The importance of Christ’s Ascension

Yesterday was Ascension Day, marking the resurrected Christ’s return to His Father.  Pastor Reeder quotes the classic Bible scholar Paul E. Kretzmann on what the Ascension means:

“By His exaltation and ascension the Son of Man, also according to His human body, has entered into the full and unlimited use of His divine omnipresence. His gracious presence is therefore assured to His congregation on earth. He is now nearer to His believers than He was to His disciples in the days of His flesh.

He is now sitting at the right hand of His heavenly Father. As our Brother He has assumed the full use of the divine power and majesty. He reigns with omnipotence over all things, but especially also over His Church. God has put all things under His feet, and has given Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all, Eph. 1, 22. 23.

By His Word and Sacrament He gathers unto Himself a congregation and Church upon earth. He works in and with His servants; He governs in the midst of His enemies. He preserves and protects His Church against all the enmity of the hostile world and against the very portals of hell. And His intercession before His heavenly Father makes our salvation a certainty, Rom. 8, 34.”

via On the Lord’s Ascension « Pastor Reeder’s Blog.

Strangely, the Reformed use the Ascension as an argument against the presence of Christ in the sacrament.  (“Jesus isn’t here any more.  He’s in Heaven.”)  But Lutherans use the Ascension as an argument for the Real Presence, since now the Son of God, having taken His place in the Godhead, is omnipresent.

The two trees

Pastor Douthwaite, preaching from John 15:9-17 and 1 John 5:1-8:

And speaking of Adam, he’s another one God gave but a single command to, remember? Just: don’t eat from this one tree. Just this one! You can eat from all the others: apples, oranges, pears, pomagranites, figs, cherries, you name it – they’re all yours to eat and enjoy. Just not this one, please. Reserve this one for me.

Now, the scriptures don’t say what kind of fruit was on that tree. Was it a different fruit than all the others? Unique and special and one-of-a-kind, that God was holding back from Adam? I don’t think so. I think it was just one of many, let’s say, fig trees. So by not eating it, Adam isn’t missing out on anything. He’s not deprived of anything. He’s simply loving God by keeping, by honoring, this one request.

But he couldn’t do it. Eve was deceived; Adam did it willfully. Because he couldn’t have it, it was the tree he desired most of all. And the more time goes on, the harder it gets. For that’s the way of it with sin. We want what we can’t, or shouldn’t, have, or what has not been given to us. And taking it, going after it, or desiring it hurts our love for one another. Because we’re thinking of me, not them. Helping me, not them. Loving me, not them. And then Jesus’ command, His request: Love one another, which sounds so simple, becomes: what about me? And then it’s all about me, which is tyranny of the worst kind. It’s what Luther wrote of in the hymn we sang today (LSB #556, v. 2): Fast bound in satan’s chains I lay. When it’s all about me, what’s all about me, are chains. The chains of sin and death.

But Jesus said: These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. Jesus is not imposing on us. He wants us to have joy. But when we love only ourselves there is not this joy, not a joy that lasts anyway. But one that caves to the insatiable desire for more. For that one tree of which God said: please, no.

So what’s a God to do? Give us more rules, more laws, more commandments? That’s what some think, but that’s doesn’t work. For how you doing with that one: Love one another? If we can’t even keep one, how we gonna keep more? No, more rules, more laws, more commandments is the way of servants and slaves. But do you remember what Jesus said today instead? No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

Friends, not slaves. Friends, not servants. Friends, to whom Jesus has revealed a better way, telling us not more that we have to do, but what He has come to do. That that one tree that Adam and all of us cannot resist, is now a one tree that Jesus cannot resist. But for Jesus it is not in sin, but in love. For that one tree that He cannot resist is the tree of the cross. For greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Jesus is that someone, who has come to lay down His life for you. For what comes welling up from within His heart is not sin, but love. And so He comes to not only show us, but give us, the love we need. Calling us friends – not because we deserve it, ‘cuz we most certainly don’t! And calling us friends not because He’s describing us, but because that’s what He’s naming us; that’s what He’s making us, that’s what He’s doing in us. For what God calls something, that’s what it is. God’s Word does what it says. We did not choose Him, He chose us. Or in other words, we’re not His friends because of what we do – we’re His friends because of what He did. Because of His tree. Because of the cross.

That just as one tree made us all sinners, so one tree would make us all righteous again. As one tree made us slaves to sin, so one tree would set us free. As one tree brought death into the world, so one tree would bring life to the world.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Easter 6 Sermon.

Read it all.

Vampires vs. the Blood of Christ

James R. Rogers, a Texas A&M professor and board member of the LCSM Texas District, has an intriguing post at First Things about how the vampire craze can become an occasion to help people understand about the Blood of Christ:

Here’s a report [link at the site] about Danish teens using modern Vampire stories as platforms to think of spiritual matters. Given their immense popularity in the U.S., I also think that these stories can be drawn on to consider theological concepts with teens (and teens at heart) such as the Real Presence in the Supper, the relationship between the New and Old Testaments, and the work of Jesus Christ.

Both Vampire stories and the Christ story center on the identification of life with blood. This starts with Noah in the Old Testament. God tells Noah that he can eat animal flesh, but not animal blood, “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gn 9.4). Still, even in the OT, fallen humanity desperately needs the life that is in the blood. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Lev 17.11, cf., Lev 11.14, Dt 12.23).

While the Old Testament flatly prohibits the eating of blood with the flesh, with the coming of Jesus Christ, the New Testament commands the practice, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6.53-54).

Vampire stories invert this picture. Rather than the resurrected Lord who willingly offers his own sacrificed body and blood to give humans eternal life, Vampires are resurrected lords who sacrifice unwilling humans to take their blood for eternal life for themselves. The pivot around which both stories turn is the affirmation that the life of the flesh is in the blood.

via Vampire Stories and the Real Presence » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

He goes on.  (Also, see comment #2 by Mary.)

He opens their mind to understand the Scriptures

More from Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon last Sunday, on the connection between Scripture and Jesus:

Luke tells us: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Like the parent who after embracing her child opens the closet to show him that there are no monsters, or who kneels and shows her that there is nothing under the bed, so Jesus next opens the Scriptures to show His children the truth – the truth of His Word. That what happened the past few days was no accident, no series of unfortunate events, and not things spinning out of control – but what had been prophesied and spoken of from the beginning and all through the Scriptures. Everything that had been written, spoke of and pointed to Him and His Easter work.

And so Jesus opened the Scriptures to them and filled their minds with the truth. He told them about the cross and Isaac’s burden of wood in Genesis. He told them about His Supper and the flesh and blood of the passover lamb in Exodus. He told them about His atonement for sin and the sacrifices in Leviticus. He told them about His death for the life of the world, like it was with Joseph. He told them how He was the real strong man, like Samson, who came to crash the gates of his enemy. He told them about the hatred and villainy He and a former King of Israel – David – received, even from their own people. He told them about the being pierced from Zechariah as He showed them His hands and side. He told them how He was Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. He told them about dry bones and resurrection. And with each teaching, each story, each shadow revealed, their fears were taken away and their faith increased. The monsters of uncertainty and the ghosts of sin were taken away, and replaced with the Spirit and Word of God.

Oh, they were still children! They would always be children, just as we will always be. But they were learning as they drank the pure spiritual milk of the Word, and growing up to and into their salvation – which is not a what, but a who. Growing up and into Christ – the one who was speaking to them and not only informing, but forming, them.

And that distinction is important. That the Word of God not only informs us, but also forms us. For being a child of God is not simply a matter of the head, but of the heart. Of life that is not just known, but lived. Perhaps we have too often put asunder these two things that God has joined together. The Word of God became flesh, and He still does, as He now comes and lives in and through us. That we live who we are; who we have been made in our baptism.

That is what John means when he goes on to talk about the “practice of sinning” and the “practice of righteousness.” That is not simply of matter of knowing what is right and wrong, or of will power and determination to follow the Law. It is a matter of being, of abiding in Christ. That born anew as children of God, we no longer follow the false promises and lies of the devil, but instead, follow the true and sure promises of God, and find our life in Him. Practicing righteousness by repenting of our sin and abiding in His forgiveness and love, and thus growing into Him.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Easter 3 Sermon.

Easter is for children

We had yet another good Easter sermon from Pastor Douthwaite, with the texts Luke 24:36-49 (1 John 3:1-7; Acts 3:11-21).  (Remember that it is still Easter.  The lectionary focuses on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, the season ending with Ascension and then Pentecost, which ushers in a new season.)

The thinking of the world and the thinking of the church don’t often agree, and it seems as if they are agreeing less and less these days, about all kinds of issues. But one thing we agree on is that Easter is for children. Yes, for children . . . we just disagree about who the children are! In the thinking of the world, Easter is for children because it’s about candy and bunnies and egg hunts and things like that. But for the church, Easter is for children because Easter is about baptism, and baptism – no matter what age you are – is where we are born anew as children of God. St. Paul tells us in Romans (chapter 6) that baptism unites us to Jesus’ death and resurrection – to Good Friday and to Easter – so that dying with Him, dying to sin, we rise with Him, to a new life of grace. A new life as children of God. And so as we heard from St. John today: “what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” And so we are. Children of God, loved by God.

But good parents don’t just have children, they raise children. And so it is with our Father in heaven. And so these weeks following our celebration of Easter are about what our baptism means for us; how we live and grow as children of God. Last Sunday in the Introit, we sang: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation.” Being a child of God is not the end of the story, but the beginning, of growing up to salvation; of growing in faith and love and righteousness; of not growing away from God – in independence, in freedom, in self-sufficiency – but rather into Him. To be like Him. Like Father, like son.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Easter 3 Sermon.

Pastor Douthwaite then goes on to explain how that happens.

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven”

Our Scripture reading in church yesterday included this passage from John 20:

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews,[c] Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

via John 20 ESV – The Resurrection – Now on the first day – Bible Gateway.

(1)  We Lutherans believe that this passage teaches that Christ gives the Holy Spirit to the Church, which includes the authority to forgive sins.  This is exercised in vocation–that is, God acting through human beings–when the called pastor gives absolution during individual or corporate confession (the latter of which is part of every worship service).   After the individual or congregation admits their sins, the pastor says that as a called and ordained servant of the Lord, “I forgive you your sins.”

(2)  But that authority is not just given to pastors, but to the whole congregation, which has called the pastor to exercise this gift on its behalf.  But laypeople too can forgive sins and absolve those who confess their sins to them.  Again, it is Christ who forgives, but He applies that forgiveness through individual Christians.  (Isn’t that right?  Perhaps someone can explain the parameters.)

(3)  So when we forgive someone, according to this Scripture, that affects not only our feelings about the person who has wronged us.  Rather, that actually does something to the person that is recognized in Heaven.  (Right, Lutheran pastors?)

(4)  I know this sounds outlandish to you non-Lutherans.  But how else can you account for these verses (especially John 20:23)?  Do you think that only the Disciples were given this power?  Or what?


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