Saturday, June 24, 2017

Trinity 2 Sermon

Trinity 2 – June 24th and 25th, 2017 – Luke 14:15-24

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
When wisdom puts forth her call, will you come and learn? When wisdom cries out, will you be instructed and learn? Or when wisdom asks you to come and join with the company of the wise, will you instead demand to remain on your own, doing things your way, isolated and foolish? Wisdom or your own sinful and foolish flesh – which will you listen to? This is the question from the book of Proverbs which we heard read this morning, a question which the Pharisees with whom Jesus Christ is dining are familiar with. Jesus and the Pharisees have been gathered together, and He has already been teaching, and in response one person says, Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God!Well, this is true. Those who are at, who participate in the heavenly feast, well blessed are they! And yet, Christ decides there is more to point out. He shows forth wisdom again – so let us not be accounted among the foolish, but give heed to our Lord’s Words today about what true blessing, true wisdom is.

But [Jesus] said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready. So there’s the set up. There are plans for a banquet, for a great and wonderful feast. Everyone has RSVP's, and then the time arrives. Everything is prepared, everything is ready, it is time to feast, it is time to celebrate, it is time simply to rejoice in this wonderful blessing. How kind this man who hosts this banquet is! He makes no demands of those he invites. This is not BYOB, he doesn’t say, “You bring desert if you want it, cause I’m not making any.” No, all is ready, all is provided by this man. It is not merely a free lunch, but a free feast, one long expected, given simply out of the generosity and love of the host.

And yet – something horrible happens. But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” All these people who were invited, all these people who had nothing asked of them, who had nothing demanded of them, they decline. They won’t make it. They have excuses – and weak ones at that. I bought a field – well, won’t the field be there tomorrow? Come and feast today, and we will rejoice over your field together! I bought 5 pair of oxen – put them in the pasture, let them rest, and you yourself, rest and rejoice at the feast. I have a wife – well, bring her along, there is food enough aplenty! All weak excuses. This is not a matter of “my wife is sick and I must show love to tend to her.” This is not “my ox has fallen into a well, and I must rescue it.” No, all of these excuses that are given, they are things that could have been done later.

The master’s reaction is understandable. So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry. Understandable that. You’ve prepared a feast. You have gone to great expense, you have labored and worked – and then, you are blown off. People who said they'd come just don't. And for no good reason. In fact, out of simple disdain. It is understandable that this master would be a bit miffed, a bit put out. But this master does not pout, he does not whine – he rather does something creative. And [he] said to his servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” And the servant said, “Sir, what you commanded has already been done, and still there is room.” And the master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filed. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” Alright, if that’s how you people want to be – fine, we’ll feast and celebrate without you. You want to be cold and alone – I’ll feast with others. You know what, it doesn’t have to be the hoity-toity that I feast with. No, let the poor and the blind come, the weak and the lame – the people you snubbers probably snub all the time. In fact, let the strangers, those weary from travel, those who are foreigners and passer-bys, wanderers and vagabonds – let them come, they will rejoice and eat, and we are going to have one fantastic bash. And in your stubbornness, in your folly, you will miss it.

So, this is what Jesus teaches – and we know that there is more to it than this. Jesus did not just suddenly turn into Better Homes and Gardens or the Food Network – this is more than advice for throwing the perfect party, even when things don’t work right to begin with. No, we know what this means. The master is God Almighty, who has invited us into His House, His Church, invited us to the great and heavenly feast that shall last all eternity. And this is all His doing. What must you bring with you, what must you do to earn an invite? Nothing. All has been prepared. The great servant Christ Jesus has done all the work that is required, indeed, He Himself invites you to come, join in the joys of heaven.

And people don’t come. People hear of the free gift and don’t come. Life and forgiveness and salvation are yours! Eh, why bother? We can be shocked at this – at this disdain for the Gospel – and note, that is what it is, a disdain for the Gospel. The people here aren’t rejecting the “Law” – this isn’t about Law, what must any of these people who are invited do? What work is left for them? Nothing, it has all been done – it’s all Gospel. And we can think and wonder, how can people ignore this – how can they just blow it off?

Easy enough. Now, let me read from Proverbs again for a moment. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. How can people reject the Gospel, how can they just blow it off? We do it, do we not? Is not today the day where we gather and eat the bread of Heaven, Christ Jesus our Lord, in His own supper? How many aren’t here today? And lest we become smug because we are here and someone else isn’t, how many of us blew off one of the Sunday’s last month, or in April? Or had to drag ourselves out of bed really not wanting to be here… but what would people say? And of course, what about our own family devotions and study during the week – is that done eagerly, or perhaps not at all? How many of us take advantage of times of teaching? I’ve never taught a class where I had to say, “Sorry, we don’t have any more room, you can’t come today.” Do we, we who have the invitation of the Lord to come to His House – to learn His Word, to receive His forgiveness – do we ourselves value it and treasure it like we ought?

This is the thing. Jesus speaks this word of warning to Pharisees, to educated, wise men who knew their scripture. They knew the promises of the Messiah. And when He came, some would hearken to Him, but many would scoff, would ignore, would have better things to do than to follow this Jesus – in fact, many would not only reject our Lord’s invitation, but instead demand His death. They were the people who should have known better.

We dear friends, we are the people of today who should know better. Have you not been taught and trained? Did you not learn the 3rd commandment and it’s meaning – or is that all forgotten? Does your catechism lie ignored in a box or dusty on a shelf? What is the 3rd commandment? Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching or His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Hold the Word sacred. Learn it, be in it, study it, grow in it. Remember that the depths of the wisdom of God are deep, and that there is much to learn there, always more to study and learn there, always more to understand.

And not because God is mean and petty. Not because God wants you to jump through hoops, do little dances to entertain Him. No. Because God loves you, because the Father has sent Christ into the World to go to the Cross and die for your sins, to rise to give you new life. This is what Christ brings you in His Word. And God never wants your separated from that, never wants you to fall away – but God knows how Satan works, how he stalks and preys upon Christians – destroying so many not with loud and brash sins, but with the simple sin of indifference to the Word. Satan wants you to think that you have better things, more important things than to study the Word, than to join together with your fellow Christians in the reception of God’s Word of Forgiveness and His Holy Supper. But God wants to shower His forgiveness upon you. There are many chances you have not to simply study on your own – but to join with others, to have that 2 or 3 or many more gathered in Christ’s name where you will be built up. Be in the Word, because God’s Word is wisdom and life and salvation. Indeed, this is all for our good, for our benefit. We don’t prove anything to God by our diligence in attending, we don’t earn brownie points with God by what we do – rather, this place is about God serving us. God invites us to His house, calls to us in His Word, so that we would be prepared for the eternal feast in heaven. This Supper today, which we will receive – what is it for? Now may this true Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, strengthen and preserve you in the One True Faith. Strengthen, preserve – go now and face the trials of life ready for heaven, ready to spit in Satan’s eye when temptation comes, ready to go gladly when the Angels come to gather you to Abraham’s bosom – Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace!

God wants you to be strong and prepared. God wants you to have peace. God wants you to rest secure in the His love for you, to dwell in His forgiveness, to know the wisdom of God – that is, to know that God has mercy and love for you and sees to your salvation, does all that is required. So He pours all this out upon you in His Word, and send His Spirit upon you to make you to know this wisdom – and thus the Spirit shall do even until the Last Day when we are called to the eternal banquet without end. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Trinity 1 Sermon

Trinity 1 – Luke 16:19-31 – June 17th and 18th, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
What is your posture? When you are in the presence of God Almighty – what is your posture? What is your approach? How do you stand? Do you stride boldly before God and say, “see all that I have done for you!” or do you stand humbly before God and say, “see all that I need, for I need it from you?” Our Gospel text for this day is the Tale of Lazarus and the Rich Man – and a contrast is shown and developed between the haughty Rich Man and the poor beggar Lazarus – but I will contend today that this text isn't talking about your life or success in the world, but rather how you stand before God. Let's dive in.

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” So there's the contrast – you've got one guy with money and wealth and power, and you've got the other guy with nothing. In Jesus' day, purple dye was insanely expensive – only the filthy rich could afford it. And your clothes weren't generally fine – they'd wear out too quickly. And food tended to be simple – daily bread was the expectation, not daily feasting. The Rich Man is the American Dream – big house, great clothes, fantastic food. And then, there's the beggar. And he's a miserable beggar – he's not even a panhandler with a good story, he's just a beggar. Weak and miserable. Too weak to chase off the dogs.

So let's be honest. Which sounds better? What seems to be the better life – what would you wish for your children, your grandchildren – for yourself? To be wealthy and successful, or to be a beggar? To rest comfortably with the fruits of your labor, or to be poor and wait upon the charity of others? And see, there's the rub spiritually, folks. We know that as good Christians we are to show love to our neighbor, that we are to be kind and charitable. In fact, in that famous “love” chapter in 1 Corinthians 13 – you know; Love is patient, love is kind – the Latin translates it as Charity. And it's a good translation – Christian love is a love that gives with no thought of what it will get in return – it is charity. We know we should be generous, that we should be charitable – but what about receiving charity? What about simply receiving a gift – especially something that you need and can't get for yourself? Oh, we don't like that idea at all! We want to give something back in exchange, we'll make it up to people. We'll make it a loan, or someday I'll wash your back because we cannot stand the thought of being reliant upon others, upon needing them to support us. We are independent! We stand and fall on our own two feet, and we don't need anyone else!

Ponder with me, for a moment, the Lord's prayer. Which person in the story looks more like the Lord's prayer.? Which one would be more apt to pray - “give us this day our daily bread” - which would be more apt to beg of God, “deliver us from evil.” How do you view God? Do you view God thinking that you are like a rich man who needs nothing, who has gotten for yourself everything you need by your own strength and efforts (not seeing how richly God has blessed you), or do you view God thinking of yourself as a beggar, who really only lives on account of the gifts and blessings that God gives you? Do you think you're doing alright and if God would give you some pointers on how to have a better life that would be nice (but you can go without, don't need to bother God too much, after all), or do you see that everything in your life is a gift from God – even your talents, your time, your treasure – and moreover that these gifts are given freely and wondrously to you by God, simply out of His love, out of His charity towards you – where you could do nothing to earn them? Do you think you live independent of God, or do you live only by what He gives you?

“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment...” Pause there. Do you see? The rich man, who thought he was just fine on his own and could do all things by himself, dies and is in Hell, in torment. Lazarus, who knew he needed love and support was carried by the angels to the place of comfort. In the Jewish world they didn't talk of “heaven” so much – the good spot in the afterlife was Abraham's bosom, Abraham's side. Do you understand why I put the distinction that I did between the Rich Man and Lazarus – between the pride and arrogance that the Rich Man shows with the humble desire to receive that Lazarus demonstrates? If you think that all that you have is yours by rights, that you have earned it, that the things you have are simply the just deserts of your hard work – well, then you start living like the Rich Man. You become prideful in yourself and callous towards your neighbor who doesn't work as hard as you. But even worse than that, you turn yourself into an idol, you think you are the reason you have stuff, you think you have all the answers, and you stop relying upon God. On the other hand, when you see your own lack, your own weakness, then you realize how much you do rely upon God, how the only way you can live is to live in His love, to live with what He gives you. You learn to see it all as gift – you believe the promises that God makes to you, that He will give you your daily bread, that He will forgive you your trespasses, and that He will deliver you from all evil. You either rely upon God and receive with a glad heart His blessings to you – or you forget God and take pride in what you have – or even worse, you start blaming God and how He has done you wrong because He hasn't done everything the way you would want it.

Consider the Rich Man. Bossy in hell. Think about that – He is bossy in hell. Hey Abraham – send Lazarus over to me in Hell with some water. Have him hop to it. Bossy in hell. And then, when this is impossible – well, go send Lazarus down to my father's house. Just issuing orders, all the while burning in torment. Dare I say like how we can become bossy and rage when we are in pain or hurt or when things don't go how we would want them to go? At any rate, Abraham doesn't put up with it. Send Lazarus? Nope. Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” Listen here, buddy – God has given your family the Word of God (in this case specifically the Old Testament), which over and over tells of God's great love to His people, love they don't earn, a steadfast mercy that endures forever, that constantly forgive sins, that promises salvation. That's what they need. That's what they ought to be paying attention to. And yet the bossy rich man still thinks he knows best - “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” Do you catch the arrogance? Forget the Word of God, I know what will work better – send Lazarus back from the dead. But Abraham is the bearer of an unfortunate truth - “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” If you make your excuses, you'll just keep on making them. If you are determined to ignore God and think you know better than Him – you'll keep on doing it all the way into hell, just like you, Rich Man, just like you.

The Word of God is hard to hear, because our sinful flesh hates it. Our flesh hates the Word of God because we want to be the hero of our own story – we want to be the cause of every good thing, we want to sing out, “I did it my way” and have everyone laud and praise us for it. Yet, what do the scriptures show? Over and over again they point out the folly of our heart, the error of our ways, the depth of our sin. However much we might try to hide behind the myth that we're good people – the Scriptures show us our sin. No matter how often we boast that we are better than others, the Scriptures remind us that we are dying and but dust. And our sinful flesh hates that. Our flesh hates to be told that were aren't the Rich and powerful – it hates to be told that we are beggars. That we are poor, miserable sinners. And yet, what else does God tell you in His Word? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” What else does God tell you in His Word? “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Or “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Do you hear? God has chosen to love you, to pour His blessings of not only body but His blessings of soul upon you. He has claimed you as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism and poured His Spirit upon you. He has created in you a clean heart, for He has no desire to cast you from His presence but to have you dwell with Him for all eternity. Indeed, Christ Jesus knows your trials in this life, your struggles against sin – that you are weak and powerless against them – with might of ours could nought be done, soon were our loss effected, but for us fights the valiant One, Whom God Himself elected. Christ fights for you and wins you salvation – and this doesn't rely upon you – indeed, He won it for you before you were even born and could think to offer aid. This is His love for you. This is the truth you have been made to see. That you have all blessings in Christ.

So then, how do you stand before God? Will you strut before Him, brag about your works, your virtue? Will you grouse about how He hasn't given you enough and shake a fist at Him for not humoring every stupid whim of your flesh? Or will you be content to simply confess that you are a beggar, a poor, miserable sinner who flees to God for mercy for the sake of Christ? It is no bad thing to be a beggar, for God is not some cruel rich miser who will leave you to die on His doorstep. No, He will raise you on account of Christ and give you life everlasting. You are a beggar – His beggar. +

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday – John 3:1-17 – June 10th and 11th, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
All sin, when it boils down to it, is nothing but idolatry – indeed, it’s nothing but self idolatry. All sin is nothing but having your eyes focused not upon the Triune God and His Will, but rather the fleeting and vain whims and wishes of your own heart. This has been the problem since the Garden when we listened to Satan and starting thinking that things would be so much better if we were the ones who were like God, if we were the ones who were in charge. So, what is God to do? His creation has been tarnished, wrecked, bound for destruction. His Adam, His Eve, His you, His me… lost and dying. Shall He just shrug? Shall He just let us get the punishment we deserve, shall He let us remain in our self-destructive self-idolatrous ways? No. Because He loves you, the Father sends His Son to win you salvation, sends His Spirit to turn your eyes off of yourself and rather onto His salvation. With this Sunday, we are entering the Trinity season, the season of teaching, the season where week in and week out we will be shown God’s Truth and Love that triumph over our sin and idolatry. God's not going to let you stay stuck in sin – He will come to rescue you, and for the rest of the Church year we will see the impact, the implications of what having the Triune God get involved in our life means.

And we begin this task with our Gospel lesson from John. “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do the signs that you do unless God is with him.’” At first blush, one might look at Nicodemus and say, “Eh, that’s not bad. That’s a pretty good answer.” Jesus gives him no praise. In fact, Jesus smacks him down hard. “Truly, truly I say unto you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” That’s a smack down. When Jesus begins by saying, “truly, truly I say unto you” – that’s the way of saying, “buddy, you are wrong, and let me tell you how.” And Nicodemus was off. Jesus knew that Nicodemus was full of fluff, knew that Nicodemus was blind. Nicodemus’ approach to Christ was terrible. First, Nicodemus comes at night – when it’s dark and no one can see. He says, “Oh, we know” – but he slinks in at night, doesn’t want any of his good friends to know that he’s daring to talk to this Jesus fellow. And what does Nicodemus know – that Jesus is what? A Teacher? A teacher Nicodemus is embarrassed to be seen with. And also, while being a teacher is a highly respectable thing – teachers don’t do signs … they don’t perform miracles. That is at least a “Prophet” thing. But do you know what the difference in Jesus’ day would have been between a teacher and a prophet? A teacher would have been answerable to the rulers of the Jews… a prophet answers to God. So what you have Nicodemus really saying is, “Okay, I don’t want other folks to know I'm talking to you, and since You are just a teacher, you should be working for me, because I should be the one in charge… and if I get control of You first, it will be good for me.”

“Truly, truly I say unto you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” You are blind, Nicodemus. You are caught in self idolatry. You are stuck elevating yourself – you try to elevate yourself over Me even as you hide from your peers and fear their disdain. At best you think I might give you some insight that you can use in your power-plays. No. You don’t see who I am, Nicodemus. Unless you are born again, unless you are born from on High by God, you will not recognize the Kingdom of God, you will not see that it is no longer about you and your petty desires – I am God, and I have come to establish My kingdom of love and mercy and forgiveness. And without the Spirit, you won’t be able to see it.

And Jesus is right. “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’” That’s a swing and a miss. Nicodemus has no clue. Christ Jesus has spoken to him of that which is wondrous and Spiritual… and Nicodemus, I don’t want to even think where his head is at. Christ alludes to the Kingdom of God – but Nicodemus isn’t interested in that. No, tell mr about this born thing… does it involve women? It’s utterly disgusting and self-serving. Of course, what we too must admit, we who have been given eyes to see by God, that our sin, even the things we try to brush off as small and minor are just as disgusting and self-serving. All sin is disgusting and wicked… even the sins we in our old sinful flesh enjoy.

But Christ, in His wondrous love and patience, answers Nicodemus. “Truly, truly I say unto you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, He cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Let’s look at this part first. Christ here points to Baptism, where you were washed of water and the Spirit. Do you realize what you were given at your baptism? You were brought into God’s Kingdom, you were restored once again to His rule, to where His love and mercy and forgiveness reigns over you. You are no longer bound to Satan, but you are bound by Baptism to Christ. You are in His kingdom. And this is a wonderful and radical thing. How radical? “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” You had been nothing but flesh – flesh is that word for creation under the impact of sin, creation doomed to die. That’s all you were – but you have been born again, called by God out of the darkness of this fallen world and into His marvelous light. You have been made a new creation in Christ – you are spirit. Again, it’s a small part of the Nicene Creed that we often overlook – the Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life. Spirit is always tied to life – Spirit in both Greek and Hebrew refer to a movement of air, of breath, of breathing, of life. Which is why Christ continues, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The Wind [or Spirit] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The word there for Wind and Spirit – the exact same. The two ideas are tied together – this is why in last week’s Epistle when the Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles there is a sound like a mighty wind. And the contrast is set up. It’s not about you being in control, Nicodemus. You do not get to control God, you don’t get to control God any more than you get to control the wind, the breeze. God works when and where He wills. And here is the thing – those who are born again, they realize that it is not about their will, not about their wishes. The Spirit gives life and rescues from sin, rescues from that self-idolatry. What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam (the flesh) in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man (who is spirit) should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

But then Nicodemus asks the kicker. “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’” How. How is a terrible question of doubt. It implies that what you have heard is impossible. How is *that* supposed to happen? And sinful man loves to doubt God. Just How is God supposed to do all this, Jesus? “Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” How? How? Maybe because I’m the Son of God, brainiac. Do you not confess that God is almighty, teacher of Israel? Then why do you keep telling God what He can or cannot do? No, I have come from heaven, come from the Father, come to bring the Kingdom of God to this world, and by My Spirit working through My Word, to bring people into that Kingdom. And what does this look like – let me give you an example, a parallel that you should be familiar with, Nicodemus. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” When the people rebelled and grumbled against God, the fiery serpents came and bit them, and they got sick and were dying. But when they looked at the bronze snake on a pole as God had commanded them, they lived. This was all foreshadowing, Nicodemus. The serpent has you – not the fiery one, but the old, evil serpent - Satan. And to destroy the kingdom of Satan, I will be lifted up upon the Cross, I will enter into death’s domain and I will rip it asunder, and all who believe in Me will live forever.

That, dear friends, is what the Kingdom of God looks like. It is Christ crucified for your sake. As you suffer under sin, as you fight against and deal with guilt and sorrow and pain and anger and hatred and all the other consequences of sin, Christ calls your eyes to behold Him crucified for you. See, your sin is no more, it is done away with – now lift up your hearts and rejoice, for the Kingdom of God has come, and you have been brought into it. Your sins are forgiven, your eyes behold Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit you have been given eyes to see and ears to hear, and you are now restored to the Father, you now even may approach Him in prayer. This is how God loves the world – not with petty baubles or riches that fade, the Triune God loves the world in this way – the Father sends the Son to the cross, and the Spirit makes us to behold the Son so that we might not perish but have eternal life. And that is where we live, that is who we are. That is whom God has made you to be – for you are a new creation in Christ, born again by water and the Spirit. Christ Jesus comes, and He blasts apart sin, blasts apart your sin, and He draws you unto Himself, gives Himself to you, even His very Body and Blood, so that you might have eternal life. This is the Triune God’s love for you, this is how He rescues you from sin and Satan and even from yourself. All thanks and praise be to our God now and forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Pentecost Sermon

Pentecost – Acts 2 and John 14 – June 3rd and 4th, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
The day of Pentecost is here – the day on which we remember the Apostles sitting there in Jerusalem, and then the mighty rush of wind, and then the tongues of fire, and then the speaking in tongues so that all who are present can hear. . . hear what? Our reading today from Acts cuts off Peter’s sermon – he had just begun to preach – said we aren’t drunk but this is just what Joel told you would come – and then we don’t hear any more. So, what does Peter preach that day – when the Holy Spirit comes upon him, what does Peter proclaim? Listen to his next two sentences – “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” And then here's the closing sentence – “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you have crucified.” The Holy Spirit comes – and what happens? Peter preaches that Jesus is True Man and True God – He is the LORD – and He has died and He has risen. Then people ask what they should do, and Peter responds: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the LORD our God calls to Himself.”

And so here we are. Seriously, this is us in the text – we are those who are far off, who are the children’s children’s children many times over – this is the promise we have received, that we have been made part of. We have been called to repentance, we have been baptized – many of us at this very font – we have received the Holy Spirit, and we have been called by God to come to this place and hear His Word and worship Him. You are part of Acts 2 – you are part of the events of Pentecost. What started then with the establishment of the Apostolic Church extends to right now, right here. We are part of that very same Church – we have the same LORD and Christ, we have the same baptism and forgiveness, we have received the same Holy Spirit.

So then, what does this mean? What now does life for one who repents and receives forgiveness from Christ look like? What does life look like for one who has received the Holy Spirit? Is it a life of power and might – where we can put our hands on people’s heads and shake a bit and then knock them to the ground and say, “Be healed”? While it could be fun, at least for me, to go around smacking people upside their head – that’s not the point. Or does receiving the Holy Spirit mean that we get to go and speak in tongues and talk in strange languages? Well, I suppose it could, but on Pentecost day there were people from all over gathered into the Temple – Parthians and Medes and Elamites and folks from all over. What do we have here. . . English speakers of mostly Germanic descent. There’s not really a need for that, and the Holy Spirit didn’t have the Apostles speak in tongues just so that they could be cool and have people ooo and ahhh at them. And I could go on – there are those who thought receiving the Holy Spirit meant you rolled around on the ground – you know, holy rollers – or that you barked like a dog, or that you got to play with snakes – on and on and on. I would rather suggest that we listen to the Words of our Lord Jesus Christ and what He describes in our Gospel lesson.

“Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’” This is a fantastically dense verse. We are the people who love Jesus – so what shapes our lives – keeping His Word. Now, this doesn’t just mean “obeying the commandments”. This isn’t just law here, this isn’t just a command to be nice. This word “keep” really has that sense of hold fast to, cling to – to hold onto God’s Word in faith. We are to hold fast to and cling to God’s Word – all of it. Commandments – yes indeed. We are to strive and to struggle to do good. But also we are to cling by faith to the Word of God which tells us that we have forgiveness in Christ Jesus because of His death and resurrection for our sake. We are to cling to that very truth that Peter proclaimed on Pentecost – to keep and pay attention to what the Scriptures say and teach – all of it – Law and Gospel. This is what it is to keep the Word, to see that we know it, that we learn it. Our entire lives are shaped and defined by the truth that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That’s what we hold on to, that’s where we live. We struggle against sin and delight in Christ’s forgiveness. And what happens at the very same time as we live in that Word? The Father and the Son come to us and make their home with us, live with us, be with us.

And of course, this keeping our focus on the Scriptures, this being in the Word isn’t simply our own action, it isn’t something that simply comes about by our own strength. Rather our Lord says, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that came upon the Apostles on Pentecost, the same Spirit that Peter promised to those who heard and believed and were baptized, the same Spirit that we ourselves have received by the gift of baptism – He has come to us and He teaches us. The Spirit brings to remembrance – He makes us remember the things that Jesus has said to us. Or to put it another way – the Spirit makes us to keep Christ’s Word – to make it so that the Word of God is up front in our life. The Holy Spirit makes us to remember God’s commands, so that during the week when we live our lives we know the difference between right and wrong, so that we know what is good and God pleasing and strive to do that. Without the Spirit, you cannot try to please God, because without the Spirit a person doesn’t really know who God is and can’t know what God wants – and you end up with all the various false religions of the world where people make up their own things - the Lord says of them, “In vain do they worship Me, following the commandments of men.” The Holy Spirit focuses us upon the Word so we don’t careen off into that. The Holy Spirit also makes us to remember God’s love for us, makes us to remember that the Father sent the Son to be our Savior from Sin, so that when we are burdened, when we understand and see the weight of our sin, we repent and with joy and gladness receive forgiveness. The Holy Spirit draws us closer to Christ, He makes us to trust in the forgiveness that Christ won even while Satan and the world mock us and try to condemn us. That’s what the Spirit does. Do you wish to know if you have received the Holy Spirit – it is as simple as this. Have you been baptized? If so, the Holy Spirit has laid His claim upon you. Do you confess that Jesus is LORD – that He is God Almighty? No man may say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. Do you repent of your sin and receive Christ’s forgiveness – that is worked by the Word of God through the Holy Spirit. This is where we live, this is our lives as Christians – those who by the Spirit are brought to the Word of God and live in that Word of God and keep that Word of God.

And so what does this all mean? Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” The gift of the Holy Spirit is this – the Spirit focuses us upon the Word of God, and thus we are focused upon Christ Jesus and thus we know His Peace. We are at peace with God. God is not angry with you, God is not out to punish you – all that has been taken up by Christ. There upon the cross was your punishment, and now there is no more punishment left for you. The Triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit – is at peace with you, and dwells with you, makes His home with you – for you are forgiven because of Christ Jesus. This is the peace Christ has given you, the peace that the Spirit continually points you to. And this is not given as the world gives. In the world, that which is given often has strings attached and hidden fees and fine print. In the world, there's wheeling and dealing. In the world there’s always a catch, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But not as the world gives does Christ give His peace to you – for it is truly free. It is truly a gift. Nothing of yours is required, but rather God delights in giving you salvation – indeed, God loves you and maintains you and cares for you even as you wander. He calls you to repentance, calls you to return to your baptismal life, and showers forgiveness upon you. And thus, there is no need for your hearts to be troubled – no need for them to be afraid. Christ has won everything for you, enjoy His peace.

This, dear friends, is your heritage as a Christian. This is what the Father sent the Holy Spirit through His Son for – so that you might always be secure and confident in His love, that you might always cherish God’s Word in its truth and purity, and that you might always know and be sure of the forgiveness Christ has won you. What was revealed on the day of Pentecost continues here today, and it shall continue until our Lord returns – come quickly Lord Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ascension Observed

Ascension Day Observed – May 27th and 28th – Luke 24:44-53

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.
Yes indeed, Christ is risen, and more than that, He has ascended, and He is seated at the Right Hand of the Father, and He shall come again to judge the living and the dead, that is He rules the world with truth and grace, and that He shall come and finally put an end to all sin and wickedness, taking us to His side for all eternity. This is our faith as Christians, this is what we look forward to, what we long to see. And on this day, when we remember and celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, it is a time to see that all that Christ has done, indeed, all of the Scriptures are driving that this end – that Christ Jesus shall come again and that because of Him, you will live with Him forever.

Listen to our Lord. 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.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. Everything must be fulfilled, all the things of the Old Testament must be fulfilled, because God loves you and will not let anything stop Him from showing you love. You realize that is the story of the Bible right? It’s not just events of long ago, not just a list of rules, or even practical advice. It is the story of Christ Jesus not letting anything get in the way of His love for you, not sin, not death, not the Devil.

Consider creation. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. By Him all things were made – a garden where man and woman would live, delight, enjoy, and walk with God in peace. Sin messes that up – so then Christ Jesus will come and redeem sinful men and women, and He will make for them a New Heavens and a New Earth not tainted by sin, because that’s His love for you. Or Cain and Abel. Cain slays Abel, and Abel’s blood cries out. So then Christ Jesus will come, and He will be slain by His brothers, and His blood calls out for your pardon and peace. The world at the time of Noah is so wicked that it must be washed away – then Christ will come and give you the gift of Holy Baptism, so that your sins are washed away and you are left to live with Christ. Abraham had no children – so Christ comes to be His descendant, bringing Father Abraham the many sons that the children’s song extols. Isaac deserved to die, to be sacrificed! The Lamb of God will come and be sacrificed in Isaac’s stead, so that father and son can rejoice together – whether that father and son are Abraham and Isaac or God the Father and all of you. Jacob thought he had to fight and cheat for his blessings, but instead Christ wrestles him down and says, “I will be the one who comes and gives you blessings!” Joseph suffers all sorts of wickedness, is sold into slavery, unjustly prisoned… but this is all so that he would be exulted by Pharaoh so as to save his brothers and give them bread. Likewise Christ is betrayed by His friend, handed over to wicked men and killed – and though they intended it for evil, God intended it for good; He raises and exults Jesus, and now He gives you a better bread, the Bread of His Supper, now His own Body so that you have life and life everlasting. All of it, all of Genesis – driving and pointing to Christ Jesus and His love for you.

And there’s 38 more books of the Old Testament… we could see the same in them all – in Moses, in the Exodus, in Joshua, in David, in the story of Boaz and Ruth, in the Prophets, in the temple, in the rules and regulations, in the Sabbath itself that points to Christ’s Sabbath rest in the tomb after Good Friday… but if we did, I might not make it out of this pulpit alive. And that’s not suggesting that any of you would do anything to me, I’d probably just keel over from exhaustion. But this is what Christ makes the disciples to see – that the Old Testament, the Scriptures, are the story of God showing love to His people, fixing the fall, preparing the way for Christ Jesus, pointing us to the coming Messiah, so that in Christ we would see and know the great love that God has for us.

And having shown this to the disciples, Christ Jesus continues. [He] 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 should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem….” This is what the Scriptures proclaim. Christ will bruise Satan’s head, while Satan bruises His heel. Or Psalm 22 – I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint, my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast.” Hanging on the cross, joints destroyed, the spear pierces His side, His heart, and blood and water melt out. The Son must die and rise. And this truth is to be proclaimed – repentance and forgiveness. Behold your sins, for they are great, but Christ and His death and resurrection are greater, so there is forgiveness in Him, in His Name. And begin in Jerusalem, but go to all nations, for Abraham must have many sons, and the sheep not of this fold the Shepherd must gather, and go not like Jonah grumbling on his way to Ninevah, but rejoicing that this salvation is for the Gentiles as well! Yes, you here in this room, those of you without even a drop of Jewish blood, who cannot claim Abraham as your physical father in the slightest – the promise is for you as well.

You are witnesses of these things. And from our point of view, not just the Old Testament points to Christ. Indeed, the New Testament, the writings of the Apostles do the same thing. These witnesses preached, and they also wrote things down – the Early Church would call the New Testament the “memoirs of the Apostles”. And what do they do? They proclaim repentance and forgiveness in the Name of Christ. The 4 Gospels proclaim this. The Epistles all proclaim this. Paul is determined to know nothing among you but Christ and Him Crucified. Luther is right – every page of the Old Testament drips with Christ, and the New Testament is the revealing of what was hidden in the Old, namely Christ. All things are set, all things are prepared.

And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the City until you are clothed with power from on high.” And Pentecost will come. And the Apostles will be sent out, and the preaching of Christ will spread through all nations, through various languages, even making it’s way out to Illinois, even in a language as strange as English. But more on that next week when we celebrate Pentecost. For today, let us consider what happens next.

Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” And His work is done. He has accomplished all things and won your salvation. He has died and He is risen – your salvation is won. But did you note what He is doing even as He ascends? He is blessing them. And what do you think Christ is doing now? Right now, at this moment, Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. That implies two very important things. First, that is a position of power – All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Christ rules the world – and how does He rule it? For your blessing, for your good. And that may not always be obvious – the world still intends things for evil – God still works it for good. It may not be the blessings you expect, but Christ Jesus is in charge, and He will still bless you and keep you, will make His face shine upon you (like the transfiguration) and be gracious unto, and will lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace – Peace be with you, see My hands and My side! Christ Jesus is your Lord and your God, and He still cares for you. He has been crowned with many crowns, and the King reigns for you and acts out of love for you.

And not only that – you have an advocate with the Father. You have an advocate with the Father who has borne all your sin, who has with His own stripes healed you, and so that now in Him the Father is well pleased with you. You have been restored unto the Father, you have been forgiven by Him. This is the great joy and reality – and it is the reality and truth that we shall see in full, for one day this same Jesus who ascended shall come again with trumpet sound, and the dead will be raised, and we shall go to the joys of eternity with Christ. Christ has done it all, and in Him we have life, all thanks be to God. Amen. Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Easter 4 Sermon w Confirmation

Easter 4 (and Confirmation) – May 6th and 7th, 2017 – John 16:16-22

Christ is Risen! (He is Risen indeed, alleluia!) Amen.
You will be sorrowful. There you go confirmands. You will be sorrowful – happy Confirmation Day! Boy, that took a turn, didn't it. Well, understand where and when our Gospel Lesson takes place. In a sense, it happens immediately after the Disciples have been confirmed. It's Maundy Thursday evening, and Jesus has just celebrated the Lord's Supper for the first time, they've all just had their first communion – and our Gospel text is Jesus talking to them after that first Lord's Supper. And what does Jesus know that the disciples don't? He knows that Good Friday's coming. The Crucifixion is coming. And even after Jesus is raised from the dead, His ascension is coming. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Your class time is done disciples, and soon, you won't be following Me around as my learners, but you'll be out there, you'll be doing things, you'll be teaching. Dare I say, you're going to be all grown up, expected to be adults.

And this sort of freaks out the disciples. “So they were saying, 'what does He mean by a little while? We do not know what He is talking about.” It's scary, and they want to ask, but again, they are proud, they are the disciples, they've spent so long learning, they shouldn't need to ask. Lesson 1 from our text – even though you've all studied, you never learn enough to where you can't ask questions, to where there won't be things you ask questions about. I've been a Pastor nearly 13 years, and I still try to meet with other pastors at least once a week, because I still get questions. And Jesus understands that. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you have them folks – do you see how welcoming of questions Jesus is? He'll actually ask them for the disciples. “Is this what you were asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, 'A little while and you will not see Me, and again a little while and you will see me?” Questions don't bother Jesus. And 'what does this mean” questions certainly don't bother Jesus – being done with confirmation doesn't mean you're done with “what does this mean?” Nope, questions continue – and sometimes the answers are hard.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” And you guys all thought me starting the sermon with “You will be sorrowful” was rough. But Jesus is just speaking the truth. What will the disciples see in the next 24 hours? They will see Jesus arrested, beaten, unjustly condemned, and crucified, all while the world mocks and jeers and rejoices that Jesus the troublemaker has been finally put down. And Peter, bold Peter's going to be weeping bitter tears after the cock crows three times; John's going to be at the foot of the Cross getting told to take care of Mary. It's going to stink on ice, and even while it's at it's worst for the disciples, the world will be laughing and celebrating.

Lesson number 2. In your lives, you will see things that will rip up you. The world will do things that are horrible – I hope you don't see much, but chances are you will. And Satan will still keep on stirring up all sorts of hatreds and anger – the world's never going to be a nice place. And even your own sinful flesh will get in on the act, and you will be tempted to do all sorts of stupid foolish things, you'll have discontent from wanting things you don't have, you'll get caught up in stupid fights and anger, and you will sin – and then Satan will slug you and attack you will guilt. That's the way life goes in this sinful world – and it keeps going this way. Bad times, rough times, can come sweeping up at you at any moment – and it doesn't matter what you've learned, it doesn't matter how old you are. Growing up doesn't mean everything suddenly makes sense and is easy – just means new problems. Every single one of us in here has something rough to deal with, and if things are fortunately sort of smooth now, just wait a bit, something will come up soon enough. You will be sorrowful. That's just a fact.

Now, if we stopped there this would be an utterly dour and depressing sermon, wouldn't it? And some folks might want to skip over all this – but we can't. Being a Christian isn't a golden ticket to sunshine and daisies all the time. There will be sorrows in this life. There will be hurts and pains and anger, and as a Pastor I'm probably going to be stuck doing funerals until someone does mine. Sorrow happens, we can't pretend otherwise, we can't live in denial – Jesus teaches us specifically this fact. When sorrow comes in your life, don't pretend it's not there. Being macho never impressed Jesus. When sorrow comes in the lives of people you know, your family, your friends, your neighbors – don't downplay it. We are Christians, we know sorrow – we know just how rotten sorrow is because we know just how Good God had created this place to be. We know sorrow, because we know sin for what it is, and how horrible it is. But Jesus doesn't just leave us in sin, Jesus doesn't just let sin and sorrow stand. No – You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. Now, quickly, let me point out something. Jesus said joy. He didn't say happy. Happy is an emotion, how happy or sad we are is internal, it can go up and down and all over the place. Happy is all over the place. That's not what Jesus said; He said joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Joy is something that is given to you. Joy isn't an internal emotion, but Joy is seeing something else, something greater, something outside yourself.

Jesus explains what I mean. 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. See how that works. Several gals I know, that we know here, have given birth recently, and you know what's fun? Seeing all the baby photos on Facebook. And there's lots of them. Tons of them. That's joy. What's the mom focusing on – not “three weeks ago I was shouting and asking for stronger drugs” - it's “oh look, isn't he cute!” That's joy. Joy in that human being, in that other person. Joy pulls your focus off of that sorrow and then puts it onto something wondrous and wonderful. It doesn't mean that the sorrow was any less sorrowful, it doesn't mean that the labor was any less laborious – but now our focus isn't dominated by that sorrow, our focus is on this little bundle of joy. Not looking at, not overwhelmed by my sorrow anymore – even though there might still be some soreness that still lingers – but look at this fella, isn't he sweet?

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. This is beautiful, oh people this is beautiful. Jesus acknowledges to the disciples that they will have sorrow now – He doesn't downplay it, He doesn't soft-sell it. But He makes a promise. I will see you again. And did you note that – Jesus says I will see you again. He doesn't say, “You'll have to look to try to find Me.” He doesn't say that He'll disappear. Nope – I will see you, and because I see you you will have hearts that rejoice, joy that no one can take away from you. And what does Jesus do after He rises? This was two weekends ago – even when the disciples are locked away in fear and sorrow – there Jesus is. Peace be with you. I told you I would see you again, and lookie here, I see you, and I say peace. And even a week later, He shows up again. Jesus comes again to the disciples – and really, the next few weeks are going to be lessons on how Jesus comes to us in His Church through His Word and Sacraments. We'll get plenty on this the rest of this month, but let's tie it up now.

When you were baptized, Christ Jesus saw you. He saw you and said, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He saw you and declared that you are His brother, His sister. He saw you and declared that you are forgiven and would be an heir of eternal life. That He would be your God who would always be merciful. And you know what – no one can take that joy from you, no one can change the fact that you are a baptized child of God. And what is confirmation? Nothing but this: I will ask these 5 young adults the same question I got asked – Do you this day in the presence of God and of this congregation acknowledge the gifts that God gave you in your Baptism? Do you acknowledge the gifts, do you recognize this joy that Christ has given you that no one can take away from you, that no sorrow can take away from you? Are you starting to see things like an adult, see and understand what actually goes on in this service?

What happens in this service? Jesus sees you. He sees you here in His Church, He sees you coming into His House, facing whatever sorrows you're facing in life. Doesn't freak Him out, doesn't make Him ashamed of you. Instead, He sees you, and He sends a pastor, this day it happens to be me, and He instructs that pastor to say, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +” See, your Baptism still holds true. God still sees you as His, and no one can take that joy from you.

Jesus sees you. He sees you, and He calls you to His table, to give Himself to you in the wonderful mystery of the Lord's Supper. Take and eat, take and drink – given and shed for you, for you, yes, for you, so that you would have joy. It's all about the forgiveness and life and salvation that Christ has given you – freely, completely out of His love for you. And this is what He offers you, even until you reach the feast of eternal life with Him – when He appears and you are like Him, raised to a new and glorious and sinless life. This is what Christ has done for you.

You will be sorrowful. That's how we started this sermon – but hear again how Jesus ends it. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy, turn to and see Christ and His everlasting love for you. This the truth, the truth we see whenever Christ comes to us in His Word, in His Sacrament. God grant that we see this all our days in this world of sorrow, even until we see Christ Jesus face to face in the life of the world to come. And we shall see Him. And we confess together why we will see him saying – Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia +

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Easter 3 Sermon

Easter 3 – April 29th and 30th, 2017 – John 10:11-16

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen +
The Gospel texts that we hear in these weeks after Easter really end up focusing us upon what the Risen Christ does for us and makes us into – what we in the Church are made into on account of Christ. On Easter, we get the foundation – Christ rises from the dead, and this is for us, it is to give us new life now and the assurance of our own resurrection on the Last Day. Last week, we heard that Christ uses His Word of forgiveness to counter our fears and doubts, to give us strength for this new life - that He makes us to be people whose lives are defined by the fact that we receive forgiveness from Christ. Do you see how both of those texts describe how Christ relates to us, and then describe who, describe what we are in the Church because of Christ and His love for us? Today we hear another description of what Christ establishes in His Church, what His love makes us to be. And it’s familiar – it’s the image of the Good Shepherd.

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” We hear these words, and we make those joyous connections – of course Christ is our Good Shepherd, and on Good Friday, the Good Shepherd laid down His life for us. We know this, we give thanks for this. As Paul would have us be, we are determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified in this place – we know that as often as we celebrate the Supper we show forth His death until He comes. Behold the love that Christ the Crucified has for us in dying for our sins so that we might have life in His Name! But let’s not run by this idea too quickly. Let us pause and consider it again – the Good Shepherd does what? What does a good shepherd do? He dies for the sheep. Do we realize just how odd an approach that is, how differently our Lord thinks and teaches from the rest of the world? A shepherd dying for sheep? For those sheep who exist so that you can sheer their wool, so that you can even slaughter them? For that a good shepherd would die? Who gives up their life for an animal, for a lowly beast? Yet, that is how Christ describes His Church. It is as though Christ were to say, “I am God Almighty – and although I am God and you are as below me as a sheep is below you, yet I choose out of My love for you to die for you.”

Do we believe this image? Does this shape how we think? Do we view ourselves as sheep, as foolish folk who easily wander astray into sin? Do we view ourselves as simple folk in need of constant and continued care, who are relatively powerless to defend ourselves against predators? Do we believe this? We ought, for it is true. Christ is the Good Shepherd, and we are sheep – we all like sheep had gone astray, and we need to be cared for. This is part and parcel of what being a Christian is – it means acknowledging that you are weak and lowly and that you need to be cared for – that you need God’s care for you, that if the Good Shepherd hadn’t died for you, then you yourself would have been lost, and that there is nothing that you could have done about it – that you are dependent upon Jesus, just as a sheep is dependent upon its shepherd.

This is who we in this place are, we are those who are dependent upon Christ. And why are we dependent upon Christ and not someone else? “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. This is because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” This is the other reality – to be in the Church is dangerous, for that old wolf Satan loves nothing more than to bound amongst God’s sheep and snatch them, seize them, scatter them. And if I could make an observation here. When are the sheep scattered? When the hireling who doesn’t care about them flees. This hireling is contrasted to the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd owns the sheep and lays down His life. The hireling – he doesn’t care about the sheep themselves – he thinks along the ways of the world. He cares for the cash in his pocket, and if this flock gets eaten up, well, there’s more places in the world to make money. Now, in many ways this part of the textis a warning to me – for I am a Pastor, and Pastor is just the Latin word for Shepherd. I serve under the Good Shepherd, and when I tend to you in His stead and by His command – the thoughts of worldly things are to be far from my mind. That’s part of the reason why we have a Church Council, why we have a voter’s assembly – so that I don’t personally have to deal with the worldly, business affairs of this congregation by myself and begin seeing dollars and cents instead of sheep in need of care. Whenever that happens, Satan delights. However, this passage also describes you. God has instructed, God has called you to love your neighbor – and how – love your neighbor as yourself. To see that you are involved in your neighbor’s life, that your neighbor is part of your own life. This is a warning to you as well. When you do not love your neighbor as yourself – when your own thoughts are distracted by what you can gain, what you can make, what you can take for yourself from your neighbor – that is when Satan comes in and snatches folks. When you don’t show love, your indifference and coldness lets Satan wreck havoc upon your neighbor. And more than that, when you don’t show love, your indifference and coldness lets Satan wreck havoc upon you yourself. If you do not show love, you are saying, “I don’t want to be a sheep – I want to be a wolf, I want to prey upon others, seize and snatch what is theirs for my own selfish desires.” This is what we need to be aware of – that if we fail to be content with simply being sheep who are cared for by the Shepherd, and instead we become focused on the things of this world, money, power, fame, respect, glory, might – we are no better than a hireling who flees and leaves the sheep to be slaughtered, we indeed become the wolves preying upon our neighbor instead of praying to God for their good.

Our Lord teaches us how He makes us to avoid this horrible and wicked fate. “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 My life down for the Sheep.” Do you note what is so wonderful about this? Here we have just heard about the dangers facing us, the problems we might get into. And what is the solution? Does Jesus say, “Well then, sheep, you better learn to get tougher so you can fight off a wolf on your own”? Does Jesus say, “Well then, sheep, you’re on your own, you better formulate some master strategy and plan”? No – Jesus puts the focus back upon Himself. Yes, I know that you sheep are in danger – but I am the Good Shepherd, and I know you, and because I know you, you know Me – and I lay down My life for you. Christ Jesus lays down His life for us – this isn’t just describing the one time, the once for all event of Good Friday – but rather this. Christ always lays down, Christ always gives you His life. Again, this shows us how we need to think, how we ought to view the things in this Church. Everything here in this place is us receiving from Christ His life, the life He laid down for us – and this life protects us, it makes us to know Him and know His love for us. Christ is the center of everything here. We don’t just pay Jesus a minute of lip service and then go talk about something else. Our liturgy – this is Christ’s Word of love for us so that we might know Him, know the forgiveness that He won for us by laying down His life. Our hymns – they aren’t about us and what we do – they are about Christ Jesus and what He brings us. We are content in Christ. Christ is our Shepherd. We rejoice because Christ’s death has set us free. Our Hymns proclaim Christ. The sermon – it’s not going to be 4 simple rules for having better stuff – it’s always going to be about what Christ does in winning and giving you salvation. The Supper – what is that – the Body of Christ, given for you. The Blood of Christ, shed for you. The Good Shepherd laid down for you. That’s what the Supper is.

So I am going to ask the question. Do we believe this – do we act as though what we confess here is actually true? Do we believe that God Himself is present here – do we believe that God gathers His flock here so that we can hear His voice, hear His Word and thus be safe and have life in His Name? Do we actually believe that it is Christ who gathers us here, that the Holy Spirit works through Christ’s Word, and that this is what makes us one, one flock? I ask, not because I think you don't believe, but because Satan will do everything in his power to destroy, to distort this place. He will tell you it is pointless – as though eternal life and salvation isn’t a big enough point. Satan will tell you it is boring – as though the very wonder of the ages – that God becomes Man and suffers and dies so that you might live is somehow humdrum and dull. He will tell you it isn’t exciting - as though our sole goal in life is to be entertained. Satan will tell you that God’s Word isn’t enough – as though God’s Word which created everything, the world and our faith, somehow is weak. Do you believe, do you understand that you are a sheep who has heard Christ’s voice, who knows the voice of your Master, the Good Shepherd who has laid down His life for you, the Good Shepherd who has been raised from the dead proving that you will have everlasting life in His name? This is reality, this is what your life is – and indeed, this is what everyone’s life should be – this is why we are to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified so that these walls echo with nothing but Christ, so that we in our lives speak and show forth Christ – so that through us others, our family, our friends, our neighbors – so that these people whom God has placed into our lives would hear the voice of Christ as well, that they would be gathered here. And this is all done by Christ Jesus – the Good Shepherd who lays down His life – the Good Shepherd who calls out and restores and forgives us through His Word. This is what our life is, this is what this place is. We are Christ’s own dear sheep whom He loves, whom He cares for by His Word, and whom He will never abandon, all thanks and praise be to God Almighty. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Easter 2 Sermon

Easter 2 – John 20:19-31 – April 22nd and 23rd, 2017
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) + Amen
The bunnies are gone and the chocolates are all eaten. The new dresses, the nice suits, for the most part they’ve gone back into the closet. The eggs, the family dinners are done, the pictures have been posted to the internet – and as far as the world is concerned, Easter is done – now, when’s Memorial Day and the start of summer? Not so in the Church. We’ve only just begun Easter – the altar will be wearing its Easter white 5 more weeks, and in this time we will be studying the Gospel of John, hearing from our Lord and pondering what His resurrection means for us, how it shapes our lives. And now that the hoopla is past, consider for a moment that forgotten theme of all the Easter stories – fear.

You see, the Gospels don’t deal with Easter the way Hallmark does. In the Scriptures, it’s not all sunshine and daisies and spring. Every Gospel has in its account of the resurrection fear. Matthew – you’ve got the guards fearing, you’ve got the women afraid. In Mark, everyone’s afraid. Same with Luke – except in Luke you hear about the bewildered disciples on the road to Emmaus, the two who figure it’s best to high tail it out of Jerusalem – that’s how fearful they are. And then, there’s John – and last week we heard of Mary Magdalene’s utter fear and confusion. And what do we hear this week? “On the evening of that day, 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.” Fear. Disciples, have you heard? Jesus has risen! That’s nice, now, let’s lock the doors. Ain’t no sunshine and daisies there. And here’s the great kicker on this – Jesus shows up, talks with them – and then what do we hear? “Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.” All of them except Thomas have seen Jesus risen from the dead, and yet, what’s going on? Still locked doors. Still hiding. Still fear.

Too many people in the Church do a grave disservice to the Gospel, to the preaching of Christ, when they pretend that if you only are a Christian then life is so much easier and everything is laughter and bouncy-bouncy happiness and money and wealth and fabulous prizes. It’s not, not yet at least. Until Christ comes again, we are in the fallen world. And you know what life in the fallen world is? Quite often, lousy. Terrifying. Disappointing. Aching. Sad. This world is doing its best to turn us all into dry bones, to suck the life out of us. And sometimes it does a pretty good job of it, doesn’t it? And the temptation for us sinful folk, especially us in America, with all our wealth and luxuries and technology and cosmetics and the like is to try to pretend that we can make the world less… fallenish. Less harsh. We can think of the Church like some sort of spiritual gated community – if we come here, if we do the right stuff, then all those bad things will be kept far, far away and God will give us Money, wealth, and prosperity.

When you are tempted to think about the Church this way, consider that our Gospel text tells us of the first two Sunday worship services in the History of the New Testament Church. What is Church but where God’s disciples have been gathered together – have been made into a congregation – and Christ is present there and His Word proclaimed? It’s what we see. And yet, what’s the context? Not that if we make it to the upper Room Jesus will make all of our wildest dreams come true. Not that if we make it there we will get a raise at work and our families won’t fight and our kids will do better in school. The context for the disciples was fear. No blinders about life. There are evil people out there that want to do us harm. Our livelihoods are messed up – in the next chapter when Peter tries to start up the old fishing business it doesn’t start off so well. And let us be honest, who among us doesn’t have fears, plenty of fears? Every one of us has them – and there’s no magic bullet to make those fears go away – not money, not booze, not even showing up to Church with the biggest smile.
So, why even be here? What then is the point, pastor? If things are so dour and always will be, why not just sleep in? Listen to Christ Jesus. “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.” Peace. Yes, disciples, I know there are people out there who want to do you harm – look at My hands, look at My side, boy howdy do I know. Yet I say, peace be with you. As scary, as terrifying, as real and as persistent as those problems in the world are, peace be with you. See, I have risen – the world did its worst, and in the end, I live. So shall you. Peace be with you. You see, dear friends, Jesus doesn’t show up and tell the disciples that their lives will now be caviar and champagne. Far from it – He had told them that they would end up taking up their crosses and following Him – that being a disciple would mean not hiding from the world, not pretending it isn’t lousy, but rather going out into the world – As My Father sent Me, so I am sending you – that the disciples would be in the world, working there, in the middle of that pain and sorrow. All that pain and fear and hurt and suffering is real – Jesus doesn’t pretend otherwise. Instead He proclaims another truth, a greater truth, a truth which supersedes the world. Peace be with you. You are forgiven, disciples – and forgiveness reigns supreme. You tell folks that they are forgiven, and guess what, they are. There is peace – the rebellion of man against God – it’s over, I, Christ Jesus have finished it, and now there is peace. Peace be with you. Even as the world rages around you – Peace. There is the forgiveness of sins, so look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Peace be with you.

Likewise, dear friends, the Church isn’t going to suddenly make the world turn up roses. Oh, we do help each other out, maybe we can give each other good advice, a helping hand – and that’s all good. But the world is still going to be the world, and there will still be problems. When our Lord said, “sufficient for the day is its own troubles” He wasn’t whistling Dixie. But what you will get here is Peace – and not some hippie “peace out, man” sort of thing. God’s Peace – that is, the forgiveness of sins. In the Scriptures, peace is a forgiveness word – and whenever you come to this place, you will get the forgiveness of sins. That’s what a Church is – a forgiveness place, and I don’t care what the sign on the door says, if they aren’t proclaiming Peace be with you, it's not really a church, because that’s what Christ’s Church is about. You are forgiven. Yes, the world is scary – but you are forgiven. Yes, your sins are vile, the guilt of them is heavy – but Christ has borne that guilt and you are forgiven. Be at peace. Go in peace. Even Rest in Peace. You realize that term – rest in peace – it isn’t talking about how nicely the grass is mown in the cemetery – it means you are forgiven. It means even though you die, yet because of Christ, you shall live. Forgiveness has been won – this is the great truth – greater than all the junk in the world. This is what the Apostles are to go out and proclaim, this is what the Church has proclaimed ever since, this is what we proclaim even to this day. Because Christ Jesus has died and risen, you are forgiven.

But, what of life out there? It’s nice that I’m forgiven and all – but life out there has its fears, and I have to face them. Did you notice one other thing, and this really is wondrous. The disciples are hiding in fear – fear has basically paralyzed them. It doesn’t stop Jesus. He’s risen – He is God and Man, raised, glorified – like a locked door is going to do anything to stop Him. Fear is there, the doors are locked, but still Christ Jesus comes there. Yes, Disciples, you have fear. But I am with you – peace be with you. The world, it’s troubles, they don’t drive Christ from you – indeed, He is with you not just for this brief time on Sunday morning, but every moment. You are baptized – He has made you His temple. Matthew’s Gospel ends on this very truth – So often we will say Matthew’s Gospel ends with the Great Commission, now get to work people. Bah. First off, the great commission isn’t “work hard” – it’s about forgiveness – about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But over and above that, how does Matthew actually end? Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Peace be with you. Why? Because Christ is with you – because nothing can separate you from Christ Jesus, neither heights no r depths or powers nor anything. Not even your suffering – He suffered too. There is nothing you can face in this world that will drive Christ away – He is risen, and He always says Peace. He is always eager and quick to forgive you your sin, for that is why He came in the first place! He is your Lord and your God – and you do have life in His name. He has washed you clean of your sin, poured His Holy Spirit upon you, gives Himself to you and is with you always. Yes, the world is a scary place, yes, my sin is great – but Christ Jesus is Risen, and He says Peace be with you, and that trumps all. We need never pretend otherwise. Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia. Amen