NO LIMITS TO CHRIST’S LOVE

makings of ministry

John 2

1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Woman, x why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

 

This past week I was at a home missionary conference in Atlanta.  Atlanta is massive.  The metro area has over 6 million people, the ninth largest in the States.  We have 8 churches in that area, including a new mission right in the middle of the city.  8 churches for over 6 million.  It’s a good location for a conference about the mission work we have and the work missionaries do here at home in America.  And so a conference like this one was the kind of place where it is easy to see God at work for his church.  These are often so uplifting and joyous and motivating.  It’s a reminder of what God still does and accomplishes through his Word.  He saves people, unexpected, undeserving people – you and me.  When I attend those kinds of things, I pray that it will help not just me but all of us here in our service to the Lord and Bismarck.  Our Lord can do it.

And then, we arrive in a place where the mission work doesn’t seem so great.  It’s little Cana for a wedding.  Jesus is an invited guest.  In is a small, rural community Jesus has to know the family somehow, and a close-knit group having a happy celebration would customarily go on for several days or more.  Music, dancing, speeches, food, wine.  We’re told Jesus’ mother is there and that she notices a problem.  She brings it to her son’s attention because she knows whose Son he really is and what he is capable of doing.  It might seem like a little thing in a little community, but Jesus will prove that it’s not.

Jesus responds directly but respectfully.  The Son of God is here for one thing, so everything he does has to fit into that purpose and that timing.  His time to do what only he is capable of doing “has not yet come.”  That’s a good reminder that we don’t get to tell God what to do and when to do it.  Even if you are his earthly mother or a dear blood-bought brother or sister, we do not tell the Lord his business.  We make requests, we send prayers and petitions, but we do not selfishly demand or instruct our Savior.  We wait for him, and his answers will always come at the best time.

The time always comes when God answers, and his time arrived here in Cana, as well.  Jesus tells the servants to fill these six massive jars that can fit 20 to 30 gallons in each one.  Water goes in, the usual purpose for the jars.  But wine is what the master tastes.  I found this description of what happened: “Water heard the voice of its creator and blushed.”  Whatever kind it was, it was the best wine because that’s how God answers – with the best…always.

But I have to wonder why?  Don’t you?  A family runs out of wine at their wedding celebration?  That’s not life-threatening.  That’s not even life-altering.  That’s not calamity.  That’s not catastrophe.  That certainly doesn’t put anyone’s eternity at risk.  But even this simple item, this very small detail is one our Lord is capable and mindful to handle.

There are probably plenty of things, positive or negative, that we consider far too mundane to bring to the Lord’s attention: a scrape, a full bowl of cereal, a letter from a friend, a small schedule change, a trip down the street, a lost toy, a brief weather change, etc.  Or how about this?  Do you sometimes worry about money?  House payments, bills, credit card balances?  Do you fear you’re losing a close friend, who is drifting away from you?  Do you fret about your kids and what kind of world they are going to have in 50 years?  Is your day chalk full of endless tasks and responsibilities that you kind of start the day with a pessimistic outlook right off the bat?  All of these are relatively small and daily things that we deal with.  It can be easy to think, “I shouldn’t bother the Lord with these types of things.  He’s got depressed people, diseased people, dying people, abused people, persecuted people – all sorts of big-ticket items to handle.  My little thing is something I should probably take care of.”

Brothers and sisters, Jesus turned water into wine on the last days of a wedding in little old Cana.  He cares for your every need, right down to the daily bread that he taught you to pray for.  The small things like scrapes, a schedule change, something lost, a brief change in weather, the money issues, the drifting friendship, the changing and chaotic political situation – Jesus turned water into wine.  He can handle the little things.  The big things like diseases, he can cure them, or he can give the strength and humility to cope faithfully.  The loss of a loved one is when his Word can prove to be a mighty fortress even as waves of grief come attacking. Calamity and catastrophe can serve his goal of redirecting people’s attention.  He can also speed recovery and return any people and any place to stability and normalcy.  His love stretches that far, over every single aspect of your life.  You and I have limitations, his love does not.  And we haven’t even spoken of the greatest thing.

While I was at this conference, I worshiped with maybe 50-70 brothers and sisters from all over our church body. We heard the law and gospel inspired and written by God.  We ate and drank the bread and wine, which is, as Jesus instructs his true body and blood for our forgiveness and nourishment.  I heard other pastors talking about meeting atheists in their communities who, over time through the power of God working through the Word, were completely changed into believers.  People who hated God and refused to acknowledge that he even exists are now musicians, elders, leaders, and inviters for God and his church.  I heard about pastors meeting all sorts of people out at community events, in shops, at neighborhood parties, at kid’s sporting events, or during community service project, and those relationships sometimes lead to people taking a BIC (Bible basics) class and membership in the eternal family of God.  I heard about not just pastors but members of these home missions who jump right in and help set up for worship in rented spaces, who bring invitations to work and parties, who develop friendships with the idea that they want to live forever with friends and neighbors in heaven.  The only way that is possible is to introduce them to Jesus.

“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” This is something so massive and limitless that it’s hard to put into words.  God’s love is not just able to turn water to wine.  Jesus’ love is not just good for serving at weddings.  See, this miracle is great and there are many more, but miracles aren’t the big thing. John goes on to describe the big thing at the end of his book in John 20: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.” God’s love can turn dirty, stinky, gross hearts like yours and mine into cleansed and purified hearts that believe in Jesus.  Jesus’ love serves us the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son, given to spare us from the punishment and pain of hell so that we can live with him forever in heaven. His Word and the sacraments have that kind of power.  His love has that kind of desire.  There are no limits to what God has accomplished for us.

His grace will not run out like the wine at the wedding.  I hope you noticed just how much Jesus provided.  If things were wrapping up in a couple days maybe 10 more cases of wine would do the trick.  That’s 120 bottles, each at 750 mL.  Quick math and that would be about 24 gallons.  That would be one of those stone jars.  Jesus did 6 times that amount of the best wine the master had tasted.  Brothers and sisters, your Savior knows how to provide for your earthly life.  He knows how to provide your eternal life.  He knows how to do these things abundantly, without limits.

This good news strengthen, builds, and encourages people.  This kind of love is going to work in hearts just like it did on the disciples.  They kept following, kept learning from, kept believing in, and kept serving the Lord.  And that’s the prayer for us, as well.  That must be why someone recommended the second reading for today.  This is God inspiring the apostle Paul’s prayer for believers in Ephesus and believers here.  It’s worth another look, from Ephesians 3 (7 and 8 in the worship folder):

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Jesus’ power is not just in this place where we hear his mighty Word.  It’s wherever he is.  It’s in Cana and Atlanta.  It’s in Sterling, Menoken, Mandan and Bismarck.  Jesus’ love is not just in this place where he feeds us with his body and blood.  He puts his love in your heart through faith.  His love shines through you, so it’s wherever you go to and serve others in his name, for his glory.  His love is where you work, where you study, where you relax, and where you play.  His love is where you eat and where you rest.  His love is at work in every situation you deal with.

There is also a great reminder here in what Jesus did and didn’t do.  He did change water into wine, but he didn’t fill the jars with water or take the water to the master. He told the servants to do that. Jesus’ love changes us from bystanders to servants who draw from his immeasurable grace and mercy, and then give it to others.

But that’s not the limit either.  His love is active way beyond just you and me. It extends wherever sinners are finding forgiveness in him, wherever the troubled are given peace in him. It reaches those who otherwise have no reason to hope, no possibility of contentment. His love is wherever the gospel is proclaimed. Yes, in keeping with his unlimited and immeasurable power, the love of Jesus is “so wide and long and high and deep,” in this life it’s impossible to fully know it. It even reaches countless souls you and I will never meet until we sit down with him and all his beloved at the bountiful heavenly wedding banquet.

Brothers and sisters, today in little old Cana we see one of the things that makes Jesus’ ministry so powerful.  It is his unlimited love.  But that’s not just in Cana, is it?  Through faith in him, his love is right here and right there.  And when you have his unlimited love in your heart, he involves you.  You already have what he gives you – and it’s a limitless supply – now start serving.  Amen.

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COMING ALIVE

5.20.18 Pentecost B

 

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ” 

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. 

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”

 

Do you know what the Spirit can do?  Have you seen it?  Well, I have, and let me tell you the story.

I was called to be God’s spokesman to his people, Israel.  The hard part of that was not listening to God.  As astounding as his visions were, he was very clear on what I needed to say and write.  The hard part was the people.  You’d think that people who had God’s promises would listen to his Word.  But that’s the thing about people – it doesn’t matter if you’re a descendant of Abraham or if you are foreigner, a king or a slave – we struggle to listen to God’s words the way he wants us to.

After receiving the call from the Lord, he wanted me to say some things to get their attention.  They needed to realize that what was happening to them was because they had neglected God.  And when that happens that means sin is winning in your life.  When sin is winning in your life, spiritual death is not far behind.

See, God wants his people to be different.  When he spoke with them at Mt. Sinai and gave them his 10 Commandments, the arrangement was that they would obey everything.  Well, Israel was kind of up and down on that.  After they arrived in the Promised Land was a good time, but then they got lazy.  Every so often God would send judges to help them get back on track, but the message never sunk in.  Then came the kings.  David was a good one, his son, Solomon, was ok, but only 7 or 8 others encouraged the people to follow God and serve him alone.

To help the people see their sinful ways and the destruction that sin causes, God called prophets, like me, to preach.  I was in Babylon at the time.  Why Babylon, you ask?  That was the punishment God forewarned.  The people didn’t get the hint that sin is not ok with God, so God sent Babylon to conquer us.  Over about a 10 year period, we were exiled to Babylon.  Everything back home, including God’s Holy Temple, was completely destroyed.

I don’t know if you can imagine how downcast and depressed everyone was.  God had told them in the past what their sins would cause, but that didn’t change a thing, so God had to bring down judgment on His own people.  Even in Babylon, I was given the task to point out their wickedness and God’s disappointment.

After years of visions and proclamations of death and doom, came the day when God brought me to that valley of dry bones.  The closest thing you could compare it to here in America would be Death Valley, but even that isn’t a fair comparison.  All around I looked, back and forth I went, and all I saw was death, an utterly lifeless landscape.  It was not an enjoyable place to be.

That is the place where God had a question for me.  “Son of man…” he liked to call me ‘son of man’ because I am just a regular guy and he was not… “Son of Man, can these bones live”?

What would you say? Do you think life could come from a valley of death?  After what had happened with Israel, I had my doubts.  Israel had proven what human people are really like.  People don’t blaze a path to life but a something else, something worse, something deathly.

Israel said they were going to be faithful to God alone.  They said they didn’t want to associate with other sinful and pagan nations and get themselves into trouble.  They said they would remember God’s commandments and his promises.  They said a lot of things.

What really happened?  Their lies lead to idolatry.  When God’s promises were taking too long to come true they found other religions and gods that looked more sensible and pleasurable.  All the things that God had said and recorded for his people took a donkey ride into the desert.  It is tragic to even talk about it.  People, by nature, do not want any part with God.

Do you know anyone like that?  Do you know people who say they will serve God?  Do you know people who promise they won’t follow the wrong crowd?  Do you know some who say they will remember God’s promises, but personal experiences and preferences seem to be good excuses to neglect what God says?  I’m sure you do.  I’m sure you can find someone like that in your neighborhood or your pool of friends.  But I know for a fact you can see someone like that if you take a good look at your own heart.

People haven’t changed much over the last few millennia since I was in Babylon.  The lying still leads to idolatry.  Patience with God’s promises wears thin, so other things can take his place and priority.  Maybe you don’t have wooden gods of Asherah and Baal, but that was not Israel’s only problem.  They got too wrapped up in themselves to pay attention to God’s Word.   And when you put yourself as the be all and end all, don’t be surprised if it all ends wrong.

Do you know what lying and idolatry leads to?  Thinking of my day out in the valley of dry bones makes me remember what the Apostle Paul wrote long after I was gone, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” For Israel, for you and me, and for all the world, those dry bones are about as good as we get.

“Can these bones live?” Only one person knew the answer to that question, so I said, “O Lord GOD, You alone know.” It was at that point that I thought he would give me a clear, yes or no.  But instead, he told me to talk to the bones as if they could hear me.  Just talk!  That was it.

The Lord didn’t tell me to think outside of the box to try or find some new fresh way to connect to those dead bones.  He didn’t tell me about any kind of gadgets and ideas that might work.  He didn’t tell me about computers.  He didn’t say that certain song styles or instruments would raise those bones to life.  He never mentioned a specific style of preaching that would be better than another.  He didn’t tell me about pulpits or pews.  Intrestingly, he also didn’t talk about traditions.  He didn’t say anything about the way it always was.  He didn’t say that the same way is the best way.  He didn’t say stubborn attitudes and unchanging ideas will cause nasty, dried up bones to live.

None of the things that people argue about would do anything for those bones.  I am not downplaying what advancements and blessings can do.  But I know for a fact that anything other than the Word of the Almighty God cannot bring life to a place of death.  Nothing but the Word of God can turn a heart of cold stone, to a heart of life….not even a little bit.  The only thing that causes life is God’s Word.  I was there to witness it.

He told me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” I did what God told me to do and the results were overwhelming.  Simply put, God’s Word worked.  He’s got the power.  He’s got the Word.  And it works. The bones started flying around. And the noise – millions of bones coming together – was more than anything your kids could produce with their toys.

After all the bones came together, the tendons, guts, muscles, and layers of skin formed around each skeleton.  It was vastly different from when I first arrived at the valley.  Some might say that everything was different, but really it was still the same.  The bones now were perfectly in place with all that is needed for life, but the bodies still lay there, motionless.  They were still just as dead as before.

God had done the amazing work, but there was one thing missing.  The Lord gave me more of his words to speak.  “Come from the four winds, o breath, and breathe into these slain, that they might live.”  The breath was not normal.  In Hebrew, that’s the language that I spoke back then and the one I used to write my book, “breath” is the same word as “spirit.” So, when God told me to call the breath, it was his way of telling me to call for the Holy Spirit.

What I had seen in the valley was death, but with God’s Word and the work of the Spirit, I saw death coming alive.  The multitude of dry bones came together perfectly.  The flesh wrapped them perfectly. The breath came and filled them perfectly. Where death was, God made life.  This is all God’s handiwork, and it is always his handiwork when death turns to life.

There they stood an army to serve its source of life.  God had created a massive group.  When I had seen armies in the past they had a mission to conquer or defend.  This army was no different.  The Lord did this to show me and all of Israel what he can accomplish with his Spirit.  He can make life.  He can make that life achieve his purpose, just as he said.

What I am looking at right now, is not much different than what I saw in that valley.  God has worked another miracle.  I am not staring at random bones.  I am not staring at death, but life.  This is not something you did.  This is the power of God.  The same power that raised Jesus from death to life continues to work today. Through his Word and Spirit, God brings life.

The Holy Spirit came into you the same way I saw him go into the bodies in the valley.  At your baptism, death was swallowed up in victory.  The Spirit planted the life-giving gospel message of free forgiveness through Jesus Christ in you.  Through the powerful Word of God, he keeps faith living and active.  You aren’t a pile of bones.  You aren’t lifeless corpses.  You are the same army that I saw thousands of years ago standing ready to serve your Creator and your life-giver.

This experience in the valley of dry bones wasn’t just for me.  I had to tell all of those people who were in exile with me.  I had to tell them God’s life-giving message.  But, if you are like the house of Israel, then you also might find yourself focusing on the negative side of things.  They said, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”  In exile, there wasn’t a lot to be positive about.  They had received a just judgment from God.  They didn’t see the sun rising on a new day.

If you ever feel yourself swamped in pessimism, then listen again to what God told Israel because he says that to you, too.  “O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.”  

Do you know what God did to make this come true? He sent his own Son, Jesus, to conquer the grave, not just for himself, but for all who believe in him. With Jesus’ resurrection, God assures us all that what He told me in the valley is true.  God will open graves and restore life again.

Today is a special festival for you to thank God for life.  When I arrived in the valley, I didn’t see much hope.  Generations after I had gone, it didn’t look like there was much hope for the fledgling church led by the disciples.   But, today there is a different tone.  You are celebrating Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.  I was blessed to see firsthand that death comes alive through the Word of God. Generations later, The Spirit brought the same kind of life through the message of Jesus that Peter and the disciples preached.  3000 joined their numbers during that Pentecost celebration.

The promise God gave me in the valley is still life-giving promise for you. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live. The Holy Spirit has not quit yet.  Wherever God’s Word is, there the Spirit will be with his heavenly breath to bring life.  Amen.

JESUS’ ASCENSION MEANS IT’S TIME FOR MINISTRY

5.13.18 Ascension

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Ephesians 4:7-16

7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”

9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

 

 

On a day when America takes time to recognize mothers, we are taking time for this festival called the Ascension of our Lord.  You might think that the two have absolutely nothing in common, that there is no possible way that these two days could ever correlate.  One is about love and sacrifice and selflessness and care and serving, and the other is about Jesus leaving this world to take up residence at his rightful place on heaven’s throne.

But maybe you noticed something as I read through Ephesians 4. Jesus’ ascension is also about love for his people, the sacrifice he made for us, and how his completed work means we now have something to offer others.  There is a word for this kind thing that shows up right in the middle of verse 12 in Ephesians 4:  διακονίας.  That’s the Greek word for “ministry,” or “service.”  When Christ ascended he had some work in mind for us to do.

That’s how it dawned on me that the two are very similar.  Mothering is a service in a way that it is selflessly serving children for their good.  It is loving care for children so that won’t be tossed back and forth by the waves of life.  It’s helping children grow and mature the right way. That is exactly what Christ’s triumphant return to heaven means for us, his church.  Jesus’ ascension means it’s time for ministry.

As we discuss this ministry we have received from our ascended Lord, I want us to answer three questions: 1) what does Jesus give us for ministry? 2) who does Christ give us for ministry? 3) what is the purpose of this ministry?

If Jesus going back to heaven means that he has left us to do his ministry work, doesn’t that sound kind of hopeless?  Why would a perfect God leave this very important work up to imperfect rebels like us?  But for one it means Jesus is done with his saving work.  He came and did everything that God had promised he would.  He completely finished the work of defeating sin, death, and the devil to open up heaven for us.  We have to also remember that Jesus promised to be with us to the very end of the age.  It’s still his church and from heaven he rules all things for our spiritual and eternal good.  His grace will not leave us.

Paul says “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” Now it would be nonsense for us to think that we have earned these gifts or achieved them by personal performance. Grace cannot be earned or deserved in any way.  Grace is not based on your performance. Jesus, the one who descended to earth to be the Savior from sin, the conqueror of hell, the crusher of Satan, he loves you and has an endless supply of grace for you because of who he is and what he has done.

His grace also supplies everything you need for this ministry.  Paul quotes from the Psalms to prove this point.  “When he ascended on high…he gave gifts to his people.”  What are these gifts we’re talking about? God’s gifts are the things and abilities he gives you to serve him, to be involved in ministry, to care for others.

He might give some of us talents in music or abilities with our hands to build or fix things.  He might give some of us administrative minds for group work and others jolly personalities to be warm and caring.  He might give some of us courage and optimism to press on and stand up against negative doubts and worries.  He might give some gifts at one time in life and then change the gifts at another time.  But the key that Paul wants us to know is that Jesus gives every one of us gifts.  It’s personal for each of us so that we can serve him and one another.

Now, it doesn’t make much sense at all that Jesus would ascend to heaven to watch over his church and give you the gift of being a good communicator so that you will use that gift to spread gossip and rumors. It doesn’t make much sense that Jesus would give you a knack for fixing things so that you would only fix your things.  That would be similar to a mother neglecting her children’s basic needs. Jesus would never give you gifts and abilities for sinful or selfish purposes.

And yet as he looks over his people today, does he see his gifts being used properly?  Does he see his gifts being used faithfully and regularly?  Or is it easy for us to fall into the devil’s trap and treat our abilities and talents that come from the throne of God as if we can do whatever we want?  If gifts come from God’s grace, then shouldn’t we use them for his glory?  He doesn’t owe us these things, gifts are from his hand so that we use them as his children should. If we don’t do use his gifts properly then he certainly has a good reason to remove them from us, wouldn’t you say?  If a mom is going to neglect her children’s basic needs, those children will be removed, right?

But the amazing thing is Jesus still has grace for us in this ministry.  We may prove too often that we are selfish, but Jesus proves his grace all the more.  He rolls the selfishness away by continually providing the gifts we need for his ministry, to serve him and others.

Now, the next question is who does Jesus give for ministry?  We’re on verse 11, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” 

Jesus was thinking of you when he ascended, because he knew that you would need more than certain talents and abilities.  He knew people would need a regular diet his Word and sacraments to create and strengthen faith all over the world.  Jesus knew that only his Word and sacraments could have the power and comfort to accomplish his saving work.  He knew that his word had to spread.  And so Jesus provided servants to do just that.  Today, we call them pastors and teachers.

These representatives and servants are trained and sent from Jesus through his church to serve his people.   No, that doesn’t mean there is some divine factory somewhere that miraculously churns out pastors and teachers every year.  Well, I take that back; actually there is.  It’s your homes and congregations just like Our Saviour’s.  That’s where God finds his next generation of called servants for his work. He watches over your homes and finds boys and girls who love him and his Word.  He finds ways of instilling the desire to serve when kids see parents serving in ministry with their talents and abilities on committees or helping out at events. He finds ways to motivate kids when called workers carry out their service with the joy of Jesus every day.  He prepares kids just like ours at our Lutheran prep schools and high schools, our Martin Luther College, and our Seminary.   And then Jesus does something incredible.  It happened yesterday at MLC and Thursday, May 24th at the Seminary.  He’s going to give these servants places to serve his people. It’s incredible how he takes care of his church.  Ever since he went home to heaven he has given gifts to his people and given servants to serve his people, because Jesus works through us, his people.  He gives pastors and teachers the powerful gospel message with his powerful promise to work through our feeble efforts to feed and nurture and build his flock.

Now these servants are not perfect.  I can personally attest to that.  But that’s what makes it easy to be a pastor and teacher.  I personally know what sin is and I personally fight temptations just like you.  I know the burdens of guilt and the problems of sin very well, and I know the solution can only be the grace of Jesus, his death and resurrection.  I know how Jesus can change lives because I know what he has done for me.  By God’s grace, as your pastor, I get to see his Word work in your lives, too.  I get to see God’s law crush sinful pride and self-righteousness.  I get to see God’s gospel soothe the aching heart and restore the broken spirit. I get to see how God’s Word gives you the humility and confidence to fight against sin and how you use your gifts to serve our Savior.  With apologies to mothers, there is no greater job on this planet than to be a servant of the Savior Jesus.

That being said, it doesn’t mean I’m on some kind of pedestal.  I’m not closer to God.  I’m not better at serving.  I’m a sinner who has been trained and called to serve in this ministry full-time.  You are a sinner who is just as vital to the ministry even if you aren’t serving full-time.  You are a child of God, and the last time I checked that means you get to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  You are a part of the service, the ministry, that God carries out through his church.  You are a crucial part of the body that needs all the parts to work properly.

That leads to the last question: what is the purpose of this ministry?  Why did Jesus ascend to give us gifts and abilities, to give us servants of the gospel?  Paul answers that for us: “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”

Ministry is all about serving God and one another. See when you have a ministry it’s not about a church building or list of projects or finances.  It’s not about a pastor or teacher.  It’s not about this talent or this ability. It’s not about emotional worship or the biggest, best events.  The ministry is about Christ. It’s about serving Christ, who is the head, and serving others, those who are either in the body of Christ with us – we call that the Church – or those who we pray might join us in this body of Christ.

If you want this body of believers to be strong and grow, it takes work.  As Jesus sits on his throne in heaven he gives you gifts, and he wants you to use those gifts. That’s ministry.  That’s service to our King. And that kind of ministry never stops.  As Paul says: speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. The truth is we don’t earn or deserve anything from God, but that didn’t stop God from loving you and giving you his own Son.  The truth is Jesus is the Savior for us.  He is the conqueror for us.  He is the ruler for us.  He is the head and by his grace we are the body.  That’s the truth at the center of our ministry. And so we work together as the body by doing what the head tells us.  We use his Word of truth and his gifts with his servants to accomplish his ministry.

That’s how the body of Christ is built up. And it’s a beautiful thing when it’s working.  Sometimes it means larger numbers of people and sometimes it doesn’t. Certainly, we want to reach more people, but growing in ministry can happen as each body member gets stronger in faith and uses their gifts more. Paul says it this way: From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.  Ministry happens when each part does its work.

Growing in ministry also happens as we band together to fight off all the errors and assaults that come our way.  Using God’s Word and serving one another in love will strengthen us to defend our ministry against the devil, the world, and our sinful natures.  As that ministry work is done: then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

Kind of sounds like what a mom does, she helps her kids grow so they won’t be tossed back and forth by the storms that come in life.  Today, thank God for moms.  But don’t forget to thank Jesus for ministry, the service that we all have to do.  Jesus gives us the gifts, the talents, the abilities to carry out his work.  He gives us the servants like parents and children but also full-time pastors and teachers.  And he gives us the real purpose for all our ministry: to equip all God’s people so that the body of believers is built up.  That’s not just a job for a caring mother.  Because of Jesus’ ascension we all get to be a part of ministry.  God grant it.  Amen.