Lessons and Hymns for Easter 7 A

These are the Scripture lessons you will hear this coming Sunday:

Acts 1:12-26
1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

To read the lessons and the propers for this Sunday click here.

Our Lord Jesus Is with Us in the Upper Room of His Church on Earth

On the night when He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus prayed for His apostles and His Church on earth. “The hour” had come when the Father would glorify His Son by the cross (John 17:1). Through the shedding of His blood, He would bring forgiveness for the sins of the world, and in His resurrection and ascension He would unite all Christians with the Father “that they may be one” with God (John 17:11). He manifested His name to the apostles and gave them the words of the Father to speak in His name. The apostolic witness of His cross and resurrection (Acts 1:21–22) gathers disciples together “with one accord” into the one Body of Christ (Acts 1:14). “Devoting themselves to prayer,” they wait upon the Lord in “the upper room” (Acts 1:13–14), the place of His Holy Supper. Strengthened by the Gospel, Christians bear the cross of Christ in patience and peace, rejoicing to share in His suffering, in order that they “may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Come, Thou Almighty King (LSB 905)
On Christ’s Ascension I Now Build (LSB 492)
O Savior, Precious Savior (LSB 527)
Jesus, Lead Thou On (LSB 718)
Abide, O Dearest Jesus (LSB 919)

“Under the Influence”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Acts 1:1-14
I Peter 4:12-17, 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

I had an experience last night that I will not soon forget. I helped a beekeeper remove a few thousand bees from a space in the corner of our house above the basement wall. I wore one of his “outfits” and did not get stung even once, but my skin still sort of crawls as I recall it. He was stung on the chin once — through his veil — when he leaned against the basement wall in order to look up into the floor joists.

He hardly flinched when it happened. He just rubbed the spot gently and said, “Hmm, I shouldn’t have done that.” Then he went back to his work. He is a young man, but he demonstrated remarkable wisdom and gentleness. At one point, I stepped back to the opposite side of our laundry room and looked at hundreds and hundreds of bees flying around this gentle soul, while he carefully placed others into a cardboard “hive.” I thought about Jesus’ words, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

After he had influenced as many as possible to take up a new residence in his box, he reluctantly allowed me to more directly control the remainder into the receiving end of our shop vac. I think that pained him more than the sting. After spending about four hours at his task, he simply thanked me for the bees. I tried to tell him, but I wonder if he has any idea how grateful I am that he took them!

A man was once asked to contribute to a symposium entitled, “The Books That Have Most Influenced My Life.” He submitted two: “My mother’s cookbook and my father’s checkbook.” Most of us remain under the influence of our parents forever. Early on it is direct control; later on it is more like remote control — influence. In his excellent work, Remember Who You Are, William Willimon tells a story that reveals how some of the best influence in our lives is often unknown or not clearly remembered. He says:

“Not long ago I commented in my mother’s presence, that one of the most useful courses I took in high school was typing. I have always been grateful that I knew how to type, and I have used my typing skills every day of my life.

‘Aren’t you glad that I made you take typing?’ my mother said, in an offhand way. ‘Made me take typing?’ I asked in disbelief. ‘Yes, I remember it well,’ she replied. ‘You didn’t think you needed it and thought it would be a waste of time. But I told you it could be helpful in later life. You hated it at first, but I insisted that you stick with it.’

“I was surprised, to say the least. I was in the process of congratulating myself on my wisdom, my insight, and my forethought in deciding to take a typing course in high school, only to be told that it was not my idea at all. In fact, I had very little to congratulate myself for. My typing skill had come as a gift, the result of someone else’s care and direction of me.”

Glendon Harris tells this story: “My wife has related to me how she was introduced to cigarette smoking by college classmates when away from home for the first time. She decided against the habit on the basis of not wanting to displease her father who was strongly opposed to it. It was a case of influence or remote control, rather than direct control, for her father probably never knew about it.”

It is the time of the year for many graduations and confirmations. Young men and women continue to move from the direct to the remote control of their parents. Some will proudly announce their intention to live their lives under the influence of another Parent — their heavenly Father.

As the Easter Season draws to a close, so do our readings from the Easter-Baptismal sermon in First Peter. The conclusion contains some excellent advice for graduates, confirmands, and all Christians: “Bow humbly under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time He may lift you high. Cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you.”

Many people think that God handles His universe and people’s lives by direct control. I cannot believe that without being baffled by such things as the murders in Littleton, Colorado, the Holocaust and Hiroshima. We want God to have direct control when we see something we think He ought to control. We often pray for it. On the other hand, we would be the first to gripe if He were violating our free will.

We need to look for God’s remote control in and around us. Jesus promised to be with us always. He also promised to send the Holy Spirit. These great promises, coming just before His death and just before His ascension, reveal Jesus not as a puppeteer, manipulating us from above, but a presence within us, providing guidance, direction and influence. It is clear, at least to me, that the greatest influence God wants to exert on His world is what we do in it. His kingdom and dominion are not the rule of a despot, but the influence of a parent.

It is also clear to me that God wants to influence the world through us. At the time of His resurrection and at His ascension, Jesus emphasized the need to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and all the world and to make disciples of all peoples. His mission is our mission. By His death and resurrection He has set us free from death, sin and the power of the devil. He has also set us free to be His ambassadors, the voice of His Gospel and His hands of service in the world.

Jesus’ prayer for His disciples was “that they may be one just as You and I are one.” Oneness with Him and the Father is the goal of the Church as well. Jesus’ prayer can be our prayer for confirmands and graduates, for ourselves and for our children everyday.

I never had a remote control toy of any kind. The airplanes and helicopters fascinate me, but they are too expensive for a mild curiosity — especially since a novice at the controls could spell disaster. I understand that some of them are now rigged either to turn back or stall if they approach the edge of their signal range. Can you imagine operating the controls and having your airplane get out of range? You would look rather foolish running helplessly after it as it flew off into the sunset.

God’s way of remote control includes our freedom to move out of range. Many people are close to God and His Church at the time of their confirmation or Baptism. Over a period of time, however, His influence and presence become less and less for them. God never moved, but somehow they got out of range. Oddly enough, they didn’t go anywhere either. In fact, it’s where they didn’t go that caused the problem.

It is such a simple invitation, but has such everlasting significance — won’t you come to the Word and Sacrament this Sunday, and get under THE INFLUENCE?

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Thankful for what We Have

Epicurus, a Greek philosopher in the third century B.C. said, “If you want to make a man happy, add not to his riches but take away from his desires.”  When we desire less, we can find joy in what we do have.  Coveting puts us in a state of discontentment with an insatiable appetite for more, making contentment impossible.  Those who are content enjoy what they have rather than complain about what they don’t have.  We don’t need more to be thankful for; we just need to be more thankful.  As we pray, thanking God for all His blessings, especially the gift of His Son and His Word and Sacraments, we will find our hearts and minds being filled with more and more reasons to give thanks to our wonderful Lord.

Prayer:  Dear Heavenly Father, help me to live with an attitude of gratitude.  Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

“To The Unknown God”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Acts 17:22-31
I Peter 3:15-22
John 14:15-21

A little girl approached a librarian and asked for a book on penguins. The book was found (a big one) and she went eagerly home with it. The next morning she was waiting to return the book when the library opened. “I wanted to learn something about penguins,” she said sadly, “but not this much.”

If we substitute “theology” for “penguins,” we discover a common dilemma of many people who eagerly want to know God but are given, through systems of theology, more than they can (or are at least willing to) digest. Of course, the opposite is also true. You may have heard the joke about Adam and Eve, after God walked through the garden. Eve asked Adam what He looked like. By the time Adam finished, she shared his belief that God was a huge toenail.

Another analogy is the limerick about the centipede who was happy in her stride and in the manipulation of her many legs until she started reflecting about which leg came after which.

This reduced her mind to such a pitch, She lay distracted in the ditch Considering how to run.

Frustration comes because neither a huge nor a tiny amount of abstract knowledge about God will enable us to know Him. God is personal and relational — to know Him is to love Him. We must move from “knowledge about” to “acquaintance with.”

At marriage ceremonies, I have tried to help young couples see that love is neither what they think they know about their partner, nor how they feel about their partner. During courtship, we naturally put our best foot forward. Two years or ten years later, when the “other foot” finally comes, our partner often feels betrayed, deceived, victimized and disillusioned. Similarly, as we get to know each other and demonstrate our care for each other, every tender thought, word and touch is filled with exhilarating joy, but love is not a warm and gooey feeling for someone.

All across the world, thousands of hearts palpitate and lungs sigh at the very mention of names of movie, television and sports stars. But most of these hearts and lungs have never even met their “loves,” don’t know them or relate to them and thus couldn’t possibly love them. One of the healthiest revelations in marriage comes on the day we realize that we can be fiercely angry at our partners and still love them. Love is neither the goo nor the anger.

The First Scripture Lesson for Sunday contains a short theological treatise, delivered by Paul to the intellectual Greeks in Athens. Paul observed, among all the idols on display in that city, an altar “To An Unknown God.” He used that inscription to introduce the one and only true God to his hearers. His speech was clever, eloquent, short, to the point and yet profound. “What you worship as unknown,” Paul told them, “this I proclaim to you.”

He informed them that God can be known as the Creator of the universe (“Who made the world and everything in it”) and the power controlling and operating it (“Lord of heaven and earth”). He proclaimed that God is alive and greater than human beings (“does not live in shrines built by man”). God is not distant, but right in the middle of things (“He is not far from any one of us, for ‘In Him we live and move and have our being'”). Paul added that God was also not emotionally distant (“We too are His children”). But when Paul brought this abstract God into the reality of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, some of his hearers scoffed at him and the rest politely said that it was a nice speech and they’d like to hear him speak again some other time.

Perhaps it was this experience that later led Paul to say, “I am determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified.” He also wrote, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing the cleverness of the clever … I proclaim Christ, yes Christ crucified … a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks.”

Some years ago I was a guest preacher for a special service. Afterward, the local pastor and I greeted the people. He shook hands on one side of the aisle and I on the other. While this continued, a child suddenly started screaming at the top of his lungs, just outside the door. When the line ended, the child’s father carried him up to me with the embarrassed explanation: “He didn’t get to shake hands with the ‘other Jesus.'” We were all greatly amused, but the child’s comment was closer to a theological truth than many people ever come. The mysterious words of Jesus are: “He that hears you hears me.”

Someone recently said to me, “You remind me of your father.” It made me feel very good. As children of God, it is always good when we remind others of our Father. Sometimes God acts through us when we are totally unaware of it or may only become aware of it later. In his book, In Search of God, Conrad Simonson tells the following story:

“It was August. We were on vacation with my parents at our family cabin on a remote lake in northern Minnesota. The morning was glorious. The lake was calm. The sky was a pale blue with enormous billowy clouds: an idyllic day. In the cabin, however, a storm was gathering. My sister had just returned from a visit to my older brother, a parish pastor in a small town in Montana. As she related details of her visit, my father began to think about a college loan my brother had never repaid him.

“Largely out of a sense of annoyance at having a vacation morning disturbed, I sat down and wrote a long letter to my brother. I described a beautiful day ruined. I spoke of our father, offended because his son refused to pay anything on the loan or even to respond when Father had mentioned the matter in several letters. I spoke of our mother’s hope that they could visit them in the fall and of my father’s angry response: ‘Not until he does something about that loan.’

“I never did receive a response to that letter. But my father received a five-page letter in which my older brother shared all of the details of his financial situation: his salary, his family costs, his debts, and a pointed statement indicating why on his salary he could not pay off the loan at the present time.

“That was all father needed. In the fall my parents spent a full week of vacation with my older brother and his family. I have been told that before the week was over, my father canceled the loan. My parents returned full of praise for the ‘Big Sky Country.’

“In early March the following spring, I had an early morning telephone call from my father telling of a bad traffic accident. My mother was hospitalized with severe internal injuries. She died a day later, and I made a telephone call to my brother in Montana. He and his family left immediately and were with us a day later to comfort my father.

“It was when I saw my father and my brother comforting each other that I thought again about my letter. And the thought went through my head: if God has ever acted in my life, it was then.”

On Mother’s Day, we hear Jesus’ words in the Gospel: “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

Some years ago, a little girl was injured — just a small “boo-boo” — at a vacation Bible school. After she had calmed down a little I asked her if she was okay. She said, “No, Mommy has to kiss it.” How wonderful it is not to be orphans — especially from the Giver of life and all good things.

Jesus’ words take on power and meaning beyond the imagination when we see how deep and undeniable is His love. Just as the little girl would not be prevented from her mom in her suffering, so Jesus will not be prevented from coming to us, even if it means His suffering. No shame, no humiliation, no brutality, no hatred, no torture — not even death can prevent Him. How deep and unstoppable is God’s love for all His precious sons and daughters. Jesus tells us to love each other in the same way. Our love for others is incomplete if we do not bring them to know their Father. It’s our mission.

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Therefore, Go!  

Each December, we celebrate the greatest miracle ever to occur.  The Son of God condescended to come to earth, to be humiliated for the sake of those He loves, and then to rise victoriously, the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).  We celebrate this miracle every Easter.

This is not a daylong miracle, however.  The reality of Easter changes us forever.  We no longer spend our days in hopelessness and defeat.  We no longer go through our daily routines wondering, “Is this all there is?”  No, we are new creations through this miracle.  We are now “more than conquerors through Him Who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

This miracle is one to be shouted from the housetops, for it is meant not just for you and me, but for all humankind.  That’s what the “Therefore” in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) means.  Christ has died for our sins and risen again so that we might live forever with Him.  He has authority to issue this command.  “THEREFORE GO!”  Don’t keep this miracle a secret.  Take time to tell it to your neighbors and friends.  Use your talents to build up your church so that its mission and ministry might be enhanced.  Spend your resources so that others (if not you yourself) are enabled to be “[His] witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Prayer:  Dear good and gracious Heavenly Father, place in me a passion to share Your love and goodness to all those in my midst.  Use me as Your instrument to share Your love, grace, and mercy to all.  In Jesus’ precious name I pray.  Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for Easter 6 A

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Acts 17:16-31
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

You may read the above readings and the propers for this Sunday here.

The Lord Jesus Comforts Us with the Preaching of His Resurrection

“The God who … gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24–25) wants all people to seek Him that they might “feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:27). But in our sinful ignorance, we humans turn instead to idols “formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:29). Therefore, God appointed the Man of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, and “has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Because He lives, we also live (John 14:19) in His forgiveness, and thus we love Him and keep His commandments (John 14:15). While the risen Lord prepares us for His ascension, He will not leave us “as orphans” (John 14:18), but He gives “another Helper,” the Holy Spirit, to be with us forever (John 14:16) through the preaching of “Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18). Because He “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Peter 3:18), we “honor Christ the Lord as holy” and are always “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks” for the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15). Our Baptism “now saves” us “as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

These are the hymns you will sing:

This Is the Day the Lord Has Made (LSB 903)
Holy Spirit, Light Divine (LSB 496)
I Come, O Savior, to Thy Table (LSB 618)
Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me (LSB 683)
A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing (LSB 493)

“God doesn’t give us answers…He gives us Himself”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Acts 17:1-5
1 Peter 2:4-10
John 14:1-12

The Gospel lesson begins with some words from Jesus that often surface at funerals: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” The next words lend themselves to the use at funerals because Jesus speaks of coming back to take the disciples (and us) to Himself. At the same time, His going away would also provide a place in this life. This part may have been the most difficult for the disciples to comprehend.

Jesus spoke these words on the night of His betrayal. Like the institution of His Supper that same night, these were very important words — something like “final instructions.” At the same time, the disciples’ minds had to be filled with so many fears and anxieties that any message would have difficulty getting through. The most difficult of all would be that somehow they would benefit from His “going away.” Because we read the words after God’s great act of salvation has unfolded and the resurrection is accomplished, we may not have as much trouble understanding, but we may have as much in believing. Do you believe the following words of Jesus? “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Some good and some bad things happen when kids “go away” to college. I can assure you that the same thing is true when they get married and “go away.”

For friends and loved ones to go away is not a happy thought for anyone, but the disciples must have felt an even greater fear when Jesus spoke about leaving them. What would they do without Him, who would answer their questions, how would they know where to go or what to say? Jesus spoke as if they knew all about it, but “Honest” Thomas and “Straight Man” Philip made it obvious that they were in the dark. Jesus said, “Where I am going you know and you know the way.” Thomas spoke up and said that they knew neither: “Master, we do not know where You are going; how can we know the way?”

Jesus’ famous response is another I am saying: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He went on to say that those who know Him also know and have seen the Father. That’s when Philip jumped in with, “Master, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” He sparked a dissertation from the Lord on: “Those who have seen me have seen the Father.”

Most people are familiar with Mark Twain’s quip about his father. I guess most teenagers think the old man is pretty ignorant, but it is amazing how much he learns by the time they are 20. Less known, but equally clever, is another quote from the famous author: “Until a boy is about 14 years old, he does what his father says; after that he does what his father does.” Jesus’ identity with His Father gave Him all the direction, purpose and activity in life that He needed. It can be the same for us.

Speaking of identities, Sunday’s lesson from First Peter gives us another one (perhaps, it is the same one): “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, so that you may announce the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Notice the communal nature of these descriptions. Jesus did not speak or act on His own. He spoke and worked the words and deeds of His Father. Similarly, we are identified with each other, as well as with Son and Father, when we are living up to our high calling as the royal priesthood of the Living God.

In one way or another, most people in our country have been struck with sorrow over the heinous crimes in Littleton, Colorado. We may not realize it at the time, but when life or death strikes us down so that we don’t know where to turn, we may have come to a vantage point. Pastor Arthur John Gossip was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1873. His wife died suddenly and dramatically in 1927. His first sermon afterward was, “But When Life Tumbles in, What Then?” In it, he said, “You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadow must believe it. We have nothing else . . . I don’t think you need to be afraid of life. Our hearts are very frail; and there are places where the road is very steep and lonely. But we have a wonderful God.” (Philip knew more than he thought when he said, “Show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”)

During David Livingstone’s three decades in Africa, a mission society once wrote saying that they had some good men to send to help him. They asked if there was a good road to the famous missionary’s current location. He wrote back, “If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come even if there is no road.” He wanted people who knew the Way (Truth and Life), not the road!

Sunday’s lesson from Acts concludes: “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” I think these words draw together some excellent lessons for living. Individualistic Christians have no acceptance or room in their lives for others because they have not received mercy — if they had, they would be showing mercy to others. God’s mercy is there, it is being directed to them, but they will have no part of it.

Similarly, those who want pat answers for everything — that which is true as opposed to that which is false — have not found an identity as God’s people. For them, truth is always cold, hard fact. For Jesus, if it isn’t united with love, it isn’t true. The Truth is a Person who goes with us through the potholes of life, not some inanimate road map around them. Jesus is the Way — not the end of the road, but the end of our search for one. Every itinerary for the journey is different, but the starting point and the traveling Companion is always Christ. When Jesus is our Way, there is no “Plan B.”

The disciples were fearful when He said He must go away. If He hadn’t, however, their footprints would have always been on top of His own. After He left, their footprints spread out all across the globe, and they are still spreading today. We who are on Christ’s Mission have received mercy and that has made all the difference. We are no longer frozen with the immobility of fearing a wrong turn, because we know intimately the Way of forgiveness. Fear of what is false, any sense of being lost, and even the possibility of death have been removed by the One who has given Himself to us and for us – our Way, Truth and Life!