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

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maundy Thursday Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Sermon for Richard Carpenter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

Sermon for Wes Bode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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