Saturday, June 23, 2018

Trinity 4 Sermon

Trinity 4 – Luke 6:36-42 – June 23rd and 24th, 2018

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Who is God? What's He like? Seems like a fairly basic question – and kind of an important one. If someone were to ask you who your God was, what He was like, what sort of answer would you give? I think sometimes we're tempted to jump first and foremost to things like “powerful, almighty, omnipotent” or things like that. God is awesome and powerful... and while that's true, that doesn't tell us what He is like. Even saying that God is the Creator doesn't say much – I know plenty of people who are angry at the world, angry at the universe for how things have turned out. We might move on to saying that God is love – but that's still a bit abstract, at least in this present day and age where we really don't know what love is. Who is God, and what is He like?

Jesus tells us. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. That's who God is. You want to know who God is, what makes Him tick? He is merciful. He isn't defined primarily by His attributes, by being “Almighty”. God is merciful, and He uses His power, His might, His Wisdom all in order to show mercy to His creation that had and has rebelled against Him. And I think one of the things that is problematic about the Church today is that when we think to describe God, to proclaim God – we don't think first and foremost of “merciful.” And because of that, we miss the point. We might say things that are accurate, facts that are factual, but we miss the point. Listen to Jesus in our text, how He centers everything on God's mercy.

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be put into your lap, for with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. What kind of God do you have? Because really, how you view, how you think of God is going to shape the way that you view everything in life, the way you think about all the people in your life. And here's the thing: if you think of God as a judgy sort, a nit-picky sort of God whose primary way of looking at you in a sort of harsh looking over, checking for all the flaws... well, that's probably how you're going to view all the people in your life. And that's how you'll worry that they will look at you, and your life will be run and organized on the basis of being all judgy, and you'll even think you're impressing God so He'd judge you less. Except it's all a lie, it's messed up, and it is miserable.

Or maybe you go beyond just judging and griping and nitpicking – maybe you are out to condemn. Oh, the blame game, so many people's favorite today – find the right people to blame, to be angry about. The thing is, the finger pointing keeps going, the condemnations get thrown around more harshly and harshly and the circle of “good” people gets smaller and smaller and you worry more and more when your “friends” are going to condemn you and write you off... and that too is all a lie, all messed up, and all miserable.

In opposition to what our flesh wants, what our world craves – God is merciful. His primary focus, His plan, His desire is to forgive. To give good things. To be merciful. God actually wants to forgive you. That's the whole point of Jesus; God becomes man and goes to the cross and dies Himself so as to save your bacon, so as to be merciful to you. And God's not sitting up in Heaven looking for nitpicking reasons to condemn you; He knew you couldn't save yourself so Jesus Christ did it for you... and your Father is glad of that. He is glad and eager and willing to forgive because He is merciful. And His mercy is full, rich, and grand. He's not miserly with His mercy, waging a finger and saying, “You better not need any more forgiveness bub” - no, His forgiveness is full, thick, shaken down, pressed down, overflowing. That is who your merciful God is; the One rich and abounding in actual love and true mercy – forgiveness and life won by Christ Jesus for you.

But if you don't see this mercy, if you want to run things by judgment or condemnation, if you want God to be the big boss man so you can boss other people around, well, you'll be of no use to anyone. Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? If you forget who God is, if you forget His mercy, you'll never lead anyone to God. You've never give anyone the love and mercy of Christ – instead you'll just drag them into some judgy, condemny, bitter grousy pit. You'll just end up playing all the same old sinful games the old Adam loves to play. And that will not only harm them, but it will harm you as well. You both will fall into a pit. When you grouse and complain about your neighbor, it doesn't fix anything – it just makes both your lives worse.

This is why in the church we are continually focused upon God's mercy. This is why that word “mercy” show up at least 10 times in today's service. This is why we are focused week in and week out on forgiveness. Because we need to have our eyes placed upon the forgiveness won for us by Christ, the mercy He shows – otherwise we'll stop. We'll abandon forgiveness. The Lord's Prayer is right – we forgive others only because He has forgiven us, and when we no longer want to forgive others we'll flee and run away from God's forgiveness for us! By your God is merciful, and He loves to forgive, and that's what He does to you. He forgives you and teaches you to forgive. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” The purpose and point is that we who are forgiven much learn to forgive our neighbor much. That we learn to remember that God is merciful, and so we show that same mercy we have received to our neighbor.

Consider the final illustration from our lesson. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,” when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye. Why do we see our brother's speck – because by nature we are “hypocrites” - we are people who live “under-judgment” - that's what the word hypocrite means, that crit part means “judge” - like critic or critical. And our sinful flesh has a reflexive, self-defensive move... to make sure no one notices our flaws, we shout about everyone's elses. We get on their case instead of cleaning up our own mess. And when we act that way, we aren't really acting for our neighbor's good but rather to give ourselves a false sense of superiority. And Jesus calls us away from that. No, our first job is to tend to our own log – to see our own sins and faults as serious sins, serious faults. And we are to see that they are forgiven, that we receive forgiveness again and again for them, that we strive against them – and only when that is the case, only when we live in forgiveness will we start to see our neighbor rightly. We will see their flaws, their weaknesses, their faults – not to elevate ourselves above them, but to show them mercy. To give them the same care that God has given us. To speak the same comfort to them that God has give us. To be patient with them as God has surely been patient with us. We will use the strength that God has given us not to crush and destroy, but be to merciful.

And that's it. That's the lesson. Simple and sweet as that. God is merciful. And there's a part of us that thinks this is too easy... that surely we have to DO something more – we have to work it out and butter up God. There's a part of us that is annoyed with this, because it lets the other guy off the hook too easy – that they ought to suffer for what they've done, that they ought to jump through hoops to make things up to us. And all that is is our sinful flesh rearing its ugly head, fighting against God's mercy – God's mercy to us and God's mercy to our neighbor. But here's the thing – your flesh doesn't get to change God. He is merciful, whether or not you want Him to be, and if your sinful flesh throws a tantrum, that's not going to change God one bit. Instead, what He does out of His love and mercy for you is He crushes your sinful flesh, pulls that log away. In His mercy He takes away your heart of stone and gives you a true heart. He drowns your Old Adam in the waters of Baptism and calls forth a new man to live forth in mercy and love and righteousness. This is what God is doing to you and for you and in you and through you by the power of His Word. And sometimes we miss it, we forget this, we love our logs and try to blind ourselves. But God remains who He is – not merely the Almighty, but your merciful and loving Father, and He continues to show you mercy. Hence, we always say “Lord Have Mercy” even until that day when we rise to new and perfect life in full, in His presence forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Trinity 2 sermon

Trinity 2 – June 9th and 10th, 2018 – Luke 14:15-24

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
They lied. They lied. When they said why they “couldn't” come, they were lying. Oh, some of them used the proper, polite language – animals, fields, please have me excused. Others hid behind loopholes – in the 1st Century a Jewish newlywed was excused from all social obligations. But none of these were reasons they couldn't come – they just didn't want to come. Oxen and fields could wait, and even a newly wed wife knows that there are just some parties her husband ought to be at. The simple truth is that they just did not want to come.

When Jesus tells this parable, He is at a dinner that He had been invited to. It was a Sabbath Dinner at the house of a “ruler of the Pharisees”. And it had been a lousy dinner for Jesus – it's the one where there was the fellow who had dropsy, and they were all eye balling Jesus to see if He'd heal the poor schlub. And once Jesus actually heals the guy and tells them why it's fine that He healed the guy, the Pharisees try to ignore Jesus and carry on as though he weren't there. If there would have been a dinner to skip out on, that would have been the one to skip! But no, Jesus is there, and He teaches these obstinate, proud Pharisees. And He gives this parable. And note – in the story, the feast would have been fantastic – a “great” banquet. We aren't talking cold cuts and deli trays (not that there's anything wrong with that). We aren't even talking a pork chop pot luck, as lovely as that is. We are talking cruise line catering, prime rib, Michelin Stars the top of the top sort of dinner party. One that no person in their right mind would skip.
And the three people who were invited, they just didn't want to go to the party. In reality, they just didn't like the host that much, didn't trust him. Figured his idea of a feast wouldn't be up to their standards – and they played the utter fool. So they miss it. And here's where the parable turns. Their foolishness doesn't stop the master of the feast – he orders his servants, “Go out quickly to the streets and the lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” Alright, if the “good” people don't want to come – just bring in the people they'd spit upon. Dinner's ready, and by George we are going eat and celebrate. But then the servant says, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” And the master said, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”

Now, think like a Pharisee for a moment. The main reason why you didn't like Jesus was He kept preaching and teaching and dining with the poor and sinful and scummy, the ones not worthy of your high society. Do you see what Jesus is saying to the Pharisees? If you don't want to be with Me, be with the Messiah, if you don't want a Savior – I'm not going to sit on a block of ice crying because you are stupid – I'll gladly save the poor and lame and the nastiest of the nasty – the highwaymen and bandits and even robbers crucified on a cross next to me. But as for you, if you want to keep on with your stubborness, well - “for I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” Pout all you want, Pharisees, about how your prestige and “goodness” aren't appreciated, how you're losing your privilege and respect. God's plan of salvation still carries on... and if you are determined to have it carry on without you, well, too bad for you.

Now, the question that remains for us today, my dear friends in Christ, is how do we folks gathered here today “hear” this parable? Because there is a great danger, a terrible way to misunderstand this parable. In this parable Christ does give a dire warning to the Pharisees – if you blow off the feast, if you blow off Christ Jesus, then you are lost. As the Apostle says: And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. That's just the way it is. But here's the problem. Here we are at Church – at the feast - and instead of hearing this as a warning to us, as a reminder to us that we ought not get proud and smug like the Pharisees, a warning that we ought not get all high and mighty and think that we just wonderful people unlike the rest... we can hear this parable through a filter of pride and smugness. We can look around and say, “Hmmm... lots of people not here. Not like it used to be in the old days.” And we can nurture little fires of condescension towards our neighbor. That's not what this parable is for. Jesus doesn't tell it to its first hearers to increase their pride but to break it.

And that's how we must hear it too. One of the dangers of our sinful flesh is that it loves to compare, and it especially loves to compare in a way that places ME above someone else. I'm better than them. The problem is this runs completely against the message of salvation in Christ Jesus. It trashes the Gospel. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Whenever I think I'm better than other people, I'm no longer looking for my own Savior – and I certainly don't want them treated as well I'm treated – I deserve to be treated better than them! That's why the Pharisees couldn't see, couldn't understand Jesus. They couldn't figure out why He would waste His time with scum. They couldn't conceive that He actually loves those people. The Pharisees couldn't even see that that Jesus loved the Pharisees. The Pharisees were so caught up in fighting for position and prestige, that they didn't see Jesus' love when He was sitting with them at dinner. They missed the feast and wouldn't come when the feast was right in front of them! Therefore we ought to repent, and we ought to fight against and beat down and put to death any thought or desire in us that would make us smug and ignore Christ Jesus.

Because there is no smugness in Christ. Instead, He shows love, over and over again to the unworthy. Love to us. The great feast of eternal life is indeed prepared because Jesus Christ, in perfect love, went to the cross for you and died for your sins, for your smugness and pride, for the disdain you show. And He went to the Cross and died for those who suffer in this world, for those who are caught up in sin, for those who have fallen into Spiritual blindness. He died for all. He prepared salvation for all. Honestly, truly. In full. Every sin ever done, He took it up and put it to death upon the Cross.

Here is another danger, another way we can botch this parable. We can mishear the last sentence, where the master says, “for I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” We can hear that and start viewing it in terms of “well, this person doesn't qualify anymore because they did X.” No, this isn't about figuring out who out there “qualifies” for the Gospel, who out there is “good enough” to be saved because we aren't saved by our works – rather we are saved by grace that is given freely to us, while we are dead in trespasses. The Master isn't forbidding the excuse makers from showing up – if one of them came running up and sheepishly said, “the fields can wait” - he would have come in. But that just wasn't going to happen. He doesn't say they can't come, just that they shall not. It isn't going to happen, not because of the master, but because of them.

And he can say that because he's the master. God Himself knows who won't come in the end – but you and I are not God, and we have absolutely no business trying to figure out or even worse presuming that the Holy Spirit won't work faith in some person and bring them to the feast. We aren't the master, we are the servants. And so when we see someone who isn't here and should be (which frankly is everyone who isn't here), we don't condemn them, we don't consign them to hell, we don't cross them off the list. We view them as blind and lame and crippled – we view them as poor miserable sinners who need to be forgiven – so we proclaim the Gospel. Jesus has died for you: come to the feast where there is forgiveness, where there is baptism and preaching and absolution and the Lord's Supper – come, and receive life from Christ. And we treat them that way even if they are “bad” - even if they have hurt us. So what if they are bad – I'm the foremost sinner, I'm the biggest sinner I know, and if Christ died for even an evil jerk like me, covering those sins (even those sins that hurt me) is small potatoes. Go out to the highways and hedges – that's where the really bad people are – the robbers and muggers and murderers. There is forgiveness, even for them. And Christ would have His house full. Call them to His house as you come across them – because you can tell them with absolute Gospel certainty that Christ has died for them and loves them and wants them to receive forgiveness and life in His name – and that He will pour it upon them abundantly at Trinity.

And some won't listen. And some will put up excuse after excuse – maybe old excuses and maybe new ones. We have our own sinful flesh to fight against – we know how those temptations work. But Christ Jesus has poured His Spirit upon you, making you new, giving you strength to put your sinful flesh to death: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” And when that is scary, when your sin looms large as you fight against it, remember, that even today the call goes out – come to the feast. Come, for all things are ready, for Christ has died and has risen, and He has done this for you, so that you are indeed forgiven. And He shall come again, and you will be raised to life in His name. This is His sure and certain promise to you, out of His great love for you. In the Name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Trinity Sermon

Trinity Sunday – John 3:1-17 – May 26th and 27th, 2018

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
By in large, people don’t like to be different. People don’t want to stand out from the crowd, don’t want to stick out. Even the people who want to be “rebels” or stand out simply stand out the same way every other “rebel” does. Maybe in the 50s if you wanted to be a rebel you would wear jeans and a black jacket – just like James Dean. Or when I was in college, you’d dye your hair a wild color – right after you went to store where they sold tons of hair dye to all those other people who wanted to be rebels just like you. Even our rebels like to stick together. By in large, we don’t really like to be different.

But here is the truth. As a Christian, you are different from the rest of the world. This is what our Lord teaches us today – That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Last week was Pentecost – we saw again and were focused upon the wonder and mystery that we have received the Holy Spirit from God through the gift of Baptism – we are born of the Spirit. We are Christians – and as such, we are different from the world, we will be different, or to borrow from a song, we now have a little Gospel light, and we are called to let it shine in the midst of a world full of people who have no light. That makes you different from the rest of the world. The world dwells in darkness and loves it, but you are a child of the light, born of the Spirit. Christ our Lord shows us what this means in our Gospel lesson today.

To begin, we hear, “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 these signs that You do unless God is with Him.’” So, here you have Nicodemus, a powerful and respected man. A ruler of the Jews, sometime high up there, one of the hoity-toity, a muckity-muck. And he is bold and he comes to Jesus and says, “Oh yes, we know You are a Holy teacher sent by God.” But did you note when Nicodemus says this? By night. When no one is around to see. Jesus teaches and preaches all the time, in front of crowds. Does Nicodemus come then, when people can see? No, he doesn’t want to stand out. Nicodemus creeps up to Jesus, skulking around like a thief, and when no one can see then he puts on a bold face. Oh yes, we know. . . we know. He’s there by himself, in the dark, hiding his actions from the rest of the Pharisees, yet still he’s trying to hide himself in a crowd. We. Do you see how ashamed and fearful Nicodemus is here? What would happen if people found out he was conversing with this Jesus? Would he be mocked? Would people laugh at him? And Nicodemus wants to know more, knows that he should learn – he does say that Jesus is a teacher, and you go to a teacher only if you need to learn – but Nicodemus is flat out scared and ashamed.

Now, consider your own life. Are there times when you are scared, when you are ashamed to be a Christian, ashamed to be a Lutheran? When you are keenly aware of the fact that your faith doesn’t let you fit in with everyone else? Are there times when you wish you could just fit in better – maybe with the folks at work or school who are coarse and unkind? Or even when you wish that this Church just wasn’t. . . so different from the other Churches around – that it would be nice if we just kept quiet and did what they do? Not would it be more truthful, not would it better proclaim Jesus and His forgiveness, but wouldit just be. . . more comfortable? The thing is, when we have these types of thoughts – where are looking? When we worry about fitting in, are we looking at Christ, are our eyes focused squarely upon our Crucified Lord, are we determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified, or are our eyes wandering to the folks around us? This pressure to impress others, to fit in, to do what “they” do, whoever they are, has been around since the fall, and it is harmful and destructive. It is blinding, for it takes our eyes of off Christ.

Which is why Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Unless one is born again, he’ll not see. His eyes will be off elsewhere and he’ll miss, he’ll ignore these things of God, he’ll ignore the things of Christ Jesus. And Nicodemus, he misses the mark here too. “Now can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Misses the point. Is there some bizarre ritual I must do in order to join the club? No, there isn’t. You’re thinking is off right now Nicodemus – our Lord says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” You are thinking in fleshly terms, Nicodemus. This birth has nothing to do with your earthly mother – it has to do with the Spirit taking water and joining you to Christ Jesus and your Heavenly Father! To be a Christian, to be one born of the Spirit means that you think, that you see things along spiritual lines. We think in terms of the faith, in terms of the Creed – our lives are shaped by what we believe, that see things along the ways we have been trained from the Catechism. The world loves and trusts all sorts of things, power, wealth, fame. We have been born of water and the Spirit, and so we know that we are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That is the Spiritual truth. The world strives to get ahead, to have more and more, to be powerful and successful and make people adore you. We have been born of water and the Spirit, and we know that we are to love our neighbors, to serve them, to strive to make their life better even at cost to ourselves. That is the Spiritual truth that we are part of.

But the problem is that right now we are so flesh-y. We know the Spiritual truths, we know how our lives ought to be – and yet so often we fall right into those comfortable, sinful patterns of the world. We worry about what our friends and neighbors think more than we worry about what God has said. We worry more about what luxury we might not have more than we worry about what our neighbor needs, what our Church needs. The old sinful nature rises up in us, and we turn our eyes away from Christ and towards that utterly sinful, messy world and we dive on in there. Luther is wonderful to read on this – I don’t think that there has been a theologian in the history of the church who has been so eloquent and so blunt on the struggles we have with our sinful flesh – here is one that I surprisingly like – “The original sin in a man is like his beard, which, though shaved off today so that a man is very smooth around his mouth, yet grows again by tomorrow morning. As long as a man lives, such growth of the hair and beard does not stop. But when the shovel beats the ground on his grave, it stops. Just so original sin remains in us and bestirs itself as long as we live, but we must resist it and always cut off its hair.” That’s where we are at – constantly fighting the same struggles against sin, constantly beating down sinful desires. The struggles we worked against yesterday pop up again today. And whenever we look in the mirror, whenever we take stock of our life honestly, we will always, always see more sin creeping. In fact, as you grow in the faith, as you learn to see things spiritually you will see more and more sin in your life, you will see clearly the vileness of things that you had been used to doing with nary a thought.

So then, what remains? Nicodemus asks, “How can these things be?” We can ask it too. When we see the sinfulness of our lives, when we cast off the smug, self-righteous “Oh, I’m a good person” attitudes and look at ourselves, we can ask this question too. How can we be turned away from sinfulness and unto God? What is our Lord’s response? “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.” It is true that sin is a vile illness, but you have been Baptized into Christ Jesus and His death, and this means that your sin has been taken up by Christ, that your sin was lifted up with Christ upon the Cross and put to death. On account of Christ Jesus, the sin that you have done is forgiven. The sin that merits your death and damnation is done away with. And that is how you have eternal life – that is how you have it now. You are baptized, you are joined to Christ, and you are risen as He is risen. It doesn’t always show, sometimes your sinfulness hides it, but Christ Jesus Himself dwells with you. The True and Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is with you, and they give you strength to actually show love even now when you still must struggle against your sinful flesh. Life with God isn’t just a down the road in heaven thing – it’s a now thing. Yes, you will be perfected on the last day, but right now God is with you, right now He gives you life and strength. Right now your Lord gives you His own Body and Blood so that you would be kept firm in the faith, firm in forgiveness, strengthened to show love. And this is the wonder and the beauty of it all – Christ has given you salvation, given you His own Gospel light, and He makes this light to shine all the more in you when He draws you unto Himself. Just as the people in the wilderness were healed and had life when they beheld the bronze serpent, you are forgiven and have life when you are focused upon Christ, when you are focused upon the Word of God – and Christ Jesus wrests our eyes off the world and makes us to grow, to know the things of God. And when you fail, when you sin, He wrests your eyes back onto Himself. This is how you grow, by being focused upon Christ and seeing Him.

And because of this, you will stand out from the crowd. You will be different from the world, for the world couldn't care less about the things of God. The world couldn't care less for the Word, the world despises Baptism and the new birth it brings, the world despises this most Holy Supper of our Lord’s Body and Blood – but you have been given eyes to see, you have been called by God to receive forgiveness and eternal life. You have received the Gospel of Christ, and thus, all thanks be to God, you are different, you are changed – you are united with Christ. A blessed life in Him to you all. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pentecost Sermon

Pentecost – May 19th and 20th, 2018 – Acts 2, John 14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
The last 4 or 5 weeks or so have all been leading up, preparing us for this week. The time spent in John’s Gospel, hearing our Lord in the Upper Room, promising the Apostles the Spirit, were all leading, all driving to our Lesson from Acts 2 today – the day of Pentecost, the birth of the Christian and Apostolic Church, the Church which you and I are a part of, the Church which not even hell itself can prevail against. And so, when we consider Pentecost, we see and learn how our Lord shapes and grows His Church, even to this day – so then let us ponder what it is that our Lord does on Pentecost, and how that is done now in our midst.

First things first – we see and learn that God has an impeccable sense of timing. It has been 50 days since Jesus rose – 7 weeks. It’s been 10 days since the Ascension – and what of the Apostles? They had been left to hang on out in Jerusalem. Well, why would God just have them hang out – why not just dive in and get to things right away? Because God is patient and does things at the proper time. God waits for Pentecost. Now, one of the things that we end up saying that isn’t quite accurate is that we will refer to Acts 2 as “that first Pentecost.” It’s not – it’s not the first Pentecost. Pentecost was a Jewish festival – Shavout – the festival of weeks, one of the major holidays – 50 days after the Passover. And all good Jewish men would go to the temple and bring the first fruits of the year, the barley harvest, in as an offering. This is why we hear from Acts, “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” It was a day of a major festival, so you have people from all over the Roman Empire and even beyond who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate this year’s Shavout in Jerusalem at the temple.

So, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles, and they preach in the temple, who hears it? Not just the local folks – but folks from all over the world, who are then going to go and return to their homes. This is fantastic timing by God. And while the disciples might have been sitting around bored wondering, “come on God, get on with it already” – when God acts, it is the right and proper time. This is something we need to remember as well. The Church belongs to the Lord, and He establishes the harvest. He is the One who grows His Church, and He acts with wisdom and love for His Church. We are not in control – God is. This can be a very hard truth for us to accept as Americans. As Americans we like to be in control – we’ll just work hard and then we’ll be whatever we want to be – we can be self-made men. There are no self-made Churches – this congregation is not formed by our own wisdom, by how suave and entertaining the pastor is, or any of that. No, the Church grows by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, at work here in our midst, bringing us to faith, growing us in the knowledge of God, and establishing in us ever more love and devotion and trust in God Almighty and in Christ Jesus.

And this leads us to the second, big lesson of Pentecost. We often think of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit’s big day – look, here’s the Holy Spirit, here is power and might and speaking in tongues. Catch the Spirit – woo-hoo! Is that the point of this day… that we become some type of holy cheerleaders – We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ‘bout you? Yeah! Go team Jesus! Pentecost wasn't about excitement, or speaking in tongues (Paul has to warn the Corinthians off of trying to do that all the time) or even really about the Holy Spirit – and we miss this because our lectionary, our system of readings cuts off the story right when it starts to get good. It’s like we’re on a roller coaster and we get to the top of the first hill and then… we’ll just stop here. The good stuff is what comes next.

To sum up what we heard, the Spirit falls on the apostles, and the folks all hear them in their own language – over 15 languages are mentioned. It's a miracle of hearing, people hearing preaching – and so Peter stands up to preach. Peter explains from the Scriptures that this is what Joel told us all would happen – listen now to how Peter drives right on in in the next verses. This is Acts 2:22-24. “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.” The point of Pentecost is this – that Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection for our salvation is proclaimed in the various tongues of the world.

You see – the Holy Spirit has a very simple job. He points to Christ. He proclaims Christ. He opens our eyes, opens our minds, so that we understand the Word of God which proclaims Christ Jesus to be our Savior from sin. John 14 – “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.” Or John 7 – Jesus says, “Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive…” The Spirit brings the Word to us, and then establishes and grows and protects faith in Christ Jesus and His salvation. The Spirit focuses us upon Christ. The Spirit is why when we hear God’s Word we are pointed to Christ, why and how we understand all this Church stuff really being about Christ and His love for us. The Spirit is why Christ Jesus and Him Crucified has remained the heart and center of all that we are and hear in the Church. The Holy Spirit keeps us in Christ Jesus so that we believe and have life in His Name.

The special tie for you in this is your Baptism. When Peter finishes his sermon, the people say, “Now what?” And Peter’s response, Acts 2:38-39, is as follows: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your 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.” Baptism gives the forgiveness of sin, and it gives the Holy Spirit. When you were baptized in Christ’s Name, in the Name of the Triune God, your sin was forgiven. More than just that – the Holy Spirit entered in to you, took you up as His own dwelling place. Again, we cannot emphasize enough that Baptism is God’s Work, it is something that God does upon you, that God gives to you. Peter’s not telling these people to jump through hoops for God. Be baptized… that’s passive, that’s receptive. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Again – passive, receptive. Baptism isn’t what we do for God, it’s a gift wherein God works upon us. Even… our children, for this promise is for you and for your children. All about what God does – because everything in the Church is ultimately about what God does – the God who loves you, becomes man for you, goes to the Cross and suffers and dies for you.

There is another spirit at work in this age, the spirit of antichrist, the spirit of Satan. And how do you recognize Satan at work? Not by horns and a pitchfork, but by this. False and lying spirits will by hook or by crook try to distract you from Christ Jesus. This is what John says in his first Epistle, chapter 4 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard was coming and now is in the world already.” How do you know? What do they say about Jesus? Do they confess that Jesus has come, that He is true man and true God, that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – is their focus upon Christ and Him crucified? If not, don’t listen to them. Is their focus upon what Christ Jesus has done for you… or what you need to do for God (which generally involves you obeying them and giving them stuff)? If it’s the latter, don’t listen. Do they point out how Christ has done everything required for your salvation and gives this gift freely – or do they attach strings to it, say that you yourself must add a bit of this, a bit of that? If it’s the latter, don’t listen. If they glorify and extol you rather than Christ, if they point to how wonderful you are, do not listen to them. We are simply this – sinners who have been redeemed and forgiven by a gracious and loving God, even Christ the Crucified who has risen and given us His own life by the power of His Word and Spirit.

And this is the focus of the Christian Church – it has been since those 3000 were baptized and returned to their homes and proclaimed Christ and Him Crucified. This is what shapes us today, as we, the Baptized in Christ’s Name, are gathered together by the Holy Spirit around the Word of God and Christ Jesus' own Supper. May our eyes ever more be upon Christ Jesus, even to all eternity. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Ascension Day Sermon

Ascension Day Observed – May 12th and 13th, 2018 – Luke 24

Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, alleluia!
So, this is how Luke's Gospel ends, how the book of Acts begins – Christ Jesus wraps up His teaching to the disciples and ascends into heaven, there to “be seated at the right hand of the Father”. That phrase is an old fashioned way of saying that Christ Jesus has ascended to heaven and rules all of creation – being seated is the ancient sign that you are ruling and in charge – a judge sits today, or a king sits and makes pronouncements from the throne. And at the right hand of the Father – well, your “right hand man” is the one who actually does all the stuff for you. Jesus' Ascension does not mean that He has gone far, far away and left us all alone; it means, it is a confession that right now, this moment, Christ Jesus – True God and True Man actively rules the entire world. That He has the whole world in His hands. That He remains the LORD of history, that in fact (as Matthew's Gospel ends), all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him.

So... now what? Jesus has had His great triumphal ascension, but what about us? Right now? Here we are, living in Illinois in 2018, what does Jesus ascension years ago have to do with the price of tea in China, much less the price of gas in Herscher? The answer, my friends, in reality is everything. Jesus tells the disciples two important things before He ascends, and these shape everything in our lives – both what goes on in here, in this place, in the church – but also what goes on in our lives outside those doors. But before we get there, let's consider Jesus' lesson to the disciples and us.

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.” Jesus starts with a basic, fundamental assertion – that He has done everything, that the entire Old Testament drives to the coming of Christ Jesus to win salvation. The Word of God by whom all things were made would rescue and redeem His creation, His people, His world. And everything would drive to Christ. In fact, Jesus sums up the point of the Old Testament thusly – Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and said to them, “Thus is it written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead....” Everything in the Old Testament is driving to that point, rushing towards Good Friday. Christ Jesus, the Word of God, will redeem creation. He will enter into the suffering caused by sin and death and the fall, He will take it all up, even die – so that He can defeat it, fix it, and rise from the dead. And all the Old Testament is about that. Why does Abraham become the father of many nations – that's how the Messiah could come. Why does God deliver Israel from Egypt – that's how the Messiah would come. Why does David defeat Goliath – that's how the Messiah would come. All of it – whether it's wickedness smacked down or the lowly raised – all to ensure the coming of Christ Jesus. And all the prophecies, the foreshadowing – that was so that we would recognize His coming. The Scriptures point to Christ Jesus. And even the New Testament Scriptures, written after Christ's ascension, they all point and drive back to Christ's coming, His death and resurrection – with just a touch of a reminder that He will come again. The scriptures are fundamentally the story of Christ Jesus winning salvation for you. That is fundamental. That is lesson one.

And since the Scriptures are the story of Christ – since Jesus has risen from the dead, what happens? Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning in Jersusalem. Jesus has done all that He has done so that repentance and forgiveness would be proclaimed. This is the point and purpose of the Church – this is why Jesus calls the Apostles, this is what the Apostles do come Pentecost, this is what the Christian and Apostolic Church does even to this day and by the grace of God will continue to do until Christ Jesus returns. Preach repentance and forgiveness. Repentance – this is the preaching that points out that you are out of alignment, that you are crooked, that you are sinful. Preaching repentance deals with sin. So why preaching repentance – well first, because sin is bad. How's that for an earth shattering statement – sin is bad. But it is. To engage in wickedness doesn't really work out right. There are all sorts of stupid things that we are tempted to do, and they don't really work out right in the end. Some we can laugh off – ah, Pastor Brown was tempted toward gluttony and more cake – look at his belly. Laugh... until it become diabetes. Cause sin often tends to spiral out of control when left unchecked. And then, of course, there are the things that aren't funny at all. The things Pastor doesn't mention off-handedly in a sermon – the anger, or jealousy, or lust, or greed that pops up. The things that left unchecked bubble and boil up and really do serious damage, that ruin relationships and opportunities and lives. Things that get you fired, kicked out of the house, and cut off from family and friends. That's what sin, our sin, unchecked leads to. We acknowledge that – we confessed it – we confessed that we “justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.” Temporal – now, in time, I know my sin and it has led me into some lousiness right now – I got out of line and the chickens have come home to roost. And yeah, eternal punishment – if left to my own devices that's where I'll end up. And so repentance is proclaimed, because we need repentance, we need to see our sin for what it is – because the worst sin is the one where you don't think you're sinning, where you think you're right and you just keep charging on and doing it without remorse and without a second thought – and it gets worse and worse. That's not what God wants for you, so repentance will be preached.

But not just repentance – also forgiveness. Forgiveness won by Christ Jesus. When we actually think about our sin, what it's like – we can get scared. That's why most people don't actually think about sin, that's why most people just brush it aside, or it's always someone else's fault, or society's fault. If I'm the donkey and the tail is pinned on me, that is terrifying. And so the Church is to proclaim forgiveness, the forgiveness won by Christ Jesus. How does God view you – does God view you with hatred and disdain? No. He doesn't like sin, He wants you kept from it, He knows how bad it is – and that is why Christ Jesus came, to take up your sin – the things that tempt you, the things that you have done, the things that mess with the life that He has given you – and He takes it all to the Cross and puts it to death and kills your sin. He does away with it. The Father doesn't choose to smite you – He takes your sin and places it upon Jesus instead and smites Him. Jesus can take it. And Jesus will have forgiveness proclaimed. Your sin is actually and truly done away with in the sight of God. It's not your sin anymore, it is taken away. This doesn't mean sin is now good – no, its still stupid and painful – but God's not going to get rid of you or cast you off into hell, He's not going to abandon you. He is going to love you... steadfastly and firmly and resolutely, because you are forgiven. You are washed in the blood of the lamb, you are baptized and clothed with Christ's righteousness, you are His spotless bride to whom He gives everlasting life in a new heavens and a new earth, because this old one just will not do for such a bride as you. And so, you will die and rise to be with Christ. You do that daily, as you fight against your sin day by day – you will do it for good and in full on the day Christ Jesus comes back and you are raised to new and eternal and sinless life.

And that is what the Church proclaims. Repentance and forgiveness. Repentance so that you would not ignore sin and wander into great shame and vice and destroy your faith, forgiveness so that your sin would be removed and your faith increased, your love renewed. That's the pattern – repentance and forgiveness, confession and absolution, crying for mercy and God giving Himself to you. That's how Christ Jesus runs and rules His Church – it's for your good, to see you forgiven.

But I would have you remember something, lest you look at this repentance and forgiveness thing and blow it off, “oh well, it's just one hour of the week, what about the rest of my life out there?” Do you think that repentance and forgiveness doesn't apply out there, isn't relevant there? Remember that Jesus is at the Right Hand of the Father, ruling not just the Church, but the world itself. And here is the reality – in His Holy Church, Jesus not only forgives you much but He also makes you Holy. He fills you with Himself, with the Holy Spirit – and then He sends you out into the world as His holy people. He sends you out as His own agents of holiness in the world. He does good to the world and the people therein through you. Holy and good things. And most of these are just the simple every day things that we do – rightly caring for our friends and family, moms being moms and doing mom things – us all being kind students or faithful workers or gentle bosses. Being patient with people when in their folly they sin (like getting you a really lousy mother's day gift or forgetting it all together) and forgiving them as Christ has forgiven you. These are holy things, these are godly things that Christ Jesus works in us and through for the sake of the world. If we could see or understand the mighty workings of God through even the simplest things in our lives, we would be dumbstruck is awe. And yet, as we are not yet to our own resurrection where this all will go utterly smoothly, we run into sin – other people's sin and our own sin. And we get battered and bruised when we fight the good fight – you bang a couple of swords against each other and the edges get chipped and dinged and dulled. And so our Lord calls us back to His Church, and you guessed it – repentance and forgiveness. The dings are straightened out, they are rebent, repented – and you are polished and good as new and sent out again to live your holy life, precious and loved by God. You still belong to Him and He still puts you to His good use – to love, to serve, to pray, to care for others and to receive care from them – to show forth all the fruits of the Spirit that He brings forth in you over and against your sin. Because your life is in Christ Jesus.

And so my friends in Christ, our LORD's ascension does not mean that He has left us, or forgotten about us. Nope – He still comes to us in His Word, in His Supper, and He deals with our sin in love, forgives us and makes us His servants, servants who show forth His love. And this is all going on around us all the time, even though now we only see this dimly as through a foggy mirror. But your LORD who ascended will return, and you will rise and you will see this all clearly and face to face for all eternity. Of course you will, for Christ is Risen – He is risen indeed, alleluia.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Easter 5 Sermon

Easter 5 – April 28th and 29th, 2018 – John 16:5-15

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia – Amen
And 40 days after He rises, Christ ascends to heaven. Jesus knows that this is what He is going to do, it isn’t a surprise to Him. And so, that Maundy Thursday night, where He prepares the disciples for the events to come – He points them to after His ascension. On that day the disciples will be slightly confused – Angels will appear to them and ask, “Why are you staring up in the sky, He will return.” Yeah - But what of the meantime? What of the time between Christ’s ascension and Christ’s return – what about the times that you and I, brothers and sisters in Christ, what about the times we live in? The disciples were confused – what do we do if Jesus isn’t standing here right in front of us. Our Lord knew that the Disciples would feel this, so He speaks to them the Words of our Gospel lesson today. In fact, note what He says. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. Christ here speaks of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost – that is the Helper, the Comforter, the One who is to come.

Christ today teaches us about the Holy Spirit. Now, I tremble to start talking about the Holy Spirit – not because it is difficult to talk about the Holy Spirit – but rather because so many people blather on and on and say sometimes stupid, sometimes down right blasphemous things about the Spirit. To use the “hip” lingo, half the time stupid junk people say about the Spirit “triggers” me. As such it could be very easy for me to turn this sermon into a nice long rant about people who just don’t get it. But that’s not what this sermon is to be about. Rather than focusing on the foolish, empty words others spew forth about the Spirit – let us instead give heed to the Words of Christ Jesus our Lord, and from them learn what the Spirit does.

Today we're going to start at the end of Gospel reading consider the last three verses first, for they are very important in understanding how the Holy Spirit works – and once we see how He works, we’ll look at what He actually does. Our Lord says, When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. All the that Father has is Mine; therefore I said that He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” Twice, two times our Lord uses the word “speak.” Thrice, three times, our Lord uses the word “declare.” Do you see the emphasis here? How does the Holy Spirit guide, how does the Holy Spirit accomplish everything and all the things that He does? By the Word – by Speaking, by Declaring – these are actions involving the Word. The Spirit takes that which is Christ’s, that which belongs to the Very Word of God incarnate and declares it unto us! The Spirit takes that which He has heard, that which the Word, Christ Jesus, has said to Him, and that alone is what the Spirit speaks.

There is a connection, dear friends, a connection which we cannot emphasize enough – a connection between God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t a loose cannon just bouncing around all over the place looking to smack people upside the head. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God. The Spirit has tied Himself to the Word – not because He has to, but for our benefit. You see, God could do anything – but you and I, we can’t. We're limited. So what God does is He ties the Spirit to the Word – so that we know where to look, so we know where to listen, so that we don’t wander blindly, vainly searching for God – rather we know that God comes to us through His Word. You never have to wonder if God is active in your life, you never have to wonder if God is present here. It’s simple – wherever the Word of God is present, there the Holy Spirit is present and active. We don’t grope around blinding searching for the Spirit – the Spirit is found where He has been promised – wherever the Word of God is spoken, wherever it is declared.

And ponder this – when I say Word of God, I’m not just referring to reading Scripture. I am referring to whenever God’s Word of truth is declared, indeed, even when we speak out God’s truth, the Spirit is there. We are taught in Scripture that no man sayeth Jesus is Lord – not a one of us can say Jesus is Lord – except by the Holy Spirit. This whole service we've been declaring that Jesus is Lord, asking for mercy, singing scripture to each other. When that all happens, the Holy Spirit is present. God Himself is there at our confession, our prayers, our praise. In fact, whenever you speak out God’s truth, when you speak to a friend what the Scriptures teach, be it Law or be it Gospel – the Holy Spirit is there – God is present using your Words and making them His own. When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity there the Holy Spirit is present, active and working in the Word.

And this dear friends, is how you can tell if the Holy Spirit is present, how if what is spoken is from God or if it the babblings of egotistical men. Does it agree, does it come from, is it centered in the Word? Listen again, He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak.” There’s the way it works. What’s the sign of the Spirit? Is it whooping and hollering? Nope. Tongues? No. Nein, Nyet, eeih. Is it big, powerful, emotional speaking? Nope. It’s simply this – is what is Spoken in agreement with the Word of God? Not is it flashy – for God doesn’t promise Himself to come with flashy words, nor is it a dynamic speech – for all sorts of charlatans can speak with pretty words – but does it declare what God has taught in His Word? If it does, if a person speaks rightly about the Word – about what you have been taught and trained in – if it agrees with Scripture, the Creeds, the Catechism – then it is safe. Otherwise, it ain’t from God, no matter how much a person might jump up and down and insist that it is. The Holy Spirit always works in and with and through the Word – He has tied Himself to the Word, so that we might not be led astray, but rather into truth.

So what is this Word of God that the Spirit speaks? Christ tells what the Spirit will say, what right and proper preaching will deal with. And when He comes He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness because I go to the Father and you will see Me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. That’s what the Spirit speaks about, that is what our preaching is to be about. It’s not to be about wealth and power, it’s not to be about 7 simple steps to whatever. Our preaching is to be about Sin. God is concerned with Sin – because all sin pushes us towards unbelief – all sin pushes us away from the Word of God. All sin tries to kill faith. And so the Holy Spirit will speak concerning sin. He will warn us of it – for sometimes we slip into it without thinking, and foolishly harm not only our neighbor, but also our own faith. He will speak of sin to show us that we have a need for a Savior, lest we become too prideful, and in our folly start to forget God and go off on our own. The Spirit will speak out a Word of Law, so that those who hear the Law will be crushed, will despair of their own righteousness, their own goodness – and so that they will be prepared to repent, to be turned by the power of God away from their sin. This we need, for our lives are to be ones of continual repentance. If sin, if our sin is not condemned, then the preaching is not of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit will also speak of righteousness – and note here – because Christ goes to the Father. When the Word of God speaks of righteousness – it’s not talking about how you are a nice person – remember that whole convicting of sin thing? Rather Christ is righteous, and we have the proof – See, He rose. See, He ascended to the Father – the Father is well pleased with what the Son has done – the Son is righteous – and the Spirit takes what belongs to the Son and declares it to you – the Spirit takes that righteousness that is Christ’s and by the Word delivers it to you. In other words – forgiveness – justification – the fact that because Christ is holy and righteous He can speak His Holy and Righteous Word of forgiveness and life unto us. Christian preaching will give the forgiveness that is ours through the death and resurrection of Christ. The Word gives and declares forgiveness. That’s why preaching should always be centered on forgiveness. That’s why when we think of the Sacraments – what are they for? One baptism for the remission of sins. Take and drink, this cup is the new testament in My Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. The Word is given to us for forgiveness on account of what Christ has done – and the Spirit declares this by the Word.

Finally, the Spirit will speak of judgment. There is judgment. For the ruler of this world – indeed, for those who reject God, reject God’s Law, reject God’s Gospel – there is condemnation. Judgment is there, and the Spirit warns people of that. Satan is defeated. As Luther would have us sing, “He’s judged, the deed is done, one little word can fell him.” But also this – you have been judged – but judged righteous, declared, that wonderful word, declared righteous on account of Christ. This world is judged, Satan is judged and condemned – but you, dear friends, you have been declared righteous, declared forgiven, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus – the blessings that Christ has won have been given to you – and so you can stride through the trials of this life boldly knowing that your salvation rests solely upon Christ.

This is the help, the comfort that Christ gives to us, this is the comfort that we are to use and rely upon now in this time between Christ’s ascension and His return. We live by the Word of God that the Spirit declares to us – and we live only by that Word, we trust only what the Spirit declares. For that is life, that is our hope, that is our help and our salvation. God grant that we always give heed only to His true Spirit, and cling solely to His Word. Hearing that Spirit filled Word, we have joy and by the Spirit say: Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia – Amen.

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