30 April 2010

On Christ's Ascension I Now Build

In order to prepare us for celebrating our Lord's Ascension, this article will appear in the May edition of my congregation's newsletter, "The Hope Lutheran."

At Christmas celebrated God the Son coming down to us and taking on our human flesh and blood. In Lent and Holy Week we celebrated Jesus’ descent into suffering and death, humbling Himself further, to rescue us from sin and give us life with Him. On Easter Sunday, and for several Sundays since, we have celebrated His rising to life again and His victory over the grave.

On Thursday, May 13 we will celebrate Jesus' enthronement, His victorious reign, and our abundant life in Him as we celebrate The Ascension of Our Lord at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Jesus' exaltation began when He descended into hell and continued with His rising to life. But it did not stop there. Jesus' Ascension completes His Father's mission to accomplish our salvation.

Sad to say, though, Jesus' Ascension doesn't get as much attention as do Christmas or Easter. Perhaps it's because we celebrate it on a Thursday. Why a Thursday? In our hectic world we want a pretty good reason for adding yet one more thing to our frantic schedules. We're so frazzled from shuttling the kids to school and sports and juggling our own schedules that a Thursday evening is prime time for "vegging out" in front of the "boob tube."

Why celebrate Jesus' Ascension on a Thursday? Because it marks 40 days after Jesus' Resurrection. After He rose from the dead Jesus remained on earth 40 days (see Acts 1:3), teaching His apostles and others what His dying and rising meant (also read Luke 24 and John 20-21). Jesus had to put all the puzzle pieces together for His followers—what kind of Savior He is, what kind of life He gives through His Gospel and Sacraments, and how they were about to be sent out to teach others.

Another reason Ascension Day may not be a big deal is that we've lost its meaning. We may think that once we've celebrated Easter, we've finished the salvation story. But that's like leaving a baseball game at the seventh inning stretch! Your team may be ahead by one point on the scoreboard, but you haven't seen the exciting conclusion. Your favorite player may yet hit a grand slam to clinch the victory. To echo Paul Harvey, Jesus' Ascension gives us "the rest of the story."

On Christ’s Ascension…
The Formula of Concord says: "Now He has ascended to heaven, not merely as any other saint, but as the apostle testifies (Ephesians 4:10), above all heavens. He also truly fills all things being present everywhere, not only as God, but also as man." (FC, VIII, 27)

What does this mean?

First, Jesus' Ascension means that His work of saving all people is done. When Jesus died on the cross, He said, "It is finished." When He ascended into heaven, Jesus showed that everything for our salvation is accomplished. Our eternal life with God is a "done deal." Love came down at Christmas, accomplished forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation on the cross, rose victorious over death, and then returned to God the Father. Jesus finished His journey. Our life with God, now and into eternity, is safe and secure. What a comfort when doubts annoy, temptations assail, and sorrows come crashing in!

Second, Jesus' Ascension means that a perfect human being has entered heaven and sits at God's right hand. We can try all we want to get to heaven on our own steam, but we cannot get there. The people at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) tried to get up to heaven, but their pride was their downfall. We try to impress God with our good lives, but then our pride leads us to ruin too. No human being can enter God’s glorious presence and live. Until now! Jesus not only breaks the bonds of death, but He also opens the barrier between God and human beings. Our ascended Lord gives us the hope of entering God’s glorious, eternal presence.

Third, Jesus' Ascension means that He rules over all things. Without this step in Jesus' exaltation, we in the Church would wander through life aimless and scared. Terrorist attacks, political scandals, or economic bad news would lead us to despair. We would vainly try to create some kind of heaven on earth. Without Jesus' Ascension, we might think that we should mould and shape the Church like a wax nose—make it look and act differently with every passing fad of "popular" teaching.

But with Jesus' Ascension, we have peace. Jesus rules all things for the good of His Church. Everything from terrorist attacks to church struggles to personal tragedies takes on new meaning. Jesus uses everything—even the conflicts and wars, even our personal trials and stresses—to strengthen us in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another. Nothing is out of Jesus' gracious control. He works it all for the good of His people.

Faith comes by hearing…
How does this good, Biblical teaching of Jesus' Ascension help us in faith and life? Why is it important for the Church to hold on to Jesus' Ascension as one of its prime teachings?

First, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit for His followers. While Jesus goes away from physical sight, He does not leave His Church. He promises to be with her "in, with, and under" the work of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:26 Jesus says, "He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." In John 15:26, our Lord says, "When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me." Jesus promises the Holy Spirit who, in turn, keeps our focus on Him.

Then in Acts 1:9 we read, "When He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight." Notice: this key verse does not say that Jesus is gone! The great joy of the Ascension is that while Jesus may be out of sight, He is not out of mind, and He most certainly is not absent. He's still with His forgiven, precious people!

Here's an illustration. A mother and her six month-old baby are playing together on the living room floor. Mom has to get up and go into the kitchen. The baby looks around but doesn’t see Mom. She starts to fuss, fearing that she is alone. What does Mom do while she is in the kitchen? She speaks. She speaks so her baby can hear her: "It's alright, my dear. Mommy's still here." The baby is comforted. How? Not by the visible presence of Mom, but by hearing her voice.

That's what the Ascension of Jesus means for us Christians. A cloud hid Him from the disciples' sight, but He was not absent. Instead, Jesus comforts His disciples, then and now, with His voice. So Jesus' Ascension teaches us something very important: the Church does not live in the time of seeing, but in the time of hearing. Faithfully hearing the Word of God read, preached, and sung is the most important thing any Christian can do in life. As St. Paul says, "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

Based on this clear, comforting Ascension teaching from the Bible, we in the Church must, and can, trust our ears more than our eyes. Too often our eyes lead us astray. If pews look empty, we despair and don't trust Jesus' eternal care for His Church. If pews look full, we gloat and pat ourselves on the back for how we ingeniously brought people into "our" church. Instead of relying on our eyes—and the common, worldly standards of success and failure—our Lord calls us to rely on our ears.

After all, the more we hear the Gospel of Jesus' gifts of forgiveness and life, the more we are comforted and strengthened in faith. The more we hear the Gospel, the better equipped we are to give "a reason for the hope that is in [us]" (1 Peter 3:15).

Supposedly Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546) was once asked about a preacher who had distracting mannerisms in the pulpit. The upset church member complained to Dr. Luther, "I just can't watch him and get anything out of the sermon." Dr. Luther replied, "Well, then, take your eyeballs out of their sockets, put them in your ears, and listen!" Jesus' Ascension ushers us into the time of hearing God's Word. After all, hearing God's life-giving Word is the fountainhead of our life with God.

So, set aside Thursday, May 13 to attend the Divine Service. When Jesus ascends to God’s right hand, so do we. And Jesus promises to rule all things for the good of His body, the Church. As we sing in the Ascension Day hymn:

On Christ's ascension I now build
The hope of my ascension;
This hope alone has always stilled
All doubt and apprehension;
For where the Head is, there as well
I know His members are to dwell
When Christ will come and call them.
(Lutheran Service Book, 492:1)

25 April 2010

"Imagine There's No Global Warming"

Okay, I'll be bold and admit it: I never really have cared for that infamous song by John Lennon called "Imagine," especially due to the lines about imagining "no heaven" and "no religion," not to mention the completely God-less, humanistic message of the song.

However, here's a version that I rather enjoy. No, it's not by John Lennon, though it does use his tune. No, it doesn't tout the same anti-God, man-centered philosophy as the original, but it does give a message that we need to hear these days, especially on the heels of reports not long ago on the "cooked books" of global warming climatologists.

Perhaps it's best to remember that "The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein." (Ps. 24:1) Somehow God has seen us through the scares of global cooling and nuclear holocaust; something tells me that He's still tending His creation and won't allow us puny human beings foolishly to destroy it.

Homily for Easter 4-Jubilate

As we continue to celebrate our Lord's Resurrection and His victory over sin, death, and the devil, we rejoice in His gifts of mercy, life, and forgiveness. On this day the Church bids us to "Rejoice!" Today's homily was titled "The Joy of It All," and drew several themes from the great little book by Rev. Matthew Harrison, A Little Book on Joy: The Secret to Living a Good News Life in a Bad News World. (I highly recommend this great little book!)

To listen to the sermon, click on this link, download the audio file, and enjoy!

20 April 2010

Pastors as Sheepdogs

I first encountered the following quote from Evelyn Underhill when I attended "DOXOLOGY: The Gathering" back in January 2009. What a tremendous picture it is for refocusing a pastor's attention on his proper vocation! I've also used it to teach my congregation what a pastor's job really is, and the most recent attempt at this came in this past Sunday's homily for "Good Shepherd Sunday," a.k.a. the Third Sunday of Easter. For all of my brothers in office, may these words and this image help you, as it has helped me, to "transcend mere dogginess."

Now those sheep-dogs that afternoon gave me a much better address on the way in which pastoral work among souls should be done that I shall be able to give you. They were helping the shepherd to deal with a lot of very active sheep and lambs, to persuade them into the right pastures, to keep them from rushing down the wrong paths. And how did the successful dog do it? Not by barking, fuss, ostentatious authority, any kind of busy behaviour. The best dog that I saw never barked once; and he spent an astonishing amount of his time sitting perfectly still, looking at the shepherd. The communion of spirit between them was perfect. They worked as a unit. Neither of them seemed anxious or in a hurry. Neither was committed to a rigid plan; they were always content to wait. That dog was the docile and faithful agent of another mind. He used his whole intelligence and initiative, but always in obedience to his master’s directive will; and was ever prompt at self-effacement. The little mountain sheep he had to deal with were amazingly tiresome, as expert in doubling and twisting and going the wrong way as any naughty little boy. The dog went steadily on with it; and his tail never ceased to wag.

What did that mean? It meant that his relation to the shepherd was the centre of his life; and because of that, he enjoyed doing his job with the sheep, he did not bother about the trouble, nor get discouraged with the apparent results. The dog had transcended mere dogginess. His actions were dictated by something right beyond himself. He was the agent of the shepherd, working for a scheme which was not his own and the whole of which he could not grasp; and it was just that which was the source of the delightedness, the eagerness, and also the discipline with which he worked. But he would not have kept that peculiar and intimate relation unless he had sat down and looked at the shepherd a great deal.

[Evelyn Underhill, “The Teacher’s Vocation,” Collected Papers of Evelyn Underhill, Lucy Menzies, ed. (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., Inc., 1946), pp. 182-183.]

Homily for Easter 3-Misericordias Domini

Picking up on the "Easter Evangel" theme from my homily for Easter Sunday, I wanted to tie the Good Shepherd theme into the Church's "Easter Evangelism." Here's a link to the audio file of this past Sunday's homily, "The Bishop, the Sheep, and the Sheepdogs."

Click on this link, download the audio file, and listen.

16 April 2010


At times something comes along that provides perfect commentary on life in our land. This is one of them, and this is too perfect not to pass on. After all, the best humor is always rooted in truth--sometimes sadly so. One might also wonder just how applicable 1 Samuel 9:10-18 is for us these days. HT to Fr. Hollywood.

06 April 2010

Comforted by the Resurrection

“Faced with Death We Are Comforted by the Resurrection”

by Ephraim the Syrian

Christ the Resurrector will appear in the heights of glory. He will bring the dead to life and raise those in the graves. The children of Adam, who was made of earth, will all arise together and give praise to the Resurrector of the dead.

Let not your hearts be sad, ye mortals. The Lord’s day shall come and He will awaken and gladden us who have reposed. Those who have kept the law shall be roused before the Lord, and the angels shall rejoice in the day of resurrection.

Let not your souls be sorrowful, ye who were redeemed by the cross and called into the kingdom. The Lord’s day shall come; He will give voice to the deceased and the dead will arise and give Him praise.

Let us glorify and worship Jesus, the Word of God, Who, according to His love, came to save us by His cross and is coming again to resurrect Adam’s children in the great day when His majesty shall shine forth.

Grieve not, ye mortals, over your corruption. Christ the King shall shine forth from on high; He who is omnipotent shall beckon and thus raise the dead from their graves, and clothe them with glory in His kingdom.

If death has reigned and laid waste to our nature because Adam sinned and violated the commandment, then shall we not be justified and saved all the more by the sufferings of Christ Who has vanquished death and vindicated our nature?

Our Lord has granted the deceased hope and consolation, for He Himself rose from the grave, vanquished death, promised resurrection and life, and bestowed great blessings on Adam and all his children.

Praise and glory to the Father Who created us, to the Son Who saved us by His cross, and to the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to the all-praised and incomprehensible Trinity Who raises the dead and clothes their bodies with glory. (A Spiritual Psalter, #149, p. 231-32)

Homily for the Resurrection of Our Lord

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

As we celebrated the Resurrection of Our Lord this past Sunday, the homily was based on the Gospel reading, Mark 16:1-8, and titled, "The Easter Evangel."

Click this link to download and listen to the audio file.

03 April 2010

Meditation for Holy Saturday

The Lord’s Descent into Hell

An Ancient Homily

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled. Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son. The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: “My Lord be with you all.” And Christ in reply says to Adam: “And with your spirit.” And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.” “I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.” “I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.” (From the Fathers to the Churches, pp. 297-298; cited in For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church, vol. III, p. 1037)

Homily for Good Friday

On Good Friday we hear just how God has reversed our woeful predicament of sin and death by giving His only-begotten up to the death of the cross. On this day we hear the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. John (chapters 18-19), and here at Hope we got to hear it sung with the magnificent choral setting by Carl Schalk. In addition to pondering our Lord's Passion, we also hear what it means for us in the words of St. Paul: "For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Good Friday's homily this year is titled "Great Reversal."

Click on this link to download and listen to the audio file. The Lord bless you as you prepare to celebrate His victory over death!

Homily for Holy Thursday

The Holy Triduum is absolutely my favorite time of the Church Year, and even of all time. After all, it does usher in our Passover from sin and death to forgiveness and life in Christ Jesus.

This year's homily for Holy Thursday focused on Christ our Passover under the title "Memorial Meal of Receiving Rescue & Living in Love."

Click on this link to download and listen to the audio file. The Lord bless you and keep you!

Homily for Passion Sunday

Holy Week began with the celebration of Passion Sunday (with Palm Sunday Procession). This day's homily, titled "Ready to Suffer," is based on Matthew 27:11-54, the shorter passion reading option for the day.

Click this link to download and listen to the audio file. God bless!

New Sermons

New audio files of recent sermons have been added to my iDisk page. To listen to these audio files, just follow these simple steps:

1. Click on this link. It will take you to my public iDisk page.
2. Select the folder "Hope Sermons."
3. Select the sermon you wish to hear (listed by liturgical day then calendar date).
4. Click the "Download" button and follow instructions for downloading and listening on your computer.

The Lord bless you and keep you!

01 April 2010

A Gem from Luther

Here's a gem of a quote from Luther, which was part of a larger reading at this morning's Holy Thursday Morning Prayer:
"Therefore, the Sacrament is given as a daily pasture an sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself so that it will not fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger. The new life must be guided so that it continually increases and progresses. But it must suffer much opposition. For the devil is such a furious enemy. When he sees that we oppose him and attack the old man, and that he cannot topple us over by force, he prowls and moves about on all sides. He tries every trick and does not stop until he finally wears us out, so that we either renounce our faith or throw up our hands and put up our feet, becoming indifferent or impatient. Now to this purpose the comfort of the Sacrament is given when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy, so that it may gain here new power and refreshment." (Large Catechism, V:24-27; Concordia, pp. 434-35)

Holy Thursday - Quote of the Day

"What shall I do with my sins? I do not know. My mind cannot imagine what I might use to wash and cleanse myself. If I took it into my head to wash with water, then the seas and the rivers would not be sufficient to cleanse me. Yet if I wash myself with the blood and water that flowed from the rib of the Son of God, then will I be cleansed, and compassion will be showered upon me." (Ephraim the Syrian, A Spiritual Psalter, #140, p. 221)