26 May 2020

Homily for Easter 7 (Exaudi) - 2020

"The Spirit, Your Comforter"
John 15:26-16:4

Listen here.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

We come to the end of the “week of Sundays.” It’s now the seventh week of celebrating the joys of Christ’s victory over the grave, over every deadly thing that separates us from our God who loves us. We’ve been enjoying the life that He gives as He restores us to life with God. But now we need comfort, just as the disciples did.

Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading come from the night before He would die. He told His disciples that He must leave them. He said that where He was about to go, they could not follow. Jesus leave them? What were they supposed to do? How would they carry on without Him? Since we celebrated Jesus’ Ascension on Thursday, we might be tempted to think and feel that Jesus has left us too. But Jesus promised: “When the Helper/Comforter comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.” Just as Jesus comforted His disciples with the promised Holy Spirit, He also comforts you by sending His Spirit.

My, how we need comfort these days! Not just “some comfort”—A LOT of comfort! Reports of Christians being persecuted in far off lands continue to confront us—and rightly so. After all, our brothers and sisters in Christ are teaching us to remain faithful even in the midst of suffering. In our own land, we Christians are seen more and more as the problem to be remedied and the enemy to be vanquished. And certain governors are going out of their way to make sure churches stay closed at this time. The hour is coming, and is now here, when many think ostracizing and marginalizing Christians is actually offering service to God. Well, not to the true God, but it is offering service—praise and worship—to false gods such as immediate gratification, self-chosen pleasures, and raw power grabs. As Jesus warns: “they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.”

Jesus does not tell us these things to frighten us or to lead us to anxious hand-wringing. No, Jesus says “all these things to keep you from falling away.” After all, He said, if they hated Him, they’ll hate His Christians. If they persecuted Him, they’ll also persecute His Christians. If they executed Him, they’ll also execute His Christians. And, no, I don’t mention these things to frighten you or lead you to anxious hand-wringing either. This is all about how our Lord would comfort us. Peter said it well as he echoed our Lord: “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. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet. 4:12-14). It’s all about how our Lord comforts us with His Spirit—“the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father.”

When Jesus spoke to His disciples, He was preparing them for that little “in-between time”—that time when He would leave them to go the cross. But He would return to them in the resurrection on the third day. And then He would leave them again—for “a little while”—when He would ascend to God’s right hand. And with those first twelve disciples, we’re still in that “in-between time” after our Lord ascended and before He comes again. The difference is, we have the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. His cross and His shed blood forgive all our doubts and apprehensions. His victory over the grave gives us confidence and hope and comfort.

That comfort comes not in the form of a cozy, warm blanket that you put on your bed. It does not feel like a comfy chair in which you relax to watch TV. It does not taste like “comfort food,” whether chocolate or something called “Southern Comfort.” No, the comfort that Jesus gives is very mighty and very fortifying. “When the [Comforter] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.”

Our word “comfort” comes from two Latin words. When spliced together those two Latin words literally mean “strengthen together” or “fortify together.” Instead of cozy warm blankets or soothing chocolates that melt in your mouth, think body builder’s muscle. Or, better yet, think of a towering castle wall, as in “a mighty fortress.” Our Lord’s “comfort” comes through His Comforter, the Holy Spirit.

How does the Spirit of Truth, the divine Comforter—the divine Fortifier—strengthen you together as Jesus’ disciples? He bears witness about Jesus. He teaches you all things that Jesus has said and brings to your remembrance all that He has done for you. He gives you the peace of sins forgiven that the world cannot give (John 14:26-27). He convicts you and the world of sin. He convinces you that Jesus has come from the Father, has won your salvation, and has returned to the Father. And He convinces you that the ruler of this world—the old evil foe himself—has been judged and awaits his sentence (John 16:8-11). That’s what strengthens, fortifies, and gives comfort.

The Holy Spirit helps and comforts you by fortifying you, by nourishing you, by transforming you, and by renewing your strength. In your Baptism, you have received new life by being joined to Christ in His death and resurrection. You have been reborn, born anew into life with God. In your Baptism, your Lord says to you: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (Ezek. 36:25).

But you cannot live that new life without constant care or sustenance. Just as no infant can rely upon himself/herself to survive, no child of God can rely upon himself/herself. The Holy Spirit comes to give you the love, nurture and food of Jesus Christ. Not only that, but He also protects you from things you may not know or understand. Not only do you need protection from the obvious problems in life, but you also need protection from the spiritual assaults that you cannot see coming. So the Holy Spirit feeds and nourishes you, protects and defends you as God’s holy and dearly loved children. He gives you a new heart. He puts a new spirit within you. He removes your heart of stone, and He gives you a heart of flesh—flesh that lives with God and from His Word.

The Holy Spirit feeds and protects you in ways that you cannot see but can only believe. When the Holy Spirit feeds you on Holy Communion, you cannot see that you are actually receiving Christ’s life-giving Body and Blood. But you believe His words, and so you receive the nourishment and immortality that the Spirit gives there. When the Holy Spirit protects you with the word of forgiveness, you cannot see Jesus speaking that word to you. Yet you believe that the pastor’s forgiveness is Christ’s forgiveness, and thus you receive the Spirit’s defense and protection given there.

Our Lord Jesus says, “the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.” This testifying does not take place in a courtroom, nor in a congressional hearing, nor in a baseball stadium or a movie theater. It takes place right here, in the Church, right here where the Gospel and Sacraments are delivered to you. This is what makes being in church in-person essential for every Christian. Here you have the Spirit’s comforting, strengthening, fortifying testimony. No, He does not necessarily give you a warm fuzzy in your bosom. But He does testify that you have received and still receive the life of your Lord Jesus. He does testify that Jesus’ life shapes you and renews you in the life that you have from birth. And by this testimony, the Spirit feeds and fortifies the Lord’s life in you so that you may continue to grow and mature until the day when your renewal is complete.

Just as Jesus comforted His disciples with the promised Holy Spirit, He also comforts you by sending His Spirit. With the Holy Spirit not only working for you, but also working in you, you can be bold and say with sure and certain confidence: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1). Amen.

22 May 2020

Homily for Ascension Day - 2020

"Ascended for Our Healing"
Luke 24:44-53

Listen here.

How good, Lord, to be here! How good to see you here too!

What a sacred season this has been! The last time most of us were together here was the middle of Lent. We were still building up to the dramatic climax of Holy Week. Then along came Coronavirus and COVID-19. Our governing and medical authorities advised us to stay home, stay apart, not gather, wash hands and so forth. Out of love for our vulnerable neighbors, and with godly submission to our governing authorities, we willingly did so. Then the authorities chose to force the issue by declaring states of emergency and ordering us to be locked down. Thankfully, we could still proclaim God’s Word by other media. But still, it wasn’t as it should be.

So as a gathered congregation we missed the rising tensions between Jesus and the religious authorities of His day. We missed His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We missed receiving His Body and Blood on the night when He was betrayed. We missed His bloody battle on the cross and His cosmic victory over death and devil. We missed holding vigil and joyfully ringing in His glorious resurrection. And we’ve missed gathering together these past weeks to revel in His resurrection.

It’s almost like sitting down to watch a favorite movie—for the 100th time. You know the story and you love the story. You’re enjoying the story. Then the drowsiness creeps in and you doze off just before the climactic, most important part. As you snooze, the story moves along. Then suddenly you wake up. The music is triumphant. Peace is restored. All is well once again. Yes, you missed the best, climactic part of the story, but you know the story well enough and the denouement—the final resolution—still brings great joy.

This is where we are now—the denouement, the final resolution. “See, the Lord ascends in triumph; / Conqu’ring King in royal state, / Riding on the clouds, His chariot, / To His heav’nly palace gate” (LSB 491:1).

Our Lord’s ascension really does put everything else in perspective. Before He was lifted up and hidden by the cloud, Jesus put all things in perspective for His eleven disciples. Everything written about Him in Moses’ Law, in the Prophets and in the Psalms—in all of the Old Testament Scriptures—must be fulfilled. Everything we read and hear from Genesis through Malachi points us to Jesus. The creation shows us God’s eternal will and plan—perfect life with Him. We humans fell into sin, brought death into the world, and spoiled God’s creation. But God promised to set things right. He chose a people through Abraham. He rescued His people from slavery and led them into the Promised Land. He even elevated a king named David to point us to our true, eternal King. The prophets proclaimed repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The psalms sang of Christ and His works of salvation. Through it all, our God was working to return His human creatures to His perfect Eden.

And He still is. Moses’ Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, and especially the New Testament still point us to Christ Jesus, our true King. “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.”  As St. Paul proclaimed, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace”  (Eph. 1:7). This is what makes Jesus our King of kings, our Lord of lords, and our highest authority above all authorities. After all, now that Jesus has ascended, He is far above all rule and authority and dominion. All things are put under His feet and He rules all things for the good of His Church.

This puts all things in perspective. Even pandemics. Even lock downs. Even the fears and uncertainties of our time. When Jesus ascended, He gave His apostles and His Church a singular mission: “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” How has your ascended Lord led you in repentance for the forgiveness of sins these past few weeks?

What or whom have you feared, loved or trusted above God Himself? That tiny microscopic virus with the crowned spikes has been causing a lot of fear. Even the omnipresent pictures on TV and the Internet look frightful. Pictures and news stories of those infected and badly suffering are most unsettling. Now simple handshakes, coughs and sneezes set off the fear response. We’re practically in fight-or-flight mode whenever we encounter another human being outside our own home. We have been trusting the authorities to keep us safe and the media to keep us well-informed, despite the ever-changing and often-conflicting information. We fallen human beings have been trusting ourselves to overcome both the pandemic and the now shattered economy.

As I’ve said before, times like this are God’s way of tapping us on the shoulder, getting our attention, turning us toward Him and saying, “Hey, I’m still here. I’m still in charge. And I still want you to fear, love and trust Me above all things.” For this, we can actually appreciate this pandemic and all its fallout. Some speak of their new found appreciation for family time during the lock down. Some speak of cooking meals rather than dining out. Others find other blessings. These can be good things. The greater “blessing” of a time like this, though, is being drawn back to our true King and Lord. God always seeks to dislodge us from our misplaced fear, love and trust. If only we got as worked up about our infection of sin as we have about COVID-19! At least most people recover from COVID-19—one source says about 85% recover, other sources say up to 98%. But none of us can recover from our disease of sin and being separated from God.

Our ascended Savior is our loving Lord who says, “There is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal” (Dt. 32:39). And heal He does. He, the Son of God, took on our frail human nature. Though He Himself had no sin, He was made sin “so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Our Lord’s death on a Friday and resurrection on the third day is the only perfect healing medicine for all time. “With His wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5). It’s the only medicine for what truly infects each and every human being of every time and place.

So when Jesus ascended to the Father’s right hand, He showed that all is fulfilled and completed, all is well between us and God, even in this broken world. With our Lord ascended in triumph and crowned in glory, we need not fear, love or trust anyone or anything else for our ultimate health and well-being. One commentator explained the significance of this day this way: “Christ’s ascension confers divine honors upon us” (Parsch, III:164). Neither pandemic nor social, cultural disruption can change that.

In a very short time we will break our Eucharistic fast. As we rejoice in being together once again, let’s rejoice even more in what brings us together—our ascended Lord who now comes to us in His very Body and Blood. It’s much more than a community meal. It’s the genuine “medicine of immortality.” And pay close attention to the Proper Preface—the prayer—leading up to our Lord’s sacred Meal. What was the purpose of our Lord’s life, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension? What is the fruit and benefit of His Holy Supper? “That He might make us partakers of His divine life.”

When you, by His grace and His working, partake of His divine life, you have forgiveness for your fears. You have life in this world of death. You have rescue and healing from the sin that infects.

What a great day to do what the disciples did. As Jesus “parted from them and was carried up into heaven,” they worshiped Him with great joy. And they were continually in the temple blessing God. What a great day to return to this place of worship and joy. Blessed by our ascended Lord, we bless Him in return. Amen.

19 May 2020

Homily for Easter 6 (Rogate) - 2020

Ask, and You Will Receive
John 16:23-33

Listen here.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Next to preaching the Word, the greatest devotion Christians can render to God is to pray” (Luther, HP 2:104). That’s Martin Luther, preaching on “Pray! Sunday” in 1534. It’s both our duty and our privilege to pray to the Lord of heaven and earth, the Lord who made heaven and earth, the Lord who restores heaven and earth by His dying and rising, the Lord who even now governs all things in heaven and earth for our good. This is the same Lord of heaven and earth who graciously invites you and all His followers: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

And if there were ever a perfect time to focus on prayer, it’s right now. I don’t say that simply because of this current pandemic of sickness, fear and death. That’s  certainly good motivation for prayer, to be sure. No, this is the perfect time to focus on prayer because, now that we are forced to stay home, we actually have time for prayer. How often haven’t each of us heard and even said, “I just don’t have time to pray”? Well, our Lord has graciously taken away that excuse. So, turn off Netflix, sign out of YouTube and Facebook, and put time—or times—for prayer on your wide open daily schedule. And then keep those appointments with God, both now and even after you get to go back to work. Luther also offered this ground-level starting point for prayer: “At least pray in the morning when you arise from sleep, at table, and as you finish eating, and again in the evening when you go to bed, saying, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,’ and so on” (HP 2:106).

You see, your Lord Jesus gives you a most winsome invitation to prayer. “If you love Me,” Jesus says, “you can be certain that My Father also loves you.” “For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.” Not only that, but the Father loves you so much that He will certainly hear your prayer. It’s the natural fruit of Jesus’ death and resurrection—that you may pray just as He prays.

God’s Word also reminds us that it’s our duty, even our responsibility, as Christians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). If you cannot do so aloud, you can at least do so silently. Every moment our hearts should be expressing the desire that God’s name be hallowed, His kingdom come, and His will be done; also that He would grant all we need for the support and needs of the body, for our forgiveness, for our protection in temptation and for our deliverance from evil.

But with the silent prayer of the heart, do not neglect your oral, spoken prayers. Now, you do not need to be brilliantly eloquent or a smooth craftsman of words. Often the simple words and short sentences are the best prayers. Your Father hears and understands all of them. Besides, the point is not to be a perfect “pray-er,” but always to call upon your Lord in the day of trouble—that is, every day—that He may deliver you and you may glorify Him (Ps. 50:15). When you have faith in Christ, you are perfectly prepared to open your mouth as a genuine priest. You may joyfully petition Him for things important and needful for yourself and other Christians.

So it’s most helpful to have something in mind for which to pray. How do you know what is important and needful? Just remember, we live in this “valley of sorrow” where there is no lack of sin and trouble. Also remember Peter’s warning: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). He will do anything and everything to divert you from clinging to God and calling upon God. And if you really cannot come up with any need for which to pray, simply turn to the Lord’s Prayer. In seven short petitions, your Lord who loves you brings your true needs to mind and even puts words into your mouth.

In the first petition—Hallowed be Thy name—we pray for the sweet Gospel and for all faithful pastors, that His Word may be taught truly and purely and that we may lead holy lives according to it. We also pray against all heresy, false teaching and non-Christian religions, that we may be protected from them.

In the second petition—Thy kingdom come—we pray that, by the Holy Spirit, God’s kingdom of grace may come to us and be established among us. We also pray that our Lord would thwart and bring to naught all that death and the devil foist upon us.

In the third petition—Thy will be done—we pray our Lord to break and hinder every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world and our sinful nature, and also to strengthen us and keep us firm in His good and gracious will.

In the fourth petition—Give us this day our daily bread—we pray for a laundry list of things! “Everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.” One of those things is good government—praying “for kings and all who are in high positions.” And in light of this pandemic and its fall out, boy, do our leaders need our prayers! Fallible human beings making decisions that affect so many other fallible human beings. Some make good decisions and serve well; others show themselves to be quite power-hungry. Also, if you listen to them carefully, no longer are they saying, “In God we trust”; now they’re telling us, “In science we trust.” (Now, true science is not bad at all, but it cannot replace God.) We need to pray for them, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” in the freedom of the Gospel.

In the fifth petition—Forgive us our trespasses—we pray that our Lord would be gracious to us, turn away His wrath, which we truly deserve, and deal with us purely by His grace in Jesus. We also pray Him to make us forgiving toward our neighbor and gladly do good to them. Boy, is that needed right now as so many neighbors are so worked up with anxiety and fear.

In the sixth petition—Lead us not into temptation—we ask our Lord to come rushing to our aid when we face temptation and trial, guarding and keeping us from the prowling adversary. In this fallen world we may have tribulation, but in our Lord Jesus we have peace. We can take heart because He has overcome the adversary and the world along with everything they try to throw at us.

And in the seventh petition—Deliver us from evil—we wrap it all up with a beautiful bow. We pray for that blessed and glorious time when our Lord, by His grace, will deliver us from all that ails us in this valley of sorrow with its viruses, anxieties, and injustices. Then we will behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Then we will dwell with God and He with us. Then He will wipe away our every tear and death shall be no more.

So we have plenty of needs to lead us to pray without ceasing. And we pray in the name of our Lord Jesus. What does this mean? First, we must confess that we are poor, miserable sinners. We deserve nothing, yet He graciously bestows everything. Second, we pray with His invitation and authorization. “Whatever you ask of the Father in My name,” Jesus promises, “He will give it to you.” It sounds like a blank check with Jesus’ signature, written in blood, on the bottom line. And it is. But not for every silly thing you may want, rather for every beneficial thing Jesus promises. As C. S. Lewis once quipped: “If God had granted all the silly prayers I’ve made in my life, where should I be now?” (Letters to Malcolm, ch. 5, para. 16).

When we pray, we are doing what God through Moses told the Israelites to do in the wilderness. As they wandered in the wilderness, they became victims of their own fears and anxieties. They complained about their circumstances. So God sent the fiery serpents to bring them back to repentance and humility. And the cure for them is the same cure for us. They were asked to look upon a bronze serpent on a pole. We get to look at a Savior crucified on a cross and risen from the grave. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (Jn. 3:14-15).

There’s your real motivation to pray. You may ask your Lord, and you will receive, and your joy will be full. After all, He has overcome the world to show you and give you the Father’s love. Amen.

15 May 2020

Pastoral Letter - Resuming Public Worship

Thursday of Easter 5
May 14, 2020

Dear saints in Christ at Hope,


With great joy I can now announce that we at Hope will resume public, in-person worship! We thank our gracious Lord and Savior Jesus for His faithfulness to us in this time of lockdown and separation that we have been enduring. We also praise Him for now bringing us to this opportunity to gather again, even with some restrictions still in place. We are privileged to gather together to hear the Word of our Lord Jesus and receive the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

At its May 11 meeting, the Board of Elders, with congregational president David Linton and Kantor Matt Janssen, planned for resuming congregational worship with proper health and safety measures in place. We will hold a single public Divine Service on Thursday, May 21, at 7:00 p.m. – The Ascension of Our Lord.

Beginning Sunday May 24, we will temporarily hold two Sunday morning Divine Service times – 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. – so that we may practice proper hygienic and social distancing measures. We plan this schedule to run four Sundays—May 24, May 31, June 7, and June 14. This plan is subject to revision based on a) our attendance patterns and/or b) any future local COVID-related developments. We will return to our regular one Sunday Divine Service time of 9:00 a.m. as soon as circumstances allow.

Also, for those who must or who choose to stay at home, we will continue to live stream our services on Facebook as we have the past two months. On Sunday mornings, only the 9:00 a.m. service will live-streamed. The May 21 Ascension Day service will also be live streamed. With Kantor Janssen’s leadership, we are acquiring our own equipment to enhance and continue our live stream capabilities.


This time of pandemic, social distancing, and staying at home has been unsettling and stressful for all of us. Many things have changed and we all have many questions, concerns, feelings and opinions. We have been juggling and balancing three of our Lord’s commandments. With the Third Commandment, we have been hearing God’s Word the best we can in these unsettling circumstances. With the Fourth Commandment, we have been honoring God’s appointed governing leaders by staying home and keeping social distance. And with the Fifth Commandment, we have been striving to care for and protect our neighbors, especially those most affected by the Coronavirus.

As we begin to resume our public, in-person worship services, we all need to practice the “kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12) that St. Paul mentions. Some will be comfortable gathering with others, while some will be reluctant to leave home. Some may consider our hygienic and social distancing measures to be over the top, while some may consider them to be insufficient. We all are traveling an uncharted course and doing the very best we can, and our various responses and feelings are understandable.

We do not want anyone to feel uncomfortable, left out, or judged, either for attending or for staying home. We certainly do not want anyone to “play the hero” and attend the Divine Service out of a sense of duty or compulsion. If you are uncomfortable gathering at church, we understand. Also, if you are in the high-risk category for COVID-19 (older adults, immune-compromised, etc.), please stay home with a clear conscience. At this time, there are no “black marks” for staying home, just as there are no “black marks” for gathering together. At this time our Lord calls each of us to bear with one another in love as we exercise all humility, gentleness and patience toward each other (Ephesians 4:2).


As we begin to resume Sunday worship, we will implement the following protocols to ensure health and safety:
  • If you are sick or symptomatic, please stay home and seek medical attention as needed.
  • When parking your vehicle, we encourage you to leave one empty parking space between your car and your neighbor’s car.
  • The elevator entrance (northwest corner of building) will be the only open entry point for coming into and exiting the church. Sufficient time between Sunday services will allow for the first group of worshipers to depart before the second group arrives.
  • Wearing facemasks is encouraged, especially when coming into the church and when leaving. We encourage you to bring your own mask, but we will also have a supply on hand if needed.
  • Hand sanitizer bottles will be available as you enter the church. Please sanitize your hands when arriving and again when departing.
  • Every other pew will be closed and marked with a sign at each open end in order to maintain six (6) feet of separation. Families may sit together in the same pew. Smaller groups (e.g. couples and individuals) may sit in a single pew with proper distance between them (e.g. at opposite ends of the pew).
  • Pews will be wiped down and cleaned before and between services.
  • Please pick up your own service folder when you enter the sanctuary; they will not be handed out.
  • Hymnals will be removed from the pew racks and we will use printed orders of service. Please take your service folder home and dispose of it yourself.
  • Offering baskets will be placed on stands near the baptismal font. Please place your offering in them as you arrive or as you depart.
  • The pastor and assisting minister(s) will wash hands prior to the Service of the Sacrament.
  • The host (bread) will be placed into hands, not directly into the mouth.
  • The chalice will be available for those who desire it and will be cleansed with purificators soaked in Everclear (90% alcohol) after each communicant.
  • Extra individual cups will be available for those who want them and will be spaced apart in the trays. The individual cup trays will be placed on a table.
  • We will not use the Communion rail, but will practice “walk-through,” or continuous flow, Communion.
  • We will commune one side of the sanctuary at a time and then switch to the other side. (Example: first the pulpit side, then the lectern side.)
  • You will be asked to usher yourselves up to Communion one pew at a time in order to maintain social distancing. Please maintain six (6) feet of separation between family groups, couples, and individuals while waiting to commune.
  • Following the service, please do not remain inside. You may socialize and converse outside while maintaining social distancing.
At this time we are opening up only for Sunday morning Divine Services. All other gathering events—Sunday School, Bible Class, coffee hour, meetings, etc.—will remain suspended until further notice.

For those who cannot attend or choose not to attend on Sunday mornings, you may still make appointments with me to receive Communion. Please contact me by phone or email to schedule a Communion appointment.

These are certainly trying times. In the midst of things we suffer and do not understand, our Lord Jesus shares our suffering, sustains us through it, and promises His very deliverance. Allow me to leave you with this devotional thought for this Thursday of Easter 5, based on the text of Luke 12:54-13:17.
[The incarnate Son of God] pronounces suffering blessed through His own suffering. Rather than fleeing from, or blaming, those who are weak and suffering, He comes close to them, lays His hands on them, and declares them free of their illness. How could He do otherwise? When He meets suffering flesh, it is not another’s flesh that He sees, but His own, which He has assumed through the incarnation of Mary. He bore our flesh so that He might rescue it from the sin-diseased crookedness caused by the burden of death. He is not untouched by our suffering and fleshly weakness. It is our flesh, not some other, that He assumes. We are never alone under the back-breaking burdens that the fall has heaped upon us. Because He has taken our flesh, we can look forward to a flesh renewed and healed, of which He has given us a sign in this text (Luke 13:12). (Scott R. Murray, A Year with the Church Fathers: Meditations for Each Day of the Church Year, CPH, 2011, p. 149)

In Christ’s service,

Rev. Randy K. Asburry

12 May 2020

Homily for Easter 5 (Cantate) - 2020

"From Sorrow to Singing"
John 16:5-15

Listen here.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him” (Ps. 98:1). The Church sings! Christians sing! Today, the 5th Sunday of Easter, is called “Sing! Sunday”—or Cantate in the Latin. “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Ps. 95:1).

But so often we really do not feel much like singing, especially these days. We find ourselves in the same spot as the disciples where “sorrow has filled [our] heart.”

In our Gospel reading, Jesus is preparing His disciples for His departure. He will go away to His cross. He will rise again the third day. And forty days after that He will go away again as He ascends to His Father. Before this text, our Lord told them, “Let not your hearts be troubled. … I go and prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:1, 3). He also said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. … Let not your hearts be troubled” (Jn. 14:27). Then He told them that the world would hate them because it hated Him first (Jn. 15:18-19). No wonder sorrow filled their heart!

Are we any different? We live in the time between Jesus’ ascension and His reappearing. We cannot see Him now. We must walk by faith, not by sight. We have many sorrows—the pending or actual loss of a loved one, the biopsy coming back positive for cancer, ending up in the unemployment line, devastation from natural disasters. Oh, and all of the uncertainty in our current pandemic—the flood of information, conflicting information, even misinformation. And, on top of that, we truly are suffering and sorrowful from another contagion. I’m calling it the “panic-demic”—the pandemic of constant fear—fear of leaving our homes, fear of breathing the air, fear of getting too close to other human beings, fear of touching surfaces and objects, fear of those wearing masks and fear of those not wearing them. It’s no wonder Luther called life in this fallen creation “this valley of sorrow.”

And now we come to “Sing! Sunday”? We are more like the Israelites in their Babylonian Captivity: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept…. On the willows there we hung up our lyres…. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137). How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a land of disease, fear and sorrow?

So Jesus comforts His disciples with the Promised Holy Spirit: “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” This “Helper,” this “Comforter,” this “Paraklete” is the Holy Spirit Himself, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. He is Counsel for your defense. He is called alongside you, God’s children. And so Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans” (Jn. 14:18).

What does this promised Holy Spirit do? “He will convict/convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The sin is not believing in Jesus. The righteousness is what Jesus accomplished by His cross, empty tomb and ascension to go to the Father. The judgment is the final verdict for the “ruler of this world,” Satan himself. And the Holy Spirit does His convicting and convincing through the tool and instrument of His Word. Every time you hear His Word read and proclaimed, every time you read it yourself, every time you sing it, the Spirit is showing you your sin, revealing Christ’s righteousness to you, and comforting you that the devil is a convicted, condemned enemy.

During these past months of this pandemic, have you noticed the one thing missing? I know, things have moved fast and furious; there have been so many decisions, so much information, and so many Zoom meetings. But have you discerned at all the one thing missing? The one thing missing is the one thing needful—the Holy Spirit working through His Word. These days we find ourselves walking in the shoes of Martha—busy doing many things in our distraction—rather than sitting with Mary at the feet of Jesus—attentively listening to His teaching. What do I mean?

What could the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus Himself, be working and achieving at this time of pandemic? I can think of three things. First, He is convicting the world of sin, of not believing in Jesus. You see, Jesus is the only Savior for both body and soul—not vaccines, not presidents or governors or mayors or health officials, not even our best efforts at social distancing or mask wearing. “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Ps. 146:3). When the dust settles, we may just realize how little of what we’ve done to stem the COVID tide has actually worked as advertised. But we can be confident that our Lord Jesus, the true Son of Man who made heaven and earth, He’s the one—the only one—who can overcome pandemics, as well as fears and sorrows.

The second thing the Holy Spirit is no doubt doing is driving us to righteousness. Through His Word He drives us to the One Man who endured the cross, who rose again, and who ascended to the Father’s right hand. On that cross, the Man of Sorrows took your sorrows on Himself, as well as your fears, your doubts and your misplaced trust. He buried all of your sins and sorrows in His tomb and left them there when He rose again. And now He reigns over all things for your good both now and into eternity. That’s cause for singing even in the midst of sorrow!

The third thing the Holy Spirit is doing is convincing us that the ruler of this world—the devil himself—is judged, convicted, and condemned. His dictatorial, oppressive ways are done. “This world’s prince may still / Scowl fierce as he will, / He can harm us none. / He’s judged; the deed is done; / One little word can fell him” (LSB 656:3). That’s something worth singing about!

Oh, there is a fourth thing the Holy Spirit is up to. Actually, it’s the over all thing, the one thing needful. First, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). Then He said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” The Holy Spirit guides you into Jesus Himself. And joined to Jesus in your Baptism, you have no need to get lost in your sorrows or fears. After all, He’s with you in the midst of those sorrows and fears, carrying them with you and for you.

In 1533, Martin Luther preached on the comfort Jesus gave His disciples in this Gospel reading and now gives us. Here’s one thing Luther said: “All this is written for our sakes, that we may learn to be patient and courageous in trial, cross, and suffering, and bear in mind, if the disciples and apostles had to endure heartbreak with patience, relinquish the Lord Christ, and wait for the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, then we must learn to do the same, take up our cross, be patient, trust and believe in Christ, who says that things will in time be much better for us than they are now” (HP 2:99).

So despite the sorrows, set backs and sadnesses, despite the changes and chances of life, we can still sing the Lord’s song. As James reminds us today: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” When car tires wear down from use and strain, they stay worn down. But when muscles wear down from use and strain, they grow stronger. God strengthens your faith by exercise and through affliction. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5).

When you have Jesus, you really do have all you need. And you can sing the Lord’s salvation song. Our risen Lord Jesus heals our sorrow-filled hearts in order that we may sing His song of salvation. “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.” Amen.

04 May 2020

Homily for Easter 4 (Jubilate) - 2020

John 16:16-22

Listen here.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Waiting. Before Coronavirus it simply drove us nuts. Now it’s driving us absolutely bonkers. We spend so much of our time just waiting—waiting in the check out line at Schnucks, or now waiting in line just to get into to the store; waiting for the stop light to change from red to green, especially when there’s no traffic coming from any other direction; waiting for stay-at-home edicts finally to end and normal life to resume. We spend so much of our time just waiting. And we don’t enjoy it at all, not even a little bit.

Then along comes Isaiah today. He talks of waiting in attractive, positive terms. “They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Normally, we think of waiting as something that wearies and exhausts, something that tests our patience and makes our kindness wear thin. Isaiah, though, suggests that waiting actually invigorates us, strengthens us, and fulfills us. Of course, he wasn’t referring to just any old waiting; he spoke of waiting “for the LORD.”

What does it mean for us Christians to wait “for the LORD”? The Apostle John boldly says this in his first letter: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1) Yes, he means it, and it’s quite true. In our Baptism into Jesus, all that belongs to Jesus has been given to us. He is the beloved Son, and when we are baptized into Him, WE also become God’s beloved children. His Father becomes our Father. His inheritance becomes our inheritance. Everything that belongs to Him, He gives to us, especially a life that neither COVID nor death can destroy.

How is that possible? Because He came to take all that belonged to us—our sin, our doubts, our illnesses, even our impatience—and make it His own. Not only did He take our sin on Himself, but He also took our death and everything we deserved for our sin. And He bore it all for us on the cross. Now He gives to us all that belongs to Him through Baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Now, the world knows nothing of this. The world sees us Christians as just ordinary people, even non-essential. But let’s not be surprised. After all, as John also says, “The reason why the world does not know us—that is, as God’s beloved children—is that it did not know Him.” (1 John 3:1) The real problem, though, comes when WE forget to see ourselves that way, when WE forget to BE who we really are, when WE forget to ACT according to our high and holy calling.

We ARE God’s children right now, not just at some time in the far-distant future. And we are His waiting children. We are waiting on the Lord. This is why St. Peter calls us “sojourners and exiles.” It’s why exhorts us to “live as people who are free” even as we honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God, and honor the emperor. This is why it “is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”

And so we wait. We are waiting and looking forward to a glorious moment: that instant when Christ Himself will appear. The Bible calls it the “Parousia,” or “Presence of the Lord.” We often call it His “coming,” but it’s really more of an unveiling of His hidden presence. It’s not as if Jesus is off in a galaxy far, far away and will come rushing in at warp speed to save the day. Instead, it’s more like a curtain being lifted suddenly and swiftly so that we can see the wonderful truth that our Lord has always been here, hidden within the life of His holy Church.

And His “appearing” is not His alone. In an instant, in the twinkling of the eye, we too will be changed, and we shall be like Him, complete with bodies incorruptible, filled with light, shining with the glory of God. Right now, we walk around cloaked. Our glory is hidden from and unknown to all around us. It’s even hidden from us. But the moment of our Lord’s appearing will also mean the unveiling of who we truly are. And we’re eagerly waiting for it!

“And everyone,” says St. John, “who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” You see, when you’re waiting for that glorious moment—that moment when you will be revealed as a child of the Eternal Father, a brother of His beloved Son, an heir of His eternal estate—you take care to start living that way already. Even without the glorious robes of our future nobility, we seek to live as princes and princesses who just happen to be dressed as paupers in this world. That’s the way it was for our Lord. So, we always want our behavior and our life-style, our living and our working, to reflect the hope that we have in Jesus, the hope of the children’s great unveiling at the Appearing of our Savior.

But waiting CAN be painful. Jesus recognizes this in today’s Gospel: “A little while…a little while…a little while.” Think of little ones in the back seat on a road trip: “Are we there yet? How much longer? I’m hungry. I have to go….” And the dreaded answer? “A little while.” Grr! Jesus said this to His apostles the night before He entered His Passover. He warned them that they would not see Him—meaning His death and burial. But then, He said, they would see Him again and their hearts would rejoice, and no one would be able snatch their joy away from them—here meaning His glorious, life-giving resurrection.

But as the Church reads these words today, we think of more than just the Apostles and the past. Ever since our Lord ascended to God’s right hand, we also live in the “little while” of our Lord. We see Him no longer, but “again a little while, and [we] will see [Him].” We live and wait for that moment when we will see Him again. As He says, our hearts will rejoice. You see, that joyful moment of His return, of His appearing, of His unveiling, will also be the rebirth of all of creation. As our Lord says, “See, I make all things new.”

And so we wait. But we often get impatient and fearful and cry out: “O Lord, how long?” At those times, however many and however frequent they are, we get to hear the sweet voice of our Lord: “It’s only a little while.” When we go through the very real difficulties, the fears large or small, and the trials that tax us and wear us down, we need to hold on to that “little while.” Think of what the Church Father Basil the Great said: “The complete human existence is only a tiny interval compared with the endless age our hopes rest in” (Letter 140).

Think of it this way. Compared to the glorious inheritance that Christ has won for us—an eternal inheritance, an eternal life, unending joys, and a family reunion that goes on for endless days, and with family members whom you love and adore—compared to this, our entire earthly pilgrimage is only “a little while.”

So we wait. And when the waiting grows difficult, when we are tempted to forget who we are in God’s Beloved Son or what we are waiting for, let’s remember this: in His rich mercy our Lord Christ spreads a table before us and feeds us with His very Body and Blood. And while we wait to gather together again, our Lord’s Meal is still available by appointment.

At His Table He forgives all our fears and impatience and forgetfulness. Here He reminds us that we are truly, genuinely His—His brothers and sisters, His co-heirs. Here He gives us a foretaste of that glorious Day. It’s how He strengthens us to go on waiting. It’s how He comforts us that the “little while” really does have an end, a glorious end, a completion beyond all that we can imagine. Yes, “they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength…they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.