The 3rd Sunday after Trinity—17 June 2018

5212053Our text is today’s Epistle (1 Peter 5:6-11):  6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,  7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  10 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, and establish you.  11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.   (ESV)

 

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The 2nd Sunday after Trinity—10 June 2018

5212053Our text is today’s Gospel (Luke 14:15–24):  15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ ”  (ESV)

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The Feast of the Holy Trinity—27 May 2018

5212053Thanks to Pastor Esko Murto for preaching the following sermon while Pastor Ritter was on vacation.

John 3:1–17

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”  3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”  10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (ESV)

 

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The Feast of Pentecost—20 May 2018

5212053Our text is today’s reading from Acts 2: 

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.  2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 

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Seventh Sunday of Easter (Exaudi)—13 May 2018

5212053Our text is from St. Luke’s account of our Lord’s Ascension (Luke 24:50-51):  50   Then [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

 

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Sixth Sunday of Easter (Rogate)—6 May 2018

5212053Our text is taken from today’s Gospel and exhorts us to pray in Jesus’ Name: 23 [Jesus said:] “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (ESV)

If you were to make a list of the sins that trouble you the most, which sins would be at the top of the list?  Worry?  Greed?  Lust?  Gossip?  How about your slowness to love and forgive others, and your doubting of God’s Word?  But one sin which we often do not often think of as a sin is our neglect of prayer.  We pray so sporadically and with such hesitation, like a patient who does not think that the medicine prescribed by the doctor actually works!

We have grown so accustomed to not praying that we no longer consider our prayerlessness to be a sin.  But it is, and deep down inside we know it.  The real problem behind our prayerlessness is the problem of our relationship with God, that we do not honour God as our merciful Father.  At the root of our prayerlessness is the problem of faith, that we do not believe God will provide for us.  You see, prayer arises out of a relationship of trusting God as our heavenly Father.  Prayerlessness, then, is a sure sign one has forgotten that God is a loving Father who cares for His dear children.

Out in the wilderness, the Israelites had forgotten.  Instead of trusting God to provide for them, they became impatient and spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”  Rather than calling upon God to take care of them, they complained.

The Israelites are a lesson to us all.  And the lesson is this: there is no hardship so severe that we can justify our complaining.  There is no adversity so great that we have grounds for not trusting God to take care of us.  No matter what trials come our way, we, as God’s children, are to trust and to pray.  In fact, God commands us to pray without ceasing  (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

The necessity of prayer is a hard lesson to learn.  Who among us has mastered the subject of prayer?  We are poor pupils, each and every one of us.  This morning, then, let us go back to school—the school of prayer.  Serving as our teacher is our own dear Martin Luther, himself an apt and eager student of prayer  (the Luther quotes are taken from volume III:167-175 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House).

Luther tells us that five things are necessary for true prayer.  The first is God’s promise, which is the chief thing and is the foundation and power of all prayers  (Luther).  God promises that if we ask, it shall be given.  Our Lord Jesus Himself confirms this promise with an oath: Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.  Here, our Lord assures us that our prayers will indeed be heard and answered by our gracious Father.  Luther writes: God is ready to give more quickly, and to give more than you ask; yea, he offers His treasures if we only take them.  

But we do not deserve God’s treasures.  For we are God’s unworthy servants, who do not deserve to have answered even the smallest prayer.  But thanks be to God, the divine promise to answer our prayer is not based on our worthiness but on God’s grace, His undeserved favour, which He gives us in Jesus, who has removed all our sin and guilt through His death on the cross.  Jesus died and rose for you; therefore, God has promised to hear your prayers and to give you whatever you ask in Jesus’ Name.  This great promise of God should encourage us all to pray.  Our teacher Luther says, [For] if it were not for this promise, who would have the courage to pray?…Take the promise [then] and lay hold of God with it.  Then your courage and desire to pray will soon grow 

The second necessity of prayer, Luther says, is faith—that we believe the promise is true, and do not doubt that God will give what He promisesFaith is a firm, undoubting confidence in God’s promise that it is true.  True faith is rooted in Jesus and in the salvation which He freely gives sinners apart from human works.  Having died and rose for you, Jesus now gives you His salvation through His Holy Word and in Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.  Do you believe that Jesus has saved you?  Yes?  Then, you may certainly also believe God’s promise to hear and answer your prayers.  True prayer is asking God with the full expectation that we will receive whatever we ask in Jesus’ Name.  Trust in God’s promise of salvation in Jesus!  Trust God’s promise to hear and answer your prayers!  Trust, and do not doubt!

St. James writes that we are to ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord  (1:6-7).  To pray with doubts is to question whether God is truly gracious to us in Jesus.  God will not answer the prayer lacking faith in Jesus.  Thus, as Luther says, the doubter’s prayer is nothing and he gropes after God like the blind for the wall.  How tragic it is to offer up to God prayers filled with doubts of receiving what we ask in Jesus’ Name.

Thanks be to God that through the Holy Spirit you have faith in Christ!  And in Christ, you may pray with great confidence.  People can let us down; our confidence in them can be shaken.  But God is ever faithful, and so we can pray with complete confidence, for we know that God always keeps His promises.  And of course, our confidence is rooted in Jesus, who on the cross embraced a whole world of lost sinners.  Only through faith in Jesus can we pray for all things with courage and consolation of heart!  It matters not how great and high the petitions may be. For when we trust in our Saviour Jesus, we may be certain that our Father delights in hearing our prayers every bit as much as He delights in the prayers of His beloved Son!

The third necessity of prayer is that you must pray specific petitions.  Luther writes, one must name definitely something that he brings to God or for which he prays; as for strong faith, for love, for peace, and for the comfort of his neighbour.  One must actually set forth the petitions.  That is why our Lord says, whatever you ask of the Father.  “Whatever” means whatever you are in need of. What are your needs? And have you prayed for your needs? Of course, in the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for all that we need. But it is also beneficial for us to bring to the Lord our own specific needs and the specific needs of our neighbour.  Our Lord gives us a great reason for praying specific petitions.  Pray, He says, that your joy may be full.  That is, pray for all that you need; pray and keep on praying until you have received all your petitions and your joy is made full.  Of course, your joy will be truly full only when you are received into heaven, for only then will your prayer to be delivered from evil be fully answered!

The fourth necessity of prayer is that we really want that for which we are praying.  Luther writes: we must desire, or wish that the petition be granted, which is nothing but asking; as Christ says, “Ask.”  Prayer always involves asking something of God and asking for something that we really want with all our heart, so much so that words are not always sufficient.  Thus, prayer often goes deeper than words, much deeper.  Prayer includes the sighing and yearnings of the heart, what St. Paul calls the intercession of the Spirit that cannot be uttered  (Romans 8:26).  Luther tells us that so often a Christian’s yearning is greater that any words and thoughts[, so that he] does not feel how deep his sighing or desire is.

The fifth necessity of prayer is that we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.  Teacher Luther tells us that this is nothing more than that we come before God in the faith of Christ and comfort ourselves with the sure confidence that He is our Mediator, through whom all things are given to us, without whom we merit nothing but wrath and disgrace.  Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has given us peace with God.  Through Jesus, our heavenly Father declares us righteous in His sight.  This salvation is a gift we receive only through Jesus.  And that is why we pray in Jesus’ Name.  Only when we pray in Jesus’ Name can we pray aright.

Praying aright in Jesus’ Name happens only when we trust that He is our Saviour and that we will be received and heard by our heavenly Father for Jesus’ sake, and not for our own.  Praying aright in Jesus’ Name means we trust our Father will give us all things which are for our good and which will draw us close to our Saviour Jesus.  There may be things we want that we will never receive.  But God will most certainly give us all things that agree with His holy will and which draw us close to Jesus.  That means, of course, that to pray aright—to pray in the Name of Jesus—we must belong to Jesus.  To pray in Jesus‘ Name, you must have Jesus‘ Name engraved upon you.

In Holy Baptism, the Name of Jesus was engraved upon us and we were made God’s children.  We now belong to Jesus.  With great confidence, then, we bring our petitions to our Father in Jesus’ Name.  When we pray in Jesus’ Name, we are claiming to be His own possession through Holy Baptism.  We are also claiming the rights of sonship.  It is as if we were saying to our heavenly Father, “Father, I am baptized; I belong to Your Son Jesus and in Him I have become Your own dear child, and so I know that You will hear and answer me with the same great love that You have for Your own dear Son.”

In the Name of Jesus, we come before our Father boldly asking for the things that pertain to our salvation and for the things that pertain to this world.  We ask to be forgiven and to be strengthened in faith toward God and love for our neighbour.  And we pray for our earthly needs—our need for physical and emotional healing, for financial security, for family harmony, for guidance and direction.  We do not grow discouraged by life’s afflictions; rather, in Christ, with great confidence, we ask for whatever we need.  Yes, we hold on to this great promise, that whatever [we] ask of the Father in [Jesus’] name, He will give it to [us].  And so, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, ask, [and keep on asking] and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cantate)—29 April 2018

5212053Our text is today’s Old Testament:  1  You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.  2  Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”  3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.  4 And you will say in that day:  “Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.  5  “Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.  6  Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”  (ESV)

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Third Sunday of Easter (Misericordias Domini)—15 April 2018

5212053Our text is today’s Gospel, focusing on our Lord’s words:  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

In his book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis writes of Narnia, a world which, like ours, is in need of Jesus and His gift of salvation.  Narnia is a world of talking beasts, and so in Narnia—instead of becoming Man to save human creatures—Jesus becomes a beast to save animals.  In Narnia, Jesus takes the name Aslan and He becomes a lion, the King of Beasts.  At one point, Mr. Beaver, one of Aslan’s followers, is asked if Aslan, being a lion, is safe.  And Mr. Beaver replies quite emphatically: Safe?…’Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.  And later we are told that Aslan is not like a tame lion.

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Jesus is Our Good Shepherd

Due to freezing rain, the service at Trinity this morning (April 15) has been cancelled. Our Sunday of the Good Shepherd will be transferred to next Sunday. In lieu of a sermon, then, Pastor Ritter has posted the following devotion:

jesus:lambJesus is the Good Shepherd.  He is the one who cares for His sheep, even to the point of giving His own life.  He is not a hired hand who leaves the sheep at the first sign of trouble.  No, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who feeds and cares for and protects the sheep.

And we sheep are in desperate need of protection, for Satan would like nothing more than to lead us away from quiet waters and give us the poison of false doctrine instead of the green grass of God’s Word.  Satan would love to see you leave God’s presence and go off foraging on your own in the world.  For without the protecting care of the Good Shepherd, you are a lamb for the slaughter.

This is why it is so dangerous for us to abandon hearing God’s Word and receiving His body and blood here in His Church.  There is always one part of us that honestly believes that we don’t need God.  Jesus’ death and resurrection is all fine and good, but when it comes to my salvation, well, that’s my own problem.  I’ll work out my own faith and life, thank you very much.  But this view completely misses point of our text, and really the whole point of the resurrection.

Let me explain.  Our Lord promises that He Himself will feed His flock and care for them.  God Himself will feed and take care of you.  So where does God feed you?  He feeds you here, at His altar, with His very body and blood.  This isn’t simply a rite we do because we’ve always done it.  The Lord’s Supper is the very heartbeat of the Christian faith.  All of God’s work on the cross and in the empty tomb goes into your mouth and soul in Holy Communion.  This isn’t like an option on a car, where you can get the electronic windows if you want them.  Jesus is what shapes and defines your faith, for He is the one that gave you faith.  And the way Jesus shapes your faith is by coming to you in his Word and in His Sacrament.  Without Him, you are a lost sheep, hopeless and alone.  But with Jesus, you are a part of God’s flock, and He Himself takes care of you.

Listen to the deep connection between the Father and Jesus and you.  Jesus says: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.   What our Lord is saying is that the connection between you and Jesus is as close as the connection between Jesus and the Father.  As Jesus said elsewhere in John, I and the Father are one.

We live in a day and an age when it is so easy to feel alone or to be alone.  Television has made it possible for a million people to laugh at the same joke at the same time and still feel lonely.  But this is not only true of television.  Our lives are so compartmentalized and categorized that we can easily be disconnected from our family, from friends, from church, and it seems even from God Himself.  This loneliness in some ways is an extension of the separation and loss that we all experience because of sin.  Sin drives a wedge between you and God, and between you and others.  It creates gaps and holes of loneliness that we all feel at time.

This is where Jesus’ words in our text bring such comfort to the lonely and downtrodden.  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.  Jesus is not simply the God who died and rose again from the dead three days later.  He is the God who has come into your midst, who binds up your wounds, and who leads you beside the quiet waters of Holy Baptism.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He is the one who can restore your soul.  He is the bridge that reconnects you to God Himself.  He is the link between you and all eternity.  He is the door to the heavenly mansions, and the one who will walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death.  By His stripes you are healed.

So where does this put you, as we reflect on the tender mercies of God?  It puts you in His care.  It means you are not alone.  Indeed, it means that when you eat His body and drink His blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, that you are connected to God in a way that is more profound and deeper than any kind of emotional high or feeling could ever give you.  God’s tender mercy toward you means He cares for you so much that He sent His Son to die.  It means that this same risen Son is now in your heart and soul through Holy Baptism, and that when you hear His Word you are connected to eternity itself.  Now that may sound kind of pie-in-the-sky or unrealistic.  I suppose it is to the world.  To the world there is nothing happening here.   But to you, God Himself is giving you everything, for in the Word and Sacraments, God forgives you and gives you life and salvation in Jesus’ name.

We are God’s flock, God’s church.  We are in this together.  By participating in Christ’s life through Holy Baptism, we have life in each other.  You are not alone.  We in the Christian Church hope in the mercy of God.  God will see you through whatever troubles may come upon you.  Now that doesn’t mean He’ll wave a magic wand and make everything better.  Rather, it means that God will give you the most important thing of all: He will give you Himself.

God calls you and gathers you together into His holy flock.  You are not alone.  You are now a part of God’s family.  So rejoice in His Easter mercy!  For this is what Christ won for you at the cross and in the empty tomb.  The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.  And that goodness comes to you now in His risen Son, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.  Amen.

Second Sunday of Easter (Quasimodo Geniti)—8 April 2018

5212053Our text is from today’s Gospel (John 20:19–29):  19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  (ESV)

 

And also today’s Epistle (1 John 5:4–10): 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 

6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  7 For there are three that testify:  8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.  9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.  10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.  (ESV)

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