Before the Throne of God – Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday on Isaiah 6:1-7

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Isaiah 6:1-7

1In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Isaiah 62Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lordof hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lordof hosts!” 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Why do you come to church?

Last year, Gallop polled fifteen hundred adults[1]to see why they go to church. They gave seven options, and here is the order those options were ranked:

  1. Sermons or talks that teach me more about Scripture.
  2. Sermons or talks that help connect religion to my life.
  3. Spiritual programs geared toward my children.
  4. Lots of community outreach and volunteer opportunities.
  5. A leader who is interesting and inspiring.
  6. Social activities to get to know people in my community.
  7. Good music.

Do you notice anything missing from that list? Anyone? Bueller?

No mention of receiving forgiveness.

Each of those responses is starting with the premise that when Christians gather together they are the ones doing something. “I’m learning. I’m becoming more religious. I’m doing my duty for my children. I’m helping my community.” And each of these responses is dead wrong.

When Christians gather together to hear God’s Word, God is the One who is acting, and we are the ones being acted upon. He sends His Word to convict of sin. And God sends His Word to forgive sin. That is why we want our service to be filled with Scripture. We want everything to be centered around God’s Word – Law and Gospel.

Isaiah tells us about what happened to him while he was at church one day.

Isaiah was a normal dude. He wasn’t a priest, so Isaiah couldn’t enter the holy places of the Temple. So, Isaiah is in the courtyard of the Temple where the laity would gather to offer their sacrifices and hear the Word of God. It was how God’s people did church in Isaiah’s day.

But while he is there, God gives Isaiah this vision to see what is really happening. Isaiah sees the Lord high, lifted up, and sitting on the throne. In the Gospel of John, we are told that Isaiah saw Jesus on that throne (Jn. 12:41) with the train of His glorious robe filling the Temple.

But Jesus isn’t alone. With Him are the seraphim – glowing, fiery angels with six wings. Why six wings? God didn’t create them with unnecessaryparts, and they aren’t mutations. These angels are perfect. Perfectly created, and perfect in their conduct. The angels never sinned and didn’t need to be redeemed. But even they need to cover the parts that show their creatureliness.

Each seraph calls out, “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” This threefold ‘holy’ is not just repetition. Each of these holy’s stands on its own; it could be translated, “Holy One. Holy One. Holy One.” Three distinct Holy Ones each deserving of praise. Isaiah only sees one – Jesus, but the seraphim are worshipping Three – Holy Father, Holy Son, and Holy Spirit.

Isaiah sees and hears this as he is there to worship at the Temple, and it is true for us, even though we don’t see it, every time we gather for worship as well. Every time Christians gather together, more are there than can be seen. Jesus promises that the Trinity is with even the smallest congregation (Mt. 18:20).

Wedding Feast of the LambHebrews 12[:22–23]tells us that there are many more here today than our eyes can see, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”

Isaiah sees what we can’t see, and he hears the worship we can’t hear. So he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” Essentially, Isaiah is saying, “I’m cooked.” Before the lofty throne of the Almighty, Eternal, Triune, Holy God, Isaiah figures God is there to punish him. How incredibly sad!

Isaiah is a Christian. He believes that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7).

If God had wanted to judge Isaiah, He could have opened up a hole in the ground and swallowed Isaiah to the pits of hell. God doesn’t toy around when it comes to executing judgment.

But Isaiah knows his sin. He knows that his sin isn’t something outside of him that sort of hovers over him. And his sin isn’t just something recorded in a divine naughty-or-nice list. Instead, Isaiah knows that his sin is on his lips, in his body, and part of who he is.

We wouldn’t have done any better than Isaiah did if we had this same encounter. We would have been just as terrified. The sins that we commit and don’t even think about would have been equally exposed. And we know that we have no excuse and no alibi when standing before the God and judge of all creation. We would rightly fear the Holy Trinity who after killing the body can throw us into hell (Mt. 10:28).

But when God appears to sinners. He isn’t there to destroy them. He is there to redeem them, forgive them, and comfort them. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

That seraph, that messenger of God, takes a burning coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips, and absolves him: “See this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

What comes right after this text is comical. We, at least I, forget that sometimes. There is the Holy, Holy, Holy, Triune God and forgiven Isaiah. And God asks a question. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” God could have just given Isaiah his marching orders, “Ok, Isaiah. Now that I’ve forgiven you, you’re going to do something for Us.”

No, God gives Isaiah a chance to confess that he is forgiven. And Isaiah does, “Here am I. Send me.” Isaiah, the man cleansed of unclean lips, is given the task of proclaiming God’s Word as God’s prophet.

And you here today, you saints, you who have come into the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy God, you too have been cleansed. Your guilt has also been taken away. Your sin has been completely atoned for. As you leave this place, go with a clean conscience. Go and do everything that God calls you to do this week. Go be God’s salt and light in this world.

And come back. Come back next week before the throne of God to once again receive His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds inChrist Jesus. Amen.


Remembrance – Sermon for Pentecost on John 14:23-31

Due to technical difficulties, no audio for today’s sermon.

John 14:23–31

23Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

25“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.26But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

27“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.29And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.30I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me,31but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus says that the Holy Spirit’s job is, “to bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

What was the last thing you forgot? Now, there’s a scary question. If you can remember the last thing you forgot, then you’ve remembered. You maybe didn’t remember on time, but you did remember. The very question, “What was the last thing you forgot?” makes you wonder the dozens, or thousands, of things that you should remember but don’t.

We all have stories of entering the room with decision, purpose, and intent but we enter the room and ask ourselves, “What did I come here to do?” Some mornings, in the clamor of trying to get the kids to school, I frantically search for my keys wondering to myself, “Where in the world and I put them?” only to look down and find my misplaced keys in my hand.

Well, today is Pentecost. We are fifty days after Easter, and today we celebrate God sending His Holy Spirit. And, I hope you remember, three weeks ago Jesus said that the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16:5-15).

In case you don’t remember, the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin to show us that we need a Savior, Jesus. The Holy Spirit convicts us of righteousness to show us that Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross makes us righteous. And the Holy Spirit convicts us of judgment to remind us that Satan no longer has any claim on us because he is judged.

In other words, wherever the Gospel is preached, where Jesus’ death and resurrection are proclaimed, where Jesus is announced as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – there, the Holy Spirit is, without question, at work. Wherever the Word of God is being faithfully proclaimed, the Holy Spirit is doing His work calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying, and preserving the Christian Church.

In our Old Testament reading (Gen. 11:1-9), we heard how God dispersed the people after the Flood. They had plans to build a tower that would have its top in the heavens. Possibly, they were trying to protect themselves from another flood even though God had promised to never flood the earth again. They were sinfully rebelling against God’s command to fill the earth. However, God, in His mercy, came down to stop their sin and to disperse them by confusing their language – sort of a “we can do this the easy way or the hard way.” By this act of judgment, God nudges His creatures to do what He commanded them.

In our reading from Acts (2:1-21), we heard how God doesn’t remove the confusion of language He brought to Babel. Instead, God continues to be gracious. So the Gospel can be proclaimed in all creation, God gives the apostles the gift of speaking in tongues. They are enabled to preach the mighty works of God in all the human languages present that day of Pentecost.

We didn’t hear Peter’s whole sermon in our reading today. But in the next fifteen versus, he preaches Jesus. He doesn’t preach about the Holy Spirit; he preaches Jesus. And what happens in the crowd reveals the Holy Spirit’s work. They are convicted of sin.

They heard that Jesus, whom they crucified, was both Lord and Christ. And when they heard this, “they were cut to the heart,” and asked, “What shall we do?” And Peter continued to be the Holy Spirit’s instrument saying, “Repent.” Now, the people were already convicted, so Peter isn’t telling them to feel bad about their sin. Instead, the Holy Spirit through Peter is telling the people to trust Jesus’ forgiveness.

“Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. For this promise is for you and for your children and all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (Act. 2:38-39). That day, 3,000 souls were added to the Christian church by the working of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit continued to work in those believers’ hearts reminding them of Christ’s forgiveness.

The devil’s work is similar to the Holy Spirit’s work, but only at one point. The devil wants to do the first work of the Holy Spirit but leave you there. Like entering a room and not remembering why you are there, the devil wants to leave you in the fog and doubt of your sin.

Thank God for the Holy Spirit! He removes the fog. No matter how thick and dense your sin is, the Holy Spirit brings to your remembrance the truth that God has removed your every sin, transgression, and iniquity sin by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

And the Holy Spirit is about to do another work.

The only other time that Jesus uses this word, ‘remembrance,’ is when He institutes the Lord’s Supper. Jesus says to take and eat the bread which is His Body given unto death and to drink the wine which is His very Blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus says we are to do this ‘in remembrance’ of Him.

Through this Bread and Wine, the Holy Spirit is at work giving you Jesus. Believe Him that through this holy and blessed Sacrament, all your sins are completely forgiven. Then, rise and go from here remembering the comfort of your Savior’s mercy. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds inChrist Jesus. Amen.

Use It – Sermon for Easter 7 on 1 Peter 4:7-14

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1 Peter 4:7-14

7The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The end is near. Peter said so nearly two-thousand years ago, and this world hasn’t gotten any better. But we are not told to panic and worry. Instead, Scripture tells us to be self-controlled, sober-minded, loving, hospitable, and to use the gifts God has given us so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. Today, we are going to consider God’s good gift of motherhood because whether or not you are a mother, you have a mother. And in the gift of motherhood, we see the beauty of God’s love for us.

When our society decides to dedicate a day to celebrate one of the Ten Commandments, we in the church say, “Fantastic idea. Let’s do it!” Actually, our society has dedicated two whole days to the 4thCommandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother.”

Through the vocation of motherhood, God chose to save the world – literally. God’s act of creation and salvation intersect in the office of motherhood. In the opening chapters of Scripture, God creates man and woman telling them, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” However, Satan attacked God’s good creation, and all humanity fell because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience.

After the Fall, God said that He would put enmity between the devil and the woman, and between the devil’s offspring and the woman’s offspring. God promised that an Offspring of the woman would come and crush the serpent’s head even as the serpent bruised His heel. God was promising to send Jesus as He gave this first promise of the virgin birth of our Savior.

Adam and Eve clearly believed this because it was only after this promise that Adam gives his wife the name Eve. Before that, she was simply called ‘woman.’ Now, Eve was going to be the mother of all the children in all creation. So why does Adam change her name to Eve, which means ‘life-giver’? Because they both believed God’s promise to defeat Satan and remove the curse of sin and death that they had brought into the world.

This is why the devil attacks the family and especially motherhood. Satan attacked the family right away in the jealous feud Cain had with Abel. That attack continued down through the birth of Jesus when the devil roused Herod to kill the infant boys in Bethlehem. And the attack continues today in our culture of death.

Whenever there is a child in the womb of a mother, the devil sees a reminder of the Christ Child. So, Satan has filled our society with his lies thatmotherhood is not a burden worth bearing. Instead, the devil tries to make everything about me: my plans, my rights, my body, my choice. Too often today, children in the womb are said to be parasites when they are God’s greatest gift after the forgiving blood of Jesus.

But even as we Christians point this outand proclaim repentance and forgiveness for those who would kill children in the womb where they should be protected, we are accused of only caring for children in the womb and not when they are born. Let those attacks come. But let us all live our lives in such a way that those attacks are completely baseless and totally untrue.

God’s intent is that we, His creatures, continue with Him in His work of creation having children and continuing life through families – fathers, mothers, and children. Mothers know how to suffer for the sake of the lives of their children. When God said to Eve, “In pain you will bring forth children,” He wasn’t only speaking about the pain of labor and birth. Every mother continues to know the pain and suffering that goes into the responsibility of nurturing, caring for, and raising children. They make sacrifices, shed tears, and worry for their children. Mothers, you are doing God’s good work when you do those things.

So, all of you, thank your mom because mothers are a picture of how Jesus picked up our sorrows and carried our burdens. He suffered for your sake, for your eternal life, and for your salvation. Like Jesus, mothers lay down their lives for the sake of others.

In college, I studied a poem by Billy Collins titled The Lanyard. In it, the poet remembers how he crafted a lanyard for his mother while he was away at camp even though he had no idea what a lanyard was or what a person would do with it. Here is a bit of that poem:

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
‘Here are thousands of meals,’ she said,
‘and here is clothing and a good education.’
‘And here is your lanyard,’ I replied,
‘which I made with a little help from a counselor.’
‘Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world,’ she whispered,
‘and here,’ I said, ‘is the lanyard I made at camp.’

The poem closes with Collins wishing he could give his mother a different gift – an apology. He wants to confess that when he gave his mother that lanyard as a young boy he thought it was enough to make him even with her.

But here’s the point, mothers are glad to have gifts from their children. They love getting the drawings and sketches, the poorly spelled notes and letters, and the bouquets of dandelions from their children – not because those things are so well-done – but because they love their children. They don’t care about the artistry or worth of what their children give. They love their children and, therefore, they love what their children do.

The same is even more true of God. God isn’t concerned about you repaying Him so that you are even. Your prayers, your tithes, your acts of charity toward your neighbor are infinitesimally less than a son giving his mother a lanyard. But that doesn’t matter to God.

Christian, what you do in faith is never in vain. God takes what you do in faith and uses it to serve your neighbor so that He is glorified.

So, as our text here says, as you see that the end of all things is at hand, as each of you has received a gift, use it. Use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.