Monday, May 28, 2012

The Holy Spirit

The Day of Pentecost, May 27th, Anno + Domini 2012                                         
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Acts 2

Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the day our Lord sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower the Church.  On Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit came and dwelled in a new way with the infant Christian Church, enabling and jumpstarting God’s Mission of proclaiming Christ to all nations.  Miraculous signs, powerful preaching, 3,000 Baptisms, all these occurred on Pentecost, all works of the Holy Spirit.  There is no Christian Church apart from the Holy Spirit, and so today we rejoice in Him. 

But who is the Holy Spirit?  And what does He do?  How do we know if we have the Holy Spirit?  Do you have the Spirit? 

Look at you squirm.  Lutherans often do not know how to answer such questions.  Ask us who is God, and we rightly respond the one true God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Ask us about the Father or the Son, and we have lots to say, from Creation to the Old Testament prophecies of Christ Jesus, to the Father’s sending of His only-begotten Son, to be born, to live, to serve, to teach, to suffer, to die, and to rise, all for our salvation.  And we know that the Holy Spirit is involved in these things, hovering over the face of the waters at the Creation, causing the miraculous conception of Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary, descending in the form of a dove at Jesus’ baptism, being given over by Jesus at His death on the Cross, and breathed on out the disciples in the Upper Room, the night after the Resurrection. 

But ask us a question specifically about the Holy Spirit, or especially about the Spirit dwelling in us, and we tend to stumble and mutter a bit.  Why do we do this?  Well, in part, we hesitate to join in the conversation about the Holy Spirit because so much of what we hear from other churches seems crazy, things like rolling in the aisles, babbling unintelligibly, people crowing to the rafters about a feeling in their heart which they say proves the Spirit is in them.  Miracles claimed, healings and spectacular signs reported, all attributed to the Holy Spirit.  We don’t get it, but they seem so sure, and we don’t want to offend, or look bad, so we say nothing. 

This isn’t right.  There is no good reason that we shouldn’t be teaching the world clearly and confidently about the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  So today, we’ll use this peppy little mariachi tune, hymn 502, as our guide to understanding and rejoicing in the Spirit, as He has revealed Himself to be. 

Hymn 502, verse 1. 

The Holy Spirit came as a dove.  Stephen Starke, an LCMS pastor in Bay City, Michigan, wrote the English words to this originally Spanish hymn, starting us off by referring to the Holy Spirit as the dove sent from heaven, which goes well with our Pentecost Paraments and our bulletin cover, which feature a descending dove.  And this is a helpful connection for understanding the Holy Spirit, because the one event where the Holy Spirit is described appearing in the form of a dove is not Pentecost, but rather the baptism of Jesus.  However, at Pentecost, 3,000 people were baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ.  So the Spirit as dove is a good place to start our consideration, because it connects the Spirit, and us, to Jesus. 

A dove first takes center stage in salvation history way back in Genesis, again in a watery setting, as the Flood receded and Noah released a dove to see if it was safe outside the ark.  The first time, she returned to Noah, because there was no place to land.  Seven days later Noah sent her out again, and again she returned, this time with an olive branch in her beak, showing that things were growing, life was returning to the earth.  Seven days later she did not return at all, telling Noah that it was safe to leave the ark.  The flood had receded, mankind could return in peace to the earth.  The devastation of the flood had ended, and a universal symbol of peace was created.  Good news. 

The deeper and eternal significance of the dove of peace is revealed as Jesus stands in the River Jordan, being baptized by John, declared to be the Son of God, coming to bring peace to the world.  The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove, and from heaven the Father speaks: this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.  The Holy Spirit is given to the sinless One who was baptized for us sinners.   

So the Holy Spirit, the dove sent from heaven, brings a message of peace.  But peace from what?  Of what war does this dove signal the end?  In this we discover the special focus of the Holy Spirit’s ministry, for the dove came to declare the end of warfare between mankind and God, between a world of fallen sinners and the one Holy God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  God desired peace with sinners, despite our continual rebellion against Him.  God desired peace with sinners, and so the Son came and defeated sin in His own body, in His own death and resurrection, reconciling us to the Father.  God desires peace with sinners, so the Holy Spirit comes to declare and distribute the peace of God to all who hear and believe this remarkable good news. 

So now once again, the dwelling place of God can be with men.  No longer does the Holy, Holy, Holy LORD have to have a special temple, a dwelling place set off with walls and curtains, the Holy of Holies from which we sinners must be separated, for our own protection.  Now that Christ has reconciled the world to the Father, the Holy Spirit comes and makes baptized believers His temple, His dwelling place.  And where the Spirit is, there also is Christ and the Father. 

Hymn 502, verse 2: 

The Holy Spirit came in tongues of fire.  Are you ready to sit still as a tongue of fire descends on your head?  Is there anything more likely to make us flinch and duck than the thought of our hair being caught on fire?  Do not pass too quickly over this miracle of flames at Pentecost.  The fire of God is dangerous.  Like a visible manifestation of God’s Holy presence, God’s flames are not something we in our sinfulness can endure.  Without some intervention by God, we will be burned. 

What fireproofs sinners against being burned by the Holy Spirit’s flame?  Water of course.  Water, that is, which has been joined to the Word, the Word of Christ, who has endured His baptism by fire on the Cross, in order that all who are baptized and believe in His forgiveness can now safely receive the flames of the Spirit.  The miraculous flames at Pentecost were a unique, onetime occurrence, but the promise of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit, both given to you in your Baptism, have the same God of Pentecost behind them.  You need not long for spectacular signs like tongues of fire or speaking in languages you never learned, for Paul tells us that miraculous signs will pass away, but the seal of the Spirit lasts forever.  Marvel and rejoice that the same Spirit who produced miracles on Pentecost has also sealed you in Baptismal waters, and  is still working, in you and all believers, keeping faith alive and producing good works. 

Hymn 502, verse 3: 

The Holy Spirit came to lead us in a new life.  But what about your walk?  Perhaps you have felt convicted by your Pentecostal friends, who seem to be very fired up for God, and who imply, or maybe say outright, that if you really have the Spirit it will be obvious in your life.  Now, if you are convicted because you know that there are good works God has put in front of you that you have refused to do, good.  If you are convicted because you know you have failed to good works and chosen instead sinful pastimes, thank God for your convicting Pentecostal friends.  If you are convicted because you are neglecting the Church into which the Spirit has called you, repent, and come to God the Father, led by the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ, and He will pour out His unction of blessing again.  That is He will pour out forgiveness on you again, as He did at your Baptism, as He has done so many times since, by His Word and Sacrament. 

Take it seriously every time you are brought to repentance for a lack of fruit, a lack of good works in your life.  Take it seriously, but do not throw out God’s Word and God’s Way when you do.  We are to be concerned about good works; Jesus and all the Apostles certainly call us to such concern.  But so often when we focus on good works, we forget how God works.  Christians who get all fired up trying to do good works often forget who we are, where true good works come from, and what we need, most of all, every day. 

The temptation is great for us to forget that humility and dependence mark the way of the Baptized.  Yes, we need to be concerned for good works in our lives, but we must also remember that we are and will continue to be sinners, until the end of our earthly lives.  And, the solution for sin is not us trying harder, but rather the solution is always the forgiveness of Christ.  When you are convicted for failing to produce good works, do not rush off to try harder, but rather repent, and rush in to God, to be washed clean, so that He can once again do His work in you, which is the only way you will ever produce true good works.  It is quite humbling to acknowledge that our path to heaven is built on the daily forgiveness of sins, but remember the One who humbled Himself on the Cross to give this gift to you.  This is His Way, the way on which the Spirit leads us. 

Hymn 502, verse 4:

The Holy Spirit came in a rushing wind.  Wind, like water, and fire, can be a blessing or a curse, bringing joy, like a warm spring breeze, or death, like a tornado.  Like the holy presence of God, the Wind of God can be destructive or life giving.  How do we know which way God’s wind blows for us?  Where can we find out if the Wind of the Spirit will breathe new life in us, or suck away what little air we have? 

We learn of God’s wind from God’s Word, of course.  And the connection between the Spirit and the Word is the key point we should be ready to tell our friends and neighbors about.  At Pentecost, and on a few occasions in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit worked spectacular miracles through believers.  Certainly He can still work whatever spectacular miracles He wishes.  But we don’t need to wait for spectacular miracles, nor should we expect them.  We certainly should not try to somehow produce them as though our salvation depended on it.  Because we know where to go to find the Spirit.  We know where to go to hear the Spirit.  We know what His tool for working is.  He is the light that enlightens the Scripture, indeed He is the One who inspired the writers to record God’s eternal Word, and He is the One who works through the Word, preached, read, sung and prayed. 

Pastor Reinke in Williston has a great little call and response to help us remember that the place for Christians to find the Holy Spirit is in the Bible.  It goes like this:  I say Holy Spirit, you say Word of God.  I say Word of God, you say Holy Spirit.  Holy Spirit, Word of God.  Word of God, Holy Spirit.  We will do a great service to our friends and neighbors, our families, and ourselves, if we can remember this connection, between the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.   

You have been given the Holy Spirit, in your Baptism.  You still have the Holy Spirit, because you believe.  Even though your faith may sometimes be weak, it is still a sign of the Spirit, because without the Holy Spirit, your faith dies.  So sit under God’s Word and listen to the Spirit; hear again and again His message.  The Spirit’s message is Christ for you.  The Spirit comes to proclaim Jesus Christ, crucified, resurrected and ascended on high, the One who takes away your sins, and makes your way into God’s eternal joy,
    in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

All Your Troubles Are Behind Him

The Ascension of Our Lord, (Observed),   May 20, Year of Our + Lord 2012
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana

"What man has all his troubles behind him?"     "A school bus driver."

Cute.  Not quite a side-splitter, but not a bad joke, all in all.  As the school year winds down, I’m sure there are some bus drivers looking forward to a few months break from the troubles behind them.              As we celebrate the Ascension today, I thought of another answer to this same question:  What man has all his troubles behind him?  The Ascended Lord Jesus Christ. 

Jesus knew troubles.  As Isaiah prophesied, as these prophecies were fulfilled on Calvary, Jesus was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; … like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised…  we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. .. He was pierced … crushed … oppressed … afflicted. 

God’s Son gave up the glories of heaven to be a servant, God becoming also a human being in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus then spent long days and nights teaching His oh so slow to learn disciples, and repelling the verbal attacks of the oh so full of themselves Pharisees.  He poured out his guts for the people, teaching, healing, consoling. 

And still he was despised.  Forsaken, abandoned by His friends, and persecuted by His enemies, arrested, falsely accused, unfairly convicted, tortured, crucified, dead and buried. 

But now, all Jesus' troubles are behind Him.  He has buried all His troubles, and risen victorious from the grave, the troubles of this world conquered, the struggle with sin and evil and death finished forever. 

His troubles behind Him, Luke tells us of Jesus' returning to celebrate His victory with His disciples, and to give them instructions for proclaiming His victory to all the world.  Then, after receiving their worship, He gives a blessing to the disciples, then returns to heaven, back to glory, back to His rightful home.  All His troubles are behind Him, forever.  Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, has been enthroned as ruler over all things, in heaven and on earth.  Victory. Vindication.  All His troubles are behind Him.  Jesus ascends into heaven, His disciples worship and praise God with great joy, all is good and right in the world.     
Are you comforted by this?  Or maybe troubled?  Jesus has left His troubles behind, but what about us?  What about our troubles?  Stricken, smitten, and afflicted may be too dramatic to describe them, but certainly, you still have struggles.  You pour out our guts trying to get by, trying to help your family and friends, trying to teach your children.  And what thanks do you get?  Good guys finish last, it seems.   Sometimes, the people we love the most make our lives the hardest.  In the end, what do we have to show for all our troubles? 

Have we been abandoned by Jesus?  There, I said it.  But you've thought it.  You aren’t perfect, by any means, but you have committed yourself to Christ and His Church, you’ve served, you’ve been faithful.  But still, despite your dedication to the Lord, you have struggles. 

When struggles come into the lives of the faithful, bitterness can result.  Where's the victory for me?  Where's the vindication of all my efforts?   

Such thoughts are natural to us.  Natural to our sinful nature, that is.  It's easy for us to become angry with God for leaving us and going into heaven when we face difficulties in our life.  In old imperial Russia, the people living out their brutal lives in the far reaches of Siberia used to say:  "God is in His heaven, and the Tsar is far away."  Sour grapes.  It is quite natural for sufferers to blame God for allowing their suffering, to think that they have no powerful friends looking out for them, anywhere. 

If and when we fall prey to accusing God of abandoning us, when we blame Him for our struggles, we show that our sinful selves have once again forgotten three things. 

First, while it is true that all of Jesus troubles are behind Him, we need to remember that His troubles were our troubles.  He had none of His own.  When I quoted from Isaiah about the suffering of Jesus earlier, I left out a few key parts of the reading.  Listen again, to the full reading: 

He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities.  

The reason Jesus had troubles was that we would not and could not bear our own troubles.  All the anger and scorn and suffering and abandonment that Jesus bore rightfully should have fallen on us.  Our struggles may not all be tied directly to our own sins, but each of us has more than enough sin to deserve the wrath of God, not to mention the struggles of this life.  The very fact that the Son of God came to join us in our suffering is mercy beyond our imagination.  But there it is, in the text, Jesus made our struggles His struggles.  And the Spirit convinces us: it's true.   

Second, when we pity ourselves and think God has abandoned us, we forget that what Jesus suffered, He suffered on our behalf.  Isaiah continues: But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.  Our suffering may seem pointless.  But Jesus' suffering had a purpose; it was for our good.  Jesus suffered so that we can look forward to a day when all suffering will be ended, when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. 

Third, when we think God has abandoned us in our suffering, we forget that Jesus has not left us.  Yes, He ascended into heaven, in order to prepare a place for you.  Sin infects every one of us, and stained with sin, we cannot be with God.  All of humanity faced the same fate, none of us could meet the standard required to enter into God's eternal glory.  But now one Man has.  One Man has earned admittance to heaven, the Man Jesus Christ, who is also God.  He has earned admittance to heaven, not just for Himself, but for all people.  His suffering atones for your sin, and my sin, and the sin of the whole world.  The only thing that keeps anyone out of heaven is failing to believe Jesus has put all our troubles behind Him. 

Jesus made a place in heaven for us by entering there in the flesh.  In a sense, He has left us, He is not longer visibly present.  But Jesus also promises: "Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)  And " "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." (Matthew 18:20)  Even though Jesus has ascended into heaven, He has not left us.  He has given us His Spirit, and He is with us as well, bound to us by His promises, present for us in His Word, feeding us at His table.  He is present for you in your troubles, to sustain you, protect you, most importantly to tell you again and again that no matter how big your troubles get, He has taken care of them. 

Jesus’ victory over all His troubles is your victory over all your troubles.  Hear again how Paul encourages the Ephesian Christians with the promises we have in our Ascended Lord.   

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

Paul prays that the eyes of our hearts be opened, enlightened, made to see our hope.  We have the promise of our calling, our calling to faith in Christ, our calling to be children of God, both now and for eternity.  We have hope in the glory of our inheritance, the promise of eternal glory and joy with God, because of Jesus. 

This hope, continues Paul, is  in accordance with the working of the strength of (God's) might  which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And (God the Father)  put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Jesus has all your troubles behind Him.  He has endured all, conquered all, redeemed all, and now He reigns over all.  Yes, we still have troubles.  But Jesus is with us, especially in the midst of our troubles, because He has already made them His own.  The ruler of the Universe has joined Himself to you in your Baptism.  The One who overcame all troubles in His own Body, by shedding His own blood, now comes to feed your with His Body and Blood, forgiving you all your sins, and strengthening you for all your troubles.  You can face your troubles with confidence, because Jesus will face them with you.   

Praise be to Jesus, our Crucified, Resurrected and Ascended Lord and Savior, Amen.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Who Are You Listening To?

Sixth Sunday of Easter                                  May 13th, A+D 2012
Trinity and St John Lutheran Churches           Sidney and Fairview, MT

For the second time I am the parent of a High School graduate, so the annual question is a little more intense for me this year.  How will our graduates do?  Who will our graduates listen to?  As they head out into the next phase of their lives, as they exercise their independence and face new challenges, opportunities and temptations, who will they turn to for advice?  Who will they believe?  Where will they find their truth? 

To tell the truth, this question is always with me.  And not just about Madeline, or about our graduates.  Day by day and week by week, I ask this same question, about you, because I have been called to preach the truth to the members of our churches, and anyone else who happens to listen in.  I pray that God keeps me preaching the truth, and I pray that He will work through His Word.  Above all I rely on the promise that He will build and care for His Church.  But still I worry.  Who are you listening to?  Whose testimony do you consider true?

I worry, because even at our most faithful times, we get just a few hours together every week.  An hour on Sunday, if you make it, maybe another hour of a Bible Study.  Perhaps you use the devotions that come with the readings insert, or Portals of Prayer.  At best, you hear a couple hours of faithful testimony each week.  But whether you make it to services or not, you hear a lot more preaching than that. 

Outside of church, you hear the constant proclamation of a world under the influence of the devil.  You turn on your radios and your T.V.’s, you open your newspaper and your magazines, you head down to the coffee shop, and you hear other preachers, impressive preachers.  Some of them admit they are peddling their religion.  Others are sneakier, pretending to just be giving you the news, or opinion, or entertainment, or advertising their merchandise in hopes you’ll buy, but also proclaiming a message.  Knowingly or not, there are a multitude of preachers trying to get your ear, trying to tell you all about life, how you should live, what you should believe.  And they preach a different message than Jesus.  They proclaim a different way of life than the Holy Spirit.  And so I worry.  Who are you listening to?

What is the most important thing in life, according to what you hear outside these walls?  Being a good person?  Living a good life?  Having a little time and money to indulge your pleasures?  Not having to fear for tomorrow? 
Now it's not that the world is all against religion.  Indeed, the world often happily encourages you to have a little spirituality; everybody’s gotta have faith.  Just don’t go overboard.  Don’t live like God is the most important thing in your life; that’s no fun and you’ll make other people uncomfortable.  And absolutely don’t suggest that there is only one right way to be spiritual, because that would mean other people don’t have it right, and we don’t want to disturb anyone.  That’s not nice.

The world, at the devil’s behest, preaches to us that we should focus our time and energies not on God and His Word, but on living a good life.  We should try to get along with people, and not rock the boat.  Religion is fine, in small doses, but really, don’t you think there will be time for that later?  Besides, who wants to be a fanatic? 
That’s the world’s testimony.  But what is God’s testimony to us?  What does He say life is to be all about?  Jesus says you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and you are to love your neighbor as yourself.  (Luke 10:27)  And furthermore, Jesus says that we are not to relax the law of God, not even a little bit.  (Matthew 5:19)  Love God, totally, with your whole being.  Love your neighbor, as you love yourself.  Period.  There’s nothing in there about enjoying a good life, nothing about getting a good job, or preparing for retirement, nothing in their about indulging your pleasures, not even about being comfortable. 

Now, now, counsels the world.  Take a breath, don’t get so worked up.  Do the best you can, but don’t let all that God talk run away with you.  Be nice to people, that’s enough.  At least, be nice to good people.  And whatever you do, don’t start to wonder about what comes after this life.  After all, who knows?  Lots of scientists think nothing happens, and lots of religions say nice things happen to everybody.  So why should we be so radical about what Jesus says concerning eternal life and eternal suffering?    Just relax, watch another TV show, play another video game, work a little longer on your garden, drink another beer, and forget about what the Bible says.  Nobody seems to agree about that anyway.  It’s just another book, isn’t it?  Besides, says the world, you can’t do it.  You can’t love the Lord with all your heart, you don’t love your neighbor as yourself.  So just forget about it. 

That’s what the world says, on behalf of the devil.  Who are you listening to? 

The world is right on one point, at least.  You can’t do it.  You have not and will not ever in this life love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.  But that’s no reason to ignore God’s testimony, for His testimony is still true.  Our failures to live in accordance with God’s truth do not change that truth.  Those who ignore God’s testimony cut themselves off from Him, both now, and for eternity.  You need to listen to God’s testimony, because it is true. 

Even though we fall short, we do well to listen, we need to listen.  Because God has more to say.  His demands for your perfect love are part of His testimony, but they are not His final Word.  This first part of God’s testimony is His Law, how He expects us to live, in relation to Him, and in relation to our neighbors. We must hear the Law.  But thanks be to Jesus, in the end we are a church of the Gospel, we are gathered in this place to hear Good News. 

As we consider our struggle in the world, as we consider the battle for our souls that we find ourselves caught up in, the Gospel is good news indeed.  For instead of leaving us only with instructions for a good life that we can never accomplish, God’s final word is the promise of a good life that He gives to us, freely, as a gift.  It is as John teaches us in our epistle.  Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God,  and   everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Now this is a different word, a different testimony, a testimony that promises victory over the world. A testimony not about what we are supposed to do, but rather about what God has done, which He calls us to believe.  This is the testimony about Jesus, which calls us to faith in the heavenly One who became one of us, living to die, and rise again, for the sake of giving us good lives, real life. 

Jesus is the One 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. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 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.

God’s testimony concerning us, concerning our love toward Him and our neighbor, is not good news for us, for we do not meet His standard.  But the Spirit, the Water and the Blood proclaim a better testimony, about a better Man, the Man Jesus who came by Water and by Blood.  Jesus came, sinless and good, and was baptized in water to enter into a ministry of service and sacrifice.  In His life Jesus loved God, and His neighbor, perfectly, with His whole being.  He did that for you, in your place, in order to be able to share His good works with you.  And, Jesus did not come to only keep the Law.  Jesus also came by blood, that is He came and bled, on the cross.  He was crucified into a death which wins eternal life for you because it pays for all the loving that you have failed to do.  The blood of Jesus covers all your sins. 
You have not kept God’s Law.  But despite your sin, God still wants you, and so Jesus, God’s Son came, into human flesh, into water, into blood, to win the forgiveness of the sins of the whole world.  And today, God continues to love you by testifying to you of Jesus and His love, by the Spirit, the Water and the Blood. 
The Spirit, the Author of the Holy Scriptures, speaks this truth through His Word, written, spoken and sung:  God in Christ has reconciled you, and the whole world, to Himself. 
          The Water of Holy Baptism testifies, publicly, that God has adopted you, through Jesus Christ, washing away your sins and joining you to His life, His death and His resurrection. 
          The blood of the Supper testifies, week after week, that God continues to love you, continues to forgive you, and strengthens you to resist the lies of the world, which deny the grace of God found in the flesh of Christ. 
          This is the testimony we all need to hear, the testimony of God, through the Spirit’s Word, and through Baptism, and through the Supper.  When you receive this testimony, you are abiding in the love of Jesus, poured out for you.  Through this testimony Jesus joins Himself to you and goes with you out into the world. 

And then a funny thing happens.  When you abide in Jesus, you live differently.  Driven not by fear of failure and punishment, but rather moved by joy at your good fortune, receiving the testimony of Christ leads you to love your neighbor, and look at life differently.  You may still watch a TV show, or play a video game, fix up your garden or even drink a beer, but you do so secure in the knowledge that God in Christ has called you to be His own.  You do so knowing that every good gift comes from God, and so you give thanks.  Joined to Jesus, you do and enjoy many things, but you are not fooled into living for things.  Rather you learn to live from Jesus.  Joined to Jesus, you live in the freedom of forgiveness, which also frees you to love your neighbor selflessly, for God in Jesus has met all your needs. 

Madeline, Nichole, and all of you, hear this word of counsel:  Today, and for the rest of your life, listen to the testimony of the Spirit, (found in God’s Word), and the testimony of the Water, (with which you were baptized, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit), and the testimony of the Blood, (shed for you to drink, for the forgiveness of sins).   These three testify, these three agree, that God in and through Jesus Christ will always love and care for you.  Listen, rejoice, and live from this testimony, today, tomorrow, and forever and ever, Amen.