Holy Trinity Sunday – B LSB #’s 507, 388, 822
Text – Acts 2:36
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord & Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
Cowardice & Denial
In the yard behind our home is a large oak tree. When the first frost kills the leaves on the other trees, they quickly fall from their branches. Yet, the oak leaves cling to their tree even though they are as dead as all the other leaves on the ground. Then come the sharp winds of winter, & they too are powerless to shake the grip of those dead oak leaves.
In the following months come snow & sleet & ice. Their efforts are equally futile. Once spring arrives, & the sap begins to flow from the roots of the oak tree, the new leaves push forth & the dead leaves finally fall away. The new & living growth prunes away the deadness of the past.
So it is with the Spirit of God who replaces, in you & in me, the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. The new & living growth caused by our union with Christ prunes away the deadness of our past & our present. As St. Peter preached this sermon there was a lot of deadness in his past to be pruned away by the living growth of the Father’s Spirit.
From Matthew 14: “Peter answered, ‘Lord, if it is You, order me to come to You on the water.’ ‘Come,’ He said. So Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, & went toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was frightened & started to sink.” (14:28-30a NET)
From Matthew 16: “Peter took Him aside & began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But [Jesus] turned & said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” (16:22-23 ESV) From Matthew 26: “After a little while the bystanders came up & said to Peter, ‘Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to invoke a curse on himself & to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out & wept bitterly.” (26:73-75 ESV)
Cowardice & denial were frequently put on display by Peter. He wore his emotions on his sleeve. One time in Luke 5, he even realizes it: “And when Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Depart from me Lord, because I am a sinner.’” (5:8 ESV)
In our worldly sense, Peter had opened his mouth & once again made a fool of himself. Upon realizing that, Peter confesses his sin & asks Jesus to leave. Yet, that is exactly when our Lord draws closest to us, when we turn to God & confess that we have sinned. Hopefully, these words from 1 John are familiar:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, & the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful & just, will forgive our sins & cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1:8-9 ESV) In our worldly sense, it is confessing our sins that is foolish. Satan would have us practicing a cowardly denial of the truth so that we suffocate in them.
From God’s perspective, it’s just the opposite. Confess your sins & your heavenly Father will remove them as far as the east is from the west. In the 2nd chapter of Acts that is exactly what Peter is finally preaching with boldness & with authority:
“This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan & foreknowledge of God, you crucified & killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23 ESV)
The cowardice & denial of Peter’s past had been pruned away by the power of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. He was a changed man, living a new life. He’d gone from hiding out in fear to preaching in the name of Jesus that his audience had killed the long-promised Messiah of God. Messiah was the fulfillment of their national purpose & they had turned Him over to the Romans demanding that He be crucified. Still today, it takes tremendous courage & conviction to preach that message to any Jewish audience. The sins of Peter’s past were being pruned away by the living growth brought through the Holy Spirit.
That same Holy Spirit is working in your life, placing the power of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead right before your eyes. If you believe Jesus is your Savior, from your sins, then the life He brings to you is pruning away the deadness of your past & of your present. Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart each & every day of your life to give you life.
For each of us there is plenty of deadness in our past that is stubbornly clinging to us, refusing to drop away. The same is true of our moments & days right now. Our relationship with the Creator of our body & soul is not something that is one & done. In order for you & I to actually be alive that relationship needs to be a continuous one, moment by moment, day by day.
Daily we need the living growth of the Holy Spirit to be flowing through us that the deadness of our past, & of today, might be pruned away. And that is the promise of Pentecost. The flames of fire that appeared on the heads of the disciples were a sign that God’s Spirit was flowing through them & out into the people & into the world around them.
We have that same Spirit flowing through us, giving us life & pruning away the death of our sins. We received that Spirit by the promise of God at our baptism. Two verses after the Epistle reading for today, Peter preaches that answer to his audience:
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent & be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, & you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you & for your children & for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.’” Many, in the crowd Peter was preaching to, were not present for, nor directly responsible for the death of Messiah, & yet their response, in many cases, is one of repentance & faith. They realized that their sins were responsible for the death of the Savior, Jesus Christ. We also need to know that we are responsible, due to our actions & our attitudes.
Furthermore, we often do not believe that God has forgiven us these sins & as a result we do not live to spread the wonder of this forgiveness to others. Peter says, “Repent.” Repent of it all &, “...be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (2:38).
His sermon had accomplished the first part. Confronted with the truth of God, his hearers were drawn to repentance. We read how, “They were cut to the heart.”
They did not do this themselves. They did not reach the conclusion by themselves, but the Word of God, the Law of God, worked within them by the Holy Spirit, accusing them, condemning them, & bringing them to repentance. The Law is the Holy Trinity at work.
Because Peter has received & known the righteousness of Christ, he relieves those in the crowd who repent by offering them forgiveness & a new start in baptism with the Holy Spirit. The action here is entirely from God towards us. This is what sets it apart from every religion & philosophy as the Gospel — good news, as opposed religious obligation.
The good news here is that the kingdom is restored because the King Himself is risen. Therefore, all who have faith in Jesus, do not need to fear His reign, but can rejoice in His victory over sin, death & the grave. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful & just & will forgive our sins, & cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). Amen.
Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills & everywhere; go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born! Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born; & God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills & everywhere; go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born! Amen. LSB 388:3.
Pentecost – B LSB #’s 497, 490, 924
Text – Ezekiel 37:1
The hand of the Lord was upon me, & He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord & set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.
IT WAS FULL OF BONES
One of my former electrical customers was a veterinarian. Working in the attic one day, pulling wires for a new x-ray machine, I came across a box full of bones. It was pretty obvious they were not from an animal, but a human being.
Sort of made me wonder what kind of sideline business the veterinarian was involved in. But I didn’t ask lest I end up in a similar sort of box. That’s my one story about finding the literal “skeleton in the closet.” Have you ever come across a skeleton in someone’s closet? You know, the sort of occasion when you asked the wrong question at the wrong time.
I did that during my vicarage. I asked an innocent question about one of our worship practices. My supervisor’s reaction made it very clear that I should never ever go there again, unless I wanted to be the next skeleton in his closet.
In the OT lesson, God has an entire valley full of bones that He wants Ezekiel to see. They are very dry, lifeless, even disconnected bones. This vision represents the nation of Israel as found in exile in the pagan country of Babylon. The spiritual nature of God’s chosen people was that dead, beyond dead even – just a valley full of very dry bones.
“Can these bones live?” the Lord asks Ezekiel. We might say the Lord is asking that same question of us today. Can St. Matthew Lutheran Church live? As I look across those of you gathered here, a case could be made that it’s nothing more than a bunch of old bones lying in a valley, getting bleached by the sun.
And apart from the congregation, in our own personal lives, each of us struggles with
issues – weaknesses, frustrations, temptations, & sin. Any of those can make that personal area of our lives appear as hopeless as a valley full of dry old bones. And the greatest danger is not even from the sin itself, but from our refusal to face the fact that we have a problem.
So, we go back to Ezekiel’s valley: “The hand of the Lord was upon me, & He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord & set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And He led me around among them, & behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, & behold, they were very dry.” (Ezekiel 37:1-2 ESV)
What comes to mind when you hear those words? Probably not a picture of lush, green vegetation, or a scene of abundant life. To our way of looking at things that text paints a very bleak picture, one of foreboding & danger & certainly death. Since the wages of sin is death, it’s natural to see only suffering & condemnation in that valley full of bones.
So it is with our problems & struggles. It’s easy to see only the condemnation, only the failures & the pain caused by sin. At those times people commonly ask God, “Why? What did I do to deserve such misery?” The OT records many such complaints from the people of Israel, even though they had been disobeying the Lord for centuries.
Finally, their faith in God dies. The mightiest nation on earth, led by Nebuchadnezzar, is sent to destroy Jerusalem while taking God’s people into exile & slavery. It’s like Egypt all over again. They will never escape on their own, & it was their God who sent them here. Things could not have looked more hopeless, & the valley full of dry bones illustrates it well.
What is it in your life today of which the valley of bones reminds you? Is it your church? Might it be your health or a broken friendship? Could it be your husband or wife? Maybe it’s an addiction, or an illness? Any of those can feel like an entire valley full of dry old bones, bleaching in the blazing sun. The whole house of Israel said, “Our bones are dried up & our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.” (Ezekiel 37:11b ESV) But God comes to you in His Word today & the One who crucified His own Son out of love for you asks this, “Can these bones live?”
You have failed your Creator time & time again, yet He comes to you & asks, “Can these bones live?” And it’s not because He has a cruel sense of humor. You see, when God looks at that valley full of bones, He does not see death as you & I do. Yahweh sees life!
The Lord God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy over these bones, & say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. …I will cause breath to enter you, & you shall live… I will open your graves & raise you from your graves… Then you shall know that I am the Lord...’” (Ezekiel 37:4-5, 12, 14 ESV) But to be brought up from the grave – first you must die!
We must die to our sinful nature, to know that the One who raises us is the Lord. It is He who raises us out of our pride & refusal to change, because dry old bones cannot choose to live. The picture of God breathing life into these dry bones should bring to mind how God first formed man of the dust of the ground & breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.
But we struggle with believing that God will give us life now, don’t we? Sure, most of you probably accept that one day you will be raised from the dead. But isn’t that day far off in the future, as you picture it? Will you live this afternoon, & this evening like God has just breathed into your nostrils the breath of life? PAUSE
In chapter 36 of Ezekiel God is reprimanding & disciplining Israel for its sin, for its failure to obey. In chapter 37 God then promises to restore them through breathing life into their dry bones, & still Israel refuses to believe. Here & now, what do you believe? Can the dry bones of your daily world live already today, & not just after the final resurrection?
Is there hope for the struggles of your life that seem to have no end? Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me & drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37b-38 ESV) Jesus is speaking in the present tense, but those streams of living water are not what the world views as ‘the good life.’ That’s why God disciplines us, to train us not to think as the world thinks. The world wants a life of ease & pleasure. Psalm 23 gives a very different view, with another valley illustration:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...” (23:4 ESV) Those words make a popular reading at funerals, but they are not only speaking of the last few weeks or days before our death. They speak also of every day of life on this earth.
In this life we are always in the valley full of bones – the valley of the shadow of death. We die a death every time we sin. It’s the nature of a sinful world. It cannot be otherwise. That’s why God will destroy this heaven & earth at the last day. They are corrupt & broken & must be eliminated so they do not infect the new creation to come.
Likewise, your hopes of being worth anything in this life must become as dead & devoid of hope as a valley full of very dry bones. I said earlier, “The greatest danger is not even from the sin itself, but from our refusal to face the fact that we have a problem.” Through Baptism, God gives the ability to see our lives for what they truly are:
“The hand of the Lord was upon me, & He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord & set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And He led me around among them, & behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, & behold, they were very dry.” (Ezekiel 37:1-2 ESV)
Once we realize just how dead we are, in our sin, when God puts breath in us, when we come to life again, then we will know that the One who raises us is the Lord. For where there is death, there is finally also, the hope of true life – life given to us by God. And when our God given faith speaks, we shall answer, “Yes, even these bones can live!” Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
7th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 842, 532, 680
Text – 1 Peter 4:13
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice & be glad when His glory is revealed.
SHARING THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST
I arrived at boot camp in May of 1978, assigned to a company of around 70 other recruits with whom I’d go through training. One of the first things our company leaders screamed at us is this, “If one of you messes up, in any way, you have all messed up. And you will all share in the suffering that follows!”
Not that the Navy approach was unique. I’d already experienced that in high school gym class, but then it was only an hour a day, Monday through Friday. Boot camp took sharing the suffering to a whole ’nother level. However, there you could at least look out the windows, & you even got to spend time outdoors, marching somewhere of course.
Living on the submarine it was literally true that if one guy messed up everyone on board could really be messed up, sharing in the suffering & dying a cold & miserable death. If those words strike you as too harsh & cruel to hear in a sermon, then you missed the point that God Himself was trying to teach when His Spirit inspired the apostle Peter to write:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12 ESV) Human beings, weakened by sin, have a difficult time confronting the harsh reality of suffering & death. And that, in spite of the fact that our world is filled with it – everywhere.
The headlines are all about conflict, suffering & death. People gawk at it, are amazed by it, & still have no clue what to do with it. Now, the media loves to rub our face in it because that is what sells. It doesn’t matter if it’s big tech & instant social media, or the slow moving & old fashioned newspaper & magazines. They highlight the horrors of life & provide no solutions to it. In fact, a solution to the very real horrors of suffering & death on this earth would destroy the profitability of the media. In the big picture, they have little interest in solutions. They need conflict & suffering & death because they make money off of it.
But the media is not the Church, & the media’s mission is not the sharing of the Good News that Jesus Christ has provided a solution. That is the purpose for which Jesus created the Church – to share that amazing & totally unique news. Nowhere else in the world is there a true solution to conflict, suffering & death.
But people have no desire for God’s solution as long as they are able to deny the true nature of the problem. It’s part of our corruption by sin to ignore, avoid & deny the harsh & cruel reality of suffering, especially when it looks like it’s going to be personal. Thus the Spirit inspired Peter to write:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12 ESV) And a chapter later are more words on the topic: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV)
The recent sinking of the submarine from Indonesia is an example. The Palestinian-Israeli war is another. The Covid 19 pandemic, & the killing of George Floyd, are others. Each of us also has our own personal losses & frustrations that bring suffering into our daily living. Each of us are under attack by the devil as he looks to devour us through our suffering.
Our knee jerk response is to attack suffering, to fight against it & work toward eliminating it. The sinful nature cannot accept suffering as part of my own reality. That refusal is not entirely wrong, but if it is our only plan to deal with suffering, then what do we do when cancer wins, & your loved one dies, especially after months or years of suffering? If your loved one dies of cancer, or Covid 19, or an accident, does that mean you have lost? Does it mean that God has failed? Can suffering be part of God’s plan? Can there be a place for it in God’s plan? As challenging as they are, the answer to those questions is revealed on the cross.
Satan is like a roaring lion looking to devour not just you, but your loved ones, your parents & children & friends. So God warns us not to be surprised by suffering & He points our eyes to reality beyond this life: “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” (Matthew 10:28 ESV) And after warning us that the devil is like a roaring lion, St. Peter continued:
“Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen & establish you.” (1 Peter 5:9-10 ESV)
The cross answers our question, “Can there be a place for suffering in God’s plan?” And it is the empty tomb that points to a glorious reality beyond what we can see or imagine today. It’s in light of that revelation that Peter wrote: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice & be glad when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13 ESV)
Suffering does not mean that God has permanently abandoned you. That fear is from the roaring lion, sent as a temptation. Even in our suffering the children of God can live a life of hope that is evident to the people around us.
A struggle that American Christians have is that, relative to Christians in the less developed countries of the world, we have not had a lot of suffering in our lives. This makes it more difficult for you & me to accept this particular Word of God from St. Peter. Poorer Christians in this world are used to living lives of hope in spite of all the suffering in their daily world. Another struggle that American Christians have is developing the Holy Spirit’s gift of humility. Because our culture is no longer Christian in any respect, virtues like humility have gone out of style! Of course, to the sinful nature, humility has never been in style.
Realizing that Satan is like a roaring lion looking to devour us should encourage humility in us. It may be the only attitude that can suffer with joy. Peter urges us to humble ourselves under God’s authority in order to pass through the test of suffering & persecution.
Instead of rebelling against God for allowing our suffering we will subject ourselves to His will & wait patiently for God’s time to deliver us & restore us to His glory. Do you see how that viewpoint is focused upon God & not upon me, myself & I?
It is God’s will that we train ourselves to wait patiently for the Lord. The Holy Spirit is working this in us at all times, since it is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It’s easier on us if we work on this along with the Spirit instead of fighting it. Of course, our sinful nature will never see it that way. It is our saintly nature that is being trained to share the sufferings of Christ.
Navy boot camp was 43 years ago & I hated it then. Now, I can see the good that God accomplished & be thankful for it. Faith in Jesus as Savior brings good out of suffering. No faith in Jesus as Savior leaves the suffering as nothing more than that – suffering. It is the perverse nature of a sinful world that God must use suffering to draw us to Himself.
“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice & be glad when His glory is revealed.” Amen. (1 Peter 4:13 ESV)
The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now; a royal diadem adorns the mighty Victor’s brow. The joy of all who dwell above, the joy of all below to whom He manifests His love & grants His name to know. They suffer with their Lord below, they reign with Him above, their profit & their joy to now the mystery of His love. Amen. LSB 532:1, 3, 5 .
6th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 584, 573, 750:1-3
Text – John 15:16
You did not choose me, but I chose you & appointed you…
THE HEART OF DECISION THEOLOGY
If you were forced to make a choice that could lead to the life or death of your family, how much confidence would you want to have when making that decision? Would 50/50 be good enough? How about 60/40? Even 90/10 would probably leave most of us extremely nervous.
A decision like that would be very uncomfortable because most of us recognize, at least subconsciously, how often we make mistakes or even fail completely. In most of our failures the stakes aren’t as high as the life or death of our family. The result is this – we get complacent regarding decisions that lead to spiritual life or death.
Faithful Christians get frustrated with friends, church members & family who are oblivious to the dangerous situation they commonly put themselves in. Last Sunday the sermon focused on the most important thing you can do. This week the sermon will focus on why the that is the most important thing we can do.
Abiding in the Vine is the most important thing we can do in all of life here on earth. That thought, however, is still rather abstract, especially to anyone who has not grown up around, or working in, vineyards. The vine is an OT picture of Israel. It was planted as a good & productive vine, but had gone sour & degenerate. It was producing worthless fruit.
In essence, the vine had chosen death over life. So God came to earth in Jesus, the true & good Vine, & He is all that God’s Vine was supposed to be. Since mankind has been replaced as the vine, it was left dead & useless, cut off & no longer connected to the source of life. Human beings now find life & bear fruit through being incorporated, grafted or adopted into the new Vine, the one that gives true life. That decision cannot be made by the branch. Once cut off it is dead & powerless to do anything but rot & decay. If the gardener does not graft the branch back into the vine it will remain dead, forever. The joyful news of the Gospel is that the Holy Spirit is working in the world to graft dead & useless branches back into the Vine to give them life.
As Jesus stated to His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you & appointed you…” All human beings are born to this earth dead in sin. Sin has disfigured & marred our existence as surely as Jesus was marred & disfigured through His suffering & death in our place. Apart from Jesus you & I bear no resemblance to the fruitful branches we were intended to be.
Even after we have been grafted back into the Vine, sin has a hold on us. Our flesh is still wild & corrupt, needing constant correction & pruning so that it might produce fruit instead of simply wasting the blessing of life we have received. Christians & even pastors are tempted to measure another person’s faith, or lack of it, by the sins they see.
Then, they draw what seems to be a logical conclusion – those branches that still have a wild appearance, though grafted into the Vine, cannot truly be alive. They teach that the branch must still be dead & therefore has to make a decision to live in order to be truly alive. In effect, they’re saying that the supposedly dead branch, must re-graft itself back onto the Vine.
The danger in this misunderstanding is that a person may end up believing that their sinful flesh, & its disfigured appearance, disqualifies them from heaven. This takes us back to the opening illustration, “If you were forced to make a choice that could lead to the life or death of your family, how much confidence would you want to have when making that decision?”
50/50 is nowhere good enough. Our hearts & minds are always confronting doubts & fears. That’s a side effect of sin, yet, it is an accurate diagnosis of our condition. If we are left to relying upon our own efforts at making a decision to live, then rightly so, we should be afraid. Just look at your life history, & all the decisions that turned out poorly. Would you want to base your eternal salvation on you & your abilities? Our Creator & Savior knows the predicament you would be in. For Jesus too, 50/50 or even 90/10 is nowhere good enough. He wants you to be certain that the glories of paradise await you. So God Himself chooses you to be His own!
Now, it’s true, if you look at your life & at yourself, there are plenty of reasons to doubt that you have truly decided to follow Jesus. What you see does not conform to His words, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12 ESV) Because what we see does not conform, St. Paul taught us these words:
“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7 ESV) In our sinfully self-centered view of life, we easily believe that it’s what we see that counts. Paul knows that in so many cases we need to ignore what we see & walk instead by faith.
That’s not easy to do either. We rarely choose to live in that way. We want to see results. And with that independent attitude we see a perfect example of why God had to choose us in order that we might be saved. No one else chooses us as we are simply because they love us, unless they are from God.
Because God chose us for life, it is important to remain connected to Him & drawing life from Him. A branch that has been broken off the Vine cannot graft itself back in. The Gardener has to do it for the branch, the Gardener has to choose to do it for the branch. Yahweh did choose & that’s why you & I have life. Corroborating Paul’s earlier point, he wrote this as well:
“And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 ESV) That good work which our Lord & Savior began in us is the re-creation of our heart & soul & mind & body. It is the creation of a faith that trusts in Him to save us from all that is wrong with me, myself & I, & from all that is wrong with the people & the world around us. In verse 11 of the Gospel reading Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, & that your joy may be full.” (15:11 ESV)
Jesus chose us from the foundation of the world, to be saved, so that our doubts & fears would not take away the joy we have in being saved from sin & from death & from the devil. These words of God were given to us for comfort when our sins are causing us to doubt that God loves us.
Unfortunately, people try using these words to explain why some are saved & not others. That is not their purpose at all, & it is not our calling to judge the fate of others by their decisions for or against Christ. We cannot see what’s truly in their heart in order to know.
When people have been crushed by the weight of their sin, they need to know then the heart of decision theology – & that is always & only the heart of the heavenly Father who would send His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life. Amen.
Lord, ’tis not that I did choose Thee; that, I know, could never be; for this heart would still refuse Thee had Thy grace not chosen me. Thou hast from the sin that stained me washed & cleansed & set me free & unto this end ordained me, that I ever live to Thee. It was grace in Christ that called me, taught my darkened heart & mind; else the world had yet enthralled me, to Thy heavenly glories blind. Now I worship none above Thee; for grace alone I thirst, knowing well that, if I love Thee, Thou, O Lord, didst love me first. Amen. LSB 573:1-2.
5th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 577, 691, 919
Text – John 15:4b
As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO?
The world you & I live in is such a busy place, with so many things going on all at once, that time management is one of the most crucial abilities a person can have in order to be seen as someone who is successful. When there is more on your plate than can possibly be accomplished you have to set priorities so you can get the most important things done.
Since each of us has our own way of deciding what is valuable & what is not each of us, given the same list of things to do, will come up with a different set of priorities in order to rank the items on that list. For example, some people will rank working at the top of their list. Others will rank relationships at the top. Some would put their favorite video game as #1.
Within relationships, or within communities, there is often conflict because of the different way in which people make their list of priorities. Should writing the sermon be #1, or should hanging the new kitchen light fixture be at the top? Isn’t it your turn to walk the cat today? It was my priority yesterday.
How do you decide what is the most important thing to do? It’s a question that even God is aware of, because He knows how we struggle to make decisions in the brokenness of this world. Some of His more well-known advice on the topic comes to us from Matthew 6:33, “…seek first the kingdom of God & His righteousness, & all these things will be added to you.”
However, that advice is going to look very different from one person to the next once we get into the specific details for each of us. One thing it meant for me was leaving my home & my electrical business to go to seminary for studying to be a pastor. In my case, that was seeking first the kingdom of God, but clearly that wasn’t the case for most of you. There are literally as many different ways of seeking first the kingdom of God as there are people. And on some days there may be a hundred different ways in which you are confronted with a choice either to seek first the kingdom of God or to seek first your own kingdom.
The Gospel reading for today is much more general in nature, yet it still addresses the same issue, “What is the most important thing you can do?” Here, Jesus again is talking about priorities, but the number of variations has been greatly reduced.
Let’s think of how specifically each one of us is called to seek first the kingdom of God as the output, or in terms of the Gospel reading, think of that as the fruit. Our Lord does not call each of us to bear the exact same fruit. Some of us are pastors. Some of us are any one of a thousand other callings. I’ll bet almost none of you have ever taken a cat for a walk.
Let’s think now, of the words, from the Gospel of John, as the input, or in terms of Jesus’ teaching, as the Vine. Here, there are not as many different important things to do as there are people. Here, there is only one most important thing to do. And that is to abide in Christ; to remain connected to the Vine.
“As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4b ESV) No matter what your calling in life may be, no matter what fruit God calls you to bear, no matter what the output of your life should be, it will be nothing unless you are connected to Jesus.
The Word of God gives us three ways, or three means to be so connected. One of those ways is Baptism. In fact, that’s how God connects you to Himself in the first place, if your parents are children of God who follow His teaching. If that’s true, then they bring you to the waters of Baptism so the Holy Spirit can give you spiritual life. But there is also the Word of God which commands Baptism & gives that water the power to create life within you. That Word also has the ability to operate on its own, without water. God’s Word tells us that faith comes by hearing, so that some people, upon hearing the voice of Jesus in God’s Word, naturally follow Him. They follow Him because the Word of God gave them life as they heard that Word.
Finally, the third means is the Lord’s Supper. There, Jesus comes to us personally & physically to strengthen our faith in Him & to provide healing from the damaging effects of sin. All three of these means keep us connected to the Vine, Jesus Christ. All three of these means keep us alive to God & dead to sin.
Abiding in the Vine is the most important thing we can do in all of life here on earth. So we come to God’s house to abide in Jesus. Staying away from God’s house is to starve our faith & spiritual life of the nourishment it needs in a world filled with the corrupting influences of sin. And on top of that, our own sins damage our connection to the Vine.
Yet Baptism, God’s Word & Holy Communion have been given to Christians by God to repair our connection to the Vine. If we abide in Jesus then we will bear fruit. If we do not abide in Jesus, eventually we die & stop bearing fruit. God knows that, so He didn’t just bring us to faith & then leave us to fend for ourselves.
Thinking that you can “be” a Christian without going to church is thinking that fails to account for reality. As the letter of 1 John stated, the antichrist is already in the world. We do not live in a safe or healthy environment. Remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy is in the commandments for our benefit.
Being in God’s house & being in God’s Word, remembering our Baptism & receiving the Lord’s Supper are far & away the most important thing we can do. And God’s Spirit enables us to do them. Amen.
Rooted deep in Christ our Master, Christ our pattern & our goal, teach us, as the years fly faster, goodness, faith & self-control. Fruitful trees, the Spirit’s tending, may we grow till harvests cease; till we taste, in life unending, heaven’s love & joy & peace. Amen. LSB 691:3-4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet