No one’s surprised to learn that I like to nit-pick, right?

But what is “nit-picking”?

Is it nit-picking when you pick out pieces of broken glass from your bowl of Captain Crunch? No.

Is it nit-picking when you cut away a slightly-warmer-than-medium, cooked piece of steak, and say to your wife, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly eat this over-cooked, charred piece of discount cow. What were you thinking?” Yeah. That’s nit-picking.

In case you need a dictionary definition, nit-picking is defined either as “the painstaking process of removing lice or lice eggs (called nits) from a person’s hair“ or as “looking for small or unimportant errors or faults, especially in order to criticize unnecessarily.”

The same word has those two definitions—one very literal—the other not. (more…)

Is it good to teach children that anything is possible?

The professor who taught me Logic had a lot of sayings, and this one was my favorite: “It takes a finite amount of time to accomplish anything.”

I loved hearing that, because—until formal logic clicks for you—it’s nearly impossible.

Practically, it’s a very helpful saying.  But how about theologically? (more…)

Do you have a favorite word?

Fascinate was my favorite word for a while—I loved how it was spelled.

The word that’s spelled g-h-o-t-i is another favorite.

How would you pronounce that? G.H.O.T.I.

It’s a trick word.

If you take the gh from the word enough, the o from the word women, and the ti from the word emotion, you get the word g-h-o-t-i, pronounced fish.

Disinterested is another favorite because—in the words of one of the most beloved teachers I’ve ever had—everyone uses it wrong.

Disinterested means unbiased, but everyone uses it to me uninterested—but that’s not the same.

I love words. I love what they can do.

I love what they’ve done.

But all of that hinges on a fact that we can no longer afford to take for granted: words mean specific things.

Thus says the Lord through Moses: “Male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). And, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Words mean things.

So when male means more than what male means, or female. When husband means different than what husband means, or wife. When mother means something other than mother, these words become useless.

Does Bruce Jenner celebrate Mothers’ Day? He isn’t a mother, can’t be a mother, he’ll never look like a mother—you can’t hide man hands—because—by definition—he is not a female, which means he can’t be a wife, which means he can’t be a mother.

He was given an ESPY award in 2015—for courage—because he insists, basically, that 2+2=5.

That’s not courage—that’s insanity.

Words mean things—and we must insist upon clear definitions before moving on.

Your definition of God must exclude all false gods.

The false god of Islam, the false god of Judaism, the false god of the Mormons and the Witnesses must be excluded because they can’t, won’t, and don’t define God as Triune—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I’m trying to impress upon you a pretty serious point.

But the application of that point starts with a very simple question.

How do you define good news?

There’s bad news and there’s good news, right?

There’s usually not just news. So, how do you define good news?

Good news saves us from evil, right? That’s one way we think it. Good news is, there’s a job waiting for you, they’re not going to turn the power off, someone left some food outside for you.

Good news turns our sorrow into joy.

For how many of you is there news that could be delivered that would cause you to rejoice?

The diagnosis was wrong. She changed her mind. I’m not allergic. It wasn’t spoiled, I just misread the date.

Do we realize that good news isn’t an end to terror but rather a calm in the midst of it?

Consider the good news of Jesus Christ.

The eternal Son of God died for the ungodly. The ungodly, claiming to be of the faith, subjected the eternal Son of God to humiliation, torture, crucifixion, and death.

The good news is, in the midst of the terror of sin, death, and the devil—we have the peace, calm, and sabbath rest of Christ and His victory over hell.

For none of us is the terror gone completely.

But the good news of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, resurrected, and ascended is this—in the midst of suffering and terror, we can live at peace, because God has reconciled the world to Himself in Jesus.

Peace with God once more is made, Alleluia!

That’s the good news.

The bad news is, the good news doesn’t always sound or feel like good news.

Consider the Gospel reading—and I’m going to read it again in full:

Jesus says: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you” (John 15:26-16:4).

This is good news, but it doesn’t seem like it.

Jesus doesn’t hand each of His disciples a bulletproof vest saying, “You’re gonna need this.”

Rather, Jesus hands each of His disciples a cross, saying, “This is yours.”

The good news is, they get to know ahead of time that it’ll happen. And by faith, they get to know ahead of time of the victory that belongs to each of them—already—in Christ.

If you’ve heard me say that there’s no such thing as a crisis in the church—this is what I mean.

If you’ve heard me refer to Tolkien’s eucatastrophe, the sudden turn of events at the end, ensuring the protagonist’s ultimate survival over and against terrible and impending doom—this is what I mean.

And this—I don’t think I’ve brought this up—but there’s a painting by Jack Dawson (not the guy from Titanic) called Peace or Peace in the Midst of the Storm, which depicts the good news of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, in the midst of terror.

Imagine the worst storm. The worst waves breaking against a towering, splintering cliff.

Lightening exposes the effects of wind and rain and sea—an utterly dismal and hopeless scene.

And in the midst of all that—literally, in the center bottom third of the painting—in the cleft of a rock—is a dove building a nest. Making its home. At peace.

Because the dove knows what good news is.

And if you have ears to hear—so do you.

The good news of Jesus Christ isn’t a bulletproof vest designed to save you from earthly trouble but a cross that all but guarantees earthly trouble.

That sounds like bad news!

But it’s not.

Good news isn’t an end to terror but a calm in the midst of it.

And your calm rests not on your feelings or your heart. Not on your efforts or desires. Your calm—the peace of the Christian and his good, clean conscience—your calm rests on the Word and work of Jesus—His sacrifice and His promise.

All of this He does to keep us from falling away.

All of this He does to fix our eyes upon Him—where He is to be found—in the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments administered.

All of this He does to teach us to love and serve and pray.

When I pray for you, I pray God strengthen your faith, that when He hands you a cross, saying, “This is yours,” you bear it in faith, a calm in the midst of terror, recognizing good news, even when you have to carry it as a cross, recognizing good news for what it is: the gospel, the power of God for salvation to all who believe.

Good news.

That’s a favorite word, too.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Exaudi (Easter 7) Sermon, 2018
John 15:26-16:4
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Were I to ask you what the most important days of the Church Year were, undoubtedly, Christmas and Easter and Ash Wednesday and Good Friday would make the list.

If you’re a good Lutheran, you’d want to include Reformation Day, October 31st.

And if you’re a great Lutheran, you know you’d rejoice to celebrate the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession on June 25th.

But Ascension belongs on the list, too.

Consider what we confess in the Creed: “[Jesus] ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the quick and the dead.”

Let’s unpack that.

Of the utmost importance at the Ascension, there are these two things.

First, Christ ascended to His Father’s right hand as a Human being and not simply as God.

Once He was made Man, taking upon Himself our flesh, He kept it.

And so, Jesus opens heaven for souls and bodies.

Second, Christ has removed His familiar and visible presence from us—we never see Him as His disciples saw Him—but He has still promised to be with us always.

The apostles in Acts are rebuked for gawking into heaven after Christ: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” (Acts 1:11).

Instead, they should look—by faith—where Jesus has promised to be: in His Word and in the Sacraments.

First: Christ is still a human being.

When He became Man in Mary’s womb He denied Himself and did not always or fully use His Divine rights and attributes as a Man.

In Confirmation classes, you learned that this is called the “humiliation of Christ.”

Jesus was true God—still—but He didn’t (always) use His power. If He had, He couldn’t have been killed, and the one who came to suffer in our place—to keep the Law for us—to be killed, for us, as a Sacrifice for our sins—must be killed so that we, who look upon Him, would be saved.

So—in humiliation—He denied Himself.

When His work was complete, He rested His Body in the tomb, as a Man. His soul went to Abraham’s bosom; Jesus died a Christian.

The resurrection was the coming back together of His human Body and Soul.

Since “It is finished,” (cf. John 19:30) still, He no longer denied Himself.

Jesus passed through the rock and the locked doors in His human body.

His appearance was changed in such a way that, though the scars left by the cross remained, He wasn’t identified by sight alone. The disciples needed faith to know that it was Him, that He had risen from the dead, that He’d come in peace.

For forty days He was among the disciples in this exalted state.

In Confirmation classes, you learned that this is called the “exaltation of Christ.”

Jesus was truly Man and truly God, and He showed it.

He was visible and physical when He wanted to be. He ate fish. But He also rebuked Mary Magdalene not to seize Him.

Then, forty days after the Resurrection, He visibly ascended to His Father’s right hand to receive His place in the Kingdom and rule according to His mercy.

He ascended as a Man, a human, and thus He paved the way for us out of Hell and into heaven.

He opened the pearly gates that they would let us, humans redeemed by Christ, in.

And He’s there now, as a Man, in His body, with His soul, inherited from Mary, with scars on His wrists and feet and side.

When you grieve because of sin and death, remember the Ascension of Christ.

God’s not done with your body after your death.

That’s why Christians don’t cremate.

That’s why the best and surest comfort for the grieving Christian is the resurrection and ascension of Christ.

Where He is—there you shall also be!

Now, Jesus has removed His visible presence.

He’s not among us as He was before the crucifixion.

He doesn’t deny Himself at all but fully and always uses all of His Divine rights and attributes as a Man.

And yet—Jesus has promised to be among us, to be with us always to the end of the age.

He’s present now—with us and for us—as a Man according to His sacramental presence.

The most important bit of His presence is His bodily presence in the Holy Communion.

St. Paul—who received this instruction from the Lord after the Ascension—St. Paul writes: “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?… For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me’” (1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:23-24).

Even though Jesus has removed His visible presence, in His exalted state, His human nature is not limited.

As a Man, He uses His Divine rights and attributes and can be physically present in more than one place and in more than one way.

This is a mystery.

We don’t comprehend it. We confess it. We believe it.

It should, however, be no more of a stumbling block to reason and logic than the Incarnation itself.

If we, by faith, can worship the Babe in Mary’s arms as the eternal, uncreated, Creator of all things, contained, somehow, in a seven pound eight ounce baby boy, then we shouldn’t balk to take Christ at His Word and confess and believe that He gives us His actual, risen Body and Blood for us to eat and drink in the Supper for the forgiveness of sins.

We believe this according to the accomplished sacrifice of the cross and the clear word of God.

The Lord’s Supper isn’t simply a memorial meal.

We receive the fruit of the cross—the forgiveness of sins—the very Body of Jesus—and are joined to Him forever.

There’s a kind of sacramental presence also in Holy Baptism—in the Word of God—in the Absolution—and in the Church.

Not in the bodily sense of the Sacrament of the Altar. That is a gift unique.

Christ gives us and joins us to His risen Body, His Flesh and Blood, His soul and His divinity.

Yet there’s also a presence of Christ in the water of Baptism according to His command and promise.

He Himself is the baptizer and He lays His own name upon the baptized, bestowing His Holy Spirit, reconciling them to His Father, and taking up residence in their hearts. Not in a bodily sense—but in a real and enduring way, all the same, and that through the water combined with God’s name and promise.

In the Absolution and in the Word, we see this strange mode of presence again. Jesus says: “He who hears you, hears Me” (Luke 10:16).

Jesus speaks to His sheep—not in their silent thoughts and imaginations, not in a still, small voice—but in the external Word.

It comes to them and bounces around their eardrums or shines into their eyes or on their fingertips and enters into their hearts.

For faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (cf. Rom. 10:17). The Lord’s sheep hear His voice. They know Him, and in His Word, He comes to them.

And when the saints of God gather together, Jesus is there, too, speaking to us, absolving us, claiming us as His own.

He’s with us—God With Us—still. Risen and ascended.

But not gone.

So don’t gawk into heaven but come where He promises to be.

Look at the bread and wine—the water—and the Word—and see Jesus.

Then—look to your left and your right—and see Christ in your neighbor.

“As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

God is with you. In ways you can’t comprehend.

But most certainly in ways you can believe and confess and rejoice.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Ascension Sermon, 2018
Acts 1:1-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt