Saturday, April 18, 2015

I Remain a Student

I found my old High School yearbooks as I was packing this week.  I got to looking at them and noted something.  My High School was small - my class had 65 and we were a large class.  This means that when I graduated, I knew everyone in my class, and most of the Juniors, quite a few of the Sophomores, and even a bunch of the Freshmen.

I had moved to that school as a Freshman - and being a young idiot, I had had some disdain for those younger than me.  The Junior High students across the street seemed like such stupid little idiots.  Four years later, I had outgrown my own stupidity, and many of them were friends.  (In fact, I just packed a nice piece of pottery that Karissa, a Junior, had made for me -- it's been in my kitchen every day of my life that I've had a kitchen of my own - that's sort of cool.)  It is the height of arrogance and foolishness to disdain someone simply because they haven't learned what you have learned yet.  In terms of my schooling, I'm glad I found that out.

+ + + + + + + + + +

When it comes to theology, I remain a student.  This is something I think more theologians would do well to remember - and I don't mean this to be the giant admonition that "you need to keep learning".  That should be obvious.

But how do you deal with that other person - that theologian, that neighboring pastor, that parishioner - who just doesn't get "it" - whatever it is.  Where there's just a point or aspect of theology where they want to make you facepalm - what do you do?

Do you disdain them -- like a Freshman Eric disdained the Junior High folks -- or do you remember that just as you are a student, learning, growing, and maturing - so too are they? 

You know what - let them grow.  Be patient with them as others have been (and indeed, ARE) patient with you - and let them grow.  Be their friends, their colleague, their pastor - confess the truth, and be patient. 

If they don't "get" everything right now - don't sweat it.  You know that you yourself are a student - doesn't that mean that you acknowledge that there are things which you yourself don't "get" yet?  So they are at a different point on the power curve.  So be it.  Show patience and love.  So they are arrogant and don't get what they don't know.  So be it.  Show patience and love and repent of your own arrogance.

Because in all things - it's not about me, or what I know, or how great I am.  I'm not the center of everything.  I didn't define Minden High School... and I certainly don't define the Christian Church.  Rather, I and you are redeemed sinners, slugging through life in this world.  Repent, slug on, aid others in their slugging, and with joy receive forgiveness from Christ the Crucified!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The School of Hard and Soft Knocks

So, now I'm basically done with being a Circuit Visitor.  My last Sunday in Oklahoma was this past one, and now it is on to Illinois, where I will be the new guy. 

It's been interesting here because my circuit was able to call four guys out of the Seminary - count them, four. And in two years.  And I got to help teach and advise.  And you know what that really boiled down to?

I got to tell stories of when I was stupid and messed up.  I got to say, "Oh, you don't want to do X -- I did that, and here's what happened, here's why that was wrong and a bad idea."  It was a passing on of experience - I took the hard knocks... here, listen.  This is a softer style of learning.

Of course, this is what almost all practical teaching is.  The theoretical teaching can tell you what is good and laudable -
practical says, "here's where the rubber meets the road."  And it's not just for a pastor to another pastor.

It's the father teaching his children about the dangers of the world.
It's the sergeant taking the Lieutenant under his wing.
It's the man who has failed warning others how they too might fail.
It's Augustine and Patrick's Confessions.
It's the Holy Spirit recording the faults and sins of the Fathers, so that we might learn from their example.

Part of being a mature Christian, confident in God's forgiveness and not trusting in your own works and merits, is the freedom, out of love for your neighbor, to warn them.  To warn them without fear of just what can go wrong when you mess up.

And that is a kind and loving thing.  That is something with a rich, Christian tradition.  And it is our duty - to warn folks from falling into error, and to point out to those trapped in guilt from similar errors that God is merciful - that He even has forgiven me, the chief of sinners, and thus there is forgiveness for you.

A fine Christian thing.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Easter 2 Sermon

Easter 2 – April 12th, 2015 – John 20:19-31

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
          So how many of you had the perfect week this past week?  A week where nothing went wrong, where there was absolutely nothing that failed to go according to plan?  Oh boy, me neither.  That is just part and parcel of living in this sinful, fallen world.  Stuff happens, and stuff continues to happen, and stuff will always continue to happen.  St. John addresses this problem in our Gospel lesson this morning.  The text begins, and it is Easter Night – the evening after the disciples learn about the resurrection of the Lord, and where are they?  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. . .”  It’s the first Easter, and where are they?  The disciples are holed up together, barricaded up.  And why?  Fear.  Their week was rough, and it might get rougher still, and so there they huddle behind locked doors, scared of what the future will bring.

          Does that not often describe our lives and how we live them?  Lives where we slide back into fears and worries about what might be – fears and worries where we are just sure that the worst will happen. . . and not worried so that we might prepare for it, but rather just that sense of dread.  This is what the old evil foe wants to stir up in you – fear and dread.  Fear and dread paralyze you.  That’s the point of terrorism – it’s not what you actually have done, but that you make people afraid of what *might* happen – you deal in terror.  If crazy folks here know the value of fear and terror, Satan surely knows it!  Who do you think crafts a more deadly and difficult attack, the Evil One or merely a wicked man?  Satan is going to try his hardest to stir up fear and worry in you, to make it be where you become frozen, like a deer in the headlights simply so he can plow right through you.  This is a danger we face in our lives.

          Jesus, though, doesn’t just let Satan have his way.  “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”  So Christ shows up – locked doors don’t bother Him anymore, for He is resurrected and fully demonstrates His divine power.  And Jesus comes to the disciples, and He says something that is wondrous, something we hear over and over again.  Peace be with you.  There it is – peace – calmness, joy, security, peace – that is the cure, that is the antidote, that is the way to fight Satan’s fear.  To see Christ’s peace.

          So then, what is peace?  The word gets tossed around all the time.  Sadly for us, peace often just means a cease-fire – means that our fights and wars have just become so taxing that we are just tired of them and want to stop fighting – not that there are any less problems, not that any disagreements are fixed – just that we pause and stop fighting.  That way we don’t have to worry about it any more.  But that’s not peace – not the way scripture speaks of peace.  Peace in scripture isn’t a military term, it doesn’t refer to the mere cessation of war – peace in Scripture means that there is unity, that there is sharing, that folks have been joined together in love and harmony and that the reasons for fighting, the reasons for fear have passed away and been removed.

          Christ enters that upper room, and He says, “Peace be with you.”  He’s not just wishing them good luck, He’s not just sending happy thoughts their ways.  No, Christ Jesus is describing reality.  “When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.”  He showed them His hands that had the nails driven through them, He showed them His side which had been pierced by the spear.  He showed them the signs of His death.  He showed them the signs of His death while living, while breathing, while standing before them a living, resurrected Man.  That, dear friends, is what peace is.  There is Christ Jesus, and the world has done its worst to Him, has thrown every pain and sorrow at Him that it could – and yet, there He stands.  He stands victorious, He stands glorious.  The first hymn we sang, Walther’s “He’s Risen, He’s Risen” – in German it’s “Erstanden, Erstanden”.  He’s standing – right there, look, it’s Christ Jesus standing in front of us, not dead but alive.  And really, ultimately, what is left to fear?  Even with all that He faced and saw, there He is, standing alive.  That’s where we end up.  No matter what we face in this life, no matter what the world throws at us, we know how the story ends – it ends with us standing at our Lord’s side, risen because He is risen, living because He is living, enjoying the life of the world to come for all eternity with Him.  Satan and death could not conquer Him, nor shall they conquer us – they shall be brushed aside, swatted way.  Christ has brought peace – He’s removed the cause of fear, He’s defeated death – there is nothing left to fear.

          Now, that doesn’t mean that we folks living in the sinful world cease to have problems.  This doesn’t mean that Satan simply rolls over – he has lost, but he is determined to take as many of us with him as he can.  But Christ knows the struggles we face, and so we hear this.  “’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.’”  Christ Jesus knows that Satan will still throw around fear – and the first fear that He will attack with is sin, is guilt.  We know that sin has consequences.  When we are doing it, we will delude ourselves into thinking that it has no consequences, but eventually the weight of our sin and our folly comes crashing down upon us.  We see things go horribly wrong in our lives, not because of those people out there, but because we ourselves have messed things up – sometimes beyond our ability to repair.  And that is what Satan loves to cackle in our ear – oh, look how you are going to get it now!  And that fear comes rushing in, followed by dread and despair.  To cut this off, Christ Jesus has given to His Church people whose specific job, whose specific duty is to proclaim forgiveness to those who are terrified of their sin, to those who repent of their sin.  That’s ultimately what a pastor is – a pastor’s job is the same one given here to the disciples– to speak forgiveness to those terrified of their sin – and to speak bluntly about sin to those who delight and continue on in their sin.  And those Apostles, they did their job for a time, and then God put new men into the pastoral office to do that job, and so on and so forth – even until He sent His servant Phillip Rosell out to Lahoma, and then others fellows after him – all in a row with their pictures out there – even up to me.  And Jesus will send you some other fellow to do this same job, to preach Law and Gospel – because you will still have fears and worries in this life, and so He will send you a preacher to preach Christ to you.

          And Christ Jesus will also send one to handle your doubt.  Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’  But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.’”  Thomas here is struggling with doubt – and why?  He wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus showed up, and so, eh, I just won’t buy it.  You do realize, dear friends, that doubt is the way of the world – that for 2000 years the world has railed against Christianity, that the brashest of the so-called thinkers have scoffed and mocked Christianity – indeed, they do their best to foster doubt, to shake and rattle you.  And what happens when, for whatever reason, you decide to neglect Church?  You have this going on, there was that thing – for whatever reason – you miss Church.  What are you doing?  You are exposing yourself to a world of doubt.  If you are left to your own on anything, doubt will always creep in – and that is what Thomas is seeing right there.

          “Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’  Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see My Hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.’”  The cure to doubt is to be gathered together with the people of God in Church, in worship.  You realize that what happened in this text is what happens here in Church all the time.  Christ gathers His people here, and what happens?  Christ is present – He is present in His Word proclaimed, and even more wondrously and miraculously – He is present in His Supper.  The things of worship – hearing the Word, receiving Christ’s own Body and Blood for forgiveness and the strengthening of faith are the right and proper cures for doubt, the right and appropriate ways to fight doubt.  We need to remember what we learned in confirmation class – we don’t come to faith by our own reason or strength, but that the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel – called us by God’s Word preached, by God’s Word poured over our head in the waters of Baptism, and that in the Church the same Spirit continues to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify us with His gifts – His gifts of the Word and His gifts of the Supper.  It’s here where it happens – where we are pulled out of the everyday and humdrum of our lives and gathered up together in God’s House, in God’s presence, so that we are sustained until we are eternally in God’s presence after our earthly days.

          You do realize that this is what happens here.  This isn’t about us – this isn’t just us coming together and speaking some words, singing a song or two, listening to some crackpot pastor ramble on for a few minutes.  No – this place is about God being active, God bringing us together in His Word – these Words that we speak, they are God’s Word, the very Words of eternal life.  These songs that we sing – they aren’t meant to be entertainment – but they are the truth of God’s love that are designed to build us up – when we sing these hymns we proclaim God’s Word to each other – as I knelt for prayer before this sermon, you sang God’s Word of life into my ears so I was prepared to preach it into your ears.  We are gathered by Christ to be in His Word, to receive His Supper, to grow in the faith – so that believing in Him we would have life in His Name.  Christ Jesus has promised to be with us whenever, and even wherever we, His People, gather around His Word and Sacraments – even if there are only two or three of us, and to make us share in His life.  He has risen from the dead, and He desires that you share in this life as well.  Delight in His Word, rejoice in the gifts He gives you in His house – hear Him preached, touch Him in His Supper, and delight in His forgiveness and life.  Because He will continue to care for you – for you belong to Christ.  This house belongs to Christ.  This altar, this pulpit, they belong to Christ – they are His, and He will see them put to use for your everlasting good – even until all the saints of all times and all places are gathered together into His Kingdom.  Jesus has risen victoriously from the grave, and you have His victory as well.  Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia - Amen

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Easter Day Sermon

Easter Day – John 20:1-18 – April 5th, 2015

Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia +
          My dear friends, indeed, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you who have been bought by Christ, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, and brought together into His family, united with God Himself and with all the patriarchs, the prophets, the Apostles and saints of all ages, most blessed and joyous greetings be unto you this Easter morning in the Name of Christ our Risen Lord.  Did you notice in our Gospel text for this morning, dealing with our Lord’s Resurrection, how everyone’s dire expectations are not met, how what people come expecting isn’t what happens.  Mary comes to the tomb, and she expects a dead Body.  It’s not there.  That’s not what Mary expected that morning.  Peter and John go rushing to the tomb – and by rights there should be a Body there.  If anything this is probably just Mary being overwrought and confused – there has to be a Body there, John had seen Him die.  No Body there.  Not what they expected.  The resurrection of our Lord turns everything on it’s head.  Dead bodies are supposed to stay dead bodies.  But not after our Lord’s Resurrection – nothing is as it was before.

          There’s a reason why Mary was expecting a Body to be in that tomb.  There’s a reason Peter and John don’t make the connection right away with what is going on.  They were sinners in a sinful world.  They had seen death over and over again.  People are born, they grow old, perhaps, and then they die.  That was life, or so they thought.  But they were wrong.  That wasn’t life.  That’s wasn’t just nature.  That wasn’t what we were created to be, created to do.  That wasn’t life, that was death.  That was the wages of sin.  Sin had turned creation on its head, turned everything upside down.  Sin turned people created to live into people doomed to die.  Sin turned people created to care for God’s creation into selfish beings who would hurt and harm their neighbors in order to please themselves.  And even those who feared God, who trusted in Him, they were still sinners.  They might fight against their sin – but they never won completely, and over and over again we see in Scripture how the faithful messed up.  We see this in our own life – the times where we look back and think, “Why in the world did I do that. . . I can’t believe it.”  Sin has turned everything on its head – sin has so taken and shaken this world that we have come to expect nothing but death.  That’s what Mary and Peter and John were expecting – because that’s how the story always ends – and he died.  That’s what life in this fallen world has taught us to expect, that’s how twisted, how turned, how fallen we have become.

          And Mary walks to the tomb, expecting nothing but death – but there’s no death there.  Peter and John run, surely, there must be death, that’s how the story always ends.  There’s no death there.  Nothing is working like they expect it to be.  Peter and John don’t know what to make of it – they wander back to their homes.  But Mary, Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.  She is still weeping.  The story has to be that He’s still dead – she’s so thoroughly turned upside down by life in this fallen world, that that’s just how it has to be.  And as she wept she stopped to look in the tomb.  Maybe if I look again, the Body will be there, it will all have been a silly mistake.  But there is no dead body in that tomb.  No, instead, now there is something else – And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the Body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  Why are you weeping, woman – do you not see, the World has been made right again – Death has been undone, what is there to weep over!  Christ lives – He has risen.

          Mary hasn’t seen that yet.  She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”  She still thinks only of a Body, of a motionless lump of clay – that someone has dragged off, that someone has put somewhere.  She doesn’t see, she doesn’t understand that He is not dead, but that He is alive.  And she turns, and there He is, standing in front of her – yet she doesn’t see Him yet, not really.  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Mary is so distraught, so caught up in this world of sin and so sure of how things have to work, must work in this world, so ridden with tears that she doesn’t even recognize Jesus. Even when Jesus says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping, whom are you seeking?” – when Jesus says, “Hey, I’m over here, you were looking for me” – she still is so caught up, can’t conceive of expecting anything else, that she carries on, begins to babble quickly.  Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where You have lain Him, and I will take Him away.”  Just let me be, let me hold on to that dead body because I have nothing more that I can expect in this fallen world.

          Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  And then the lights come on – then she realizes Who it is there in front of her, what has happened, then she gets the joy, then the wonder is revealed.  Christ lives!  Jesus who died now lives, to die no more.  The Lord is living, and this world of sin, the power of death, the struggles and trials of this life, they are all undone.  Christ Jesus has done it – He has undone death.  He tells Mary to tell the disciples “go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.”  The sin which had sundered us from God, which had cut us off from life, which robbed us of true life – it’s done, it’s defeated, it is destroyed and is no more.  Behold Christ lives.  Behold, He is going not just to His Father, but to your Father.  Reunited, restored, everything put back to how it should be – for because Christ lives and is with God we too live and shall be with God.  That is what Mary finally sees, and that is what she proclaims.

          What do you see, this morning, O Christian?  What did you gaze upon this morning?  It is true that we still live in a world impacted by sin, where things fall apart, where things don’t work right, where decay comes and moth and rust destroy.  But do you see the greater reality, did the higher truth shine through the tears of sorrow and pain that this world so often causes?  Christ Jesus lives – and all the wickedness of the world, all the sin which clings to us, all the death that threatens us – all of it, is defeated.  And it’s not just defeated in general – it is defeated in your own life.  Do your tears and trials threaten to overwhelm you, just as Mary was overwhelmed by hers in this text?  Jesus calls out to Mary by her name and she understand – guess what, God has called you by Name – there, at the font, in your Baptism, you, by Name, the very Name that is your gift from God, you were called forth by name from this world of sin and death unto Christ’s life.  Our Lord has claimed you and united Himself unto you – and nothing tops that.  Not even death can destroy that – behold your Lord lives – death can do nothing to Him –  and so it can do nothing to you, for just as God called you by Name at the waters of the font so too at the Last Day He shall call you again by Name and you will answer your Lord’s call.  If that day comes before our own death we will turn our heads to Christ and never see our own tomb, if that day comes after we have fallen asleep in Christ we will come forth in risen bodies and shake the dust of our grave off of our feet never to be troubled by it again.  Why?  Because He lives – and nothing can stop that.

          But the world will try to distract us – the fallen world, defeated as it is, will still try to make us miserable, Satan will still scowl fierce and seek our distraction, will try to tell us what Jesus says could surely never be. . . and our Lord continually bursts forth into our lives with His Word, With His Blessed Sacraments and declares to us “I am Here, I am your life, I am your righteousness, I am your forgiveness – and Satan can go burn in hell, you are Mine and I have won you.”  And Jesus knows that this world will still try to turn you on your head – and so He comes to you over and over again.  What is the preaching of God’s Word but Jesus saying to you once again, “Yes, I see your sins which call out for your death – but I have died and I have risen, you so you shall have My life”?  Or consider the Supper?  The world sees nothing but bread and wine, but our Lord says, “Behold, this is My Body which is given for you, which has died and risen so that you will rise.  Behold, this is My Blood, which I have shed so that you receive my forgiveness and are made clean and whole.”  Christ drags your eyes of the chaos and sin of this world, and over, and over again turns you to Himself, holds His love and forgiveness before you, takes the dirges of death in this world off your lips, and places His Body and Blood on your lips instead so that you would join in the Song of Heaven, the Song of all eternity, singing with Angels and Archangels and all the company of Heaven, our brothers and sisters in the faith who are with Christ now.  That is the reality which Christ brings us into, that is the reality which He makes us to see.  That is what Christ ensured, guaranteed, that Easter morn when He broke the bonds of death and strode forth from the tomb Alive.

          Everything, dear friends in Christ, my brothers, my sisters, you who in Christ are my closest family who will be with me for all eternity, everything is different, everything is more wondrous that it was, more wondrous than we comprehend, because our Lord, Christ Jesus has risen from the tomb, and has undone the fall, and restored unto us life and salvation and paradise.  Christ has triumphed, Alleluia!  What then remains to us but rejoicing, what remains but feasting this Easter Day on Christ, the very bread of heaven, to celebrate once again the triumph feast of the Lamb who was slain to slay our death?  He lives, and so shall we, indeed, so do we.  Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia + Amen.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday – April 3rd, 2015

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

          How quickly we will wring our hands.  How quickly we will lament how harsh and unfair our lives are, how mean things happen to us.  How quickly we will blame our problems upon other people.  So often we will assume that our lives would just be so much better if it weren’t for. . .him. . . if she wasn’t like that.  If those folks weren’t like that, if they didn’t have power.  As children we quickly learn to cry out, “It’s not fair” – and even as we grow, we repeat the refrain on and on.  We learn to shout out, “it’s not my fault” when blame gets passed onto us.  And sometimes, perhaps, we are right.  Many times, we aren’t.  We just duck and dive our responsibility.  How quickly we will complain and lament what happens to us.  And yet, behold your Lord and Savior Christ Jesus this night on His Passion.  There He had been in the Garden of Gethsemane, gone to pray.  And what happens?  His friend, His companion, Judas, betrays Him.  Sells Him out to the Romans.  Would not Christ be right to complain of this?  Would not He have been justified in screaming, “This isn’t fair – I was simply going to pray – and now look at what My friend has done – He has stabbed me in the back!”  But He doesn’t.  What happens to Him, the unfairness of it no longer concerns Him.  Instead, when the servant of the high priest, poor Malchus, gets his ear cut off by a rambunctious Peter – Jesus sees it and heals it.  Let me fix the unfair thing you have suffered.

          Our Lord is taken off then, arrested, and there He goes.  Led in the middle of the night to stand before men who want His blood, want His head.  Do His friends come with Him?  Do they support Him, encourage Him, defend Him?  No, John follows Him in, but we hear nothing from Him – no passionate defense of Christ - no dramatic cries of “You have an innocent man!”  And then in the courtyard, even far away from the action, simply out in front of the servants, in front of people who have no power to hurt him, even Peter denies Christ.  To have John, the disciple whom You love, stand silent while you are accused, and that’s the kindest thing any of your friends do?  Some besmirch you, forsake you.  And yet – no complaining from our Lord.

          Before the High Priest, Christ says that He has taught publicly, that He has no secret teachings – that they all know what He has proclaimed, and even implies that they know that it is true.  For this, He is struck, slapped.  Why?  He spoke no falsehood.  But there is no apology, instead He is bound and herded off like a common criminal.        He is taken before Pilate, before the Roman governor.  It is hard for us to imagine what this would be like.  Rome was an occupying power – it would be like a southerner in the Civil War being dragged by other southerners to a Union General – it would be humiliating and insulting.  His accusers couldn’t, wouldn’t even enter Pilate’s home – but they shove Christ in.  You take Him, Pilate, and you put Him to death, because that is what we want.  And yet, still no complaint.

          And then Pilate questions Jesus, grills Him – and Jesus answers calmly and truthfully – shows the governing authority that He is innocent.  Pilate says that He finds no guilt in Him.  Yet, does Pilate do his job of protecting Christ?  No.  Pilate caves to pressure – orders Him to be crucified at the whim of the crowd.  Releases a murder and a robber – a heinous criminal that everyone knew was rotten gets released – and there is Christ, still set for death.  But then Pilate thinks of a plan – maybe if I beat Him, maybe if I brutalize Him, then the people will have pity upon Him, maybe then the mob will no longer want His blood.  And so the soldiers come, they place the crown of thorns upon His head, and flog Him.  And consider this – this abuse, this flogging at the order of Pilate – this is the kindest thing done to Christ that day.  How is that for a day – where literally the kindest thing a person does is beat You bloody so that people might have pity upon You?

          To no avail.  The crowds, Christ’s own kin, His own people, still call for His blood.  And Pilate tries to convince the crowd – but they even go so far as to call out, “We have no king but Caesar.”  Rank heresy, there was nothing worse for a Jew to say. God was to be Israel’s King – but the hatred is so enflamed, so impassioned, that they would rather claim Caesar as their own than see Christ go free.  It would be as though your entire town joined a terrorist group, or invited ISIS in to take them over, just to see you dead.  And yet, Christ doesn’t rail or rave.

          And they take Him – hand Him His own cross and tell Him to start walking.  This would be like forcing you to tie your own noose, or to run on a giant hamster wheel to generate the electricity that is going to run through the chair that kills you.  And then, He is crucified – nailed to the cross as we are told in other accounts.  Left to hang naked and exposed and beaten and flayed out in the open air.  And what does He see there?  Men gambling for His belongings.  Crowds that jeer Him.  His mother left to watch with horror and revulsion.  And yet, Christ does not cry out, “This isn’t fair, this isn’t right!”  He doesn’t spew forth hatred.  No – He shows forth love.  John – care for My mother when I am gone.  And then, after a few hours there exposed, Our Lord says, “It is finished” and breathes His last – gives up His Spirit.

          It’s not fair.  Not in the slightest.  The truly innocent Christ Jesus is brutalized and dies, His blood is shed for no legal reason, no moral reason.  He has done nothing wrong.  So then, why do we gather here today, why do we call this day Good Friday, when we see such horrors inflicted upon Christ?  Precisely because it is not fair.  You see, what Christ suffered, what Christ endured was what we deserved, what we have earned with our sin.  It’s not fair that Christ should be there – it should be us – and not just for a day, but for an eternity.  But Christ Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God steps in, and He suffers in our place – He makes a trade with us.  Christ says, “Here, I will take your punishment and death – and now, behold the life and salvation I give you.”  And note this – But one of His soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.  Christ gives to you life.  Water flows from His side at death, and now, by the wonder of His gift of Baptism, water gives you life, washes you clean of your sin, wins your redemption.  Blood flows from His side at His death, and now, by the wondrous gift of the Supper, that Blood is given to you for the remission of all your sin.  Everything that happens to Christ, everything He suffers, it is for your good, for your life, for your salvation.

          He takes up the load that you could not bear.  He takes up the suffering which you could not endure.  He takes up the burden of sin that lies upon you, and He says, “Enough – I will pay for it all, and I will win for you forgiveness.”  As Christ is arrested, we are set free from the chains of sin.  As Christ is betrayed by His friends, we are made friends again with God.  As Christ is harangued by the Chief Priests and condemned by His community, we are welcomed into God’s Heavenly Kingdom.  As He is beaten, our sin is purged.  As His is mocked, we are praised by God, declared to be Holy and Righteous on account of Christ.  As He is given to death, we are given over to life everlasting.

          We do not call this day fair Friday.  It was not.  But it was good – and indeed, the love of God for you is that He willingly suffers every injustice for your own good, for your own life, that you might enjoy life eternal.  And come the third day – He will rise and claim that life eternal for you.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Maundy Thursday – April 2nd, 2015 – John 1 and John 13

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          To finish our Lenten midweek theme for this year about Jesus being the Lamb of God, we will start by considering a single verse from the John Chapter 1: “The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”  Thus far the text.  I would say, dear friends in Christ, that the Apostle John, by recording these words of John the Baptist, set out for us how we are to read, how we are to understand everything that happens in John’s Gospel (or the other Gospels for that matter).  What are you seeing when you see all these things happen in the Gospel?  Are they nice morality tales?  Are they good examples of virtue?  Are they warnings against various vices?  In part, but that is not what John’s Gospel is at it’s heart, that is not what the story of Christ Jesus is at its heart.  The point is this – Behold the Lamb of God – who does what?  Who takes away the sin of the world.  The Gospel is the story of how Christ Jesus takes away the sin of the world, the proclamation of the Gospel is the proclamation that He has taken away your sin as well. 

          Everything Christ Jesus does, He does for you.  The calling of His disciples, this is done for you, so that His Word would be proclaimed, and you are still part of that same Holy Christian and *Apostolic* Church that Christ founded through those disciples.  The miracles – those too were done for you.  As we hear after the changing of water to wine at Cana – “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory.  And His disciples believed in Him.”  And having heard, you believe in Him too.  Done for you.  Everything, all of it, done for you – dealing with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the feeding of the 5000 – all of it, for your sake, leading and driving to the forgiveness of your sins.

          And tonight, we get to the upper room, the start of Jesus’ passion in full – and tomorrow, on Good Friday we will spend more time directly considering our Lord’s Passion – we’ll hear John chapters 18 and 19 then – but for now, John records for us something neat, something wonderful.  Our Lord’s Passion begins with our Lord instituting His Supper, the very Supper which He will give to us for the forgiveness of our sins this night – but John does something very neat.  Listen again to how John introduces our lesson – “During Supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from Supper…”  In the midst of His institution of the Lord’s Supper – Jesus pauses.  And He washes the disciples feet.  Think on the importance that John gives this – knowing that it’s all coming to a head, knowing that He is returning to God, that His work is to be accomplished, that in less than 24 hours he will cry out “It is finished” – He rises – steps away from the table, from the middle of the celebration of Passover, from the middle of the institution of the Lord’s Supper – and He washes the disciples’ feet.

          It must be pretty important what He does then?  I mean, I don’t stop in the middle of the distribution for just any old thing – right?  I’m not going to say, “Wait, let me check the score of the ball game, I’ll be right back!”  It is important – and at the end of the lesson Jesus says, “Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you.”  It’s an example!  We should do it!  So… um… why aren’t we washing each other’s feet tonight?  I mean, there are places that do it – I know the Pope will go and do it – and I mean, it’s kind of cool, but seems a little hokey if you do it in the middle of the service.  Why not?  Here’s why.  Listen.

          “Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’”  Pause there for a second – we don’t get the rhetorical thrust here.  In Greek, a question phrased this way is a bit more forceful – it would be more like saying, “What in tarnation do you think you are up to?”  And Peter is surprised, because washing the feet is the lowest job in the house – the lowest ranking servant got to do it.  You are the Lord, you are the Teacher, what are you doing?  And Jesus says to Peter, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”  Later, Peter, you’re going to get this all later.  Doesn’t stop bold Peter – “You shall never wash my feet!”  Jesus, I’m not going to let you humiliate Yourself to clean my feet.  This is an indignity!  I can’t let you be humiliated like this!  So defiant, Peter.  And Jesus responds calmly – “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.”  No, Peter, we have to do things My way, you need to be joined to Me.  That’s the way things have to be.  And then Peter, lovely Peter swings to the opposite end of the spectrum; reluctance to enthusiasm boiling over.  “Lord, not my feet only, but my hands and my head!”  Then wash away!  But again, Jesus responds, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.  And [y’all] are clean, but not every one of you” – for He knew who was to betray Him; that was why He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’”

          Did you catch it?  The point isn’t dirt on the feet – Judas the unrepentant was not clean.  Peter and the disciples, they didn’t get this, they wouldn’t get it until *afterwards* - not just after Jesus finishes washing their feet… they wouldn’t get it until after He died and rose again.  I find that often hearing or reading sermons on this text will frustrate me, because the text will be turned into the great moral finger wag.  You need to go love your neighbor.  And that’s true – by all means, go love your neighbor.  Serve them – be a good server, get your hands dirty for their sake.  But Jesus isn’t just talking about dirt and doing dirty jobs.  Who is this Jesus who is pausing from the meal to wash feet – Behold the Lamb of God who does what again?  Who takes away the sin of the world.

          You see, dear friends, Christ with this is teaching us about forgiveness; instructing us to forgive one another.  You all are washed cleaned, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism.  You are joined to Him – you have a part in Christ by virtue of your Baptism whereby you received the adoption as sons.  You are clean – but you are still a sinner in a sinful world, and what happens?  Dust and dirt happen – sin happens.  So for you, O Christian, forgiveness will be part of our lives every day here.  Peter, you need to have your foot washed if you are going to be part of Christ – Christian, you need to receive forgiveness, Christ’s forgiveness.  But also this – you, O Christian, are called by Christ to be an agent of forgiveness, a giver and proclaimer of forgiveness.  “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

          Do you want to know what forgiving your neighbor is?  It’s the nastiest, stinkiest job in the house.  Forgiving your neighbor means that you will come face to face with their worst.  Forgiving your neighbor means that you will have to get down on your hands and knees and be humble, put up with anger and abuse, you will have to get close to them – see them warts and sweat and toejam and all – and forgive them anyway.  Forgiveness is hard, hard for us to do.  To see people at their worst and yet still say, “Because of Christ Jesus, you are clean, for He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – even your sin.”  It’s a tough row to hoe – and Jesus knows it is.

          Do you understand what He has done to you?  You are called to forgiven, and it’s hard forgiving.  But let me ask a question – something I noted earlier.  When does Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – when does He give us this example?  During Supper.  He rose from Supper.  This whole discussion about forgiveness, about getting up close to your neighbor, bearing their shame and stench and caring for them and cleaning them – it’s all in the context of the Lord’s Supper.  O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world – have mercy upon us, grant us Thy peace!  Give to us Your own Body and Blood so that our sin is forgiven!  And then what?  As we pray afterwards – we implore you that of Your mercy – that it from, coming from, out of Your mercy that You have given us in this supper – we implore you that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love toward one another.  Make me to remember Your forgiveness, strengthen my faith – because my neighbor’s going to do something this week that is going to get me mighty angry, and I will be tempted to forget that You are the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – I will be tempted to not forgive, to show them no love.  Strengthen my faith, fix My eyes always upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world so that when I see my neighbor’s sin I don’t see my own anger or revulsion, but I see sin that the Lamb died for, has already take away – so that I am ready to forgive.  And make me to remember and know Your forgiveness and mercy when I see how often I fail.

          If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  This is truth.  We are called to forgive – but this forgiveness doesn’t spring from us.  It isn’t what *we* primarily do.  Christ forgives; He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And He richly and daily forgives you through His Word and Spirit, and He will open your lips to forgive others by His Word which He will speak through you.  This is what He prepared you for by Holy Baptism; this is what He brings about in you and through you and for you by His Word and Supper.  God grant that we ever more receive and live in Christ’s forgiveness, even until the life of the world to come!  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Bible, Stories, and Sunday School

The Adult Bible Class is just finishing up 1 Samuel.  1 Samuel is one of those books of the bible that folks know quite a few of the stories from - they are Sunday School stories.  You have David and Goliath.  You have David being anointed King.  You might even get little Samuel saying, "Here am I, Lord!"  Great stories!

But in reading the book in detail (and also having gone over Genesis a while ago), I'm becoming more and more dissatisfied with how Sunday School is set up - what is covered.  I had been taught in my youth (both in Sunday School and even in parochial school) so much of the Scriptures by way of moral example -- see here, David is a good little boy, now you be a good little boy and trust in God too!  Be ready to serve like Samuel.

It always was something where you could end with "and the moral of the story is..."

As regards our youth, we've turned "Bible Stories" into tales of "here's how good Christians were well behaved."

Go read 1 Samuel.  It starts off with the priest assuming Samuel's mom was just another one of the drunken trollops his sons were partying with.  You see failure and heartache and stumbling -- everyone.  The heroes, the villains -- all of them sinners, all of them flawed.  And the difference is repentance.

We seem to lose the fact that the point of the stories (the moral of the stories, if you will) isn't "You Can!" -- it's rather, "You're a sinner, even the greatest heroes of the faith were... and you need to repent." 

1 Samuel 25 is fantastic for this - David's rage... and the thanks he gives to God when Abigail gets in his way and keeps him from doing something stupid.  "And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!"  (But read it in the King James - because that's where you actually see David's anger -- he doesn't say he's going to kill "the men" of Nabal... )

We have sanitized the sin out of the stories we tell our kids -- but the whole point is that our entire lives will have to be ones of repentance, where we never trust our own strength but rather rely upon God's mercy, rely upon the forgiveness won by Christ Jesus.  

If it's not driving and pointing to Christ and His redemption, you've simply neutered the bible.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I still don't like boycotts

I just don't like boycotts.

Yes, I know, this has been the tried and true method of protest - I don't like what business X or State Y is doing - let's organize a boycott.  Right and Left, both sides do it.  That will learn them!

Yet, here's the thing.  Just think on the 10 commandments from your catechism days.  What's the meaning to the 7th Commandment?  "We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income."

So someone's doing something *I* don't like.  Isn't he still my neighbor?  Am I somehow excused from showing him love and helping him?  That's convenient - if I don't *like* what someone does, I can stop loving him and feel all good about it... um... or something.

And it just doesn't even make sense.  How am I going to convince someone to change her mind if I utterly ignore her - if I castigate her and wish her harm.  That's not going to convince anyone of anything.

But lest you think I'm just not dedicated enough to your cause (whatever cause it is), consider what Paul writes in Romans 12:   "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

So - alright - if someone bothers you so much that you just can't do business with them... okay.  So be it... but leading the glorious boycott revolution against your neighbor... you aren't going to overcome evil with doing harm yourself.

But - if this strikes too much of a nerve, you can always organize a boycott of my blog =o)

You can also check out another post on Boycotting I wrote if you haven't determined I am thus evil incarnate.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5 – March 22nd, 2015 – John 8

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          We got rid of our DirecTV last Summer, and while I will admit, I missed being able to watch 15 college football games, or flip through NCAA tournament games this week, there’s been a great benefit.  I haven’t seen a single commercial for whatever horrid “Learn about the “REAL Jesus” shows that are coming out now, like they do every year at this time.  Every year it’s some schlock about getting to the heart of the matter, trying to figure out why such a nice fellow like Jesus would be killed.  Do you wish to know why Jesus is put to death – why people are set against Him?  John records for us the heart of the matter.  What does our Lord say to these folks in our Gospel lesson today?  “Why do you not understand what I say?  It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word.  Plain and simple – the only reason anyone has a problem with Christ, with Christianity, when it all boils down to it – they cannot bear to hear the Word of God.  It is distasteful, it is unpleasing, it doesn’t tell folks what they want to hear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Now, the Jews had pointed out that Abraham had died – treated him as though he were gone.  Our Lord’s Words show us the mystery, the wonder of the ages.  No, Abraham was not gone – he doesn’t see death – rather He beholds Christ and so He sees life – He from the presence of God beholds with utter joy what Christ does as He strides to earth and takes on Human Flesh, and goes to the Cross and dies to atone for sin, rises to defeat death and ensure our resurrection.  There is no final death for Abraham, for Christ won Him salvation by His own death and resurrection – and likewise, Christ Jesus has won this salvation, this promise of resurrection for you.  And this is given to you, this is provided to you by His Word.  Our Lord says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.”  The word here for “keep” means to hold onto to, to observe, to cling to, to cherish.  In Christ’s Word, there is life and salvation – His Words are indeed the Words of eternal life – and when you receive this Word – When you hear it, when you are baptized into it, when that Word of God is placed upon Your tongue in our Lord’s most Holy Supper, it brings life everlasting – life beyond death and the grave.  It means you will not see death – that even death becomes merely the doorway to life everlasting, that the separation of body and spirit at death will be not be permanent, for our Lord will raise you on the last day and make you perfect and truly living in Him.  This is what God’s Word gives you, this is what the Word accomplishes and brings about in you.  This is the effect of the preaching of the Word, this is the effect of Baptism, this is the effect of the Supper – that you receive from Christ life.

          In this way, Christ ultimately defeats Satan.  With His death and resurrection, our Lord defeats Satan, and with His Word and Sacraments, Christ pulls you out of Satan’s kingdom of death and restores you unto life.  This is what He accomplishes, this is what Abraham sees and rejoices, this is why all the hosts of heaven give thanks and praise to God.  Let us with prayer then prepare to join them in their songs of celebration, and let us then join in the heavenly feast in our Lord’s Supper.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lent 4 Sermon

Lent 5 – John 6:1-15 – March 15th, 2015

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          Lent can be a hard and rough time, an intense time in the Church.  I always get a little nervous writing Lenten sermons, because they deal so bluntly with sin and temptation.  But that’s what happens in Lent.  And I think that the intensity of Lent, the intensity of a focus on repentance can be a bit shocking to us today in America because we have forgotten that there is a cost of discipleship, that there is a weight and burden attached to being a Christian.  It shows up in the old hymns.  We sing in A Mighty Fortress - “And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife”.  Jesus, Priceless Treasure cries out defiance against a sinful world that constantly hounds us.  These are hymns that are describing the burden, the true burden in this life of being a Christian, of turning your back upon the world. . . and letting the world kick you in the backside.  This is something that Christ though is blunt and honest about – we hear Him teach this, but somehow in America our mindset has gotten twisted.  We think that because we are Christians we should have things easier, that if we are good little Christian boys and girls that we should get more toys.  The stories from the middle East with ISIS shock us – when Christ told us such things would come.  Take up your cross and follow Me, not sit back in your BMW and follow Me.

          In America we’ve sort of lost the expectation that the Christian life is hard and difficult – and as such, Lent seems insanely burdensome – the concept of giving something seems strange – and as such, we don’t understand what Christ our Lord teaches in the Gospel today – Refreshment Sunday – the pink Sunday of Lent.  What we are going to do today is look at the feeding of the 5000, but in terms of burden and relief, in terms of trials in this life and being rescued.  It fits well, and it is something we need to hear, need to be rightly focused on.

          After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.  And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick.  Jesus went up on the mountain and there He sat down with His disciples.  Now, the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.  Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread that these people may eat?”  Here is the familiar set up.  Jesus has been doing miracles, He has been preaching, and large crowds begin to follow Him.  And Jesus sees the crowds, and Jesus asks the disciples a simple question.  Where are we going to buy bread to feed these folks?  Now, consider this.  You’ve been walking all day, following after a person.  Jesus had gone onto the other side of the Sea of Galilee, so you may have gone many, many miles following Jesus, eager to hear Him, eager to see Him in action.  In a hot, dusty, rugged area.  All the day long.

          What would these people following Jesus here look like?  They would be a mess, they would be tired, they would be hungry.  There is a cost, a burden associated with these people following Jesus.  Their bodies are worn.  They’ve probably missed lunch, if not more meals than that.  The money they would have earned that day – never gotten by them.  They have made a sacrifice, their life is harder right now because they are in that crowd.  Things of this life, they gave up, simply to follow Christ.

Now, as we observed a few weeks ago, Jesus knows quite well what it is like to be out in the desert, tired and hungry.  And so we know that Christ will have compassion, that He will seek to alleviate their hunger.  However, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t hungry.  That doesn’t mean that there was no cost, no burden to the people.  It is rough following Christ.  Christ doesn’t make things easier, He doesn’t keep burdens away – rather this – He will refresh and strengthen these people, so that they can recover from this day, so that they can be prepared for the next. 

The same is true in your life.  Christ knows your life is hard, and He knows that the more you try to live as a Christian, the more you turn away from sin, the more you say no to the people of the world who want to do wickedness, the more you give of yourself so that others can have and rejoice – the more you do these Christ-like things the harder your life is.  And so Christ will refresh you.  He will bolster you on His Word, He will feed you on His Supper, He will encourage you, He will let you see joys in simple things, simple acts of compassion, joys that the world will never understand.  But still, we can ask the question.  Why the hard stuff in the first place?  If Jesus was gonna feed these people, why’d He let them follow Him out around a lake in the first place?  If God is going to give us peace and rest, why is there a burden in the first place?  This text gives us two reasons, which we will see shortly.

First, listen to what Jesus says to Phillip.  Where are we going to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.  Jesus knew what He was going to do – but here is the question.  Did the disciples know?  And the answer is no.  Phillip mutters that a mound of cash wouldn’t do much good.  Even Peter, top of the class Peter says, “Eh, a boy has five loaves and two fish, but that doesn’t amount to much.”  The disciples didn’t know, they didn’t understand.  If they didn’t know what Christ would do, how would they be able to be Christ-like, to do things like Christ?  One of the things that we forget is that the Christian life is often compared to training, to learning, to preparing for a race.  And that is hard.  If you want to be a better runner you don’t sit on the couch eating fritos – you must run and often.  If you want to be a better basketball player you don’t play XBOX or playstation, your Coach is going to send you through drills until you are worn out.  If you want to be a better reader, you can’t just read nothing but Clifford the Big Red Dog books, you have to pick up harder and more difficult books, learn words you hadn’t known before.  Learning math means you’ve got to do harder and harder homework.  Even in the things of this world, we grow in the face of struggle.

The same thing holds true in our lives as Christians.  If we are to grow to be like Christ, we have to be put in places, be given opportunities to do Christ-like things.  And that means difficulty.  That means showing love even to your enemies, that means praying even for those who persecute you, that means making the care of others your top priority, even if it means you don’t get everything you wanted.  Our Lord says in Luke that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.  Recognize the trials in your life for what they are – for they are not simply burdens, but they are opportunities which Christ gives you in order for you to grow, to grow in love, to know in knowledge and wisdom, to grow in understanding of Christ’s love for you.  In this world which is full of sin, we will always need growth in Christ, learning how to struggle against sin, and it will remain a struggle, that is the way things must be here.

Then we know what happens in the text.  Christ provides, and He provides abundantly.  12 baskets of leftovers are gathered.  Christ does provide us with all that we need, the difficulties are endured and conquered, and we rejoice and give thanks.  However, there is that verse at the end of the section that is also of note this morning.  Perceiving that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.  The people have just been fed, have just received this wonderful blessing from Christ – and what do they want to do?  They want to do the exact opposite of what Christ wants them to.  They want to make Him King, they want more and more blessings, let’s just focus on our bellies and the here and now.

Let me ask a question.  Do children who are provided every thing they wish, receive every whim that they desire grow in maturity – or do they become spoiled, miserable brats?  The same thing holds true spiritually. You know yourself.  If you never had any struggle, any toil, any difficulties, would you grow in your faith?  Would you learn to trust God more, or would you rather end up putting your trust in stuff, in blessings?  Would you want to see Jesus heal more sick people, show more love to others, or give you more and more stuff? 

Here is the wonder.  Christ provides for us – but he provides what is good for us, what is proper for us, blessings to sustain us, but not blessings to make us lazy and lethargic.  He acts in a way that is best for us.  Don’t you think that in the text it is best for the people that Jesus withdraws from them there?  He didn’t come ultimately to make them tasty bread, He came to win them life and salvation by going to the Cross.  But at the moment, the crowd doesn’t see that, they are just focused on their bellies.  Christ withdraws because His focus is right.  Same thing in our lives now – Christ doesn’t want you focused simply on the pleasures and stuff of this life, this world.  This life will never be the end-all be-all of your life, but rather you are being prepared and preserved for the joys of the life of the world to come – that’s the goal.  Christ will bless you, He will sustain you – but He isn’t going to spoil you and He isn’t make you lazy.  Rather this – He will sustain you and support you throughout your struggles, indeed He will join with you in your struggles so that you will conquer them in Him.

This is what we receive in the Word, this is what we receive in Christ’s Supper.  Forgiveness strengthens us for life, strengthens us so that we might go out and live.  We close this service with the benediction, so that our life in the world this week might be blessed.  This is God’s care for us.  And it is more than enough, more than we need, and it is given to us simply because He cares for us – but it is the right care, the good care, the proper amount of care, so that we are provided for and so that we also have opportunity to grow.  Christ refreshes us, and then He sustains us in our time here in this life, so that we might ever more understand His love for us.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +