Thursday, April 18, 2024

Easter 4 Sermon

Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

    So, by now does that opening seem a little. . . old to you? Christ is Risen – we know – and Easter was three weeks ago, isn’t it done? Now, in the Church, we are in the Easter season for 7 weeks, but socially, you don’t see many Easter decorations out and about anymore. The Cadbury Eggs have already been marked down and sold off, the lilies are fewer and fewer, and things seem like they are just back to normal and pressing on to the next thing. Just finished the taxes, and now the planting and the end of school and summer plans are all barreling towards us. A joyous shout of Christ is Risen/ He is Risen indeed, Alleluia – that almost seems out of place now, out of time.

    It’s not that Easter isn’t worth celebrating this long – it’s not that we shouldn’t continually rejoice – but our celebrations in this world – it’s just hard to have them last this long, isn’t it? This makes sense. Life in this world is hard. It’s hard to focus even unto today on the joys of Easter when that’s three weeks in the past, three weeks of hardship, three weeks of aches and pains, three weeks of busy-ness, three weeks of perhaps sore trials and sorrows, three weeks of things that have gone wrong, terribly wrong. How do we keep up, how do we maintain the joy of Easter for this long?

    Jesus knew that this would happen. You see, Jesus knows us and understands us better than we ourselves do – He knows and understands the burdens and struggles that we face in this life, the challenges and sorrows – how it can wear down a person. So, on the night when He was betrayed, there in the Upper Room with the disciples, Jesus takes some time to speak to His disciples about what life will be like after the Resurrection – words of comfort that make up the entirety of John 16, that set the stage for what life will be like in the New Testament Church. And those words are what we will be looking at until we celebrate Pentecost – those words are the words the Disciples kept in their minds as they waited for the Holy Spirit. So, even though we may be tired or worn with care, let us listen to our Lord’s Words from the Gospel and see what gifts He gives us through them.

    A little while, and you will see Me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see Me. This phrase gets repeated three times here in this passage, and although the disciples didn’t see then and there on that evening what Jesus meant, with the benefit of time and the writing of John’s Gospel, we do see. That Thursday evening would yield to Good Friday – less than 24 hours later and the disciples would have seen Jesus Crucified, put to death – taken away from them. They wouldn’t see Him any longer. Christ knows this is coming – but He also knows the resurrection is coming. They will see Him again, He will come to them after the resurrection and be with them. But His Words are true again - A little while, and you will see Me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see Me. Christ doesn’t hang out with the disciples very long after Easter. On the 40th day He ascends – and there is sorrow and wonderment. But as the disciples learned from His death and resurrection – this parting is only a temporary one. The One who has gone to the Father will prepare for them a home for all eternity. While they don’t see Jesus in the days after the Ascension, that is only for a little while – and then will come to them the joys of being reunited for eternity with Christ in the very life everlasting that He has won for them.

    What we remember, what we know, dear friends – is that we here now are living in that same little while of the disciples. We know that the day shall come when we shall see Christ face to face, whether that happens when He comes again, or whether we should die before the last day – either way, we shall see Him. We live out our lives in that time of the little while – but what we remember is the same thing the disciples remember. Yes Christ died, but Christ rose – and He is good to His Word. If He says that for a little while you won’t see Him, but then you will again – His Word is true. We, likewise behold Christ’s death and resurrection, and we know that He will be true to His Word. That is why we can confess that we look forward to the resurrection of the dead, that we expect the life of the world to come. We know it is coming.

    But that doesn’t mean that our time, the little while we have here on earth, that doesn’t mean that this little time won’t be filled with difficulty. There are struggles and trials and sorrows – some that others cause us, many that we foolishly cause ourselves. While we still are sinners in this sinful world, there will be sorrow. Hear how Christ describes this: Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. The disciples would see this quickly. How they must have lamented when Christ was crucified. I can’t imagine. And yet, as they would soon understand, even that sorrow was turned to joy at our Lord’s Resurrection. They would see the pattern – sorrow turns to joy. And this is what the Disciples remembered as they went out after Pentecost day to preach the Gospel. In their work, in their lives, there was much sorrow. There were persecutions, there were stonings and crucifixions of their own to face – all while the world rejoiced. For the Early Christians there would be lions to devour them while the crowds cheered. There would be faithful people hounded by the wicked. But always, there was the promise of joy, joy to come, joy that is theirs with Christ.

    We must learn and remember what they learned and remembered – for God is true to His Word. Does the world around you rejoice as you suffer? Do people seem to delight in making your life more difficult? Do you have to always be wary of the next scam or raw deal, do you have people who would rejoice to see you stumble? Yeah – and that’s the way it is in this world. And when we look at that – it’s easy to get down, to get overwhelmed, to get depressed. But there is a truth that we remember. Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed, alleluia. That is true. The Sorrow of the Crucifixion moves onto the joy of the resurrection – and we need to learn from that how God works. He does not abandon us, He does not forsake us – but rather we can know and be sure that our sorrows turn to joy – that whatever it is in this life will indeed pass – that these sorrows will not overwhelm us – and that all of them will eventually yield and go away at the return of our Lord.

    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. 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. Again, another example to learn from. Sorrow leading unto joy. Childbirth is a mighty painful thing – and frankly I don’t like pain at all. Yet, women go on through it, and then have the joy of their child. God sees us through trials and into joy and happiness.

    But notice something, and this is important. There is going to be sorrow in your life. There are going to be days that don’t feel all that great – there are going to be times when the world around you rejoices at your suffering. That happens. Jesus tells us that this will happen. So don’t believe people who say that it won’t. Don’t listen to the false preachers who claim that all the joy in the world can be yours right now and forever – because all the joy of the world is hollow and vacant and fades away. There will be sorrow in this world, because this world is full of sin – and anyone who tries to convince that in this life you can completely avoid sorrow – well, they are trying to sell you on the joys of sin. But that isn’t our joy. Our joy is that which comes from God. And so dear Christian friends – we don’t live our lives as Christians trying to pretend that nothing bad will ever happen, we don’t live our lives for the sake of our stomach or our wallets – we don’t approach this life fearing what may or may not come. The Christian life is different. Listen to what Peter teaches us – For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. Sorrows and suffering and injustice comes – that happens – but how do we face them? We face them mindful of God. We know the promises of God, and we know that His promises are true. We have seen the world do it’s worst to our Lord and Savior – and yet He rose again. We have seen Christians before us tortured and put to death even – but they have the joys of heaven before them now. We have seen even our friends and loved ones who have fought the good fight of faith – and it is a fight, it is a struggle – and we know that they now rest from their labors. And they faced all of this mindful of God – as do you, for you too remember Christ’s death and resurrection and know that it is your own – that just as Christ was raised, so too you will be raised – and that joy no one can take away.

    What a gift we have from Jesus, that confident in Him, we are given this defiant joy in the face of all the troubles in the world. We know that there is nothing that can undo Easter, we know that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus. Not the busy-ness of the past weeks, not wars and rumors of war, not whatever the summer holds, or even November. No, dear friends, we are right to repeat our cries of Easter joy – we are right to gather here around Jesus' Words and Jesus' own supper no matter what sorrow we face. Christ Jesus has conquered all – and we know that our sorrow will turn to joy. This is most certainly true. Christ is Risen – He is risen indeed, alleluia – Amen.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Easter 3 Sermon


Christ is Risen - He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +

    The image of Christ, the Good Shepherd, is one of the most popular images we have in Christianity. How many pictures of Jesus have Him holding a sheep, or out in a pasture? We have the “Little Lambs” preschool precisely because Jesus is the Good Shepherd. I bet there are dozens of images and pictures of Jesus with sheep around here. Of all the things that Jesus does – of all the images he gives, the image of the Good Shepherd rises to the fore so often. Now, there are two places where we really get the idea of Christ as a Shepherd. One is the parable of the lost sheep in Luke, the other is our Gospel today. Let us, then, spend some time seeing what we learn from Christ describing Himself as our Good Shepherd.

    I am the Good Shepherd. This is a profound statement, and part of it we miss in English. In Greek, you wouldn’t need the word “I” there. . . you would only add it for emphasis. This isn’t just (i) am the Good Shepherd. . . this is I!!! AM the Good Shepherd. Do you want to know how this would sound to the person listening? Let’s jump back to Exodus 3. Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His Name?’ what shall I say to them?” Then God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” If you were a Jew, you never used the construction “I Am” – that was reserved for God. In modern Hebrew, they don’t even have a phrase to say “I Am”, that’s how serious of a phrase this is. I Am the Good Shepherd. When Jesus speaks this simple, short sentence, He is openly claiming and announcing His Divinity, He is saying in neon, bold letters that He is God, that He is the LORD. That’s really what John 10 is all about. The next section, in verse 22, is where Jesus says bluntly I and the Father are One.

    So what does this mean – what does it imply that God Himself claims to be the Good Shepherd? This teaches us about our relationship to God. I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. What a fantastic picture of God’s care for us. Let’s look at this from God’s point of view. Think of how this describes His care for us. We can understand this. Farmers, think of some of the conditions you go out into to feed your livestock. You have responsibility towards your animals, and you must care for them. This is God’s attitude towards you. . . He must care for you. If God is going to be God, He must care for you, He must provide for you. This is what we mean when we say “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” This is fundamentally who God is, the One who made you, and it is part of who He is to take care of you. And this imagery of the Good Shepherd also describes your relationship to God. You know Him. Part of what it is to be a Christian is to look at the world differently – we see the workings of our God, we know His hand. When we look at the blessings we have in our life, we don’t just say “Wow, look at everything I have earned – see how wonderful I am, see all my stuff!” No, we say, “Look at how God has blessed me, see what He has given to me.” We are sheep who receive our Lord’s care, we know and see that care, and we give thanks for it. This is what it means when Jesus says I Am the Good Shepherd – it means that when we see Christ in Scripture we are seeing the God who made and cares for us – this is the perspective we have to keep whenever we look at what Christ does. In His own Word, in His Scriptures, we hear His voice, we learn to know Him and know what He does for us. And what is the highest thing He does for us?

    I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Because we are so familiar with this statement, we can forget how astounding it is. Why in the world would a shepherd die for sheep? They are just sheep, after all. Would any of you trade your life for a sheep’s life – it seems like such a strange idea. But Jesus goes on to explain the distinction that He is making. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. The key there, the key to understanding this passage, is the phrase “who does not own the sheep”. We can be very tenacious in defending our own, in protecting that which belongs to us. We understand this. If you want to watch a mother become upset, threaten her children. A soldier, he isn’t just out there for fun, what’s he doing? He’s defending his family, his home, his country.

    But even these images that we can understand don’t quite fully explain the Shepherd’s attitude towards us. It gives us a picture, but to really get the full impact, we need to pause and think about something. Anything that we have, our stuff – it’s not really ours. All that we have is simply gift, simply God providing for us – family and friends, house and home, everything that I need to preserve this body and life. My dad – he isn’t mine as though I own him, he’s the father God has provided me with. He belongs to God. If you have kids, they are a gift to you from God. If you have a dog, God has blessed you by letting you have the company of a dog which is His creature. We don’t really own anything – all that we have belongs to God.

    And we are His sheep. Think on this – think on the care that we will give to things and stuff that can be here today and gone tomorrow, the whole Lord giveth and taketh away idea. This is the care we who are sinful give even to things that aren’t ours – now imagine the care that our Holy and Righteous God gives to His sheep. We are God’s creatures, literally. We have our existence simply because God wants us to exist. Why is God willing to lay down His life for us, why does Jesus go through all the things He does? Because we are His, and He will defend us tirelessly from any and all who would scatter us. No one has a bigger stake in you, no one has more involvement in your life, than God. And He will care for you, He will lay down His life for you so that you will be His forever, so that like Him you too will rise.

    And do you see the contrast that is formed? The hired hand flees. That’s talking about us, you realize. We are all hired hands, we have been given things to take care of by God. God is the one who owns stuff, we are simply stewards and caretakers – and we flee and fail. How often, just this past week, have you abused the charges you have been given by God? How many times this past week have you treated poorly your spouse, or your kids, or your neighbor – any of the people God places into your life simply so that you can serve and provide for them? Has your time been rightly used, to say nothing of your treasure? We so often forget that these are gifts, and rather than treating them appropriately, we abuse them for our own enjoyment. We live at the expense of our neighbor instead of giving ourselves to them.

    Thankfully Christ Jesus doesn’t have our attitude. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. What a wonderful example of love. I mean, here you Christ looking at us, and we exist simply because He has created us, and you can see the depths of His love for us by what He is willing to endure for our sake. And it’s not a matter of practicality, it’s not a matter of Jesus will wash our back and now we’ll wash His. . . we are in a position where we don’t have anything to give Him of ourselves – we can only reflect back His love, use the gifts which He has given to us for His pleasure. And yet, He will lay down His life for us. That is love. That is God Almighty saying that He values you and your well being more than He values His own.

    And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. One thing to remember about this passage is that this talk comes when Jesus is conversing and arguing with some of the Jews. He’s dealing with people who had that, sadly familiar, attitude of misplaced pride and self worth. And Jesus says, “You know what guys, I’m not here just for you, I want all my sheep, I want all my creation. I will speak My Word, and from all over the world My sheep will hear and follow Me.” You don’t have to be living in Israel to be one of God’s people today – indeed all over the world Christ’s Church heeds the Word of the Shepherd and follows His lead. All over the world, Christians gather around Christ the Crucified being preached, Christ the Crucified being given to eat and to drink in His supper. Did you catch that in the Old Testament lesson today? So I will seek out My sheep, and I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and will bring them into their own land. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel. When are we rescued? On a day of clouds and thick darkness. And lo, from the 6th hour until the 9th hour there was darkness over all the land. God is speaking about the Crucifixion here. That’s where it happens, that’s where we who were scattered and scampering about in our sin were won by Christ. Today, what are we gathered around? We are at our home, at our Father’s house – we are here to hear Christ Crucified preached. This is where our Good Shepherd calls us to feed us with His own Body and Blood from this very altar. This is how our Resurrected Lord rules today, this is where He gathers us and cares for us. This is our Israel, our Holy Land, because this is where God has chosen to give us His blessings.

    I AM the Good Shepherd. Thanks be to God our Father, that He has sent His Son Christ Jesus into the world to gather us unto Himself. Christ did not flee the wolf that came, but fought, suffered, died, and rose again to victory – and because of His Victory, we have life eternal in the pastures of the Lord. Christ is Risen - He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia + Amen.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Easter Day (John) Sermon


Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +

    The day was dawning, the day above all other days, the day that the world had waited untold centuries for. In a garden long ago the LORD had told Adam and Eve that this day, this great day, this wondrous day would come, and it was here. And in the thin light of morning Mary Magdalene re-entered the garden, but she did not know yet what day it was. Mary thought it was a grave day, a dirty day, a day where she'd spend the morning with the other women cleaning a corpse, making herself unclean. It was a day she thought she'd spend in a dark tomb, no light, no hope. She thought it was, like so many others since the fall, a day of death.

    So, since Mary didn't know what day it was, her reaction upon seeing the stone rolled away from the tomb was understandable. There was fear, panic, disgust. Was it to be a day of violence, a day of robbery, a day of confrontation and fights and pain? In that case better go get the boys – So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Do you hear it – They, the enemy, the people you must now go and fight – they have taken Him and they've just dumped him somewhere. This violence, this desecration must not stand. Up and at 'em, Peter and John. You're summoned to a fight. Jesus had told you, Peter, to put your sword away, but that's all done now – a sword day, a red day, ere the sun rises! There will be a fight, there will be blood today. That's all Mary thought she had left.

    Peter and John didn't know what day it was either. For them it had been a shame day – where Peter's own denials echo in His head – the last thing Jesus says to him is chiding Peter for his brash sword play. The last time Peter had seen Jesus was with the rooster's crow and Peter's own denials still in the air. That's where Peter's at. For the disciples it was a fearful day – they didn't want to fight, because they knew they would lose – with might of theirs could naught be done. That's why they'll be spending this evening behind locked doors (as we'll hear next week). Yet summoned they go, off to the tomb. Young John outpaces old Peter, gets to the tomb first, and when John “stoop[ed] to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there.” Now it's a confusing day, because if you are going to steal a corpse, you take the line cloths. They're wrapped around the body, and they give you a way to carry it – a ready made stretcher. Why would they be laying there?

    Peter, slower but bolder, barges in. He actually runs into the tomb – 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. Now it's just a weird day – who folds stuff and puts it away in the middle of a robbery? Who pillages the grave of someone but tidies up at the same time? Peter and John just don't understand, it is a baffling day. And then they just go home. There's no enemies here, we don't know what's going on – but let's head home and hide some more.

    And Mary is left alone. What a lonely day. Ditched by the very people she had gone to for help. And Mary, in the midst of her tears, finally looks inside. And there are angels – how wondrous, right? Not yet, actually. Throughout history, since the fall, angels had to tell people not to be afraid, had to cut through terror before they could talk... and here's Mary, on this joyous morning as they have good, great, wondrous news... and she's not even really noticing them. She's so caught up in sorrow that she basically ignores them. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Even the angels are baffled at this – this isn't how people react when angels show up, angels don't get ignored. Well, they do today. Through her sobbing, Mary mopes “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Then she just turns her backs on the angels, uninterested in them. I don't think that happens any where else in the Scriptures – that's a new one.

    And Mary turns around and she sees Jesus standing in front of her – except, she doesn't really see Jesus, doesn't recognize Him, she doesn't realize it's Him. Because that's the sort of day it's been for Mary – just all messed up. Jesus said to her, “Why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Oh, this is a fantastic line from Jesus. This is a great set up – it would be typical for people to be crying in a cemetery, crying by a tomb. If you ever come across someone in a graveyard and they are crying, you don't really have to ask them why. So Jesus adds on the “Whom are you seeking?” Now, understand what this question is – you know in a movie where the bad guys are hunting the hero, and the hero pops out and says, “Oh, were you looking for me” and then saves the day. That's what this line is – this is Jesus' “ta-da” moment... and Mary misses it. Completely. Supposing him to be the gardener she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Ta-da indeed. Now it's a deflating day – Christ the Lord is ris...[dour sigh]. But that's the thing – Mary doesn't see Jesus yet, this day, she doesn't know Jesus yet this day, not the risen Jesus, not the living Jesus, not the Heroic, Victorious, Life and Salvation bringing Jesus. And so Mary is still trapped in one of the old, dark, dirty, dour, depressing, desperate days. She doesn't know what day it is yet.

    Time to have Mary see. Jesus said to her, “Mary.” Mary, come on, get with the program. I'm not dead, not anymore, because I have been raised from the dead, just like I had told you I would be. I had said everything was finished, I took up the burden of sin and death – this is what had to come next. Christ the Lord is Risen today, Alleluia. Now all the vault of heaven resounds, because that vault over there is empty. Look, your Redeemer lives – like even old Job knew I would!

    And now finally, only when she hears her name, for faith comes by hearing, does Mary see what day it is. The Day of resurrection, the New Day, the Day that undoes all those dark days, the day the points to the Last Day where all the dead will be raised and it will be joyous and wondrous and everything made right and of course we're in a Garden, but it's not the Garden where man fell, now it's the Garden where a Man, the Man, Christ Jesus rose. Death has given way to life, the life of Jesus. And He's real, Mary sees Jesus, and she cries out teacher – and then she, well, I'm going to use a very technical term... Mary glomps Him. Just double arm wrap and stuck there and not going anywhere. This is why Jesus says, “Do not cling to me...” except that sounds too formal in English. The word literally means to fasten to someone, to stick to them like glue. So, a glomp. But Jesus has some stuff to do – yes, I am risen Mary, but I probably should report in to the Father, report in person, as a living man, to the Father, I should declare in person that My job is done. So I'm going to do that, and I will see you later – but you go tell the Disciples what's going on. Got it? And Mary does – she heads to the disciples again, and she tells them what this day really is, the Day of Resurrection. The Lord's Day.

    My dear friends in Christ, we all see many sorts of days in our time here on Earth. And we all know that some days are rougher than others. And many days are down right miserable. And I mean that truly, honestly. Mary, Peter, John – they were all having horrible days as our Gospel text begins – truly wretched days. They happen – and when they come upon us, they dominate our vision, and understandably so. Sometimes necessarily so – because there are times when loving your neighbor means hardship and suffering – Good Friday happened. But there is something else to see, to know, to understand. If we spoke Spanish, we wouldn't call this “Sunday” - we'd call it “Domingo” - the Lord's Day. Because it is – it is the first day of the week, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead, the day which means all other days you face, whether they be filled with wonder or filled with struggle, all other days yield to this one. Christ Jesus is risen from the dead, sin is forgiven, death is defeated, and Satan cannot gainsay any of it. And in fact, in truth, in reality, every day is the Lord's Day, a day where Christ Jesus comes to you in His Word, in His Supper, to open your ears and your eyes and have you taste and see that the Lord is God – a new first day, again and again, where you are forgiven and have life in Christ's name. Cling not, but hear, take and eat, take and drink – see, Christ is here with forgiveness, life, and salvation for you. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Because whatever the day brings, whatever is put on your plate – Jesus is risen, and He is risen for you. And even if in your sorrow or our busyiness or whatever you don't see Him clearly – Jesus sees you clearly. He has even called you by name right there at the font, and you are bound to Him, tied to Him, fastened to Him for a resurrection of your own and eternal life. In Christ Jesus, Risen from the dead, my friends, all of you, have a joyous Easter Day. Amen. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia! +

Easter Day (Mark) Sermon


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

    The ladies were not in their right mind. They were besides themselves with grief and sorrow. If you have lost a loved one, if you've had to go through any sort of funeral planning for a loved one, you know what I'm talking about here – where questions come from out of the blue and you don't know how to handle things or plan or make decisions or follow through with them. Because as we see Mary Magdalene and Mary and Salome heading to the tomb that morning – they are trying to do funeral planning. Because Jesus hadn't had His funeral yet, well, not a proper one. He had died just before Sundown, just before the Sabbath started – and while Joseph of Arimathea had tended to the Body... well, gals, can you really trust the guys to make things as neat and tidy and as they should be? And so these women are headed to the tomb to get the job of burying Jesus done right. They go looking to care for a corpse, that's their goal.

    But they're not thinking rightly. They get up incredibly early, get together and head to the tomb, and we hear, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Oh, there's a practical problem here that they hadn't thought of – which again, something utterly typical to come across when funeral planning. The stone. The big, heavy stone in front of the tomb – who's going to open it? How are we going to get in, how are we going to have access to Jesus' corpse? Do you get the mindset of these women, where they are, what they are thinking? The tension, the emotion that has to be there in them?

    And they get to the tomb, and it's opened. Already. Their problem that they realized was solved for them before they even got too it. But someone else solving your problems for you – we don't always assume that's a good thing. It might not be done right. It might mean trouble. So the gals enter on into the tomb – and there's a young man dressed in white there – which isn't what they expect. People dressed in white, clean clothes don't generally hang around in the cemetery – we don't expect to see anyone in white robes just sitting on a tomb stone today. And this young man tells them that Jesus is risen – Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him!

    Matthew notes for us that this fellow is an angel – the angel who rolled back the stone from the tomb, who scared off the guards. And think about how great it would be to be this angel, to get this assignment, to be the one who gets to announce that Christ is Risen. The joy, the delight – ah, I will give good news to these poor, sorrowing women. Oh, and I'll have them go and tell the disciples what's going on! Isn't this a great day? “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” And the women's reaction wasn't what was expected – they flee, they are shaking and are besides themselves. They can't process, they can't understand. Eventually the word gets to disciples – more on that at second service – but in the moment, in the shock, the surprise, they just can't comprehend.

    For they were afraid. That's how Mark's account of Easter morning ends. And it seems like such a strange ending – especially when compared with all the pretty dresses and the Easter eggs and candy, and breakfast, don't forget breakfast coming. But here right now, we still remember the darkness before the dawn, how dim it was outside walking on into church today – and Mark's Gospel reminds us of a profound truth. Sometimes in this life, even on Easter – we might still see a bit more of the dimness. Sometimes, even hearing wonderful things, we might know the fear that we feel. It might seem like such a downer, almost an anti-Easter idea to have a focus on fear and worry – but it's not that. Mark's Gospel is defiant here, actually it's most defiant. Even if you are fearful, even if there is sorrow, even if you are mourning – the Easter message is still proclaimed to you! But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you. Jesus still ends up seeing these gals, in spite of their fear. His word holds true, just as He had said. He's risen, and nothing will stop Jesus from fulfilling His Word – not death, not all the powers of the world, not Satan, not sin, nothing – nothing stops Jesus from fulfilling His word.

    You will see Him, just as He told you. Well, this morning there's a fellow here in a white robe – no longer a young man (even though some of you are kind and say that I am), and I get to proclaim that same message – Jesus is risen, and you know what – come what may, whatever has been going on, whatever comes, you, you here in this room, you will see Jesus, just as He has told you. Because that is what Jesus has told you – that's the promise of your baptism. There's a reason we confess the creed as part of the rite of Baptism, and there's a promise there – He will come again! There is the resurrection of the body and the everlasting life. Because Easter happened – because Jesus rose – He is not in His tomb, and sin is forgiven and death is defeated. And you – you will see Him – He will come again, and then, when He does, all the tombs will be emptied, and the sea will give up its dead, and you will see Him – and that will be good, good for you, grand, far more wondrous than you or I can comprehend right now. The problems we don't think of until we think of them too late – Jesus has already got them solved – no stone is left unturned or unrolled away in His plan of salvation for you.

    And so, my friends, again, do not be alarmed, do not let what fears or worries you have carry the day, for big though they may be, they aren't as big or as powerful as this – Christ Jesus has been raised from dead. Now, the mortal will put on immortality, the perishable will be made imperishable, for death has been swallowed up in victory. Sin and death, they're done for – they tangled with Christ Jesus and they lost – see, He is risen. And so shall you – either from your grave when He calls you forth on the Last Day, or if we live until then we get resurrected, changed, in the twinkling of an eye. The tomb is empty, Christ has won, and therefore, because He loves you, His baptized brothers and sisters, you win as well. Amen. Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! +

Good Friday Tenebrae Sermon


In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

    Whom do you seek? As the mob breaks into the quiet garden, this is the question Jesus asks of them. Whom do you seek? It was a formality, a bit of being prim and polite on Jesus' account – you always show respect to the cops, even if they are corrupt. You be quiet and comply, especially so your friends can escape. And this mob, this band of soldiers sent on the most dubious of missions, knows that they are supposed to arrest one Jesus of Nazareth, and they say so. They were thinking this might be a fight, a rough one – the soldiers are all ready to rumble and tussle and physically apprehend this troublemaker as he dashes off to flee.

    But no, something astonishing happens. Jesus looks at them, at these big tough soldiers, and Jesus simply says, “Ego eimi – I AM.” These poor sods were expecting to show some big city justice to some country bumpkin preacher, and instead they find God Almighty, the great I AM in human flesh. They recoil, they fall to the ground. Nothing would be more shameful for a soldier – that fearsome mob becomes fearful and craven and perhaps a little wise, because hitting the dirt is the right thing to do when a sinner comes into the presence of God.

But Jesus just asks again. Whom do you seek? Don't you have a job to do boys? I have a job to do too, this day, and as distasteful as both our tasks are, we should stand up and be about it. Let's get this show on the road. I told you that I AM, so time for you to obey – arrest Me; let My disciples go. These poor soldiers are so shocked that they don't even respond when Peter launches his clumsy attack. And very quietly Jesus restores peace – let's all get the swords into their sheathes, they aren't needed now. There will be a spear, but that will be later.

    Whom do you seek? That is the question Jesus asked of the guards, but even though they knew they sought Jesus of Nazareth, they didn't know, they didn't really understand who this Jesus actually was, and getting to see Him, they were dumbfounded. But Jesus' question is also asked of you this night. Whom do you seek? When you come here to His House, be it tonight, be it whenever, Whom do you seek? What sort of Jesus are you hoping to find? There are all sorts of types of Jesus people might hope to encounter – probably not a One we can simply arrest sort of Jesus – but there are all so many expectations we can create, we can bring. Maybe it's a Jesus who would tell us that we're good and our enemies are bad, or a validating Jesus, or maybe even an angry Jesus who will shake His fist at us but we can placate Him somehow. We're sinful human beings, and our perception of Jesus gets shifted and twisted all the time. But tonight, hearing His passion, we hear, we see Jesus. The real Jesus. The Jesus who seems so full of contradictions. The Jesus at His most powerful, the make big strong men drop to the ground like scared little kids I AM God Almighty Jesus – who yet doesn't use any of that power that He could show so casually to smite His enemies, or to run away, or to save Himself. It's the real Jesus, the Messiah Jesus, the Savior Jesus, the Good Shepherd Jesus. That's who we see.

    The Real Jesus goes quietly to His doom, like a sheep that is silent before its shearers. The Real Jesus suffers abuse and injustice – because He came to rescue and redeem us sinners who suffer abuse and injustice. He came to save us sinners who casually abuse and are unjust, unfair to our own neighbors. Where the sin, where the trouble is, there the One who will fix it must be.

    The Real Jesus stands before the angry council, and He doesn't try to butter them up. He doesn't placate them – He doesn't them offer something extra, something special. No, just what I've preached in the synagogues and the temple is what I preach, and there's no angle, no game, no grift. And there's no extra secret levels or degrees, where you oh so important people get something more. The Real Jesus is honest and open, not secret. The Real Jesus comes for all His creation, and He doesn't give you extra goodies, no VIP spiritual swag bag for anyone.

    The Real Jesus takes it when slapped in the face. He doesn't look for a reason to be offended – He knows the depths, the depravity of sin – indeed, He is planning on taking it up and crucifying it. He doesn't need to feign shock – the Real Jesus knows that this outrage and insult is as nothing – it's not even the tip of the sinful iceberg. Let the insult be – let's focus on the truth. Didn't you hear what I preached? What I say is right. Hear, believe, repent, and live.

    The Real Jesus stands before Pilate after He is shuffled over to him. Pilate is a savvy politician who knows how the game is played, and Pilate knows a railroad job when he sees one. And Pilate offers Jesus a way out, multiple ways out. But the Real Jesus doesn't take them, doesn't seek to take the path of least resistence when it comes to His neighbor's good, to Pilate's good. If Pilate himself is ever going to be rescued out of this political mire, if any leader is going to be able to get through this mess and be forgiven, Jesus has to go to the Cross. So Jesus doesn't try to talk His away out of it with Pilate. The Real Jesus, the Word of God made flesh Jesus doesn't use His Words to satisfy Himself. But Pilate still tries to get Jesus out of it – Pilate knows how a mob works – maybe it can be placated. What if I beat Jesus – will that make Him sympathetic to you? What if I offer to let someone go free? Jesus knows these ploys will not work. Jesus did not come to receive sympathy, but rather out of His sympathy for you, the Real Jesus comes to share in your suffering and pain. Sympathy is literally “same passion” - “same suffering” after all. And here we see the Real Jesus walk right into the suffering and pain we get as a result of our sin, of being sinners in a sinful world. And He does this so that we might go free, that we would be released from the powers of sin and death and the Devil. The Real Jesus walks on into those hellish powers so that we may go free.

    The Real Jesus bears His own cross to Golgotha. Not really His, but yours, mine. Our punishment, our doom. Jesus takes that up instead. The Real Jesus is lifted up upon the cross – cursed is everyone who hangs upon a tree, yet at the same time behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There it is, this is what He came to do, to dive on in to all sin and suffering, to be a magnet drawing all sin and all its consequence unto Himself, to drain to the dregs that bitter cup. This is the Real Jesus, the Christ the Crucified Jesus. The Real Jesus, who even in the midst of His bitter suffering still calls out to John to see that His mother is taken care of. Of course He does, because Jesus is on that Cross precisely so that Mary and John and you and me would be cared for eternally. The Real Jesus there upon the cross fulfills Scripture – the story that He has told through the prophets of old, the promise He made to Adam and Eve that He would crush the Serpent for them, bruised heel be damned, that would be accomplished. Give Jesus the sour wine, it's the least of the bitterness He faces this day, but all the i's must be dotted and the t's crossed, every jot and tittle filled in.

    When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.

    Whom do you seek? The Jesus that you will find here, the Jesus who will come and give Himself to you here is this Jesus, the Real Jesus, the Christ the Crucified Jesus. The It is Finished Jesus, who puts an end to sin by taking it up, the Jesus who puts an end to death by dying. The Jesus who gives up His Spirit, who pours out His Holy Spirit upon you by the preaching of His Word, of His Cross – so that you receive forgiveness and life, so that the Lord and Giver of life would make you live again. The Jesus who comes to you by water and blood – yes, now, finally the spear – now the water and blood from His riven side. Yes, now, Jesus for you in the waters of Holy Baptism – yes, even over and against all the hosts of hell you know that you, you O baptized child, you are covered by Christ. His death was for you. Yes, now, Jesus for you in the Supper, take and drink, the blood of Christ that was indeed, really, truly, actually shed for you – shed for the remission, the forgiveness, the removal, the defeat, the cleansing of all of your sin. It is finished – perfect, complete, fulfilled – all of it, all of it for you, nothing left for you to do. It is finished, even before any of us were born – the Real Jesus doesn't need you to bargain or plead or cut a deal with Him – the Real Jesus is the One who show His love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

    Whom do you seek? Well, in someways, that doesn't overly matter. Your mistaken desires and misplaced expectations, the falseness and folly that we all carry with us into our dealings with God, into this building – Jesus doesn't stop being the Real Jesus, the Crucified, died and was buried Jesus for any of that. Sin is sin – and Jesus doesn't dance around it, He crucifies it. Here in this place Jesus seeks you, seeks to rescue and redeem you. He seeks to give you life. And so the Real Jesus dies. The Real Jesus is laid in His tomb – no stranger to a cemetery is He. And come the third day, my friends, because Jesus seeks you, wishes to see you, not just for a day, not just for a solemn hour on Friday night, but because Jesus seeks to see you freed from sin for all eternity and won unto everlasting life – the Real Jesus shall rise come the third day. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Maundy Thursday Sermon


In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

    “Do you understand what I have done to you?” Having washed the disciples feet, an act thought by those disciples to be most strange, Jesus asks this question – do you understand? Do you know it – have you experienced the things that I have done to you? And the answer that we all would have to give if we are being honest is no... or maybe if we're being generous, only partially. This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 -  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. We don't have the full understanding, not now, not until Christ returns and we are raised. Until the last day there will never be a Maundy Thursday where we gather and there's nothing more to learn or to know from our Lord, and so we learn again.

    You call Me teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you. I have given you an example, I've set up a pattern that you can intimate. I've showed and pointed out what I've been doing all along. Foot washing is a demonstration of service – of service that is hard, that is somewhat gross, but one that also is actually good and that people benefit from. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. And Jesus just dives on in. When there is work that needs to be done, when there is service that needs to be given, when there is love that is to be loved, Jesus doesn't hesitate. Jesus doesn't worry about His dignity, there's no “Don't you know who I am” excuses given. He simply dives on in and serves. The focus is upon the one being served. This is how love works, this is how “agape” - charity, Christian care – works. Dive on in and serve the neighbor.

    And especially so if you have authority. The disciples rightly called Jesus their teacher, and the idea in their day was that the students served and obeyed the teacher. Well, yes – but the teacher also is to be constantly serving the disciples. The tasks the teacher sets the disciples on are to be for the disciples good – even if they don't understand it. And everything Jesus did with His disciples was done for their good, their benefit, their training. Everything the very Word of God Himself had written in the Scriptures was written for the disciples' benefit and for our benefit. And if Jesus will get a little bit dirty for our benefit, so be it. That's what you do when you love someone, when you're in charge, when you care. You show love.

    And we don't understand this fully, we don't experience it fully – this is because of the impact, the pull of sin, the constant taint and corruption that clings to us in this life. We don't love fully, we don't understand this fully. We worry about ourselves too much. We worry about what will happen to us, because we forget that our Father is in control and placing all things into His hands is the best place to be, no matter what comes. We worry about what people will think of us, as though opinions of our fellow servants trump what our Lord thinks and says of us. We worry about our own dignity, because we forget that our worth, our value isn't established by what we do but rather by Christ Jesus and the value He places upon us. We forget, we overlook, we turn away, we disdain. We sin.

    So Jesus comes to us again and again. Peter's disdain and shock didn't stop Jesus from being Jesus – Jesus still loved, still taught, still ended up washing Peter's feet even through Peter's protestations. This is what Jesus does for you – He comes to you again and again, even over and against the times where you've been stubborn or clueless or mean and nasty, and He gives Himself to you again, and again, He loves you again. This is the point of the Lord's Supper – this is why John tells this story to reinforce what we know of the Supper. The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. Yes, Jesus came and bathed you in holy baptism, but you don't do that multiple times – instead, you'll get the Supper, the over and over again cleansing and forgiveness where Jesus comes humbly under bread and wine to serve you and to love you again. The pattern, the example is set for the disciples and for us, and there's always more to ponder and wonder concerning Jesus' love.

    And yes, this is the example for you, that you are to love, to serve, to forgive. As He has done to you, so you are to do to others. Just as you struggle with sin, the neighbors Jesus has placed in your life will struggle with sin, and so they will need your love, your mercy, your care – or more accurately the love and mercy and care that Jesus shows them through you. They will need Jesus' forgiveness, and you'll be the one He uses to speak it. Because Jesus loves them, and He loves you, and He loves them through you and you through them. Love one another – back and forth, over and over again, thoroughly. Forgive one another – back and forth, over and over again. Because until our Lord returns, until the “perfect comes” that is what we all need.

    And remember where this love is, what it is grounded in. Having loved His own, He loved them to the end. Whenever you hear the word “end” or “finished” or “complete” or “perfect”, especially in John, they're actually the same word, or variations on the same word – telos. Jesus loved them to the finish – to the “it is finished” cry we will hear tomorrow, because on the Cross Jesus finishes, completes, perfects it all – He is the perfect, finished, complete One who will come again and because of His death and resurrection bring you to complete perfect finished everlasting life. The love that you receive, that you show, it's all grounded in the Cross, in the fact that there is no sin that Jesus has not covered, that there is no humiliation that Jesus will not bear for you, that there is no suffering or hardship which will drive Jesus away from you, there is no service to mean for Jesus to be with you in. All of it, it is finished, and Jesus loves you to the end, and He will come again and you will know, you will experience, you will live all of this undeterred by sin or sorrow eternally. Because Jesus always loves you, and He won't let shame or humiliation stop Him from loving you. Do you understand what Jesus has done for you? God grant us all to understand it more and more all of our days! In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Lent 5


In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

    Boy, Jesus just seems... mean to our ears today, doesn't He? I mean, aren't you a little bit taken aback at the vigor with which Jesus argues? Isn't Jesus supposed to be kind and loving, isn't He supposed to be nice and make me feel good? Part of the problem with hearing a text like this is we are Americans, which means we all live in a consumerist culture, where we are surrounded by salesmen and liars. So much of our world is driven by advertisements and PR firms, mastering the art of the deal. And, of course, if you are in sales, you do what you have to do to close the deal. As the old movie line goes – put that coffee down, coffee's for closers only. Do whatever you have to do to make the sale. And so, we as Americans are simply used to people selling us things – trying to win us over, trying to make us purchase something, choose brand X over brand Y. The customer is always right, right? Of course the problem with sales is that they aren't always the most truthful. The fast food burger in my bag at the drive thru just never quite looks like the one on the billboard. So often the gadget might be the latest, but the greatest is a stretch. Tin fiddles, lemons, pieces of junk. But we're used to it, we buy, we consume, and if the truth gets massaged or mangled a little bit on the way, so be it.

    But the problem for us today isn't just false advertising out there. We can end up importing this approach to how we view Church. There have been countless fads for how to market the church through the decades – movements to make it relevant or hit felt needs, attempts to make it more exciting or “extreme”. I think the hipster pastors are finally falling out of vogue, but I'm sure there will be some new sales trend for the church coming down the pike. And with all of them, if the truth is stretched or skirted around or twisted a bit, so be it – as long as it packs people in, as long as it closes the religious deal, it's good. If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad. Come on, preacher, tell me what I want to hear!

    That's not what Jesus does. Jesus isn't interested in sales, manipulation, anything like that. His focus is on something else – the truth. And the fact is quite often we can't handle the truth. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. People are terrified of the truth. We're not used to it, we're used to the comfortable, enticing lie – and we like those lies. We like living in our denial. But Jesus doesn't come to play up those lies; He comes to rescue us from them. Just prior to our text, our Lord said “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Free. Sound great, but it's freed from our sin, our delusions, the things we are stuck in. God's truth doesn't sell us anything, rather it confronts us, and it attacks and shakes us. Because it deals with the blunt truth and we don't like it.

    You see, God’s Law is an unpleasant thing. You want an example of God’s Law being unpleasant – look at our Old Testament lesson. Hear what God commands Abraham to do – 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. . . . That’s a statement of Law right there. Isaac is going to die. And he deserves death. Abraham can’t argue against it – Abraham knows that he himself hasn’t done anything to earn this child –Abraham was old, so was Sarah, they shouldn’t have even ever gotten Isaac, and if God wants Isaac back… well, Abraham can’t gainsay God here. If God wants Isaac dead, well, that’s the wages of sin.

    That’s hard. That is hard to bear – that is a harsh truth. We don’t like that truth. Think about how much work and effort people will put into justifying themselves, into escaping the blame for something – even when there is no punishment, even when admitting that you’ve done wrong only might mean that someone doesn’t think as well of you for a few days. We will duck and dance – it’s not my fault. Oh, how we will try to sell that false image of ourselves! And what about when something doesn’t go right in our life - We will get angry and rail – how can you do this to me God! This is not proper customer service, I demand to talk to a manager! I don’t deserve this. Eh, that’s not true. Your toil in this life is nothing – you deserve death. Apart from God rescuing you, you're toast. That’s what the truth is, that what God says in His Word. That’s what gets the Pharisees in our Gosepl lesson so steamed at Jesus.

    Abraham trusted the Lord, though; Abraham knew that God’s Word was more than just a word of Law – but also a word of Gospel, a word of mercy. That’s why he’s bold to take Isaac, that’s why he tells the servants who stay behind that they both will come back down the mount – Abraham trusts in God’s mercy – God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice. And we see that God does do so – a ram is given to take Isaac’s place. Imagine the joy that Abraham would have had at being stopped, at looking up and seeing the ram and knowing that his Isaac would live. That's a real gift, not some disposable piece of junk found on markdown. This is the joy that Christ speaks of in the Gospel – Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. Of course Abraham rejoiced – because God would spare Abraham’s son Isaac at the cost of His own Son, Christ Jesus. This is the heart of the Gospel – not that there are no consequences to sin, not that our sin doesn’t matter or doesn’t deserve death – but rather this – Christ Jesus has come and has born up the weight of sin in our place, that He suffers and dies for us upon the Cross, that with His death and resurrection He sets us free from sin and its burden. This is the great and wondrous word of the Gospel – this is what the Gospel truly is – that you are forgiven by God not on account of your works, not on account of your effort, but on account of the precious death and resurrection of Christ Jesus your Lord.

    And yet – the Pharisees in the text are still angry, still reject Christ after he explains this. People today still reject it. Why? Because the Gospel truth is this – that Jesus is your Savior. The Gospel makes sense only if you know and believe the Law. Jesus doesn’t get rid of the Law, He fulfills it to be your Savior. If Jesus is your Savior – it means that you need to be saved, it means that you sin, that you aren’t perfectly fine as you are, that you're not always the victim and sometimes some things actually are your fault. And Jesus isn't going to butter you up. You can’t preach the Gospel without preaching the Law first – because the two go hand in hand. And the people who try to ignore reality and God's Law will also have to reject the Gospel when they hear it. God's word reveals the truth that we are sinners and that we need Jesus, a Jesus who saves us, not a Jesus who placates us. So that's what Jesus does – He does whatever is required to win salvation and take on sin – even our sin, even the sin we like. And Jesus sticks to the truth; He won't hedge anything just to sell us on His plan. It's His way, not our way.

    So what do we make of all of this? We see that all too many people don’t like the truth of God’s Word. They don’t like the Law rightly preached – calling their sin what it is – sin, and pointing out that it is wrong and deserves punishment. They don’t like the Gospel either – the truth that God and God alone is our Savior, without any worth or merit in us. First, we need remember that this applies to us as well. It is not just people out there who do not like God’s truth – your own sinful flesh will rebel against it – we like to be catered to as well. That is why we have a focus on repentance, that is why we are to daily drown our old Adam and our desires and instead to be focused upon Christ. That is why we are to come here and hear preaching, hear absolution, receive Christ’s Body and Blood for our forgiveness and the strengthening of our faith – so that we ourselves don’t fall away.

    But also this. We are tempted, especially in this day and age, to soft sell God’s truth. To try and make it more appealing to sinful man, to accommodate people's sin, to play to “their truth” rather than God's truth. We are tempted to put what people want to hear over what God says. We are tempted to not be proclaimers of Christ Jesus, but rather peddlers of our own plans and programs. But let's be honest – that's not the way. Consider you yourself – you have been brought to faith and you have been kept in that faith by what – by God’s Word rightly preached and rightly taught. By the truth – the law in its sternness, the gospel in its sweetness. That’s the same thing the people who don’t believe right now need – the same thing your family and friends need as well. The truth is that they are in need of God’s love – to know that God richly loves them and offers them salvation and forgiveness – that this isn't a sales pitch with strings attached. Speak them the Word, over and over again, even if they don’t like it. That doesn’t mean be a jerk about it, but be honest and truthful, even when the truth is difficult and hard to hear, and the Holy Spirit will work faith when and where He wills. That’s why in the Scriptures we see Christ speak the truth. And He speaks it over and over again – and some never like it – but because our Lord preaches again and again – some do end up believing. Because the Apostles preach God’s Word in its truth, some do end up believing. Because faithful Christians, Pastors, parents, friends spoke God’s Word in truth and purity to you, you believe. God grant that we would speak God’s Word rightly, so that others might know what God’s truth is, so that the Holy Spirit might work, not through the plans we dream up, but that the Spirit might work through the Word which He places upon our lips.

    The world doesn't need another salesman. It doesn't need more deals or discounts. It needs to be rescued and delivered from the pervasive power of Satan, that runs lies and deceit and death and chaos all around us. And this is what Christ Jesus does, and He does so continually and faithfully in His Word and Sacraments. This is our hope, and it never changes. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Lent 4


In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

    My sermons are short. I don’t expect that any one of you here thinks that there is the slightest possibility that I am going to still be in this pulpit, say, 20 minutes from now. 15 minutes is a long one from me. And as for the Church service, if we go over an hour, that’s a long one. You all expect to be well out of here by 6/9:30. This is how we think, this is what we are used to, so because of this we don’t get the full setting of what is going on in our Gospel. After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberius. And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples. We aren’t referring to a short little period of time, no longer than a tv show, but hours upon hours – that’s what these people have spent listening to and following Jesus. They didn’t drive to Church, rather they walked miles following Jesus. They didn’t sit on padded pews, but would sit on a rocky hillside to hear what He would preach.

    And then, Jesus pauses, and He looks at His disciples and ask, “Okay, how are we going to feed all these folks, since they’ve followed Me out here into the middle of nowhere?” Jesus knows what He’s going to do, but He wants to see what the disciples are thinking. And they are stumped. Well, we’ve got a kid here with 5 rolls and a couple of small fish – but that won’t do much good. And we know what comes next – Jesus feeds the 5000. Has them sit down, blesses the food, and it just doesn’t run out. In fact, there are leftovers, 12 baskets full of leftovers, each disciple gets to lug one around. And the people know what they’ve just seen. When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, “This is the Prophet who is to come into the world!” **THE** Prophet – the Messiah, the promised one. That must be who this Jesus is. And then Jesus just slinks away – 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. Jesus slides away. I’m not here to get into politics – I’m not here to overthrow the Romans or fix the federal deficit – and so Jesus slides away.

    Dear friends, this text is instructive. Do you see how Jesus chooses to care for these people? He cares for them in two vital ways. The first way is that He cares for them Spiritually. Jesus has been preaching, Jesus has been teaching – He has been expounding the Word of God for them – a great and wonderful thing. And they can’t get enough. He goes to the other side of a lake and they follow Him there – give us more, preach more, teach more. A good and wonderful gift. Jesus provides for these people Spiritually. However, our Lord does more than just provide Spiritually. He provides for their physical needs as well. Jesus looks out upon them, sees the crowd that has gathered, and He sees that they are hungry, that their bodies are tired and sore, that stomachs are starting to rumble. And so He provides for them. And He does so without a lot of hoopla. Just has them sit down, blesses the food, and hands it out. Sort of simple and straight forward – I will provide for them. But when suddenly the crowd gets fixated on what He provides physically – this Jesus can mean free food for life – Jesus slides away. I’ve provided, you are taken care of, and that is good enough.

    The fourth Sunday in Lent is a pause, a break in the season of Lent. The last three Sundays have seen intense Gospel lessons with Law that comes and smacks us right upside the head. What we see today, what we remember today, is that God indeed understands the difficulties we face in life, understands the intensity with which we struggle against sin and Satan, the hardships we struggle against in this life. We look at this Gospel lesson today with this in mind. Our focus could be on how this is a fantastic demonstration of the truth that Jesus is True God. Our focus could be on how much those people wanted to hear God’s Word – then asking ourselves, “do we?” Our focus could be on the disciples’ confusion, and how often we don’t understand what God is doing. Each of those could make a fine basis for a sermon, but here, in the midst of Lent, we hear this text for another purpose. Just as God cared for those people in the midst of their hardships, we learn and know and understand that God cares for us in the midst of our hardships, in the midst of our trials. Let’s compare – how does God care for you in the exact same ways in which He cared for those 5000 there?

    First, God cares for your Spiritual needs. Lent is a season of spiritual trial. Lent is that long look in the mirror, that time of self-examination knowing that you aren’t going to like what you see all time. The simple fact is that there is struggle against sin – people that you have to love, that are sort of hard to love. Sacrifices you have to make for the sake of your neighbor that you don’t look forward to. As Christ will put it in the Garden of Gethsame, bitter cups yet to be drank. And that’s the way life always is, and sin has spilled out aplenty, and we can see it in our lives easily – families hurting and seemingly broken, friendships that have fallen on hard times, neighbors that scorn and mock. It’s not easy. But know this. Christ Jesus your Lord sees your struggle, knows what you are facing, for He Himself faced Satan’s temptations, He Himself was mocked and scorned, in fact, His brothers thought He was an embarrassment to the family. Jesus understands. And Jesus provides for you what you need to endure, to conquer. He provides you with His Word. And He does always. Has there ever been a time where Jesus has refused to come to You in His Word? Ever tried to open your bible and found out that God had glued it shut? I didn’t think so. Has there been a time where Christ’s death and resurrection for your forgiveness hasn’t been trumpeted from this pulpit and thousands like it all over the country, where the message of God’s salvation hasn’t resounded? Has there been a time where God has ever said, “Eh, I’m going to ignore your baptism, your on your own again”? No – God continually offers you spiritual care in His Word and Sacraments. That’s what He does. We see this from our Epistle, Acts 2, the day of Pentecost, birth of the New Testament Church. And what do people do? And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Same thing we are doing right now. John was an apostle, and oh look, a sermon, teaching from what John taught us about Christ in His Gospel. Check. Fellowship and the breaking of bread – On the night when He was betrayed, our Lord took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it! Check. The prayers. We’ve done the collect, those words are probably 1200 years old or so, and then we will pray the Lord’s Prayer, we know they were saying that one, we end with the Aaronic Benediction, they’ve been doing that since the time of our Old Testament lesson. Check. Same thing, same ways, God is consistent. God provides and will continue to provide for the Spiritual needs of His people. And this He does for you, this is His love for you.

    And there is more. God not only provides for you Spiritually, but we see and remember that God provides for you Physically as well. Now if you follow the old tradition of giving up something for lent, of fasting, you’ll be noticing it by now – so this point that God provides physically would stand out all the greater. But it is true – has God ever stopped providing for your physical needs? No, He cares for you, and until the day that He calls you to eternal life, you can be sure that He always will. Doesn’t mean that there aren’t times where we cease to be satisfied – the 5000 wanted to grab Jesus, make Him King and say to Him, “We want more bread.” There are times where we want to grab on to Jesus and see if He’ll give us more stuff – where we think clinging to Jesus means turning Him upside down and shaking to see if any more loose change falls out of His pockets. When we get caught up in the cares of this life, when we are worried and frantic and nervous – which I know can happen this time of year – time to get ready for planting so, doing all the taxes for last year, school work is getting harder and how are the grades, spring and storms are on their way – it can be a mighty anxious time. And we can fret, and we can worry. But when we pause, when we relax, we see and remember that in all times and in all places God has indeed provided for us. Like the 5000 we follow Him and hear His Word – and then we look up and behold, He has provided for us. This is why in Acts the believers could day by day attend the temple together and receive their food with gladness – because they understood that God provides for them. Is this not true in your life? Pause for moment – Has not God seen to it that you are provided for, even in the times when you had no clue how things were going to work out? This is His love for you – this is what He reminds us of in this Gospel text.

    With this in mind, we have confidence in Christ, even in the face of trials in this life. We follow our Lord’s footsteps as He strides towards Holy Week, and it’s culmination on Good Friday. We follow our Lord to Gethsemane, we too have our trials from Satan and our struggles and our hard times – but all of these, all of these we face knowing God’s love for us – indeed we have seen it all of our days, and we know that come what may, in whatever difficulty we find ourselves in, Christ Jesus is still our Lord, still our God who never fails to show us His love, who never fails to provide us the forgiveness and strength which we need for matters both spiritual and physical. This is His love for you, which endures forever. In the Name of Christ the Crucified+ Amen.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Lent 3


In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

    An interesting thing happens as Jesus goes about in His battle against Satan. Quite often Jesus does stuff out in the open, publicly, where everyone can see. Great things! Wondrous things! Like for today's Gospel – we actually jump on in the middle of the action – Now [Jesus] was casting out a demon that was mute. As we first see Jesus, there He is, in the process of actually casting out a demon, actually opening this poor man's lips, making things better. That's pretty cool. Perhaps pretty terrifying as well, but it's still a good thing, right? And yes, by in large the people marvel and are amazed by this... but there's also opposition. There's complaints and grousing – there are excuses. So what happens is Jesus will turn His focus to another fight He wages – and that is the attack on our complaints and our excuses, because Jesus knows them for what they really are. Listen.

    But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven. So let's for a moment consider these responses to Jesus' miracle. First – oh, He's casting out demons by Beelzebul. This, of course, strikes us as utterly absurd. They are basically saying that this is just a hoax and that Jesus is in league with Satan. Yeah, it's a lousy complaint – and Jesus will rip it apart in a few moments. But really, what are they doing? I don't think this is a well thought out, logical conclusion that they come to, nor is this just some emotional, visceral reaction. There's something deeper going on here. There's a bit of desperation here, they are grasping at straws; they are trying to come up with any excuse they can think of... to what? To not have to listen to Jesus. To be able to safely ignore Jesus. I mean, there Jesus is, just in their face, casting out a demon right in front of them. They have to acknowledge what is going on, but they don't want to. They want to safely ignore Jesus, and they are desperate to come up with an excuse, a reason, a justification for them to ignore Jesus.

    It's really the same thing for the people who are testing Jesus, who keep demanding more signs from heaven... as though casting out a demon right in front of them wasn't sign enough. This too is just an excuse, a reason to ignore Jesus. He hasn't done enough. I asked for a sign from heaven, one lousy peel of thunder, and He couldn't produce it – who cares about Him now! As though Jesus' job is cater to our whims. But there you go, more silly little reasons to ignore Jesus, just there milling around the crowd.

    And Jesus will have none of it. But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every Kingdom divided against itself is laid to waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” Oh, I'm doing this by the prince of demons? So you think there's a civil war, or that Satan has just become a toothless idiot? Because he's not. He still scowls fierce, and so on. Maybe, My friends, you aren't reading the situation correctly. But it's not Me who will be getting on your case for this – And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. Jesus points out here something that is going on – people were casting out demons in Jesus' name. This was sometimes upsetting to the disciples because the guys doing this weren't according to hoyle part of the 12 disciples – Jesus doesn't mind it at all. But to the point right now, Jesus states the obvious – if you accuse Me, you also accuse a lot of other people, including your own sons who are calling upon My Name for wondrous things. Do you see how Jesus just deftly deflates their complaints, their excuses?

    And then Jesus brings out the elephant in the room. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. No, this is the kingdom of God, the power of God at work – and if you are fighting Me, you're fighting God. There's no way around it. Because what Jesus is doing here is destroying Satan's kingdom and rescuing us – When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides the spoil. Jesus is raiding Satan's kingdom, He's blasting apart Satan's defenses, and all on a mission to rescue people, to rescue you. And you need to be on board with this Jesus rescue mission – Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters. In or out. Come with me if you want to live. This is the situation.

    And here we really get to the heart, the theological root, the issue at stake. The excuses, the complaints, they are all just symptoms of a deeper problem, and that problem is self-justification. I will justify myself – I will take my actions and I will defend them no matter what. I will excuse the inexcusable, I will deflect from any wrong I've done and bring up what-abouts, and if the heat ever gets to close to me I'll start complaining and turning up the heat on someone else. Because I'm fine. I don't have any problems, I don't have any issues – why it's just you guys who are the problem. I don't need a Savior, I don't need to be saved. I don't need Jesus.

    Isn't that really what these people are driving at here? I don't think I need Jesus, I don't want to need Jesus, so I'll say He's in league with Satan. I don't think I need Jesus, so I'll say He's not good enough for me. Now, maybe you've not done this sort of self-justifying dance with Jesus, but we all know the pattern of excuse making and denial and puffing ourselves up. It happens all the time in our relationships – at work, at home. Often we come up with terrible excuses that we think are brilliant, and then maybe we can laugh at them later on once we've come to our senses. And maybe, just maybe, if we're being honest, you can think of times where you've used excuses and complaints and self-justifications against Jesus, against Church. Lord knows I have often enough. It's the common move and drive of our sinful flesh – to make excuses for ourselves, to seek to justify ourselves, to cry out that it's not our fault. And when we get called out for this excuse making, we can get really defensive. Why, yes, Jesus, you have caught me with my hand in the cookie jar, but clearly I just want a cookie, and there's nothing wrong with that, and in fact, I think I deserve a cookie!

    Here's the thing, the issue. You can't justify yourself. When you've messed up, when you've sinned, no excuse, no fasting talking will get you out of it. No denial will make reality go away. The problem of our sin is real, and we can't self-justify ourselves out of it. We can bluster, we can gripe, we can shake our heads until the cows come home, but that doesn't fix, that doesn't address, that doesn't deal with the problem. And for the physical things of life this is problem enough – Tax day is coming, you've got to actually sit down and do them. A project at school or work is coming due – you've got to get it done, quit with the dithering. But Jesus here isn't just giving a lecture on “adulting” and “being responsible” - He's addressing a very important spiritual reality. When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first. When you start making excuses about sin, about Christ, about Church, about these spiritual matters, bad things happen. Things will get worse. We see this with physical things – start a diet, it goes well, but then you gets slack, ignore the healthy routine, and you're worse off than you were before. Jesus points out that this is true spiritually as well – and the world is full of people who were baptized, who were cleansed, but then cut themselves off from Christ and His Word and they're hellions now.

    Because the reality is you need Jesus – and not just a Jesus who gives you a little touch up – but the Jesus who is with you and you with Him – the Jesus who is your King and the Kingdom of God is with you Jesus – the Jesus who is your Justification, the Jesus who is your righteousness, the Jesus who is with you and who gathers you together with all His saints around His Word and Sacraments. And I'm not whistling dixie here – Whoever is not with me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters. That word for “gather” is “synagogue” - basically the word for church at the time. Or we here are a congregation – where we congregate – where we are gathered together by Christ around His Word. Because in the Church, hearing His Word, receiving His Supper, that's where we ourselves are blessed. As He said these things a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Hear the Word of God. Keep it – keep it in your heart, your mind – treasure Jesus and His forgiveness so that when Satan and his minions comes sniffing around they don't find a neat but empty house – rather they find one filled with Christ and His Word. They find a temple of the Holy Spirit.

    This is what Jesus does to you whenever He speaks His Word to you. He comes upon you with the power of God to break down your excuses, your silly self-justifications that everyone but you know are bunk – and He forgives you, and He gives you strength, and remember the very beginning – the demon that was mute. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise. The is the good power of Jesus. And there are times this is fine and dandy, and there are times when its scary because we've become aware of sin and temptations that we don't want to deal with, or even more dangerous we want to give into and delight in. Jesus knows the power of Satan – Satan is strong. But Jesus is the Stronger One, and He breaks down Satan's power – and He does this for you, for your good, even right now, to rescue and restore you. Be in His Word, and be kept safe for now and for all eternity. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +