Saturday, April 21, 2018

Easter 4 Sermon

Easter 4 – John 16:16-22 – April 21st and 22nd, 2018

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia!
“You will weep and lament.... You have sorrow now.” Well, happy Easter everybody. We have reached a shifting point in the Easter Season – where instead of having lessons that emphasize that Christ is Risen, we have lessons that prepare us for what life in the Church will be like after Jesus has risen and ascended. Because this is a radical change for the disciples and for the Church. And what Jesus does on Maundy Thursday evening is that He spent lots of time giving the disciples a heads up, an explanation of how things were going to be. And what Jesus says is very blunt – but if you ride through the bluntness, you if accept it and deal with it, what Jesus says in full is utterly comforting. So, let's dive in.

“A little while, and you will see me no longer, and again a little while and you will see me.” Jesus starts off our text today with a puzzler – a very cryptic and mysterious sounding phrase. And it threw the disciples for a loop. 4 verses are spent basically reiterating this idea – you'll not see me, and then you will. It gets spelled out three times. Now, we get this, we understand this. We live after the resurrection, long after the disciples had lived. There is a shift coming – Jesus will die, then He will rise. The Saturday after Good Friday, you aren't going to see Jesus – but you will see Him again come Easter. And indeed, you will see Him again for all eternity in Heaven – even though while you're running around doing all your apostle stuff or your normal life, you aren't going to see Him. We're used to this idea – we're the folks from John 20 who have never seen and yet have believed. But think about what a shift this would have been for the disciples and the early Church. If you were a disciple, you lived with Jesus. You woke up – there's Jesus. And you ate your meals with Him, you spent your day with Him. You saw Him all the time. If you were a believer in Galilee, you could hear Jesus preach regularly.

That's coming to an end for the disciples. 50 some odd days out, and they're going to be the ones doing the preaching. That's a big shift – and that shift isn't going to happen nicely. There's not going to a graduation ceremony where they get a nice piece of paper – it's going to happen after Jesus gets nailed to the Cross. How's that for pomp and circumstance? And when Jesus is crucified, it is harsh. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” And Jesus wasn't lying. It's hard enough having a loved one die – now imagine there's a crowd jeering and cheering for their death. And Jesus doesn't soft sell how hard this will be – You will be sorrowful. Good Friday was a miserable day for the disciples. Even that first Easter was miserable – everyone was confused and afraid. Yet Jesus promises – but your sorrow will turn to joy. Your sorrow will turn to joy, so much so, in fact, that eventually we'll end up calling that day of sorrow “good Friday” because it is in fact a good day, the great day, the day when Christ defeats sin and death.

A moment if you will, to pause and think on joy. What is joy? What is meant by that when we come across that word in the Scriptures? I would remind you, friends, that St. Paul says that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. When we speak of joy, we aren't talking about a mere feeling. We aren't talking about “happiness”. This is a joy of which “no one will take your joy from you.” Why? Because by the Holy Spirit you know Christ's death and resurrection, and you know that it is for you. That's the joy – it's akin to the peace that surpasses all human understanding. Let's consider the example Jesus uses – When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish for joy that a human being has been born into the world. My mom was in labor for 36 hours with me – and while she might have often brought that fact up when I was doing something that annoyed her – she had joy. Didn't always mean happiness – there were plenty of times I annoyed the tar out of her – but there was still joy. Joy isn't describing an up and down emotion, it is the knowing and realizing that something is good – that everything really in Christ is good and will be good – even if right now doesn't look good.

Disciples, you are sitting here confused, you don't get what I'm saying to you – but really, everything is under control, everything is working out for your good, for your salvation, for your rescue. Even though the world jeers, even though sin fights hard to mess with you – I am still Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, and your rescue and salvation is in the bag. Now, when you see Me rescue you, it's going to scare you a bit, because I'm going to rescue you through death and resurrection, but it is good. And when I am raised, you'll know this as joy.

This also was the operating pattern for the Early Church – a promise that they needed to hear. The Early Church, the first generation or two, they expected Jesus' return – now. Lots of the New Testament is devoted to calming the fears of people who were wondering why Jesus' second coming didn't happen now. 1 Thessalonians deals with comforting those who mourned – those who have died are with they Lord, they don't miss the second coming, it's okay. John in chapter 21 has to warn people that he himself might die before Jesus returns, because there was a rumor that Jesus just had to come back before John died. No, that's not what Jesus said – He said that no man knoweth the hour, so you can't time the second coming by me. And so Jesus' words “a little while and you will see me no longer, and again a little while and you will see me” served as a reminder that the second coming was in fact coming – but coming on Christ's time table. Don't be surprised at the sorrow – don't be surprised at the persecutions that come and what Emperor Nero does to you in the coliseum. But know that you will see Christ in the end, and you will have joy that no one can take away.

And to be honest, it is also a reminder that for us now who are in the world, waiting for Christ's return – well, things will be hard on occasion. Maybe even often. You're going to have sorrow. You are going to be sinful people in a sinful world, surrounded by folks who do you harm. And here's the thing that is terribly hard for us. We see so much junk. So much terror and sorrow. And actually technology just makes it worse. Think about how quickly we can hear bad news today. Think about how quickly we can see it – images, pictures, videos of atrocities from the other side of the planet. And think about how terribly people can hound us, mock us, jeer at us. With social media for the kids, you can't hardly escape it. Bullies aren't just at the lunchroom – they can post junk about you all night now. And it's easy for us to see just the terror, just the junk – where we can't pull our eyes off of it, where it's everywhere we look, where it threatens to overwhelm us. If you want to be angry and offended and upset, if you want to live in a state of rage against the world, it is easier now than ever – from Fox News to Facebook, from MSNBC to Instragram – the world wants to shove sin and anger in your face – wants to rob you of all your joy.

And it's hard. Often we see the negative – often we want to see the negative, we want to see what stupid things “they” are doing. Or sometimes this is closer to home – we want to see the worst in our classmates and co-workers, even our family, and we wait like predators just waiting to see some flaw or weakness to jump upon. And it's a cycle and it feeds itself. That's the world of sorrow. And that is why Jesus notes that when we see Him, we will have joy. This is why we are instructed to focus our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. This is why Jesus reminds us that these people around us, the ones we want to call enemies – well, what you have done to the least of these my brethern, you have done it unto me. When we look at the world, we ought to see people for whom Christ Jesus died. We ought to see brothers and sisters in Christ. Even as the world shovels sin and hatred and disdain at us, we ought to see those whom God loves dearly.

And often we don't. Often we have a hard time ripping our eyes off of sin and death, and our flesh wants to run wild with it. Which is why Jesus says something very important in the last verse of our text. There is a subtle shift in the action that is very, very important. So also you will have sorrow now, but **I** will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Jesus has promised us that we will see Him – but our seeing Jesus isn't something that is done by our own strength or power. It doesn't rest upon us. Not by our own reason or strength – because it if were, well, we'd be up the creek without a paddle. With might of ours could naught be done. But Jesus says that HE HIMSELF will see us. Jesus is the one in charge here – not you, not the sorrow of the world, and He sees you, He knows your struggles, He knows your hardships. So He sees you, and He makes you to see Him, He turns your eyes off of sin and pulls you back to Him by His Word and Spirit. Jesus makes you repent – refocuses you to where you see Him and His forgiveness and mercy and love. He gets in your face about it. He gets in your mouth about it – here, take and eat, take and drink. See Me and My love for you.

And you have joy that the world cannot take away. You're baptized – that's what your Baptism means – it means that Jesus sees you, knows you by name, and that you are His, not the world's, not Satan's, not sin's – that you don't belong to that sorrow, but rather you belong to Him. And the world can never change the fact of your baptism – the world can't change the fact that Jesus died and rose again, and that His death and resurrection was for you. It might distract you from it – your sinful flesh might want you to focus on things other than the fact that you are a baptized child of God, than the fact that you are the light of the world because Christ Jesus is the Light and He is your Lord – but it can't change the fact that you belong to Christ Jesus – that He sees you, and that He loves you, and that He is well pleased with you. That He sees you not as a sinful, sorrowful mess – because He took that all up on the Cross and did away with that, because He washed you clean in your baptism so that you are spotless and radiant in His sight. Jesus sees rightly, because He sees you always through His death and resurrection, through your baptism. And when we see poorly, when we start to see mainly the sorrow and sin – He comes to us again and again and makes us to see His love and mercy and forgiveness – He even calls us to pour out that love and mercy and forgiveness upon others in this world so that they would see something beyond sorrow, so that they would see Jesus too.

That's what life in the Church is. That's what being New Testament people is – we are folks who have received the Holy Spirit so that we still see Christ and know that He sees us, even in this world. We're going to spend the next few weeks hearing and learning about how the Spirit focuses us upon Christ – and that good, because Jesus really has won it all and conquered it all for you – even the hardships. Therefore, we still rejoice and say – Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Easter 2 Sermon

Easter 2 - April 7th and 8th, 2018 - John 20:19-31

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.
Jesus doesn’t dillydally around. He gets to the point. He isn’t one for small talk, He doesn’t waste the disciples’ time in pointless chit-chat or self aggrandizing speeches. The very Word of God Himself is very efficient in using His Word – He wants His Word to do what it needs to do. This is what we see and learn from our Gospel lesson this Sunday. On the evening of that day [that is, Easter], the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” What do you make of that? There’s no “hi there guys.” No “so how are you all doing?” Peace be with you. And He shows His hands and feet – see, it really is Me, I am indeed risen – those women weren’t crazy after all. Jesus gets to the point.

So what was that point? Let us look at what Jesus says and does. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” Jesus gets to the point. Here it is, Easter day. Christ has been sacrificed, Christ has been raised. Things will be different now. There is no more need for all the sacrifices in the temple. There is no more need for all the cultural laws that kept Israel separate from the other nations, for the Messiah has come and done His duty. From now on, we are in end of days, the time of the Church – and Jesus sets it off.

In the past 2000 years there has been a lot of discussion about what the Church needs, what it should do to grow, how it will grow. There have been lots of theories, lots of different approaches. What do we tell people about? How do we get them in? I’ve seen various commercials for Churches – we offer this program, if you come here your family will be nicer to each other. Is that the key? That we offer folks a product that they will want to consume – even a good product? I drive down Kankakee, and there are signs telling me about exciting worship. Is that the important thing – that we be exciting and lively? That it could be like a rock concert, except more holiness and less smoke! Is that the key, that we be more entertaining? Of course, all these advertisements are different than last year, or five years ago. I just had a telemarketer leave a voicemail Friday for some new thing. Is that the key, to always be changing, to always be trying to be more hip and cool than… well, I don’t know who more cool than, but is that it?

Call me simple, but rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, or in this case the Church – I’d rather just look to what Christ says. Jesus shows up to the disciples, He gets ready to send them out – and what does He say? What is the essence, what does everything that we do as a Church flow out of or come from? What does Jesus tell the disciples that they are to do? Go and forgive sins. Preach the forgiveness of sins – and everything else flows from there.

There is a drastic need for forgiveness in this world, but it’s one we tend not focus on – in fact, it is one that we can shy away from. It’s easy to want to focus on “the family” – shoot, every politician says they are focused on family values, except that doesn’t mean anything. Or excitement – our culture thrives on excitement – simply watching TV or Youtube will show you that. And change – well – some churches go after those that want change – they say we are contemporary. Some churches will go after those that are annoyed by change – they say we are traditional. Or the Churches that proclaim that they are progressive – some like that! These are all terms we are comfortable dealing with. But are we really comfortable dealing with forgiveness – with the thing that Jesus sets before us as of most importance? Are we comfortable with seeing the need for forgiveness?

If you say that someone needs forgiveness, you are implying, you are saying that they have done something wrong. That doesn’t tend to be popular. Might upset them. But this isn’t a chance to sit and bash others – this isn’t a chance to talk about everyone else. Let’s talk about us. In fact, when we talk about the fact that we here need forgiveness – when we get to the meat and bones of the Law and look at our own sin – that can be quite uncomfortable, can’t it. How often do you squirm a little bit in a sermon when I start hitting the “wrong” law – the one that hits too close to home? I know I do. Or how often do you get upset when it lands on a certain topic that might touch too close to your own personal history? I don’t like it when the text does that for me. Talking about sin is uncomfortable. It isuncomfortable talking to other people about their sin, face to face. It can be quite scary to confront your own sin. It seems easier sometimes to just let the topic of sin go. Excitement, tradition, progress, justice in society – good. Sin – my sin, that's quite scary to talk about, and we avoid it until everything gets so bad that the only thing we can do is lock ourselves in a room and hide.

And what does Christ Jesus do? He comes busting on in with His Word. He shows up and is blunt and honest about your sin – but also blunt and honest about something even more wondrous. But these 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. Simple and blunt. The goal, the endgame God is after is to see that you live, that your sin is forgiven and you have life. It's what Jesus says, how He sets up His Church to work. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. That's simple. Our sin can be complicated. We can scheme and plan and plot. Wicked twists and turns abound aplenty. But God’s forgiveness is blunt and bold and simple. Jesus died, and so you are forgiven. Jesus rose, and so life has been won. There’s nothing massively complicated to do – in fact we do nothing. God speaks His Word of forgiveness, and you are forgiven.

And that’s real. God’s Word is powerful – it does what it says. When God tells His church to forgive people by telling them that they are forgiven for Christ’s sake – He means what He says. Jesus gets to business – there’s sin out there, sin that I died for – proclaim it forgiven! Now, John deals with the first thing Jesus tells the disciples after Easter – what about what Matthew records as what Jesus says right before His ascension? All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Get that forgiveness out there. They need it. From the earliest days of our lives as we are brought into the Church in Holy Baptism all the way to our deathbeds, we are people who are in need of Christ’s forgiveness – we need forgiveness given to us, proclaimed to us again.

And that’s what the Christian Church is. That’s what this place is – it is to be a place where Jesus’ authority to forgive sins is used. It is the place where we gather to hear the Word and receive forgiveness from it. It is the place where we are gathered by Christ, and He deals with our sin by forgiving it. Think about what happens here – we start with confession. We confess our sin – and God forgives it. Week in and week out we struggle against temptation, we fight against our sin, and when we fall and stumble back in this place, Jesus just picks us up by His Word, dusts us off, and sends us back out there again. Then the service goes on, and we hear readings and a sermon. Listen, here are specific things that Christ has done, specific skeletons that might be in your closest that He has conquered – go and sin no more for He has conquered that sin and you are forgiven. Again – right to forgiveness. When we sing, what do we sing about – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Because of this, we are now sons and daughters of the King! When we celebrate the Supper, why do we do so? Because Jesus has said, “I give you forgiveness again through this, I strengthen your faith through the giving of My Body and Blood.”

And what does this forgiveness do? How does God strengthen us? Love your neighbor. That’s what the Law says. And that’s mighty hard. I of myself, I in my sinful flesh do not want to love – I don’t want to give of myself to others, I want to take and grab. I want to be selfish. I want to love only myself. God crushes that. By His Word God breaks us of sin, turns our eyes away from our own wants and places them upon the cross, places them upon our forgiveness – gives that forgiveness to us and makes us His new creation. To what end? When we see ourselves, not as “good” Christians, not as nice people, not as people who are kind and loving – but when we see ourselves for what we are – sinners, and when we see God for who He is – the God who forgives sinners, even thanks be to God sinners like me – we are. We are forgiven, God says so. We are a new creation, and so we see things differently in this world – when we see our neighbor – we don’t merely see someone who wrongs us, we don’t see someone who doesn’t fit some artificial standard of behavior that we use to prove what good people we are – we see someone who is fundamentally exactly like us – a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. And God uses us to show them love. When our focus is on Christ and His forgiveness, when we delight not in our own works, not in our own sacrifices to God, but when we delight in Christ Jesus and His death and resurrection and His forgiveness – God will show love through us, God will welcome the stranger through us, God will care for the outsider through us, and God will speak that same forgiveness through us. That is how God strengthens us – by forgiveness. That is how God shapes us to be who we are – He gives us Christ and makes us Christlike – and how – by Christ's forgiveness.

Jesus gets to the point. And the point is that He had died for your sins and risen again to give life. That is the point, and always needs to remain the point. Satan doesn’t want our focus to be there – Satan will hold other more exciting or “nice” things in front of it – or he’ll even try to make us want to shy away from anything that has to do with our sin – even the forgiveness of our sin. But Jesus will have none of it – He continually pulls our wandering eyes back to Him and to His forgiveness. Whatever our age, whether we are but a few days old or old enough to know that we have very few days left us in this life – the Holy Spirit calls and gathers us to the Church that we would receive Christ’s forgiveness and by believing in Him have life in His Name. This is how Christ wants it – that you receive His forgiveness – that you know His peace. Peace be with you. Amen. Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, alleluia

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter Sermon

The Resurrection of our Lord – John 20 – April 1st, 2018

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, alleluia)
My dear and beloved friends in Christ – we are gathered here and celebrating our Lord's resurrection not simply because of quaint tradition, or because we've always done it this way, but because the Resurrection of Christ Jesus is the most profound and impactful event, not just in the history of the world, but in your life. There is nothing more important in your life than the fact that Christ Jesus is risen from the dead. And I mean that right now – not just for eternity, not just for sometime off in heaven or on the last day whenever that gets here, but right now, your life is shaped by the fact that Christ Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus' resurrection shapes everything about your life, your day to day life. And we can forget that, overlook it, take it for granted sometimes. But our Gospel text this morning gives us an example of just how impactful Christ Jesus and His resurrection is in a very real way. Listen.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early. Pause right there. Who is Mary Magdalene? What's her story? Luke describes her thusly in chapter 8: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out. Being possessed by seven demons – that's not a happy place. And many people think that Mary is the same “sinful” woman who anointed Jesus' feet in Luke 7. Either way – if the best starting place for you is that you're merely just the gal who was possessed by 7 demons, you were in a bad place. Not only were you in a bad place, but you were isolated, alone, driven away from people. And if you were in fact a prostitute, you were even more isolated, used and abused and touched not for true intimacy and union, but to be tossed out and ignored like trash. That's where Mary was – and then comes Jesus. And she is healed, the demons are cast out of her. She is forgiven, and she is welcomed. She is clean and holy, and she becomes part of the group – she travels around with Jesus, she has friendships and connection with Jesus and the disciples and the other gals there. That life of isolation, terror, fear and shame has given way to a new life with Christ.

And then comes Good Friday. And they kill Jesus. The Disciples are panicked and go into hiding. Mary still gets to hang around with the women – the other Gospels note that other gals were with her, but John in his Gospel is just zooming in on Mary – but what would Mary's fear be? They were all gathered around Jesus, and what's going to happen to Mary now that Jesus has died? Those relationships she had – they were centered in following Jesus – are they going to crumble now? Jesus is the one who had protected her and had rescued her from the demons; are they going to come back for her now? Is it all going to fall and crumble back into the way it was before? And so going to that tomb that Sunday morning, Mary knows there's a very real possibility that it's all going to fall apart, that tending properly to a dead body is end; turn out the lights, the party's over. That's where Mary is when she reaches the tomb – and that's why she's so distraught.

[Mary] saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the LORD out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” And she gets to the grave, and the large stone is rolled away, and what does she think? They've taken Jesus body. They hated Him, this man who had made her life good, they hated Him so bad they stole and defiled His corpse. And so she runs to the disciples, gets Peter and John, and Peter and John run to the tomb, and they find it empty. But they didn't remember the promise of the Resurrection and comfort Mary. Instead, “Then the disciples went back to their home. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” They don't comfort Mary, they ditch her. Leave her crying at the tomb and run back to hide. Fear and isolation. And then Mary stoops in the tomb, and she sees two angels – and they talk to her: “Woman, why are you weeping?” And she doesn't notice, doesn't put together that there are angels there – that's how distraught she is. Of course she is – you see what's happened to her life, right?

She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” They, the world is at it, the world is messing with everything again and I don't know, I am powerless to stop it. And so she turns, and then there's Jesus, right in front of her – and she doesn't recognize him – probably staring at the ground through tears and fears. And Jesus asks, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Gentle, polite, kind words. But Mary in her distress cries out, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” And there's the best hope Mary thinks she has – I'll drag Him, I'll drag His body through this garden all alone and by myself and hide Him. In that moment, that's the “best” hope.

And then Jesus says one word. And this is the most important word, the hinge, the one that completely changes everything in Mary's life once again, the one word that turns an incredible darkness into light. And Jesus said to her, “Mary.” Mary. Her name. I'm not some stranger-danger body snatcher, I am your Lord, Mary. I am your friend, Mary. I am your Savior, Mary – and I'm standing right here risen from the dead. The world that you fear so much, those demons that you worry about, that sin and temptation that hound, they you all did their worst to Me, and I rose... and I didn't rise away from you, I didn't rise and say, “Thank goodness I don't need to have that demon-trollop girl hang around anymore” - I rose to call you Mary My friend. Forever. And then, for Mary, the utter joy. This is comedy – this is the wonderful twist that leads to the happy ending. Mary is so ecstatic that Jesus has to say: 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.” I've got a bit more business to do, Mary – but go tell the disciples, because you're not cut off from them either, go tell them that My Father is still our Father – ours, together. That's what My death and resurrection have ensured. And in fact, next weekend we will see what Jesus does when He shows up to those fearful disciples (because they weren't quite sure of what Mary had said). But for this morning – do you see the shift, the change? Do you see the movement from the despair of Mary's life to the joy of Christ's resurrection for Mary?

This is why Christ's resurrection is the most important thing in your life. Today. Right now. You see, Satan recycles his tricks, and in this world the Devil will hound you. He'll toss out temptations and folly, and there will come times when you will look upon your life with regret and sorrow. Satan will stir up violence and wickedness and hatred all around you – we have that in spades today. And you will come across fears and worries and doubts – and fears and worries and doubts that often are very, very real. And understand, I'm not diminishing any of this – these things are often big and real and nasty – things we wouldn't breathe a word of to anyone. This past month may very well have been the worst of your life. Next Tuesday may be the hardest day you face – I don't know when, but hardship and trial will come. That's what Satan does to us while we are in this sinful world. Mary's tears were real, and often yours will be real as well.
And yet, here is the hinge in your life. You are baptized into Christ. Jesus Christ called you by name at your baptism – Jesus had you baptized by your name. It wasn't just some blanket, random thing – but He Himself had you brought to the font, and Jesus Christ called you by name. And therefore this is the truth – you belong to Him. You belong to the resurrected Lord who has gone through and conquered Satan and all of His tricks, and His promise to you at your baptism was to be your Lord who would see you through it all, to be your Lord who would be with you through it all. He cleansed you, He forgave you, He declared you holy right there at the font. He made His Spirit – the Lord and giver of Life - to dwell in you. He declared you worthy to be in His presence, both now in His church and forever in His kingdom – that's why we start our service with the words of our Baptism – in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Right there at the font, your risen Lord called you by your name.

If you would remember the catechism – what does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Daily. Even though you are daily caught up in this sinful world, your sin is daily drowned and you are cleansed. Daily you arise anew to live before God, live in His presence in His own righteousness and purity forever because Jesus loves you and is pleased with you and delights in you and has done everything to see that you will be with Him forever – that you will be with all of the saints, that we will rise from the dead ourselves and be with Him forever – and without the troubling taint of sin that makes us all too often annoying to each other. But this isn't just then – it's now – Romans 6 – We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. That's the reality of your life right now. That's who you are in Christ. And nothing, no sorrow or hardship, no matter how big or hard or difficult they are – indeed even death itself can't change that. Jesus Christ faced all that for you, He went through all that for you, and He rose from the dead, and He brings you with Him. You are safe, secure, loved, and protected in Him. You have true life in Him, life that will long outlast any junk you see now. Therefore we gladly proclaim: Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Maundy Thursday – John 13 – March 29th, 2018
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The hour approaches – the hour approaches where our Lord will be betrayed, where He will be handed over to be beaten, and scourged, and crucified. The hour is getting late, and He knows that His time of teaching His disciples is short. There are all these things that they don’t understand. Sin keeps popping up in them, and temptations will continue to hound them. What teaching do they need to hear – now - when time is short?

Jesus washes their feet. Jesus shows Himself to be humble, to be a servant. Why? For I have given you an example. Jesus knows, Jesus sees, Jesus understands. Jesus gets what sin is. To sin is fundamentally to love yourself and hate the neighbor. To sin is to make demands of your neighbor, to expect them to serve you. To paraphrase a former President, to sin is to ask what your neighbor can do for you, rather than asking what you can do for your neighbor. And Jesus realizes that this will be a lingering problem, and so this is where He focuses a great deal of His teaching this night.

He sums it all up. He gives us a nice little phrase that we can understand. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. It’s not really that new of a commandment. Honor Your Parents. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. That’s all covered in the commandments. But Jesus knows how we can abuse those – how we can look simply at what we are supposed to not do, and build ourselves up as hypocrites. I haven’t insulted mom and dad, I haven't stolen, I’ve not robbed a bank, see how wonderful I am. We try to find loopholes in the law, and Jesus slams them shut. Love one another. No, people, don’t think that you can deftly avoid the law, don’t think that you can use it to prove yourself to be a good person. Here is the standard, here is the commandment. Love one another.

Think about that. That’s a deep law, that’s a deep commandment. When you are doing something, pause, stop and think, “How am I loving my neighbor by doing this?” That is a high standard. But this is nothing new. The Law always has high demands – but Jesus isn’t going to let us fool ourselves into thinking otherwise. He gives us in the Church our marching orders, and they are rough. And even as He speaks this Law to us, even as He gives us this new commandment – He doesn’t just let us stew. He doesn’t just let us fret. Rather, hear what He says, Just as I have loved you.” Although our eyes are shown our own lack, they are also focused on Christ and His love for us.

Christ’s focus is always upon the neighbor. Christ’s concern is always shown for those around Him. Think on the times where Jesus shows compassion upon people, where He heals, where He feeds, where He shows love and concern. Indeed, involving the love of the neighbor, He is our highest example. But think on this. Jesus has loved you. This is His great focus – showing love to you. This is His great focus as this Thursday gives way to Good Friday. Christ’s eyes are upon showing love to you as He goes to the garden; His love for you is shown as He is led like a lamb, silent to the slaughter, during the accusations and kangaroo court of the Night. His love for you is shown as He allows Himself to be whipped, to be beaten, to be nailed to the tree. All this is done because Jesus has loved you. All this is done because Jesus would have your sins be forgiven, because He would rather pay the penalty for your sin than let you bear it. For Jesus, saying that He has loved us is not just some empty words, a trite phrase used to manipulate or seduce. He puts His love into action as He strides towards the shame and suffering of the Cross.

This is the very same love that Christ gives to you. This is the very same love that Christ fills you with, this is the love that is the fruit of His Spirit, which He has given you. As Christians, you do love each other just as Christ has loved you, for the love you bear and share and show forth to each other is in fact Christ’s love, Christ’s love welling up and in and through you. Christ’s command this night is also a declaration of what He is doing with your lives. Christ takes sinful people, and washing you clean He shapes you with His Word – the Potter remolds the clay into His Holy vessels, and now Christ fills you with His own love, and He pours out that love upon your neighbor through you. When you show love to your neighbor, that is Christ working through you. It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me. This is how Paul describes this miracle. Christ fills you to bursting with His love, so that you can’t but help to show forth His love, in spite of yourself. This is our lives as Christians, where Christ overwhelms our sinfulness with His forgiveness and with His love.

This is what Jesus does whenever He calls and invites you to His table. It is no accident that our Lord, on the night when He gives us this new command, on the night when He was betrayed, takes simple Bread and Wine, and uses them to give us a gift beyond the ability of our mind or reason to comprehend. Jesus knows and understands in full a truth that we are taught when we are young but can so often forget as we grow old – that we are weak, but He is strong. So He calls us to His table and says, “Take and Eat, this is My Body. Take and Drink, this is My Blood.” Of course our Lord would do this, of course our Lord would give you all that He is, all His strength and love – for this is what love is – to give of one’s own self to the neighbor. And this is what Christ does in His supper. And why? We have a great prayer after Communion which tells us the answer. “and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same, through this supper, in faith towards You and in fervent love toward one another.” Jesus sees His disciples that Maundy Thursday evening, He sees you – and He wants you to be strong and firm in the faith, to be filled with Him and His love, and so, He calls you to His table. This very day, this very hour God Himself says, “Come and receive Me, take all that I am, so that I might be your strength, and that you might cling only to me.” This is what our God does for you. He washes you clean of all sins, done by you or to you, and brings you unto Himself. He gives you every good gift; He gives you Himself.

The hour of our Lord’s Crucifixion was drawing closer and closer the first Maundy Thursday night – but as always, our Lord’s eyes are fixed on His neighbor – His eyes are fixed upon you. And He takes you, and turns your focus away from selfish desires and foolish greed, and instead focuses your eyes upon Him and teaches you to love your neighbor. He feeds you on His own Body and Blood that you will be strengthened in Him. Behold what Christ Jesus our Lord does for you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Sermon for Richard Carpenter

Richard Carpenter – March 21st, 2018 – John 8:31-36

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Donald, Ray, Connie, family and friends of Richard our brother in Christ, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Richard was and is a free man in Christ Jesus. Richard's sudden death hit me hard, as I'm sure it hit you all hard, and I'll admit I was at a loss as to how to preach this sermon – how precisely to proclaim Christ Jesus at work for and in His servant Richard. And then it was suggested that it would be nice if our readings were the same as the readings at Richard's mother's service – and that was a wonderful suggestion. Lamentations 3 is a great text, full of comfort – proclaiming the steadfast love and mercy of God, which is something we who mourn always need to remember. And then Revelation 21 – the New Jerusalem coming as a bride – the reminder of the joy and wonder that Richard now sees and delights in – oh, that too is a rich and powerful text. Richard is in excellent hands now, and because of Christ's love for Richard and Christ's love for us, we shall be reunited and see these things together – Christ who reigns will indeed make all things new! But then, then the most wonderful one – one not always the most common for a funeral but perfect. John 8. Richard was and is a free man in Christ.

Our text starts with Jesus' famous phrase, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Oh, and this text gets used and misapplied to so many things – where basically any fact or idea is described as liberating, what have you. However, when Jesus speaks of “the truth” He's not speaking about some random facts or medical advancements or social justice or anything like that. This isn't about taking some sort of test to be set free or book-learning or anything like that. This Jesus who says that the Truth will set you free later in John says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. Jesus is the truth who sets people free, and the Son made Richard a free man. Jesus claimed Richard in the waters of Holy Baptism and kept Richard in His Word.

Richard was always eager to hear the Word of God. Whenever I'd go over to Harvest view, He'd be ready to hear again and again Jesus' love for him. If Richard didn't come to service, I knew he had to be feeling really under the weather – and even then, a time or two when he wasn't feeling that great he'd sit in the next sitting room where he could still hear the Word, still hear Jesus' love for Him. Still receive the Supper. Richard certainly did abide in the Word, and He knew the truth that Jesus Christ died for him and rose for him and that because of Jesus he was forgiven. Richard knew the Truth, and the Truth set him free.

When Jesus first said that statement, people complained. They didn't want to accept any idea of their limits or short-comings – you can hear the defiance in the text- we have never been enslaved to anyone! Hear the indignance? And so often we wish to live in denial of our own limitations, pretend they aren't there, and we just end up making them worse. Richard didn't – he was a free man in Christ. He didn't feel the need to pretend he could do everything, he didn't feel the need to downplay his limitations – rather He lived freely and joyously as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified and blessed by God richly. He didn't live to prove anything to anyone – he simply was free in Christ.

Jesus explained what that indignance really is. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. Now, please don't misunderstand, I'm not implying at all that Richard didn't sin. He could be cantankerous on occasion – even around the pastor – but again, that was something he was honest about. He didn't dwell in self-righteous bluster. He knew he didn't need to! Instead Richard dwelt in Christ. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Richard dwelt in Christ, and the love that Jesus had for Richard is what dominated and shaped the way Richard viewed his life. He could roll with things, accept them as they were – the Son set Richard free from His sin – and Richard was free indeed.

And Richard is free, right now, with His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Not to get too sappy, but I don't know if I can think of anyone I've met who would enjoy being with Christ more than Richard, who would simply delight in it all more than him. And that's where he is. He is with His Jesus, and having a grand time with Him. And while we mourn that our time with Richard was shorter than we wanted or expected it to be, we rejoice for him. Richard enjoys his freedom moreso now than we have ever seen, he delights in Christ Jesus His Savior. God grant us His Holy Spirit, so that we are comforted in our grief, and so that we too will join with Richard in his joy and freedom in Christ Jesus for all eternity. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Monday, March 19, 2018

Sermon for Wes Bode

Sermon for Wes Bode – March 19th, 2018 – John 12:20-26

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Sue, Brenda, Denise, and Karen, family and friends of our brother in Christ Wes, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Right here on this pulpit there is a little plaque, one that I see every time I preach or work on a sermon. It simply says, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” We wish to see Jesus. It is a reminder to me and to anyone else given by God the task of preaching in this pulpit that the people who are gathered here in this place need to see Jesus. Wes Bode is a man who wished to see Jesus. He was baptized into Christ Jesus, and He longed to hear Jesus' Word proclaimed, to receive Christ's Body and Blood in the Supper. Wes would see Jesus.

That phrase “we would see Jesus” comes from our Gospel lesson in John. And during holy week, hearing that some Greeks wished to see Him, Jesus responds with these words: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” They would see Jesus, they would be around later on that week and see Jesus lifted up on the Cross. Jesus' glory wouldn't be shown in another healing or turning water to wine or feeding a bunch of people, but Jesus' glory would be shown in dying, dying for their sins and for our sins, dying to cleanse us and to restore us to God the Father. That is the Jesus the Wes longed to see. That crucified Jesus who forgave Wes, and not only that, but the Jesus who gave Wes His own life, filled Wes with love and faith and hope, gave Wes blessing after blessing. And in faith, united to that Jesus – tied to Jesus by the waters of Holy Baptism, Wes had confidence all His earthly days, and even confidence to appear before the judgment seat of Christ – because Christ Jesus had already done it all for Wes and through Wes and in Wes, and Wes longed to see Him.

Jesus continues, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Wes exemplified this, but I want you to hear Jesus' words correctly, because Jesus here uses a Hebrew turn of phrase that we can misunderstand. In this Hebrew phrase love and hate aren't used to describe emotions, but rather priority and choice. In the Hebrew way of speaking, at a restaurant you would say, “The Chicken noodle soup I have loved, the salad I have hated.” That doesn't mean you're on a rampage against lettuce, it means when the waitress asked you picked, you choose, you placed a greater value and priority on the soup. You might really enjoy salad, but now the soup. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. All of his days, not just these last few years which were so physically rough on Wes, but all of his days Wes loved Christ Jesus moreso than just the trappings of his earthly life. And in fact, because Wes loved Christ, because his focus was upon Christ Jesus Wes could receive and enjoy the blessings God had given him. Wes greatly enjoyed and delighted in what God had given him. Wes delighted in you – Wes saw you rightly as a gift from God to him. He was free in Christ to simply enjoy being with you and serving and loving you.

See, there are two ways that we can handle and receive gifts from God – be they our life, our family and friends, jobs, what have you. We can be focused primarily on the gift, or we can be focused primarily on the God who gives the gift. If we focus on the gift, if we “love our life” we end up losing it. We grasp on to it, we become jealous and fearful and worried and we don't enjoy it. We turn the blessings in idols, and everything sours and gets dominated by fear and anger and sin. However, when by the gift of faith you love the Giver, love God first rather than your life, then you have that life forever, because you are always in and with God who loves to give you blessings. And that's why Wes had such peace – because His focus was upon Christ Jesus who had given Him all these blessings, the Jesus who had given Wes you – and nothing would change Christ's love for Wes. Not sin, not death, not even a body falling apart. Jesus knew all of this was coming, and Jesus faced all this down in His own body precisely because He loved Wes and would not dream of letting His Wes face that alone. Christ Jesus was and is with Wes.

And Jesus continues to bless Wes. Right now, this instant, Wes is with Christ Jesus, doing better than any of us have seen Him. And the day will come when Wes will rise – on his own two feet, I might note – and Wes and Job and you and me and all the faithful will behold our Redeemer face to face, in our own resurrected bodies with our own eyes. Do you see – Jesus continues to give blessing after blessing to His people. There was no need for Wes to turn (say) age 84 into some idol to strive after – for His Lord Jesus is a wonderful Savior and a giver of great and mighty gifts – gifts not just for a day or a few years or even an earthly life time, but a giver of gifts that last for eternity. Jesus is your Redeemer as well, who forgives your sins and gives you life and salvation by His word of forgiveness, and who gives you life everlasting with Himself and Wes and all the saints. And when we see Christ Jesus, when our eyes are fixed upon Him, we get a taste, an experience of that lasting peace even now.

If anyone serves Me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. Wes was given the gift of faith, and he served and followed Christ Jesus. And having died, Wes will follow His Lord and Master Christ Jesus into the Resurrection. Our brother Wes is well taken care of, well honored by God right this moment. So while we mourn, we know that in Christ Jesus our loss is only a temporary one, and that because of Christ Jesus and in Christ Jesus, we have the certain hope of resurrection and reunion. God grant us His Word and Spirit, that we ever more love God until we see that day. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5 – John 8 and Genesis 22 – March 17th and 18th, 2018

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The world today tends to treat Jesus as though He were just some kind teacher, almost like a 1st century hippy telling everyone to chill and be cool to each other. And because of that, most folks don't understand why Jesus gets killed, why He was so hated and despised. You might brush Him off, but hate Him? Why would you want to kill Jesus? Do you wish to know why Jesus is put to death – why people are set against Him? John records for us the heart of the matter. What does our Lord say to these folks in our Gospel lesson today? “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word.” Plain and simple – the only reason anyone has a problem with Christ, with Christianity, when it all boils down to it – they cannot bear to hear the Word of God. The Word of God is distasteful, it is unpleasing, it doesn’t tell folks what they want to hear.

I think sometimes we can forget just how distasteful the unbridled law of God is. See, people in general like watered down law – they like law that says, “Oh, just play nice.” Be kind – oh, that’s sweet. But that isn’t God’s law, not in its fullness. God’s law is firm and direct. Love your neighbor – not just give him polite indifference. Love him – actively serve him. Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect – not just try hard and we’ll give you a ribbon for participation. The simple fact is we as sinful human beings do not keep the law like we ought – we are sinful. That’s just how it goes – and we need to admit that and recognize that – and that is hard for our pride, that is hard for our ego to accept. Some things we will confess easily, but other sins, we like to downplay, brush off. And when we slough off our sin, when we minimize it, when we pretend that it, all of it, isn’t that big of a deal, that is a horrible thing. Jesus’ Word describes what that minimizing of our sin actually is, what we are doing when we attempt to justify our own sin. He says, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”

When you deny the Word of God – when you hear the Scriptures speak of your sin, and you want to brush it aside, blow it off – that is your sinful nature kicking in – that is you sounding like Satan. Harsh words, aren’t they – but Jesus calls a spade a spade – and sin, your sin, whatever it is, however little and small you like to pretend it is, is truly nasty and vile. Sin murders. When you do not show the love to your neighbor that God has called you to show them – that kills them, little by little. It harms them, it robs them of the blessings and joy God intended them to receive through you – and that is huge. Sin lies and has nothing to do with the truth. When you dither, when you make excuses – that’s the same stuff that Satan does. When you do not believe what the Word of God says about you and your sin – about your failings and your weakness, you are as bad as Satan, no ifs, ands, or buts – no excuses.

God’s Word of law is blunt and shows us the full depth, the full impact of our sin – the stuff we like to brush over, ignore, sweep under the rug. God’s Word of Law calls us to repent – to confess our sins, all our sins. The Word “confess” literally means to speak with, to speak together. We are called to speak with Christ His Word declaring our sins, every last one, to be horrid and vile. That is part of God’s Word.

Now, there is more to God’s Word – Christ Jesus also speaks Words that are lovely beyond all measure, beyond all beauty. He tells us of a truth that is profound, that is the mystery of the ages – and indeed, for our benefit. At the end of our text for this day, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” These are some profound words. In the Old Testament, when Moses asks God how He should be called, God tells Moses to call Him – I AM. God – the One who *is*, who exists in and of Himself – the God who creates us, and without Whom we would not exist – the Maker of Heaven and Earth. This truth of God, that He IS, was so profound to the Jews that in the Hebrew language, you never said, “I am” – you would never say I am a Jew – you would simply say, “I Jew.” You would never say “I am a guy” – you would say “I a guy”. God is the One who IS. And what does our Lord Jesus say – I AM. Here Jesus states and says that He is God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, comes into this world to deal with, to address and handle our sin. To do what is necessary to fight it, to destroy it, to forgive it. And this too, dear friends, can be distasteful. Christ coming to help and save us from our sins means that we need help, that we need saving. Let me ask you the question – how many of you recently have spurned help, gotten annoyed when someone offers help? “I can do it myself” – those words familiar? Again, words of pride, words of denial. And when it comes to handling our sin, removing its taint, being restored to life – we are helpless, we need a Savior. If you are lying upon the hospital bed with your heart stopped, you can’t go get the paddles yourself – the doctors and nurses must tend to that. Likewise – people who are dead in their trespasses – for that is what Scripture says we were, dead in trespasses – must be restored to life by the Good Physician, Christ Jesus. And the sinful nature rebels against this, fights this tooth and nail – and so many do not believe.

But to you, dear friends, it has been given to hear and know and understand these Words that Christ speaks – He has opened your ears to hear, He has opened your eyes to see. He has given you life and set you free so that you can know the beauty of these words. God Almighty does not abandon you to a dying life of sin, He does not abandon you to the grave and destruction – but rather, Christ Jesus, the great I AM, enters into this world, and He saves you. That’s what our Lord’s Word proclaims, and that gives joy to those who have been made children of the Heavenly Father by the wondrous gift of Baptism – we hear and rejoice at God’s salvation – we even hear and rejoice when He breaks our sinful hearts, because we know that He will create in us new and clean hearts.

Our Lord speaks to this wonder in this text – He says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day – he saw it and was glad.” Abraham was a man of faith – and as such, he knew that he was sinful, and that sin had consequences. In our Old Testament lesson, the Lord laid out for Abraham the consequences of sin: sin means there must be death. Sin means you must die that even your son, Isaac, he too must die. And yet, even as Abraham takes Isaac and binds him, ties him to the wood, raises the knife to sacrifice him, knowing that death is what both he and Isaac deserve – what does he hear, what does he see? The Angel of the Lord – Christ Jesus Himself before His incarnation steps in, stops Abraham – Jesus keeps Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. Jesus says to Abraham – let us find a replacement – and then there, in the thicket – a ram caught by its horns. Today Abraham, your son lives this day because of this ram. Abraham saw this was glad. But there was more to it, it is as though Christ said to Abraham – “This Ram is for today, but the day will come Abraham, when I Myself will be the One who is sacrificed, not only for Isaac, but for all, for you, and not only to give life for a day, but to give everlasting life, to defeat and conquer death.” That is the day that Abraham rejoiced that He would see – that He longed for above all others.

Now, the Jews had pointed out that Abraham had died – treated him as though he were gone. Our Lord’s Words show us the mystery, the wonder of the ages. No, Abraham was not gone – he doesn’t see death – rather He beholds Christ and so He sees life – He from the presence of God beholds with utter joy what Christ does as He strides to earth and takes on Human Flesh, and goes to the Cross and dies to atone for sin, rises to defeat death and ensure our resurrection. There is no final death for Abraham, for Christ won Him salvation by His own death and resurrection – and likewise, Christ Jesus has won this salvation, this promise of resurrection for you. And this is given to you, this is provided to you by His Word. Our Lord says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.” The word here for “keep” means to hold onto to, to observe, to cling to, to cherish. In Christ’s Word, there is life and salvation – His Words are indeed the Words of eternal life – and when you receive this Word – when you hear it, when you are baptized into it, when that Word of God is placed upon Your tongue in our Lord’s most Holy Supper, it brings life everlasting – life beyond death and the grave. It means you will not see death – that even death becomes merely the doorway to life everlasting, that the separation of body and spirit at death will be not be permanent, for our Lord will raise you on the last day and make you perfect and truly living in Him. This is what God’s Word gives you, this is what the Word accomplishes and brings about in you. This is the effect of the preaching of the Word, this is the effect of Baptism, this is the effect of the Supper – that you receive from Christ life. And we live now in Christ's life, with His love, His righteousness, His holiness flowing forth from us into our neighbor's lives, and come the day when we have fully and finally died to sin and risen to Christ - come the Last Day – Christ Jesus will truly be our all in all, and we will show forth nothing but Christ and His love.
In this way, Christ ultimately defeats Satan. With His death and resurrection, our Lord defeats Satan, and with His Word and Sacraments, Christ pulls you out of Satan’s kingdom of death and restores you unto life. This is what He accomplishes, this is what Abraham sees and rejoices, this is why all the hosts of heaven give thanks and praise to God. Let us with prayer then prepare to join them in their songs of celebration, and let us then join in the heavenly feast in our Lord’s Supper. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Cannot and Try

I think I have finally figured out what it is that ultimately gets someone labelled a "soft-antinomian" today.  It is the assertion that one cannot fulfill the Law of God perfectly and completely.  This is the teaching that is so offensive that it must be denigrated and derided.

Unfortunately, it's the truth.

You're not going to be perfect in this life.  You will remain sinful as long as you are in the sinful flesh.  And everything you do will be tainted and tinged and flawed.  Even your righteous deeds as filthy rags.  And you will never be able to address God as one who is unlike all these other people - you will always be the sinner who needs mercy... which is okay because Jesus comes to the sinners and washes, cleans, forgives, and raises them.

But here is where the complaint about obedience comes in.  Since we are now in Christ, shouldn't we obey?  Of course we should.  In fact, we are bound to bring forth good works - God will work His good through you.  Yet, we still in this life remain unprofitable servants. (AC 6)  This is not a matter of perfection.

And this is where the matters hinge.  Some people are afraid that if we don't assert that we CAN, that means that we won't even TRY when it comes to the realm of good works.  This is because these folks do not understand warfare.

We are engaged in spiritual warfare.  We are engaged in a battle against ourselves, the world, and Satan.  And it's a doozy - with might of ours could naught be done.  This is why we need Christ to be our champion, to win for us salvation.

Day by day, as we live in this warfare, we will come up across things against which we will lose - but in warfare that doesn't mean you stop.  It means you fight all the more desperately.  Consider an image: Let us say that five armed men break into my house attempting to murder my wife and family.  I would not be able to stop them - I could not do so.  The command to protect my family given to me by God in my vocation as father and husband would be impossible to do... but I'd sure try.  And I'd try hard.  And I'd fail hard. 

We are fighting a constant battle against sin and death in our own lives, and we are going to go down hard.  We are going to die.  Our strength will fail.  That's just the way it is.

"But what of Christ and His strength!  Don't we get His victory?"  Yes, it is ours now, but now only dimly as though a mirror.  It is only later, at that happy then that we will see it face to face.  Strangely, when my attacks failed and one of my home invaders ended my life, that would be when I'd see the Victory of Christ - not in my earthly victory, but in the life of the world to come, where my wife and children would be safe as well.  Doesn't mean I'd fight less here and now - but Christ's good for me far surpasses even my failed.  For all the saints, who from their labors rest!

Too often we want to make Jesus a tool for life here rather than life itself, and life everlasting with Him.  We want to live by possible theory tossed out by Jules in Pulp Fiction - that we are just in an evil world and Mr. 9mm is the Shepherd protecting our righteous backside -- where Jesus is a tool that we in our righteousness use for our own benefit.

That's not the truth.  We are sinners, we are tyranny, but we do try hard to be the Shepherd.

And we fail.  Often.  Never going to come a service where I won't need the confession and absolution before the service -- well, at least until I'm at the eternal service. 

And that's okay.  That's actually for my good.  God's Word will show me my sin and then show me my Savior, and rather than fretting over what I can and can't do, my failures and my so-called success, I learn to live in what He has done for me and what He will bring me to.

We have victory now - but we will experience it and see it and know it in full only in the Last Day.  Let no one rob you of that hope my tricking you into expecting perfect obedience now!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Lent 3 Sermon

Lent 3 – March 3rd and 4th, 2018 – Luke 11:14-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Another day, another demon. So there Jesus is, just doing His normal Jesus-y stuff of preaching, teaching, healing, and casting out demons. And we get something interesting – When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test Him, kept seeking a sign from heaven.” Okay, so what in the world is going on? What sort of logical leaps do you have to make to go from Jesus casting out a demon to thinking that Jesus must be a hit man for Satan? What rationale is there for saying, “Well, casting out a demon is pretty good, but, um, you know, can you just make some sort of comet appear in the sky or something so we really, really know”? Do you see how foolish this all is? And we'll get to Jesus' response in a moment, but let's ponder the foolishness first. You know what this foolishness is? It's self-defense. It is the old sinful flesh trying anything to defend itself against Jesus and His righteousness. This lent we've seen Jesus defeat Satan's temptations, we've seen Him call out our sinful and and selfish pride. And what's left, what's the flesh's only option? Deny, deny, deny. Stick your head in the sand, scream out “fake news”, ignore reality. All in an attempt to avoid Jesus.

And so what does Jesus do? As He sees, as He hears this foolishness, what is His response to the crowd? Well, He's not going to let it go unchecked; instead, He is going to expose the foolishness, and then explain precisely what is happening. To start: But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” Alright – let's consider the idea that I am casting out demons by Beelzebul. That is basically an assertion that suddenly old Satan's just gone all sorts of senile and stupid and his kingdom is just falling apart. So that's your argument – that the old Serpent, who is more crafty than anyone... just became an idiot. Eh, Satan's just having a brain freeze at the moment! That's not it and you know it. Moreover – And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. Um, you've noticed how there are a bunch of people who are casting out demons, including many sons of Israel – and they're casting them out in the Name of Jesus. You realize that if you pin the “he must be evil” tail on Me, you've got to pin it on them too, right? Is that a move you want to make – because you can be mad at Me and want to ignore Me, but you say this in front of your kid who is casting out demons and He might tear you a new one.

Do you see what Jesus does? The excuses are just simply and kindly pulled apart. The bad logic, the implications of the snap, desperate arguments are laid out. You really don't want to assert that Jesus isn't sent from heaven, because you won't like where that argument leads. So Jesus just bulldozes their arguments – and then He lays out the truth. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. Quick question – what does it mean if a Kingdom comes upon you? That's sort of a strange phrase, and we often don't think much about it. But what is it when a Kingdom comes upon someone? These are fighting words. Jesus is saying that it is D-Day. What was D-Day – congratulations Germany, the Allied forces have come upon you; they are here and they're going to keep on coming until you are defeated and destroyed. Know what this is, people – these times when I cast out demons, when I heal, when I preach – these are the opening battles where God invades Satan's kingdom and goes to destroy Him.

Which is why Jesus gives another military example next. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Satan thought he was sitting pretty. He'd been running the show down here on earth for quite some time, and things were running wild. He had his power, he'd toss it around willy-nilly. He thought you, O hearer, were safely in his clutches. But then Christ Jesus, the stronger man comes – and what does Jesus do? He bursts right on into Satan's domain, the heart of Satan's stronghold – Jesus kicks down the doors of death and dives into hell, smacks Satan around, and says, “all these folks you thought were yours, Satan? Well, they're mine now. You gave them death; I will give them life. You trapped them in sin; I bring forgiveness and mercy. They're not yours anymore, Satan, they are mine. This is the program – Jesus is fighting Satan, and this fight is going to be a doozy, and it's going to end with Satan battered and bruised, but Christ Victorious.

However, having laid out His plan, having stated what He is doing, Jesus turns back to the folks who are pestering and complaining, and He speaks a warning. Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters. This is the battle I'm fighting, this is what I am going to accomplish. I am winning you life and salvation – it's right here with Me. Come with Me if you want to live; I'm busting open the doors of this prison and I will carry you out. However, if you say, “I'm going to stay right here,” if you are hell bent on staying with Satan, if you are just so anti-Jesus that you'd rather stay in Satan's kingdom... well, you can do that if you want. But let Me warn you, that won't go well. When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes, it finds the house clean and swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first. You can reject salvation, you can just hang out and wait for the Devil, but it's going to be bad. Jesus warns that Satan's going to be in a really foul mood because Jesus has defeated him, and he's going to want to take it out on someone, and if you aren't with Jesus, if you aren't living safely in Christ's life and Christ's mercy – guess who Satan's going to take it out on? You. So don't ignore the salvation Christ wins, don't stubbornly cling to Satan, because that way of going is only going to get much, much worse.

Do you hear the warnings that Jesus gives? Jesus died for all; He has won forgiveness for all. All are going to be raised from the dead – the gates of heaven are open, and the only folks who will not draw the benefit of this are the folks who have no faith, who say, “No thanks, I'll just stay right here with Satan.” And that's really, really dumb. Incredibly dumb. And you know what – often our sinful flesh wants things that are really, really dumb. That's the reality. So then, how to handle this, how to keep focused upon Christ and not my own sinful stupidity? Well, there's two more verses to the text.

As He said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Oh, Your mom is awesome! Suddenly there's a 70 year old Roman Catholic nun in the crowd telling us all to pray to Mary to keep safe. No.... But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” No, while Mary is cool, the way of safety, the way to remain in Christ and the blessings He gives is this – hear the Word of God and keep it, cling to that Word, hold it fast and don't let it go. Even when it says things you don't like. Even when it says things about you that you don't want to hear – even when it tells you that the things your flesh wants are foolish and deadly. Because that Word of God will also give you Christ Jesus and His love and His mercy and His forgiveness. That Word of God was attached to water in Holy Baptism, and it makes fountains of living water spring up in you that Satan and his minions cannot bear to see. That Word of God gives life – the same tool by which Jesus fended off Satan in the wilderness is the same tool by which we live. We have life from Christ in the Word.

So, what does this all mean? Jesus here lays out His battle plan, lays out what He is doing. He is going to defeat Satan and win you back from Him – and the way that you benefit from what Jesus has done, the way you remain in His victory is through the Word of God, is by hearing again His promise, His victory, His life. And Satan will toss up stupid and arrogant idea after stupid and arrogant idea, all trying to get you to ignore the Word of God. So, examine yourself. Seek out the places where the Devil is encouraging your own Christless stupidity – and repent of it. Confess with Christ that your sinful desires and thoughts and actions are absurd and evil and bad – and instead receive Christ and His love, His care, His compassion. “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the LORD.” In the LORD. In Christ Jesus. In His Word, which does not leave you empty but fills you with the Holy Spirit who makes you to be fruitful and to walk as a baptized child of the light. Avoid the empty words of Satan, even the empty words and thoughts of your own mind, your own preferences – and rather be in the Word of God, for that is how the Holy Spirit takes all that Christ has done for you, all that Christ has won for you – and how He pours it all into you. All by the Word – the Word preached and proclaimed, the Word tied to water in Baptism, the Word tied to bread and wine in His Supper. This is where Christ's Victory which was won 2000 years ago is brought to you in your life right now. Continue to give us Your gifts, O Lord – in the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Lent 2 Sermon

Lent 2 – February 24th and 25th, 2018 – Matthew 15:21-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Last week in our Gospel we saw our Lord confront Satan and his lies there in the wilderness, we saw our Lord put Satan to flight. This Sunday, our Lord heals a young woman, the daughter of a Canaanite woman, frees her from demon possession. This should be no surprise – if you’ve defeated Satan, defeating one of his minions isn’t going to be a problem. In fact, the healing of this girl is almost incidental to the story – we never see her, we never hear her. Instead, we see the interaction between her mother, the disciples, and Jesus, and in this interaction, we see our Lord fight something else. We see our Lord take on pride and ego, pride and ego that can lead to a weakening and even destruction of faith. Let us examine our text.

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O LORD, Son of David, my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’” Consider this: Jesus had just been having bitter discussions with the Pharisees, who were so full of themselves and their own righteousness, that to get a break, He headed to the coast, left Jewish territory behind. He is going to take a break from self-righteousness. And what happens? There, in that place, is a woman who calls out for mercy, seeking Jesus’ aid. And did you note what she calls Him? She calls Him “Lord” – that’s a good starting place, she recognizes Him as divine. Moreover, she calls Him “Son of David.” Think about this – the Canaanites were the ancient enemies of Israel, the ones who had fought David – this is the descendant of folks like the Jebusites, and there she is calling Christ the Son of David. She is repenting of the sins of her people – this is astonishing. It would be like a muslim terrorist suddenly announcing to the world that he has repudiated Islam and is becoming a Christian – something we should all rejoice over.

But there is a problem. “But He did not answer her a word.” Doesn’t this seem strange? How often do we see Christ ignore someone in the Scriptures? We don’t see it often – but there is a reason for it here. Jesus is going to teach His disciples, give them a quiz, see how they react and respond. And they fail utterly. “And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’” I really don’t know if there is a more chilling sentence in the Scriptures – I mean, think about this. Here you have the disciples seeing a poor woman who has confessed Jesus to be Lord, to be the Son of David, the Messiah… eh, send her away, she’s bothering us. And not just being dismissive of her – they BEG Jesus to send her away. It’s hatred and contempt of the most vile sort that these disciples show. So we have a contrast set before us – this woman who is in desperate straits throws herself before Jesus for the sake of her daughter, and the disciples, who when they hear of this woman’s plight, instead of praying for her, instead of begging Christ to heal her, beg Him to let her and her daughter remain in suffering, remain oppressed by one of Satan’s demons.

This is the battle Christ fights in our Gospel today. The real opponent isn’t that demon that has possessed the girl – having defeated Satan a demon is small potatoes. The larger danger is disciples’ approach. The pride, the ego that the disciples had – pride in being good Jewish men who wouldn’t stoop to dealing with a Canaanite woman, pride in being the real disciples of Christ as opposed to this foreign trollop. The disciples saw themselves as the good people, the righteous ones, the ones that Jesus owed something to, and they had nothing but disdain for woman. And this makes them cold and callous… this pride drives from their hearts any semblance of love or compassion… and at this moment, these disciples are nothing.

Hatred kills faith. Disdain and ego and pride kill faith. They twist our eyes back onto ourselves where we think only of ourselves and ignore both God and neighbor. Send her away, for she is annoying us because she’s crying, she’s making a scene, and we don’t want to be bothered. I’m hard pressed to think of more faithless words in the Scriptures. And so, Jesus decides to use this Canaanite woman to teach the disciples, teach us what faith is, teach us what to repent of when pride and ego stir up hatred to attack our faith.

He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” Note this – Jesus is answering the disciples here – He is responding to them. Alright, you guys are so proud of being of Israelites, that’s what you think is important – alright, let’s do it your way, I’m here just for you. Guess she’s not My problem, deal with her yourselves in your own arrogance. This is throwing the disciples’ pride back in their face, this is throwing ego right back at them. And it stops the disciples flat. They got what they wanted – they wanted a Jesus that was just going to deal with them… and it doesn’t do them any good. This is throwing their failure right at them, showing them they have gotten an F.

Then the Canaanite woman comes forward, and she shows what faith is. “But she came and she knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” The disciples were brash, telling the Lord what to do, how He should or shouldn’t treat others. This woman is humble simply asking, pleading for help. She doesn’t command, she simply pleads. There is great humility here. And Christ is going to show the depths of her humility, her faith. “And He answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’” And Jesus insults her – you deserve nothing, you little dog, you wretched little thing. Now, imagine for a moment what the disciples’ reaction would have been if Christ had called them wretched and mangy dogs. Think of how incensed they would have been, how angry – how their pride would have flared up – how dare you say such things. We are Israelites, we aren’t dogs, we are the good people. In fact, we’ll hear a conversation like this with the Pharisees in just a few weeks. That pride, that ego would blot out and blind everything.

The Canaanite woman doesn’t approach Christ with ego, with pride. She comes with humility. Christ tells her, “You are lowly, you are poor and wretched and deserve nothing.” And she says yes. Yes, You are right, I am poor and lowly and I deserve nothing… but You are good and kind and You will see that crumbs fall my way. To which Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter is healed – she has shown the disciples what faith looks like.

The question we must ask ourselves is this. How do we approach God? Do we approach God as those who are worthy of His blessings, as those who can say, “Because I am so wonderful, I demand that you treat me well?” That isn’t faith, that’s pride. Or do we approach our Lord and say, “I have sinned in thought, word, and deed by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault”? – do we approach God seeking mercy not because of who we are but of His boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Christ Jesus? This is the approach of faith, where we cling not to ourselves, not to our own righteousness, but cling to Christ. For this is a battle that Christ comes to wage – He wages war not only against Satan, but against our own sinful flesh. If left to our own devices, we would do nothing but fight against God – our sinful flesh wants everything our way, our sinful will thinks only of what seems good to us, feels good to us, makes us look nice and proper. We need this sinfulness in us broken and destroyed – that is the point of praying “Thy Will Be Done” – God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. In our text, it was not the disciples’ will that was done, but rather Christ’s gracious and merciful will – and in faith, we call out to God to see that His will is done, indeed, to see that the power of His Gospel, His love, His forgiveness come crashing into our lives and change us, break us free from our sin and ego and make us to grow in love. That’s the prayer after the Supper – upon receiving His gifts “we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love toward one another” – that God would increase our faith, that we would learn ever more to not only cling to Him but to love our poor and wretched neighbors who need Christ as much as we do.

Lent is a season of repentance, it is a time of self-examination. And when we look at ourselves, we see the little flares of pride and ego pop up, pride and ego that would hinder and prevent us from showing love, pride and ego that would make us want to close our eyes to our neighbor and turn our backs upon God. But Lent is also the season where we see Christ Jesus go to battle for us, for our sake, and part of that battle He fights for us is against our sinful flesh. He reproves us and corrects us, shows us our sin that we might repent of it, but more than that, He shows us mercy, shows us His goodness and kindness, teaches us that we need not have any ego because it is not our worth that earns His love – rather He freely gives it, that He sees that we are fed, takes us poor miserable sinful dogs and washes us in Baptism and says, “You are now My brother, My Sister, indeed, My own Body, and all that I have, My righteousness, My holiness, My life – it is yours. See, I love you, and I will stop at nothing, not even death, to free you from sin.” Christ fights for us, dear friends, and that is a wondrous and humbling thing. It is His fighting for us that gives us the gift of faith by which we have life in His name, all thanks be to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +