Pentecost – "The Work of the Holy Spirit" – Acts 2:2-21 – 6/9/19


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mosaic-pentecost1-1024x623The Festival of Pentecost was originally one of the two ‘harvest festivals’ established by Moses to serve as a benchmark for the people of God to give thanks for His provision and care for their physical bodies with food.

The “Festival of the First Fruits” marked the beginning of the harvest. On the day that the first swing of the Sycle cut down the first bunch of wheat or barley, the people of God stopped to give thanks for the harvest.

Then, they went about bringing in the sheaves until the barns were full and the harvest was complete. They counted 50 days from the “Festival of First Fruits” which was about the time it took to complete the harvest before John Deere. On the 50th day from ‘Firstfruits’ the people of God gave thanks to God for the harvest in festival called “Pentecost,” “Pente” meaning fifty.

God’s people are people who give thanks to God for their daily bread. The festival of “Pentecost” was one of several commemorations that ‘defined’ the people of God, so much so that Moses commanded that every able bodied male was required to celebrate Pentecost at the Temple.

So when we hear that “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men FROM EVERY NATION…” we know why they’re there.

But on this particular Day of Pentecost, it was a different kind of crop and a different kind of harvest that was to be celebrated in a celebration that continues to this very day and that continues to define the people of God.

On Good Friday, the crucified body of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was taken down from the cross and buried. And three days later, He arose. And Easter is the celebration of the ‘FIRST FRUITS.’ And then 50 days from Easter comes the Day of Pentecost when the people of God celebrate the harvest that follows the FIRST FRUITS, which is still in process, even has we have witnessed together here this morning in the baptism of William Seliga.

There are two important aspects about the New Testament, Day of Pentecost and the work of the Holy Spirit that I would like to hold up to you today. Both of these aspects of Pentecost have to do with ‘transformations.’ And both are absolutely critical to the harvest of men and women, boys and girls, who are continually brought into the holy barn of the church until the Last Day comes and the Lord announces that the harvest is complete.

Apart from both of these ‘transformations’ which the Holy Spirit works and there would be no harvest at all. There would be the death and burial of Christ and the resurrection of Christ, but even this would produce no harvest apart from the work of the Holy Spirit Continue reading

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Ascension – "Our Humanity In Heaven" – Luke 24:50-52 – 6/2/19

The biblical texts for our consideration today are those appointed for ‘The Ascension of Our Lord,’ and we’ll read them as we go.

It’s a circuitous route our Lord travels in His mission to redeem the world. He who, from eternity, sat at the right hand of God the Father, came down from heaven and became man, and died on the cross, and rose again on the third day, and 40 days later, He went up into heaven to resume the position that always was, always is, and always will, be His.

Or as our Lord He Himself put it, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” (John 16:28).

All of this He has done out of perfect obedience to His Father, to glorify His Father, and to redeem you and me and His whole creation. It had to be an ‘inside job.’ No ‘waiving magic wands’ and ‘magical incantations’ would do. But there was clearly no ‘insider’ either able or worthy of getting the job done.

So God sent His only-begotten and dearly beloved Son to be the ‘consummate insider.’ He DID NOT come down to dwell among us like an angel or a spirit-being. He went much further than that. He became one of us. He took on our humanity. Our very vulnerable and so easily wounded and battered and bruised humanity.

And sure enough, He was vulnerable to the point of being susceptible to all of the wounding and battering and bruising that we endure. He was vulnerable to the point of death, even death on a cross.

But then, He showed us who He REALLY is. He rose from the dead. That is something that we humans cannot do. Only God can raise the dead and only God can raise Himself from the dead. He who became one of us turns out to have been God all along.

And now, he has ascended into heaven. The final piece of evidence that reveals His true identity. He is the 2nd Person of the Triune Godhead who is eternally the One True God. He came down from heaven and became man and then He ascended into heaven. Continue reading

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Easter 6 – "Praying to the Father" – John 16:23-33 – 5/26/19


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“Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”
We dare not forget that Easter has happened. We dare not forget that the victory has been won.
Easter is not a 50 day season and then it’s over. Easter is the beginning of a whole, new, permanent reality. For Christ has “reconciled all things to God, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col. 1:20)

As for you, He has “canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. Setting it aside by nailing it to the cross, in His own body.” (Col. 2:14)

As for this fallen world, He has “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.” (Col. 2:15)

As for Satan, He has “crushed the head of “Your adversary the devil, who prowls who around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:9)

We dare not forget that Easter has happened. “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

But we do forget, don’t we? I KNOW that we forget that Easter happened because we worry and we’re afraid and we’re such cowards and we are so easily intimidated and we say, “what is this world coming to” AS IF we didn’t know, AS IF Easter had never happened, AS IF the victory had not already been won.

But if we only remembered that Easter has happened and that “even the gates of hell cannot prevail against us,” we would be so fearless and so courageous and so brave and so bold that nothing could shake us or cause us to worry or to doubt or despair. Continue reading

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Easter 5 – "A Little While" – John 16:16-22 – 5/19/19


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The text we want to carefully consider today is our Gospel reading from St. John’s 16th chapter.

The setting is the Upper Room in Jerusalem where the Lord is gathered with His apostles for the annual Passover Meal. This is now the third time they have celebrated the Passover together since He called them saying, “come, follow Me.” This Seder will not go as the other two had gone however. The previous two would have progressed in the customary pattern that they had all grown up with in their good, Jewish homes.

But this Passover meal began with Jesus humbling himself and washing their feet and commanding them to be just as eager and willing to humble themselves and be the servant to each other.

At the meal itself, the Lord would replace the normal and expected explanation of the meaning of the foods that were eaten with the strange and mysterious explanation that the bread is His body and the wine is His blood.

And then after the meal was finished, the Lord led a rather lengthy discourse to prepare them for what was about to take place, before departing for the Garden of Gethsemane. All of this is recorded in chapters 13 through 17 of John’s Gospel, which is to say that almost 25% percent of John’s gospel is devoted to this Passover in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Which tells us just how important what took place there is.

Today, our attention is focused on a small portion of our Lord’s discourse which begins with His telling His disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” Continue reading

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Easter 4 – "The Other Side of the Curtain" – Rev. 7:9-17 – 5/12/19


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curtainThe text for our consideration is the Epistle reading from Revelation 7 which we hear every year on All Saints Sunday and also every third year on Good Shepherd Sunday in which we are given one of those peaks behind the curtain into heaven.

Just think about the fetus in his mother’s womb who thinks that this small world in which they live and have gotten quite comfortable is all that there is. And yet, as science shown us, there is a point when the fetus in the womb is able to hear voices coming from somewhere outside the womb. And soon they even begin to recognize those voices. There is something outside of this small world in which they are getting more and more cramped for space. But what is it and what’s it like? And what would it be like to actually leave this ‘small’ world and enter into ‘that’ world?

These are the thoughts that flow from Luther, who is quoted as saying, “we know no more about eternal life than children in the womb of their mother know about the world they are about to enter.” Continue reading

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Easter 3 – "Tying Up Loose Ends" – John 21:1-19 – 5/5/19


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Loose-Ends-2John's gospel is a bit like some of those movies based on actual history where, after the movie is over and the credits are rolling, the story continues. Actual photos of the people and the places that were portrayed in the movie come onto the screen and some biographical information about what they went on to do with their life appears.

John concluded his gospel at the end of chapter 20. Easter happened, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia.” There's a loose end that needs to be tied up with one of the Apostles. Thomas’ doubts will not allow him to believe and that needs to be dealt with.

When Jesus shows up again and gives Thomas the proof he demanded, and Thomas declares, “my Lord and my God,” it's 'end of the story.' “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

But it's never end of the story with Jesus. It’s important that you understand that the war has been won and the victory has been secured. But there’s still ‘loose ends’ that need to be tied up – those who have their doubts, and those who have their questions, and those who have their objections, and those who wonder 'now what.' Continue reading

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Easter 2 – Easter Perfected in You – John 20:19-29 – 4/28/19


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450px-Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_ThomasThe sanctuary that was full on Easter Sunday is not as full today. I wonder why? I know families who never go to church but who had family over last Sunday for Easter dinner. I wonder why?

Then again, there were lots of people in church on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, whose blood was mingled with the blood of Jesus. They didn’t go to church on Easter expecting to be martyred for their faith. But they were. And everything that we proclaim and sing on Easter was PERFECTED in them during their worship last Sunday.

And there are many, many Christians on this planet who REGULARLY bear witness to the power of God who raises the dead, by going to church, knowing that it could very well result in death.

But that’s what Easter is all about isn’t it? Easter is the declaration of FREEDOM FROM THE FEAR OF DEATH, because Jesus Christ has conquered death by dying and rising again. And He says, ‘I did this for you,’ and ‘you’re coming with Me.’ ‘So, don’t be afraid. What can this world do to you now that I have overcome the world?”

Easter and Good Friday are inseparable from each other. There is no Easter unless Christ has died. And if Christ has died and there is no Easter, then there’s no reason to be here because there’s nothing left to say. But Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia.

So I hope you realize that if you mean what you say when you say that, you mean that if someone were to come into this sanctuary today, right now, and blow it up, it would be Easter PERFECTED in you. And let’s hope it doesn’t happen that way. But it will happen in some way or another, even it’s to lie down and fall asleep and wake up in heaven. But however it happens, it’s Easter PERFECTED in you. Continue reading

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Easter – "By His Wounds We Are Healed" – Isaiah 53:4-5 – 4/21/19


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The text for our consideration on the Easter Sunday is from the prophet Isaiah, the 53rd chapter, verses 4-5, which reads, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds we are healed.”

30064-ThornFlesh.1200w.tnThat may seem like a strange choice of words to declare to you on this Easter Sunday. “Stricken, smitten and afflicted” is for Good Friday. This is Easter and we’re ready to leave the dark and gloomy days of Holy Week and move on to the new and more glorious day of Easter, when the whole church on earth and in heaven celebrates the greatest victory the world has ever known.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Everyone loves to be a part of a good ‘celebration.’ And some know why they’re here and what the celebration is all about. And some are just crashing the party. And some are only here because they have to be but would rather be somewhere else.

And some are wounded. And you know there are lots of different ways people get wounded. And a lot of folks who have been wounded in more ways than one will tell you that the physical wounds are really the lightest and easiest to deal with. It’s the forsaken love, and the betrayed friendship, and the abused trust, and the stolen dignity, that all cuts a much deeper and more painful wound.

Lifelong promises of fidelity for better, for worse, for richer or poorer are broken every day. Drugs and alcohol turn happy families with bright futures into living nightmares. Reputations are hacked and slandered and dignity is shredded. Babies are conceived and miscarried and sorrow is all in all. Countless are the ways in which we are wounded and countless are the wounds we all bear.

And maybe the wounded are wondering what all of this Easter celebration and rejoicing has to do with me? Maybe the wounded are wondering if all these people so joyfully singing their “Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia” have managed to escape the pain and loss that they have not?

Or are they all just crashing someone else’s party?

Or could it be that they are all just as wounded as I am but there is something in this Easter story that gives them reason to rejoice? Continue reading

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Maundy Thursday – "A Table In the Presence of Enemies" – Psalm 23:5-6


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Jesus_Christ_the_Good_Shepherd_Hand-Painted_Orthodox_Icon_1“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The care that this shepherd exercises for His dear sheep is unsurpassed. “He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.”

Whereas danger normally gives rise to fear, the sheep of his flock, those who listen to His voice and follow Him and not another, “fear not.” “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

And why is it that His sheep live in such a state of peace and security? Is it their self-confidence that in the face of danger they possess the cleverness or innovation or strength to overcome whatever 'evil' confronts them, even death? No.

Their confidence is not based on anything within the sheep themselves. It is based solely on the fact that when they look up, when they look out, they see their Shepherd. And the fact that He is “with them” assures them that they are safe and secure. “For you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

It is at this point in the 23rd Psalm, that David breaks from the pastoral picture of a shepherd and His sheep that he has painted, and that we have carefully looked into during this season of Lent. Truth is, we've known all along that David wasn't really talking about sheep and shepherds, but about the people whom the Lord has made His own, and how He provides for them and protects them. Continue reading

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Palm Sunday – 4/14/19 – "Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday" – Luke 19:28-30


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passionIt was a busy time for Jerusalem as the annual Passover feast was about to begin. Thousands of devout Jews from all over the world would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover there. In fact, many had already arrived. And in a day long before 'twitter' and 'facebook,' they heard unbelievable reports about Jesus of Nazareth. They were saying that Jesus of Nazareth had raised a man who had been dead for four days to life. The man’s name was Lazarus. He lived in the village of Bethany. And many went to Bethany to see Lazarus.

And just as when people from Jerusalem went into the desert to see John the Baptist and he pointed his finger at Jesus and said, ‘don’t look at me. Look at Him,’ so Lazarus must have done for those who came to see him. 'Don't look at me. Look at Him.'

It was after the Sabbath Day was over, which would have been Sunday, that Jesus made the two mile journey from Bethany to Jerusalem. And “as he was drawing near, already on the way down the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of His disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen.”

And in their enthusiasm, they take off their cloaks and laid them down in front of the donkey as though they were laying a 'red-carpet' for him. They waived their banners of palm branches overhead while shouting an extravagant welcome, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”

THIS IS PALM SUNDAY. Continue reading

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