Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sunday Sermon

Easter Sunday, 2016 – John 20:1-18

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +
A long time ago, there was a man who was a gardener. And it was the best job in the world. He literally was in the perfect garden, a garden so lush and teeming with life we can't comprehend it, even after a trip to the best botanical garden in the world today. And it was the best job in the world. This gardener, Adam by name, and his wife Eve were simply to tend this garden, and live there, enjoy the bounty thereof. But they blow it. The forbidden fruit is eaten, and Adam rips apart the garden, brings sin and death into the world. Genesis chapter 3 starts with Adam and Eve being in the garden – Genesis chapter 4 has Adam and Eve having to sit by and watch as one son murders another, watching and knowing that we were the ones who messed this all up. And the world was changed, was broken. And he died.

Now, let's jump many, many years later – still almost 2000 years ago, but down the road from Adam. People have gotten used to death. Become accustomed to it. And this is what we hear just before our Gospel lesson this morning, the very end of John 19, of our Lord's Passion. “Now, in the place where [Jesus] was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” Do you see the change in what a garden is? The garden of life is replaced by a garden designed for death. We don't get to live in the garden – no, while we're alive we're stuck with hard work out in the real world, but at least where our dead are laid, we try to keep the grass neat, have some flowers, maybe some well tended trees. What a turn around. And so, Sunday morning, early, we hear this. “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Mary, early, returns to the second garden. Adam and Eve couldn't have gone back to the first garden – there was an angel with a fiery sword to keep them from doing that. But Mary trudges out early in the morning, heads there with a grim task. The burial had been so sudden, the death so violent and public and perhaps close to a riot, that the women hadn't be able to do their part, to prepare the body for a burial. Oh sure, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had wrapped Jesus' body in spices, but then as now, there are just some things women didn't trust men to do right. A lot of distrust since that first garden. But at any rate, there was a barrier for Mary – not an angel to keep the living out of the garden, but a giant stone. Meant to keep scavenging animals away from the dead, meant to keep the smell away from the living. But that barrier, that stone, that thing meant to separate the living and the dead – it's been rolled away.

So Mary runs. Runs to Peter and John. Two disciples. They should know what to do! Mary says, They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Mary thinks it's even worse than scavengers. Maybe the Romans have come to defile the body, maybe the chief priests are ordering yet more shame to be heaped upon her Lord. So Peter and John take off – John notes that he, being younger and faster than old Peter, gets there first – but John just stops and stares in wonder at the empty tomb. Peter, he might be a bit slower but he's a lot bolder – he just charges in. “He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” The cloth shouldn't be there. If animals had busted in somehow, they wouldn't have been so neat. If the Romans or the Jews had carried His Body away, they would have kept the cloth, used it to carry Him. And they are stumped, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.” And John admits it – we didn't know, we didn't understand what was happening, because we didn't know the Scripture. Of course Jesus was going to rise, that had been the point all along. But they didn't get it. And so, they go home.

Mary, Mary doesn't. Poor forgotten about Mary. She runs to get help from Peter and John, and they just leave her there. Good job men, way to be polite. Men dropping the ball when it comes to serving women, something else we've seen way too much of since the fall. But at any rate, “Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 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?' She said to them, 'They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.'” Oh, Mary – she sees, but she doesn't see quite yet. Instead of the angry angel with the fiery sword that will cut you down – this Garden now has a pair of nice, comforting angels. This is a step up. But Mary, doesn't quite grasp it yet. And she turns to leave. “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?'” Mary is so distraught, so upset at the turns and twists her life in the world has taken, that she can't even recognize Jesus standing in front of her. And hear what Jesus says – it's not “Wumman, why ya weepin'?” It's actually very polite language – Miss, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?

“Supposing Him to be the gardener...” Just hold that in your back pocket for a moment - “Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” How distraught is Mary? The best she can hope for, the help she thinks to ask for is – let me drag a corpse through this garden. And Jesus gives her more than should could have possibly imagined in that moment. “Jesus said to her,'Mary,' She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, 'Rabboni!' (which means Teacher).” Jesus calls her by name. No, Mary, you don't get to drag me through the garden. And this is funny, it's joyous. Mary glomps on to Him, gives Him a massive bear hug – and He says, “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.'” No, Mary, I told you that you don't get to drag Me through the garden. So, let go. I've got stuff to do, gal. Come on – you go tell the disciples that I have risen and that I am putting everything in order again. And she listens – she trusts Jesus to do this right – and she tells all these things to the disciples.

Here's something neat in this text. Mary was right, more right than she knew, when she was supposing Jesus to be the Gardener. You see, the whole point of everything in Jesus' life was to clean up the mess of things that Adam had made. St. Paul will use that language of Old Adam and New Adam, Old Man and New Man. Old and New Gardener works just as well. His entire ministry was Gardening. People needed to be fed and watered, demons need to be weeded out, diseases need to be cleaned up. Here we see Jesus, standing there in that garden, which had been a garden of death, standing triumphant. Because this isn't the first time we've see Jesus take a walk in a garden. And I'm not even talking about the Garden of Gethesame on Maundy Thursday.

No, many, many years ago, the Word of God, the LORD God almighty, had been taking a walk in His garden as He was wont to do. Of course did – as John 1 reminds us “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him.” So of course the Word, the LORD God would go walking through His garden. But that day, it was different. His creation, His highest and favorite, Adam and Eve, they had sinned. They're off hiding in the bushes. And the Word, the LORD God, called them out, got them to confess what had happened, and He does have to let them deal with some of the temporary consequences of their actions. For a time, things were going to be lousy for His Adam, His Eve, for their children and His children. But in the middle of dealing with Adam and Eve, the Word of God pauses, because if His creation is going to be rightly tended, He's going to have to be the One to do it. And standing in that Garden as the fall comes sweeping in, the LORD God Almighty eyeballs Satan and says “You don't get to mess with mankind. I'm going to become Man, because there's some emnity between you and me, Satan, and I'm going to become Man and fix it. You'll strike, you'll bruise my heel, but I'm going to crush you, I'm going to crush this death you've helped bring about.”

And there, on Easter morning, stands Christ Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, the LORD God almighty. There He stands, with pierced, bruised feet, staring at an empty tomb in a middle of a garden. The time of gardens being a place of death is passing – there's a touch more for Jesus to do. And He gets to it. Now He has, as He told Mary and through her the disciples, ascended to the Father. And He's going to come again, and when he does, every tomb in every garden on this planet will burst open, and out will stride His brothers and sisters, from Adam and Eve, on to us, on to any generations that might come after us. And then, He will give us a new heavens and a new earth – the New and Better Gardener will plant us a new one without even a hint or memory of death in it.

Until then, we are in the here and now. We still mess up, still have distrust and a lack of concern for others that pops out more often than not. And even, sometimes, in the midst of our tears we don't always see our Risen Lord and Savior as we ought. But here, my friends, is the truth, the truth we rejoice in and celebrate this Easter Morn. Christ Jesus our Lord is Risen – He has defeated Satan and Sin and Death. And you know what – He's a good Gardener, and He tends you. The Good Gardener has watered you, watered you in Holy Baptism – so what you hear in John 20 is yours – His death and resurrection is your death and resurrection. The Good Gardener even feeds you, gives you Himself, so that the very bread of life comes to you and forgives you now, promising you the resurrection. Because of Christ, on every single day of your life, from the best to the worst, I can say that Christ Jesus has won you forgiveness and life. He had told us on the Cross that sin and death and all junk is finished. What remains for you is life, His life, life everlasting. All thanks and praise be to Christ Jesus our Lord! Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday, 2016 – The Passion According to John

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
He could have stopped it. Over and over again, He could have stopped it, stopped His passion. Reading through the Passion, we see so many times and places where Jesus could have escaped. “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place.” It would have been simple enough to put things off – pick a different garden, a different place to pray. But no, since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, Christ would go to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas knew He would be.

Even there, He could have stopped it. “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’ Judas, who betrayed Him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground. So He asked them again, ‘Whom do you seek.’” There’s no trickery, no denial. Jesus doesn’t put on a disguise and a fake mustache, He doesn’t say you have the wrong man. No, instead, He says “I AM!” – and the soldiers fall back in terror. And yet, even then, Jesus doesn’t flee. Of course He doesn’t. He had not created man to live in terror and fear – that’s the effect of a sinful, fallen world, and Christ will relieve fear, even the fears of the soldiers who come to arrest Him. I am the one you are looking for, I will go quietly, do not be afraid.

And even then, He could have stopped it. Peter drew his sword – Peter was ready to fight – and off came an ear. And yet, what does Jesus do? Give a war cry – up and at ‘em, boys? No. “So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given Me?’” No, Jesus had enough of swords in gardens. The flaming sword the angel held to keep man out of Eden was more than enough – no more swords in gardens, not this night Peter.
And so He goes. They bind Him and drag Him off, and then the High Priest and his lackeys question Him. And Jesus won’t debate them. “Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.’” He could have stopped it. When Jesus taught openly and in public, He repeatedly put the Scribes and the Pharisees to shame – showed them their foolishness. He could have done the same here, He could have run circles around the High Priest. But that is not why He is here – He isn’t here to show forth His intellectual and theological dominance. And so it continues.

He is taken to Pilate. He could have stopped it. Pilate seemed to like Jesus well enough – Pilate found no guilt in Him, and that’s even without Jesus buttering Pilate up. Pilate would have been a strong ally – I’m no threat to you, in fact, I could be a wedge you could use against the Chief Priests. But Jesus did not come to drive wedges between Jew and Gentile, and so, even though He could have stopped it there, He did not.

Pilate still tries to stop it for Jesus. Pilate beats Jesus bloody, hoping that this will cause the crowds to pity Him. How’s that for Your day – where the kindest thing anyone does for You is to lash You to within an inch of your life, just in the hopes that others might pity You. But it doesn’t work. Crucify Him, Crucify Him – that remains the cry. And as for the crucifixion itself – John doesn’t spend much time focusing on the hours there, but we know it from other gospels. The taunting, the mockery. The cries that Jesus saved others but could not save Himself. And it is ironic, because even there, even on the Cross, Jesus could have stopped it. The angelic legions could have come, the wounds could have melted away and been healed, and Jesus could have come as the terrible avenging Judge, smiting all the mockers. But He doesn’t.

Instead, He thirsts. The One who said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” hangs there on a tree, fulfilling the Scriptures, thirsting Himself. Why? Because He will be satisfied, He will fulfill all righteousness, even as He told His cousin John at His baptism. He hangs upon the tree, He suffers. And, there upon the tree, He utters the words of wonder and sorrow and joy. It is finished. And He dies.

Jesus did put a stop to it. He put an end to it. The rebellion of mankind that started in the garden – it is finished. The separation that caused Adam and Eve to hide from God because they were naked – that is finished, God Himself hangs naked on a tree. The sin that cast man out of the garden – it is finished. The fear of condemnation – it is finished, for perfect love casts out fear, and on the Cross Christ shows forth perfect love. The flaming sword is extinguished, look, as they pierce Him from His side flow water and blood mixed together – it is finished. The foolish theological speculation, the attempts to prove yourself holy and righteous because of your deeds – that too is finished – John doesn’t show forth wit, he rather says, “I was there, I saw Him die.” The reason for Israel being called apart has been fulfilled, the Messiah has come, and thus now there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile – it is finished. And of course, the threat of doom, the pall of death that is cast over us all – It is finished. The Passover has come, and the Firstborn had been slaughtered so that we might live – it is finished. The Lamb has been slain, and Isaac will live, for it is Finished, and Abraham rejoices to see this Good Friday.

There is a good reason why Christ Jesus doesn’t bring His passion to a stop. With His passion He finishes off sin and death and Satan, and He breaks their power, their domain, their grip on you. And all that remains, the true, highest reality is this – that from the Cross flow water and blood and Spirit to give you life in Christ – the waters of Holy Baptism whereby your sin is washed away and destroyed because of Christ, the blood of the New Testament, whereby your sin is atoned for and you are given new strength and life, the Spirit of Life, who accompanies Christ Word's and makes you a new creation and gives you true life in Christ – these things ever end. These things always come from Christ to you because of His Passion, because of His Good Friday. He would never stop His passion, for His passion is for your good, and He will die so that you will live, He will drink the cup of wrath so you that will drink the fruit of the vine anew with Him eternally in His kingdom. All that separates you from God, from you neighbor – dear friends in Christ – It is finished. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Maundy Thursday, 2016 – John 13:1-15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
To be a Christian is to be a servant. It is as simple as that. This is the lesson that Christ our Lord teaches us this night. The example is clear. On the night when He was betrayed, just hours before He is to go to His passion, our Lord Jesus Christ pauses, rises from the Supper which He had just instituted, and He pauses, strips downs, puts on a towel, and carefully and individually washes the feet of every disciple there. Consider that for a moment – how much time that would take? You’ve got 12 disciples – at least a minute or two each to wash them well, and Jesus doesn’t do things not well, so at least 15 precious minutes, possibly even 30 minutes, devoted simply to cleaning their feet. Jesus didn’t have many minutes left – but He puts off the Words that John will record in the next few chapters, puts off the prayers in Gethsemane – and instead this act of service is given priority. And it is a lowly act of service. No one wanted to get down on their hands and knees and deal with the stench of the day’s grime on someone’s feet. It was the task of the lowest, most humble servant – and yet Christ stops, quietly goes about His task solemnly – only speaking when Peter is tomfoolish and stubborn. He corrects Peter, and then He meekly goes back to His work - and why? “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 also should do just as I have done to you.”

This is the example of what the disciples’ lives, what our lives are to be. And the point is not specifically washing feet – this isn’t a command that we all ought kick off our shoes now – but rather this. To be a Christian, to be one who follows Christ, who says that Christ is True God and Savior, is to be a servant. And not an uppity servant who only does that which is fun and glorious – not a servant who only acts under threat of punishment – not a servant who only takes the easy jobs – but a servant who gets down in the muck and grime and serves even those who wouldn’t expect to be served. This is why Paul begins so many of his letters saying that he is a servant, literally a slave of Christ. To be a Christian is to give yourself constantly to others – to put them and their needs ahead of your own, to constantly give of your own time and effort to them simply to aid them.

This is something we learned in confirmation class. Not only are we not supposed to kill, but we are to support our neighbor in his life. Not only do we not steal, we help the neighbor to improve his possessions and income. Not only do we not lie about our neighbor, but we chose our words with care so that their reputation might be improved. This is the standard, this is the service that we are called to. This is what St. Paul means when he says that we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We are to abase ourselves, to make ourselves lower than our neighbor, to treat them as more important than ourselves. We are to seek to serve them, not seek to make them serve us.

And to be utterly honest, we find this command of God to be odious and burdensome, do we not? How often does it happen where an opportunity to show love, to be of service arises, and instead of welcoming it we joy, we grumble instead? We put on the brave face, but then mutter under our breath – how could this person be so foolish that they need my help again? Or how often do we hurry by folks, hoping that they don’t ask anything of us – how often do we turn our thoughts away from people lest we think of things that we ought to do for them? This is the plight of all sinful men – because in sin we desire not to serve but to be masters and rulers and in control. Sin makes us all desire to be petty tyrants, running roughshod over the lives of the people we come across. We desire to demand our way yet wish to have no demands placed upon us, to have our time and talents be ours to do with as we please while the needs of others slide away beneath our notice. They aren’t my problem. This is the heart of sin – and when our Lord washes His disciples feet – this is the lesson He teaches. Repent of your sin, O Christian; repent of your selfish desires, O disciple! If you hold Christ to be a Teacher, then learn of His example – you are to serve just as He serves, you are to let His life shape yours, you are to strive to be conformed to Him rather than trying to make Jesus fit your time and your desires. To be a Christian is to be conformed to Christ, to be shaped like Him, to be modeled upon Him. This is the goal that you are to strive for, and any thought, any feeling that would hinder this needs to be beaten down.

Yes, Christ Jesus is our example, but He is not only an example. He is the great servant of all, who comes to seek and save the lost. Christ Your Lord and Teacher is good, and He knows you well. He knows the frailties of your flesh, for indeed, in His incarnation, in His passion, He Himself bore them up. He knows that you of yourself have not the strength to repent as you ought, have not the strength to live as you ought, have not the strength to serve as you ought. And thus this time of teaching, this example is encased between two wondrous things. First, our Lord gave to the Disciples His most holy Supper – then, He gets up from washing their feet and goes to the Cross. To aid you in your striving to follow His example, He leaves for you His Supper, in which He gives to you His own Body and Blood – and this Supper gives you forgiveness – but it also gives you life, life that you live now, life that wells up in you and through you. It's the prayer after the Supper – that we are strengthened in faith towards God and in fervent love for one another... you realize that is a prayer asking God that we would be made fervent and eager servants, right? That we would show better and better actual care and service to one another? And this is what the Supper does indeed work in us. We are given strength, Christ's own strength, in this Supper.

Yet Christ knows you, knows this world, knows the frailty of your flesh. Those disciples who ate and drank His Supper that Maundy Thursday night were by no means suddenly perfect. Indeed, when the soldiers came, they all fled. They all failed. And none of us harbor any illusions that because we partake of this Supper tonight that the problems we faced this morning will evaporate and be gone. We will be strengthened and prepared... yet still, we will often fail. And so Christ Jesus, the true and great servant, goes forth, and without fail He goes to the Cross. And there, with His death, He destroys death – He changes the world, so that while we might not wake up perfect tomorrow, there will be a day, a glorious day, the last day, where on account of His perfect death and resurrection, on account of His declaration that It is Finished, we will rise to perfect life, we will completely follow His example pure. Until then, we receive His forgiveness, we receive His Supper and thus proclaim His death for us until He comes again. His service to you, this Divine Service remains now for us, even until we see it in full. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Palm Sunday Homily

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” When it comes to how we here in this room are to think, to act, we are called to think on and think of Christ Jesus. This is what Paul teaches us in our Epistle lesson. But what does this mean – I see so many times where folks will put forth ideas of what they think Jesus would or wouldn’t do… who He would vote for, what car He would drive, stupid stuff like that. But Paul doesn’t direct us to hypotheticals – he isn’t trying to say that Jesus is on our side in some political debate. No – you want to know what the mind of Jesus is – what He thinks? Then you look to His passion.

“Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Christ Jesus is God. He had all the rights and privileges that God has. But He doesn’t stand on them, He doesn’t demand them. Even though He is God, He becomes man – He humbles Himself to be born of a virgin, as the old song puts it. First and foremost, Christ doesn’t demand His rights, doesn’t demand what is due Him. What does Jesus think like? He never says, “This is beneath Me, this isn’t worth my time.” No, for us men and for our salvation, He came down, He lowered Himself, He made Himself a servant, made Himself a nothing, a nobody like us. For our sake.

“And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” What is Jesus thinking? He will be obedient – He will fear, love, and trust in God above all things, even when, not if, but when it means His death, His death which we just heard. He will humble Himself – He will serve, even at cost to Himself. Dear friends in Christ, when we talk about what a Christian is to do, how we are to act, what we are to think – THIS is to be the answer. We are to show love, no matter what the cost to ourselves. Even unto death. That’s why each of you who are confirmed were asked if you would hold to this confession of faith, even unto death.

But, then we see the reality of our lives. Do any of us need to examine ourselves all that hard to see where fail to live up to this example that Christ sets? Where we worry about getting our way, getting our due, getting the respect that we deserve more than we worry about obeying God and serving our neighbor? Or even when we have been slow to show love to our neighbor, when we have hesitated – when we in fact harm them instead? The blunt truth is this: we fail.

Christ Jesus, though, does not fail you. This passion of His, which you just heard – that was for you. Christ Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, endures for you, for your good, all the punishment sin deserves. And why? So that you would be forgiven, so that your sin would be cleansed from you. Jesus doesn’t want to think of Himself as above you, as distant from you. And so, since you are sinful and fallen, He comes down to you, and He joins with you, takes the same punishments and pains you face – and He redeems you.

This week, this Holy Week, we will ponder in greater detail our Lord’s Passion for us. We will see and marvel at His great love, the depths to which He goes to win us life and salvation. And know this – He does not fail you. He has won you salvation, so that “God has highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” God be with you as we ponder His love for us together this week. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lent Midweek Sermon

Lent Midweek 5 – John 15 – I Am the Vine.

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
One more set of I AM statements remain for us this Lenten season. John 15. I am the Vine. And let us note where this takes place in John's Gospel. Once again, we are in the upper room – it is Maundy Thursday evening – these are words from the last bit of teaching that Jesus gives to the disciples before His death and resurrection. In fact, on the Sundays after Easter and before Pentecost, we'll be spending a lot of time in John 15 and 16 – but that's for then. Tonight, as our Lord is preparing the disciples and us for life in the world after the Crucifixion, He says, “I Am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Now, let's be honest – doesn't this sound a bit intimidating? Maybe even a bit scary? We're talking about branches being taken away (and later on in the text we hear about those being thrown into the fire and burned). And even if we do bear fruit, we are going to get pruned. Being pruned doesn't sound like fun. What's going on Jesus – are You talking here in order to give us the willies, to freak us out?

No. Jesus explains reality. Jesus tells us what our lives really are. He says, “Already you are clean, because of the Word that I have spoken to you.” We can miss it – but when you are pruning a tree, what are you doing? You are cleaning it. You're making it neat. I had an apple tree back in Oklahoma, and I didn't prune it like I should. I'd do a bit, but never give it the thorough pruning it needed. And it was a chaotic mess. A good treeman would have gone on in, pruned the branches back, and then the fruit would have grown thick and strong. I didn't... and let's just say in the 5 years I had the tree, I never got enough apples for a single pie. That's not the tree's fault; it's mine. God, though, is much better at tending you than I am at tending fruit trees. See, here's the reality for you, O Christian. As you live your life, you are going to see dead branches all around you – you are going to see people who fall away from Christ, who begin to ignore His Word that is preached in His Church. And they are going to fall away. And it's going to be sad, lousy, uncomfortable. But that's not you, not you here who are listening to His Word, because right now, God's Word is pruning you, cleaning you, preparing you to be fruitful.

There are times in our lives that God is going to prune us. For our own good. There will be times that God is going to let us struggle, so that we grow and develop, so that we grow in the directions that He wants rather than what the desires of our hearts dictate. There are going to be times that His Word lays bear our sin, our guilt, our pride, our arrogance. And we aren't really going to like it. But here's the thing – it really is for our own good. When St. Paul says that all things work together for our good, he's not saying “oh, someday it will all work out.” No – even now, in the midst of trouble and trial, God is shaping you, doing good to you, preparing you for fruit. Even as He prunes you, even as He cleanses you, even if it is hard, especially if it is hard, He is doing good for you. And how and why?

Well, here's the verse from this text that we all know. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in Him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Here's the simple, blunt truth about you and your life. It's not about you – it's really about Christ. Everything. Apart from Christ, you can do nothing. Even your good works – these aren't about you. They are about Christ, they are what Christ Jesus is doing in you and through you for your neighbor. As Lutherans we will talk about our vocations, the various callings that God has called us to – did you hear how that works... that God called us to, that God has placed us in; God is doing it. I get reminded of this as a Pastor all the time – I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word – called and ordained, ordered by God. It holds true for marriage - God gives spouses (therefore what God has joined together, let not man put asunder). It holds true for kids - God gives children. It holds true for our God-given talents, it holds true for jobs, for neighbors, for the people God puts into our lives – it all centers around what God has done, and what He will in turn accomplish through us for others.

You see, God is in control. Really. Really really. You don't have to try to figure out what God wants you to do, you don't have to try to plot out the future. He is in control. If He's placed you somewhere – well, He'll give the fruit. The fruit will flow, will come, will happen as you are in Christ. And see, that's the kicker. That's the hinge. Everything hinges upon Christ and how you are attached to Him. How you remain in Him. And that's by the Word, by abiding in Him, hearing His Word again and again, being shaped by it. And it really is as simple as that, as wondrous as that, as difficult as that. Consider what we hear in verse seven - “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Okay folks, here's the danger. “Whatever you wish.” We hear that, and our old sinful flesh wants to run wild. God's given me carte blanc for whatever I want, and I want a pony. God, how come you haven't given me my pony yet. Well, dang it, I wanted a pony, I haven't gotten it, God, why are you being so mean to me, why aren't you being faithful. The verse doesn't start, doesn't begin with what you wish – If you abide in Me and My words abide in you... that's where it starts. And if Jesus' Words abide in us... um... what's our prayer going to be? What is it that we will wish for? Jesus and what His Word says.

Jesus doesn't promise a pony. He didn't even get one Himself, He had to borrow one come Palm Sunday. And Jesus didn't come just doing whatever random thing He wanted – instead He prayed “Thy Will be Done.” And this is why we are pointed to Jesus and His Word – why we are taught to abide, not in our whims, not in our desires, but to abide in Him and His Word, to be constantly receiving from Him His good Word. Why? Because that is how we are pruned away from foolish desires. Because that is how we are cleansed. Because that is how we are given strength and life. God's Word talks a ton about love, about patience, about kindness and gentleness... about all those “fruits” of the Spirit. I Am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in Him, he it is that bears much... fruit. Fruits of the Spirit. Because when we are in Christ and in His Word – we see that a lot of our wants are off, and they get pruned. And we see and understand that we are called by God to love people, to be patient and kind with them, to be gentle, to exercise self control for them. And we learn to pray for these things – we learn to pray that God's name be hallowed, that His kingdom would come (even to us and for us and through us), that His will be done, that we be content with our daily bread. That we even learn to forgive the people God has put in our lives to be forgiven by us. And that we would be kept from temptation, that they would be pruned out of our lives, that we would be delivered from evil.

Because here's the crux of the matter, literally. Jesus is going to the Cross, to die and rise so that you receive forgiveness and life – and when you are in His Word, you receive forgiveness... and that forgiveness wells out of you and through you and bears fruit. If you want to forgive, you receive His forgiveness. If you want to be patient, you receive Christ's patience with you. All the fruit is what the Vine brings forth in you and through you – and apart from Him, nothing. And here is the wonder, the comfort. Jesus has prepared you for your life – and He gives you all that you need, He makes you to be fruitful in His Word. Really. It's the sin and fear of your old sinful flesh that tells you otherwise. But you, you're not mere sinful flesh. You aren't dried up branches waiting to be burned. You are alive in Christ, you are in His Word, you are baptized, you are forgiven, and when you are in Him, good works will flow, will blossom and fruit out – in ways in which our sinful flesh has no means of guessing or predicting. Because it's not about you. It doesn't rest up on you. We don't sing “The Church's one foundation is me, myself, and I.” It's all upon Christ, Christ for you and in you and through you – and whenever you are in His Word, you see this, you know this more and more. Because He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion – indeed, Christ Jesus will give you good works to do even throughout all eternity in the life of the world to come. Because they are His Works, and He is with you always, tied to you, even unto the end of the Age. He does the work, the work of the Cross; and He gives it to you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Monday, March 14, 2016

Luther and the Radical Reformation

Luther set about the Reformation in an interesting way.  He wrote.  He preached.  He taught.  He managed little Wittenburg, and while he advised others, he never commanded, never demanded.  Luther's Reformation was, for all of his bluster, a humble one.

Zwingli commanded armies.  The Anabaptists took over towns.  Theirs was a "radical" one.

I often think about the tenor of Luther's approach.  He didn't try to fix the word - he tried to confess the truth.  He did not make himself the center - indeed, the great confession of Lutheranism wasn't penned by his hand.  Even the princes there at Augsburg did not take up offensive arms against the Emperor (certainly not in Luther's life).  Instead, they bowed their head and said, "You may take my head before you take my faith."

So often in Lutheran circles we have this image of Luther as the dynamic, powerful reformer who went about and made things happen.  We forget his humility.  We forget that when it came to exercising any earthly power, he was passive, he was slow.  The great hymn of the Reformation does not proclaim, "We'll take their lives, their goods and fame shall die!"  No - "and take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife, though these all be gone, our vict'ry has been won.  The kingdom ours remaineth."

About the most radical, pro-active thing Luther did was kicking Karlstadt out of Wittenberg.  Of course, he was pulled out of the Wartburg where Frederick had hid him precisely to clean up the mess Karlstadt had made of things.  But even then - Karlstadt was banished; took his reputation with him.  Luther would speak against his poor doctrine, but wouldn't hound him.

There's a stein I have with a Luther quote: "... while I sat and drank beer with Philip and Amsdorf, God dealt the papacy a mighty blow."

Always so focused on what God was doing.  Always so diminishing of what he himself was doing. 

It would be a good lesson to remember.

Almighty God, heavenly Father, I am indeed unworthy of the office in which I am to make known Thy glory...

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5 – March 12/13, 2016 – John 8:42-59 (and Genesis 22)

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Isaac was Abraham’s only son, the only son whom God had given to Abraham and his wife Sarah in extremely old age. And now God speaks again, the Word of the Lord comes to Abraham – “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you.” Imagine, just for a moment, what must have been running through Abraham’s mind there. God spells out in the command just how much Abraham loves Isaac, and now, offer him as a burnt offering. And yet, Abraham goes. He takes Isaac and a few servants and starts out to Moriah, doesn’t tell them what precisely is going on. Eventually Abraham and Isaac leave the servants behind, and they head on their way by themselves, carrying all the supplies needed for a sacrifice. Well, almost.

Young Isaac is not stupid – Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering. Abraham has raised his boy well. Isaac knows how these offerings are done – he’s probably helped his father before. Where is the lamb, dad? And so, Abraham, walking to go and sacrifice his own son, hears this question from the son. And he trudges onward. God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son. And then they get to the place, and they build the altar – and then, the father grabs and binds his son – and Isaac is placed on the altar, and Abraham even has the knife in his hand to kill Isaac – and then something happens. The Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him.” Now, imagine what must be going through Abraham’s mind. All the angst, all the tension, all the strain – gone. Isaac will live – for there will be another sacrifice. And then Abraham looks up, sees a ram caught in a thicket – and so Abraham sacrifices it – Isaac lives, Isaac who was going to die walks down from the mountain along with his father, knowing the God Himself preserved his life.

Now, dear friends, do you see and understand why Jesus today could say, Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day, He saw it and was glad.” Jesus had been in the middle of an interesting discussion with certain Jewish leaders – and these leaders were getting quite agitated. They didn’t like what they were hearing from this Jesus. He had been pointing out their flaws, their sins. He had been making claims about who He was, He claimed that the one who kept His Word would never taste death. The leaders thought this was ridiculous – everyone dies – what is this young foolish Jesus talking about? And on top of this – Jesus ends up saying that they are liars, and that in reality, they don’t even know God. You people today, you are nothing like your father Abraham – Abraham would have been rejoicing if He saw Me here – I know, because He rejoiced when He saw me in the past. Abraham rejoiced when I, Christ Jesus, the Angel of the Lord spoke from heaven and told him to spare his son Isaac, also your father. You folks here live because I stopped the sacrifice of Isaac. And the leaders don’t quite get it yet – they don’t quite piece it together. So Jesus lays it all out – you don’t know God, because you don’t know Me – Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM. I AM. God’s name that He revealed to Moses from the burning bush – Jesus declares that He is true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity – and certainly before Abraham and Isaac were around. And the people listening, they want nothing to do with this – they take up stones to put Jesus to death – but Jesus leaves – oh, Jesus will die, but not by a hail of stones.

They should have known and seen, these Jewish leaders. Abraham knew – and they all knew the story of Abraham and Isaac. I bet every one of them could have quoted Genesis 22 backwards and forwards. What do we see and learn from Genesis? We learn the consequences of sin. The wages of sin is death. There is not a one of us here who is innocent, who is free from sin – from the oldest of us here even to the youngest. And because of sin, we deserve death.

We kind of skip over that fact sometimes, don’t we? We think of sin in terms of not being nice, of making things a bit rougher in our lives and if we only listened to God and did things his way, the kids would behave and our jobs would be better and our neighbors would like us better. Well, that gets part of it – but the wages of sin is death. Each and every one of us here deserves death – we have sinned against God Almighty, we have rebelled against Him – and that means we deserve to die. Isaac – he was a sinful human being, he deserved to die. God was completely justified in demanding his death. And we don’t like thinking along those lines – we like to downplay the consequences of sin – but sin demands death. Isaac’s death would have been his just deserts – just as ours would be.

But then the amazing thing. Christ intervenes. Abraham is right when he says that God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering. God jumps in, says wait – wait Abraham. I’m not going to require Isaac’s life of him – I’m not going to take your son. Rather this – God the Father will provide the Lamb – the Father will provide His Son, Christ Jesus, and He will with His death take up the death that every son and daughter of Adam ever, all of them, Christ Jesus will with His death will take up the death they deserve.

This is what Jesus is on His way to do when He has this discussion with these Jewish leaders. He is on His way to the Cross, ready to suffer and die – ready to be put on a wooden altar of His own, but this time the Father would not stay His hand – and the Son would die – the Son would die that you will live. Note something profound – Your father Abraham rejoiced that He would see my day. Abraham knew that Christ would come, would be the one, true sacrifice for all sin. Because of this, Abraham had what Christ said – Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death. This is our hope – for we know that for us who have been called by Christ Jesus into His Church, into His family – death isn’t our end, it isn’t where we end up. Christ died for us – and so we know that we, on account of Christ, truly have life – that all of this, all the trials and pains and sorrows we face in this life – they will yield unto not just the joys of heaven – but to the joys of the last day when we all shall rise again, and in our bodies restored – as true human beings, as living human beings, body and soul united again, we shall have eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth that we have been promised.

This is the promise Christ Jesus has sworn to you – this is the vow He made to you at the moment of your Baptism. Hear Romans Chapter 6; we cannot hear these verses often enough – Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. There it is, the entire hope of the Christian faith – that because Christ Jesus died in my stead and rose again – you are forgiven for His sake, and you too shall rise again and live forever with God. Promised, signed, sealed and delivered to each of you in the waters of Holy Baptism.

The wonder of this is that all of this comes from what God does. We aren’t defined, we aren’t made Christians by what we sacrifice. Abraham wasn’t defined by what he sacrificed – rather, God intervenes and gives Abraham his son back as a simple, free gift. We aren’t defined by what we do for God. Now, do we do many things for God? Indeed – whenever we show love to our neighbor, that is done for God. That’s what Christians do – but that isn’t what makes us Christians. What makes us Christians is this – that Jesus Christ does what is required – that God Himself has decided to be your Savior, that He has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light – that He will win for you pardon and peace from all your sins. And nothing will stop Him. Throughout lent His march to the cross has been unstoppable – Satan will not tempt Him off course, whining disciples will not prevent Him from showing love, demons hinder Him not, nor crowds wanting only bread, nor leaders wanting to stone Him – none of this stops Jesus – He goes to the Cross to win you your salvation. Because that is who He is – because He is the God who loves you, the God who would rather suffer in your place, be sacrificed Himself so that He can claim you for all eternity.

Lent is drawing towards a close. Next week is Palm Sunday – we will see our Lord enter Jerusalem to start the service, and in the Gospel lesson we will hear His passion. Know and learn and remember what this is. God Almighty is taking your place and going to the cross in your stead, so that you would have life in His Name. This is His gift to you, this is His love for you, this is the salvation He wins for you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Lent Midweek Sermon

Lent Midweek 4 – John 14:1-14

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Our Gospel lesson takes place on Maundy Thursday evening. There in the Upper room, before He heads to His passion, our Lord teaches His disciples, His closest friends. And as He prepares them for what is to come, for His suffering and death and resurrection, He tells them that He is doing this to prepare them a place in heaven. And just to cap things off, He says, “And you know the way to where I am going.” And then Thomas, good old Thomas peeps up with, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Talk about a deflating answer – You don’t know, Thomas? Here Christ has been pointing them to heaven and salvation – the mansions of the Father… ah, nope, don’t know what You’re talking about, and I certainly don’t know how to get there.

In response our Lord says tonight’s I Am statement: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” With these words our Lord sums up His entire ministry, the entire point of why He came, what He was here to do. He is the way, He is the truth, and He is the life. When we think of Jesus, when we think of His ministry, nothing encapsulates it better than Jesus saying that He is “The Way”. In fact, the first Christians just said that they were those who were part of “The Way”. Christ Jesus is the way, the path which brings us to restoration with God the Father and with each other. If we are to spend eternity with the Father, Christ is the way. There is no way apart from Christ – you cannot get to the Father apart from Christ. Doesn’t matter how good you think you are, doesn’t matter how nice you have been – apart from Christ you cannot reach the Father. Period.

You can think about it this way – every Gospel lesson we hear, every sermon that is preached here, is nothing more than expanding upon this idea of Jesus being the Way – every Gospel lesson, every sermon simply shows and explains what Christ has done in order to bring us, restored and forgiven, before the Father. He becomes man to fulfill the Law in our place. He is baptized, so that we might be baptized for the forgiveness of our sins. He lives the perfect life, fulfilling our righteousness. He suffers and is mocked in our stead. He suffers and tastes death so that He can defeat it for us. He rises, so that we too will rise. Every thing is just Christ paving the way to life everlasting. He is the way, and there is no other way, no other name under heaven by which we are to be saved.

What we must be wary of is this – our sinful flesh despises the fact that Christ and Christ alone is the way. Our sinful flesh does not want to rely upon Christ – it wants to rely upon itself. Our sinful flesh doesn’t like not having a choice in the matter. This is especially true for us as Americans – we love having our options, our choices, the ability to customize – we do this to everything. Yet Christ tells us that He is the way alone, and our sinful flesh can take umbrage at this. This is the way Satan attacks many people – by denying that Jesus is the way. How many folks today will say, “oh, there are many paths to God”? This verse calls them liars. Many folks will try to make even the Christian faith a pick and choose sort of thing, where they observe parts and other things they will ignore. Doesn’t work that way. Christ Jesus is the way, and apart from Him, we can do nothing.

To make us to see and understand this, Christ Jesus came teaching. He came, and He is the Truth. Over and against the false temptations of Sin, Christ came to show us our sin and show us His righteousness, which He gives to us to give us life. As John teaches us in his first epistle: “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the Truth is not in us.” Did you hear that – if we claim to be perfect, then we are liars like Satan, and Christ, the Truth, dwells not in us. Yet, when we speak truthfully about our sinfulness, what then? “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we speak with Christ His truth, we receive forgiveness, He cleanses our sin, takes it all away. This is the Truth that sets us free, the Truth that gives life everlasting.

There is a lot of blabbering that goes on in the world today about religion, about God, about faith. Here is how you can cut to the chase with it – does it speak the Truth? Does it speak Christ's Truth that I am a poor miserable sinner, does it speak the Truth of Christ Jesus winning me forgiveness with His life, death, and resurrection? Does it proudly proclaim that Jesus alone is the way – or does it point to something else instead of Christ, like my works, my worth, my merit? If it is not speaking of Christ for you, Christ who comes to win you salvation, who comes to give you life – it’s trash. And again, remember that the world will dangle all sorts of things out there for you to be focused on, even in churches. But the center and key must remain this – that we are sinners who receive forgiveness on account of Christ Jesus. In fact, this is what life is.

This is true because Christ Jesus is life. Our life, our existence, our salvation rests solely and completely upon Him. Again, this is something that cuts across the grain of American society. How often have you heard someone say, “It’s my life, I can do with it what I want.” Actually – no. First of all, it denies the reality that we were created to be in relationship with others. Yes, I have a life, but my life, it belongs to my wife, my kids. They have the right to lay claim to my time. Yes, I have a life, but in this life, I am a pastor. You here have the right to my time, my service. It is a deception of sin that makes us think that we should live only for ourselves. Do you not know that we were created to love and care for one another – that is what life is. To live is to serve. Sin has wrecked that, made us selfish and fallen. But that is why Christ Jesus came – He came because He is life, and He will restore you to life, life everlasting. If you are to have life, you will have it only by Christ, only in Him. You belong to Him. He is your Redeemer, He has purchased and won you from all sins, from death, from the power of the devil. You belong to Him, and He is your life. And this is a wonderful thing, a wonderful gift. It’s a wonderful thing to be Christ’s, to have your life come from Him. Because apart from Christ there is only death, there are only lies and delusions, there are only wandering paths into loneliness and isolation and doom and destruction. Christ Jesus does not desire that for you, so He comes to you through His Life giving Word to call you unto Himself, to redeem you, to forgive you and make you His own, so that in Him you have life. He invigorates you, beats down your selfishness and fills you with His own life, His own love. That is a mighty thing.

Lent is winding down – know what you are seeing. You are seeing Christ Jesus re-establish life in this fallen world – bringing life to fallen mortals, bringing Truth, making us to really be alive, taking us to the Father. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And all this He is for you, for your sake, so that He might have you with Him in His Father’s house for all eternity. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Lent 4 Sermon

Lent 4 – March 5/6, 2016 – John 6:1-15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
We are basically midway through Lent – three weeks down, three weeks to go – the midpoint, if you will. And so this week we take a pause from texts and lessons that deal intensely and fiercely with Christ's assault on sin and death, and instead we have a Gospel lesson that is about refreshment and being filled and satisfied, all so that we might be prepared to dive on into the rest of Lent. This Sunday in Latin is known as “Laetare” – Rejoice – the first word of our Introit. And so today we will see a miracle that will give us cause to rejoice, not only in this miracle itself, but in the greater miracle it points forward to.

So, what’s the situation? Jesus heads off beyond the sea of Galilee, “And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick.” Jesus had been healing people – and this was interesting, and so a bunch of people follow Him, even as He goes off into the wild, into the desolate, desert area beyond the sea of Galilee. And then we hear this: “Jesus went up on the mountain and there He sat down with His disciples.” With this verse, John is telling us that Jesus is going to be teaching us something very important. Whenever Jesus goes up on a mountain – there’s going to be some teaching. You have the sermon on the Mount, you have the Mount of Transfiguration. Teaching happens on mountains. And not only that – Jesus sits down. Teachers, at this time, always sat down to teach. We think of standing up to say something that everyone needs to listen to – just the opposite then. You would sit down to teach. So here we see in big, bright neon letters that Jesus is going to teach His disciples. And He does so in a very Jewish way – He poses them a question.

“Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we going to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” Jesus poses a question to His disciples – how are we going to feed these folks? Now, understand that this question would have put the disciples off guard. “We’re supposed to be feeding them – we were supposed to be thinking about that?” Let me tell you, as a teacher, few things are more delightful than posing a question that your students hadn’t even thought of. So, Phillip speaks – “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Phillip doesn’t have a good answer – 200 denarii is 200 days wages – if all the disciples went and worked for 3 weeks they’d barely have enough to buy everyone a morsel. Or in other words – Phillip is stumped.

Andrew comes up next – “There is a boy here who has five barely loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Now, we hear this and think five, big crusty loaves of bread, and maybe a couple of big, 2 pound fish. No. These are tiny barley rolls – these are small little fish, like smelt or sardines – it’s what you’d pack for a kid’s lunch at school. There’s not really extra to share – some kind mother sent her son off with a packed lunch. That’s it. Andrew’s hope – well, maybe folks brought stuff. That’s it. Neither Phillip nor Andrew nor any of the Disciples really have any clue what Jesus is going to do, even though they have traveled with Him for so long. But Jesus has them make everyone sit down – which is the sign of meal time. You went to sit down for dinner – and then, “Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” We know what happens – Jesus feeds the 5000. The loaves and fish are multiplied, expanded. There is enough for all – 12 baskets of leftovers – bushel baskets of leftovers.

So then, what is the lesson? “When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” Jesus is the promised Messiah – this tops what went on before in the Old Testament. This tops God sending Manna and quail, this tops Elijah seeing that the widow’s flour and oil don’t run out, tops Elisha feeding 100 people. This is a huge miracle – and so these people see and recognize that Jesus is the Messiah, the One promised to come. And here, with this miracle, we do see something very important about Jesus. He cares for our physical needs. He has compassion upon the hungry, He knows the weakness of the body, the fatigue we can face. And He cares for our bodies. This should be a great comfort to us, a great source of security. Indeed, the only real security we have in this life is knowing that Christ Jesus cares for us. That is indeed the only way any of us stand, the only away any of us endure in this life. We live, we exist only because of the bounty that God provides – whether He provides it in the spectacular way He did here with the 5000, or even just in His normal, providential care.

But we do, in this text, also see an error which we are to be warned away from. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” The text ends with Jesus basically running away. Why? Because people, seeing physical blessings, want to make Christ simply a king of physical blessings, simply a king of making our lives here and now better. They see the physical blessings and gifts that Christ brings, and they want Him to be simply that sort of king, a king of earthly stuff. Likewise, even today, so many Christians can become focused on wealth and material possessions. So much of American Christianity is focused on stuff. Let me give an example. If I wrote a book on how you could understand God’s forgiveness more and more, and then someone else wrote a book on how if you just said this prayer, organized your life in a purposeful way, had a positive attitude, did whatever - that then God would bless you with tons of stuff – which one would sell more? The one about getting stuff. As Americans, we’re rich, we have homes and food, so much food we have industries that teach people how to lose weight – we have closets full of clothes we don’t wear. We have so much stuff that we can afford to buy things that we use once and then throw away, like paper plates and napkins. And, given the culture we live in, we tend to focus on stuff. But that isn’t the real point, the real focus – our worship, our focus shouldn’t just be on stuff.

That is why Christ leaves this crowd – Jesus’ focus is not simply upon material things, upon temporal blessings. Where is Christ’s focus? It’s upon something far, far greater. John told us near the start of the lesson – a simple little line that just seemed to stick out and not fit in. Verse 4 – “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” This isn’t just any Passover – this is the Passover with the Last Supper, with Good Friday – the Passover that leads to Easter. That, dear friends, is where Christ’s focus is – that’s why we get this text in the middle of Lent. We pause and remember temporal blessings, remember God’s care for us now – but then we turn our eyes towards holy week, we dive back on into Lent – because it is there, in Holy Week, where everything happens. And even as Christ feeds these 5000 here in this text, He is already thinking about a much greater feeding – that which takes place on the night when our He is betrayed – His most Holy and Sacred Supper. What we have is a move from the lesser, the smaller miracle here with the 5000 to the greater and more wondrous miracle in the Lord’s Supper.

Consider – compare this feeding with what our Lord does in the Supper. “Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them.” This is familiar language – right? What are we going to hear in a few minutes right here in this place as we celebrate and participate in the Lord’s Supper? Jesus “took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples…” Jesus’ focus is upon the Passover, upon His passion – He’s training and preparing His disciples for that great meal by the feeding of the 5000. When they all hit the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, the disciples are going to see and hear Jesus and know that He is doing something wondrous – something even more wondrous than what He had done with for the 5000. In His Holy Supper, Christ isn’t just giving bread to sustain physical life – instead – Take, eat, this is My Body, given for you. Take drink, this is My Blood, shed for you for the remission of sins. Instead of just bread given for the care of a person’s body now, along with the bread and wine Christ in His Supper gives Himself, His own Body and Blood, attaches Himself to us, brings us all that He does in Holy Week, His death, His resurrection – so that we have from Him the Life Everlasting that He wins and displays for the world to see on Easter Morning. And if you think taking a few loaves and feeding 5000 people is something – wait until you see the Lord’s Supper. Consider this day – we aren’t alone in receiving this Supper – Christ Jesus will feed tens of Millions, hundreds of millions of people with His life giving Body today. He comes to be our King, not just in this life where moth and rust destroy, but to be our King of Eternal life, who rules not just a few people 2000 years ago in Judea, but gathers His people from all places and all times unto Himself, a countless throng to be gathered before His throne, never to be separated from Him – a righteous people purchased not with denarii or silver or gold, but with His precious blood. That is where Christ’s focus is – upon His passion that wins us salvation, and upon His Supper that brings His passion to us whenever we are gathered to His table.

And so dear friends, as we too turn our eyes towards Holy Week, as we prepare to intensely ponder our Lord’s passion the rest of this Lenten season – be refreshed, be secure, rejoice in the salvation that Christ has given you. He has come not simply to be your king for a brief time, not simply your bread king for a day, but He richly cares for you, body and soul now, and He shall bring you to His eternal kingdom, where He will be your good and gracious king forever more. While the battles He takes to win you this salvation may be fierce, while the trials we see in this fallen world may be harsh – take heart, for Christ is determined to win you forgiveness – His eyes are upon the Great Passover of His Passion, where He rescues you from death evermore. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Lent 3 Midweek Sermon

Lent Midweek 3 – I Am the Resurrection and the Life

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
We have sort of gotten used to death. Doesn’t mean we like it, but we’ve sort of gotten used to the idea, and now we human beings face it with a certain amount of weary and wary resignation. “It’s just what happens. It’s just nature taking its course.” And we know it is inevitable – death and taxes, the things we can’t avoid. And our reaction to it is… odd. We know it’s coming, but we do so much to pretend it isn’t there – it can be the elephant in the room that we never discuss, that we pretend is far, far away. And it’s getting worse in American culture today. We worship youth – you can’t watch TV for an hour without seeing the latest diet or exercise fad that will make you look younger. We idolize being young, being a teen, being wild and rebellious… you know, being able to pretend that our actions don’t have consequences, even deadly consequences. We want to pretend that we can ignore death, push it off away, be forever young. We’ll pretend that our bitterness and anger don’t bring death to our friendships, that greed and lust don’t kill relationships. And even when loved ones we know die it's become common not to have a funeral - let’s call it a celebration of life instead. Our Society fights so hard to avoid the truth that since the fall death has always been around mankind, snapping at our heels. And sinful man tries to deal with it, make accommodations with it, even drink it away or try to pretend it doesn’t happen, but the simple fact is that this world is full of stinking, bitter death.

Mary and Martha hadn’t held a celebration of life for their brother Lazarus. No. He died. And they had a funeral. And four days after he died – three days after the funeral, because in Jewish culture you buried the dead within 24 hours – three days after the funeral they are still surrounded by mourners. There was less pretend then. They knew that they were facing down death. Maybe it's that it came at you quicker then. You didn’t have the medicines to prolong life, the safety features, the antibiotics. If I had been born in the time of Christ, I wouldn’t have survived child birth, and I’m willing to guess most of us in this room have already faced things that would have been fatal then. It was harder to pretend that death wasn’t death then. So they didn’t. They mourned. Even Jesus mourns – He weeps. Jesus is God, God become man to enter into this fallen world, this world that is constantly attacked and berated at death’s every whim. And why?

Martha knew that Jesus was kind and loving – that He did good. But she thought there was only so much that He could do. And Martha, hearing that Jesus is coming runs out and she says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” I’ll admit, I’m not sure what to make of this. Is it a simple confession of faith – yes, Jesus, You could have healed my brother. Is it lamenting the what-ifs – oh, if only you had been here, Jesus. Is it accusation – golly gee willickers gosh darnit Jesus, You healed half of Galilee, why weren’t You here to heal my brother? You better fix this! I don’t feel bad being confused – I’d imagine Martha herself was feeling quite confused. And then Jesus speaks to her – “Your brother will rise again.” Again, this isn’t anything strange. How often do we say this to each other at funerals? It’s part of our faith – I look for the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. And even Martha thinks of the resurrection – “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” And there Martha is – thinking forward, sharing that same thought that so many of us have had at the funerals of loved ones, really looking forward for the last day, looking for it eagerly.

But then Jesus speaks again; He announces truth! “Jesus said to her, ‘I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’” Jesus did not come to be a mere miracle worker, healing the sick for a brief time. Jesus did not come to be a mere teacher of morality and kindness, showing us a better way. Jesus did not come simply to be a comfort and friend in the midst of the trials we face in this slow, tedious death that we falsely call life. No – Jesus Christ, the Son of God, stepped into this fallen, sinful, decaying world because He Himself is resurrection, because He Himself is life. Over and above all the nice things, the platitudes that people will say about Jesus, about His teachings, this truth stands out above all others. He is the resurrection and the life – and He has come to destroy death. He didn’t come just to heal Lazarus, just to stop him from dying for a time. If that was all Martha could have hoped for, her hopes were set too low. Jesus Christ came to destroy death. And death was all around Christ. Of course there was death, He was surrounded by sinful man, and the wages of sin is death. But He came, and in His own body He put a stop to sin.He was sinless and perfect. He declared that He would take up our sin, take up our wages, and put them to death for us on the cross. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, takes it to the cross. He who is life Himself comes to die, in order that death might be forever broken, in order that death might be done away with.

Because Christ Jesus is life – everyone is going to rise. Those who believe in Christ rise to life everlasting, those who do not believe to everlasting condemnation – but they are going to rise too… because Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, the Word of God which called creation into being, is a Living Man, is Life itself, and because He lives, every man, woman, and child ever created will live forever. The grave will not keep them – He is the resurrection and the life. And this is His joy, what He loves to be. He delights in giving you life – not just then on the last day, but even life now, life that shines forth in care and compassion, life that turns you into a light in the middle of this world of darkness and death, little foretastes of the life that is to come. He Himself gives a little foretaste here in John 11 – after our text, well, we know what happens. “And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” Just a foretaste, a little snippet of what is to come.

But it is going to be even better come the last day, friends. The same Lord who calls forth Lazarus will come with a cry of command and with the voice of an archangel, and all the dead will rise. That’s the way it has to be, for He is life, He is the resurrection, and when He comes in Glory, when He comes with His power and divinity totally unmasked, life and resurrection will be the only thing around for us to see. But there will be one slight difference then – with Lazarus, Jesus has to say, “unbind him.” That word “unbind” is another word for forgiveness. Sin binds, chains us. It had chained us to death. We are still somewhat wrapped up in death and sin, even now. But on the last day, when we are risen then, when forgiveness and life and salvation have taken their full effect – well, as John says in his 1st Epistle, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” On Easter morning, no one has to unbind Christ – the cloths lay there in the tomb. He is the resurrection and the life – and what He is, He gives to you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +