended to be used to second guess God’s Word as He speaks it to us. That doesn’t mean we turn our brains off in church, however, or that we are brain washed into believing some ridiculous truth. It is with our brains and our intelligence that we read, hear, and understand what God’s Word is saying to us in written and spoken language. Our reason and intelligence are part of the process, but they are meant to be servants, not masters, of God’s Word.

If we let our reason and intelligence be the masters of God’s Word the danger is that we will miss the point altogether. It’s not just the Trinity or new birth through baptism that defy human logic, every aspect of our salvation defies human logic. First, that God would love a sinful broken world so much, a world that rebelled against Him in the beginning and then proceeded to repeat that rebellion again day after day, so much that He would send His one and only Son defies logic. Second, that through this Son’s death God would reconcile that same sinful and rebellious world to Himself and win the victory defies logic. Third, that this Son would break every rule of nature that is known to man and rise from the dead defies logic. Fourth, that He would pour out His Spirit on His people in the water of baptism, speak to them through the words of an ancient book, and feed them with the very body and blood of Jesus under bread and wine defies logic. And finally, that He would give each of us the sure and certain hope that someday after our bodies have been laid in the ground and decomposed to almost nothing He will raise US from the dead to life everlasting again defies all logic.

All of this would quite rightly leave us saying “How can this be?” And we all undoubtedly have times where we wonder exactly that. But faith, the faith created in our hearts by the Holy Spirit speaking through God’s Word, flying in the face of all reason, intelligence, and logic, instead of wondering how says, “I believe…”

In giving us brains and the ability to reason, think, and understand God has bestowed on us a wondrous blessing. But it is important that we see how that blessing is properly to be used. Our reason and intelligence are not gifts God has given us so that we can question, doubt, or speculate about the truth of His Word. Our reason and intelligence are gifts given to us so that we might prosper in this life, enjoy the living of this life, and serve our neighbor in every way. This is the purpose of the gift.

In the end Nicodemus, it seems, overcame the barrier that his own reason and intelligence had created for him. He did, as far as we can tell, come to have faith in Jesus. But it was no through figuring it out or being convinced by logical arguments that Nicodemus came to faith. It was through the death of Jesus. When Jesus hung dead on the cross and His body needed to be taken down and laid in a tomb it was Nicodemus, along with Joseph of Arimathea, who stepped up to do that job. Having seen how Jesus had saved the world from sin and death through the most illogical and unreasonable means possible, through a cross and death, Nicodemus through His actions, “I believe…” No one other than the Holy Spirit could have granted that faith to Nicodemus.

May God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit likewise grant us the faith to believe in a lifesaving gospel that defies all logic and reason. May God grant us a faith that clings to the words of Christ even as our minds clamour for a more reasonable answer that makes more sense. May God grant us the faith to confess the Trinity in unity and unity in Trinity, the God who defies all logic, and came to save us. Lord grant us this faith always. In Jesus name. Amen.

Convicted

Text: John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What does the Holy Spirit do, exactly? That is a good question, isn’t it? We believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God yet three persons, but the Holy Spirit is in many ways the mysterious member of that Trinity for us. We just confessed in the Apostles’ Creed that the Father is the maker of heaven and earth and we confessed that His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, was born of the virgin Mary, suffered, died, and rose again for our salvation. But what about the Holy Spirit?

If we look at the Pentecost story from our second reading from Acts today we might get the wrong idea about what the Holy Spirit does. On Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out from heaven on the disciples they all started speaking in tongues. They spoke convincingly and powerfully, in languages that they had never learned, about the saving work of Jesus. If “spiritual” experiences like this are what the Holy Spirit does then we are left wondering if we even have this Holy Spirit. The good news is that this is not, strictly speaking, what the Holy Spirit does. Pentecost and examples like it from the Scriptures are really exceptions to the rule. A better place to look to see what the Holy Spirit does is our gospel reading today.

Our gospel reading this morning comes from John 15 and 16. In these chapters Jesus is speaking to His disciples preparing them for His death, resurrection, and ascension. As He does so He talks about the Holy Spirit, the “Helper,” that He will send and He lays out exactly what this Holy Spirit will do. In fact, 6 times over He says “He (that is the Holy Spirit) will…” I must admit, that I was tempted this week to try and preach on all six things that Jesus says the Holy Spirit will do, but if I did that we might be here for a while. So, instead, I singled out one for us to focus on. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will, “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

As Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit here He uses a lot of court room language, legal language. The word “convict” starts us thinking that way. Our English translation here has Jesus calling the Holy Spirit the “Helper.” That translation doesn’t exactly get the right idea across. A better word to use here would be advocate. The Holy Spirit is our Advocate. Even that, however, doesn’t quite get the right meaning across in modern English. Instead, what Jesus really means here is that the Holy Spirit is something like a defense attorney, a lawyer who defends people in court. So, as we think about what the Holy Spirit does it would be helpful to imagine ourselves in a courtroom, God’s courtroom, in which we are about to be put on trial. God sits on His throne of judgement, we sit in the defendant’s chair, and the Holy Spirit, our defense attorney, sits beside us.

As you may know, one of the first things that happens in a court case is that the defendant enters a plea. Guilty of not guilty. Let’s imagine that things start the same way in God’s courtroom. We are asked to enter our plea. What are we going to say?

Our gut reaction is to say “Not Guilty.” It’s not because we really think that we haven’t done anything wrong, that we are truly, 100% innocent, but we don’t really think we are that bad either. Maybe we noticed the person who was on trial right before us. He or she seemed to be far worse than us. Compared to them, we think, we aren’t really all that bad. We certainly aren’t perfect, but who is?

Not only that, but in preparation for this day we have scribbled down a few notes for ourselves. Here, as we stand in God’s courtroom, we hold those little notes in our sweaty palms and cling to them for dear life. The first note is full of excuses, reasons why we did the things that we did and reasons why the mistakes weren’t really our fault. The second note is full of good things that we have done. The time we helped our sick neighbor, the time we spent volunteering, the money we gave to charity, the effort we put in to our jobs, the number of times we went to church, and on and on the list goes.

Armed with our lists and our comparison to others we are ready to enter our plea of not guilty. Before we can say a word, however, our defense attorney, the Holy Spirit, leans over to us and says, “Think carefully about this one. I would suggest that you plead guilty.”

A feeling of horror sweeps through our body. We get that sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach. This defense attorney was supposed to be one our side! What in the world is He doing? If we plead guilty we will be found guilty and punished accordingly! What kind of defense attorney is this?

He keeps talking though. He says, “Think about it, have you really loved the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength? Haven’t you loved a lot of other things (especially yourself!) more than you love God?”

“I guess so,” we mutter in reply.

“And what about the Lord’s name? Have you really called upon it in EVERY trouble and prayed, praised, and given thanks at EVERY opportunity?”

“Well, no,” we reply.

“Have you loved God’s Word and gladly heard it and read it every chance you get?” Again the answer’s no, but it’s not necessary to answer these question out loud anymore.

“What about your neighbor? Your list there says you did some nice things for him/her, but did you always love them and always care for them?” With that we are left speechless, terrified, and helpless. We drop those notes we were clinging to and any kind of comparison to someone else disappears from our mind. “I suggest you plead guilty,” our defense attorney says.

All that is left to say now is that terrifying word of truth. We have been convicted of sin. We finally enter our plea. “I plead guilty,” we say and we prepare to hear our sentence.

But all of a sudden our defense attorney springs into action. As far as we were concerned the trial was as good as over, what could be left to do? But for our defense attorney, the Holy Spirit, things are just getting started.

Our defense attorney stands up, approaches God’s throne, and says “I would like to present exhibit A, your honor.” With that He points across the courtroom to our Lord Jesus. Our Lord Jesus stands there, just as much a human being as any of us but, at the same time, so much more. He stands there as God in human flesh. He stands there the Son of God and the son of Mary. He stands there with flesh and blood like ours, but at the same time He is robed with the majesty of almighty God. His hands and side still bear the marks of the cross. The wounds are plain for all to see. The price He paid for the sin of mankind of full display. He doesn’t have any kind of list, no rap sheet of good works, but His reputation precedes Him. His perfect obedience to the Father actively fulfilling each and every one of the Laws demands, His obedience unto death, even death on a cross, is known to all who are in the room. His righteousness and holiness make our pathetic little list of “good works” look like rubbish. The notes we brought with us look pretty silly now as they lay there crumpled up on the floor.

“My client,” our defense attorney says, “has no righteousness of their own. You have heard them say so in their guilty plea. My client comes before you today trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for grace, mercy, forgiveness, salvation, and life.”

Then something truly remarkable happens. Our defense attorney turns back to us and faces us. He speaks to us. He says to us, “You see Him over there, the Son of God in human flesh with the name marks in His hands and the mark of the spear in His side, You see Him standing there in glory, His righteousness is yours. You have been baptized into His name and you are covered with His righteousness.”

With that our defense attorney retakes His seat beside us. As He sits down He says, “You are forgiven, go in peace.” And just like that we have been convicted concerning righteousness, the righteousness of Christ.

We sit there still, however, waiting for the other shoe to drop. We can’t help thinking that there has to be some catch, something has to still be coming, but nothing happens. He speaks to us again, “Really, you can go. Live. Love. Rejoice in this good news. There is no judgement or condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and you are in Him. Your guilt is taken away, your sin is covered. The devil and his angels, the prince of this world and his demons, they are judged and defeated, they are sentenced, not you. You go, you live in Christ.” We have been convicted concerning judgement. Satan is judged, not us. And with that it’s all over.

This is what the Holy Spirit does. He convicts us (and the world) concerning sin, righteousness and judgement. He shows us from God’s Word how in God’s courtroom we are hopelessly guilty. But He only shows us this so that He can show us the one who saves us. And while we still wonder if that good news could really be true He shows us the victory that our Saviour has won over the devil himself.

This court room scene happens time and time again, every single day as the Holy Spirit works in our lives through God’s Holy Word. As we read God’s Word and hear it He convicts us. He convicts us concerning sin showing us how we miss the mark living according to God’s Law. He convicts us concerning righteousness because we continue to cling to something good that we think exists inside of us. He points us to Christ and His righteousness making it clear that there is no other place where we can find real, solid hope. And finally He convicts us concerning judgement showing us time and time again that it is the devil, the prince of this world, who is judged, not us. For we are in Christ Jesus. He guides us into this glorious truth.

Thanks be to God that on Pentecost he poured out this Holy Spirit on all flesh that we might have this faith that clings to Christ. Thanks be to the Holy Spirit that He works this wondrous work in us! Amen.

No Partiality

Text: Acts 10:34-48

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Some lessons is life are hard to learn. There are some things that we seem to need to have repeatedly drilled into our head before they can really sink in and make an impact. If you were a fly on the wall at our house you would see this most clearly. “Don’t jump on the couch!” Those words are heard in our home once at least every couple of days. “Hands off your sister!” You’d hear that a lot too. “That’s too loud!” I say that pretty much every day. “Eat your supper/lunch/breakfast!” The list could just keep going. Parents teach, but kids aren’t necessarily listening or the words don’t really sink in and lessons need to be repeated again and again and again. I suppose the same was likely true when I was a kid, but I don’t remember it so clearly. Probably because I wasn’t listening…

We all have lessons that are hard for us to learn and God’s people are no exception. Our first reading from Acts 10 presents us with a story about a lesson that God’s people took time to learn and still need help remembering: God shows no partiality. Or, as the older English translations of the Bible put it, God is not a “respecter of persons.” In other words, God does is not partial to one kind of person or another. God does not judge things (people!) by the standards that we judge them. He is not impressed by the things that impress us. He is not impressed intelligence, wealth, strength, influence, stature, biological make-up, genealogy, or anything of the like. He shows no partiality. God’s people, from ancient times until now, have had a hard time learning this lesson.

If you read your way through the Bible you can see firsthand time and time again how people struggle to see that God shows no partiality. We could find many examples. For the sake of time, however, I would like to draw three examples to you attention this morning.

The first story comes from the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. Samuel was a prophet of God. He had been tasked with anointing the next king of Israel. Samuel had anointed Saul, Israel’s first king, but things had kind of fallen off the rails. Israel needed and new king and God was sending Samuel to anoint the new king.

God sent Samuel to Bethlehem and the house of Jesse to find that king. One of Jesse’s sons, God said, would be the next king. The problem was that Jesse had 8 sons and many of them looked like impressive candidates for the job. Samuel instructed Jesse to have each of the boys pass before him.

Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son, passed before Samuel first. As soon as Samuel laid eyes on him he was sure in his heart that this was the one. He was tall, handsome, and had a kingly look about him. But then God spoke up in Samuel’s ear, “This is not the one.” Again, when Abinadab, Jesse’s second oldest son passed by Samuel thought this must be the one. Again, he was wrong. And so it went with all of the first 7 sons of Jesse. “Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature,” the Lord said to Samuel, “for the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

As it turned out Jesse’s youngest son, David, whom Jesse hadn’t even bothered to fetch because surely he was too young and insignificant for such a calling, was the one. They called David in from the fields where he had been keeping the sheep and Samuel anointed him then and there the next king of Israel. Truly, God shows no partiality.

It would be easy for us to shake our heads at Samuel and wonder how he could be so blind to reality, but Samuel was no slouch, he wasn’t an idiot, he was a faithful and wise prophet of God, but even he needed a reminder. God shows no partiality.

Samuel isn’t the only one of God’s people (prophet or otherwise) to struggle with that idea, however. We, like the Samuel, can get caught up all too easily in outward appearances. We see successful people, powerful people, entertaining people, physically gifted people, charismatic people and we are drawn to them like moths to a flame. But God does not look at those things.

God tells Samuel that He looks at the heart. And when God looks at the heart of men what does He see? Without an exception He sees hearts that have turned away from Him. Hearts that have turned in on themselves. Hearts that love worldly things more than they love Him. Hearts that need Christ. Hearts that need the cross. Hearts that need His forgiveness. Each and every one. And to each of these hearts he reaches out with the same Good News that His Son died and rose again to save such wandering hearts.

Fast forward a thousand years from the time of Samuel and David and you find yourself in the time of Christ. He and His disciples are travelling up from Galilee to Jerusalem and all around them crowds are gathering. The crowds gather to hear Jesus teach and He gladly obliges. Again and again and again he stops along the way to teach them about the kingdom of God. The disciples become almost like bouncers keeping the ever-growing crowds at bay.

Then one day some parents decide that it would be nice to bring their children to see Jesus. A nice idea, we think, but the disciples don’t think so. They don’t hate children, but their master is too busy for children. He has real work to do. Look at all the people (fully grown people!) who need to be taught. Clearly, they think, this is not a time or place for children.

What does Jesus say? “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for to such belong the kingdom of God.” In other words, “God shows no partiality.”

Again, we could shake our fingers at those disciples and roll our eyes at their foolishness. How dare they send the cute little children away?!? Are they really that heartless?!? But in reality we do the same. We look at people and think some are more important than others. We prioritize some people ahead of others. What we don’t understand most of the time is that God does not do that. He shows no partiality.

Jesus is not more interested in adults than he is in children. Nor is he more interested in children that he is in adults. That is not what this is about. Instead, when Jesus looks out at the crowds as He is teaching them all he sees is children. They may be old, they may be young, they may be somewhere in between, but in His eyes they are all children. What kind of children are they? Lovely, obedient children? Well behaved children? Nope. Rebellious children. Wild children. Prodigal children. Jesus looks out at the crowd and at us and sees a crowd of children like the son in the parable of the prodigal son that Jesus tells in Luke 15. The son who takes his father’s inheritance and squanders it on wild living.

To these rebellious children Jesus speaks one and the same message: Return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. He preaches to them about their Father who waits with longing expectation for them to come home. Really, the Father isn’t even waiting He is rushing out to His rebellious children, to you and to me, to bring us home in His Kingdom. God shows no partiality. All are His children. All have rebelled and wandered. And all are forgiven in Christ.

Fast forward again, but not so far this time. Now, we get to our first reading today where Peter comes to discover firsthand that God truly shows no partiality. Jesus has already died on the cross and ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit has fallen on the disicples at Pentecost and the church is starting to grow and spread.

Peter, one of those disciples of Jesus on whom the Holy Spirit had fallen, was minding his own business one day when there was a knock at the door. Three men stood there. They had been sent by a man named Cornelius to fetch Peter and bring him. Cornelius was a Roman soldier, a centurion, an officer in charge of 100 men. He was not a Jew; he was a gentile. Peter was troubled by this. Should he go to the home of Cornelius? Is God’s Word in particular the good news about Jesus really for someone like that?

Peter had seen how the good news had gone out. It started in Jerusalem, spread out into the surrounding area of Judea, and had crossed over into Samaria where most Jews dared not go. Perhaps he had even heard about the Ethiopian who had been taught the faith and baptized by Philip in the wilderness. Peter knew in theory that the good news of Jesus was for everyone, but he struggled with what that really meant. He struggled to see how God could show no partiality at all.

God doesn’t leave it up to Peter to figure it out, He tells Peter to go and Peter goes. Peter arrives at the home of Cornelius and the place is full of people. Cornelius has brought together his friends and family to hear the good news about Jesus with him. Peter walks into the house and starts preaching. He preached about Jesus, He preached about how Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan and the Holy Spirit came down from heaven anointing Him as the Saviour. He preached about Jesus healing and casting out demons, thwarting the work of the devil on every side. He preached about how Jesus died and rose again. And he preached about the forgiveness of sins that is offered to all people in His name.

As he was preaching something amazing happened, the Holy Spirit falls on everyone in that house just as it had fallen on the disciples of Jesus at Pentecost. “Truly I understand,” Peter says, “that God shows not partiality.” Even to gentiles God has given the good news about Jesus. Even to Gentiles God has given His Holy Spirit. Even to you and me.

It’s a message that bears repeating. It’s a lesson that we too need to learn and take to heart. Truly, God shows no partiality. He sees each of us as we are, sinful rebellious children with wandering hearts, and He speaks the same word of love, mercy, and forgiveness through the cross to us.

You and I we are partial, we show partiality, and we favor one kind of people over another. Some people are just easier to get along with. Some people are just nicer than others. Some people are downright miserable and frustrating. We are partial to those we like. God does not see things that way.

May God give us eyes to see things the way He sees them, to see in each and every person around us a sinner, like us, for whom Christ died. May He give us eyes to see and hearts to love each of them as we love ourselves. May we abide in His love, the love that the Father has for the Son, the love that sent Him to lay down His life for us.

Thanks be to God for His love that knows no bounds, His forgiveness in the death and resurrection of Jesus that covers all people, and His Spirit which has been poured out for all. Thanks be to God in Jesus name. Amen.

Persistence, Pastors, and The Vine

Text: Acts 8:26-40

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Since Easter we have been reading through the book of Acts in our first reading each Sunday. I have made an effort to pay special attention to these readings in my own devotional time and have found them quite insightful and helpful for how we think of ourselves as the Christian Church. This week’s text would, however, seem to be an exception. It is a story about individuals, not churches. We meet an Ethiopian man and a man named Philip. This wouldn’t seem at first to be a story about the Church, but really it is. I want to dive into that a bit by looking at these individuals, the characters we meet in the story, and pondering them a bit. We’ll start with the Ethiopian.

What stands out to me about this Ethiopian is his persistence. By persistence here I don’t mean that he keeps on trying knowing that someday he will achieve his goal. When I was in grade school the school I attended made it their goal to ingrain certain “habits of mind” into us. One of them was persistence. The kind of persistence that you find in the story of the little engine that could, keep trying and you’ll get it eventually. That is NOT the kind of persistence that I see here in the Ethiopian man in our text.

No, this man is persistent in a different way. He is persistent in seeking the Lord where the Lord is too be found. Again, I need to clarify what I mean. I don’t mean that he is seeking the Lord by doing some soul searching, by staring up into the heavens, or by meditation of something. This man seeks the Lord in the places that the Lord has promised to be.

For the Old Testament people of God the Lord had promised to be in two places: in His Word and in His temple. As we meet him in our text today this Ethiopian man is coming home from Jerusalem where he had gone to worship the Lord in the temple. Luke (the writer of Acts) does not tell us here what that trip to Jerusalem was like, but we can infer a few things. First, it was a long trip. It is no short jaunt from Ethiopia to Jerusalem. Yet this man persist in going. Secondly, because this man is an Ethiopian and not an Israelite he would not be permitted to enter the temple in Jerusalem. There was an outer court for gentiles like him; that is as far as he would be allowed to go. He may have not even been allowed in that outer court, however, because he was a eunuch, a castrated man. Such men were not permitted to worship with the assembly of the people of Israel at all. And yet, he persist. Knowing full well the obstacles that awaited him there he went up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. His persistence is admirable.

Even on his ride home from Jerusalem his persistence in seeking the Lord where the Lord is to be found shows through. He is reading as he travels home. He is reading God’s Word, the other place the Lord has promised to be. In particular he is reading the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. There’s only one problem. He does not understand what he is reading. The meaning is beyond him, over his head. Now, anyone who has ever tried to read the Bible knows the feeling. It is a complicated bit of writing and the meaning is not always clear. The amazing thing here is that this Ethiopian man does not roll up the scroll and put it away. He keeps reading. He persists in seeking the Lord in His Word even if the Word is difficult to understand. Again, he persists.

This man’s persistence is incredible and in many ways it puts us to shame. Like he did for His Old Testament people God has promised to be found by us in certain places. He has promised to be found in His Word and in His Sacraments (Baptism and Communion). We face far fewer obstacles, there is far less that stands in our way as we seek the Lord in those places, but so often our efforts are thwarted, we give up, and our persistence dwindles.

I was struck by this in my own life this week. Every morning I try to do devotions with Scripture readings and prays. Most days I do succeed, but I tell you some days it is a struggle. Some days I open up my devotional book to read the Scripture readings and it feels like such a chore. Some days there are things that need to get done that seem to be more important or time sensitive so devotional time gets shelved. Other times I just don’t feel like it right now so prayers get put off until later and eventually get forgotten.

By comparison, the Ethiopians persistence is incredible. He persists going up to Jerusalem despite the barriers. He persist in worshiping even with limitations. And even as he rides home he persists in reading the Scriptures even though he does not really understand exactly what they mean. He keeps reading. His persistence is admirable. May the Lord grant us persistence, the persistence to seek Him in His Word and Sacraments, each day!

That brings us in this story from our text to Philip. I think of the Ethiopian man as representing the people (all the people!) in God’s church and Philip represents the pastors.

Philip wasn’t, strictly speaking, a pastor. He was a deacon or servant in the church. He had been given the task of caring for the physical, bodily needs of the poor people and widows in the church in Jerusalem. Violence and persecution had broken out, however, against the Christians in Jerusalem and Philip and others were forced to flee the city. As Philip fled he became an evangelist, a missionary, bringing the good news about Jesus to every town, village, and home he encountered. Then one day the Holy Spirit sent Philip out to that road between Jerusalem and Gaza in the middle of the wilderness where he encountered the persistent Ethiopian eunuch reading the Scriptures he did not understand.

I love Philip because in him I see what it means to be a pastor. He comes alongside that Ethiopian and opens up the Scriptures to him. He takes that man who is struggling to understand the meaning of that one text into the depths of Scripture and shows him how all of it, every last word, is really about the crucified and risen Jesus. Jesus is the lamb that was led to the slaughter. He is the sheep that before its shearers was silent. He is the one who died and rose again to forgive, heal, and save. Philip draws out this good news about Jesus for the Ethiopian.

It is worth noting that the Ethiopian does not hesitate to ask Philip about these things either. He does not worry that Philip is too busy or has somewhere else to be. He doesn’t worry that he might be bothering Philip or disturbing him. He just asks his question and Philip is more than happy to explain, share, and teach. The same is true of your pastor.

That brings us to the third character we need to consider in this story. He is only named once and does not speak any words, but the whole story is about him.

After what was probably hours and hours of riding along in that chariot and talking back and forth about the Scriptures, Philip and the Ethiopian come upon a body of water. It might have been a stream, a creek, a slough, or maybe even a river or lake, but whatever it was it sparked a question in the mind of that Ethiopian. “What prevents me from being baptized?” he asks. As Philip explained how the Scriptures were all about Jesus he undoubtedly also mentioned that Jesus had given his disciples the command to “make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and that through this baptism Jesus the vine unites us, the branches to Himself. Seeing the water the Ethiopian desires this baptism above all.

His question, however, betrays his feelings about how things went in Jerusalem. “What prevents me?” he asks. It’s almost like he is convinced already that something is going to get in the way, there must be some kind of barrier or obstacle here that will have to be overcome or persisted through. But there is nothing. Philip, as far as we can tell, does not even answer the question. The two of them get down out of the chariot, go down into the water, and Philip baptizes him right then and there. What prevents him? Nothing. Why? Because Christ Jesus, thought His death and resurrection, has taken away everything that would separate us from Him grafting us as branches into Himself.

All who are baptized into Christ have this deep union with Him. His life flows through them, through us. We, the branches, live in Him and He lives in us. The barriers, the obstacles, the sin, our deficiencies, shortcomings, and failures are all overcome. Christ comes to us, abides in us, and causes us to abide in Him.

There is much to take out of this little story from Acts 8, but in conclusion I think we have two things to be thankful for and one thing to pray about rising from this story. First, thanks be to God that we have been joined to Christ like this. Philip probably never imagined that someone like this Ethiopian man would be joined to Christ. For Philip Ethiopia probably seemed like the farthest place he could imagine. He certainly never would have imagined a placed called North America were we live today. But as the Ethiopian was joined through baptism into Christ so have we been joined.

Secondly, thanks be to God for people like Philip who open the Scriptures to us that we might read and understand them better. Thanks be to God that we may see Jesus so clearly in those words!

Finally, we ought to pray that we might have the persistence of that Ethiopian man to draw near to the Lord in the places where He promises to be found, His Word and Sacraments. Lord, grant us this persistence for Jesus sake! In Jesus name, Amen.