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Showing posts from May, 2015

The Teacher of Israel Gets Schooled in Heavenly Things

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[Jesus said:] “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).    We live in a day in which rote memorization is generally seen as unnecessary for academic pursuits. It is considered dry and stale, a time filler (or killer) that distracts from more valuable learning activities. But I thank God for a pastor who insisted that his catechumens memorize all six chief parts of Luther’s Small Catechism, because if I was pressed to point to the specific time and place I first had the peace of knowing I am saved by grace alone through faith alone, I would have to say that it was in the basement of Grace Lutheran Church, in Nunda, South Dakota, the day I memorized the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me …

Life Breathed into Dry Bones

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“Thus says the Lord God to these bones: ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord’” (Ezekiel 37:13-14). Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It sounds almost like a scene out of one of my favorite movies, “The Sixth Sense.” The young man talks to his counselor, a ghost. “I see dead people.” “In your dreams?” “No.” “While you’re awake.” “Yes.” “Dead people like, in graves? In coffins? “No, they’re in a valley, a valley of dry bones, dead and lifeless bones.” But this is not a Hollywood movie; it is a biblical account. The young man who sees dead people is the thirty-year-old prophet, Ezekiel. And the Counselor with whom he speaks is the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of the Lord, who has brought Elijah to this valley. And the “dead people,”…

In the Word, Into the World: Jesus Prays for His Church

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“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:17-18). Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! What has kept the Church going for the last two thousand years? How do you explain it? The Church has persisted through persecution, popularity, power plays, poverty, and prosperity. It has endured crusades, inquisitions, false teaching, scandals, corruption, and gross mismanagement. It has outlasted dictatorships, demagogues, and democracies. It has survived popes and councils, voters’ assemblies and synodical conventions, and the meetings that go on after the meetings. It is really quite miraculous! Any human organization that operated this way would have long since disappeared, but the Church goes on, nearly two thousand years after the scandalous death of its founder. What is the key to the Church’s survival? How could a ragtag band of 120 Jewish f…

How to Overcome the World: A Sermon for Christians Only

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“For 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?” (1 John 5:4-5).   Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! This sermon is only for Christians, for those who have been born of God and who are His children. I know, that sounds harsh, so exclusive and intolerant in our inclusive and tolerant age, but in the verses that follow our text, St. John makes it especially clear that he is addressing Christians: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). And the fact is, the actions for which St. John calls can only be done by Christians. They are a fruit of faith, not a catalyst for God’s favor. They can only be motivated by the Gospel not spurred by the Law. We’ll look at that mo…

The Evangelist Tells the Good News about Jesus

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“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! My fellow evangelists! That’s right. I called each of you an evangelist. Now, I know, when they hear the word evangelist, most people today will think of a traveling missionary, someone like Billy Graham, who goes from town to town holding revivals and preaching in huge stadiums. Or perhaps, they’ll picture someone who goes door-to-door, seeking to win lost souls for Jesus one at a time. But that understanding is far too narrow. The word “evangelist” comes from the Greek word, which literally translates as “Gospeler” someone who preaches or speaks the Gospel. The Lutheran Cyclopedia defines evangelism as “the activity of Christians which tries to bring unregenerate mankind under the influence of the Gospel and to win and keep souls for Christ.” That makes it sound mor…