Sunday, 17 June 2018

Pentecost IV (Proper 6 B) [Mark 4:26-34] (17-Jun-2018)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.

Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

In the Book of Judges, we read about Gideon. Gideon was one of the judges whom God raised up, and he defeated the Midianites in battle. When Gideon was gathering together an army, God kept telling him that he had too many soldiers. We read: The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Eventually God kept on reducing the number of the army from 32,000 men down to 300 men. If 32,000 men won a victory, they would congratulate themselves. But if they could win the victory with only 300 men, then they would give glory to God for helping despite such bad odds!

In the Book of Judges, we also read before the battle, how God sends Gideon down into the Midianite camp to listen to what they are saying, and he overhears a man telling his fellow soldier a dream. He says: Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat. Here we head about this man having a dream where a bread roll rolls into the camp and knocks over a tent. The other soldier says: This is no other that the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp. And so we read that Gideon with his measly 300 men, wins the victory over the Midianites. From a human point of view, it seems so unlikely and so impossible, but God is on their side. It is as unlikely as a bread roll knocking over a tent!

And so, also in our Gospel reading today, Jesus tells us about seed scattered on the ground, or a mustard seed being planted. From a human point of view, these seeds look so small, so insignificant, so useless, but actually, they grow up and become useful plants, and large bushes and trees. The seed here in the reading is God’s word, and the Gospel, and the Kingdom of God. It looks so small and insignificant, just like a bread roll, or Gideon’s army of 300 men. But when the seed grows, it flourishes and blossoms and flowers and produces fruit. God’s word, the Gospel, and the Kingdom of God have all the power in heaven and earth to destroy all the strongholds of the devil and to crush him. When God is the one at work, then a little bread roll can knock over a whole tent, and Gideon’s army of 300 men can defeat the Midianites.

So in our reading we read about two parables: the first is about the seed scattered on the ground, and the second is about the mustard seed.

Jesus says: The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle.

This is an amazing parable. Here the seed is the word of God which is scattered, and grows into the wonderful kingdom of God. And in the Gospel of Matthew, we read where it says: All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world”. Here Matthew quotes this prophecy from Psalm 78: I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.

In the parable of the scattered seed, it brings us back to the foundation of the world, back to Genesis chapter 1, where we read about creation. Here we see God creating the world, but he doesn’t just sit down and set about doing it, he does it in a particular way and with particular means. God creates the world through his word. He speaks and it happens. He says: Let there be light, and there was light. And so we see how God’s word has this wonderful creative power in it. It does things, and it brings things about, and brings new things into existence. It’s really quite an amazing reality for us to think about!

But we also read about the creation of plants and seeds. It says: Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

So we see here how God’s word produces plants, but then that these plants yield seed. And these seeds fall to the ground and produce more plants and more seed. God creates nature to be continually fruitful, and productive.

And so we also read in our reading today, how God created seeds and plants to reflect the way in which the word of God, and the kingdom of God works, and how they grow, and produce, and are fruitful. God created seeds to work in a similar way to his spoken word. Just as his word brings things into existence, so also seeds bring forth rich harvests, bountiful crops, fruitful vines, bushes, and abundant trees. Jesus says: The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.

What is so important in this parable is that the most important thing is the seed. And this tells us something about mission. We are living in a time when we are seeing a great decline in churches all throughout the western world, and it is something that can sometimes make us depressed and worried. We can worry about our congregation and parish finances. People start to think, “how can we bring more people in”?

Now, we are living in times that are dominated by buying and selling. Everything is for sale, and it seems like everyone is trying to sell us something. Sometimes we can easily fall into the trap of thinking like this as Christians too, and we start to think, “How can we grow the church, so that we can pay the church’s bills?” No wonder people are suspicious sometimes of Christians, if they think we’re just after their money! So there’s a real danger of treating the church like a business, and people like consumers.

The problem is that we focus on the harvest, instead of the seed. We often want to see the church full of people, we want to see the church as successful, and productive, and flourishing! But every farmer knows that if you want a harvest, you have to plant your seed. Unbelievers are not customers—they are empty ground in need of the seed of God’s word. We could share the word with them as we are able, we could pray for them, we could invite them to church, or make friends with them and help them, and treat them as we think a Christian should treat them. God has placed us in particular homes, in particular areas, workplaces, or families, and we all have our different gifts—some in speaking, some in serving, some in helping, or however. What Jesus calls us to think about here is not the harvest – let God sort that out. He calls us to focus on the seed. And the seed here is the word of God—it doesn’t look like much, but it has incredible power to produce a very rich harvest indeed.

Now, in the parable, we read something quite amazing. It says: The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.

Here we see that the power to grow this seed belongs to God and not to us. The seed grows and sprouts even while the farmer is asleep. Now there is a very famous quote of Martin Luther about this passage. He says: I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. (LW 51:77).

You can see here how confident Martin Luther was knowing that he has simply preached the word and sowed the seed. He could go to sleep now, and have a beer, because he knew that the Gospel was now doing its work. Now, Luther was not saying that once he had preached the Gospel, he could now have the other six days of the week off! But he was saying that while he slept, while he drank his Wittenberg beer, the word of God was working, it was changing people, it was growing a harvest. And so the glory did not belong to him, but to God who was doing the work.

In 1 Corinthians, St Paul talks about how people were playing him and Apollos off against one another. We suspect Paul was not a particularly good public speaker, but Apollos was known to be eloquent. And even though Paul was the apostle, and Apollos was not, people started to prefer Apollos because he was a better speaker. But in the church, we are not simply sowing the seed of public speaking and rousing speeches; public speaking and rousing speeches can whip people up for a while. Even Hitler knew how to put on a good speech! We are sowing the seed of God’s word, and the glory belongs to him. So St Paul says: What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. The glory belongs to God, not to Paul and Apollos.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes: Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant. Paul and me and you are nothing but insignificant bread rolls – the power to knock over a whole tent belongs to God.

Sometimes, we might look at ourselves and our weaknesses and our insecurities and our failings and all of the things that we wish we had or we wish we could do or we wish we were, but in reality we don’t have, we can’t do, and ain’t – then it’s time for us to look to Jesus’ words in 2 Corinthians 12, where he says: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. And Paul writes: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

And so Jesus says, while you sleep, while you are weak, while you are useless, while you are completely out of the way, the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.

Now we come to the second part of the reading, about the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus says: With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is grown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

Now, there is a wonderful passage in the book of 1 Kings, where Elijah is feeling very miserable for himself. There is a terrible king on the throne, King Ahab, and Elijah thought he was the only faithful follower of God left. But God says to him: I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal. Elijah feels like he is the only one left, like he is just a little mustard seed, a little black speck on white sandy beach. But God knows how to grow a large tree from a mustard seed.

We might even look at the life of Jesus. He lived in a time when he was the only one who preached the message that he did. His own people didn’t receive it, and every single nation on earth did not know the God of Israel. He was just a small mustard seed – but here we are, over 2000 years later, on the other side of the world, part of that mustard tree, part of his branches.

But then, sometimes in the church, we can often find ourselves as small insignificant people in a big world, where nobody cares about us or what we’ve got to say. But we speak the same word of God, we plant that same Gospel, even if no one in the whole world cared for it or not, even if no one in the whole universe listened to us. Because when it is God’s word that we speak, then we know that his power is able to make that mustard seed turn into a large bush, a large garden plant, and put out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

At the end of the reading today, we read two little verses, that look very insignificant, like two grains of mustard! It says: With many such parables [Jesus] spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

The amazing thing about the way Jesus teaches here, is that as we think about these parables, and churn them over, we find new insights and new discoveries that we never thought about before. The pictures that Jesus plants in our minds of the seed and the mustard seed produce fruitful and rich thoughts in our minds. Sometimes we don’t understand the parables, and we think about them, and think about them, and push and push, but we don’t seem to get it.

Now, just imagine if we were reading some Shakespeare, or something, and we didn’t know what he meant. And all the Shakespeare scholars don’t really know either. If Shakespeare were still alive, we could ring him up, or write him a letter, and ask him just what he meant.

But the Scripture is different, because for every book of the bible, there are two authors. We have the person who wrote the Gospel, whether it is Matthew, Mark, or Luke, or whoever – and then we have the Holy Spirit. Now we can’t ring up Mark or John or Ezekiel what they meant, but the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are still alive. The problem is not that the word is not clear, it’s that our minds are not clear. Sometimes there are people who think that the bible is just a dead word, and not the voice of the Holy Spirit. So no wonder when they talk about the bible, it sounds like a coroner’s report. However, Jesus is alive, the speaker of the parable has risen from the dead, and if we ask him, he will teach us and send us the Holy Spirit, and explain to us what the parable means.

So we read: With may such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. By nature, because of our sin, we are simply unable to hear the word, until the Holy Spirit comes and opens our ears. It says: He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. To the outsider, nothing that Jesus is saying makes sense. But when Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit to enlighten our understanding, then it makes sense. It’s similar to when the apostles found themselves very busy in the book of Acts, and they appointed some helpers to share their work. And they said: But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. These two things go together: prayer and the ministry of the word. They go together because they can’t do the ministry of the word without Jesus’ help, and so they continually ask him for help.

So let’s commend ourselves to him, to Jesus, who died for us and rose again from the dead, to win the forgiveness of sins for us and the promise of eternal life. This word of God doesn’t look like much, maybe like a little seed, but it grows and produces, and puts out branches, and brings about a wonderful harvest. Amen.

Dear Jesus, plant your saving and powerful word in us, and let your kingdom grow. Send us the Holy Spirit, that we may hear and understand your word more and more. Amen.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Pentecost II (Proper 4 B) [Mark 2:23-3:6] (3-Jun-2018)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.

Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Today in our reading, we have a very important passage, which speaks of two events where the Pharisees accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. The first part of the reading is where Jesus and the disciples were plucking grain and the second is where Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath.

Now this reading actually has many very important things in it, and many things that are very relevant for today.

The first thing that we’re going to talk about is what we call law and gospel. In our reading today, Jesus and his disciples are accused of breaking the law. The Pharisees say: Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath? The whole of the Scripture can be divided up into two basic doctrines or teaching: the law, and the Gospel. Both the Law of God and the Gospel are God’s eternal perfect word. The law teaches us what we should do, and what we shouldn’t do. The law threatens punishment for those who break the law, and the law promises rewards for those who keep the law. But we human beings are sinners, and we are unable to keep the law perfectly. And so the law also shows us God’s wrath and judgment against sin. Jesus says: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. He says: Truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever relaxes one the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. James writes: Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. The law doesn’t make sinners, but it finds sinners and exposes them, and shows us who we really are.

Now, on the other hand, there is also in the bible another teaching or doctrine, which is called the Gospel. The Gospel teaches us not what we should do or what we shouldn’t do, but points us to Jesus and what he has done for us. Jesus entered into the world, he suffered, and died, and he took the weight of every single one of our sins and failures and weaknesses upon himself, upon his own shoulders, and he made a complete and perfect payment, and sacrifice, and atonement for every single one of our sins, and for our entire sinful condition. And he defeated the power of death by rising from the dead on Easter Sunday. And this word of the Gospel is spoken on earth in the church to us right in the midst of this life, in holy baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, in the words of absolution or the forgiveness of sins spoken by the pastor, in the pulpit when pastors preach the gospel, and in all of our Christian conversations where we encourage each other and speak the message of Christ to one another wherever God places us. This Gospel is received by us completely without any works, without any contributions on our part whatsoever, and is given to us completely and totally freely. The Gospel doesn’t find saints, but it makes people saints through the word of the forgiveness of sins. When God looks at us, he sees all of our sins covered over by the righteousness of his Son.

Now, when we talk about Law and Gospel, we’re not talking about the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament has both Law and Gospel in it, and the New Testament has both Law and Gospel in it. But also, Law and Gospel is not “nasty talk” versus “nice talk”. When we say that we should love another, that’s nice, but it’s law—it’s not Gospel. The fact that Jesus has shown his love to us by dying and rising for us to give us eternal life—that’s Gospel, not law. But the death of Jesus is nasty stuff, it’s not very nice, but it saves us.

Now, I’d like to come back to the law. There are three things that the law does. Firstly, God gives his law for the well-being of human society. The law stops the world from being completely crazy and falling apart. People know that they shouldn’t steal, shouldn’t lie. They sip their hot drinks, or they will burn their tongues. They drive on the appointed side of the road or they will have a car crash. This is just the rules, it’s the way the world works.

But also, God’s law shows us our sin and it accuses us. The law is like a mirror, and we look into it and we see where we have failed. The law shows us our need for forgiveness.

And also, God’s law is a guide for our Christian lives. It shows us how we should live as Christians, and what the Holy Spirit’s will is for our lives.

So we have these three ways in which the law works. Sometimes we call them the three uses of the law: for the well-being of society, to show us our sin, and to guide us in our Christian life.

Now, in the Old Testament, we read about Moses going up to meet God on the top of Mt Sinai and God gives him the Ten Commandments. Now, if you’ve read the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, you’ll find there a lot of laws that we no longer keep today, for example, laws about sacrifices, about what to eat, and all kinds of laws about worship, and so on. And we might think: “I thought, Jesus said that not one dot will pass from the law. Why don’t we do those things anymore?” The reason is this: when Jesus came, and when he died, and rose, and sent the Holy Spirit, there were many things that were no longer applicable or needed. For example, we don’t sacrifice lambs and bulls and goats anymore in a temple, because Jesus sacrificed himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

It’s a bit like someone who keeps all their food in a small esky. If they are keeping food in an esky, there are certain laws they have to keep in order for the food to be fresh. For example, they will have to go and buy some more ice regularly and replace it every day, otherwise everything will get warm and wet. But then the person buys a fridge, and so they just don’t need to buy some ice every day to keep their food cold. He has something better than an esky now, he has a fridge! In a similar way, when we say that those old Jewish laws are no longer needed, it’s not that we don’t care about the law, it’s just that Jesus has fulfilled the law, and he has given us something better.

And so in the Old Testament, there are two types of laws: there are laws about ceremonies, or ceremonial law, and there are laws about how we should live, or moral law. So all the things about eating, and worship, and sacrificing, are called “ceremonial laws”, and we Christians don’t follow these laws anymore, because they are not needed. But then there are also moral laws, like honouring parents, not murdering, not committing adultery, not stealing, not lying – these things are about what right and what’s wrong. And as Christians, we should seek to do things that are right.

So, we’ve talked about law and Gospel—how God shows us our sin through the law, and also shows us our Saviour Jesus in the Gospel. We’ve talked about the three ways in which the law works: the law gives order to society, it shows us our sin, and gives us a guide for our Christian life. And also, we’ve talked about the difference in the Old Testament between “moral” and “ceremonial” laws, between the laws which have to do with right and wrong, and the laws which have to do with Jewish worship.

All this is very important when we’re looking at our reading today, because Jesus is accused of breaking the laws of worship, the laws concerning the Sabbath.

Now, in the 10 Commandments, we have a commandment there about the Sabbath. This is the third commandment, which says: Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. In Exodus it says: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Now in the Old Testament, the Sabbath day is Saturday. Saturday is the seventh day of the week. And today, most Christians don’t worship on Saturdays, but they worship on Sundays instead. And we might look at this commandment, and ask, “Why don’t we keep it anymore?” Well, the answer is, that the commandment does apply still, in that it is part of God’s law that we should come together and worship God and hear the word of God. But the command that we are still required to hold to the particular day is part of the Jewish ceremonial law. We don’t worship on Sundays because God said we have to worship on Sundays—we do it out of freedom, as a commemoration of the day when Jesus rose from the dead. So we see in Act 20, that the disciples gathered on the first day of the week to break bread. The first day of the week in Sunday. And also when there was a dispute about these things in the early times, Paul wrote to the Colossians: Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

So Luther writes in the Small Catechism and explanation of this commandment about the Sabbath, where it says: We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. The reason why the Jewish people had to keep the Sabbath and not work, was so that they could worship and hear God’s word and the preaching of God’s word. And so, now that there is no need to keep the Saturday, it is still required of us as Christians to come together, hear the preaching and the word, and learn it. So in Hebrews it says: Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Today, the Seventh Day Adventists insist that Christians still have to worship on Saturdays. But then also they feel a need to keep other old ceremonial laws, like not eating pork, and shellfish, just like the Jews, and then there is no end to keeping all these various laws. We believe that the Jewish food regulations, the observance of Saturday, the sacrifices, circumcision, all belong to the ceremonies of the Jewish people before the Holy Spirit came. But now that Jesus had risen from the dead and poured out the Holy Spirit on the church, there is no need for the old ceremonial laws.

In our reading, the Pharisees accuse the disciples and Jesus of doing work on the Sabbath, because it says that on the Sabbath they should do no work, like they do on the other six days of the week. But then the Pharisees—and many Jews even today—get very fussy about what is defined as “work”. So, for example, in Israel, the regular elevators don’t work in building on Saturdays, because it involves the use of electricity. Some Jews won’t turn on a light switch on Saturday. And in our reading, the disciples were hungry and decided to pick some grain, and rub it between their hands, because they were hungry. But the Pharisees all of sudden see red, as if they have a little alarm goes off, that says: Work! Work! Work! Even in the reading, Jesus was about to heal a person. And the Pharisees’ alarm goes off, which says: Work! Work! Work!

But Jesus points out to them that when it comes to needing to eat and drink, there is still a certain amount of work that we need to do. Every day, we still need to cook food, and wash the dishes. Jesus says: Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how they entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him? The Sabbath laws don’t mean that we should starve, and not eat. Also, when it comes to helping people, like when Jesus healed the man in the synagogue, you don’t need to wait until the Sabbath is over. In old times, many Christians often went visiting on Sundays, which is a good thing. It requires some work to go down the street or get in your car, but they are doing something nice for people. Jesus says that if they had a animal in a well on the Sabbath, they would have to fetch it out and rescue it. That requires work, but the job needs to be done, otherwise the animal would die. We pastors do our biggest work on Sundays, as did the Rabbis and priests on Saturdays in the Jewish times. Some people think we pastors only work on Sundays, and have six days off!

In one of my previous parishes, there was a dairy farmer who lived near a highway. A couple of times, his cows ended up on the road on Sunday, and he had to go and get them all. But he was very apologetic about not being at church. But as we see in this passage, sometimes even on Sunday, when it’s time for church, there are some emergency things that just need to be done.

The other thing we need to realise about the Pharisees is that they were trying to be very diligent in keeping the law. And that is a good thing. But then they started to be so particular, that they then thought that helping someone or even eating some grain was breaking the Sabbath. The reason for not working on the Sabbath, was so that they could hear the word of God. It wasn’t so that people would turn to statues on one day of the week. Sometimes Christians have fallen into this kind of legalistic thinking too. At one time, there was a dancing craze that started up, and back in those days, dancing was just about the only occasion when a man or woman would physically touch someone else’s husband or wife. And sometimes, there were some affairs, and scandals, that came about because of it. But then some Christians began to forbid all dancing, including some Lutherans. They went over the top. In some times and places, there have big problems with alcoholism and drinking. But then some Christians have forbidden all drinking of alcohol, as if drinking alcohol is a sin. But it’s not. Jesus himself even turned water into wine at a wedding.

Now in our reading, Jesus says: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath. Here we see that there is a wonderful gift in keeping the Sabbath day. Going to the synagogue or the church to hear the word of God is not a burden, but it’s a wonderful blessing. It’s a joy—it’s a privilege. The word of God saves us, and feeds us, and strengthens us. This is what it means when Jesus says: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
But then Jesus also says: The Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath. All throughout Jesus’ life, Jesus kept the normal laws of the Jewish people, like everyone else, even though he didn’t need to. He did this not to cause offense, and to fulfil the law. But Jesus is actually the Lord of heaven and earth. He created the world together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and he was the one who rested on the seventh day at the end of the creation of the world. So Jesus is Lord also of the Sabbath. He is in charge of the Sabbath, in fact, when we come to church, we come to hear him speaking his word to us. And it makes no difference to our faith, whether we hear that word on a Saturday, or Sunday, or Monday, or whenever.

In fact, there is a tendency among people who want to keep Saturday as the Sabbath and all the Jewish laws to also deny that Jesus is truly God. That’s because you can’t be justified by grace through faith on the one hand, and also be justified by Saturdays on the other hand. It’s easy to forget that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, and the make the Sabbath more important than even him. These people end up trying to copy Jesus’ life as a Jew, rather than living in the wonderful freedom of the Gospel that Jesus won for us when he died to fulfil that law. Yes, Christians should do good works, and out of gratitude to Jesus, seek to live a Christian life, and try to live according to the Ten Commandments. But even our good works need the forgiveness of sins.

And so, let’s remember the wonderful fact that Jesus is lord even of the Sabbath. Let’s praise him for coming to meet with us here in this place, on this day, to speak his word to us, and to feed us with his body and blood. In worship, we don’t do the work, we just sit there, but he works constantly. He is working to heal and bless and forgive and encourage, just as he did for the man in our reading with the withered hand. Amen.

Dear Jesus, we thank you that you are the Lord of the Sabbath. Fill us with the Holy Spirit, and teach us to fear and love God, so that we may not despise preaching and his word, but gladly hear and learn it. Amen.

Funeral of Ray Jorgensen [John 11:17-27] (1-Jun-2018)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 10am.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe this? She said to him, “Yes Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.

Prayer: Lord God, our heavenly Father, enlighten our darkness with the light of your Holy Spirit, so that I may preach well and we all may hear well, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We pastors are often in the situation at funerals of having known people a lot less than most other people. I have only known Ray for a year, since I arrived in Maryborough. But he was one the first people from Maryborough that I spoke to on the phone, he was the first person from Maryborough that I met, his was the first house I went to on my first day here, and he drove me around and gave me the “cook’s tour”. And for most of that time during the last year, I knew him as a very willing and helpful worker. And despite his shakiness, that willingness to help and to contribute went on almost until the very last minute when he went to hospital and was then unable to help anymore.

There’s a bible verse that I often think of about Ray from Psalm 84, where it says: I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, than dwell in the tents of wickedness. There’s was always a kind connection between Ray and our church doors because he was usually the only person who could reach the bolt at the top!

But somewhere in the mix, I remember having a very significant conversation with Ray, when he told me that he hadn’t always been part of the church, and there was a reasonably significant period of time when he stayed away. He told me that the reason he came back to church was that he attended a funeral here, and it got him thinking. And so it’s a very significant thing that we should be gathered here today for Ray’s funeral, because in some sense, things have now come full circle. I’ve preached at many funerals before, and much of the time, we pastors are never quite sure what kind of an impact the things we say have on people. But maybe even today, there’s another Ray here, who is wondering about this world, about society, about things, and is thinking about what will happen to them when they die, and what will happen to them, and where they will go. You never know. What we do know is that in the face of death, at a Christian funeral it is always our desire to receive our comfort not from people, from human feelings and sentiments, but from the living and active word of God from heaven, the voice of the Holy Spirit himself. And when the word of God is spoken, then we know that the Holy Spirit is active and powerful to bring strength and a living comfort to us.

In the Gospel reading, which I read just before, we read about a small discussion between Jesus and Martha, whose brother Lazarus has died. Later on, we read that Jesus goes to her brother and raises him from the dead.

Martha doesn’t really know what to expect. Jesus asks her various questions, and she answers well, even though she might not really know what she’s saying.

Martha says to Jesus: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.

There’s a kind of sense in which Martha treats Jesus as the ultimate fix-it man. If he were here, her brother wouldn’t have died. There’s a sense too with Ray, that sometimes we might be sitting around before church, trying to organise something, and we think: we’ll wait for Ray to arrive. He’ll know where that thing is, or he’ll know what to do, or he’ll know how to fix that.

So we read that Martha says: If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.

There’s a sense in which maybe she blames Jesus for her brother’s death. And maybe she wants him to fix the situation, but she doesn’t know really what she’s asking. She says, “Whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” “Do whatever you like.”

So Jesus says to her: Your brother will rise again.

And the same words apply to us today. Our brother will rise again.

History isn’t finished as soon as someone dies; because all history belongs to God, and he is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.

“Your brother will rise again”, says Jesus.

And Martha says to him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.

Listen to how Martha makes a good confession of faith – even though she doesn’t fully know what she’s talking about.

She’s talking to Jesus like he might not get the job done. Or when he gets the job done, it will be so far off in the future!

Martha says to Jesus, I know that he will rise again on the last day. Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? She said to him, Yes Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.

Jesus says to her: “I am the resurrection and the life.” “Whenever I’m around there is resurrection.”

Now today, we have come to farewell a father, a grandfather, our friend Ray. We know for one thing that God sent him to us for our benefit. And also, God had put you there for him. God looks after the world by appointing people to help look after it and its people. God looked after you and took care of you by sending you Ray. God looked after Ray and took care of him by sending you to him.

But now there has come a time where we say, The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord. And this is not an easy thing for us to accept sometimes.

But there’s something that we really need to think about and this is this. Before Jesus went to suffer, and die and rise again, he actually told his disciples about it in advance. He prophesied about these things if you like. But the disciples had no idea what he was talking about. But when he was risen from the dead, then they went “Aha” – I get it now. I understand what he was talking about. Beforehand, we had no idea, but now we get it.

Also in the gospel reading today about Martha and Jesus, Jesus says some things to Martha which she doesn’t really understand until afterwards. She doesn’t understand what Jesus means when he says, “Your brother will rise again”. “I am the resurrection and the life.” But when he goes and raises her brother from the dead, then she gets it. The light switches on for her!

In the Christian faith, we also say that those who have died will rise again.

We don’t just say that they will be alive. We say that they will rise again.

On Easter Sunday, Christians throughout the world don’t just say, “Christ is alive”, but “Christ is risen”. He is risen from the dead! He’s gone there and he’s come back! And on Easter he goes to his disciples and show them the wounds in his hands and his feet and his side and says, “Have a look! It’s me! I was nailed to the cross, and now I am risen from the dead.”

Because when we say sometimes that someone is alive, we can often mean that to say that they are “alive” in our hearts, or they are generally “alive”. But that often doesn’t give us much comfort or strength in the long run, especially when we know that the person isn’t there for us any more.

But Jesus doesn’t just say to Martha, “I am the life”, he says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” “Your brother will rise again.”

He will rise, not because he was perfect, or because he wasn’t a sinner. If being without were the criteria for eternal life, then there would be no hope for any of us, we would all be stuffed! But he will rise, because of Jesus words which he speaks. Jesus speaks his words in baptism on us, he forgives our sins, because he suffered, died and rose again. The whole point of holy baptism, is that we are taken by Jesus to himself, so that he can give us as a gift to others, not just now, but also at the time of the resurrection.

In this life we also suffer, we also mourn. In this life we also die. But we will also rise. So Jesus says, Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.

And now we can say of Ray that he is resting with his Lord. As St Paul says, he has departed to be with Christ. But the story doesn’t end there.

And we might sit there and say, “How can this happen?” How can there be a resurrection of the dead? Let God sort that problem out. That’s the same question that Mary asked, “How can this be, [how can I become a mother] since I am a virgin?” Let God sort that problem out.

The most important thing is this: Jesus says, I am the resurrection and the life. In a sense, Martha listens to these words and doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. And the same goes for us. We sometimes don’t know what Jesus is talking about. But don’t let that stop us. All faith begins with blindness: it doesn’t begin with sight, it begins with hearing the words of the living Lord Jesus Christ, who holds life and death in his own hands. Now we see in a mirror dimly, says St Paul, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

And so in the face of death, we confess that Jesus also had died. Jesus is the only sinless, perfect one. We, on the other hand, are all totally and completely sinful and corrupt people without any exceptions. We have all fallen short of the glory of God, and even our good thoughts are tainted with bad motives. In and of ourselves, we are completely unable and unworthy to stand before God and meet him in all of his holiness. But Jesus entered into the world, he suffered, and died, and he took the weight of every single one of our sins and failures and weaknesses upon himself, upon his own shoulders, and he made a complete and perfect payment for every single one of our sins. And he defeated the power of death by rising from the dead on Easter Sunday. But then after this, Jesus sent out his apostles and disciples to tell people what they had seen and to preach it, and we still carry this on today. And when this Word of God goes out, the Holy Spirit goes out and changes people and creates a living faith in them. And what is begun here on this earth, in this life, is finished and completed in the next life. It begins here with the simple word of the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus on the cross. It begins here with the simple water of baptism, and the eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper. All these things are given to us for the forgiveness of sins. God gives all this forgiveness completely and totally freely, without any contribution on our part whatsoever. It is a totally free gift. But these things also point us forward to heaven itself, to eternal life, to the resurrection of the dead. Because it is the same God who empowers both the beginning and the end – he empowers his word here on earth and empowers faith, even if our faith seems to us to be so weak, and it his power, his truth, his love that promises the wonderful gift of eternal life with him. It is the same Jesus that we meet by faith in this life that we will finally see face to face.

And so Jesus says, I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? And Martha said to him, Yes Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. Amen.

Lord God, heavenly Father, send us your Holy Spirit at this time, as we mourn the death of Ray. We thank you for his life and all the many blessings that you gave to us through him. Comfort us and strengthen us with your holy comfort, and give us everything that we need, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Holy Trinity [Isaiah 6:1-8] (27-May-2018)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Text (Isaiah 6:1-13):
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, send to us all your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well and to all of us that we may hear well; in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Today we’re celebrating the festival of the Holy Trinity, where we remember the particular teaching about God, that he is one true God, in perfect unity, but also reveals himself to us as three persons, or three individuals, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Today, for our sermon we’re going to meditate on the words from the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 6. And there’s a number of things that happen in this chapter:

I.                   Isaiah sees a wonderful vision of God.
II.                 He recognises his sin, and he receives forgiveness.
III.              Isaiah is called to be a prophet, and is given a word from God to speak.

So first, what did Isaiah actually see? First, Isaiah gives the time: he says that all this happened in the year that King Uzziah died. We learn here that kings comes and go; rulers die, leaders perish – but God does not. He is the living God.

And Isaiah says he saw him. And actually, Isaiah says very little about what he saw—he could have said much more, but he says just enough for us. He says: I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

Can you imagine? The Lord is so far above our comprehension that the edge, the hem of his robe filled the temple. Imagine – Isaiah saw the Lord, and yet he says nothing about what he looked like, only that he was sitting on a throne and the hem of his robe filled the temple. What you think Isaiah is trying to tell us about God?

But then, Isaiah tells us about the living creatures, the holy angels, the seraphim who were there. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet and with two he flew.

Throughout the bible, we read about all kinds of angels and heavenly creatures that God has created. Right in the beginning of the book of Genesis, we read about when Adam and Eve fell into sin, that God appointed angels called cherubim to guard the entrance to the Garden of Eden, with a flaming sword flashing back and forth. –We read later about Jacob and his dream where he saw angels going up and down a ladder to heaven. – Ezekiel saw some wonderful living creatures of God.

Here Isaiah calls the angels he saw: seraphim. And we Christians sometimes talk about cherubim and seraphim, angels and archangels. There is not just one kind of angel, but all different kinds. “Seraphim” means a spirit of fire, an angel of burning fire. In Psalm 104, it says that God’s ministers are a flaming fire. This is what we’re talking about here, who are standing in the presence of someone so wonderful, so magnificent, so glorious, so holy that with two wings they cover their faces and feet in reverence to him.

And we read that there is no silence in this vision. Not only does Isaiah see something wonderful, he also hears what this wonderful thing is. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

You probably recognise these words from when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, when we sing these words: Holy, holy, holy, together with these wonderful living creatures. Notice also there that there are three holies: holy, holy, holy, just as we say in the blessing: the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lordmake his face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord look upon you with favour and give you peace. The LORD, the LORD, the LORD – holy, holy, holy – just as in baptism we say in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

And so then we read: And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. Can you imagine if the words of the angel causes the foundations to shake, how much more the voice of God himself? These things are so holy that a cloud of smoke protects Isaiah from seeing anything further.

So what’s going on here? In the Gospel of John, chapter 12, we read a little explanation of what Isaiah saw. John says that it was Jesus whom Isaiah saw. And yet this same Jesus who had existed together with the Father and the Holy Spirit right from the beginning of the world is so holy that the angels can’t even look at him, and Isaiah says that the hem of his robe filled the temple.

And yet, this wonderful Jesus has descended from heaven and become a true human being just like us, a real man with real flesh and blood. Angels knew how wonderful this was that at his birth, they came tearing out of heaven to sing with the shepherds in the fields: Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased.

And now, this same Jesus has died. His blood has been shed, and his hands, feet and side have been pierced. As we read later in Isaiah: This Jesus has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. By his stripes we are healed. The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. And this Jesus that Isaiah saw has now risen from the dead and has ascended into heaven. This same Jesus that Isaiah saw has descended and has sat back down on his throne, but now with a difference: sitting there with real human flesh and real human blood.

And yet, can you imagine—this same Jesus whose robe just barely scraped the temple, had people come up to him during his life and touch the hem of his robe. We read about a woman with a bleeding problem who said to herself: If I only touch his garment, I will be made well. Here today Jesus lets us touch the hem of his garment as he descends in all his majesty to baptise a child. What about when we hear the absolution? Jesus lets us touch his garment, by giving us his word and speaking his gospel – his free forgiveness of all our sins. And we touch this garment, his word, and like the lady, we are made well. What about the Lord’s Supper? He clothes himself in bread and wine—we touch these things and eat and drink them, and power goes out from them through the living and active words: This is my body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

But then here in the church, we are gathered with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. Jesus is the LORD of hosts, the king of the heavenly armies. Remember “O come, all ye faithful” at Christmas time when we sing, “Come and behold him, born the king of angels.”

And these wonderful angels are singing the praises still of this same Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain to take away the sin of the world. They sing the words: Holy is the Father of this Jesus, Holy is this Jesus himself, and Holy is the Spirit that is breathed out of the mouth of Jesus.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.

But then remember that Isaiah said that when the voice called out, the thresholds shook. Do you realise that we would know nothing about Jesus at all if it weren’t for the word? It is the voice, the speaking, the word that makes the threshold, the foundations shake.

A church without the word of God is no church.
A sermon without the word of God is no sermon.
Baptism without the word of God is no baptism.
The Lord’s Supper without the word of God is a supper, a very light supper, but it not the Lord’s.

God had willed that his word be spoken here on the earth and it is this word that makes the threshold shake.

But then if we are going to hear God’s word here and enter into the presence of Jesus, how are we going to do it? What should we say? How would we be prepared?

Isaiah tells us: I said: Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!

Woe is me! This is the word of a man who knows his sin, and that he is totally unworthy to be in the presence of God. What about you? Can you say, “Woe is me” – or would you rather say, “Yay for me!” Be careful what you say—when you stand before God, you must know which one of you is the holy God and which one of you is the sinner. Isaiah knows who he is. And he says: I am lost. I am a man of unclean lips. Has God lost his way, or have you? Is God unclean, or are you? – Know who you are. If you are not lost, your Good Shepehrd cannot find you. If you are not unclean, then the blood of the Lamb cannot cleanse you. As St John says: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

But there is something else, something new that God also wants to speak to us. We read: Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

What a wonderful gift the angel gives to Isaiah! Isaiah says: Woe is me! and yet the angel gives God’s blessing, his forgives, his atonement. His guilt is taken away, and his sin atoned for. Isaiah says: I am lost, and yet the angel finds him. Isaiah says: I am a man of unclean lips, and yet those same lips are prepared and purified by the burning coal.

Jesus is very much like this burning coal. Here is a coal but it is also red hot with fire. Jesus is a true man, and yet he glows red hot with his divine nature. He is true man and true God in one person, just like this burning coal is both coal and fire together. And it is this Jesus who finds you, whose angels present him to you, who touches your lips. And he sets this water of baptism on fire with his word so that this baptism saves you. And the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper he sets on fire with his true body and blood. Why? Purely so that when these things touch your lips, that your guilt will be taken away and your sin atoned for. This is also the whole reason why we have preaching, and sermons, and readings, and pastors, and a church at all – so that the wonderful forgiveness of sins in all of its simplicity and in all of its richness can come to you. What a wonderful loving Saviour we have who still comes to forgive us even today, even now through his words and his own promises!

There’s something I’d like to mention just before we finish. God actually calls Isaiah after this to be a prophet. He says: Here I am, send me! And then God sends him, but with a frightening message, and this is a message very much for our church today. God says: Go and say to this people: Keep hearing but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive; make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes and hear with their hears and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.

There are so many wonderful things that Isaiah has seen and heard, and yet many people will not hear, and yet he must preach, he must speak what God has told him to speak.

Many people are looking for a quick fix in the church today to all kinds of problems, especially in mission! What’s the one thing that could let the floodgates open up so that people could come flowing into the church again?

If only we realise what a wonderful Saviour we meet every Sunday when we sing his praises! If only we knew what a precious gift we have in the word of God and the sacraments! If only we knew that when we have the forgiveness of sins, we have everything and when we don’t have forgiveness we have nothing. And yet Jesus promises forgiveness to you and his word never lies.

But there will be many people who will simply be uninterested in this living Jesus, in the holy Triune God, in the holy Trinity. And yet, whether they believe or not, it is not us who converts them, but the Holy Spirit. We must stick to the word, and speak it in truth and hold to it with all our strength.

It is a great sorrow to many pastors of our church when people are just too lazy to read the bible, too uninterested in God’s word, bored with forgiveness—and yet God’s word is still powerful and his Spirit is living and active.

Many people have given up on God’s word and many pastors don’t preach it, because nobody expects God to call. God calls Isaiah here – and he calls him to speak a specific word. God has called me to be a pastor – and if it is him who calls, then his word is the only thing I can preach. God has baptised you, and if it is him who has called you as his own, then it is his word and nothing less and nothing more than his word that you are called to hear, to believe, and to help bring to the nations however and wherever God uses you.

Of course, when we have given up on God’s call, then the only thing we have left is dodgy church politics, we just intimidate others with the devil’s own power and use people to build up our own personal kingdom.

No—it is God who calls. And if it is He who calls, then it is His word which must be spoken, and no matter how many of how few people will hear it, Christ crucified must be preached, because it is this living Jesus and this living Jesus alone who finds our sinful lips and who speaks the living voice of His Holy Spirit into your ears to forgive each and every single one of your sins! Jesus says: Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.

Holy, holy, holy, LORD God of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! Amen.

Dear Jesus, open our ears so that they hear, and our eyes so that they see. Give understanding to our hearts so that we may turn and be healed by your holy and powerful word, Lamb of God, Good Shepherd, thank you for taking away our guilt, and atoning for our sin. Take us, and use us, and send us as you will. Amen.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Pentecost [Acts 2] (20-May-2018)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am (lay-reading).

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, breathe out upon us all your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

Today we’re celebrating the Day of Pentecost. So what happened on this day? We read about these wonderful miracles that happened: first of all, we read about something that everyone could hear—the sound of a mighty rushing wind that filled the place where they were sitting. And we read that this sound came from heaven. Secondly, we read about something that that everyone could see—divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And then we read about something that everyone could both see and hear—They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now on this particular occasion, we also have described for us exactly what this speaking in other tongues means. It says: There were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.

Can you imagine this? Here are a group of people who happen to be there in Jerusalem, and they all come from different countries, and they all speak different languages, but when they listen to Jesus’ disciples, they can hear them speaking in their own languages. And we might think: What an amazing thing! Is this really what happened?

Just to make sure that you fully understand that, yes, this is exactly what happened, we are also given some of the conversations that people were having on that day. We read: And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia,(these people were from the area that is now Iraq and Iran), Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphilia (except for Judea which is in modern-day Israel, all these places are in modern-day Turkey), Egypt and parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, (we still have the countries of Egypt and Libya today in North Africa), and visitors from Rome, (all the way from Italy), Jews and proselytes (this means not just people who were born as Jews, but also people who were converting and preparing to become Jews), Cretans and Arabians (Cretans were from the Greek Island of Crete, and the Arabians were from the area anywhere on the Arabian peninsula, where today we find countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen)—you can see there are so many different people from all kinds of areas who in those days had travelled very long distances to be in Jerusalem. We read that they said: We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.

So what’s actually going on? What’s the point of all of this? Well, before Jesus had ascended into heaven, he already promised that this would happen. In the beginning of the book of Acts, we read that Jesus while staying with them ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” And at the end of the Gospel of Luke we read: Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.

Can you see? Jesus promises to baptise them with the Holy Spirit, and to clothe them with power from on high. But why?

Because Jesus wants them to be witnesses, and to tell the nations that Jesus had died and risen from the dead, and they had seen these things with their own eyes. Jesus says: You are witnesses of these things. In Acts we read where Jesus says: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

And so, between this time, we read about only one thing happening, that the eleven apostles elected one more person to replace Judas, who had betrayed Jesus. And we read that they put forward two men, one called Joseph or Barsabbas, who also called Justus, and another man called Matthias. And read that the disciples cast lots, and prayed that God would choose one of them, and the lot fell on Matthias.

So now, on the day of Pentecost, we read that there is a full number twelve again. And then we read about these wonderful miracles that happen: the wind, the fire and the speaking in the different languages.

But why does all this happen? Firstly, God simply wanted to send the Holy Spirit to the new Christians, and to demonstrate this publicly. But also, because God wants to demonstrate that these apostles are the ones that are sent by Jesus, and now there is a new era of history, where all people everywhere are commanded to listen to these twelve apostles. And what do they have to say? They saw the risen Lord Jesus with their own eyes, and they have come to preach forgiveness of sins in the name of the risen Lord Jesus.

Now, so what does this mean for us today?

It means that these words that the apostles have to speak to us are powerful words, and that these words come with all the power of the Holy Spirit. We see on the day of Pentecost, that as soon as all of these wonderful miracles happen, the people ask questions about what is going on. And so Peter gets up and he preaches the first Christian sermon. And from there, Peter, James and John and all the other apostles were gradually sent out to preach in all kinds of different places. The part of the bible which we call the New Testament is actually the collected writings of the apostles that were also there on that day. Later in the history of the church, Christians understood very clearly that if they want to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit they have to learn and study and listen and preach what the apostles themselves said about Jesus, because Jesus had sent them out with the living power of the Holy Spirit.

So what this means for us today is that whenever we preach and learn and study the words of these apostles we are hearing the living voice of the Holy Spirit, with all the power of God. Here we come together week after week here in our little church, in our little corner of the world. And we listen to the word of God, read out loud, and preached. And when we hear these words that the apostles testify about Jesus, then we know that these words are the living voice of the Holy Spirit and have all the power and might of the Holy Spirit.

You can see what happens today on the day of Pentecost all happens because of the word of God. And we might think, is it really about God’s word? Is that really it? Isn’t it about something more than that?

Well, let’s have a look what actually happens on the Day of Pentecost. First of all, Peter gets up and he preaches the gospel. He preaches the facts about Jesus life, who he was and what he did. And he shows to the people that this was already prophesied by the same Holy Spirit long ago in the prophets. So Peter quotes three passages, one from Joel. In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. And then he preaches from Psalm 16, teaching them that it was impossible for Jesus to remain still dead in the grave. And then he preaches from Psalm 110 that Jesus has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, and now he is pouring out the Holy Spirit, just as they can all see.

Can you see? Peter is preaching God’s word. It’s the first Christian sermon. Now today, we are not called to listen to any old sermon. We are called to listen to the preaching of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The twelve apostles were called in a special way, by God directly. But they weren’t called to do nothing—they were called to preach. They had a particular calling to speak God’s word and witness to Jesus. Also in the New Testament, we read about people who were called to preach, who weren’t called directly, but were called indirectly. They were trained to preach, and tested, and then hands were laid on them, and they were sent to preach somewhere. These people are called pastors. And so, even today, in the church, pastors are trained and tested, and then they are ordained and sent out. And this also is the work of the Holy Spirit. But we have to stick absolutely to the message that the apostles also taught. If we don’t stick to these words, we won’t be teaching the words of the Holy Spirit.

We pastors are only called to preach God’s word, because this is the only thing that pastors are called to preach. Do you see? God’s word and God’s call go together. And this is also what happens with the apostles on the day of Pentecost. Peter and the other apostles are called by God and this call is demonstrated by the wonderful power of the Holy Spirit, and they are called to preach and to speak what they have been given to speak. And they are called to preach the death and resurrection of Jesus from God’s word, and to call people to repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

And so, what happens then after Peter finishes his sermon? It says: Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Here we can see another work of the Holy Spirit, where he cuts to the heart. The Holy Spirit comes to these people and shows them their sin and awakens them to their need for Jesus.

And then Peter says: Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

Isn’t this amazing? Here we have these miracles about the Day of Pentecost at the beginning of the chapter, but then, how does Peter say that they should receive the Holy Spirit? He says they should repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of sins.

And this shows us something that is highly offensive to our culture today. We can’t believe that the Holy Spirit would make such a fuss just so that a whole group of people should be baptised. Yes, yes, people say, we know we’re baptised. We know Jesus died for us. We know he rose from the dead. But we want something more… His word is not enough, people say.

And yet, it was enough for Peter. He simply got up and preached the word of God, showed the people their sin, and told them to come and be baptised. Even today in the church, we still preach God’s word, we still preach Christ crucified, we still preach the resurrection of Jesus, we still preach about sin and our need for Jesus, we still preach the forgiveness of sins, we still baptise people. And all this happens in the church today because it was done just like this on the Day of Pentecost, and when we continue these things today, we know that this comes with all the power of the Holy Spirit just like it did on the first Day of Pentecost, when the room was filled with wind and tongues of fire.

Later, we read: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Here we see the beginning of Christian worship—listening to the teaching of the apostles, and dedicating themselves to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. We still dedicate ourselves to these things in the church, because this is what happened on and after the Day of Pentecost. I would like us to think how we can dedicate ourselves to true Christian fellowship though – and I don’t mean just holding social events and such like, but how can we build each other up in Christian love and unity, in the true fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Notice there that there is also the prayers. The disciple dedicated themselves to prayers. And also the breaking of the bread. This is the Lord’s Supper. And the Lord’s Supper is that wonderful place where we come to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ. And as we come to the Lord’s Supper, it’s almost like a bicycle wheel—as the spokes come to the middle, they all come closer to each other. Also, as we come to learn more about the Lord’s Supper, and we draw near to receive these wonderful gifts, we draw closer to each other. This is true Christian fellowship at work, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Now, the world still needs these things. We still need to hear God’s word, and forgiveness of sins that comes from Jesus and his death and resurrection. We still need baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This is what we read took place on the Day on Pentecost. And when we still hear God’s word, and we still hear the preaching of the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus, and we still come and receive Holy Baptism and we still come and receive the Lord’s Supper, we know that all these things come to us with all the power and might of the Holy Spirit.

But do you need them? If not, why not? Jesus says that you do. And if you reject these things you reject the only way in which Jesus is going to speak to you. Our problem so often is that we look for the Holy Spirit in the wrong places. We look for him in our emotional highs, we look for him in a crowd of sweaty human bodies as if the church is nothing more than attending a Christian football match, we look for him in our plans and visions for the future rather than words of Jesus, we look for him in personalities and cult figures, we look for him in glitz and glamour and novelty, when all the way along the Holy Spirit was always to be found in the word and in the sacraments, in baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

God is doing something in our world—we must simply recognise this. Just see what has been happening within Islam during the previous few years. On one hand, many Muslims are becoming militant and engaging in terrorist acts. On the other hand, many others are becoming increasingly embarrassed at the religion they held for generations and are beginning to question it. Now, it’s not just Muslims, but all kinds of people—even here in our local area—of rethinking things, and asking what they should do with their lives. And yet, we Christians in Australia will be no use to them or to anyone as long as we think that God’s word and the preaching of God’s word is boring. We will be no use to anyone if we teach our children that God’s word is boring and increase in them a hatred for listening, a hatred for forgiveness, and increase in them a love for whatever the latest fad happens to be. As long as we think baptism and the Lord’s Supper are useless, we are no use. As long as we think prayer is a waste of time, we are of no use. We so often want to fly off and chase whatever new fad comes along, chasing false miracles and false prophets, quick fixes and emotional rushes.

And yet, all the way along, the Holy Spirit has been quietly working through the preaching of God’s word, and in the wonderful miracle of Holy Baptism, and in the wonderful miracle of the Lord’s Supper. Don’t you know how wonderful these things are? Learn these things. Learn God’s word. Learn what it means to be a baptised child of God. Learn what it means to enter into the presence of Jesus and to eat his body and his blood. Come and drink deeply from the wells of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s rejoice in the wonderful gifts that the Holy Spirit so generously pours out on us today—the gifts of his word, the gift of Jesus here in our midst today, the gift of the free forgiveness of all our sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit himself poured out on us and our children in Holy Baptism, and the gift of the body and blood of Christ given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. Come Holy Spirit! Amen.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you would pour out your Holy Spirit upon us today as you have promised, and that you would equip us with everything that we need to be useful in service to you. Forgive us for our many failings, and encourage us. Teach us to hear your word, and strengthen us in the calling of our baptism. Lead us and guide us, dear Jesus, wherever and however you will. Amen.