Saturday, May 27, 2023

Pentecost Sermon


In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

    The crowd had gathered to the temple, as crowds would do every Pentecost – the holiday that happened 50 days after the Passover, the gathering of the first fruits. Faithful Jews from all over the Roman Empire and even beyond, people who had been scattered to the four winds over the course of history, they would dream about making it to Jerusalem for one of the major festivals like Pentecost. They'd return as semi-familiar strangers – speaking their own new languages or Greek, the Aramaic that was used in Jerusalem being foreign. And they'd go to the temple – and they'd get ready for the sacrifices, and they'd probably be overcharged and cheated by the moneychangers, but they were there.

    And this Pentecost, the faithful who came to the feast were met by strange rumors, happily translated. Strange things had happened 50 days earlier around the Passover. Rumors would have passed in Greek, the common language of the day, or maybe you'd pick up bits in your broken Aramaic – but some Jesus fellow was crucified – and was He raised from the dead or not? Was He a rebellious crackpot or the Messiah? Did He seek to destroy the temple or cleanse it? Imagine listening to those rumors in some other language. What confusion!

    And finally the day of Pentecost arrives, and you are there for all the proceedings. And first, there's a strange, mighty rushing wind – and you go to the temple, because that's the place where everyone would gather – and there are these Galileans, and they are preaching – but you hear them speaking not in Greek, not in Aramaic, but you hear them speaking clearly your own tongue, in your own language, as fluent as a native. And while you're amazed at this wonder, other people mock, deride – they're drunk.

    Then one of them, Peter, begins to preach. No, they are not drunk – this is what Joel spoke of being fulfilled, this is the Spirit of God being poured out – the preparation that comes before the end, before the great and magnificent day of the Lord. And Peter preaches:

     Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know—  this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.  For David says concerning Him, “I saw the Lord always before me,  for He is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with Your presence.”

    Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne,  he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.  This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.  Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.” Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

    What had happened in Jerusalem 50 days before? You killed the the Christ. Yes, you. On account of your sin, on account of your wickedness, on account of the very sins that you came to the temple today to make sacrifice for, the true Sacrifice was made – the spotless Lamb of God was crucified. It may have been done by the hands of the Romans, it may have been spurred on by the priests – but in truth, it was your sin that placed Jesus upon the Cross.

    Yet Jesus' sacrifice there was not like any sacrifice you had seen before, or that your fathers had seen before. The sacrifices of old simply died. They may have been burned to ashes, they may have been turned into a feast, but they died, and those sacrifices stayed dead, and had to be repeated over and over and over again – the old dies and a new must be brought forth again and again. Now, no longer! For this Jesus whom you Crucified has been raised by God the Father, raised from the dead, raised to life imperishable. David told you this was coming! David spoke to the coming Messiah – indeed, David told us that the Messiah would sit at the right hand of God, and indeed, Jesus has been raised from the dead and He has ascended unto heaven and He sits at the right hand of the Father. Forget all rumors, ignore all mummuring – this is what has happened. Jesus the Messiah has come – and He has died, atoning for your sin, and He has been risen victorious, life restored, never to die again, and He is seated at the right hand of God with all power, with all authority.

    Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”   Of course the people were cut to the heart! Of course they were shocked and worried about what they were to do. This wasn't how people thought the story would go. The Messiah was to bring deliverance, the Messiah was to bring victory and triumph and crush our enemies – and we killed Him. It would be like hearing the story of David, but instead you help Goliath kill David – but worse. And it is my sin, what I have done! What shall we do, what can we do? How do we work our way out of this mess?

    You don't. Jesus gets you out of this mess. And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  I'm not preaching this merely to condemn you. I'm not preaching this simply to tell you how lost you are. Oh, you are to see your lostness, your sinfulness, and you are to repent of it, to turn from it, to fight against it – and you'll be fighting against it and repenting of sin for the rest of your life. But the solution is this – Jesus will save you. He will save you by Baptizing you. And when He baptizes you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is making a promise to you. It is the promise that your sins are indeed forgiven before God, a promise that His death on the Cross indeed covers your sin – that no one has any right to pin your sin on you for He has taken it up. It is the promise of the Holy Spirit – the same Spirit who has called you to this faith in Jesus, the Spirit by which I preach, the Spirit by which you hear – the Spirit who is the Lord and Giver of life, not just physical life but life everlasting in the Name of Jesus.

    And having received this promise, know that it is not just for you – it is for your children. They too will be baptized and given this promise. And as for people who are even further removed from Jerusalem than you are, even gentiles and strangers from even farther away – yes, this promise is for them – behold Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

    Thus Peter's great Pentecost sermon. And there were others. All the Apostles would be preaching, this carries on the whole day. And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “[Be saved] from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Do you see? Jesus is at work here, Jesus for you. Jesus who saves you out of whatever crooked generation you find yourself in – the same Jesus who calls you today out of the darkness of this present age into His marvelous light. The same Jesus who has you brought to the waters of Holy Baptism, just as He brought 3000 that first Pentecost to the waters of baptism. The same Jesus who put an end to the Old Testament sacrifices but not an end to the feast, who calls you to His table this very day to give you His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

    Yes, your sins are real. And as we move into the Trinity Season, we'll get all sorts of teaching that will touch upon how sin and unbelief attack you. But this is not to condemn you, but rather to shape and hone the repentance that Jesus gives you, and to prepare you to hear Christ's salvation again. Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Indeed, He does, over and over – peace and forgiveness through His Word and Sacraments! The Peace of the Lord be with you always. Amen. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Ascension Observed Sermon


Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! +

    And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was take up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” We have reached the Ascension of our Lord – past it, actually. 40 days after Easter – which would have been this past Thursday, Jesus ascends. He wraps up His teaching with the Apostles, preparing them for life in the New Testament Church. Then, He ascends – and the disciples are left there, staring into the sky. Why are you looking there? That's not the point – Jesus is going to come back – and shouldn't you be on your way back to Jerusalem – He told you to wait there until you'd be clothed with power from on high (that will be next weekend, not to spoil it for you all in the congregation).

    But let's have a moment of sympathy for the Apostles – they've seen so many wondrous things, and in some ways that's over for them. They are suddenly in the same boat as the rest of us – they'll have to wait until the end of their lives to see Jesus again. And this is something that we can forget when we ponder the Bible, the great stories therein, all the times when God does these majestic things. Those wild things tend to be... rare and temporary. Consider the children of Israel in the wilderness – yes, the LORD was with them in the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud... but He also set up the tabernacle and said, “this is the way I'm going to be with you in the promised land – less flashy, but I'll be there.” Or the fact that they crossed through the Red Sea once – seas didn't part for them every day. Elisha sees Elijah taken up into heaven... but then Elisha has to go back to his new job as the head prophet. Peter, James, and John see the Transfiguration, but then it's just back down the mountain. Things return to normal.

    And normal – well, it's actually quite good. God continues to give us our daily bread, He daily and richly forgives us in His Church, He gives us everything that we need. But we sinful people, we can have a problem with normal. We can get bored. We can get forgetful. In just a few weeks the paraments will shift to green for the season of Trinity – for normal time, regular time in the church – and it will be green for a long time. And in times of peaceful calm, we can become complacent towards God, we can forget the wonders of the simple forgiveness and life He gives, we can forget the depth of the riches that He provides for us in His Church. God always sets things up to be normal and routine because that way things are predictable and we know where to find the gifts of God.

    And so before He ascends, Jesus sets up an order, a routine for how things will work until He returns. And it's a good order, a good routine. A good one for you, for your benefit. How so? Well, first – Jesus has given us the Holy Scriptures. “These are My Words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” The Scriptures, whether they are the Old Testament – the books of Moses, or the Psalms (which we've read from today) or the Prophets (which we've read from today) – they're Jesus' Words. And the New Testament, the memoirs of the Apostles and the Letters – they are Jesus' Words. The Inspired Word of God are Jesus' Word for you, today, to hear, to listen to, to know. And they are all about Jesus and how He saves you – Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations.” This is the point of the Scriptures – that we are in need of saving, that we need to repent of our sin – and that, thanks be to God, Jesus comes and by His suffering, death, and resurrection He wins us salvation and forgives us our sin. And these Scriptures are read and are proclaimed throughout the world, to all nations – indeed, even unto here in little old Herscher thousands of miles away from Jerusalem and a few thousand years in the future from that date. And we get the same thing, the same Jesus, the same salvation.

    And this is what is normal for us. Every worship service here, whether it's our weekend service, or a midweek service, a funeral, a wedding, even the little facebook devotions – you know what they will all have? Scripture and then the proclamation of Christ Jesus. This is normal – this is the normal that Jesus sets up for the Church – read the Scriptures and then preach repentance and forgiveness on account of Christ. You've been a part of this hundreds, thousands of times. Jesus comes to you, over and over in His Word, in the preaching there of. And you know what – He comes to you even when you are doing your private devotions at home – you read the Word at home, you talk about Jesus – and Christ is there, seeing that you receive forgiveness, that you live in His forgiveness. It's utterly fantastic!

    And it's utterly ordinary. And it's utterly routine. And we can get bored with it. That's what sin does, it makes us bored and boring. And we think that if things were some how jazzed up it would be better – actually, that we'd be better. Nope – last week's old testament lesson was great. The people in the wilderness complain about how there's nothing to drink, no food, and we “hate this worthless food.” Well, if there's no food, how do you have worthless food to hate? Oh, wait... you're talking about Manna, manna from heaven – the miraculous bread, sweet and light, that God just gave you day by day... and you hate it. You're tired of it. You're sick of it. How could those people get sick of Manna, Pastor? The same way we get tempted to get sick and bored with the Word, with Church, with gathering together to hear God's Word with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

    And this boredom is dangerous. There's few things more dangerous than becoming bored and dismissive of the Word – because you'll be so easily tempted to run off after whatever shiny stupid sin the world dangles in front of you – and there are lots of those. And there's fewer things more dangerous for a preacher than to get bored of the Gospel – Churches get led astray by pastors who decide to ignore Jesus and His Word for some other hobby horse all the time. Because what Satan is trying to do is to wrest our eyes off of Jesus – to leave us staring in the sky hoping for some sort of spectacle while we stand and ignore the simple, regular, wonderful working of God for us over and over.

    No, we don't have to look for excitement or adventure or wonder. God does wonderful stuff for us all the time in the Church. And as for the wondrous, the miraculous – it happens. I've seen Jesus heal people – I've seen people protected and kept from harm in the most deadly and dangerous of situations. I'd bet you all have too. But that's not an everyday of our life thing – thanks be to God it isn't, I'd don't want you facing horrid death and destruction daily! Thanks be to God for normal days simply spent at home in peace and quiet! Instead, Jesus normally blesses you... normally. Daily bread. Forgiving you your sin. Leading you away from temptation and delivering you from evil before you even get a hint that evil is around.

    For another brief look at the wondrous normalcy of life in the Church, let's consider another Gospel. Matthew records a few other words from Jesus from the day of Ascension – we call them “the Great Commission” - even though it's not really a commission at all. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Again – this is just setting up the normal pattern of the Church. Jesus says that He has won – that all authority in heaven and earth is His. Our Risen Lord is in charge – and you know what that means for life in between the Ascension and our Lord's return? Well, the church is going to go out and make disciples of all nations – there will be baptisms in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – oh, look, there's a baptismal font, and the words that we started our service with. And there will be teaching to observe what Jesus commanded – hey, a lectern where Jesus' Words are read, a pulpit from which I'm supposed to go teach and preach the Words of Jesus, well what do you know. And lo, Jesus is with you always, even until He returns again at the end of the age – take and eat, this is My Body, take and drink, this is My Blood – as oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup ye do show forth the Lord's death until He comes. Simple, yet wondrous. We don't need to look up into the heavens to find Jesus – He's right where He has promised to be, in His Word and Sacraments, wherever two or three are gathered in His name as the baptized children of God – at His house, in our homes, in hospital rooms (because sometimes horrid excitement does come and please call me and I'll come and bring Jesus' Word and even the Supper to you in the Hospital) – all simple. All normal. All incredibly wonderful behind the simpleness that we can be tempted to despise.

    Jesus Christ, your ascended Lord, has established the Church for you, to keep you in the faith, to keep you centered in Christ by the Word and by the Sacraments, even until He comes again and you see Him face to face. Normal? That's pretty cool. Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, alleluia! + Amen.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Easter 5 (with Confirmation)


Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! +

    I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. Jesus understands. Jesus understands what it is to be human, and He understands our limits, our capacity. He Himself got to grow and learn as a child – Luke says that He increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. We grow, we learn, we use what we have learned in service to God and our neighbor. And that growth is not instant, and sometimes there are things we simply aren't ready to know yet. And so, as people, God knows and understands that we will continually be learning and growing. And this idea of continually learning would have been no surprise to the Disciples – they were disciples. That's what a disciple is, a learner. But there in the upper room that Maundy Thursday, Jesus is pointing out that He is going away, He's going to go through Good Friday and then Easter and then the Ascension – He will be returning to the Father. Would the disciples still be learners without Jesus, with their Master having returned home? And the answer is yes – yes, you will still be learners, yes there will be growth in wisdom in the time of the New Testament church – even to our day. And this growth is really, in truth, the activity of the Holy Spirit – the Helper, the Comfortor, the Paraclete.

    Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. Pentecost is coming. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the subsequent spread of the Christian faith to the four corners of the world, to every part of the globe. No longer would we need to be pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem to participate in Holy things, but the Holy Spirit will be coming to us, sent by Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit will be active in the Holy Christian Church – in fact, we call the Church Holy not because of us, how holy we are, but because the Holy Christian Church is the domain, the province of the Holy Spirit, where He works for us. This is the 3rd article of the Creed from the Small Catechism – [the Holy Spirit] calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. After Jesus ascends, after Pentecost, the Church as we know it today comes – this wondrous Church spread out across the world with believers of every tribe and race in virtually every place. And in this church we see the activity of the Holy Spirit.

    The primary task of the Spirit is delivering Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. He takes Jesus and gives Jesus to you – He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. The Holy Spirit is present and at work in and through all the things that go on here in the Church – when we speak, when we sing, when we pray – the Spirit is at work there, enabling and causing this. Today we will talk about the “Means of Grace” - that forgiveness is given through the Word or the Sacraments, but Luther didn't actually use the term “means of grace” - he called the Word and Baptism and the Supper the “means of the Spirit” - that in the Word and in the Sacraments the Holy Spirit is given to us, that the Holy Spirit is active. When we hear God's Word – the Spirit is there, working. When we speak God's Word – in the liturgy, in prayers or hymns (which are spun out from God's Word), the Holy Spirit is there, working. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit is there, working, making you His own temple. The Spirit in there at the Supper, making you to receive Jesus and know forgiveness in the Supper. The Spirit, by the Word and the Sacraments, makes you to know and receive the good things of Jesus. We may not always talk about the Holy Spirit, but He is always present in the Word and in the Sacraments, fixing our eyes upon Jesus and providing understanding and wisdom as He knows that we need and are ready for.

    Then Jesus gives the disciples and us three tasks of the Spirit in our Gospel lesson – three things that He will do throughout the world. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. In our day, in the time of the New Testament Church, by means of the preaching of the Word of God the Holy Spirit is going to convict the world – He is going to speak convincingly and authoritatively about the world – the present day world we find ourselves in. The Spirit will make sure the preaching of Jesus is always present tense, always applicable to the present day, and in particular from three different angles.

    The Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me. There's always going to be sin and unbelief in the world. Sometimes it will be veiled under a veneer of outward piety, and sometimes it will be open and gross, as it seems to be becoming more and moreso in our day. Either way, in the Christian Church the Holy Spirit will see God's Law proclaimed and sin pointed out. And note the reason, the cause of sin that Jesus gives here. Because people don't believe in Him. Where there is no faith in Christ, there sin will reign. Apart from Christ, ye can do nothing. And the Spirit will point out, will show how Christless, loveless, twisted and faithless acts and attitudes are today – even some acts and attitudes that appeal to us and our own sinful nature. And we learn in this. Sometimes we don't see how wicked and horrible something is right away – you cannot bear them now. But the Holy Spirit comes, and He preaches the Law, and He reveals sin to us – both the sin of the world so that we can avoid it, and our own sin so that we would be repented and returned to Christ.

    The Holy Spirit will also preach convictingly concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you will see Me no longer. Our righteousness is not in ourselves. It isn't based upon our own actions. We certainly remember that fact once the Spirit has gotten done with preaching convictingly about sin! And so the Spirit will have another task – to proclaim righteousness, true righteousness, the righteousness of Christ Jesus. When Jesus was walking around with the disciples, they had the very image of righteousness right there in front of them. But what of when Jesus has ascended? Well, the Spirit will have the task of proclaiming Christ Crucified and His righteousness, of fixing our eyes upon Jesus. Christ Jesus has died and risen, He has taken up the weight and guilt of your sin and the sin of the world, and He has crucified it upon the Cross. He has fulfilled God's law completely – He is totally and fully righteous, and He declares His righteousness to be yours – and therefore you are utterly righteous in God's sight – justified. All that is Christ's is yours – He will take what is mine and declare it to you. The Holy Spirit brings you, gives you Jesus and His righteousness in the Word, in Baptism, in the Supper. And the only place to find this righteousness is where the Holy Spirit uses the Word and Sacraments to deliver them.

    And then there is one more thing that the Spirit will proclaim convinctingly – concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. The Spirit preaches both Law and Gospel – shows us our sin and shows us our Savior. We often speak this way. But Jesus notes another aspect here – that the Spirit will proclaim the Victory of Christ Jesus over the world – and the Spirit will remind us of this fact. Often the world will seem big and scary – and it is, it's bigger than us and beyond our control. And we can be intimidated by the powers of evil at work and the abuses people in power levy – the corruption and greed that impacts our lives in a negative, lousy way. And the Holy Spirit will come and remind you not to worry about that. Jesus has won. They're judged – you don't have to worry about them, and you don't have to do a thing to them. Endure, Christ is with you – you are declared righteous, and Satan and all his minions are simply throwing a brief temper tantrum before they are consigned to hell for all eternity. They are judged already – they are defeated already, and they in truth can do nothing lasting, nothing real to you. As Christians we ought have a sense of defiance of the world – This world's prince may still scowl fierce as he will! He can harm us none! He's judged, the deed is done. One little world can fell him. And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife. Though these all be gone our victory has been won. The kingdom ours remaineth. We can forget that defiant hope sometimes as we get worn and wearied in this world. And Spirit will come and bring this all to our remembrance.

    And the Spirit is and will be constantly at work in the Church for you. Why? I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. You will still learn, you will still grow. The Holy Spirit will bring this about. And He'll bring it about day by day, challenge by challenge. You're probably not ready to hear now and understand now the things that will challenge you down the road – so be it. For the Holy Spirit will be with you, ever active in Christ's Word, ever showing you the reality of what it means to be a baptized child of God, ever strengthening you in faith toward God and love toward neighbor in the Supper, whatever the day holds. And together, in Christ's Church the Holy Spirit will show us sin and its impacts, the Spirit will daily and richly forgive us our sins, and He will make us to remember Christ's victory over sin, death, and the Devil even in the face of wickedness now. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit that Christ Jesus has given you to. Amen. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! +

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Easter 4


Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia! +

    We are no strangers to fear and anxiety today. It's part and parcel of our culture and society. While we are safer than we have ever been, and while we have access to more life improving and life saving technologies than ever before, statistically we are more worried than ever. And some of this is because we get so much information pounded into our heads by our TVs and our phones – we see disasters from thousands of miles away in real time. Some of this is because we are surrounded by advertising and marketing, which really try to make us afraid, afraid that we'll be missing out if we just don't buy that new whatever. And some of it is just we have time to be afraid. If you're busy from sun up til sundown, you don't have time to worry – idle hands are the devil's playthings, after all. And there's another aspect that ties on into where the disciples are today. We're often alone. We're spread out, isolated, left to ourselves. And that can be a worrying thing.

    Our Gospel lesson for today (and for the next several weeks, in fact) takes place on Maundy Thursday. It is part of the discussion that Jesus had with His disciples after they celebrated the Lord's Supper for the first time. And Jesus knows Good Friday and Easter are coming – and He is preparing the disciples for this. But Jesus is also preparing them for life after the ascension where He returns to the Father, for life after Pentecost – the life of the Church that we know today. And so, Jesus says to the disciples, “A little while, and you will see Me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” And this causes quite a tidal wave of consternation and concern. What do you mean by this, Jesus – we're disciples! Our lives are defined by the fact that we are the people who travel around with you. With you. What's this we're not going to see you any longer talk – that's not how it's supposed to be! And then add on a see Him again in a bit, this is all crazy talk, Jesus!

    Well, yes and no. Jesus is directly talking and preparing the disciples for the events of Good Friday, where in a few short hours He will be arrested, taken from them, abused and put to death. You're not going to be spending this upcoming Saturday with Me. And that will be harsh. That will be terrible. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament – Good Friday is going to be rough on the disciples. You wish to speak of fear and anxiety? Guilt and shame? Stupid games of wondering what I could have done to make things different – as though any of the disciples were going to change the plan of salvation. And the kicker – Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. When the disciples are at their lowest, the crowds cheer and jeer and mock as Jesus is crucified. What harsher contrast could there be?

    Yet even on His way to His crucifixion, Jesus pauses – and He takes this time, this utterly sympathetic time, to pause and not only warn the disciples of what is coming, but to remind the disciples that He understands. Jesus knows the fear, the sorrow, the tangled mess of emotions and doubts that will be assailing the disciples – and Jesus doesn't chide them for this. Jesus doesn't call them a bunch of sissy-maryies or something like that. He just acknowledges the utter lousiness of where they will find themselves. And I would submit to you today, my dear friends, that likewise you should remember that your Lord Jesus also is understanding and sympathetic to the fears and anxieties that you face in your own life. Jesus is quite familiar with this world – He made it. He knows how it is supposed to work, and He knows incredibly well the ways in which it goes wrong, the ways in which sin messes with it. Of course He does, He carried all that sin, all of sin, to the cross – He literally bore it upon Himself. And thus, Jesus is never going to be shocked by your fears, never ashamed of your anxieties. I'm certainly not trying to turn Jesus into merely the world's greatest therapist, but He understands you far better than you yourself do. And He loves you, completely and fully.

    But Jesus sees more than fear; He sees all the things that sin and Satan and the world try so hard to make you forget. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. Yes disciples, you will have Good Friday, but you're going to get Easter too. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. I won't see you Saturday, but come the evening of the first day I'll see you – well, Thomas, you'll take an extra week because of your own stubbornness, but I'll still see you too. And you'll rejoice, you'll have peace, you'll exclaim, “My Lord and My God” because you see the risen Lord, and that joy, that knowledge that Christ is Risen and sins are forgiven and life is won will be yours. Yes, there is sorrow – real sorrow, true sorrow that Jesus doesn't downplay – but there will be joy.

    And then Jesus gives an analogy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Jesus isn't soft selling the hardship. He isn't downplaying the sorrow – oh, it's not so bad. Nope, it's going to be lousy. It's going to be wretched, and you'll be hoping it is done with quickly. But it's not forever. It's not the enduring truth or reality of existence – there's something greater to come. And understand a note on what Jesus says – when Jesus says “remember” He's not just talking about thinking back on the past, but to remember in the Jewish way of speaking means to have that be the present reality, the thing that defines right now. This is why we get those passages where the LORD speaks of remembering us, remembering Israel. Or why He will no longer remember our sins – because they have nothing to do with who you are now – you are a forgiven child of God, your sin is long gone, crucified with Christ, buried in that tomb that is now empty. No mother looks at her kid and has a contraction – the anguish is not remembered – well, unless you were my mother trying to guilt me into cleaning my room but that's beside point. The anguish, the sorrow is real – but there is something so much more wondrous beyond it. Good Friday is rough; Easter still comes.

    And this pattern plays out. Even after Easter, after the Ascension, the disciples are going to have sorrow. They are going to have fears and anxieties anew that pop up. Read the book of Acts. Read about the history of the Apostles. They pretty much all die horribly. They get beaten and chased out of town, martyred. Plenty to fear. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again. Maundy Thursday wasn't the last time they saw Jesus. Nor was that Easter evening. Nor even was the Ascension when they are left staring up into the sky. They would see Jesus again – they see Him now in Heaven, they shall see Jesus eternally in the life of the world to come. Doesn't mean that what they'd end up going through wasn't horrid – sorrow now, but Jesus forever.

    And it's the pattern that will play out for you, my friends. In this life, you will have sorrow. There will be fears and anxieties. I hope and pray that they are mild – that they pass swiftly. That is literally what we pray for over and over in Church – Lord have mercy, heal people, relieve suffering, order society and give wisdom to people in power so less trouble gets caused. But there's still, always, going to be some. In this life there's still sin, there's still Satan prowling and scowling, there's still my stupid sinful flesh doing its stupid, sinful thing. But, Jesus doesn't turn away from you because of this. Instead, He promises that He will see you again – again and indeed eternally.

    That's what your Baptism is. A promise that Jesus will see you and that you will see Jesus eternally. Indeed, that Jesus will be with you and caring for you all the days of your life, even when you're not thinking about Him. God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And what is the Word, the Scriptures, the Preaching of that Word but rather making you to hear, to remember, to see Jesus – let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith. What is the Supper but Jesus giving Himself to you via all 5 senses – hear Jesus' love, see Jesus' love, touch Jesus' love, smell Jesus' love, taste His love – taste and see that the LORD is good. Constantly. Repeatedly. Even until the last day when Jesus is all in all.

    And none of this is to diminish the trial, the hardship. Okay, I suppose if it's something you've blown out of proportion Jesus' Word might just help you assess more realistically. But Jesus is a real God who understands real hardship and real suffering – and He doesn't pretend it isn't there, He doesn't sweep it under a rug. He takes it up Himself, and He is with you through it – and He brings you through it, even unto that day when it is finally done and gone, and you are with the LORD and the hosts of heaven eternally. There are fears now, there are anxieties now – and they may be big. So be it – Jesus is bigger, His love for you is bigger – and while those fears are just for a time, the love of Jesus for you endures forever. Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, alleluia! +

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Easter 3


Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia) + Amen.

I Am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. How unlike the way of the world is the way of Christ Jesus our Lord. How unsearchible are His ways beyond the way of human knowing, how far He is beyond our sinful thoughts. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. A Shepherd exchanging His life for that of a sheep? That doesn’t seem like a wise trade, a fair trade at all. Can you see it; a pastor consoling a grieving wife – I am sorry about your husband, but at least he died saving that sheep.

I Am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Why would you do that? Why, oh Shepherd! The sheep are not worth it. We're not worth it. Would any of you have the audacity to stand up and say, “You know, I'm just worth more than Jesus. God just needs me.” Do you not think that God has the ability to just start all over with Creation, that He couldn’t have just blotted out Adam and Eve and all their children and started again? Tossed this creation away into the trash bin like a discarded rough draft. There is no worth in you that would call for God to lay down His life – nothing in you that makes Jesus say, “Oh, I must save Him.” Why would you do that, oh Shepherd, why give Your life for mine?

I Am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Why? Because I AM. I AM the Good Shepherd. I AM Good. Dear friends, this text is about Christ. He is Good. He is the One by whom all things were made – who made all things Good. Who made man in His own image, made him male and female, and made them both good. You were made to be like Jesus, to look like God. When you saw Adam in the garden, when you saw Eve, simply by looking at them you would be pointed to God their Creator, God who made them good. They were the very image of God – if you wanted to understand the Goodness and Holiness of God – you needed simply look at His image – His Adam, His Eve, and you would see and understand and know how Good God was. Man reflected God's image, His glory – just like a mirror reflects your image. And it was Good… because God is Good, and what He does is Good.

He who does not own the sheep sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The wolf of all wolves came – entered the garden dressed as a snake. He whispered lying words and half truths to our first parents, spoke seductively, promised something more. Do not be content to be in God’s image, don't be what God created you to be, you could be so much more. And as they disobeyed, the image of God that was Adam and Eve was shattered. Satan snatched Adam and Eve, and He dashed that mirror that reflected God to the ground. And since then, what have you seen when you look at man? What do you see now when you take a long, hard look in the mirror? Do you see someone who looks more like Christ, or who looks more like the Devil? How often are your words used to lead another astray? How often do you bring death with you – how often do you kill a friendship, how often do you kill someone’s reputation, how often do you kill them by “getting the better of them”, and how often, when this is done, do you slither away satisfied in your wickedness? Hear what Christ Jesus says of your broken, fallen nature. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and he has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. We heard that a few weeks ago – it was the charge leveled against the Pharisees, the “good, religious people” of Christ’s day. How often does that describe you? And be honest – doesn't Satan’s way often seem more appealing? Doesn’t it seem better, easier to hate your enemy rather to than love them? Doesn’t it seem better to elevate and glorify yourself rather than to show respect and serve? When you think, when thoughts creep into your head, how often are they wicked thoughts worthy of Satan?

The wolf snatches and scatters them. That is what befell formerly fair Eden at the fall. Adam and Eve were scattered, sent out of Eden, banished and condemned. With no power of their own could they be freed. With no power of their own could their children be freed. Sons after fathers and daughters after mothers, all bearing this tainted nature, looking like broken mirrors, like pale shadows of what they were created to be. What was made good had become wicked, and to be honest, quite often enjoyed it. And, if left to our own devices, that’s all we would see – a world where wickedness grows more and more and people call it good – call it “choice” or “freedom” or “profit” when it really is murder and lust and greed.

I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Christ Jesus your Lord, the very Word of God that called you into being, that gave you life – He saw your fall. God beheld your wretched state, even before the world’s foundation. As Jesus made Adam and Eve, He knew what Satan would do. He even knew that His Adam would fall. Before He even called Adam into being, before He had even breathed into Him the breath of life, Jesus saw you. Jesus saw and knew, knew you better than you know yourself right now. Now, if you were God, you might not bother – you might rethink this whole creation thing, if you knew where it was going to go. But you, you don’t own the sheep, and by your sinful nature you think like a simple hireling – “I best look out for myself.” But God, mindful of His mercies great plans for man’s salvation even before creation. He is the Good Shepherd. The Sheep belong Him and He will not let Satan have them, will not let Satan have you. So the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

Adam had the image of God, and Adam threw it down. Cast it aside. Christ Jesus came into the world, came into the flesh, was born of human mother. And what happened? Christ takes up your image – man’s image. The image of God in man was restored. Once again, when you looked at a Man, the Man Jesus, you saw God. Hear St. Paul from Colossians – He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. When you see Christ, you see and understand God. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross. And what does Christ do with that image? I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus says, “Look what I do! You suffer and die according to your sin. Therefore, I will suffer and die according to your sin – and behold, you look like God again.” Christ Jesus joins you, comes down from heaven and bears the consequences of your sin – He sheds His blood, sheds it upon you, covers you with it – even covers your lips and your tongue with His blood. In His death Christ establishes forgiveness – Jesus picks up the pieces of your shattered image, and drenches the shards of that shattered mirror in His blood, takes those pieces into the tomb with Him for three days. And what happens on the third? Christ Rises, restored. Likewise, you are restored. When Christ raises from the dead, the image of God is restored. The New Man strides forth from the tomb, and Christ Jesus, the Living God says, “Once again I will make you live.”

I AM the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me. . . they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, there will be one Shepherd. Christ speaks, He sends forth His Word, and what does that Word do? It joins you to Christ – that Word makes you who looked only like the Old fallen Adam to look like Christ the New Adam. His Word restores you, forgives you your sin. It daily drowns the Old Adam, so that the New might emerge and shine forth. You are free to look like God again, to be His image. This is what St. Peter tells us – For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His footsteps. The sheep follow the Shepherd’s footsteps, they look like Him now. He Himself bore our sins in His Body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. Christ calls you unto Himself, and He declares you righteous, proclaims you forgiven and holy. He declares your sin dead, and He declares you Good once again.

Now, in this life, when you look at yourself, you will only see this dimly. You will strive to do good, you will strive and fight to do God’s will, you will beat down the desires of your sinful flesh, but not always so well. In this life, while your flesh is still sinful – indeed, until that day when you have completely followed the Shepherd’s footsteps through the grave and onto your own resurrection – your life will be struggle. But in this struggle, know this. None of this makes God turn away from you, none of it makes Him love you less. Not at all. That's just not who Jesus is. Christ Jesus, Your Good Shepherd, has indeed lain down His life for you, He has won pardon and peace for all your wrong. The claims that Satan had upon you are done away with, and you now belong to Christ – He won you upon the Cross, and He claimed you in the waters of baptism, sealed His Name upon you, marked you with His sign, the sign of the holy cross upon your forehead and upon your heart. His resurrection is the proof of purchase, the declaration that you do indeed belong to Him, that you are His sheep, and nothing can snatch you out of His hand, not even death. Thus, live your life, struggle against sin, but all this do without fear, for the Good Shepherd has gathered you into His kingdom, and He continually gives you His forgiveness to keep you here. Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia. Amen.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Easter 2


Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! +

    Before we begin to consider our Gospel lesson, I want you to think back to Palm Sunday. Think on the crowds, the celebration, the pride and joy that the disciples must have felt seeing, knowing that they were a part of this whole Jesus thing, that they were His disciples. But Luke records for us this note about Palm Sunday – When [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! We'll look at this Luke text at the end of the Summer, but do you see the contrast there? Joy versus weeping. Displays of pomp and power, and yet, they don't know peace. And Jesus is right – we see the peaceless violence of Jerusalem, the mob, the shouting of threats triumphing over justice and order. And in a week, the disciples hopes and dreams are flogged apart and nailed to a tree. Quite the contrast.

    And now our Gospel text. It's 8 days after that Palm Sunday, the evening after Easter. 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, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” You know, we call Palm Sunday the triumphal entry, and I'm never going to get the Church to change that – but this, this is Christ's triumphant entering Jerusalem again. Not in humility on a colt, the foal of a donkey – but brashly. Locked door – Jesus don't care about no locked door – just walks right on in, alive, risen from the dead, having crushed Satan, having descended into hell and harrowed it. This is Christ Jesus triumphant, this is the Christus Victor, this is God Almighty.

    And Jesus shows up to His fearful disciples, and He says, “Peace be with you.” Shalom. It's all good. It's all right. It is finished, and yet I live. The war between God and man, the rebellion started in the Garden, the rule of Satan and sin – that's all done, and now there is peace. And that had been the goal from the beginning – the promises of the Old Testament to Adam, to Abraham, the promises of the Messiah. The whole sacrificial system, providing temporary peace until Christ our Passover Lamb would come. Even the threat of death is undone – for just as Jesus is raised so you too will be raised – that's what Peace is! That's the peace that Jerusalem didn't care about, that's the peace that the disciples cowering in that room had ignored, that's the peace that Christ Jesus won for the disciples by His passion, by His Cross, by His death, and by His resurrection. Peace. There is peace because I have won, and it is your peace disciples, because I am giving it too you.

    When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the LORD. And it's a real peace – it's a peace that actually happened – not some made up peace, not some delusion in my head peace. No, it's a peace that endures even beyond crucifixion, even beyond the spears of Rome, a peace that surpasses all human understanding – You think that dead men don't live again and certainly not with a spear thrust to the heart after being crucified! But there Jesus is. Christ the Crucified stands risen before them, and this Jesus says peace.

    But not just to them. Jesus said to them again, “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.” Oh, disciples, this peace isn't just for you. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – it is peace for all. And you are being sent, sent to proclaim that peace. Behold, the Living Jesus breathes – see, alive, He breathes, He respires, the Spirit of life is with Jesus, and Jesus breathes that Spirit upon them and gives them the Holy Spirit... for what? To give people forgiveness. To give people peace. Peace is a forgiveness word. If you've not forgiven someone, there is no peace between you – there's animosity and anger and plots and plans and perhaps even a bit of punishment. Jesus gives the Spirit to the disciples so that they will go out into the world and proclaim that Jesus lives and there is forgiveness and life in His name.

    And this is the story of the New Testament Church in a nutshell – go out and proclaim Christ's forgiveness, and forgive sins, and people hear and believe, even on to this day. To you, now. You've heard the proclamation of Christ's forgiveness. His peace is declared to you. The Spirit of Christ Jesus is poured upon you again, this day, so that you would be given once again Jesus' peace. That's what the Holy Spirit's job is – to make you know Christ's peace, to give you life. This Spirit giving that Jesus does there in that locked room burst forth from that room and spread and flowed even on into your life, even unto you today. It's the same Spirit at work, proclaiming peace from the very same Jesus. A tidal wave of peace, and mighty rush of the Spirit that fills not just a room on Pentecost but fills the whole earth, all four corners, and speaks to dead and dying sinners and gives them life – speak to the breath, speak to the Spirit, Son of Man, that these dry bones may live! That is what Jesus does here.

    But Pastor – um, not to be a buzz kill, but why did Jesus add on that “withhold forgiveness” part? Allow me to clear something up. One of the things about how we use the word “if” today is that “if” makes something seem optional, like there's a choice – if you forgive, if you withhold forgiveness. Nope – that's not the point. I don't have the option to not forgive someone who confesses their sin and desires forgiveness. I don't have the option to say, “Jesus didn't actually die for you, ya jerk.” This isn't a statement about what I or what you might think we get to do with forgiveness. It's fact. When you forgive someone, they are forgiven. And when someone refuses that forgiveness, when it is thrown back in your face, when you are stuck holding Christ's peace and forgiveness in your hands because they have refused it and rejected it and they do not know the things that make for peace – that forgiveness is withheld. And they don't receive it, and they miss out on peace. And Jesus is warning the disciples that this will be something that will happen to them. Jesus risen doesn't mean life in the sinful world will be sunshine and daisies all the time.

And as example number 1 of this we hear – 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.” Alright, pause here. The Apostles, the sent ones, the ones sent by Christ even as He was sent by the Father, go forth to preach their first sermon. There's nothing more entertaining for a pastor than watching some young buck getting ready to preach his first sermon – a Seminarian all nervous and excited and this is going to be the bestest anyone has ever preached Jesus and this will be awesome – and so the newly minted apostles go and preach their first sermon all happy and joyous and... 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.” Understand just how flat the apostles' first sermon fell. It's not just that Thomas doubted – Thomas is disdainful, dismissive, and rude. Oh, you saw Jesus? Oh, He showed you His hands and side -thhpppptttt. Get bent you delusional hacks. Like that happened? Yeah, sure, right – tell you what, I'll buy that this happened when I see it myself, no, no, no, not even see it myself – I'll believe when I just get to jam my finger into a nail hole, no, no, no even better – when I get to stick my hand up into His side. What a load of bunk. Do you see what Thomas did? He took individual parts of what the disciples told him, and he threw it right back in their face.

    Jesus had warned the disciples. There would be times peace is not received. Jesus had even prepared them for this long ago – when Jesus sent the 72 out two by two He had said, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. Yeah, disciples, even after Easter there are still going to be plenty of “if not” sorts of situations. There will still be times when people won't want Jesus' peace – even people who should know it and want it.

    Oh well – you go be a proclaimer of peace! You speak it forth, and maybe it will stick. Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them – see, persistence, dragging Thomas along even when he's at his “I don't want peace” grumpiest – Although the doors were locked – see, the world is still messy and dangerous, there still are angry mobs ready to do violence to the disciples of Jesus – same old, same old. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Still the proclamation of Jesus' peace goes forth – despite people denying it, despite many people wishing do to violence against it – Christ Jesus has died and has risen, and the protestations of the world can't change that one bit.

    And then a reminder that our Risen Lord not only is forgiving and merciful, but that He also still has His sense of humor. Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands – Yeah, Thomas, I heard you trash talking about Me and My resurrection – so come on over here, blind man, and see with your finger. And put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. Come on Bub, you said need to poke Me, let's get this over it. This is Jesus rubbing Thomas' nose in it, just as Thomas had done to the disciples – but a joyous rubbing of Thomas's nose in it, rubbing Thomas in forgiveness and life and peace – rubbing the Spirit into Thomas' ears for Thomas now believes – Thomas answered Him, “My LORD and my God!” And Thomas gets it. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is God. Christ is risen from the dead, and there is peace.

    And now you get mentioned in the bible. Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. There you go – that's Jesus talking about you. That's Jesus speaking about all those who simply hear the Gospel and don't get to see Jesus face to face until the last day – don't worry, you get the full kit and kaboddle of forgiveness and peace too. You get baptism, you get the Supper (hey – the peace of the Lord be with you always – huh) – you are blessed by Jesus.

    And then John wraps it up with a reminder of what his Gospel is for, what our words in the Church are for. After a quick reminder to preachers tempted towards being long winded – Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book – wrap it up, preacher. You don't have to explain EVERYTHING – just get to the point – but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name. The Gospel of Christ goes forth – the Holy Spirit is at work – so that you may hear and believe and have life. Even to you, this day, Christ Jesus still says Peace. That's the point – now let's feast. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia!

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Easter Day


Easter Day – John 20:1-18 – April 9th, 2023

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! +

    That morning, they were all expecting a fight, a slog. Mary arrives early at the tomb that Sunday, because she was expecting a horrible day. She and the other women were going to properly prepare Jesus' body for burial. But it'd been around 39 hours since 3 on Friday when He had died. And He had been brutalized in His Passion. What a horrid thing to expect to deal with – and then that's even if you can wrangle your way past the guards, and if you can get the giant stone rolled away – and then after you're done you'd be considered ritually unclean and you'd have to hide away for a week in isolation. It was going to be a horrible slog of a day.

    And she gets there, and the stone has been taken away. And Mary panics, that's not right, something is wrong with the tomb, and she runs to Peter and John, Jesus' disciples, Jesus' friends, they will know what to do. And Peter and John take on off at a run to the tomb. What would they find there, would there be people desecrating, defiling Jesus' body? Did Peter have his sword that he had swung in vain the last time he had been with Jesus, was John the son of thunder ready to unleash it at any foes? The adrenaline surge, the panic, the focus, the intensity – ready for a fight. And they get to the tomb... and there's no fight to be had. John gets there first and looks in, and it's empty. Peter clatters on in – and it's not been ransacked... things are surprisingly neat, the head cloth all folded up nicely. And Peter and John are flummoxed... and then they leave. Just ditch poor Mary there at the tomb and head home.

    Mary decides she'll look in the tomb, and now there's someone there. 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?” Ah, the wonderful, incredulous question of the angels – why? Why are you crying? This is joyous, this is what Jesus had told you would happen! But Mary's not ready for that yet – Mary's still preparing for a fight. She said to them, “They have taken away my LORD, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Mary is still ready for a fight, to dive on in and do something. There's some scoundrels, some rascals, some rotten thieves – and I've got to undo what they've done.

    Then she turns, and there before her is a Living, Breathing Man, and this Man asks her why she's weeping. And in her tears, her determination, her sorrow, her flood of emotion she assumes that this Person is running the place, and maybe He knows so she blurts out, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have lain Him, and I will take Him away.” Do you hear the grit, the determination, the fight in Mary? I don't care where He is, I will go there and I will drag Him away myself if I have to. So ready to fight to try to put right something that she's got no way of fixing. That's really been the story of humanity since the Fall – we get born into this world, and there's so many fights to be had. Fights we need to fight but can't ever win. Slogs we just have to slog. The daily grind. To say nothing of the stupid fights we find ourselves in because we are worn and weak and weary and just so used to fighting.

    Jesus knows. Jesus came fighting. We saw that all these past six weeks – Jesus fighting sin, fighting Satan, fighting death itself. And we all saw victory after victory for Jesus, but then there was another fight, another battle on Friday. And Jesus died. So, at that moment, there in that Garden, Mary figured Jesus' fight went the way they call go in the end. Failure and Death. So back to the hopeless fight. Mary only knew fighting. The disciples had only known fighting – that was why they had swords, why they wanted to call down fire from heaven from people, why they wanted political power and influence and the respect of the mighty. We know the fighting, the struggle. For so many people that's all they know, and all the stories end in tears.

    Then, the most amazing word Mary had ever heard. Jesus said to her, “Mary.” I always get sidetracked every Easter just wondering what it sounded like when Jesus said her name. Was it a bemused, joyous “Mary”? Was it a slightly exasperated open your eyes already “Mary”? Was it a knowing, understanding, full of sympathy, “Mary”? I get to read it every year, but I don't know, we don't know – but you know what it was for sure. This was no stranger to fight, this was no busybody who she'd have to debate. This is Jesus, risen from the dead. This is Jesus, victorious over sin and death and the devil and the strife is O'er, the battle done. This is Jesus lives, the victory's won. This is there is absolutely no more fight that you need to fight anymore Mary, because I'm the LORD and I'm alive and I know you and you know Me and it is all, truly good. Relax, be at peace (more on that next week) – it's all good Mary, because Jesus is risen.

    She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Mary had been twisting and turning, whirling around, looking for someone to fight, somewhere to go do battle – but now she is turned to Jesus. And she glomps Him. She grabs Him in a big old bear hug, fighting to hold on to Him and never let Him go – the old fighting tendencies do die hard. And so Jesus says, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Hang on Mary, or, well, stop hanging on. I've got things to do, but you don't need to worry about things, you don't need to worry about losing Me, you don't need to cling. It's good, I've won. I've won you, I've won your life, your salvation, your eternity with the Father – you'll be spending eternity with Me, we have literally more than all the time in the world. You don't have to fight to hold on to this moment – you have everlasting life, Mary.

    “But go to My brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.'” My victory isn't just your victory, Mary. It's the disciples' victory too. They don't need to be trapped in the fight any more. Go tell them the good news – you know, Good News, literally what the word “Gospel” means. Jesus has won, and they have a full share in His victory. My Father and your Father, My God and your God – and you'll be with Me forever. All those things Jesus had said – that In My Father's House are many mansions, that I will die and Rise, that It is Finished – it's true. It's real. It's bigger, more important than any issue, any struggle, any pestering problem you might face. Jesus is risen – sin is forgiven and death is undone.

    We see the fighting in the world. We see sin in the world and its impacts. We see death. And yes, we are called in our days to fight against sin and wickedness and death, we're called do show forth love and goodness and decency in these dark days. And sometimes, when we're caught up in the fight, we think that the fight is all that there is. And we get battered and worn and overwhelmed – and we are tempted to forget the simple truth. Jesus Lives, the Victory's Won. Period. Yeah, we struggle. Yeah, we have good days, and we certainly have bad days. Jesus Lives, the Victory's Won. We're not trapped in the fight – we're not caught in the day to day slog. We are baptized children of God. Do you know what that means? Even in the midst of things that can spin you around and drag you down and make you run like a chicken with its head cut off – Jesus has called you by name – there, at the font – He said the most amazing word to you – your Name as He saw you baptized, joined unto Himself, declared a child of God for all eternity and not even the gates of hell can do a thing to mess with that. And just as Mary heard her name was was turned to Jesus, Jesus turns your attention to Him again and again with the Gospel – reminding you that He has died and risen, and yes, your sin is forgiven, yes you have life now, life lived in Christ Jesus and in His strength, and yes you have Salvation – Salvation that lasts through all eternity. Sure there's fights around us – But Jesus has won, which means everything that really, actually matters has been won for your already.

    And there are people to tell, people to proclaim the victory of Jesus to. We do so to each other here in the Church all the time – that's why we're here, that's why we need to be here, to hear again the Victory of Jesus, to be turned again to our Risen Lord so we know our life, our salvation is in Him. The world tries to make us forget. And we get to proclaim this to each other. But not just each other - there are so many of our brothers and sisters, our friends, our neighbors, the world out there who have forgotten, who even have never heard, who don't see Jesus' Risen Victory but only just the slog. And we get to tell them. Not fight them – tell them. Because Jesus has won, that's the reality, that's the truth that can never be undone.

    Oh, Mary got more than she was expecting that first Easter morning. Of course she did, because Christ Jesus loves to give, to give good gifts of forgiveness and life, to give people to each other, to give new heavens and a new earth. And now we too live receiving those gifts from Jesus, more than we could expect, by Name, His Body here now, His Blood shed for you, over and over even until He comes again and we are raised as He is raised from the dead and we ascend to the glory of the Father as He has ascended because Jesus never leaves you spinning in the world vainly looking for another fight. No – Jesus has won, and His Victory is yours. A blessed Easter to you all! Amen. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia!

Friday, April 7, 2023

Good Friday


In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

    And now it is here. The final battle against Sin, Death, and the Devil. The passion of our Lord. And Jesus endures it all, suffers it all. That's what the word Passion means, it means to suffer. How does Jesus endure it, how does He defeat Satan?It boils down to one simple truth. God is a giver. That is fundamentally who our LORD is. Even when He taketh away, the LORD remains a giver. That is what we see, that is what we learn of Jesus there upon the Cross. Even in the face of tragedy and the consequence of sin, especially then, Jesus remains a giver, a lover of mankind, a blesser, and in His giving, Jesus defeats sin, death, and the Devil.

    You see, Good Friday isn't just a day for Jesus to suffer. His family and friends suffer as well, as they see Him there upon the Cross. Mary is losing more than most this Good Friday. She is losing her Son. Do I have to spell out the horror, the loss there? And John, John had walked away from much to follow Jesus, and he is losing that as well. No more would John get to be a disciple, not as he was. The disciples, too, would eventually be scattered out to the corners of the world to spread the Gospel – that group camaraderie is gone. It is a day of loss.

    Yet Christ Jesus remains a giver. Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother. Mary, you have lost much today. John, you have as well. But not just loss. I Am a giver. Mary, you have a new son, a new man placed into that vocation of son, whom I am giving to you, placing into your life to honor you, to care for you, to protect you. John, you son of thunder, you are now a son of Mary. You will not be left in the next years without companionship, without purpose or people, real concrete people to care for, to love. You will love Mary.

    And that's what happens. Tradition holds that John ends up in Ephesus, and that Mary is with him, and John tends to Mary throughout the rest of her life. I'd assert that this shows forth in John's letters, where there is such a focus on love, agape. Christian “love” isn't some generic feeling or emotion. The Christian life isn't the pursuit of some abstract mythical ideal of right or wrong. No! Love your neighbor. Your concrete, real neighbor. The neighbor that Jesus has given you in the vocations, the callings that he has given you so that you and they will both be blessed.

    Consider how concretely, how down to earth John deals with the idea of love, of service, in his first epistle. We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. There is no philosophical question of right or wrong here, no abstract debate over which angel on the head of a pin is the best. Jesus gives you people, real people whom you can see; care for them. Love them – serve them. See, Jesus has given them to you. Jesus gives you your relationships, your neighbors, your vocations, your callings. He gives them to see that His love, His good, His blessing, His care is shown forth throughout the world, even over and against sin. And don't dismiss this gift. So many people do. They refuse to love their neighbor and instead live only for themselves, and are miserable, lost, and bitter. They live only for their bellies, and are consumed by their own passions, trapped in desperate cycles of harm – harm to themselves and harm to people around them, desperately thinking validation and affirmation will somehow replace God's love and purpose. No, God has given you your vocations, your neighbors – enjoy them.

    But Jesus knows that you need more than just purpose in this life. Jesus knows what sin takes from you. Jesus knows that sin takes away your very life. He knows, He feels the weight of the sin of the world crushing down upon Him, driving Him into death. Yet Jesus remains a giver. He gives that which is most important. When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit. Jesus gave up His Spirit. This isn't just a fancy way of saying that Jesus died. John isn't just being poetic here. Jesus gives His Spirit. With His death, Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, unto the world. Jesus sends forth the Spirit with the Gospel, the sweet message that the sins of the world have in fact been taken away, that the punishment due for sin has been paid in full. All of it – it is finished. Nothing more needs to be done for mankind, for you to be rescued. Sin, death, and the Devil – they are done for. And from this moment, the Spirit goes forth by the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaiming Christ's death (and soon to be coming resurrection). But it's all done, Jesus has done it all. He has filled up every ounce of punishment, so there remains none for you. St Paul says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” You are released from the power of sin and death, and you are given the Spirit, you are given life. This is why Paul also says, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Christ's death and resurrection – that Jesus is the Crucified One, the Lamb who was slain – this is everything. And when you have Jesus, when the Spirit gives you Jesus, you have everything.

    But Jesus continues to be a giver, my friends. It's not just the Spirit and preaching; Jesus gives you more. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness – his testimony is true, and he knows that these things took place. Another detail from John, given with such care. Even in death Jesus gives, He gives forth water and blood. And John emphasizes this in his first epistle when he notes, “This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify:  the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” Jesus gives Himself to you by the Word, but Jesus gives you Himself also by water and by His blood.

    Jesus gives you Himself by water and the Word in Holy Baptism. At that font you were given Jesus, you were declared to be a child of God, a co-heir of Christ. At your baptism Jesus declared that all that is His is now yours as well. Jesus' righteousness – that's yours now, O baptized child of God! Jesus' holiness – that's yours now, O Baptized child of God. Jesus' life – that's yours now, O baptized child of God. Jesus is a giver. And not just once – His blood that was shed is given as well – here, at this altar, and indeed on countless altars around the world, fancy altars, simple altars, a shut-in's table turned into an altar, a hospital tray turned into an altar, anywhere where His people are in need of Jesus' forgiveness and life, Jesus comes under bread and wine and gives His Body and Blood to His people for the remission of all of their sin, for the strengthening of their faith. For the forgiveness of your sin, for the strengthening of your faith. This is what Jesus gives.

    Do you see? Jesus remains a Giver. Nothing can stop Jesus from giving you good things – not sin, not Satan, not even Death – the Cross simply amplifies the gifts He gives to you. He gives you people to love and purpose in life, He gives you forgiveness and holiness and righteousness. And indeed, come the third day, we will return here and we will see the life that He gives to you stride forth from the tomb. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +