Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ascension Observed Sermon

Ascension Observed – April 30th and May 1st, 2016 – Luke 24

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! Amen.
The Ascension of our Lord is one of those Christian Holidays that sadly in this country has become vastly overlooked. Today, no one thinks about the importance of the Ascension – we are still coming off of our Easter high, and we are maybe looking forward to Pentecost. The Ascension of our Lord seems as but a small speed bump on the way. It wasn’t always that way. Ascension is properly this coming Thursday (40 days after Easter) – and back in the day you’d get as many people showing up on that day as you might for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. It’s a holiday that's mentioned in the Creed – Who ascended into heaven and sits at the right Hand of the Father, from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. That’s a lot of the Creed for this day. And the Ascension hymns – today during communion we'll sing “A Hymn of Glory Let us Sing” – one of the great hymns of Christian History. Though we seem to have abandoned it today, in the past there was an incredible focus on the Ascension.

So why? Why was this day considered so important? You sang the answer – On Christ’s Ascension I now build the hopes of my Ascension. The idea, the importance, is that the Ascension is the proof that all that Christ has done, all that He has accomplished is good, is complete. See, He’s ascended into heaven – at this moment Christ Jesus, true God and True Man – note that, still True Man – dwells in heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, on the day of Ascension, strides through the gates of heaven. As He, as that True Man, is in heaven now, we men, we folks here, know and have the proof that we will be brought through those same gates of heaven on account of Christ. Christ Jesus, our Brother, has won us salvation – in Him Mankind is reconciled to God. See, He's ascended – He wasn't just whistling Dixie when He said, “It is Finished.” That’s the importance of this day, and it spills out in what Christ teaches the Apostles in our text.

Then He said to them, “These are My Words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” The Old Testament constantly and continually shows two things – it shows the devastating results of sin, and it points to the Savior who would rescue us from that sin. The consequence of sin is all over in the Old Testament – from Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, slavery, wars, exiles, affairs, murder – and all the pain and anguish caused thereby. The Old Testament constantly shows how the world is evil and wicked, and how even those who fear and worship God fall into vice, are abused in this world, are in need of rescue. But whenever there is a focus on these things going poorly, God gives a promise as well. The Messiah will come. He will save. He will crush the Serpent’s head, He will reign forever. The Messiah will come and He will win salvation for His people, He will be their righteousness and their God. That is what is pointed to, that is the promise. And what does Christ say? Everything must be fulfilled – everything in the Old Testament that spoke to what Christ would do, from Genesis to Malachi – all of it needed to be done. Jesus is not going to leave the job half done – Jesus isn’t going to give things a good start and then leave it up to us to finish the rest. It must be fulfilled – otherwise Jesus still has more work to do, more things to accomplish.

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” And it has been done, it has been accomplished. Christ has suffered, and Christ has risen. The work, the things needed for salvation, everything that is required, everything that pertains to Salvation – accomplished. Completed. Done. And the proof, the evidence of this While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. Nothing more remains for Christ to do in order to accomplish salvation – the sins of the world have been paid for. Every sin, everything you’ve done, every lingering bit of guilt you have – Christ has paid for that already. Every sin you’ve suffered, every thing that someone has done to you, every hurt that you’ve received – Christ has paid for that already. Done. This is the reality that we see confirmed when we consider our Lord’s Ascension. There is no sin that Christ has not dealt with. Full forgiveness has been won – and there’s nothing more left for Christ to do regarding sin, regarding salvation. It is finished.

This can be hard to believe, sometimes, can it not? This is the way in which Satan attacks us, Satan tries to beat us down. Do you feel lingering guilt for your sin? Do the sins of your past loom large? That’s Satan working on you – trying to tell you that your sin is too big, that it still lingers on, that it’s not done away with. But Christ has ascended – and that means your sin is taken care of. You are forgiven. Do you feel lingering grudges and hatreds? Do the wrongs of the past that you have suffer loom large? Again – that’s Satan working on you. That is Satan trying to tell you that what you suffer isn’t taken up by Christ’s suffering, that what others have done towards you is unforgivable. Yet Christ has ascended – and so there is no reason for us to bear any grudge towards anyone for anything – all sin is covered. Everything that Christ was to do – it is fulfilled. This is the idea of objective justification – that because Christ has died and risen again all sin of all time has been paid for – there remains no punishment for it. We need not live in fear of our sin – for Christ has saved us. We need not live in fear of what others have done or will do to us – for Christ has saved us. We need not hold on to hatreds – for Christ has died, even for those people who have wronged us. He has died for them, even if they don’t know, even if they don’t care. It is all fulfilled – see Christ has ascended. Nothing remains, no stone unturned, no sin left uncovered. Christ has done it all and He has done it well. Period. And whenever Satan tweaks us, as He so loves to do, we are to flee to Christ, we are to see and remember what He has accomplished, so that we have peace, so that we live in confidence of our forgiveness, our victory in Christ.

And it is not merely a victory just for us. Christ won this victory for all, and He would have all come to faith in Him, would have us all be in Him. How are they brought to faith? Same way we are. This faith, this growth in the Christian faith, comes by the Word – the Word of repentance and the Word of forgiveness. We who are of the Christian faith – we need this Word preached to us. We need to repent – for we still daily sin, do we not? We still daily let the sins of others affect us, and we use their sin as an excuse or reason not to show love, and so we become even more vile and wretched than them, do we not? When Christ’s Word brings us to repentance – when He pulls us away from our selfish desires, when He cools the heat of our anger and closes the book on our grudges – we see what truly remains – that Christ has won forgiveness, and that Christ’s forgiveness is the highest reality in our lives. This is why we, we ourselves, need repentance and forgiveness preached to us. And seeing this, knowing this need for repentance and knowing the freeing beauty of forgiveness is what prepares us for service to others in this world.

Christ’s victory, Christ’s forgiveness isn’t just our prize, it is that which He won for all – and when we see it, when we know it – then we are able to speak it, to share it, to proclaim it to the people we know in our own lives. Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations. There is no great mystery to how this is done, how this happens. God works through His Word – His Word upon the lips and tongues of His people – not only Pastors – heaven forbid that Christ’s cross be spoken only in this place by me – but mothers and fathers teaching their children – that is God placing His Word upon His people’s lips. Friends telling their friends – that is God at work. Neighbors to neighbor – again, God at work. When you know, when you are focused upon what Christ has done for you, when you see what a benefit it is to you – then you are ready to speak, then Christ has prepared you and given you what is needed. The Word that you speak is not your own Word – it’s Christ’s Word, the Word that He has given to you, implanted in you, baptized you into, the Word that you have learned, have studied, have grown in, have had placed upon your tongue in His Holy Supper. You merely say what you yourself have received – and the Holy Spirit will work when and where He pleases. And this is where we are at – we are those people who strive to grow in knowledge of God’s Word, grow in understanding repentance and forgiveness, and then God will use us to speak it to others. When we understand the depth of our own sin, how it traps and messes with us – we will have compassion upon our neighbor who is trapped in sin – and more importantly, in knowing how Christ has freed us, we will be able to proclaim to them to their freedom in Christ as well. And we can do this confidently – because we know that Christ has done everything, that all is accomplished – when we speak we speak with confidence – Everything is accomplished by Christ – we simply understand what that means more and more, and we speak so that others might understand more and more as well. We speak, hoping that they too will stride through the gates of heaven with us, all following our ascended Lord.

So thus today, as we celebrate the Ascension, we truly celebrate the security of the Christian faith – the fact that Christ Jesus has done all that is required for our salvation and the salvation of mankind – that we live in that salvation confidently – that Christ will draw our eyes off of sin and unto Himself. The fact that this salvation is for all people, and that Christ will be with us when we share this saving truth with others. This is the hope that is shown on this Ascension day – the hope that is ours every day until the Christ who rose to heaven descends on the Last Day to call forth all believers to His side for all eternity. God, keep us in the faith and give us and our neighbors growth in the same faith until that day. Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! Amen.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Easter 5 Sermon

Easter 5 – John 16:5-15

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
This passage of John is part of what our Lord taught the Disciples in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, on the night when He was betrayed. Jesus knew that His earthly ministry was coming to a close. Soon would be His death and resurrection, and soon would be His ascension. And our Lord says this – “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper would not come to you.” Christ tells us that the Holy Spirit is going to come, something we see on Pentecost, something that lasts to this day. So then, why is this an advantage? Why is this better than just having Jesus walk around and preach? Why? Because there is a change – because the disciples are going to be apostles – because they are going from mere students who follow Christ to those who go and preach and proclaim Christ, sent out into all the world. The Church would not just stay there in Judea, but Christ will send the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit would work through the Word of God proclaimed by these Apostles, proclaimed by those who follow in their work and teaching until the Church would spread to all nations, even to us today. There would be a shift – it would no longer be that disciples gathered together to only one place to hear Jesus, but that the Risen and Ascended Lord would send His Workers all over the world, and all over the world people would be gathered in to Churches, just like this one, and people would hear the Word of the Lord preached, would receive the True Body and Blood of Christ for their forgiveness, and in this way, Christ would be with us always, even unto the end of the age. Christ is going to spread His Church – He is going to make it be universal, throughout the whole of creation, and He does that by ascending and then giving the Holy Spirit, the Helper, to see that the Church grows through the proclamation of the Word in all lands, to see that congregations are established around God’s Word and Sacraments. This is the advantage – that we don’t have to find the one spot in all the world, the one town or temple where Jesus happens to be – but that He will come to us wherever we are gathered together around His Word, His Font, His Supper.

This dear friends, is the work of the Holy Spirit. By the Gospel, by the Word, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and provides every congregation with everything that they need. Right now, we here in this place have the Holy Spirit – He is here doing His job of focusing us on Christ and causing us to grow in faith. Everything we need for life and salvation is right here – everything that makes a Church a Church is right here – even right now in little old Herscher. This is the gift of the Spirit, this is the advantage the Helper brings.

But it is important for us, dear friends, to give heed to the words which Christ Jesus speaks to us this day – because in this Gospel lesson He tells us precisely what the Spirit will do in this place, what His job is. You see, many people make claims on the Holy Spirit, many people shuffle off their foolishness and crackpot ideas and schemes onto the Holy Spirit. Some people use the Holy Spirit as though He is some sort of trump card – I’m gonna do this cause the Holy Spirit told me to! That’s not what Jesus says the Holy Spirit’s job is. Listen to Christ Jesus, who sends us His Spirit – “And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The Spirit will come and “convict” the world. What does that mean? It means to speak to, to speak about. When the Holy Spirit is present, there is always the Word of God, and not the Word of God talking about abstract dreams and visions and powers and might – but the Word of God speaking directly, with conviction, about sin and righteousness and judgment – the Holy Spirit is there and makes the Word of God hit home. Makes the Word of God hit you right here in the chest. When you hear the word “convict” it means speaking the Word of God decisively, to drive it home.
The Spirit will use the Word of God to convict us, to hit home concerning sin. “Concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.” God’s Word speaks bluntly and decisively about sin – and all sin is ultimately an ignoring of God’s Word, of refusing to follow, refusing to believe what God has said. The Holy Spirit’s job is to make it so that we see and know this when we hear the God’s Word of Law preached to us. And this is true – sin is always about unbelief. Think back to lesson 1 of the Catechism – what is the First Commandment? You shall have no other gods. . . Thou Shalt have no other gods before Me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. If we did this – if we feared God above all things, if our highest respect was upon Him at all times, we would not sin. But sometimes we fear other things more – we fear what our family and friends might say, we fear not being in control, we fear not having our way – and we sin. If we loved God above all things, we would never sin – but we can love ourselves more, love money more, love the respect we get, love popularity and praise more – and we sin. If we trusted God above all things, we would never sin – but we put our trust in our own strength, in our own power, in our own plans – and we sin. Sin always happens whenever we fear, love, or trust something above God. And the Holy Spirit speaks about this with conviction – we might want to dance around our sin, to play it off as not that bad, it’s not that terrible, oh, I was nice over here, surely that makes up for that little bad there. And the Holy Spirit hits us over the head with the Law – no, your sin is vile and it is against God. Every sin, even the ones you like to poo-poo and treat as inconsequential – it is sin against God. Repent. That is what the Spirit does – and if you ever hear someone downplaying their sin, minimizing sin, saying that sin is okay – they aren’t speaking the Word of God and the Holy Spirit is not there. He convicts the world concerning sin.

Our Lord also tells us that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” The world has many messed up ideas about what is righteous, about what is good. And then Christ came – and when you looked at Christ, you saw conclusively what righteousness is, what it looks like. And even then, the world hated this righteousness. They hated Christ’s righteousness so much that they crucified Him – but even in that, even in going to the Cross Christ showed us what righteousness is. He went to the cross to win forgiveness – to see that we sinners receive mercy and forgiveness and eternal life from God. That is righteousness – He does what is right in saving you, even at the cost of His own life. And now we live in the time of Christ’s Church, we live as those who await His Second Coming – and in the meantime, the Holy Spirit will use the Word of God to speak directly and with conviction towards Christ’s righteousness. We do not physically see Christ right now, but the Holy Spirit holds the Gospel before our eyes and says, “See the righteousness of Christ Jesus, righteousness that He showers upon you and gives to you.” The Holy Spirit speaks with conviction the Gospel, the Good News that Christ Jesus is the spotless lamb who has died for us and risen for us. The Holy Spirit declares that Christ is giving us His own righteousness through His Word of forgiveness, through Baptism, through His Supper. The Spirit is the One Who focuses us upon this, Who opens our minds to understand this, Who opens our hearts to believe. And so, we know that whenever one doesn’t point to Christ as the Savior, whenever anyone points to what we must do to win God’s love, what we must give to earn our salvation – we know that they are not speaking with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit speaks concerning Christ’s righteousness, the righteousness by which we have life.

And finally, our Lord tells us that the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” Christ Jesus has won the victory over the world, over the devil, over the powers of evil. But right now, we don’t always see that. We look around and see wickedness and vileness and evil. We see Christians persecuted, we see Christians mocked. And we ask ourselves – why doesn’t Jesus just hurry up and come back? The Apostles and the Early Church, they asked themselves that. Luther wanted Christ to return quickly. We do ourselves! Thy Kingdom Come. Come, Lord Jesus! That is the prayer of the Church. And why does Christ delay – I can’t answer fully. It’s good that He does – If Christ had returned in Luther’s day none of us would be here, so we know that God’s love for us had some part in His delay, that He’s waited for us to be brought to faith. How long – that’s in His hands – we trust in Him and pray as He has commanded us. But in this meantime until His second coming, we see the world, and it can be easy to become depressed. We see dog eat dog to get ahead, and we can wonder if our suffering is worth it. And the world continually calls out to us, offers us vain, fleeting promises. And we are tempted. And at those times, the Holt Spirit comes and uses the Word of God to speak to us directly and with conviction this truth – that the ruler of this world is judged. The Holy Spirit points us to the true victory that we have in Christ, the eternal victory. This is why Luther has us sing in A Mighty Fortress “This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will – he can harm us none – he’s judged, the deed is done. One little word can fell him.” Or even our sermon hymn, as I can’t just have us sing A Mighty Fortress every Sunday – verse 7 – “To me He said 'Stay close to Me, I am your rock and castle. Your ransom I myself will be; for you I strive and wrestle. For I am yours and you are mine, and where I am you may remain; the Foe shall not divide us.” Pay attention to what we will sing in a few moments – if you're too bashful to sing, at least open up the hymnal and read along. This Hymn is all about what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit takes the Word of God and makes us to see the victory we have in Christ – even now, even in spite of the world. This is the job of the Holy Spirit.

And so yes, my dear friends, the Holy Spirit is active today, He is the Helper we need today – but He doesn't work necessarily with flash and spectacle. Not necessarily with wonder and awe. No, the Spirit uses the Word of God to speak decisively and with conviction that which we need. The Spirit with boldness proclaims the Law, so that we repent of our sin, all of our sin. The Spirit with boldness proclaims the Gospel, the righteousness of Christ, so that we might cling to Christ alone. And the Spirit with boldness proclaims Christ’s victory over the world, that we might live in confidence and joy. We are part of the Christ’s Church, spread through the world, yet united to our Lord through the working of the Holy Spirit. Let us now then see the fullness of this, and join in with our brothers and sisters in all times and in all places, with angels and archangels even – in our Lord’s most Holy Supper. Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Easter 3 Sermon

Easter 3 – April 9th and 10th, 2016 – John 10:(10)11-16

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
I am going to go back one verse earlier than our Gospel lesson – I could go back more because John 10 begins with this discussion on sheep and the Good Shepherd, but let’s content ourselves with just one. John 10:10 reads as follows: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The old thief, the old wolf has been hounding us since the garden. Satan has been stealing and snatching and killing and destroying since then. And God will not let that stand. God is not content to simply let Satan mess with you, not content to let Satan snatch you away from His Kingdom, not content to let Satan lead you into destructive sin and vice, not content to merely let you die. And so, Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd comes. And why? So that you may have life, so that you may have it abundantly.

And then we get to our Gospel text. How are you to have life? How are you to be rescued from Satan who would do you such harm? “I Am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” What an odd thing. What a strange thing. And of course it is strange, it is the mystery of the ages. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. To our cold and calculating human mind, this verse seems strange. Think about it – plenty of you have livestock, and of course you want to protect them… but are you really going to die protecting them? Not accidentally, but on purpose? If the pack of coyotes comes, are you willingly going to let them chew and gnaw on you so that that old grey mare of yours gets to live? Defend, protect what is ours, we get that. But literally to lay down your life for…sheep? According to cold, hard logic, that makes no sense.

It made no sense to Satan on Good Friday either. There was Christ Jesus upon the Cross, laying down His life. When He could have come down, when He could have run away. That is what Satan had been used to since the fall – “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and flees, and the wolf snatches and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” That’s your description of the history of the world since the fall. Satan entered the garden, and Adam suddenly stopped caring for Eve – It’s her fault God, it’s the woman You gave me who messed this up. Adam cared little for her, take her instead of me. Cain would ask, “am I my brother’s keeper”? I care nothing for him, God, and why should I? And on and on through the Old Testament we could go – we see examples of selfishness and disdain of the neighbor over and over and over. We see it all over, even in the New Testament, whenever we see someone other than Christ. And to be honest, we see it in ourselves. None of us here has to think too hard to think about the times we have been selfish, where we have cared more about ourselves than our neighbors, when we have let someone else suffer rather than suffering in their place. It ain’t my problem, why should I bother? Or even closer – drop the ball for your family this week, let a friend twist and hang? Let someone else do the hard work while you went off and did something else? That's what sinful folks end up doing – we pass the buck. And so Satan was used to jumping in, stealing us away from one another, scattering us, killing our friendships and loves and relationships, while we would run in terror. Satan was used to us men fleeing at his approach. We all like sheep have gone astray.

And then, there is Christ. He doesn’t flee. He doesn’t run away. He doesn’t let Himself be scattered. He does not stray. Instead, when the wolf comes He steps forward and says, “Here you go, wolf, take a big giant bite out of Me.” And He lays down His life. He suffers and dies. Why? Because He wants you to live, to have life abundantly. See, the lie, the myth that sinful man believes is that if he can just keep running, he can outrun sin and death and the devil. That we can be selfish and duck and dodge and keep getting our own, keep running away from every responsibility we face. Let Satan gobble that sheep over there, and he won’t be hungry anymore, and then I can get away and get on with my life. There’s an old joke – “two guys stumble across an angry bear in the woods, and the one guy starts to tie his shoes tightly. Why are you doing that, you aren’t going to out run the bear? I don’t have to out run the bear, I just have to out run you.” That’s how we think – these tough times might get them, but as long as I get through it, it will be fine. We can be callous and cutthroat to survive in the short term – but we forget the simple truth. Satan is relentless. Sin doesn’t stop. The wicked world never stops whirling, and what goes around is coming around again. Run away, seek to save and serve yourself, and it gets you no where. You still end up the same as everyone else. You know what there is? Dead. You run the rat race for riches – you still can’t take it with you. He who dies with the most toys, still dies. Because Satan is relentless, and if left to ourselves, well, as Luther's old hymn puts it, with might of ours could naught be done – soon were our loss effected.

But then Christ comes, and He lays down His life for the sheep. Instead of running, instead of hoping that the wolf will snack on the neighbor so that He could maybe make it until tomorrow (when the wolf will just be back for more) – Christ Jesus goes to the cross – and there on the cross He gives death a meal that it can’t swallow. He gives Satan more than He can chew on. Jesus lays down His life, and then, He rises again on the third day. Death is destroyed, Satan is wrecked. And you now have life – not a life where you simply scramble and hope to survive just a bit longer than your neighbor – but life, life abundantly. Life that lasts through all eternity. Even if Satan still scowls fiercely, even if your flesh and the world grouse and complain – you know the truth. That Christ Jesus has died for you, that He has risen for you, and that in Him you have life. And Satan can’t change that fact. There is nothing that Satan can do that will stop the fact that on the last day you will rise again. There is nothing the world can do to change the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you and that you are His and that He loves you. The Good Shepherd is your Shepherd, and He has laid down His life for you.

“I Am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the Sheep.” You know who this Good Shepherd is, for you are His own. You belong to Him, and you know, you know that He has laid down His life for you. He has claimed you as His own through the preaching of the Gospel – the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith – that faith which clings to Christ Jesus who has laid down His life for you. This is the heart of the Christian faith, the heart of how you relate to God. Christ Jesus has laid down His life for you – and it worked. You are His, you are forgiven, and He even accomplishes His good through you among your neighbors. This is true. This is real.

And Christ continues, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one Shepherd.” Now this is where for too many preachers, the bait and switch comes in. This is where suddenly all the nice stuff about Jesus goes away and you get the lecture about what you need to do. Alright, go find those other sheep, people, go, work, work, work! We could even do a guilt trip – Jesus was so nice for you, can't you just do this for Him? But there's one major problem with that. Is that what Jesus said? No. Jesus said, “I must bring them.” What Jesus speaks here isn’t a command – it isn’t marching orders, it isn’t finger wagging. Rather, it is a promise of what He will do. He will gather His Sheep by the power of His voice, the power of His Word. The Church will continue. Now, humanly speaking, this may happen through us. I've baptized plenty of folks, but is that *me* - Eric Brown growing the Church, or is that Jesus gathering His own sheep? You speak the Gospel to a friend and they believe and are comforted – but is that *you* growing the Church, or is that Christ speaking through you to accomplish what He wills? You see, this passage isn’t meant to be a burden, it isn’t about “you need to do more” – and if someone beats you over the head with this, they are off. No, it is a promise – that just as you have been called by the Gospel, so too others will be. Perhaps even through God working through you – either way, it’s God at work, God in action, to Him alone be the glory. Christ Jesus will gather His sheep, and there will be one flock, and we will all together be under Christ. For He is our Good Shepherd, and He indeed gathers His sheep and brings them peace.

And so, my dear Christians friends, we know and have seen that Christ’s Words are true. He has laid down His life for the sheep, and He has taken it up again. In Christ Jesus, you do have life and life abundantly, for He has called and gathered you into His flock, and His voice still rings out to you this day, saying peace be with you, forgiving your sins, giving you life. He's the Good Shepherd; that's what He does, that's what He died and rose in order to win and give to you. This is the joy and triumph of Easter, this is the Victory that is yours in Christ, and it shall be yours forever, for you belong to Christ. Amen. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The 8th Commandment and Logs

The Eighth Commandment.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
What does this mean?--Answer.
We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

" A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye." - Luke 6:40-43

Here I am going to set forth just a few thoughts on whom you ought to criticize and how.  This is especially portaining to theological critiques - especially as in our social media days, the critiques come flying fast and furious.

Here's my approach.  It's not a popular one.  I know I've annoyed plenty of folks with it.  But here is an explanation and an apology there of.

When it comes to talking, I try (and often fail) to take the 8th commandment seriously - meaning I think, when discussing someone and their failings, or even their erroneous points of view, it is laid upon us to "speak well of him and put the best construction on everything."  This doesn't mean saying that what is wrong is right, but rather:

A - let's be really slow to vilify, and
B - let's see where a person is right as well.  Instead of just smacking them for error, at least lets see that they are somewhat close to the kingdom =o)

And I do this because I operate on a simple assumption - I am just as flawed at that person whose theology I want to skewer, and I can fall into not merely the same sort of error, but even greater.  And if I see a speck in their eye, but I don't see the equivalent log in my own eye... then I'm not seeing clearly.

If you can't see a way that you yourself would collapse into a error that would be like-unto or mirror the error that you are criticizing... don't comment.  Rather, search yourself, lest you too fall into temptation, for sin likes crouching at your door.

Because I find, when I bear in mind my own weaknesses - it's easier to deal with people.  It's easier to bear with them patiently, because I've already borne up under much worse and much longer in myself (your speck has nothing on my log).  In fact, it's when I have disdain that I become haughty and arrogant and dismissive.

So - there's the goal.  The standard I see as set by Scripture and the Confessions.  To be quick to hear and slow to speak, slow to gab.  Knowing that my anger produceth not the righteousness of God.

And how is that person's error like my own ... for then I can say, "Yeah, I know that temptation.  I've carried it long and hard -- and here's why it is bad."

God grant that He hold me and use me as His servant, unworthy though I indeed am!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Easter 2 Sermon

Easter 2 – John 20:19-31 – April 2nd and 3rd, 2016

Christ is Risen – He is Risen, Indeed, Alleluia – Amen
Peace. This is the Word, the first Word that Christ speaks to the disciples after His resurrection, the Word that is the most important Word in the History of the World. Peace – Shalom – everything is fixed and fine and perfect and it is finished and it's all good again – Peace. In fact, Peace to you. Okay, I suppose we should back up and start at the beginning of the text. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for the fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.'” So there they are, Easter evening. Everything that we heard last week had happened already – Mary Magdalene had told them that Jesus had risen. We hear in Matthew's Gospel that the angels told the other gals that the disciples were supposed to head on up in Galilee to meet Jesus, and yet what do we see?

The disciples are hiding in a locked room. Hiding and afraid. Hadn't they heard? Don't they know what is going on? Well... yeah, they had heard. But they also know what else they had heard and seen. They had heard and seen the soldiers bust into the garden of Gethsemane! They had heard and seen the mob shout, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” John had even stood there and watched Jesus die. And that evening, at that moment, in the minds of the disciples, the reality of the potential dangers of soldiers or an angry mob coming for them seemed to be a bit bigger, a bit of a higher priority than some “vauge rumors” of a resurrection, especially when given by those, those, those women.

Jesus, as always, shows great and utter patience. And He shows up in that room where the disciples are locked in. Locks don't bother Him – He is Christ Jesus, God Himself risen from the dead – He will go where He pleases now, thank you very much, and no door that the disciples or you or I lock is going to stop Him any. And there He stands in front of His disciples, and what do you think He sees? Does He see pathetic, fearful men who don't listen? Does He see doubt and disbelief and anxiety? Does He see disobedient disciples who need to be admonished, yelled at, whipped into shape? In a word, does He see failures? Because that'd be one way to describe, one way to look at the disciples right there. The lousy friends who ran away, who abandoned Him. The feet He had washed Thursday Night had run away pretty quickly. If Jesus had laid into them, ripped them a new one, not a one of them would have been able to defend themselves against His accusations.

But when Jesus looks out across that room and sees the disciples, He doesn't see failures. He doesn't see disobedient or foolish disciples. Of course not – all their failure, all their disobedience, all the folly – Jesus Christ Himself took that up upon His own shoulders on Good Friday and crucified it. And so Jesus sees rightly – He sees simply forgiven and redeemed men, and so Jesus speaks the great truth, a truth greater and more wondrous than their failures. He proclaims His victory. Peace be with you. Peace. Everything is right, everything is good, everything is set up for eternity, and just as I have risen from the dead, you folks will rise and will live forever. You want the proof - “When Jesus had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.” Do you think it's scary out there, disciples? Are you worried about what they might do to you? Well, they might – fellas, they did it to Me. See, check out the nail marks, check out the spear wound – eh? Doesn't stop Me from rising. Pretty cool, eh? It is only when Jesus has shown them that He has indeed come through the worst the world can throw at Him, that the disciples then relax and rejoice and celebrate.

And then Jesus does something wonderful. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” Yep, this peace is real. This peace that I am proclaiming is the highest truth in the world. And you know what – just as I was sent to speak it to you, I'm going to send you disciples out, and you're going to proclaim that same peace to the whole world – there will be a big old Christian and Apostolic Church (because the Greek word for “sent” is Apostle), and the whole job of that Church will be to proclaim the peace of Christ Jesus. And He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” In fact, I'm am giving you My Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of life, and you are going to go and proclaim forgiveness to the world!

Now here's where we need to be careful, my friends – because we can misunderstand that last verse. I like the way the old King James translated it - Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. It's not “if” in the sense as though I as a pastor in the Church get to sit and pause and look you up and down and say, “Well, I think I'll forgive you today... but not you, bwahahahahaha!” It's not a human ego and power trip. Rather Jesus is saying something wonderful; He says (as I translate it) - “Should you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven them; should you bind anyone, they have already bound themselves.” You apostles are going to go speak a word of truth, declare the forgiveness of sins because of My death and resurrection, and people are going to be forgiven. Now, will some shrug it off, deny it? Well, they've already bound themselves, they've decided to hang on to their sins – you'll get to tell them, “hey, you're hanging on to sin here” - but the point, the goal, the great thing is that Jesus has in fact died for the sins of the whole world. The point, apostles, is to forgive sins.

As a test case of this, our text continues. Now, Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord.” So far, so good, Apostles! Go and tell! Great! But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into His side, I will never believe.” Well... how's that reaction to the first sermon the Apostles preach? And here's the test – here's where the rubber meets the road. What do the rest of the Apostles see when they look at Thomas? You know, the one we like to call “Doubting Thomas”? Do they deride him? Do they cast him out away from themselves – away with you, doubter! We really only need ten apostles anyway – that's a nice round number! Do they view Thomas according to his failings, his doubting, his sin? Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Nope. No rejection, no casting him out, no getting rid of him. Yeah, yeah, yeah, ya doubt, well, come along Thomas. And so Thomas is with them the following Sunday (because the way the Jewish folks counted time, you included the day you were on). And then we hear this: Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” There they are – all 11 of them together this time, and the doors are again locked. Were they just placating Thomas, locking the doors for his sake, or maybe the week had gotten to the rest of the disciples too, and they were scared. Either way – doesn't matter. Jesus shows up and does His Risen Savior thing – Peace be with you. See, that's the point, still, Peace.

But wait, even peace for Thomas? Even peace for stubborn, defiant, doubting Thomas? Well... yeah. Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” There's no lecture, no finger wagging. In fact, Thomas is invited to let his finger do a bit of wiggling and wagging. If you want to go poke and prod, feel free. Let's get rid of that no-faith that you've got and give you faith. Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and My God.” Yep. There's faith. Good. That was the point, the goal. And you know what Thomas – you're going to be preaching to people, people who don't get this finger poking chance. Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Yep – there we here get mentioned in today's text – Jesus isn't going to leave you out. His peace is for you. You are blessed in Him. His Word, His preaching is for you – [T]hese are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. There's the program. Jesus has died for the sins of the world, and He has risen, and you get told about it so that you get to have life. Instead of clinging to sin and fear, you are given faith to cling to Christ and His Peace. Peace be with you!

My dear friends in Christ – this is the truth, the truth that is proclaimed in this service week in and week out, that we proclaim to each other during the week, the truth we were baptized into, the truth we sink our teeth into and wrap our lips around in the Supper – that Christ Jesus has won forgiveness for our sins and the sins of the whole world. And we are given, as Christ's Church, the duty to sound forth the clarion call of forgiveness to the world. And we do this without judgment, without condemnation – Jesus took that all up. If someone chooses to be stubborn and cling to their sin – alright, suit yourself – but we'll still be here proclaiming forgiveness. Because that's the truth, the reality. Sin is forgiven. Death is undone. And no pouting, no disbelieving spoil sport out there gets to change that truth, that reality. And as for you here – yeah, Satan and Sin and the World are still going to try to terrify you. And sometimes they will, for in this life, you will se e some pain, some fear, some doubt, some sorrow. But you know what – over there in that window, that picture of the Risen Christ, there's Jesus, standing in the posture of blessing – and if you look, you'll see the nail mark in His hand – that hand held up blessing you – nail mark right there. Yeah – pain, fear, doubt, sorrow – He's already seen it all, and it did its worst to Him, and He rose – and He, the Risen Christ, is the one who blesses you, who says peace to you. And that's the reality – and come the Last Day when He comes again, His peace will finally be the only thing you'll see, even unto all eternity. This is most certainly true. And why? Well, you know the answer – Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, alleluia. Amen.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sunday Sermon

Easter Sunday, 2016 – John 20:1-18

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +
A long time ago, there was a man who was a gardener. And it was the best job in the world. He literally was in the perfect garden, a garden so lush and teeming with life we can't comprehend it, even after a trip to the best botanical garden in the world today. And it was the best job in the world. This gardener, Adam by name, and his wife Eve were simply to tend this garden, and live there, enjoy the bounty thereof. But they blow it. The forbidden fruit is eaten, and Adam rips apart the garden, brings sin and death into the world. Genesis chapter 3 starts with Adam and Eve being in the garden – Genesis chapter 4 has Adam and Eve having to sit by and watch as one son murders another, watching and knowing that we were the ones who messed this all up. And the world was changed, was broken. And he died.

Now, let's jump many, many years later – still almost 2000 years ago, but down the road from Adam. People have gotten used to death. Become accustomed to it. And this is what we hear just before our Gospel lesson this morning, the very end of John 19, of our Lord's Passion. “Now, in the place where [Jesus] was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” Do you see the change in what a garden is? The garden of life is replaced by a garden designed for death. We don't get to live in the garden – no, while we're alive we're stuck with hard work out in the real world, but at least where our dead are laid, we try to keep the grass neat, have some flowers, maybe some well tended trees. What a turn around. And so, Sunday morning, early, we hear this. “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Mary, early, returns to the second garden. Adam and Eve couldn't have gone back to the first garden – there was an angel with a fiery sword to keep them from doing that. But Mary trudges out early in the morning, heads there with a grim task. The burial had been so sudden, the death so violent and public and perhaps close to a riot, that the women hadn't be able to do their part, to prepare the body for a burial. Oh sure, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had wrapped Jesus' body in spices, but then as now, there are just some things women didn't trust men to do right. A lot of distrust since that first garden. But at any rate, there was a barrier for Mary – not an angel to keep the living out of the garden, but a giant stone. Meant to keep scavenging animals away from the dead, meant to keep the smell away from the living. But that barrier, that stone, that thing meant to separate the living and the dead – it's been rolled away.

So Mary runs. Runs to Peter and John. Two disciples. They should know what to do! Mary says, They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Mary thinks it's even worse than scavengers. Maybe the Romans have come to defile the body, maybe the chief priests are ordering yet more shame to be heaped upon her Lord. So Peter and John take off – John notes that he, being younger and faster than old Peter, gets there first – but John just stops and stares in wonder at the empty tomb. Peter, he might be a bit slower but he's a lot bolder – he just charges in. “He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” The cloth shouldn't be there. If animals had busted in somehow, they wouldn't have been so neat. If the Romans or the Jews had carried His Body away, they would have kept the cloth, used it to carry Him. And they are stumped, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.” And John admits it – we didn't know, we didn't understand what was happening, because we didn't know the Scripture. Of course Jesus was going to rise, that had been the point all along. But they didn't get it. And so, they go home.

Mary, Mary doesn't. Poor forgotten about Mary. She runs to get help from Peter and John, and they just leave her there. Good job men, way to be polite. Men dropping the ball when it comes to serving women, something else we've seen way too much of since the fall. But at any rate, “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping?' She said to them, 'They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.'” Oh, Mary – she sees, but she doesn't see quite yet. Instead of the angry angel with the fiery sword that will cut you down – this Garden now has a pair of nice, comforting angels. This is a step up. But Mary, doesn't quite grasp it yet. And she turns to leave. “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?'” Mary is so distraught, so upset at the turns and twists her life in the world has taken, that she can't even recognize Jesus standing in front of her. And hear what Jesus says – it's not “Wumman, why ya weepin'?” It's actually very polite language – Miss, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?

“Supposing Him to be the gardener...” Just hold that in your back pocket for a moment - “Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” How distraught is Mary? The best she can hope for, the help she thinks to ask for is – let me drag a corpse through this garden. And Jesus gives her more than should could have possibly imagined in that moment. “Jesus said to her,'Mary,' She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, 'Rabboni!' (which means Teacher).” Jesus calls her by name. No, Mary, you don't get to drag me through the garden. And this is funny, it's joyous. Mary glomps on to Him, gives Him a massive bear hug – and He says, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to My brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.'” No, Mary, I told you that you don't get to drag Me through the garden. So, let go. I've got stuff to do, gal. Come on – you go tell the disciples that I have risen and that I am putting everything in order again. And she listens – she trusts Jesus to do this right – and she tells all these things to the disciples.

Here's something neat in this text. Mary was right, more right than she knew, when she was supposing Jesus to be the Gardener. You see, the whole point of everything in Jesus' life was to clean up the mess of things that Adam had made. St. Paul will use that language of Old Adam and New Adam, Old Man and New Man. Old and New Gardener works just as well. His entire ministry was Gardening. People needed to be fed and watered, demons need to be weeded out, diseases need to be cleaned up. Here we see Jesus, standing there in that garden, which had been a garden of death, standing triumphant. Because this isn't the first time we've see Jesus take a walk in a garden. And I'm not even talking about the Garden of Gethesame on Maundy Thursday.

No, many, many years ago, the Word of God, the LORD God almighty, had been taking a walk in His garden as He was wont to do. Of course did – as John 1 reminds us “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him.” So of course the Word, the LORD God would go walking through His garden. But that day, it was different. His creation, His highest and favorite, Adam and Eve, they had sinned. They're off hiding in the bushes. And the Word, the LORD God, called them out, got them to confess what had happened, and He does have to let them deal with some of the temporary consequences of their actions. For a time, things were going to be lousy for His Adam, His Eve, for their children and His children. But in the middle of dealing with Adam and Eve, the Word of God pauses, because if His creation is going to be rightly tended, He's going to have to be the One to do it. And standing in that Garden as the fall comes sweeping in, the LORD God Almighty eyeballs Satan and says “You don't get to mess with mankind. I'm going to become Man, because there's some emnity between you and me, Satan, and I'm going to become Man and fix it. You'll strike, you'll bruise my heel, but I'm going to crush you, I'm going to crush this death you've helped bring about.”

And there, on Easter morning, stands Christ Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, the LORD God almighty. There He stands, with pierced, bruised feet, staring at an empty tomb in a middle of a garden. The time of gardens being a place of death is passing – there's a touch more for Jesus to do. And He gets to it. Now He has, as He told Mary and through her the disciples, ascended to the Father. And He's going to come again, and when he does, every tomb in every garden on this planet will burst open, and out will stride His brothers and sisters, from Adam and Eve, on to us, on to any generations that might come after us. And then, He will give us a new heavens and a new earth – the New and Better Gardener will plant us a new one without even a hint or memory of death in it.

Until then, we are in the here and now. We still mess up, still have distrust and a lack of concern for others that pops out more often than not. And even, sometimes, in the midst of our tears we don't always see our Risen Lord and Savior as we ought. But here, my friends, is the truth, the truth we rejoice in and celebrate this Easter Morn. Christ Jesus our Lord is Risen – He has defeated Satan and Sin and Death. And you know what – He's a good Gardener, and He tends you. The Good Gardener has watered you, watered you in Holy Baptism – so what you hear in John 20 is yours – His death and resurrection is your death and resurrection. The Good Gardener even feeds you, gives you Himself, so that the very bread of life comes to you and forgives you now, promising you the resurrection. Because of Christ, on every single day of your life, from the best to the worst, I can say that Christ Jesus has won you forgiveness and life. He had told us on the Cross that sin and death and all junk is finished. What remains for you is life, His life, life everlasting. All thanks and praise be to Christ Jesus our Lord! Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday, 2016 – The Passion According to John

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
He could have stopped it. Over and over again, He could have stopped it, stopped His passion. Reading through the Passion, we see so many times and places where Jesus could have escaped. “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place.” It would have been simple enough to put things off – pick a different garden, a different place to pray. But no, since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, Christ would go to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas knew He would be.

Even there, He could have stopped it. “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’ Judas, who betrayed Him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground. So He asked them again, ‘Whom do you seek.’” There’s no trickery, no denial. Jesus doesn’t put on a disguise and a fake mustache, He doesn’t say you have the wrong man. No, instead, He says “I AM!” – and the soldiers fall back in terror. And yet, even then, Jesus doesn’t flee. Of course He doesn’t. He had not created man to live in terror and fear – that’s the effect of a sinful, fallen world, and Christ will relieve fear, even the fears of the soldiers who come to arrest Him. I am the one you are looking for, I will go quietly, do not be afraid.

And even then, He could have stopped it. Peter drew his sword – Peter was ready to fight – and off came an ear. And yet, what does Jesus do? Give a war cry – up and at ‘em, boys? No. “So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given Me?’” No, Jesus had enough of swords in gardens. The flaming sword the angel held to keep man out of Eden was more than enough – no more swords in gardens, not this night Peter.
And so He goes. They bind Him and drag Him off, and then the High Priest and his lackeys question Him. And Jesus won’t debate them. “Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.’” He could have stopped it. When Jesus taught openly and in public, He repeatedly put the Scribes and the Pharisees to shame – showed them their foolishness. He could have done the same here, He could have run circles around the High Priest. But that is not why He is here – He isn’t here to show forth His intellectual and theological dominance. And so it continues.

He is taken to Pilate. He could have stopped it. Pilate seemed to like Jesus well enough – Pilate found no guilt in Him, and that’s even without Jesus buttering Pilate up. Pilate would have been a strong ally – I’m no threat to you, in fact, I could be a wedge you could use against the Chief Priests. But Jesus did not come to drive wedges between Jew and Gentile, and so, even though He could have stopped it there, He did not.

Pilate still tries to stop it for Jesus. Pilate beats Jesus bloody, hoping that this will cause the crowds to pity Him. How’s that for Your day – where the kindest thing anyone does for You is to lash You to within an inch of your life, just in the hopes that others might pity You. But it doesn’t work. Crucify Him, Crucify Him – that remains the cry. And as for the crucifixion itself – John doesn’t spend much time focusing on the hours there, but we know it from other gospels. The taunting, the mockery. The cries that Jesus saved others but could not save Himself. And it is ironic, because even there, even on the Cross, Jesus could have stopped it. The angelic legions could have come, the wounds could have melted away and been healed, and Jesus could have come as the terrible avenging Judge, smiting all the mockers. But He doesn’t.

Instead, He thirsts. The One who said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” hangs there on a tree, fulfilling the Scriptures, thirsting Himself. Why? Because He will be satisfied, He will fulfill all righteousness, even as He told His cousin John at His baptism. He hangs upon the tree, He suffers. And, there upon the tree, He utters the words of wonder and sorrow and joy. It is finished. And He dies.

Jesus did put a stop to it. He put an end to it. The rebellion of mankind that started in the garden – it is finished. The separation that caused Adam and Eve to hide from God because they were naked – that is finished, God Himself hangs naked on a tree. The sin that cast man out of the garden – it is finished. The fear of condemnation – it is finished, for perfect love casts out fear, and on the Cross Christ shows forth perfect love. The flaming sword is extinguished, look, as they pierce Him from His side flow water and blood mixed together – it is finished. The foolish theological speculation, the attempts to prove yourself holy and righteous because of your deeds – that too is finished – John doesn’t show forth wit, he rather says, “I was there, I saw Him die.” The reason for Israel being called apart has been fulfilled, the Messiah has come, and thus now there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile – it is finished. And of course, the threat of doom, the pall of death that is cast over us all – It is finished. The Passover has come, and the Firstborn had been slaughtered so that we might live – it is finished. The Lamb has been slain, and Isaac will live, for it is Finished, and Abraham rejoices to see this Good Friday.

There is a good reason why Christ Jesus doesn’t bring His passion to a stop. With His passion He finishes off sin and death and Satan, and He breaks their power, their domain, their grip on you. And all that remains, the true, highest reality is this – that from the Cross flow water and blood and Spirit to give you life in Christ – the waters of Holy Baptism whereby your sin is washed away and destroyed because of Christ, the blood of the New Testament, whereby your sin is atoned for and you are given new strength and life, the Spirit of Life, who accompanies Christ Word's and makes you a new creation and gives you true life in Christ – these things ever end. These things always come from Christ to you because of His Passion, because of His Good Friday. He would never stop His passion, for His passion is for your good, and He will die so that you will live, He will drink the cup of wrath so you that will drink the fruit of the vine anew with Him eternally in His kingdom. All that separates you from God, from you neighbor – dear friends in Christ – It is finished. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Maundy Thursday, 2016 – John 13:1-15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
To be a Christian is to be a servant. It is as simple as that. This is the lesson that Christ our Lord teaches us this night. The example is clear. On the night when He was betrayed, just hours before He is to go to His passion, our Lord Jesus Christ pauses, rises from the Supper which He had just instituted, and He pauses, strips downs, puts on a towel, and carefully and individually washes the feet of every disciple there. Consider that for a moment – how much time that would take? You’ve got 12 disciples – at least a minute or two each to wash them well, and Jesus doesn’t do things not well, so at least 15 precious minutes, possibly even 30 minutes, devoted simply to cleaning their feet. Jesus didn’t have many minutes left – but He puts off the Words that John will record in the next few chapters, puts off the prayers in Gethsemane – and instead this act of service is given priority. And it is a lowly act of service. No one wanted to get down on their hands and knees and deal with the stench of the day’s grime on someone’s feet. It was the task of the lowest, most humble servant – and yet Christ stops, quietly goes about His task solemnly – only speaking when Peter is tomfoolish and stubborn. He corrects Peter, and then He meekly goes back to His work - and why? “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

This is the example of what the disciples’ lives, what our lives are to be. And the point is not specifically washing feet – this isn’t a command that we all ought kick off our shoes now – but rather this. To be a Christian, to be one who follows Christ, who says that Christ is True God and Savior, is to be a servant. And not an uppity servant who only does that which is fun and glorious – not a servant who only acts under threat of punishment – not a servant who only takes the easy jobs – but a servant who gets down in the muck and grime and serves even those who wouldn’t expect to be served. This is why Paul begins so many of his letters saying that he is a servant, literally a slave of Christ. To be a Christian is to give yourself constantly to others – to put them and their needs ahead of your own, to constantly give of your own time and effort to them simply to aid them.

This is something we learned in confirmation class. Not only are we not supposed to kill, but we are to support our neighbor in his life. Not only do we not steal, we help the neighbor to improve his possessions and income. Not only do we not lie about our neighbor, but we chose our words with care so that their reputation might be improved. This is the standard, this is the service that we are called to. This is what St. Paul means when he says that we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We are to abase ourselves, to make ourselves lower than our neighbor, to treat them as more important than ourselves. We are to seek to serve them, not seek to make them serve us.

And to be utterly honest, we find this command of God to be odious and burdensome, do we not? How often does it happen where an opportunity to show love, to be of service arises, and instead of welcoming it we joy, we grumble instead? We put on the brave face, but then mutter under our breath – how could this person be so foolish that they need my help again? Or how often do we hurry by folks, hoping that they don’t ask anything of us – how often do we turn our thoughts away from people lest we think of things that we ought to do for them? This is the plight of all sinful men – because in sin we desire not to serve but to be masters and rulers and in control. Sin makes us all desire to be petty tyrants, running roughshod over the lives of the people we come across. We desire to demand our way yet wish to have no demands placed upon us, to have our time and talents be ours to do with as we please while the needs of others slide away beneath our notice. They aren’t my problem. This is the heart of sin – and when our Lord washes His disciples feet – this is the lesson He teaches. Repent of your sin, O Christian; repent of your selfish desires, O disciple! If you hold Christ to be a Teacher, then learn of His example – you are to serve just as He serves, you are to let His life shape yours, you are to strive to be conformed to Him rather than trying to make Jesus fit your time and your desires. To be a Christian is to be conformed to Christ, to be shaped like Him, to be modeled upon Him. This is the goal that you are to strive for, and any thought, any feeling that would hinder this needs to be beaten down.

Yes, Christ Jesus is our example, but He is not only an example. He is the great servant of all, who comes to seek and save the lost. Christ Your Lord and Teacher is good, and He knows you well. He knows the frailties of your flesh, for indeed, in His incarnation, in His passion, He Himself bore them up. He knows that you of yourself have not the strength to repent as you ought, have not the strength to live as you ought, have not the strength to serve as you ought. And thus this time of teaching, this example is encased between two wondrous things. First, our Lord gave to the Disciples His most holy Supper – then, He gets up from washing their feet and goes to the Cross. To aid you in your striving to follow His example, He leaves for you His Supper, in which He gives to you His own Body and Blood – and this Supper gives you forgiveness – but it also gives you life, life that you live now, life that wells up in you and through you. It's the prayer after the Supper – that we are strengthened in faith towards God and in fervent love for one another... you realize that is a prayer asking God that we would be made fervent and eager servants, right? That we would show better and better actual care and service to one another? And this is what the Supper does indeed work in us. We are given strength, Christ's own strength, in this Supper.

Yet Christ knows you, knows this world, knows the frailty of your flesh. Those disciples who ate and drank His Supper that Maundy Thursday night were by no means suddenly perfect. Indeed, when the soldiers came, they all fled. They all failed. And none of us harbor any illusions that because we partake of this Supper tonight that the problems we faced this morning will evaporate and be gone. We will be strengthened and prepared... yet still, we will often fail. And so Christ Jesus, the true and great servant, goes forth, and without fail He goes to the Cross. And there, with His death, He destroys death – He changes the world, so that while we might not wake up perfect tomorrow, there will be a day, a glorious day, the last day, where on account of His perfect death and resurrection, on account of His declaration that It is Finished, we will rise to perfect life, we will completely follow His example pure. Until then, we receive His forgiveness, we receive His Supper and thus proclaim His death for us until He comes again. His service to you, this Divine Service remains now for us, even until we see it in full. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Palm Sunday Homily

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” When it comes to how we here in this room are to think, to act, we are called to think on and think of Christ Jesus. This is what Paul teaches us in our Epistle lesson. But what does this mean – I see so many times where folks will put forth ideas of what they think Jesus would or wouldn’t do… who He would vote for, what car He would drive, stupid stuff like that. But Paul doesn’t direct us to hypotheticals – he isn’t trying to say that Jesus is on our side in some political debate. No – you want to know what the mind of Jesus is – what He thinks? Then you look to His passion.

“Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Christ Jesus is God. He had all the rights and privileges that God has. But He doesn’t stand on them, He doesn’t demand them. Even though He is God, He becomes man – He humbles Himself to be born of a virgin, as the old song puts it. First and foremost, Christ doesn’t demand His rights, doesn’t demand what is due Him. What does Jesus think like? He never says, “This is beneath Me, this isn’t worth my time.” No, for us men and for our salvation, He came down, He lowered Himself, He made Himself a servant, made Himself a nothing, a nobody like us. For our sake.

“And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” What is Jesus thinking? He will be obedient – He will fear, love, and trust in God above all things, even when, not if, but when it means His death, His death which we just heard. He will humble Himself – He will serve, even at cost to Himself. Dear friends in Christ, when we talk about what a Christian is to do, how we are to act, what we are to think – THIS is to be the answer. We are to show love, no matter what the cost to ourselves. Even unto death. That’s why each of you who are confirmed were asked if you would hold to this confession of faith, even unto death.

But, then we see the reality of our lives. Do any of us need to examine ourselves all that hard to see where fail to live up to this example that Christ sets? Where we worry about getting our way, getting our due, getting the respect that we deserve more than we worry about obeying God and serving our neighbor? Or even when we have been slow to show love to our neighbor, when we have hesitated – when we in fact harm them instead? The blunt truth is this: we fail.

Christ Jesus, though, does not fail you. This passion of His, which you just heard – that was for you. Christ Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, endures for you, for your good, all the punishment sin deserves. And why? So that you would be forgiven, so that your sin would be cleansed from you. Jesus doesn’t want to think of Himself as above you, as distant from you. And so, since you are sinful and fallen, He comes down to you, and He joins with you, takes the same punishments and pains you face – and He redeems you.

This week, this Holy Week, we will ponder in greater detail our Lord’s Passion for us. We will see and marvel at His great love, the depths to which He goes to win us life and salvation. And know this – He does not fail you. He has won you salvation, so that “God has highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” God be with you as we ponder His love for us together this week. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lent Midweek Sermon

Lent Midweek 5 – John 15 – I Am the Vine.

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
One more set of I AM statements remain for us this Lenten season. John 15. I am the Vine. And let us note where this takes place in John's Gospel. Once again, we are in the upper room – it is Maundy Thursday evening – these are words from the last bit of teaching that Jesus gives to the disciples before His death and resurrection. In fact, on the Sundays after Easter and before Pentecost, we'll be spending a lot of time in John 15 and 16 – but that's for then. Tonight, as our Lord is preparing the disciples and us for life in the world after the Crucifixion, He says, “I Am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Now, let's be honest – doesn't this sound a bit intimidating? Maybe even a bit scary? We're talking about branches being taken away (and later on in the text we hear about those being thrown into the fire and burned). And even if we do bear fruit, we are going to get pruned. Being pruned doesn't sound like fun. What's going on Jesus – are You talking here in order to give us the willies, to freak us out?

No. Jesus explains reality. Jesus tells us what our lives really are. He says, “Already you are clean, because of the Word that I have spoken to you.” We can miss it – but when you are pruning a tree, what are you doing? You are cleaning it. You're making it neat. I had an apple tree back in Oklahoma, and I didn't prune it like I should. I'd do a bit, but never give it the thorough pruning it needed. And it was a chaotic mess. A good treeman would have gone on in, pruned the branches back, and then the fruit would have grown thick and strong. I didn't... and let's just say in the 5 years I had the tree, I never got enough apples for a single pie. That's not the tree's fault; it's mine. God, though, is much better at tending you than I am at tending fruit trees. See, here's the reality for you, O Christian. As you live your life, you are going to see dead branches all around you – you are going to see people who fall away from Christ, who begin to ignore His Word that is preached in His Church. And they are going to fall away. And it's going to be sad, lousy, uncomfortable. But that's not you, not you here who are listening to His Word, because right now, God's Word is pruning you, cleaning you, preparing you to be fruitful.

There are times in our lives that God is going to prune us. For our own good. There will be times that God is going to let us struggle, so that we grow and develop, so that we grow in the directions that He wants rather than what the desires of our hearts dictate. There are going to be times that His Word lays bear our sin, our guilt, our pride, our arrogance. And we aren't really going to like it. But here's the thing – it really is for our own good. When St. Paul says that all things work together for our good, he's not saying “oh, someday it will all work out.” No – even now, in the midst of trouble and trial, God is shaping you, doing good to you, preparing you for fruit. Even as He prunes you, even as He cleanses you, even if it is hard, especially if it is hard, He is doing good for you. And how and why?

Well, here's the verse from this text that we all know. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in Him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Here's the simple, blunt truth about you and your life. It's not about you – it's really about Christ. Everything. Apart from Christ, you can do nothing. Even your good works – these aren't about you. They are about Christ, they are what Christ Jesus is doing in you and through you for your neighbor. As Lutherans we will talk about our vocations, the various callings that God has called us to – did you hear how that works... that God called us to, that God has placed us in; God is doing it. I get reminded of this as a Pastor all the time – I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word – called and ordained, ordered by God. It holds true for marriage - God gives spouses (therefore what God has joined together, let not man put asunder). It holds true for kids - God gives children. It holds true for our God-given talents, it holds true for jobs, for neighbors, for the people God puts into our lives – it all centers around what God has done, and what He will in turn accomplish through us for others.

You see, God is in control. Really. Really really. You don't have to try to figure out what God wants you to do, you don't have to try to plot out the future. He is in control. If He's placed you somewhere – well, He'll give the fruit. The fruit will flow, will come, will happen as you are in Christ. And see, that's the kicker. That's the hinge. Everything hinges upon Christ and how you are attached to Him. How you remain in Him. And that's by the Word, by abiding in Him, hearing His Word again and again, being shaped by it. And it really is as simple as that, as wondrous as that, as difficult as that. Consider what we hear in verse seven - “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Okay folks, here's the danger. “Whatever you wish.” We hear that, and our old sinful flesh wants to run wild. God's given me carte blanc for whatever I want, and I want a pony. God, how come you haven't given me my pony yet. Well, dang it, I wanted a pony, I haven't gotten it, God, why are you being so mean to me, why aren't you being faithful. The verse doesn't start, doesn't begin with what you wish – If you abide in Me and My words abide in you... that's where it starts. And if Jesus' Words abide in us... um... what's our prayer going to be? What is it that we will wish for? Jesus and what His Word says.

Jesus doesn't promise a pony. He didn't even get one Himself, He had to borrow one come Palm Sunday. And Jesus didn't come just doing whatever random thing He wanted – instead He prayed “Thy Will be Done.” And this is why we are pointed to Jesus and His Word – why we are taught to abide, not in our whims, not in our desires, but to abide in Him and His Word, to be constantly receiving from Him His good Word. Why? Because that is how we are pruned away from foolish desires. Because that is how we are cleansed. Because that is how we are given strength and life. God's Word talks a ton about love, about patience, about kindness and gentleness... about all those “fruits” of the Spirit. I Am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in Him, he it is that bears much... fruit. Fruits of the Spirit. Because when we are in Christ and in His Word – we see that a lot of our wants are off, and they get pruned. And we see and understand that we are called by God to love people, to be patient and kind with them, to be gentle, to exercise self control for them. And we learn to pray for these things – we learn to pray that God's name be hallowed, that His kingdom would come (even to us and for us and through us), that His will be done, that we be content with our daily bread. That we even learn to forgive the people God has put in our lives to be forgiven by us. And that we would be kept from temptation, that they would be pruned out of our lives, that we would be delivered from evil.

Because here's the crux of the matter, literally. Jesus is going to the Cross, to die and rise so that you receive forgiveness and life – and when you are in His Word, you receive forgiveness... and that forgiveness wells out of you and through you and bears fruit. If you want to forgive, you receive His forgiveness. If you want to be patient, you receive Christ's patience with you. All the fruit is what the Vine brings forth in you and through you – and apart from Him, nothing. And here is the wonder, the comfort. Jesus has prepared you for your life – and He gives you all that you need, He makes you to be fruitful in His Word. Really. It's the sin and fear of your old sinful flesh that tells you otherwise. But you, you're not mere sinful flesh. You aren't dried up branches waiting to be burned. You are alive in Christ, you are in His Word, you are baptized, you are forgiven, and when you are in Him, good works will flow, will blossom and fruit out – in ways in which our sinful flesh has no means of guessing or predicting. Because it's not about you. It doesn't rest up on you. We don't sing “The Church's one foundation is me, myself, and I.” It's all upon Christ, Christ for you and in you and through you – and whenever you are in His Word, you see this, you know this more and more. Because He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion – indeed, Christ Jesus will give you good works to do even throughout all eternity in the life of the world to come. Because they are His Works, and He is with you always, tied to you, even unto the end of the Age. He does the work, the work of the Cross; and He gives it to you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +