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 +