Monday, May 27, 2013

The Context of John 3:16 - Life in God for You

The Festival of the Holy Trinity, May 26th Year of Our + Lord 2013
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
The Context of John 3:16 - Life in God for You

Sunday’s Sermon was framed by the Hymn - Christ Sits at God’s Right Hand, Lutheran Service Book 564.  I do not have copyright permission to post the lyrics, I apologize for any inconvenience. This however is a great reason to do a great thing, get a copy of LSB for your home use! 

Stanza 1

     John 3:16.  The Gospel in a Nutshell, it is called, a good thing, I think, if along with the book, chapter and verse come the Words.  For God has loved the world, in this way: He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.  I’m happy this morning that we have the verses that come before, and after, to help us remember the details of what God giving His Son means.  But even without their context, the words of John 3:16 give a lot to think about, a lot to consider.  And so it is a good verse to memorize, as so many of you have, and speak out loud, because there is a hidden power in plainly speaking the truth of Scripture, a power that lies well beyond our ability to explain or defend God’s Word from critics and scoffers. 

     That’s part of what makes this hymn so good.  Christ sits at God’s right hand, His saving work complete.  Right now.  Salvation is complete, and Jesus reigns in heaven.  The faithful declare: “This is reality.  Deal with it.”  Now, this isn’t the only thing the faithful proclaim, and confessing Christ before the world does entail a lot more than just stating some facts.  But to make a clear declaration of truth, “Jesus Christ the Savior is, right now, sitting at God’s right hand,” is much better than apologizing for Scripture, or not saying anything at all.  Speak God’s truth, and you never know just exactly how He might put it to work. 

     For example, just the other day I somewhat unintentionally was part of God tweaking the conscience of a friend of mine, a friend raised to be a Christian, but who today goes out of his way to make it clear he is above and beyond the foolishness of the Bible.  My friend, let’s call him Fred, was trying to tease me a bit.  We were in a group, talking about this and that, and the subject came up of churches who say drinking any alcohol at all is a sin.  Fred, grinning in my direction, complained about “those Christians” who say we can’t drink. 

     My reply was to agree with Fred, and to state my confusion at anyone who claims to believe the Bible, but condemns the proper use of alcohol, especially when you consider all the wine that Jesus miraculously created for the wedding reception at Cana.  As I am sometimes prone to do, I went on at some length, describing the details of the six large stone jars, 20 or 30 gallons each, and all that wine that Jesus made. 

     At a certain point in my sermonette, I glanced at Fred, who had a very pained look on his face, which I believe came from the way I was speaking of Jesus and the events at Cana: as the historical facts that Scripture says they are.   He appeared a bit miffed, and perplexed, that I was actually injecting the Bible into our conversation, referring to the events of Jesus’ life like he might refer to the baseball game he watched last night.  I could be wrong, but I suspect Fred was both mocking and marveling over my way of speaking about Jesus.  “How can Dave be so foolish?”  He quickly led the conversation in another direction, but he couldn’t do anything about the Holy Spirit working on his heart. 

Stanzas 2 and 3

     Did I mention that John 3:16 is only rightly understood within its context?  Ultimately, the context of this verse, just like the context of every other verse in the Bible, is the whole Bible, in which there is a lot of talk about priests and sacrifices.  Our hymnwriter moves us very deftly from the first stanza, full of Father giving Son, and Son willingly giving Himself, bringing us into this priestly context.  Why were Melchizedek, and Aaron, and the Tabernacle and the Temple so important?  What was the point of all those high priests and their altars and bloody sacrifices that fill the Scripture?  They point to and are fulfilled in the altar shaped like a T, the altar of a Roman Cross outside Jerusalem in 33 A + D, the once for all sacrifice of God’s own Son, divine blood, shed for our good, so that He might lead us on the way behind the veil, into the eternal presence of the Father.  The central context of John 3:16, the heart of the nut within the Gospel in a nutshell, is the Crucifixion of Jesus, Son of Mary and also Son of God. 

     I don’t know how often the Cross is really in mind when people say that God loves the world.  Believing there is a God is very normal, very human, and declaring that God loves people is also as common as good wine at the Wedding of Cana.  But while we humans naturally believe in the existence of God, or maybe gods, we prefer to shape our gods after ourselves.  And so the god or gods mostly discussed among us always recognize the basic goodness of humanity.  The gods you can discuss publicly without getting dirty looks always seem to overlook sin and reward people for good works, at least, if we are really trying, and do at least as much good as not.  God loves us, warts and all, people love to believe.  We humans quite naturally prefer such gods of our own making, and love of our own definition.

     But the context of John 3:16 is a Cross, a Cross necessary because God hates sin, so much so that the slightest remnant of sin in His people means they are no longer His people.  You must be perfect, says Jesus.  You, however, and I, are not of ourselves perfect and sinless, even though we must be.  So the context of God’s love revealed in the giving of the Son is Jesus Christ, the perfect, innocent one, suffering and dying in the place of the very sinners who put Him on the Cross.  True love is found only in the God who chose to overcome human sin in the Cross of Jesus.  Any other love, any other self-serving, self-congratulatory warm and fuzzy feeling is a fiction of our imaginations.  For this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and gave His only begotten Son as the propitiation, the sacrifice that wipes away our sin.  This is the heart of the Gospel, in a nutshell or any other container. 

Stanza 4

     The context of John 3:16 is Baptism.  We can see this in the earlier part of John chapter 3, as Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born of water and the Spirit, that there is a new birth, a birth from above, worked not by the will of man, or the efforts of a mother, but worked by God, a new birth which God works by Water and the Word, which is the same as saying water and Spirit, because the voice of the Spirit is the Word of God. 

     It isn’t a contradiction to say that John 3:16 is all about the Cross, and all about love, and also to say it is all  about Baptism.  For Baptism is our entrance into the Crucifixion, and the Crucifixion brings us into God, it is how we experience His love.  I might say that Baptism is our front row seat to God’s work of loving the world, but even that is lacking, for Paul and Peter both speak of Baptism not as observing God’s work, but as dying and rising, as suffering with and rising with Jesus. 

     It certainly seems like Baptism is our work, and many people say that is all it is.  We decide, or our parents decide for us, to be baptized.  A person applies the water, and says the words.  Baptism is, by outward appearances, strictly a work of man.  But of course, outwardly, most everything important in God’s economy is also a work of man.  Men arrested Jesus, and nailed Him to a tree.  But what men meant for evil, God meant for good.  Even though men drove the nails, Jesus laid down His life of His own accord, no one took it from Him. 

     This is how God normally works in the world, through the outward works of human beings.  Men proclaimed His Resurrection, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends to the earth.  Human beings celebrate His Supper by re-enacting it, and by taking and eating, taking and drinking.  Men believe, and so are forgiven and restored to God’s fellowship.  But in all these things, God chooses to work through the words and actions of men, of sinners like you, and me, to work out His salvation.  He who hears you, Jesus tells the 12, hears Me.  Faith is a gift of God, created in us by the implanted Word, which, except for a relative handful of instances recorded in Scripture when God spoke directly from heaven, is always spoken by people.  And yet the Holy Spirit speaks through the speaking of men, and the Word of God is thus living and active, the very power of God unto salvation.  So the context of John 3:16 is God by His Word reaching out to sinful humanity, joining us by Baptism to the death and resurrection and eternal life of Jesus, His Son, whom He loves.  Since the Father loves Jesus, He also loves, and declares perfect, everyone who is in Jesus, by Baptismal faith.  

Stanza 5

     The context of John 3:16 is life as Baptized Christians gathering to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus, given for us, given into the Cross by the Father, given for the joy set before Him by the Son, given, so that we can live in communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Communion, sharing, close unity and fellowship with God, is created for you in the flesh and blood of Jesus.  The work of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is to give you faith in this gift, and to deliver this communion to you.  And communion with God changes you, for now Christ lives in you, and goes with you, and through you takes God’s message of love into the world. 

     After this past week, after the devastation in Moore, OK, after the horrible bloody broad daylight murder of that British soldier by those angry Muslims in London, after another week of scandals and blame shifting in Washington, after all the struggles you have faced and haven’t even told anyone about, after all this, we need the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to come to us.  We always need this, for this is our only hope.  God grant that we continue to be wise to receive Him, coming to us, to give us life, and also so that living in His love and forgiveness, we can than reflect Him to our neighbors.  We want the world to be a better place, because we can still feel and see the potential God first created in everything.  God wants to give everyone a better world, and He has done so, through the Cross of Jesus.  The context of John 3:16 is the new life God has for you, and all people, in and through the Crucified and Resurrected One, Jesus Christ, who rules at God’s right hand, today, for you, Amen. 

Stanza 6

Monday, May 20, 2013

Of Babel and Pentecost

Pentecost Sunday - May 19th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, MT
Of Babel and Pentecost - Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21, John 14:22-31
Vicar Jason Toombs

On this day of Pentecost we celebrate the speaking of unknown tongues.  More specifically, the speaking of unknown tongues by the disciples, but the hearing of these tongues in the native language of the hearers.  This isn’t a command from God to babel about incoherently.  This is a day where we celebrate the fact that the Bible is translated, read, preached, and taught to many different peoples in their own native language.  We hear of the mighty works of God in our own tongues: English for us, Spanish, French, German, and many other languages throughout the world for others.  We are not forced to learn Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek to find out what God has done for us.  We hear plainly the mighty works of God, including God’s work of confusing the languages at Babel and the preaching in native tongues at Pentecost.

Before Babel the whole earth had one language.  Men and women communicated freely throughout the world, you could travel everywhere and only had to know one language.  Then they had an idea, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”  Likewise, we have often thought the same things: let us make a United Nations where we can communicate freely and establish a world parliament where peace and development of nations is sought, let us build an International Space Station so we can further explore space.

But there is a difference at Babel.  The people who came together at Babel wanted to build a tower into heaven.  They wanted to climb up to God, to be able to see Him face to face.  Surely this is a great idea.  What could go wrong?

The wanted to make a name for themselves.  We are a mighty people.  We can build.  Let’s build toward heaven one block upon another.  Everyone around will know our names once this tower has reached heaven.  You and I also want the spotlight.  We are all stars in our own minds saying, “The world needs to know about me. Lights, camera, action. My show must go on.”  Shows abound for you to make your mark.  If you can sing, or even if you can’t, there’s American Idol, The Voice, and plenty more.  If you’ve got things to sell, you can go on Antiques Roadshow or on Pawn Stars.  If you can work with your hands you could be on Swamp People, Sons of Guns, or even Duck Dynasty.  Like us, the people at Babel wanted to be famous.  But fame comes at a cost.

Because they were trying to make their own way to God, God intervened and confused their language, so they could no longer understand one another, they could no longer communicate with one another.  Still today, we do not communicate easily.  Multiple languages abound.  There’s also languages particular to each gender.  Men have a language they can communicate freely in: sports.  Likewise, women have their own nuances of language.  Men and women think about things differently, talk differently, approach tasks differently.  We can thank those people at Babel for this.  We are no longer able to communicate effectively with one another.

Also, where there was once one people, God dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth.  What was once one, has been shattered.  We have been thrown to the ends of the earth.  For survival, we have formed communities and nations, working with those we can understand to make a life together.

But what if God moves you from this community to another one?  What if He moves you overseas?  If we move from a small community, like this one, to a large city overseas, like London, Tokyo, or Buenos Aires, we will often search for people we know, who have the same kind of background.  We will group together with fellow Americans.  We want the comforts of home, the ethnicity, the food, the culture, even when we are away from it.  There is comfort in people who are like us, but this isn’t our ultimate comfort.  Our ultimate comfort rests solely in God.

Even though God dispersed mankind over the face of all the earth, He did not leave it this way.  For God is not a God of punishment only, He is a God of love.  And He loves us in this way, He sent His only Son to gather His people together.  God sent His only Son down to earth, down to live amongst His people.  God took on flesh, being born of the Virgin Mary.  God walked with humanity again, though veiled in flesh, walked along the same paths as us, speaking the languages of that time and place.  He walked as He was paraded down the streets of Jerusalem carrying His cross.  Walked outside of the city, up a hill, and was crucified. 

Before He was crucified, Jesus spoke with His disciple as only He can, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”  Jesus bestows the peace of God upon His disciples, upon His people.  And He also promises the Comforter, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to remembrance all that I have said to you.”  This is what the Holy Spirit is to do: teach.  Teach you about Jesus, tell you the things that He has done for your salvation.

The Spirit alone isn’t to be celebrated.  Neither is the Son, nor the Father.  The entirety of the Trinity is celebrated, what God has done for us.  How He created us.  How He saved us.  How He forgives us.  We shouldn’t think of the Holy Spirit as separate from the Father and the Son.  God acts in one accord toward humanity, out of His deep love for us.

And so today we celebrate, we celebrate with those visitors to Jerusalem.  We celebrate with Christians around the world.  We celebrate as the Word of God is read and preached in native tongues, in language we can understand, around the world.  And so we arrive at Pentecost, the first appearance of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire, tongues speaking plainly the things of God.

The disciples were gathered together in one place, not dispersed throughout the world.  The Holy Spirit came down from heaven, like a mighty rushing wind, and divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  This was what Jesus had promised them.  The Helper, the Holy Spirit, has been sent by the Father in Jesus’ name.  Now is the time to preach and teach the things of God to others.

In Jerusalem there were Jews, devout men from every nation, who were now hearing, in their own language, the mighty works of God.  These Galilean fishermen, tax collectors, and others were speaking in unknown tongues to themselves but heard in the native language of others.  Parthians and Medes and others were hearing the mighty works of God.  And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

What does this mean?  It means that the promised Comforter, the Helper, the Holy Spirit, has come down from heaven.  He has descended from heaven, we don’t need to search for Him.  We needn’t build a tower to heaven, God has come down to us.

It also means that they no longer need to make a name for themselves.  God has put His name on the disciples in tongues as of fire.  And Peter preaches a sermon about what God has done for humanity in the person of Jesus.  The conclusion of the sermon is striking, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  A striking blow has been dealt to the Jews.  The Law of God has cut to the heart and they ask, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For this promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”

God has also promised to put His name on the hearers of Peter’s Pentecost sermon.  Repent and be baptized.  This sermon is not only for the Jews, it is for you.  You need to be baptized.  You need to have the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, placed upon your head.  You need the forgiveness of your sins as you cannot do anything to make up for your failings before God.  You need to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, not as a tongue of fire but because He is the one who tells you the mighty works that God has done.  The mighty work of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.

About 3000 believed and were baptized that first Pentecost day.  Many more have been added to God’s family since then.  The Holy Spirit has more work to do, more people to bring to faith, more souls to save from hell.  We have been added to God’s family, a family with one language, the language of faith in Jesus Christ as our redeemer.

Our language which was once confused by God has been restored, restored in His Son’s death and resurrection.  We speak different languages on earth but we have the same heavenly language, faith in Jesus Christ.  We will one day be gathered with all the saints throughout the generations.  We will be gathered together before the throne of God worshiping as He has brought us from so many nations together into one nation once again.

We are still a dispersed people, scattered throughout the world, but we will be gathered before the Lamb of God in heaven.  We will be of one nation in heaven, the nation of the Church, the bride of Christ.  Covered by His blood, loved with His whole heart, we will know what true love really means, giving up His life so His bride can live eternally there with Him as her head.

You have been baptized with water and the Spirit.  You don’t have to speak in tongues to celebrate this baptism.  Paul has said, “as for tongues, they will cease” (1 Corinthians 13:8) but Jesus reminds us “my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33).  Instead of babbling about incoherently, simply speak through the tongue of the Holy Spirit, recalling what God has done for you in sending His only Son to die for your sins, to rise victorious over death and the grave, and all of this He gives to you.  You are in Christ’s death and resurrection and God’s name is on you in your baptism.  Rest comfortably knowing and believing the mighty works which God has done for you.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Rising Above

The Ascension of Our + Lord (Observed), May 12th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Rising Above – Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11, 2 Kings 2:5-15

     Because more than any other book, the Bible speaks of life as it truly is, we this morning once again enjoy a happy confluence of events, as our day for  recognizing our graduating High School Seniors coincides with the Christian festival we observe today, the Ascension of Jesus.  Both events are exciting and inspiring, also both unique, one time events in the lives of the main characters.  Both are full of promise, a promise we all are eager to partake in, the promise of rising above.  At the same time, both events are frightening, full of the unknown, and so also full of fears, even if nobody wants to speak them out loud. 

     And that is life, isn’t it, the desire to rise above, to reach better things, and yet a desire always beset by fears and worries and doubts about the unknown, about our future?  Life is like that, even when outwardly everything seems to be going well, but especially when troubles are mounting. 

     Perhaps your job is going to change.  Maybe you don’t like your job.  Maybe your job, or your boss, doesn’t like you.  Or maybe your job is just no longer needed by the economy.  Either way, you face a job change, and you want to rise above.  But there are applications and interviews, competition, and no guarantee you’ll find the job you want, or even a job that meets your needs, as the bills pile up.  You look forward to a future with a better job, but you’re worried that you might never find it. 

     Perhaps you’re sick. You want to rise above.  Indeed the doctors suggest if you can just do this or that, have this surgery, take this experimental treatment, or maybe stop eating or drinking this or that, your future health could be better than it’s been for years.  But if you don’t, well, then, you could die… 

     Perhaps you’re alone, and lonely.  You’d like to rise above, to enjoy the love and companionship and joy that comes from being close to people, but this requires you take some risks, change some habits, maybe heal some wounds that you inflicted on people over the years, or wounds that people have inflicted on you.  You’d like to rise above and get past the things that continually keep you from sharing love with people, but you’ve really been hurt.  And maybe in return you’ve really hurt others.  Maybe deep down you’re angry, and also ashamed, and so finding love and friendship seems impossible.    

     Or maybe you’re graduating from High School, with your whole life ahead of you, but at times it feels more like you’re being set adrift on a raft.  You’ve been given a bunch of gifts on your raft, but you don’t really understand how you’re supposed to steer, and the current is picking up and you think in the distance you hear the sound of a waterfall.  You want to rise above, to meet your potential, to go and do all the great things everyone says you should do.  But you realize you don’t really want to or even know how to wash your laundry or cook a meal for yourself, let alone know what you want to do for the rest of your life.    

     The eleven Apostles faced a similar set of doubts and fears, as they peered into the clouds where Jesus disappeared.  Christians, as we hear in the collect of the day and the hymns for Ascension, are to day by day keep their hearts and minds fixed on Jesus, who has risen above.  We are to rejoice and worship God continually, because in Christ the victory is won for us.  In His rising from the grave and in His rising to the throne of God, we have the promise that we too will one day rise.  So, we should always look to the future with joyful confidence, a joyful confidence which then should flavor our lives, moving us to love and serve and rejoice with others here, today, and every day. 

     But this is hard to do.  It seems we must somehow daily rise to joyfully meet Jesus, but sin and troubles still cling to us, our own sins, the sins of others, the state of the world, the way that evil and foolishness have free course amongst mankind.  Sin and trouble surround us, while goodness and wisdom are a rare and fleeting dream, occasionally seen, but hard to hang on to.  

     Doubts plague us, because denials of the teaching of Christ are always being thrown in our face.  “Anyone who doesn’t believe in evolution is ignorant and backward, and shouldn’t be allowed to raise children.”  So say the popular and important people in our society. And they say a lot more.  “Human existence is just a random chance, and God is not real.”  “Christian virtue and morals are really just a trick to enslave people, and no religion has done more to hurt people than Christianity.” 

     These and a thousand other charges are hurled against your faith every day, and you are supposed to rise above them using an old book, some stodgy old songs, and some catechism by a guy named Luther, which you buried in a box a long time ago.  You’re supposed to rise above by remembering a Baptism you don’t remember, and by observing a strange ritual involving a bit of bread and wine.  All of this you are to do praying for the help of a God who has left the scene, ascending into heaven, apparently leaving you to make your own way. 

     It is hard to rise above, in life, and even more so, in faith.  The lies of Satan and the world, only a few of which I just listed, can be overwhelming, and very convincing.  Some of them even rise from our own hearts.  They are convincing because they build upon an even more fundamental lie, the lie which infects each of us, the lie which, sad to say, is taught all too often from Christian pulpits.  This is the lie that says you can rise above, if you try hard enough, that you can (and must) do what it takes to reach Jesus. 

     The truth is, you can’t do it.  You can’t rise above to reach Jesus. 

     You can rise above in many things.  We pray that all this year’s graduates will find a good path for themselves, get the training or further education and the job they need to succeed in this life.  We pray that they and all people will make good health choices, and learn to get along with family, friends and neighbors, find a a good spouse and a good career, to lead productive, long, happy lives.  And you can probably do that.  It will take some effort, maybe a lot of effort, but most of you can and do make a decent go of it.  People can rise above in this life, so commencement speakers always challenge the graduates to dream big and make dreams come true.

     Well, that’s fine advice, for this life.  People can make a good life in this world, and it doesn’t even depend on your relationship to Jesus.  Now, don’t misunderstand me: God is the source of every good in this world.  But He showers good things on the faithful and the wicked.  You can even ignore Him and still live a pretty comfortable life, probably, if you work hard, and nothing too bad happens to you.  Yes, you can rise above in this life, unless something really bad happens to you.

     Which leaves me in the strange place of, in a sense, hoping bad things will happen to you.  You see,  without troubles in this life, you and I may think we can rise above to God just like we can rise above to a better life, now, here on earth.  Now, I don’t want bad things to happen to you, or to me.  But even more, I don’t want any of us cut off from God, forever.  So we need to be brought to repentance, by God.  God must again and again bring us to repent of this most basic false teaching, that we can rise to God.  We all need this repentance throughout our lives, so that we stop imagining we can save ourselves, stop thinking we can rise above to God.  Unfortunately repentance, the turning away from sin and self-righteousness, most often happens when bad things happen, for these bad things are what it takes to make us realize we cannot rise above.  God never wanted any evil in the lives of His children, but we chose sin.  And so God now takes the bad things that happen to us and uses them for our good, making us look for rescue.  God does this to make us recognize our inability to rise above to reach God.  For if  we think we can make it on our own, we will not hear the Good News of the Ascension. 

     The Good News of the Ascension is that Jesus has risen above, for us, in our stead, so that in Him, with Him, through Him, we too will rise.  The Good News that lifts us up is not that God has merely given us a chance for a good life in this world.  Rather, the Good News is God in Christ has given us eternal life in everlasting glory, by the forgiveness of our sins.  

     We should not be so surprised that the things of Christ are hidden and seemingly weak in this world.  Jesus did not come to give us better lives in this world, but rather to save us from this sin-wrecked world, to save us from our own sins, to lift us up out of this broken existence to Himself in glorious perfection.  And so, the very things which the world mocks the most are in truth the very things God graciously works through to raise us up.  That dusty old book the Bible is the very Word of God, declaring the unchanging reality, the unchanging promise of His plan and action to save us from sin and death.  Through the Word of Scripture, God the Holy Spirit not only teaches us about Christ and His salvation, but He also gives us Christ and His salvation. 

     Those stodgy old hymns are precious and good, whether you like the tune at first or not, because they set to memorable melody the very truth that the Holy Spirit gives us in the Word.  If a hymn says something different than what Christ has said, then it is not worthy to be sung by Christians, even if the tune is wonderful.  But if a hymn sings Christ in truth and purity, then you and I will grow to love it, because through it, God loves us. 

     That Baptism you can’t remember, way back when?  Your memory is not the one that really matters, for God the Father remembers your Baptism, the day when God put His Name on you, the day when the Judge of heaven and earth declared you to be His son or daughter, the day when the Holy Spirit bound you to Jesus forever, to His Cross, to His Resurrection, and also to His Ascension. 

     That strange little meal of bread and wine?  Christ by the power of His Words of Institution gives you His Body and Blood to eat and drink, hidden under the bread and wine, but truly present, because the Almighty Lord says so.  The presence of Christ’s Body and Blood make the Supper the Holy of Holies, heaven on earth, awesome and joyful, a mystery of grace and love, for you. 

     Elijah did not rise above to God.  Elijah was carried into heaven by the fiery chariot the Lord sent for him.  God’s Word and Sacrament, delivered to you as you gather with His Church, these are your chariot to carry you above.  All of these God gives you, to sustain you and remind you that you need not rise to Jesus, He comes to you.  He came for you, to live and die and rise for the forgiveness of your sins.  He comes to you, hidden in words, water, wheat and wine.  He will come again, riding the same clouds that received Him into heaven, coming to gather all the faithful into His eternal glory.  Come Lord Jesus, come, Amen.