Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sermon for 27 May 2012, The Day of Pentecost B

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Acts 2:22-36 (verses following the assigned Acts 2:1-21 reading)
Joy in God’s Presence
The Day of Pentecost, 27 May 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
For an Elder to Read

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

        Introduction: False Joys
            Once there was a young man who thought all of his problems would be taken care of if only he would win the lottery. Night after night, he prayed, “I know this may be out of the ordinary, Lord, but I pray you would let me win that big jackpot.” His petitions continued for a long time. Eventually, his frustration shows: “I’ve prayed for days and weeks and months, yet I still haven’t won. Why?” As the joke goes, a voice from heaven declares: “It would be a lot easier for you to win if you’d only buy a ticket.”
            Of course this is only a joke, and its view endorsing gambling is inappropriate from a Biblical, Christian standpoint, but this little story is instructive to us. Many think money, wealth, or gold will give them joy. Today we learn about true joy as we examine our lesson from Acts chapter two.

        True Joy has its foundation in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
            Men and Women of Immanuel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 
            These words have more impact and are much more convicting when they are redirected, aren’t they? It is easy to see how the Jewish leaders and the mob mentality directly put Jesus to death nearly 2000 years ago. But you and I as sinful human beings have no small part in the crucifixion. Our sins nailed Christ to his Cross on Calvary. We, too, are to blame. But we cannot dwell on that aspect of Our Lord’s death too long. Our Lord won’t allow us to do so.

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 
Our sins may have nailed him to the tree, but only His love for you could keep Him there. Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified for your sake. The cross does not condemn us. That is where the forgiveness of sins was won. Even forgiveness for putting Jesus there. Here, today the forgiveness of sins is given out: In the Word of Absolution, the Word of the Gospel, the Waters of baptism, and the Words of Institution where Jesus gives you His Body and Blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. True joy, founded in Christ lives today!

        True Joy lives in hope for the future.
For David says concerning him, " 'I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope.  For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.'
            The Father did not let His Holy One see decay. Jesus was buried in a new tomb that Good Friday. There He lay until Easter Morn, the Third Day, when He rose from the dead. Christ’s body would not become dust. It would not see decay. His body was raised from the power of death’s strong bands and was glorified, as our bodies will be one day. Our bodies will also live in hope. We too will rise.
            Through Christ, God has made known to us the paths of life. They are found in Him who is THE Way, Truth, and the Life--Jesus.  He alone is the way that leads to Eternal Life, our future in Heaven.
            David’s words remind us of the words of the Creed: Jesus “sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” Our glorified, resurrected, Lord has all power and authority on Earth and Heaven. He will come again on Judgment Day to take us to be with Him forever. We will have joy in God’s presence eternally.
            It is our joy as Christians that allows us to share Christ with others. We share the Good News about Jesus. We share our hope. In love we share the Gospel so that others in this hopeless world may have hope.

        True Joy walks by Faith
            Some world religions have famous pilgrimages to the tombs of their dead founders. Muslims make pilgrimages to Mecca. One can visit Mohammed’s tomb. Brigham Young is buried in Utah. The Buddha, too, is dead. Christianity is unique among all of these world faiths. One cannot visit the tomb of Jesus to see His body resting at peace. He was dead, but He is risen from the dead. This is the original Easter message and also the message St. Peter shares in his sermon on the first Pentecost:
"Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.  This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.
            You and I are witnesses of the fact of the resurrection as well. Faith says, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! Throughout the seven Sundays of the Easter season, that was our common greeting. It is appropriate also this day, the fiftieth day. Many of you have seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. They use this Easter greeting in the original Greek: Christos Anesti! (KREE stohs ah NESS tea) The response? Alethos Anesti. (Ah LEE thohs ah NESS tea) Indeed, He is Risen. The daughter in the movie says it means “Happy Easter,” but the joy of the Resurrection can be heard even in the stumbling Greek of her newly baptized fiancée.
Faith speaks in joy in response to the Word of God. We speak with joy about what we know is ahead. We know we will all someday die and will be placed in the grave. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we are placed in God’s grace. The Lord will not abandon us to the grave. Since Christ rose, we, who have been baptized into His death will rise as well!
            St. Peter wraps up this sermon on the first Pentecost with a reference to what had happened ten days before, the Ascension. Waiting in Jerusalem according to Jesus command, they have now received the promised Holy Spirit, Living Water, able to give life to dry bones, and joy to hurting hearts.
  Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.  For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, " 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.'
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."
After these convicting words, St. Peter points his hearers to Gospel hope. They are too good to miss.
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "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 the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."  And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation."  So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
And the joy increases. The Spirit used the preached word to bring about repentance, create faith, grant a desire for baptism, and joyful hearts thirsting for the Lord’s gifts. Our Lord and Christ still richly gives His gifts today.
Now, we are given to abide in His joy. We abide in His joy when we heed His command to believe in Him by the power of Spirit by the Gospel. We abide in His joy when we have our hands passively open to receive the Lord’s gifts. We abide in His joy when we are gathered by Him around His Word even during the summer. There are few things more saddening to our Lord or to our Pastor than when a vacation, either his or yours, becomes an excuse to reject the Lord’s gifts that day. Surgery is hardly a vacation!

            In one of his great writings called Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton writes about Jesus and why he became a Christian. Chesterton was once an avowed atheist, who fought Christianity with all his might. He said that there was a mystique about Jesus that no one understood and that was hidden from all people. It was something that was too great for God to show us when he walked the earth. “Then,” he said, “as I have studied and restudied the life of Jesus, I have discovered that the great secret He kept hidden from everyone was His great joy.” This joy can only be seen and understood by faith.
            One cannot confuse true joy and happiness. Earthly happiness is fleeting. It is only focusing on how we “feel” at a particular point in time. Joy in Christ is eternal. It is based on something more substantial than mere emotion. It is based on a firmer foundation: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, in God’s love for us. It is joy that lives in hope and walks by faith.
            Christianity without joy is a betrayal of the One we follow. We are a forgiven, redeemed people, who belong to the faithful flock on the way to heaven. We are people with great joy. A joy possibly only because of the Resurrection of Christ Jesus—a joy delivered as a gift by the Holy Spirit. Along with David we can say, “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.