THE RIGHT ORDER

Week 3 – 6.25.17

LL pic 2

Ephesians 2:4-10

4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

 

The order is important.  I’ve been hit by that reminder quite a bit during this whole parsonage basement remodel project.  You don’t hang drywall until you frame the walls, the plumber runs all his pipes and lines, and the electrician wires all the boxes, lights, and switches.  If you don’t get that right, you’re going to have to punch a bunch of holes and then put a bunch of patches in your new drywall.  You don’t put the flooring in before you paint, shoot on the trim and hang the door frames.  If you mess that order up, you’ll probably drip paint all over your trim, doors, and new floors.  The order is important.

There are four key concepts in the Bible: Sin, Grace, Faith, and Works.  That order is important.  Last week, God showed us the first two from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans.  We are sinful.  That is not only seen by God in our thoughts, words, and actions but it is also our condition in which we were both conceived and born.  That sinfulness must be dealt with, it must be paid for.  God says, “The wages of sin is death.”  So, someone has to die, blood must be shed, to pay for sin.  But imperfect people like us cannot make the payment.

God’s answer is his free gift of grace.  Purely because he loves us and does not want us to be punished in hell, he demonstrates his love with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Our justification – that not guilty verdict that we don’t earn or deserve – is fully and completely applied to our lives by God’s grace alone.  You don’t have to change God’s mind about you, he already loves the world and wants you to be with him in heaven.  His grace is not normal, and that’s good for us.

Today, we are talking about the other two key concepts: Faith and Works.  That order is important.  It was one of the huge reasons why an insignificant German priest and professor by the name of Dr. Martin Luther decided to stand up to popes, councils, and governors.  If you mess up that order you have lost the truth of God, you’ve lost his forgiveness, and you’ve lost heaven.

But that is exactly what the church was doing in Luther’s day; they were messing up the order.  Priests, councils, and popes were convincing people that works come before grace and faith.  Can you imagine the burden people carried as they thought every sin flared God’s righteous anger and only good works could appease him?  But the problem was that people have a sinful nature that taints us.  People were endlessly trying to work for God’s righteousness, but sin kept adding up, too.  The guilt was insurmountable, and the church kept preaching that God demanded more works.

But then, there was a great idea to deal with the guilt.  Instead of pointing to the grace of God, his unconditional love toward fallen sinful mankind, they introduced indulgences.  It was a way to literally pay money for God’s forgiveness.  Do you think you can pay God off?  No, like the Bible says, sins is only paid for by death.  These indulgences really only did one thing, enlarged the pope’s bankroll enough so that the St. Peter’s Basilica project, the second largest in the world, could begin.

When you mess up the order, bad things happen.  The church messing up that order for its people was a lot worse than a few holes in new drywall or paint on new floors.  It was life.  It was God’s holy Word. It was eternity.

Luther didn’t come up with a new order of these four key concepts.  He just read what God had clearly recorded centuries earlier.  And here is what God says: But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions… For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

That order – Sin, Grace, Faith, Works – is vitally important.  When you mess it up you lose the truth of Scripture and heaven itself.  That’s why it’s good to be familiar with the Word of God your whole life.  It’s good to be student of Scripture.  It’s good to refreshed and rebuilt weekly in worship and daily in devotions.  Our faith needs it, because what good is faith if it has the wrong object to trust? Then, the order is messed up.  Faith is turned into something I have to do to get God’s grace.  And that just doesn’t work.

When faith is placed in earthly things, it’s not getting you to heaven.  Your faith is useless.  Have you heard or have you said something like, “Don’t worry about me, I pray every day”? Do you notice where your faith is?  It is in your prayers.  But you know that the ability or regularity of prayer doesn’t save someone. When someone thinks, “I am a good Christian.  I go to church every week and give cheerful offerings,” they have the same issue.  Their faith is placed in their ability to follow the Lord.  It is great to lead a life of service, but it is not going to save you from hell.  Heaven is not awarded to those who convince themselves they are such good servants of God.  Faith doesn’t save people when it was placed in themselves and their own abilities to obey God.  That is really no faith at all.  Plenty of people do that, people who even call themselves Christian, but they are changing faith into a good work that earns God’s love.  That is messing up the order: Sin, Grace, Works, Faith.

However, when faith is attached to Jesus, then heaven is open to you; you have the saving promises of God forever. It’s the object of faith that matters most.  Let me illustrate. In the wintertime, if you go ice fishing, and you are about to walk out on the ice, what keeps you up?  Is it your faith in the strength of the ice? You could say, “I believe this ice will hold me. I have faith I will not crash through.” Does your faith keep up? Not at all! It is the thickness of the ice that holds you up. Your faith has nothing to do with it. Likewise, a person can have the strongest faith in their prayers or their humble service to God, but they will fall with a great and eternal crash.  Faith attached to anything but Jesus will get you nowhere.  Faith that clings to Jesus’s forgiveness and promises, that faith gives you the robes of righteousness forever.

And by God’s grace, faith in Jesus is a gift that he has given to you.  With simple water and God’s powerful word, the Holy Spirit planted saving faith in your heart.  And whenever God’s Word is used, faith is cultivated and nurtured.  Whenever the Lord’s body and blood is administered according to God’s Word it feeds faith.  And so we, sinners, by God’s undeserved grace, we trust in Jesus.  We rely on Jesus.  We hold to Jesus.

That’s the right order: Sin, Grace, Faith…and then works flow from faith.  We are saved by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, found in Scripture alone, but that faith is never alone.  When you have faith in Jesus, you will produce the works of God.  Listen again to what Paul says, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Why does an apple tree produce apples?  Is it because the apple tree will feel guilty if it doesn’t?  Is it trying to make up for past mistakes?  Does it want all the other trees to notice it?  Is it because the apple tree will get into trouble if it doesn’t?  NO!  Apples trees produce apples because that’s what apple trees do.  God made it that way.  It’s natural in his creation.

Same things for God’s children. When you are connected to Jesus, when your faith is attached to him, then you will be a fruit-producer.  And there are so many kinds of fruit for you to produce.

God tells us in his Word, to fear, love and trust in him above all things. We praise, thank, serve and obey him. One way to do that for God is to do it for those around you, too. God wants us to love and serve others, to put them first, to be a Good Samaritan, to turn the other cheek, to love even our enemies. God wants you not to hate but forgive as Christ has fully forgiven you.  God wants you to let your Christian light shine so that others may see your faith, see your Christ loving actions, see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. The words on our lips are used for truth and love, not cursing, lies and hate.

Think about what Paul is saying to you here. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  God gives us the opportunities to show our God given faith, to show our Christ-motivated kindness, to share our gospel life.

When we fail, Jesus picks us up, washes us clean, and sends us out with his love and forgiveness. Do you see all what God has done for you? Even your faith is a gift. We cannot boast about anything spiritually. The sacrifice of Jesus has fully and freely redeemed you, motivates you to love and serve our God, and makes your good works productive for others. We live God-pleasing lives not to earn God’s grace, but because we already have his grace and faith as a gift. That is why Jesus says in our gospel lesson, So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.

That’s the legacy of Lutherans.  We keep things in the right order, God’s order: Sinners who God loves not because of what we do, but because of what he does.  His love gives us Jesus, the Savior from sin, death, and hell.  His love gives us faith to hold on to him in all things.  His love gives us productive work to do as his people.  To God alone be glory.  Amen.

 

SIN & GRACE

Week 2 – 6.18.17

LL pic 2

 

PART 1: SIN

 

It has been called a constant companion in life.  It’s with you when you are awake and sleeping.  It’s with you when you are feeling well and when you aren’t.  It’s with you when you are doing good things and when you aren’t.  It’s with you at work, at home, out and about, on vacation, when you are alone and when you are with a bunch of people.  It’s with you all the time.  You and I just cannot get rid of sin.  And just in case we need a little reminder of what sin is, Paul bluntly points out a couple things for us today.

First, I don’t get to decide what sin is.  God created the world perfectly.  God put the conscience in each person’s heart.  And God made the laws that people need to follow, so he gets to tell me what sin is.

Number two, we must realize that sin is not just a discussion about actions, things that people can see or talk about.  In other words, sin is not only something that describes doing things that God forbids or not doing things that God commands.  Sin is also a condition.  It is in us.  It is a part of us.  We were born with it.  And that kind of original sin makes us impure every moment of life.  Every breath is from a person that cannot be perfect.

Third, this sinful condition I have, it shows up in my life… a lot.  If it is a condition, then the condition will have symptoms.  Paul mentions quite a number of those symptoms of sin that pop up all over the place in our lives.  Idolatry is one that he mentions.  That is the sin where we put something else in the place only God can have.  It can be money.  It can be fame.  It can be a career.  It can be friends.  It can be family.  It can be a house.  It can be possessions.  It can be hobbies.  It can be abilities.  It can be sex, food, alcohol, drugs, technology, and any number of other things.  Anything that we make more important than our God and the relationship we have with him is an idol.  And you probably can recall a time when that has happened in your life.

Maybe you have one good hour on a Sunday morning, where your attention is fully placed on God.  Well, in order to be the type of person that has never broken the First Commandment, you would have to do that constantly from the moment you were conceived to the moment you die.  It’s impossible for a sinner.  People with the sinful condition cannot properly give God full, undivided attention as the first and most important priority in life.

That’s just one example with one commandment.  Through Paul’s letter to the Romans, God shows us many more.  Sin shows up everywhere.  We have old sins and new sins.  We have accidental sins and purposeful sins.  We have sins that take a long time and sins that pop up randomly.  We have sins inside and on the outside.

And what is really sad about all of this is that we know better.  Paul writes, Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”  God tells us what sin is, not only the bad actions and attitudes, but also the condition that makes my entire life unacceptable.  God tells us what sin deserves; that’s death.  But we continue to do it anyways.  Sure, sometimes it’s an accident, but sometimes it’s not.  And we even find ways to approve of others who sin.

Let’s go back to that Sunday example.  If you skip that hour of the week where God gathers his people to feed their faith, and you let your kids or parents or friends skip too, then you are approving of their sin.  Do you see how tangled this web of evil is for us?

This was Martin Luther’s struggle as a monk, priest, and professor.  Sin was constantly showing its ugliness in his life.  God demanded better, but he was unable to do better.  How could he ever have the righteousness of God with this kind of rap sheet?  And how could you?

He tried, boy did he try.  He wanted so much to earn God’s righteousness.  That was his daily mission.  But every day he failed.  You can try, too.  You can try as hard as you want to earn a right standing with God, but every day you fail.  Sin is a constant companion and it is not friendly.  There’s really only one thing we can say (like the hymn we just sang concludes): “O God, be merciful to me.”

 

PART 2: GRACE

 

With God, there is no try.  With God, there is do.  We can’t try to earn his righteousness.  We can’t try to remove our sins or cover them from his sight.  He sees all of them better than we do.  There is no trying to fix the problems sin causes.  There is no trying to cure the imperfect condition in which we were born and will die.  Sin is the terrible and deadly companion with us our entire lives.

But there is another constant companion that defeats the evil of sin.  There is another constant companion that is far greater and more powerful.  God’s grace.  And with God’s grace there is no trying.  God doesn’t try to fix your problems.  God doesn’t try to cure sin’s disease.  God doesn’t try to save people.  He just does it.

That’s grace.  It’s not earned by beating your body into submission.  It’s not deserved by being better than others.  It’s not won by special works of service.  Grace is this: when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  God’s grace gets to work saving sinners and ungodly people from their deadly companion of sin in life.  God’s grace gets to work by doing all of the necessary work for us.  God’s grace gets to work by doing the one thing that opens heaven to people like us.

Sin has to be dealt with.  It has to be paid for.  If sin brought death into the world, then God’s grace would bring life.  There was no other way.  He would have to make the payment.  At just the right time, God did exactly that.  Jesus came.  He was born with the same obligation to follow the law perfectly…and he did.  God’s Son did what we could not.  He fought off the companionship of sin.  And that perfect life, he gave up as the sacrifice for us.  Jesus carried all the sins of the world to the cross and took the punishment we deserve.  All the ungodly ugliness was unacceptable to God, so he got rid of it with the death of his Son.  All of it is gone.  In sin’s place God has given the gift of grace.  We have forgiveness and life through Christ Jesus.

If you think that is not enough, if you think you have too many sins, then listen to this: “where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”   When God takes care of something, he does it completely.  His grace is perfect at getting rid of sin.

And his grace is always with you.  Nothing changes the facts of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.  Through Christ and his sacrifice, nothing removes God’s grace from you.  He will always be the God who is there for you as your loving Father.  He will always be the God who is there for you with forgiveness.  He will always be the God who is there for you with peace that can only come through the gospel of Jesus.

That is what changed things for Luther.  God did not give righteousness based on us, but he gave it based on his love.  As Paul so beautifully puts it: God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  God just decided that he would love us in a way that we could never have by our own.  Luther was filled up with God’s righteousness because it was a free gift.  He realized God was not an angry judge trying to punish him because of sin, but that he was a God of love who had saved him by grace alone.  God worked through the simple truth of the gospel to free him from the guilt that wants to be our only and our constant companion.

Sin tried hard to ruin Luther, and it tries just as hard to ruin us.  God did not try hard to save us.  He just did it.  Free of charge because he loved us and wanted us to be with him in heaven.  It’s grace and it’s amazing.

Child of God, sin tries to weigh you down, but your gracious Lord has removed the burden forever.  Where guilt tries to sap all your strength, your gracious Lord fills you up with forgiveness.  Where natural human knowledge says you have to work for things in life, your loving Lord uses divine grace that can never fail at keeping you as his very own.

This legacy is the good news that is still heard in our Lutheran churches today.  Do you know how that’s possible?  It’s not because a man named Martin Luther was so amazing.  It’s not because Germans are great at everything.  It’s because of grace.  And as a child of God, that is your constant companion.  Amen.

 

 

THE TRIUNE GOD BLESSES US

Week 1 – 6.11.17

LL pic 2

2 Corinthians 13:11-14

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

There is this idea that goes around in our subjective world that I get to decide what I like about God and you get to decide what you like about him.  And if those two things are different, that’s OK.  We don’t have to get so dogmatic about it.  We can just get along with our differing ideas of God as long as we both believe in whatever it is we believe.  What’s important is that we all agree that no one is absolutely right and no one is absolutely wrong.  After all, God just wants us to believe.

People say lots of things like that.  And do you know what?  They are wrong, completely wrong.  All those different views that come from people in this very subjective, self-oriented world, can’t work together.  Differing views don’t work to describe the divine God.  It’s impossible for the perfect God to put up with partial truths and platitudes.  You either have the real God or you don’t.

And so today is a good day for God to remind us who he is.  The reason this festival of the church takes place at this time of year is that we are in a new season, the Pentecost season.  It’s the portion of the Church Year where God’s people grow in the teachings of Christ through his words.  To shift the focus, we are starting our new series, Lutheran Legacy.  Just what exactly does it mean to be a Lutheran?  We are starting today with God, the one true God.

That’s a good place to start, but it is also most confusing because he tells us that he is triune, three persons in one God.  The Father is God.  The Son is God.  The Holy Spirit is God. But there are not three Gods; there is just one God.  I’m not good at math, so this is perfect for me: 1+1+1=1.  It’s bad math, but perfect theology.  This is the God Lutherans confess, because this is the only God there is.

This is confusing, and I like it that way.  What kind of God would he be if I could easily grasp him?  I don’t want a God to be like me.  My son? Sure, in some ways, I want him to be a chip off the old block.  My God?  I need him to be bigger and better than me.  And I don’t need him to be just bigger and better than me.  I need him to be bigger and better than every person, ever.  And so, I’m glad my God reveals himself as three persons in one God, Triune.  I don’t understand it.  I can’t.  But here’s some good news: you don’t have to understand it to believe it.

You probably are familiar with this without even realizing it.  The internet…do you understand how it works?  I remember a time when there was no such thing as internet or Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Siri, no smartphones.  I have no clue how the internet came about or how it works.  But I believe it.  I use the internet every day.  I don’t understand how it works, but I trust it and use it.  Just one other example.  I saw a clip this past week from America’s Got Talent of a woman who plays guitar and sings even though she is deaf.  I have no clue how that works, but I believe it.

That’s the same thing as the Holy Trinity.  You may be surrounded by a holy, eternal Triune God that you cannot grasp or understand, and that’s ok.  We can believe in things that are too profound and complicated for us to grasp.  We do it all the time.  This Triune God, the God of the Bible, told us exactly what he is like.  He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The problem is not with him and how great and mind-blowing he is.  The problem is me.

I was struck by that fact as I read this closing encouragement from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians.  Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. 

Do you know why Paul wrote these encouragements?  It seems obvious that this is exactly how Christians would live, but we don’t.  I was struck by the fact that I don’t always rejoice in all circumstances.  This week was pretty busy.  I had the privilege to preach the gospel of God’s peace and comfort for the funeral of Maurine Striegel on Friday.  I had the privilege of seeing what water can do when it is connected to the life-giving Word of God in Baptism as I baptized Hadley on Saturday.  Those are reasons to rejoice.  But I was not rejoicing about needing to get my whole basement ready for the painting that we are doing this weekend.  I was not rejoicing about trying to keep my garden alive because we haven’t had rain in too long.  I was not rejoicing that I had office work and other preparations that kept me from enjoying the warmer days outside with my kids.

Paul says, “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.”  Those things should be easy for children of God, but they aren’t.  We strive for self-restoration instead of working with others.  We gossip about one another, ignore one another, or covet what others have instead of encouraging one another.  You each have your own way of thinking about life, relationships, priorities, and our ministries, so being of one mind with another person, even another Christian, can be a tall task.

And finally, Paul says, “live in peace.”  This is a common principle in Scripture, because peace is so hard for us to keep.  How do you live in peace when there is chaos almost constantly?  It comes from all angles.  There’s another terrorist attack.  There’s another political upheaval.  There’s another comment from a coworker.  There’s another bully at school.  Live at peace with people?  Yeah, right!!  How’s that possible in this day and age.

Do you notice who has the problem?  If I can’t grasp the Triune God it’s not his fault, it’s mine.  I’m the one who isn’t smart enough.  I’m the one who isn’t peaceful enough.  I’m the one who isn’t selfless enough, loving enough, strong enough, positive enough… I’m the one who isn’t perfect enough.

And so this Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – this holy, eternal God that is far too great for me to understand, he decided he would bless me.  He decided he wouldn’t curse me.  He decided he wouldn’t demand more works of service to make up for what’s wrong in my life. He wouldn’t punish me for my ineptitude.  He would bless me.  That’s how the God who defies the human mind deals with me.  He doesn’t use conventional wisdom because he is far too great for that.  He uses divine grace, divine love, and divine fellowship.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  Paul concludes his letter with this familiar blessing, and it couldn’t be more powerful for us.  It shows us the way the Holy Trinity deals with sinners.

First, it’s the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace is the only word for it.  We didn’t work for it.  We didn’t luck into it.  We weren’t born into it.  We didn’t earn it.  We are weak, selfish, sinful, dirty and dying.  We are so sinful and opposed to God by nature.  Like a beached whale, we swim ourselves into places that kill us.  But God’s grace can’t stand to see us in harm’s way.  Grace gets to work to help people who don’t deserve it.  In fact, grace is so good that Jesus took on our weaknesses, our selfishness, our sins, our dirty and dying lives.  He put it all on his shoulders and died for it because he knew we would die separated from God for eternity if he didn’t.

That’s a blessing!

Second, we have the love of God (the Father).  Generally speaking, other religions have a god that loves people who first show love to him.  That’s a very human trait.  Our Father in heaven is the opposite of that.  He loves first.  Without prompting, he makes a world and people to fill it.  When those people blew it and ruined it with sin, he put a plan into action that would cost him so that he could restore our broken relationship with him.  He carried it out to perfection, by his grace, and gives it to us free of charge.  When we are not even able to make comprehensible sentences, his love takes something like water and drowns our sinful nature in baptism.  As we grow he feeds us with his life-giving Word and with the forgiveness of Christ’s body and blood.  He loves us like only a perfect Father could. He gives us everything he has, everything he is, and everything that Christ has provided for our salvation.  He even promises that nothing can change his loving mind.  He will always want you.  He will always be willing to have you.  Nothing can separate you from your Father’s love that is in Christ Jesus.

That’s a blessing!

Third, we have the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Sin and Satan have done a number on this world and in our hearts, always trying to destroy the unity that our Triune God has established with his redeemed people.  Peace is hard to come by.  And so the Holy Spirit blows with the power of Pentecost (remember that from last week?).  He breaks down walls, not with a humanistic universalism and not with a message of: “we can just get along with our differing ideas of God as long as we both believe in whatever it is we believe.  What’s important is that we all agree that no one is absolutely right and no one is absolutely wrong.”  He breaks down walls with the law and gospel, with the power of Scripture, with a message that could never originate in the hearts and minds of man, but only in the heart of the Triune God.  There is unity and fellowship by the power of the Spirit.  It is built on the Word of God and nothing more.

That is a blessing!

This three-fold blessing is what changes life for us.  It makes us live in a new way.  We live with the name of the Triune God on us.  We live with the things Paul encourages: peace, single-mindedness, encouragement, restoration.  We live in the glory of the God we can’t understand but firmly believe.

That’s being Lutheran.  That’s the legacy we hold to.  Over the next couple months we are going to study this legacy, and do you know what you are going to find?  We don’t have our own interpretation of the Bible.  We don’t have our own rules.  We don’t have Luther’s interpretation.  We don’t have Luther’s rules.  We have the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And that is with you all.  Amen.

THE BLOWING WIND OF PENTECOST

6.4.17 Pentecost A

pentecost pic.png

Acts 2

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, d 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “ ‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

 

I looked out my office window on Thursday and saw my picnic table umbrella doing something a little odd.  It was still stuck in that center hole of the table, but it was doing its best Mary Poppins impression, trying to take off and take my table with it.

What was the cause?  What had the power to lift an umbrella that is anchored by a piece of concrete?  It’s the wind.  The wind is powerful, and it’s all around us.  We know that pretty well here in North Dakota.  Out in this part of the country companies are even using it for energy.  Whether you like that idea or not, it doesn’t change the fact that wind is powerful.

But the thing is you can’t see the wind, you just can see what it does.  I didn’t see wind out my office window this past Thursday, I saw what it was doing.  I couldn’t tell you what direction the wind was coming from or where it would end up.  You can’t see wind, but you see what it does.  You can hear the sound as it blows through the trees and prairies.

Today, God wants us to think about the wind.   It’s a fascinating word in the Bible:  Ruach (רוּחַ) in the Old Testament and pneoma (πνεῦμα) in the New Testament.  When God uses that word in the Bible, it also the exact same word he uses to talk about the mysterious, miraculous, and powerful third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  The Bible calls him the Holy Wind, Ruach (רוּחַ) and pneoma (πνεῦμα).  You can’t pin him down to one location, but you see his power all over the place.  You can’t see him, but you can see his effects in the lives of people all over the world.  You can’t control his boundless energy, but God gives a bounty of it to be our power source for Christian living.

And this is his day.  You see, in the Christian Church there are three big festivals that we celebrate, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.  Each one of these festivals highlights one of the three persons of the Trinity.  Christmas is the festival of God the Father, who so loved the world that he gave us the greatest gift we could ever have, his one and only Son, who was of the Father’s love begotten.  Easter is about God the Son, who suffered, died, rose to save us from sin, death, and hell.  He is our Savior who lives and reigns for us.  Pentecost is about that Holy Wind, God the Spirit.

Today is the birthday of the Holy Christians Church, and that’s a day to celebrate the Holy Spirit.  Because on this day the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples with power from heaven.  It was on this day the he formed tongues of flame on their heads and put tongues of foreigners on their lips.  This is the day the heavenly and Holy Wind, who was promised, came and powered his small church of Jesus’ followers to be bold and take the saving gospel out to the nations. That powerful wind is still showing itself on this festival all these years later.

But you can’t just see wind in North Dakota or any other place, right?  In order to notice the power of the wind it needs something to blow against.  To utilize the power of the wind here in North Dakota, it needs to blow against those big windmills.  To get around in a boat you can use a motor or you can use the power of the wind by putting up a sail.  To see the power of the wind you need to leave your picnic table umbrella open.  The wind needs something to blow against.

In a way, the same is true for the Holy Spirit, that heavenly wind.  He is God and that means he is all-powerful, all-knowing, and always present.  But in order to see the effects of his power, he needs something to blow against.

And just what is that, you ask?  It’s actually quite simple.  This resource that the powerful Holy Spirit blows against is not hard to find.  When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly the sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 

The disciples were the ones seeing the effects of the Holy Spirit’s power on Pentecost.  There was no actual wind that day, but the Spirit, the heavenly and holy Wind, was blowing against those disciples.  His power was clearly the main attraction that day.

Some wanted to make it about the disciples, how they were speaking in different languages with fire on their heads and in their hearts.  Some were making a mockery by saying they were simple Galileans who had had too much to drink.  But Pentecost is not about the disciples’ power.  They were simply there for the Spirit’s power to blow against.

This is how I know that I am nothing special; there is nothing powerful about this pastor.  I have a very special and important job that I love to do, but it’s not about my power or position. God’s church will go on just fine with or without me here in Bismarck or here on earth. If you were able to join us for the Luther movie this past Wednesday, you probably noticed how the church got into a lot of trouble back in the late Middle Ages when it was all about the priests and popes and earthly political powers.  The church can never be about the men who serve it.  Instead, it needs to be about the Spirit who empowers it, the Christ who saves it, the Father who preserves it, and the Word that proclaims all God’s truth.

The Spirit’s power blew against the disciples that Pentecost.  It wasn’t the sound of the wind that really mattered or the fire or the men.  It was the message.  That was the real power of Pentecost.  That is the power that continues to blow throughout the church today.

And do you know what that message is?  Peter got up that day to preach it, and the Spirit was blowing through the crowd.  I am called as your pastor to get up and preach it, and the Spirit still blows through us who gather here with this message:  Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Everyone!  Do you know who that includes?  God doesn’t say it’s the straight A students.  God doesn’t say it’s the people you like.  God doesn’t say it’s only the good people.  He doesn’t say it’s those who try really hard to cover up their mistakes.  God says, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Yes, that includes people who struggle with sin.  In fact, that is the only kind of person there is.  Every man, woman, and child on earth struggles with sin.  It’s not a unique trait for a few.  God says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We know this from looking in the mirror and seeing what God sees: sinners.  People feel this burden.  They know the guilt that sin brings.  They know the conflict that evil inflicts.  They know the uncertainty of death.  These are universal struggles across the board for everyone, including us.

God has the universal answer in Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Jesus died to pay the price for all sins of everyone.  Jesus rose from the dead to open the gates of heaven for every man, woman, and child that believes in him.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  This is the solution to a guilty conscience.  This is the strength for living with sicknesses and sadness.  This is secret to rebuilding relationships.  This is the answer to what lies on the other side of death, because God is promising a future that has nothing to do with your current circumstances.

God isn’t uncertain about this. “…will be saved.”  In Christ, God stretches our perspective out to eternity.  In Christ, we have the cure for cancer.  In Christ, we have the formula for a blessed life.  In Christ, we have the ability to live forever in heaven.

That is what we have.  And God says everyone on the face of this earth can have the exact same thing.  The heavenly Wind wants to blow into the hearts and lives of every man, woman, and child in this world.  God has promised, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The heavenly and holy Wind just needs someone to blow against for people to see his power.  God has given this amazing privilege and honor to people like us.  He could do it himself, but the heavenly Wind wants to use you to show how his power is for us and in us and among us.

The sound of the wind, the fire, and the languages would have accomplished nothing without the disciples speaking the saving message of a Savior who died and rose again.  The Holy Spirit chooses to show his power by blowing against people like the disciples, people like you and me.  Because that is when you really see what the power of the wind, when it is blowing against something.

Brothers and sisters, I know how fearful it can be.  I know how easy it is to pass up opportunities to say the simple truth about faith in Jesus.  I know the excuses that come up: “It’s probably someone else’s job.  They know it better.  They have a better knack for evangelism stuff.”   It’s ridiculous and absolutely amazing that God would want to include us in taking a message of such importance out to the world.

But there’s something else I know about you.  You have the same thing as the disciples.  You have the forgiveness of sins, which Jesus delivered with his death.  You have the certainty of heaven, which Jesus opened to you when he came back on Easter.  You have his authority as he rules over you from his throne.  You have the power of the Spirit blowing against you for the people around you to see.  If you don’t think you are ready or fit for the job, then you are exactly the kind of person that God wants to use because then you know the power isn’t coming from you but from that Holy Wind of God.

The wind needs something to blow against for people to see its power.  The Holy Spirit wants to blow against you so that people see how great our God is and what he has done to save us.  What does that mean for you?  I don’t know, maybe that means you will join our outreach team to help us find people who are lost and don’t know Jesus in our community.  (That’d be great!)  Or maybe you will help us carry out ministry here, like planning events so we can invite people here or like prioritizing projects to make our ministry and church witness better.  Or maybe you will pray for this work and generously support it.  Or maybe it simply means that you will go to work and let your light shine, so that people see your good deed and praise your Father in heaven.

Whatever it is, you know the power that is behind you.  It doesn’t come from you, it comes from that heavenly and holy wind.  And when that wind is blowing against you, people will notice, just like seeing an umbrella doing its best imitation of Marry Poppins.

God grant it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.