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BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz

Apr 23, 2017  SERMON ARCHIVE

Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

Grace. Mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed!)

The text for our meditation today is the first Lesson for this 2nd Sunday of Easter, Acts 5:29-42. There we read these words:

But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

We begin in the name of Jesus, AMEN

In today’s First Reading from the book of Acts, after our Lord’s resurrection, God says that He gives His Holy Spirit "to those who obey Him." The Word is OBEY; it is not "hold" or "cherish" or "keep in the heart." The Word is OBEY: God gives His Holy Spirit "to those who obey Him."

Dear Christian friends, Martin Luther had a pet peeve. Luther did not like preachers who happily proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but then fail to preach how your life must change as a result of the resurrection. Such preachers "are fine Easter preachers," said Luther, "but shamefully poor Pent-ecost preachers." Why? "Because they do not preach the sanctifying and restoring work of the Holy Spirit"

Then Luther went on: What Christ has earned for us is not only gratia, "grace," but also donum, the "gift" of the Holy Spirit, so that we might not only have forgiveness of sin, but also cease from sinning.

Luther did not dream this up. Luther read it in God’s Word. You heard it: "Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. … God has given [the Holy Spirit] to those who obey Him.’"

There are all sorts of people who would rather not hear God say that He gives His Holy Spirit "to those who obey Him." Let’s make a list of the different sorts of people who might not want to hear these Words. Maybe the list will include you!

1. You might not want to hear that God gives His Spirit "to those who obey Him" if you say you love God, but you really could not give two bits for your neighbor. Your attitude is, "I will leave him alone if he leaves me alone." Your attitude is "My efforts and my giving really do not make much difference, so I won’t try to give." Your attitude is, "Every man for himself."

Your attitude needs adjustment. If you do not change your attitude, you have no reason to expect God’s continued blessing in your life. By not loving your neighbor, you really do not love your God. God commands love for neighbor and He has provided no escape clause.

Stained Glass Baptism Window

Therefore, REPENT: change your mind and your attitude about your neighbor before God takes His Holy Spirit from you because of your disobedience. God gives His Spirit "to those who obey Him."

2. You might not want to hear that God gives His Spirit "to those who obey Him" if you do not think everything God says in His Scriptures really matters for your daily life. God’s commandments concerning sexuality seem a bit outdated, especially if you watch TV.

His prohibition against women’s ordination seems a little unfair, especially if you are an old hippie. You believe what God says concerning the Holy Communion, but you have Christian friends and family who reject what God says about the Communion—and you still want to commune with them.

Many fellow Christians baptize their children and then disappear from church life until confirmation time. You know, you would have more time in your week if you did the same thing, too.

TAKE GOD’S WARNING from today’s First Reading! Back away from the edge of unbelief! God does not say that He gives His Spirit to those who only hear what they want to hear, or to those who decide for themselves what should or should not be considered important. The Word is OBEY: God gives His Holy Spirit "to those who obey Him."

3. You might not want to hear that God gives His Spirit "to those who obey Him" if you daily sin much and realize that you deserve nothing but punishment. These Words God gives His Holy Spirit "to those who obey Him"—these Words feel like a punch in the chops because you find it terribly difficult, on a daily basis, to obey Him. You sincerely love God and you desperately want to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). You also feel so overcome by human frailty and sin that you find it nearly impossible even to love yourself.

YOU CAN TAKE HEART from today’s First Reading! Rejoice that God gives His Holy Spirit "to those who obey Him." Your daily sorrow over your sin is a sign that you indeed have the Holy Spirit, that you indeed obey God.

After all, part of the Spirit’s work is to convict the world of sin (John 16:8)—and the Spirit is doing His Work in you! God also says that your highest act of obedience is to believe the One whom God has sent (John 6:29), even Jesus His Son, who was crucified for your sins and raised for your justification (Romans 4:25).

God promises you today that He gives His Spirit "to those who obey Him"—and the Spirit will not fail to produce a good effect in you, even in spite of you. It is written, "His mercies are new every morning" (Lamentations 2:23). Have patience, trust your merciful Lord Jesus, and get back into the saddle!

4. You might not want to hear that God gives His Spirit "to those who obey Him" if you are afraid of false teachers. Christians all around you continually splutter and cluck that, if you want Jesus to save you, you must first do something for Him: you must give Him your heart; you must invite Him in; you must commit to a relationship with you.

Such Christians will jump on today’s First Reading like duck on a June bug. "Aha!" they blither, "God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him." Therefore you must first give God your obedience before He will give anything to you!"

No one wants to hear such people twist the Word of God, as Satan likewise twisted the Word (Genesis 3:1-5, Matthew 4:5-6)! Perhaps you should find a different way to translate today’s First Reading, in order to keep it out of the false teachers’ grasp.

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

Or perhaps you should look the other way and pretend you did not hear that God certainly gives His Holy Spirit "to those who obey Him." Failing that, perhaps you should simply focus on preaching Easter every Sunday and not worry too much about Pentecost.

Try this instead, dear friends. Let God be God and allow Him to say what He wants to say. Neither Father nor Son nor Holy Spirit need any spin from you or me.

RELAX AND SMILE when you hear that the Spirit is given "to those who obey Him." Resist the urge to defend God’s Word. God’s Word is powerful to defend you!

Plenty of other Scriptures explain how both faith and the Spirit are pure gifts from God, without any contribution or prerequisite from you. It is a promise, not a scandal, that God gives His Holy Spirit "to those who obey Him." In particular, it is a promise of the Easter resurrection that God gives His Holy Spirit "to those who obey Him." Christ is risen! (He is risen, indeed!)

In today’s First Reading, God lumps the resurrection together with the gift of the Holy Spirit: Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus… God exalted Him at His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things." And so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given "to those who obey Him."

What does all this mean? It means that your God has broken the tomb beyond repair. God the Father exalted His Son Jesus, raising Him up from the dead, in order "to give repentance… and forgiveness of sins" to you. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is no more death and no more tomb. By forgiving your sins, God takes away everything that causes your death, thus setting you free.

So what does it mean, that God should give you His Holy Spirit? It means that it was too small a thing for your God, merely to forgive you. Forgiveness was indeed given to you when you were baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 63-4), but so also was the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, Titus 3:5-6).

Hear again what Luther so rightly said: "What Christ has earned for us is not only gratia, "grace," but also donum, the "gift" of the Holy Spirit." You also heard Jesus say it to the disciples in today’s Gospel, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). Jesus earlier promised in another place, "the heavenly Father will give His spirit to those who ask Him" (Luke 11:13). This is God’s promise of old: "I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh" (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17).

What does it mean, that God should give you His Holy Spirit? It means that the resurrection of our Lord is more than a pep rally.

Today’s First Reading is well-chosen for the Second Sunday of Easter. The Second Sunday of Easter is also the first Sunday in our annual pilgrimage away from Feast of the Resurrection and toward the Feast of Pentecost. By all means, Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed!)

Because of the resurrection, God promises today that He gives His Holy Spirit "to those who obey Him." In light of this precious promise, move boldly toward Pentecost, showing forth in your lives what you profess with your lips. All along the way, both in word and in deed, wholeheartedly pray to the Lord of All, "and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me."

Christ Is Risen.

Luther Rose

 

Christ Is Risen
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