7 July 2013 - Luke 10:1-20 - Pentecost 7

Today’s text from St. Luke recounts the story of our Lord’s sending of the seventy-two, to go ahead of him to the towns of the land of Israel that he was planning to visit, to prepare those towns for his arrival. This was a unique occurrence in history.

But some aspects of this account do have an enduring relevance. They can teach us some important things about the life of the church today, and about the nature of the church’s public ministry today.

Jesus said to the men he was sending out:

“Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals... Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. ... And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.”

The enduring practical principles embedded in this are twofold. They pertain to the obligations that God’s people have toward those who serve them in God’s name, as ministers of the Lord. And they pertain to the attitude that such ministers are to have regarding the material sustenance that is provided to them, by those among whom they are working.

When Jesus tells the seventy-two that they are to carry no moneybag, no knapsack, and no extra pair of sandals, he is teaching them a lesson about relying on God’s provision, during a time when they are proclaiming the message of God. They should not be distracted from this divine work by any worries about their need for food, home, and clothing.

But this does not mean that Jesus wants them to starve, or to live in poverty. Rather, according to the Lord’s teaching, these legitimate earthly needs of his ministers are to be the concern of those who receive these ministers into their homes and communities, and who benefit from their ministry.

Called servants of the Lord are to be provided for according to the same basic standards by which those who receive their ministry provide for themselves. These ministers are, as it were, to eat at their table, and to sleep under their roof - if not literally, then at least in the sense that the ministers’ standard of living is to be on a par - in general, and on average - with the standard of living that is enjoyed by those who support them.

Pastors today who serve struggling congregations should not expect to live in opulence. And affluent congregations today should not expect their pastors to live in poverty - “for the laborer deserves his wages.”

St. Paul chimes in on this very point, in today’s lesson from the Epistle to the Galatians, when he writes: “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked...”

Another general principle that we learn from Jesus’ statement to the seventy-two, is that when a community or congregation has done the best it can do in providing for the needs of the minister whom the Lord has sent to it, the minister in question should be content and satisfied with what he has received from those he is serving. He should not always be shopping himself around, looking for better accommodations, or for a better financial deal.

Jesus said: “Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.”

The financial obligations that modern congregations have the responsibility to meet, include not only the tangible maintenance of pastors or other called servants, but also the material maintenance of a house of worship.

In the earlier years of Christian history, and in smaller congregations that are just starting out even today, gatherings in a home for worship may suffice. But for a larger congregation that has outgrown such provisional arrangements, a suitable building for public worship is a practical necessity.

These are the places today, where the Lord’s ministers regularly proclaim to his people: “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

What we have been speaking of so far are those practical and earthly matters that are always in play, when the public ministers of Christ seek to do as they are sent and called to do, by their divine master, in this world.

These ministers are not angels from heaven. They are human beings, with genuine human needs for themselves and their families.

When they are called upon to devote themselves on a full-time basis to preaching and teaching, this does not make those human needs go away. But according to what Jesus, and St. Paul, tell us in today’s readings, this does make those human needs to become the responsibility of those who benefit from that preaching and teaching.

The needs of God’s ministers become the responsibility of God’s people, to whom the kingdom of God is brought near through that preaching and teaching.

And this leads us to the chief point that Christ teaches us today concerning the ministry of the seventy-two - and, by extension, concerning the ministry of those who are similarly sent by Jesus in our time.

These ministers - then and now - are natural men, as are the people who listen to their message. But if what they say is what God has directed them to say, the message itself is not natural.

It is a supernatural message from God himself, concerning God’s supernatural kingdom. The voice of God is heard, in, with, and under the human voices of these servants of Christ and of his church.

The call that impels these men to proclaim this message - and in the New Testament era, also to administer the sacraments that accompany this message - is likewise a divine, supernatural call. This remains the case even when the call comes through the church of God.

Such a call, issued in God’s name and according to his Word, is still God’s call. God works through the church in calling his ministers, even as he works through his ministers in bringing the message of his kingdom to the church.

And this likewise remains the case, even when the personalities of these ministers are marred by human flaws and shortcomings. That is a part of what we get, when God sends us human ministers - ministers who are like us - and not angels.

Our Lutherans Confessions, quoting from today’s text, say this:

“The fact that the Sacraments are administered by the unworthy does not detract from the Sacraments’ power. Because of the call of the Church, the unworthy still represent the person of Christ, and do not represent their own persons, as Christ testifies, ‘The one who hears you hears Me’ ... When they offer God’s Word, when they offer the Sacraments, they offer them in the stead and place of Christ. Those words of Christ teach us not to be offended by the unworthiness of the ministers.”

Christians in general can learn how to be patient with the occasional personal weaknesses of their pastors, because the benefits of the ministry of these pastors - when it is carried out according to the Lord’s institution - are so great.

God himself forgives sin, bestows eternal life, and renews and strengthens faith, by means of the divine words that the pastor is commanded by Christ to speak, as he publicly exercises the keys of God’s kingdom, in Christ’s name, among Christ’s people.

Again quoting today’s text, the Confessions also say:

“The Power of the Keys administers and presents the Gospel through Absolution, which is the true voice of the Gospel. We also include Absolution when we speak of faith, because ‘faith comes from hearing,’ as Paul says in Romans 10:17. When the Gospel is heard and the Absolution is heard, the conscience is encouraged, and receives comfort.”

“Because God truly brings a person to life through the Word, the Keys truly forgive sins before God. According to Luke 10:16, ‘The one who hears you hears Me.’ Therefore, the voice of the one absolving must be believed no differently than we would believe a voice from heaven.”

The seventy-two were told by Jesus to proclaim, to the towns they entered, the nearness of the kingdom of God. And in their case, they were also authorized to heal the sick - which included the casting out of demons from the possessed.

While they were fulfilling these God-given tasks, Jesus reported to them later that he “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

And Jesus went on to say to them: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

The enduring mission that Jesus entrusts to his ministers now - through whose teaching he is still heard - is not usually accompanied by extraordinary and overt demonstrations of miraculous power.

Bodily healings and spiritual exorcisms do still occur, when and how God wills them to occur.

But the Great Commission that governs the church and its ministers in these post-apostolic times, focuses instead on the ordinary and hidden miracles, of a heart’s conversion from hostility toward God to friendship with God; of the bestowal of a new godly nature, and the new birth by the Holy Spirit; and of a sinner’s reconciliation with God, and justification before God, by faith in Christ.

Today, we rejoice in these miracles, because it is in the light of these miracles that we know that our names are written in heaven. As far as the devil’s deceptive power over us is concerned, he has, as it were, once again fallen.

He has fallen because of these saving, inner miracles - performed for us by God through Holy Baptism; through Absolution and preaching; and through the sacrament of his Son’s body and blood, offered and given for the remission of sins.

We have been liberated from the clutches of Satan. In our lives, he is continually cast down and vanquished by the Savior who redeemed us, and who in his Word has put his claim on us, and in us, personally.

That’s why we so deeply cherish the gospel of Jesus Christ. By faith, we can see Jesus himself in that gospel, and we can hear his voice in it. He uses humble means, to accomplish great things.

And that’s also why we appreciate, and provide for, the ministers whom Jesus sends to us. He uses humble men, as his instrument is bringing to us great gifts.

He uses men like the seventy-two, and like the faithful pastors we know today, to baptize us and our children; to forgive our sins; to administer his Holy Supper to us. Jesus is doing these things for us, through them. He is speaking through them.

He uses men like the seventy-two, and like the faithful pastors we know today, to teach us ever more of what the Holy Scriptures say of himself, and of his love and wisdom; and to speak and apply God’s Word in all the circumstances of our life on earth - until that day when we all step across the threshold of this world, into the world to come.

May the Lord in his mercy hasten that day for us; and fill us with peace and thanksgiving, until it does come. Amen.

14 July 2013 - Pentecost 8 - Luke 10:25-37

The parable of the Good Samaritan, from today’s reading from St. Luke, is well-known and well-loved. It is generally taken as a lesson to us of how we should treat those in need, even if they are in some sense strangers or foreigners to us.

There are many hospitals, nursing homes, and other human care institutions in our society that bear the name “Good Samaritan.” These are places where care is provided for those “neighbors” in our human community who suffer from some infirmity - and who therefore are like the Jewish man from Jerusalem who had been beaten and robbed in the parable.

And those who provide this care in such places, are thereby following the example of the Samaritan in the parable, who was willing to bring healing and help to the victim he found along the road. This, of course, was in contrast to the priest and the Levite, who had passed by on the other side of the road, declining to “get involved” in this poor man’s situation.

Such an application of the parable - as an ethical directive to us, teaching us how we should behave in such circumstances - is confirmed by the dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer that took place at its conclusion:

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

And it’s not just institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes that serve as settings for this kind of compassionate care, to the wounded and the sick. In our personal lives, too, our eyes should always be open to those who are, as it were, lying “half dead” along the side of the road, and who need our help - physically or emotionally.

If you happen to be the one who is passing that way at the time of need - that is, if you are the one who is providentially made aware of the need - then you should probably consider yourself to be the one designated by God, in his love, to do something to help meet that need.

But the parable of the Good Samaritan is not just about how I should treat my neighbor. It is also about how Jesus treated the human race, and about how he treats you.

Martin Luther, in a sermon that he preached on this text, says some very interesting things, in his Christ-centered interpretation of its deeper meaning:

“This Samaritan, of course, is our Lord Jesus Christ himself, who has shown his love toward God and his neighbor. Toward God, in that he was obedient to him, came down from heaven and became man, and thus fulfilled the will of his Father; toward his neighbor, in that he, immediately after his baptism, began to preach, to do wonders, to heal the sick.”

He also says:

“The man who here lies half dead, wounded and stripped of his clothing, is Adam and all mankind. The murderers are the devils who robbed and wounded us, and left us lying prostrate [and] half dead.”

And Luther’s explanation of the symbolism of the priest and Levite, who did not help the victim in the parable, is also interesting:

“The priest signifies the...fathers before Moses; the Levite, the priesthood of the Old Testament. ... The dear sainted fathers saw very well that the people lay in their sins..., and also felt the anguish of sin. But what could they do to remedy it? ... These were the preachers of the law. And [they] showed what the world was, namely, full of deadly sins; and [they showed that the world] lay there, half dead, and could not help itself...”

On one occasion - when Jesus was basically being insulted by his opponents - he was asked, sarcastically, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” The Lord responded: “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.”

Notice that, while he did deny being possessed by a demon, he did not deny being a Samaritan. Literally, of course, as far as his ethnicity and religious practice were concerned, he was not a Samaritan.

He was a Jew. But he allowed himself to be identified with the Samaritans - an unclean nation, living outside the Mosaic Law; dwelling beyond the purity of Judaism.

As humanity’s New Testament substitute and Savior, Jesus was not restrained in the way that Old Testament priests and Levites would be, from “touching” those who are, as it were, half “dead.” Jesus was not afraid to be contaminated by the corruption of death.

He willingly took human death, and human sin, upon himself, and carried this death and sin to the cross. And he is willing now to come to us individually, and to touch us personally - to replace our death with his life; our corruption with his purity; our guilt with his righteousness.

He was, and is, willing to be a Samaritan. He does not live for himself, and for the preservation of his own ritual cleanness. That would keep him far away from us, in our need and misery - just as it kept the priest and the Levite away from the victim in today’s parable.

But Jesus does not stay away from us. He does not pass by on the other side of the road where we, in our fallen helplessness, are lying.

The priests and Levites, whose offices embody the Mosaic Law with its demands and judgments, cannot help those who are already by nature dead in sin. But Jesus, in his office as the Christ of God, is the Good Samaritan.

He can help. He does help. As Savior, he saves. He does not demand. He gives.

He washes us with the “wine” of his atoning blood. He anoints us with the life-giving “oil” of his Holy Spirit. He raises us up, and carries us to a place of ongoing healing - that is, to his church.

Listen with me to more of Luther’s explanation of what Jesus does, and gives:

“Christ, the true Samaritan, takes the poor man to himself, as his own; [he] goes to him, and does not require the helpless one to come to him. For here is...pure grace and mercy. And [Christ] binds up his wounds, cares for him, and pours in oil and wine.”

“This is the whole Gospel from beginning to end. ... Behold, here cling firmly to this Samaritan, to Christ the Savior. He will help you, and nothing else in heaven or on earth will.”

I recently read a description of the character of a particular chaplain who served with the Union army during the Civil War, and who died during his time of service. In what I read of him, he sounds like someone who truly did try to emulate the example of the Good Samaritan in his ministry. This is the way he was described:

“Faithful, persevering, deeply sympathizing with the suffering, kind to all, and always on the watch to do something for his Lord and Master, he was a model chaplain. ... Where the fight was most bloody and the carnage most awful, there was always to be found this most faithful man of God, caring for the wounded, and as far as in his power relieving suffering. ...”

“It required no summons from the commander to bring out an audience for his services in the camp. The sound of his voice, as he stood in the midst of the encampment, was enough. The boys clustered around, eager for the words of him who lived as he taught.”

“The words of him who lived as he taught.” From what we know of this chaplain, this was true. But it was only relatively true.

This noble chaplain was indeed faithful to his calling, as the Lord gave him the strength to be. But he was not perfect in his faithfulness. No descendant of Adam can be, save one.

The faithfulness of that one perfect man, that one perfect Savior of all men, really does matter to us. That faithfulness saves us, and wins for us the forgiveness of our lack of faithfulness.

And when we hear today, from the lips of Jesus, the story of the Good Samaritan, we really are listening to “the words of him who lived as he taught.” Jesus does tell us, in reference to the moral principles embedded in this parable, “You go, and do likewise.”

But before he lays this commission upon us, he fulfills this commission for us. He is the Good Samaritan for us, not only in meeting our needs for bodily health and strength, but chiefly in bringing life to our spiritual deadness, and bringing healing to our wounded souls.

And so we pray to Jesus, the true Good Samaritan:

Every wound that pains or grieves me, By Thy stripes, Lord, is made whole;
When I’m faint, Thy Cross revives me, Granting new life to my soul.
Yea, Thy comfort renders sweet Every bitter cup I meet;
For Thy all-atoning Passion Has procured my soul’s salvation. Amen.

21 July 2013 - Pentecost 9 - Luke 10:38-42

Today’s text from St. Luke’s Gospel, which tells the story of Jesus as a guest in the home of Martha and Mary, teaches at least two important points. The first point, which is, we might say, a subplot of the story, is one that might not be as obvious to us.

It is this: That Jesus welcomed and encouraged a woman like Mary to sit at his feet to receive religious instruction from him. We might say, “Well, of course he would be O.K. with that.”

But Jesus was actually going against the tradition and practice of the rabbis of his day, in teaching theology to a woman. It was thought then that women were not really capable of learning theology, and that they had no reason to know it anyway.

Their fathers and husbands could and should study the Torah, and the deeper explanations of the great teachers of Israel. But women had other things to worry about - like maintaining a kosher kitchen, and a Jewish home, according to the regulations of the Mosaic Law.

They didn’t need to debate, or reflect on, those regulations. They just needed to obey them as written, and let their fathers and husbands do the debating and the reflecting.

But Jesus broke with this tradition and practice. He knew that God’s Word is for all of God’s people, men and women alike. He personally wanted to impart God’s Word to all people, men and women alike.

The fact that women have always been treated as spiritual equals in the Christian church - sharing the same baptism as Christian men, and receiving the same Lord’s Supper that their Christian brothers receive - is a direct result of the example and teaching of Jesus on this point.

We would add - as an aside - that when Jesus restricted the apostolic office to men, this was not because he was just conforming himself to first-century Jewish cultural expectations regarding the roles of men and women, for the sake of outward peace. Jesus was willing to violate all the cultural norms regarding the interactions of men and women that he disagreed with, and that he thought were contrary to the loving will of God for all of his children.

The fact that he did not place women into the office of pastoral oversight - which he established in and with the commissioning of the apostles - shows that Jesus knew that this particular restriction has its basis in God’s enduring order of creation, and not in the sinful misogyny of his culture.

So, while Mary was not appointed to be among Jesus’ apostles, she was welcome to listen to him, and to learn from him.

And you, too, are all invited to learn from your Savior. When Jesus later told his apostles that the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins was to be preached to all nations, this meant that he wanted the message of repentance, and forgiveness of sins, to be preached to you.

The reach of his Word extends to all. In the church of Jesus Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female.

This also means, of course, that the sins of women are condemned by God just as severely as the sins of men are. God does not have a patronizing attitude toward women - as the rabbis of Jesus’ day often had.

God expects just as much from women as he expects from men. And therefore women are warned, admonished, and judged on account of their failures, just as much as men are.

But women are also taught - you are also taught - at the feet of Jesus. Mary was taught the gospel of divine forgiveness and salvation at the feet of her house guest, together with any of the male disciples of Jesus who also happened to be there.

Also today, women and men alike are taught this gospel, at those feet that still bear the marks the nails of the cross, on which all the sins of all men and women were paid for, and atoned for.

God does not just allow this to happen. He commands that this happen!

This is not a grudging concession. He really wants all people - all men, and all women - to hear his words, to believe his words, and to receive eternal life through his words.

And, he directs us to prioritize this. That is the major plot of today’s account.

There is nothing more important than sitting at the feet of Christ. Other things are important in their own way, in their own time and place. But nothing else is more important that hearing and believing the gospel. It is the “one thing” that is ultimately “necessary.”

And as a corollary to this - for those who are properly prepared in accordance with the Word of God - there is also nothing more important than receiving and embracing the body and blood of Christ that he speaks into the bread and wine of his Supper, for the forgiveness of sins.

In today’s story, Martha did not understand this - at least not until Jesus explained it to her. She complained that her sister Mary was taking time away from all the domestic preparations that she felt needed to be done, for Jesus to be shown a proper level of hospitality.

Martha went up to Jesus and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Jesus made himself very clear. He was not going to tell Mary that she may no longer sit at his feet and listen to his teaching. He no doubt would have wished that Martha, too, would have joined her!

This doesn’t mean that Jesus did not expect to be fed eventually. When his teaching session was over, there would have been time then for Martha and Mary to prepare a meal - maybe not a meal that would be as elaborate as Martha wanted, but a nice and adequate meal.

When the Word of God, and hearing and receiving the Word of God, takes first place in your life, those things that take second or third place may be somewhat diminished from what they would have been - by virtue of the fact that your relationship with God and with his church is the priority.

So, you might not make as much money in your job, if Sunday mornings are consistently set aside as a “no work” time of your week. And your new car may not be as luxurious, your new dress may not be as glamorous, and your family vacation may not be as exotic, if your church offerings - to support the preaching of the gospel - have reduced the total amount of money you have to spend, on these other things.

But God’s Word, and the sacrifices you make to preserve it in your life, are not burdens on you. That would be like saying that the air that you breathe is a burden, that you would try to get rid of, and avoid, if you could.

God’s Word is a necessity. It takes a back seat to no other relationship, no other responsibility, no other activity.

This is not just an arbitrary thing, handed down from on high for no particular reason. Such a prioritizing of the one thing that is necessary arises from the very nature of saving faith and eternal salvation.

It is directly connected to the divine source of the freedom from sin and death that we have in Christ, and only in Christ. Jesus says: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

He says this to men and women. He says this to lifelong Christians, with a relatively mature understanding of the Scriptures. He says this to new converts, who are just starting out on the adventure of faith, and who are only beginning to learn about God and his ways.

In today’s text, Martha’s main complaint about her sister was that Mary was letting her do all the serving. “My sister has left me to serve alone,” Martha said in exasperation.

Martha was so concerned about serving Jesus - that is, giving him food and drink, and delivering other domestic comforts to him - that she was oblivious to his desire to serve her. In his teaching, he wanted to serve her with the bread of life and the water of life. He wanted to give himself to her, mystically, in his Word.

That’s what Jesus wants to do for you, too. He wants to serve you in the same way.

And so, in the midst of all your busyness - and even in the midst of all the work and serving that you want to do for him - just stop! Stop and listen to him.

Listen and believe. Believe and receive. Let him serve you, before you think about your need to serve him.

Now, when the Lord’s gifts have been honored and received, and when his teaching has entered unto our hearts and minds through the ministry of Word and Sacrament that he makes available to us, the rest of life does come into play.

There is time then for innocent recreations, for fun with family and friends, and for the fulfillment of our obligations to other people.

Mary and Martha should have fed Jesus - and any of his disciples who were with him as guests in their home - once Jesus had finished feeding them with heavenly manna.

Energized by the love of Christ that we have tasted, you and I should likewise feed the hungry and cloth the naked in our midst - and in the larger family of humanity - remembering that, as we do it to one of the least of our Lord’s brothers, we do it to him.

There are genuine needs among our own Christian friends, for material and emotional support in a time of want; for encouragement in a time of trial or disappointment; for companionship in a time of fear or loneliness. These are true human needs, that have to be met in true human ways.

It is incumbent upon us to notice these needs, and to give of ourselves to satisfy them according to our ability. We are to be like Martha, who wanted to serve Christ, and meet his needs. But, we are to be like Martha, only after we have first been like Mary!

A woman named Martha welcomed Jesus into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving.

And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Amen.

28 July 2013 - Pentecost 10 - Luke 11:1-13

In today’s text from St. Luke, Jesus teaches us some important things about praying to God.

It is true, of course, that God is all-knowing, and all-wise. He has eternal plans for what he will do in human history. And there is no variation or turning with him.

So, our prayers do not deliver information to God that he does not already have. And our prayers do not persuade him to do something that he does not already intend to do.

But in spite of all these valid theological truths - which might tend to make our praying to God seem to be pointless - God does invite us, and command us, to pray.

Through his Son, who teaches his disciples what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” God gives us the very words we are to speak, and the very thoughts we are to express. And in today’s text, Jesus also tells us that we are to be persistent - and even impudent - in our prayers.

Jesus tells a parable about a man who goes to his friend’s home at midnight, to bang on the door and to keep calling out to him - asking for bread for an unexpected houseguest. In this way Jesus encourages us to pester God, even to annoy him - humanly speaking - with our persistence.

God wants to be annoyed by our praying. He does not consider it to be a problem if we pray too much.

What is more often the case, is that we do not pray enough. We do not pray often enough, or intensely enough.

Perhaps we are lazy or indifferent. Or perhaps, in our internal religious thinking, we rationalize that God already knows everything anyway, so why bother? But God wants us to bother.

Jesus says: “I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

An example of this kind of praying is the story of Abraham, dialoging with the Lord, in today’s Old Testament lesson. Abraham was respectful and reverent, as we should be when we pray.

But Abraham was also persistent, as we should be when we pray. And the Lord was not displeased at all with these respectful yet persistent intercessions of his friend Abraham.

In today’s text from St. Luke, Jesus uses a second parable or illustration, which adds necessary clarity regarding the content of our prayers.

We should be persistent in prayer - but only in praying for what we should be praying for. We should be confident that God will grant our requests, only when we are praying for the kind of things he wants us to have.

Jesus says: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

What is left unsaid here, is that if your son asks you for a serpent, or for a scorpion, you - even though you are evil - will not give him what he asks for! Here in Arizona there is a real possibility that a small child will indeed come across a rattlesnake or a scorpion, and ask his father if it is OK to pick it up and take it home.

A good father will not give his son everything he asks for. But when a son asks for what he should ask for, his father will give it to him.

What Jesus tells us today, is that what we should be asking for, is the Holy Spirit. And when we ask for the Holy Spirit, we will receive the Holy Spirit.

We should not understand this too narrowly, to mean the Holy Spirit strictly in his Person, rather than the various other spiritual gifts we need. We should instead understand this to mean the Holy Spirit as our Divine companion and counselor who not only comes to us himself, but who also - with his coming - delivers all other good things to us; who teaches, protects, and guides us; who connects us to Christ by faith.

Remember that in today’s account, Jesus had just given his disciples an example of what they should be asking for in prayer. And so, to pray for the Holy Spirit, means to pray in this way:

“Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God’s name is hallowed among us, and his kingdom comes among us. Through the influence of the Holy Spirit, our daily bread is received with thanks.

By the operation of the Holy Spirit - through God’s Word - God’s forgiveness of our sins is carried to us, and impressed upon us; and a forgiving heart is birthed within us. Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are supernaturally protected from the attacks and allurements of the evil one.

Jesus on another occasion told his disciples that when the Holy Spirit comes, “he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” So, when you pray for the Holy Spirit to be given to you, you are thereby asking - among other things - to be made aware of your trespasses; and to be brought to an inner conviction that you are guilty of sinning again God and man.

When you ask for the Holy Spirit, God will give you the Holy Spirit. God will come to you to convict you, and to make you admit your faults.

But Jesus also on another occasion said this, regarding the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, and in the lives of his disciples:

“He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God the Father, and he is the Spirit of Christ. He proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The Spirit is never separated from the Father and the Son. His union with Father and Son is unspeakably intimate.

This union is the incomprehensible oneness of the Three Divine Persons who are the one eternal God. And so, wherever the Holy Spirit is present, the Triune God as a whole is present.

And for the sake of our salvation, wherever the Holy Spirit is present, all the benefits of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are present, and available, and declared, and applied.

This is so because in Christ “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” And, “you have been filled in him.” This is the way St. Paul expresses it in today’s Epistle, from his letter to the Colossians.

Paul also reminds you that you have been “buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

And, God has made you “alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

For our redemption from the guilt and power of sin, everything that Jesus did, and allowed to be done to him - according to his humanity - was done by and to God in human flesh.

All of this we receive, when we receive Christ. And we receive Christ, when we receive the Spirit of Christ, for whom we continually pray.

The Word of God is living and active, and probes us to the deepest recesses of our minds and souls. St. Paul says that the Word of God is “the sword of the Spirit.”

When you perceive yourself to be studying the Word of God, the Word of God is actually studying you. The Holy Spirit is studying you, and addressing you, with the saving message of Christ.

And when people perceive you, as a Christian, to be changing over time, so that you are, over time, becoming a better person, and a more pleasant person, what they are seeing - without realizing it - is evidence of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in your life.

As one in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells, you have not simply decided to transform yourself. You are continually being transformed, from the inside, by another - by the one whom you continually ask your Father in heaven to give you.

St. Paul writes that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” When you, in faith, pray for the Holy Spirit, you are praying for his fruit. And you will receive his fruit.

If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Amen, that is, So shall it be. Confirm our faith and hope in Thee
That we may doubt not, but believe What here we ask we shall receive.
Thus in Thy name and at Thy word We say: Amen. Oh, hear us, Lord! Amen.