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

How many of you have ever been called pessimistic?

How about negative?

And is there a Debbie Downer among us?

Something deep within our fallen pessimism tells us that when Jesus says, “…A little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16, emphasis added), it’s like when a doctor says, “This will only hurt a little bit.”

What I mean is, when we hear that, we don’t believe it. (more…)

Exaudi (Easter 7) Sermon 2017
John 15:25—16:4
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus says, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away” (John 16:1).

We see, very clearly, what Jesus desires: that you do not fall away.

He wants everyone to live and reign with Him forever. He wants us to have and keep the faith, be baptized, eat and drink His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

Jesus wants us to be saved.

And to that end, Jesus says “all these things” to us.

But what are “all these things”?

(more…)

Baccalaureate, 2017
John 16:23-33 / Matthew 6:9-13
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

In the fictional world of Harry Potter, what are the three Unforgivable Curses?

The Killing Curse—Avada Kedavra.

The Cruciatus Curse—Crucio.

And the Imperious Curse—Imperio.

Do you know the origins of their names? Do you know why the spell for the Killing Curse is Avada Kedavra?

You’ve heard the same phrase before as abracadabra. It’s Aramaic and means “Let the thing be destroyed.” The “thing” was usually a disease and the phrase a cure, but J.K. Rowling turned it into a curse.

Crucio comes from what? Latin. Crucio means “I torture.” We see this especially in the word crucify.

And Imperio—whence comes Imperio?

We’ll come back to that one.

(more…)

Rogate (Easter 6) Sermon, 2016
John 16:23b-33
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

You can’t always get what you want. But…what?

But if you try sometimes, well, you might find, you get what you need.

The world teaches us that if we try, we get what we need. If we put forth the effort necessary, we get what we need.

It’s up to us.

That’s what the world teaches.

Today, Jesus teaches us to pray, and so it’s good to ask:

Does prayer rely upon your faithfulness or God’s?

Should the Rolling Stones have taught us to sing, “You can’t always get what you want…so pray the Lord’s Prayer, because God’s going to provide your daily bread”?

That wouldn’t have sold many albums, but it’s right.

(more…)

Easter 5 (Cantate) Sermon, 2017
John 16:5-15
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

What did it mean, in the case of the Disciples, to be a disciple of Jesus? For them, originally, it meant to follow Jesus literally. You went where He went, ate where He ate, and heard the words that were coming out of His mouth.

If that’s your “normal,” imagine hearing that Jesus was about to leave you behind. Well, we don’t have to imagine.

(more…)

Easter 4 (Jubilate) Sermon, 2017
John 16:16-22
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“Your sorrow will be turned to joy” (John 16:20). Jesus says.

He says this before His crucifixion. And He’s speaking about the sorrow that is to come upon them. Sorrow in His arrest. Sorrow in His shady trial. Sorrow in His death.

And then joy in His resurrection.

St. Luke records, after the ascension that the disciples “worshiped [Jesus] and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53). That’s the joy of the ascension after the sorrow of Jesus’ death.

But what about our sorrow?

(more…)