Ascension Day, 2015. Holy Communion.
7 PM Central Daylight Time
The melody is linked under the name of the hymn.
The lyrics are linked under the number of the hymn.
The Introit p. 16
The Gloria Patri
The Kyrie p. 17
The Gloria in Excelsis
The Salutation and Collect p. 19
The Epistle and Gradual Acts 1:1-11
Praise be to Thee, O Christ!
The Nicene Creed p. 22
The Sermon Hymn # 216* On Christ’s Ascension
The Sanctus p. 26
The Lord's Prayer p. 27
The Words of Institution
The Agnus Dei p. 28
The Nunc Dimittis p. 29
The Benediction p. 31
The Hymn #294 O Word of God
KJV Mark 16:14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
This is the ending to the Gospel of Mark that the liberals decided to drop from the Bible. They decided on the basis of one manuscript, or what they called one manuscript tradition. All the background information about this is not necessary for a sermon. It is sufficient to say that the break with the traditional ending of Mark was the start of the Anything Goes Bible, which is the name of almost all new translations, except the very conservative attempts to update the KJV. However, there are several examples there of so-called improvements that are really changes to avoid the plain Word of God and replace it with the dogma of man.
Luther often identified the themes of a text as faith and love, which he does for this Gospel lesson as well.
When Jesus appeared to the eleven, He upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart. Those two characteristics go together. We should not be shocked at the barbaric behavior we witness every day in the news, because they are a direct result of unbelief.
As one columnist wrote today, Western society used to view mankind as basically sinful and evil, as Augustine wrote. But that began to change in modern times, so people are all inherently good and only need understanding and compassion. Given that, every one will be good. So we have the result of that changing attitude, which is blind to human nature as it really is.
We lived in Phoenix when the new head of the state prison system saw all her prisoners as "clients" and not a prisoners. When they kidnapped a guard at gunpoint, nothing was done, even when they had a chance, and the prison guard suffered for it. The governor became head of Homeland Security.
The bad guy in the whole prison system was Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was strict and yet worked on their rehabilitation. The liberals worked constantly to get rid of him.
As we can see here, Jesus' answer was to address the unbelief of the disciples. He taught them advance about His suffering and resurrection, but they did not want to listen and did not remember.
3. However, it is not an insignificant matter here that the Lord rebuked the disciples; for unbelief is the greatest sin that can be named. Christ tells them the cause of their unbelief when he says that their hearts are hardened, yet he deals mildly and gently with them.
4. This is given to us all for our comfort, lest we despair when, lacking in faith, we doubt, stumble and fall; it is to help us to rise again, to strengthen our faith and lift up our hearts to God, that we may grasp and hold fast the confidence of God, who does not deal with us severely, but can indeed bear with us and overlook much. And whoever believes him to be thus, shall find him so; if we hold him to be a merciful God, he allows himself to be found merciful, and shows himself thus to us; but a bad conscience and an unbelieving heart have no such trust in God, but flee from him, and deem Him a harsh judge, which He, therefore, is found to be.
When the prisoner Jean Valjean is found with stolen silver, he considers himself doomed to return to the slave ship. He is hauled before the bishop whose property he stole. The bishop denies there is a theft and offers even more to Valjean. This is the turning point in the novel, which from that time on made the angry ex-convict think about others first, even accepting suffering for it.
An unbelieving hearts sees God as angry, harsh, ready to punish again. Because unbelievers see this to be true, God is always this way to them. In contrast, believers understand God to be patient, kind, and full of mercy. When we fall, He is merciful and restores us through the Gospel.
Luther observed what is so popular today. Sinful behavior is excused and covered up rather than dealt with directly. This is the worst outcome for the sinner, making him more obstinate in his unbelief, because he gets away with it. Restore such a man in a spirit of gentleness, as Galatians teaches. Jesus showed the same spirit as He did here.
He attacked the central problem - unbelief - which we find in so many sophisticated forms today. One is a selective use of the Word of God. Most will say "We teach the Word."
The modern rationalists change the meaning of every concept found in the Scriptures. Everything is symbolic and mythical, but they do not say so. They cloak their unbelief by marveling about "the Easter faith of the disciples." For them, Jesus died and the entire world is forgiven. End of story. Period.
The Easter faith of the disciples is not so impressive at first, as we see in this lesson and Doubting Thomas Sunday. There was a lot of misgivings, doubt, fear, even panic.
Thee other rejection, which they will never admit, is among the so-called conservative Evangelicals. Although they teach a basic justification by faith, they say a baby cannot believe and the Lord's Supper cannot be the Body and Blood of Christ. This rejection, based in rationalism, eats away at faith, so that Evangelicals who trust in the Sacraments are viewed with alarm and shunned. That applies to Lutherans especially, who seem to bring out the same kind of guardedness in Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, but for slightly different reasons.
God takes the faith we have and builds upon it. So we need study and training, and experiences where that faith is tested and made stronger. We are always on a shake-down cruise where our flaws are exposed. I read about battleships being tested at various speeds, and notes made about which pipes burst and which systems failed to operate.
That happens to us under stress - or neglect, when we are collecting barnacles. God stretches us and makes us hunger and thirst for His righteousness.
To celebrate the Ascension of Christ, which the moderns mock, means to believe that we have heaven and earth when we trust in the Savior. The resurrection of Christ was the preaching of the Gospel in the early days, as it should be today. How can God forgive all our sins, when our nature wants to pay for them ourselves. We see confirmation of God's mercy and power in the risen Christ.
He did not despise His disciples for their weakness but strengthened them and gave them many signs of His power, first in Himself, then in the power they experienced as apostles, in healing and above all in the Word.
The apostles did not convert the civilized world - God's Word did. Anyone who has preached the Word will experience the cross, great frustrations, but also astonishing results.
20. The preaching of this message may be likened to a stone thrown into the water, producing ripples which circle outward from it, the waves rolling always on and on, one driving the other, till they come to the shore.
Although the center becomes quiet, the waves do not rest, but move forward. So it is with the preaching of the Word. It was begun by the apostles, and it constantly goes forward, is pushed on farther and farther by the preachers, driven hither and thither into the world, yet always being made known to those who never heard it before, although it be arrested in the midst of its course and is condemned as heresy.
The new circus clowns do not believe all this. As Luther said in the quoted sermon, they want to put a stick under the Spirit's tongue, to make Him speak better. All their additions and alterations detract from the Gospel and corrupt the meaning of God's grace.
Every circus ministry goes down in flames, and yet the clowns look to the past glories of their favorites as something to be copied.
The clown ministries do not have Advent, Lent, or Ascension services, because the attendance is too low. I observed on Facebook, "If they used this metric on Easter, then Easter would have been canceled, because only three showed up for it."
Jesus is preaching to His disciples -
23. Therefore to conclude: The chief righteousness is faith; the chief wickedness is unbelief. There is also no sin so great that it is able to condemn man; unbelief alone condemns all who are condemned. And again, only faith saves every one; for faith alone deals with God, no works can appear before him. For works have to do only with man, and man lets his works be made use of as he has made use of Christ’s. They make no one holy; they are only the distinguishing marks of a man that has already become righteous through faith, which alone makes the heart pure.
Today I looked at a weed that has been growing in the front and back yards. The plant struck me as a bit exotic and fast spreading. But it bloomed, and it took the flower inside to match it with Google Images. I was going to tear it out of the ground, but I thought a neat little flower was colorful and perhaps worthwhile. The plant turned out to be cow vetch, not an exotic name. But I looked at its qualities. The plant is good for the soil, climbs a fence easily, flowers for bees and butterflies, and drops seed like a B-52 drops bombs.
So believers look like weeds to most people. Through faith we flower and fruit, and grow into another generation. The world sees something to stop, but God glorifies the work of His Word.