Pentecost Sunday 5-28-23
What Does Pentecost Mean?
How many times have you had a conversation with someone where they were talking extensively about things that you didn't understand? But then, when you realized you didn't grasp the core concepts of what was being discussed, you felt too embarrassed to ask. There are a few ways out of that situation. Maybe you keep listening, hoping that you'll catch on. Maybe, if it's not work- or family-critical, you hope it won't be something that comes up again after this. Or maybe, you swallow your pride and ask the questions you should have asked, "Ok, before we go on, could we back up to what you said before? What does that mean?"
That's a solid Lutheran question. Those of you who went through Luther's Small Catechism as children or adults will remember that repeated question, "What does this mean?" It accompanies each of the Ten Commandments, each of the parts of the Lord's Prayer, each article of the Apostles' Creed, and so forth. Luther's goal in writing those short explanations to those sections of Scripture or of the Christian church's confessions is to make sure that we didn't miss the core concepts of the faith. He hoped that we wouldn't just nod along, oblivious to the true meaning of God's Word, but dig in to understand what God has said and promised on a fundamental level.
Of course, Martin Luther was not the first person to ask that question. We have it here on Pentecost, some 1500 years before Luther worked. The people gathered around the apostles that day and saw and heard some dumbfounding things. The sound of a wind blowing with no actual wind, tongues of fire over the apostles' heads, and these mostly uneducated men speaking in many different world languages that they had never studied. So many asked the question everyone there was thinking, "What does this mean?"
"Pentecost" is the Greek word for fifty. It was a Greek name for the Feast of Weeks outlined in the Old Testament because that festival occurred fifty days after Passover. This Jewish festival was one where they spent time thanking God for the early harvest that had just come in.
The account before is not the one and only Pentecost, but it is the first Christian Pentecost. This festival is why godly Jewish men from every nation under heaven were in Jerusalem. Undoubtedly there were more permanent residents of Jerusalem there to see and hear these things. Some people had come to this festival alone; perhaps others had come for Passover and stayed for Pentecost.
We don't know, but we do know that people from all over the world gathered in this one central location. But why do we observe this festival? Is it anything more than the birthday of the Christian church? As we see this account freshly again this morning, we're left asking, What does this mean?
Firstly, Pentecost means Jesus' work on earth is done; salvation is ours. Jesus is no longer preaching, teaching, and healing. He's finished his work. His work wrapped up at his resurrection. He had suffered and died to pay for the sins of all people, and his resurrection was the seal of victory, the assurance that the Father had accepted his sacrifice. He spent time proving his resurrection to his disciples so that there was no doubt of his victory. At his ascension, Jesus made it clear that he was passing the torch of his proclaiming work to his disciples. And Pentecost is the beginning of that work.
Pentecost also means Jesus' promises are trustworthy. As we consider the crowd gathered there on the first Christian Pentecost day, we can't help but remember what Jesus' directions were. We heard last weekend at his Ascension that Jesus told his disciples they would be his witnesses, "beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). Here it is. Here's the start—a crowd of people worldwide to hear the gospel message. The Holy Spirit allows the confusion of Babel to be undone, at least for a time. And as these people went to their homelands, some would undoubtedly share what they had heard from Peter and the others. This message would spread from Jerusalem to the surrounding regions and worldwide.
But there's an even more significant promise here. Jesus had told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to them. He would come to be their comforter, to remind them of everything that he had said, to speak through them the words God had for them to share. Here Jesus fulfills that promise too. The Holy Spirit transforms these men from nervous people hiding in locked rooms to boldly proclaiming the good news about Jesus to the world. The Holy Spirit turns Peter's impuls iveness into confidently sharing Jesus' forgiveness with all.
That, too, is what Pentecost means. Pentecost means that God wants others to know what he's done for them. It was never the point for God's free forgiveness in Jesus to be a secret, known only to a select few. It was never the point that only the disciples, or only the Jewish people, or only those living in the years that Jesus did his work would know the salvation God provides.
No, from the first promise in the Garden of Eden, God's work was always meant to be shared. For generations, the temple in Jerusalem stood as a beacon to all nations to come to hear God's Word from those to whom he had given it. Now, at this first Christian Pentecost, the focus shifts, and now instead of the temple being a beacon drawing people to the truth, we are to be the beacon for the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us. Christians are sent into the world to share this truth everywhere.
And this, then, is what brings us to today. For Pentecost's shift in direction is the reason that any of us are here, that any of us know anything about Jesus at all. Pentecost means that we can be confident of the Holy Spirit's power for us. We are here today because the Holy Spirit has worked faith in our hearts. That faith clings to Jesus as the certainty of our eternal life. The Holy Spirit makes us ever-confident that Jesus' work is completed, that Jesus' work is for the whole world, and that Jesus' work is even for us. Even if we feel all alone in the world around us, we are never alone. Our ascended Savior is ever with us, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom he promised and sent, is with us as well.
The Holy Spirit may not always come with outwardly impressive signs among us today. But that doesn't mean that he is silent or absent. He is active in our Bible classes as we gather around His Word to learn and grow in our faith. He is active in our worship, as God's Word is proclaimed to us and the sacraments are given to us. Here the Holy Spirit brings his comfort. Here the Holy Spirit reminds us of everything that Jesus has said and done for us
And just as the Holy Spirit was with Peter and the other apostles as they began this massively important work, so too he is with us today, as we live our lives to glorify him at the grocery store, as we invite someone to come to church with us, as we explain ever-so-briefly the core of our Christian faith to a curious coworker, Jesus is our Lord and Savior. He's there, working through us. As he uses us to point people to Jesus, the Holy Spirit's work means that the words Peter shared from the prophet Joel are true., "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
What does this mean? This whole scene at the first Christian Pentecost day, the whole of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, means one eternally important thing: we will be with our God and Savior forever! Thanks be to God! Amen. Come Holy Spirit. Stir us up, shake us up, and thrust us out of this building into the world of those who do not know of Jesus' work. Salvation can be yours.
Ascension Sunday series A 5-21-23
Majesty and Ministry
The story is told about the Ascension Day celebrations at a particular seminary. A special Ascension Day service was held, and the whole seminary in robes and regalia gathered for the big celebration. It was quite an event. The service ended and amidst clouds of incense, the assembly emerged from the chapel singing some great ascension hymn. Unknown to the worshippers, a somewhat creative student had found one a near life-size Christmas crèche figure - the hollow, plastic-painted kind - and stuffed it with skyrockets. As the procession marched into the courtyard, the student lit the fuse, sending the statue soaring up out of the shrubbery through a cloud of smoke and sparks. It buzzed over the scattering members of the procession, finally taking a nosedive onto the roof of a nearby building. There the ascension rocket sputtered and died. The head of the seminary was not impressed with the student's explanation that he was trying to dramatize his faith in the Ascension of Jesus.
While everyone certainly remembers that particular Ascension Day, the actual Ascension Day is hardly remembered. There is no memorable holiday to mark the occasion. There is no money to be made. For most of us, it was just another Thursday. We don't even talk about Jesus ascending to heaven very much because, as some have said, "Nothing in our world goes up except rockets, the cost of living, and taxes."
Believe it or not, Christ's Ascension to Heaven greatly influences our understanding of the Christian faith. St Augustine expressed his opinion about Ascension Day like this: "This is that festival which confirms the grace of all the festivals together … For unless the Savior had ascended into heaven, his Nativity would have come to nothing ... and his suffering and death would have born no fruit for us, and his most holy Resurrection would have been useless." In other words, Christ's Ascension is essential to the gospel message. Today I want to look at the Ascension from two points of view – the majesty and then the ministry of the ascended Jesus.
We read in Acts 1:9, "After saying this, he was taken up to heaven as they watched him, and a cloud hid him from their sight." The cloud that hid Jesus from their sight had nothing to do with that day's atmospheric conditions. This was no ordinary cloud; it signified the divine presence of God, for it was the same cloud that led the people of Israel in the wilderness, the same cloud that covered Mt Sinai, the same cloud that settled on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Jesus being lifted up into this cloud represents his exaltation to the highest place again as the eternal, transcendent God, one with the Trinity. He who "humbled himself and became obedient unto death" is now the exalted Lord of all." The Apostle Paul put it like this in Philippians 2:9-11: God gave Christ the highest place and honored his name above all others. So in the name of Jesus, everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. And to the glory of God the Father, everyone will openly agree, "Jesus Christ is Lord!"
The early Christians confessed, "Jesus is Lord." The Ascension points to his lordship, not only over suffering and death, but also over the nations, the principalities and powers that threaten both the present and the future and that includes the power of Satan. The Book of Revelation gives us a picture of the majesty of the Son of God. The image is of the Son of God, who is high and lifted, sitting on a throne with angels bowing before him in constant Praise. We read: "Then I heard all beings in heaven and on the earth, under the earth, and in the sea offer praise. Together, all of them were saying, "Praise, honor, glory, and strength forever and ever to the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!"
Jesus has all power and authority, just as we confess in the Apostles' Creed, "He ascended to heaven and sits the right hand of God the Father almighty"? Saint Paul talks about Christ sitting at God's right hand when he says in Ephesians 1:21-23, "Christ rules over all forces, authorities, powers, and rulers. He rules over all beings in this world and will also rule in the future. God has put all things under the power of Christ, and for the good of the church, he has made him the head of everything. The Christia church is Christ's body and is filled with Christ, who completely fills everything."
Jesus Christ has no rival to his power in this world or the spirit world. He is eternally triumphant, and he will reign forever more! His power far exceeds that of Satan or death. No matter what problems we face, Jesus rules with power. When our prayers contain the seeming impossibility, nothing is beyond his power.
That leads me to my second point – the ministry of Jesus. There is little point in having a holy and majestic God if he doesn't touch our lives in some way. As Jesus was ascending to heaven, we are told by Luke that "he raised his hands and blessed the disciples. I don't think we hear of Jesus raising his arms in blessing at any other time, so this is a very significant action. He had just told the disciples that they were to be his witnesses of the things they had seen and heard. He was telling them and us how important it is to reach out to those who do not yet know about the Saviour of the world. I'm sure he knew just how difficult this task was going to be. Matthew records the last words of Jesus, and perhaps this was the blessing that Luke is referring to – "I will be with you always, to the end of the age."
We may not be able to see him with our eyes, but his presence is still with us. When it seems that life has caved in around us – failing finances, the fear of world disasters, the threat of disease and death, guilt that never seems to go away, relationships with others that don't get any better – the presence of Jesus is never far away. When it seems that we will never overcome our temptations, that sin is always getting the upper hand in our life, Jesus is never far away with his grace and forgiveness and grace.
When it seems that all there is in the future is gloom, hopelessness, worry, and death, Jesus reminds us – I am with you always.
He is ready to help when we turn to him with sighs and cries of hopelessness. He is ready to use his power to answer our prayers. He even prays for us before the throne of God. It's great to know when people are praying for us, but when we are told that Jesus is praying for us, that's entirely something else. The Ascension assures us that our future is secure in the hands of the Lord of all, for Jesus raises his hands of blessing over us.
When the disciples gazed up into the sky to catch a final glimpse of Jesus, two angels told them, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." There is an important lesson for us in those words. We are not to live focusing on Jesus' return. We, like the disciples are to be active in our Christian life, for Jesus Jesus doesn't just minister to us – he ministers to others through us.
How will others get to know of God's saving grace and the power and the love of Christ available to them if not through us? Through us, his disciples Jesus brings comfort to the sick and the dying; he gives friendship to the lonely and the stranger. Through us, he comes into the hearts of others when we grasp opportunities that arise in our daily dealings with others to share what it means to know Christ and the comfort that comes from knowing that he is near and ready to help in times of need.
We live in the time between the Ascension and Jesus' return. As we wait for God's Kingdom to come when Christ returns, we have been tasked with carrying on Christ's ministry right here in Emporia, for he has promised his help and presence as we live in this age before his Second Coming. Let's get on with it and live for Jesus carrying out the task, the ministry, he has given us to do. Amen.
6th Sunday of Easter
6th Sunday of Easter
Title: You are a Keeper.
Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Ascension of Jesus to the side of God the Father. The Ascension of Jesus has almost become a forgotten holy day which is a shame, for it is in Jesus' ascension that we truly learn of the reason for the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Today's Gospel, though, gives us a little preview of Pentecost.
Have you ever heard someone say, "Talk is cheap"? It's easy to say you love someone. It's easy to say, "I will stay faithful to you until death parts us." And it is really easy to say, "I love God." It is easy to say those things, but much harder to live them.
Talk is cheap. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it. And according to today's Gospel, Jesus knows it. He doesn't say, "If you love me, then say so," but he says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." And a little further in our reading, "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."
That puts us in an awkward spot, to say the least. For we know deep down that even though we have a good shot at outwardly keeping God's Commandments, we fail miserably at keeping them in our thoughts. It leaves us in a dilemma. What are we to make of his command, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." and "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."?
It is very easy to misunderstand these two verses because they don't translate as well as they could in English. According to the oldest Greek Bibles, there are two separate words for the "keeping" of the Ten Commandments, as in the Old Testament, and the "keeping" of Jesus' commandments in the New Testament.
The keeping of Jesus' commandments is not a New Testament rehashing of the Old Testament Mosaic Law. The New Testament itself warns against this in Galatians 3:10, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." This is New Testament writing. Cursed are those who do not do everything written in the book of the Law. No wiggle room there. Then to what is Jesus referring by the word "keep"? The Word used here is not the Word for keeping the law, but a word that describes keeping a treasure. It's not "keep" in the sense of going down a checklist of dos and don'ts, but "keep" as in taking care of something very important.
Here is a little illustration to show you what I mean. When a Christian couple gets married, they make vows to love each other. They carry a sign of their love by wearing wedding bands. They honor each other when they are together and when they are apart. At the same time, no Christian husband or wife, at least, shouldn't expect the perfect fulfillment of what they expect the other to maintain. Instead, there is constant forgiveness in the marriage and striving daily to do one's best for the other.
That is the picture Jesus is describing in our text. Because you love him, you really do strive to honor him. His "commandments" are the living out of his gifts of Word, worship, and your neighbor. When you love him, you will take care of these things and keep them with the highest care and devotion.
The problem that arises as we strive to honor Christ in keeping his commandments, is that on account of our sins, we fall short of keeping God's gifts to us, as we wish to do. We neglect devotion to His Word, which is supposed to be the lamp for our feet and the light for our path. We do not always hunger and thirst for his body and blood in His Supper as we ought to. We do not love our neighbor as we should.
This is a terrible offense because in whatever way you neglect your neighbor, you neglect Jesus Christ, for he tells us in Matthew 25:35 and 36, "For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me." And we all know how often we don't do those things, don't we?
Thank God that Jesus knows that the only way we can even begin to keep his gifts holy and sacred is if we receive help outside of ourselves, so he promises that he will send another helper, another advocate, the Holy Spirit who acts on his behalf.
What does this mean for us who are living long after the promise of the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples? Besides the Holy Spirit's main function which is to give faith, he is like a public defender. He helps us with our weaknesses. He does this by bringing into our memory the words of Jesus, bearing witness to Jesus, and taking what Jesus is and showing it to us. He helps us by giving us the true knowledge of God and by remaining alongside us and in us. Think of it this way. Imagine a courtroom in which you are the defendant. The prosecuting attorney is the devil. He has brought before the court a whole list of serious crimes you have committed. You are guilty of each and every one of them. You don't want to admit to it, but you are guilty.
You need the best attorney there is, which naturally is the Holy Spirit. He makes his appeal directly to God the Father, who is sitting in the seat of judgment. Your attorney, the Holy Spirit, calls on Jesus the perfect Son of God who, while standing before God the Father with his nail-pierced hands tells God the Father that you are not guilty, not because you have not committed sin, but because he has already taken your punishment. Just who do you think will win the case; Satan or the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit of course! But he does even more, for when you have him in you; that is on your side you have Christ in you. To have Christ is to have victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil in this lifetime! Having Christ, then, is to live in faith, as Luther has described it: "From this you must learn, as the disciples did that day, to know of and think of life alone.
But it does not even stop there, for when you have Christ in you, you also have the Father. For Christ, while being one of the persons of the Trinity, is God. He is in you now, even though you are not completely obeying his commandments, for in your baptism you were sealed forever with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection.
But you say, "How do I know that?" You know because Christ manifests himself to you through love, your loving of God, and your loving of neighbor. For you see, your loving is not something you do on your own, your loving is always a result of his loving you first, and his love for you gives you life.
Jesus didn't just say that he loved you, that he was going to point you to the truth, or that he would show you the way, so you can find life. As we learned last week, he loves you because he is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. There is no other Way, Truth, or Life
He keeps you from being destroyed by sin when he died for you, he keeps you from being destroyed by death when he rose for you, and he keeps you alive today in His Word and in His Spirit. As a result, you now love him and keep his Word. Amen.
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Fifth Sunday of Easter
"People of The Way"
Having a GPS on your phone is a wonderful tool when it is working correctly. But sometimes, it gives terrible directions. I once typed in the address of a person I needed to visit. The GPS thought for a minute, and then it opened a map. It even put a little pin on the map to show me the final destination
I took off, faithfully following the GPS directions. When It said I had arrived, I knew there was a problem, for I was in front of a family cemetery. So, I called the person I was going to visit, and they informed me that this had happened to people visiting them before. The map software had lousy information. He told me I was close. He then gave me the correct directions, and it was not long before I pulled up in front of his home. I learned a valuable lesson that day. While GPS directions are great, it is best to get directions from someone who has been there!
And so we come to today's gospel reading where Jesus says to his disciples in those familiar words, words so often used as we celebrate the lives of those who had gone to be with God, the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples on the evening before he is nailed to the cross: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; also trust in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."
Thomas replies, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Thomas's confusion about knowing where Jesus was going is not one we share with him or the other disciples at this point, for we know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say. But the question of knowing the way to heaven remains unanswered by many.
There are so many teachings by hundreds of different religions, books, and magazines telling you how you can get to heaven. Each one gives you specific directions on how a person gets to heaven. But if we really want to know, we need to listen to someone who has been there.
And that person is Jesus. In today's reading, Jesus answers the question Thomas asks: "How can we know the way," with these words: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." If we want to find the way to heaven, we only need to look to Jesus because he is the only way!
As Jesus says to his disciples: "If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well." Again, he says: "The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, the Father, living in me, is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves."
One day, a student of Karl Barth, easily one of the most famous theologians of the 20th Century, asked a question that has probably crossed your mind from time to time: "Sir," said the student, "Don't you think that God has revealed himself in other religions and not only in Christianity?"
Barth's answer stunned the crowd. It will probably stun you, also. He answered, "No, God has not revealed himself in any religion, including Christianity. He has revealed himself in his Son." That is the challenge and the scandal of our faith. That is Jesus's great claim- and the stumbling block for many people.
We are not called to believe in a religion or follow a particular religion's teachings. We are called to believe in a person, a living person, a person who claims to not only speak for God - but to be God. Think of some of Jesus' claims made in today's gospel reading by Jesus:
He tells his disciples, "I am in the Father, and the Father is in me."
He tells them, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."
and he tells them, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."
There is something unique about Jesus: no earthly prophet, priest, or teacher can truthfully claim, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me." Many Christians spend a lot of time apologizing for that statement by Jesus. They assure all their friends - their family - and those who have no religion, as well as those following the prophets of other religions, that God is loving and kind and that all that is important is that we love one another.
And while it is true that God is loving and kind and that it is of utmost importance that we love one another, we should never apologize for Jesus and what he said. We are called to do as those who believe in Jesus, "He is Lord," despite the risks involved. We are to testify to others about the joy, hope, love, and peace we have found in him.
Listen again to some of the words that Peter wrote to the churches in Asia Minor - and to us today: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
My brothers and sisters in the Lord, I know that many of you understand and have experienced within your lives the mercy of God -that mercy that has brought you from a sense of alienation and loneliness and guilt to a new life - a new life in which you feel connected to God and a part of his great family - a family different from all other families because it is a family dedicated not only to doing good rather than harm but to receiving and sharing with all the bread of heaven to earth come down - the Living Christ - he who is our strength and our shield - our joy and our hope.
As People of the Way - as men and women who are priests or bridges between God and the rest of the human family - as God's own people - chosen for eternity by God himself - we are called to connect people to the Lord – to bring them, maybe, to the way that we have found.
We do that - not by apologizing to them about how Jesus claimed to be the Son of the Most High God - and the way, the truth, and life but by proclaiming in our own words and by our deeds the mighty acts of the one who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
We do it by speaking the acts that he has done within our lives; the prayers answered, the teachings that we were given, especially those we received which we did not seek or want, the strength beyond ourselves that had sustained us when we were all done in, the little miracles, the often unexpected miracles, that happen that bring ever new light and hope and peace into our lives and the lives of others.
Our experience with Jesus is an experience that is meant to be shared, not hidden for fear that we might somehow be offending others or that we might somehow be judging others. We are to testify as to who he is and what he has done, with no apologies, no attempt to say what God will or not do to them if they refuse to listen to us, and with no judgment upon those who refuse to accept our testimony. We are called to pray for others and for all humankind through Him who is the Way - the Truth - and The Life. Amen
Rev. Dennis Rhoads
Vacancy pastor. LCMS