Saturday, May 18, 2019

Easter 5 Sermon

Easter 5 – May 18th and 19th, 2019 -

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia!
We do not know what is good for us. Or if we do know, we tend to fight against it. I, as a person, know what a good and healthy and proper diet would be – but from my simple appearance you can tell such a healthy diet is beyond my current desire or self-discipline. And every one of us in here can think of times where we fight against bad habits that we know are off, yet still do them. And even more to the point, everyone of us in here have things that we think are “good” for us, but actually are not. That is part and parcel of being a sinful human being. The first temptation was “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” - and ever since the fall we have failed utterly in our attempts to know what is good for us. Instead of listening to our own thoughts, or our hearts, or our stomachs, when push comes to shove we must listen to what God in His Word says. He knows what is good, we of ourselves so often do not.

With this in mind, we are ready to hear what Jesus says: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away.” Here again we are in the upper room on Maundy Thursday evening, and Jesus is preparing the disciples for the transition to the New Testament Church which will exist after the Ascension and until the Second Coming – the Church we ourselves are in. And the Church as we see it wasn't what the disciples wanted. They had wanted an earthly kingdom of power and might, where they would rule along side Jesus and share in His glory and have palaces and riches and respect. They wanted a kingdom like David had, or Solomon. And Jesus is telling them that this isn't going to happen – and they don't really believe Him yet. They even ask before Jesus ascends, “Lord, will You at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” The disciples didn't want the Church.

And let's be honest – often we don't like, don't want the Church that we have. We can have hopes and dreams for this congregation that don't pan out. I wish we were so full that people had to sit up front. I wish there were more LCMS Lutherans in the US, where we weren't a relatively obscure group making up less than 1 percent of the population. I wish there were more Christians at all in the US, instead of this rising tide of disdain that I see all around us. Wouldn't that be “good”? Possibly – but it is also selfish. Full pews and fuller offering plates would certainly let me have bragging rights at this week's pastor's conference – but bragging rights aren't the point, are they? Or being safely in the open majority is comfortable, and you get to enjoy positions of social power and prestige – but garnering earthly respect isn't the point of the Christian faith. You see, with all our wishes and dreams, we are tempted to over look the unimaginably wondrous good that God gives to us here and now. A good that surpasses anything we could have dreamed or coveted.

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. The Helper, the Comforter, the Paraclete. The Holy Spirit. Jesus here speaks to Pentecost, the pouring out of the Spirit which starts in Jerusalem and spreads throughout the world. The very pouring out of the Spirit that we ourselves live in and fully experience here, as the Holy Spirit is with us, having called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts of Word and Sacrament, sanctified and kept us in the true faith. Consider – that Maundy Thursday, if you wanted to be part of this “Jesus” thing, you had to follow Him around, fit in one particular crowd – or wait for Him to come around again. Fifty days later, you have Pentecost, and 3000 believe and are baptized, and they all head back to all their homes where they speak in all their various languages, and more and more people are brought by the Spirit to faith, and so on and so forth until here we are, separated by thousands of years and thousands of miles from where Jesus spoke these words in the upper room – and yet by the power of the Spirit they are spoken to us and applied to us and brought to us today.

The Holy Spirit spreads the Church throughout the world. And in that Church our LORD Jesus comes to us in His Word, in Baptism, in His Supper, to forgive us our sins. We don't have to go to Him. He comes to us. How fantastic is that! We don't have to go to Jerusalem where the Kingdom is (although a trip there would be sort of cool – but it's not necessary). We don't have to do a pilgrimage to any place and wait in long lines. No, because of the Spirit and His Church, Christ Jesus comes to us easily and conveniently and in our own language. He comes to us as often as we are gathered in His Name, as often as we eat His Supper. And if for some reason this place got too crowded – just plant another congregation – easy peasy, lemon squeezy. And if we end up having to share with others someday – alright, where the Word is proclaimed, there Christ will be present for us. And it really is to our advantage.

Because we are people of the Word, and the Help that the Helper gives, the Comfort from the Comforter is the Word of God proclaimed. Jesus says, “And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The Spirit will see to it that the Word of God is proclaimed throughout the whole world – that's what that “convict” means. We think of a convicting primarily as assigning a punishment, but here it really means to speak with conviction and with authority. Over and against all the thoughts and ideas that vie for power in the world, the Word of God goes forth and the Spirit proclaims the truth. And that is the truth that we are to listen to and listen for. This is the truth you are to expect from me whenever I preach, and if I do not preach it, you ought to be all over me like white on rice. Jesus here lays out the standard for what is to be preached in His Church.

The Spirit will convict “concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.” Part of the job of the Spirit in His Church will be to proclaim God's law, showing forth our sin. Sin, at it's root, is disbelieving God. It is ignoring what He has said, what He has called good, and instead substituting our own desires in its place. And the Holy Spirit will always call that out. You will hear your own sin, and even sins you happen to like and enjoy, called out in this place. That's what the Spirit does. And we live in a day and age where we don't like calling sin sin. It's not “nice”. Oh well. We listen to the Word of God and what God says is right, and that's where we stand, even against ourselves. It's not a matter of “we're good and they are bad” as so many want to take it – it's we all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. The law is given to stop every mouth, stop every excuse – and when you are trying to justify your own sin, whatever shape that sin takes, whether it is something bizarre or something trendy or just something petty, the Spirit will use the Word to tell you to stop with your jibber-jabbery defense and instead admit that you are wrong. And we need that – not just those bad people out there – we do, because we don't know what is good apart from God.

But, the Church is not merely a place where God tells us off. In fact, it's primary purpose is this. The Spirit will speak concerning “righteousness, because I go to the Father and you will see Me no longer.” Well, what in tarnation that does that mean? When Jesus speaks of “righteousness” He is referring to the fact that He is righteous and good, and that His righteousness is shown by going to the Cross and taking up your sin – including all that stuff that the Spirit just called you on – and destroying it, and in its place giving you all His righteousness and holiness and love and mercy. He has done it all – it is finished. He has gone to the Father, ascended victorious with nothing left to be done for your salvation. And thus the job of the Church is to proclaim that Christ Jesus has accomplished salvation, that all righteousness is found in Him. That sins are forgiven in Him and by Him. These first two are what we Lutherans like to call “Law and Gospel” for short – the Law which shows to us our sin, the Gospel which gives us our Savior and His forgiveness. And these two things must be constantly preached and proclaimed – the Law to silence our own plans, the Gospel to give and include us in the plan of salvation.

But what of the third? Concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. We don't know what is good. We don't know what good results look like. We hear this preaching of Law and Gospel – and then, well... we don't have power and might on the earth. We don't have riches. In fact, we don't even get to defeat all our enemies, and there are still wicked people out there and oh no, what are we going to do? The Spirit's answer – nothing. You don't have to judge or defeat or destroy anyone in this life. God will take care of it. In fact, He has – Jesus's death and resurrection defeated Satan, and Satan is judged already. We are just waiting it out until the second coming, and in the mean time the Spirit goes forth in the Word calling sinners to repentance and giving them Christ's forgiveness. If someone should believe – wonderful. If not – well, we just keep preaching and singing and praying and receiving Christ's body and blood – we just keep on living as the baptized and leave any comeuppances to come in God's hands. We don't even need to fret about how many do or don't believe, or how wicked the world is, or any of the things we so often fear. In Christ, we have the victory now. This world's prince may still scowl fierce as he will – but the Spirit will remind us over and over that in Christ our victory has been won and that the true Kingdom, the eternal Kingdom of Christ and the life everlasting, is ours.

And that's what the Spirit does. He makes us see that Jesus has actually won our victory over sin and death and the world, and even over our own selfishness and misplaced dreams. He will use the Word and pull us away from these things, and give us Jesus - “for He will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The Spirit gives you the things of Jesus that you need – or as we learned it in the Small Catechism – In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. And because the Spirit has come, this Christian Church is spread throughout the world, and yet even we here in this place receive all the fullness thereof and lack nothing – for God is good, and Jesus has died and risen, and His Spirit gives us all things. This is what is truly good for us. Amen. Christ is Risen – He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Underestimating the Need for "Myth"

Human beings need "Myth".

Ew, that sounds bad, doesn't it?  I'm sure my religious friends bristle at that word, as it implies that our cherished beliefs are outmoded, and my more modern friends bristle because that's something we have moved beyond.  But I will contend again - humans need myth.

Myth comes from mythos - the Greek word for story.  We have denigrated the idea of "myth" as something false or archaic, but a myth is simply a story that explains how and why things are the way they are.  A Myth is the story that lets people in general know and understand what is going on and why it is going on - and any Myth that is told is fundamentally "true".  Otherwise it doesn't actually explain things, it doesn't hold up anymore.  The story no longer holds water.

What if I said we need "story" - we need a narrative that provides context for where we are, where we've been, and what direction we are going?  Would that be better?  Because that's a myth.

And if there is no established myth, we will create one.

Consider the linked article comparing Climate Change Alarmism to ancient priesthoods.  This article details an example of how a myth is created.  Er, a story, a narrative.  That's how you get people to understand the reality that you are presenting.  The story gets one to act in response to the facts. 



And try as we might to be utterly objective and scientific, we NEED to have a myth to give our insights importance.  Evolutionary theory is not content to speak to current and observable changes; it must extrapolate backwards and speak to origins.  That's because it needed a myth (sorry - story) to frame it.  And so the story of why species needed to have originated this way is put forth - regardless of the utter inability to test for it objectively.

We need a good narrative to give us context and meaning.

And the biggest myth of the old modern era was that we didn't need such things - that we were sophisticated and knowledgeable and advanced.

Nope.  We were created (see, I'm showing my cards on what myth, um, narrative I hold to) to be people of story and context.  And when the collectively understood story of the West (that of Christianity) is jettisoned or compartmentalized away, there will still need to be new myths to arise.

People may not believe in God, but they believe in a story.  A militant atheist will fight tooth and nail to defend his story of how things are.  That's what we do - that's how we justify our positions and our attitudes and our actions.  Myths give meaning and make us right and heroic.

So - what's your story?

Easter 4 Sermon


Easter 4 – John 16:16-22 – May 11th and 12th, 2019

Christ is Arisen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia)
With this week in the Easter season, we reach a transition. For the next few weeks, our Gospel lessons will be from John 15 and 16, they will be parts of the discussion that Jesus had with His disciples on the night when He was betrayed, on Maundy Thursday evening. So, why these Gospel lessons now? Why things that address sorrow and pain - it’s the Easter Season – that’s what it says on the cover of the bulletin! Shouldn’t everything be happy? Why do we have such blunt and dour Gospel lessons here in the middle of the Easter season? Because Christ Jesus is going to be teaching us what life will be like for us, for us who know Christ’s resurrection and yet for a while remain in a sinful, hard world.

A little while, and you will see me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see me. Christ speaks these words on Maundy Thursday evening, after the foot washing, after the Last Supper, just before He goes to the garden of Gethsemane. And right here He is laying out the Crucifixion. Guys, you aren’t going to see me – I’m going to buried in the ground, I will be dead. And this will be rough and harsh on you, you will flee in terror and dread. But don’t worry, in a little while, on the Third Day, you will see me again. But Jesus doesn’t even pretend to think that this won’t be painful, that this won’t be difficult. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. Isn’t that something that is great about Jesus? How well He knows us, how well He understands? Jesus doesn’t feed the disciples a line – he doesn’t simply say, “Life will be a bowlful of cherries.” I think sometimes we get this idea that if we are a Christian that everything in life will be wonderful. I’m a Christian, I’ll be happy all the time, always a smile on my face. You will weep, and you will lament. Jesus understands. We are sinners in a sinful world. Bad things happen. There is no constant bliss here on Earth. And no, this isn’t a sign of a weak faith. You guys should all know the shortest verse of the bible – Jesus wept. At the death of Lazarus, His friend, Christ Jesus Himself weeps. It’s a simple fact, there are things that will come that will bring us sorrow, it’s part and parcel of this fallen world.

But Jesus understands that, and even as He is getting ready to go to the Cross, even as He is preparing to engage in His epic struggle against Sin and Death and the Devil, He looks at His Disciples, and He sees what will happen to them. You guys are going to be so scared, so upset, so frightened. And note, Jesus doesn’t give any of the empty words we do. Jesus doesn’t say “buck up.” Jesus doesn’t say “be strong.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Oh, it’s not that bad.” Note what He does say. You will see me again. Jesus points to the Resurrection. Jesus takes the Disciples, and in preparing them to handle their grief, points their eyes towards the Resurrection, points them towards something they have no way of comprehending. And why? Because the resurrection is where it all happens. The Resurrection is where the World is set right again. Behold, Christ Jesus lives, having risen triumphantly from the grave. This is where we flee from our sorrow. This world isn’t right, it’s filled with sin and anger and hatred and death – we cannot deny this, we can't pretend it isn’t this way, we can't expect it to be otherwise. Yet you know another more wondrous truth. Christ lives to die no more. Your sin, done away with, gone, forgiven. You have been made right with God. No matter what comes here in this life, no matter what people say or do, no matter what victories they win over you, Christ has won the final victory. You know the end of the story, whatever pain comes in the mean time. Christ is teaching you to look to Him whenever there is sorrow in your life. That’s what He does here, that’s what He’s telling the disciples that evening, that’s what He telling us this day/morning. You will face sorrow, but look to my Resurrection for strength and joy.

But Jesus isn’t simply preparing the Disciples for His death and Resurrection. He is also pointing the Disciples towards His Ascension. Hear again the Gospel. So some of His Disciples said to one another, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and ‘because I am going to the Father’?” Because I am going to the Father. You see what that is saying, right? Think on the Creed. And He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, from thence He Shall Come to Judge the living and the dead. Jesus is also preparing the Disciples for the life after the Ascension. Yes, indeed, Christ is with us always, but think of the situation which the Disciples will be placed in. After the Ascension, if they have a question, they don’t get to just ask Jesus for the answer anymore – rather they have His teachings, they have prayer. The time is coming when the Disciples will have to take up responsibility, take up their own crosses, and serve in the Church. And it will be hard work for the Disciples. Jesus compares what they will go through to a woman giving birth (happy Mother's Day). It will be painful and full of toil (happy Mother's Day) – but through these people Jesus will serve His Church. That is the joy they are to focus on and see – to ignore the pain of persecution, to ignore the pain of the mockers and their own torture and death – and rather to focus on the joy of sharing the Gospel, of bringing the joy of the resurrection to people who need it.

But really, this is the same situation we are in. We toil in this world awaiting the joy of Christ’s return, the final giving of joy ever lasting. Again, our faith, our love of God doesn’t mean that there won’t be pain in our lives. Coming to Church doesn’t mean the kids suddenly will stop arguing, reading your Bible in the morning doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly at work. Even really praying hard doesn’t mean that your relationships will be peaceful and joyful all the time. Why? Because we are all still sinners in a sinful world – and sinners we will remain as long as we draw breath. Jesus knows that when He speaks these words. He says this to Peter knowing that in a few moments Peter will draw his sword in anger and cut off the servant’s ear, that in just a few hours Peter in fear will deny Him 3 times. Jesus speaks these words knowing us, knowing that we will sin. But He calls us to the struggle, He calls us to the fight – to battle temptation, to confess our sin – and to look towards the joy that only His forgiveness can give. While we wait for Christ’s return – this is what our lives will consist of – our struggle to follow His Word, to actually love God and our Neighbor in thought, word, and deed. And make no mistake, it is a struggle. If you think that you’ve got this being a Christian thing down, you are fooling yourself. Our lives are ones where we constantly seek to grow and improve – and that is painful, because if we strive to do better we will always see how we fail, how we could have done better; we will always see our sin in front of us. And in response to this we are to confess our sin to God, and to receive His forgiveness given out to us by His Absolution and by His Supper. This is where we receive again His joy, which gives us the strength to endure in this life.

One more point: Jesus does here also describe how we are to deal with mourning the loss of our loved ones who have died in the faith. There is indeed a time for mourning, for weeping, for sorrow. We must never delude ourselves by thinking that death is just a part of life – just a phase of life. Death is a tragedy, our great foe, it’s wrong, it shouldn’t be this way. But this is why we give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord – because He takes on death. That’s what His crucifixion is – Christ entering into the struggle against death, Christ taking its pain – and Christ defeating death resoundingly on Easter. That is how we view death, dear friends, by looking at the Resurrection. We see in Christ’s resurrection the defeat of death, we see our own future resurrection which Christ has promised to us. We look at the death of our loved ones through the Ascension – we see and remember that Christ our Lord now rules from Heaven, that He is there with all the saints who have gone on before us. In spite of our sorrow, we see the joy that they have right now this moment, and know that they await the resurrection on the last day, their’s and ours.

Again, this is what we celebrate whenever we have the Lord’s Supper here. With angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven. When we have the Supper here, we confess that our Lord is here, His Body and Blood in Bread and Wine. We confess that He is here for our forgiveness. But we also confess that we with all of God’s Saints participate in Christ’s Body, that we share in His life that He has given us. The Lord’s Supper is not simply a matter of individuality – it’s not a time for just me to hang out with God. At His Supper God brings to us a taste of heaven, we join in the Heavenly Feast with all of His Saints – the Communion of Saints. In this Supper we celebrate the Truth that Christ Jesus lives – today we partake of His Body. Death cannot hold Him, Christ has not decayed away, but now, in His Body He reigns in heaven in the Presence of all the Saints – and through His Supper we rejoice in His presence here on Earth. We know that our Lord lives, we know that we too have Eternal life, right now, it is ours. Right now, God has blessed His saints, and we all simply wait for the last day when we shall see our Lord in our own flesh. We are joined to our Lord and all of His Saints. This is the joy and peace that we see here on Earth.
Dear friends – your life will have struggles – there will be trials and pains and sorrow. But let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, for the grave could not hold Him, for He reigns from Heaven this moment, for He gives us His gifts of life and forgiveness here in His Church. Because of this, we endure the sorrows of the moment, we endure them by looking to the eternal joy which He has won for us with His death and resurrection, which He has promised us. This is the peace we ha ve as Christians, this is the joy we have as Christians, one that no one can take away. Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Easter 3 Sermon

Easter 3 – May 4th and 5th, 2019 – John 10:11-16

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +
Who do you listen to? That's actual a very important question, one that can tell you a lot about a person. What music do you like, who do you listen to? Rock or Country? Real country or this modern junk that sounds like 80s boy bands with a twang country? See, what you listen you and what you don't listen to can say quite a bit about you. And we can come up with other things we listen to. What stories, what movies do you like? Action adventure or romantic comedy? That can be interesting. Or what channel do you listen to for your news, CNN or Fox? Ew, that can get a bit contentious. What politicians do you listen to? And suddenly the differences in who we listen to get a bit more tense, especially today. But really, here in this place, none of those really matter. I mean, we might mock each other's music, or get into political debates, but that's all small potatoes. There is, though, one case, one situation where the question of “Who do you listen to” becomes vitally important.

I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this folds. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. Who do you listen to? Do you listen to Jesus? Now, here, in this place – that's the vital question. Do you hear His voice? And where do you go to hear His voice, and what are you expecting that voice to say? You all do realize that these are the questions that we ask of our confirmations tomorrow/today – the questions that were asked of you at your confirmation. Your Savior's voice – what does it sound like? To whom do you listen?

There are a lot of voices out there vying for our attention, vying for our devotion. A lot of voices calling out for us to fear them, or love them, or trust them. In some ways the babble of those voices is as loud as it's ever been, at least in living memory. There are so many places where one go searching for truth – Siri, hey google, whatever. The wolves seeking to scatter the flock have megaphones and book deals and podcasts these days. Entertainers and athletes have become idols to worship and devote your life to. People offer to welcome us and accept us, just as long as we go along with whatever they want, and peer pressure is ratcheted to insanely high levels. So many voices, all speaking, all enticing, all demanding that we follow them. Over and above all this din, this confusing tumult, Christ Jesus your Lord is still speaking. And do you want to know the difference in how Jesus speaks, the difference between the voice of your Shepherd and all those wolves out there?

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does things for you and gives gifts to you, demanding nothing in return. His focus is upon making sure that you receive His life and salvation. Everyone else out there wants something from you. Bands want you to buy their albums, and the Lord knows that with Star Wars George Lucas has gotten plenty of my money. Politicians want your vote, and TV channels want you to boost their ratings. But Jesus – did you hear the difference? He's not demanding that you do and give things to Him, He is doing things for you. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. The Good Shepherd gathers the sheep, brings them in to take care of them. The Good Shepherd cares for the sheep at cost to Himself.

The first question in the rite of Confirmation highlights this reality – Do you this day and in the presence of this congregation acknowledge the gifts that God gave you in your Baptism? Do you see the direction there? God has given us here gifts – He's active – He's the one doing. We are passive, we receive. We have been given forgiveness and life and salvation, we have been gathered into the fold, made part of the family of God and heirs of His Kingdom. Do you see, do you acknowledge, do you hear the gifts you have been given? And that's the question that is asked of us all. Do we hear the voice of our shepherd giving us His gifts? Yes, we do.

But here is the point to ponder this day. There are many, many voices trying to get your attention, but there is only one place where you can be sure that you will hear the voice of Jesus. Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God? The Word of God. Do you listen to the Word and what the Word says? Not merely someone's thoughts on God, or merely someone's feelings (oh, the feels), or whatever junk someone's heart tells them – those can be all over the place and often lousy. We confess that we sin in thought, words, and deed, and our feelings are often wrong, and our hearts often go astray. So the question is this - do you pay attention to the Word, to the Scriptures, to the Old and New Testament? Because that is where Jesus continues to speak to you today, over and above all the rigmarole in the world.

And what does Jesus sound like in the Word – Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true? Not just do people quote the Bible – Satan can do that. But what do they say it's about, what's the point? Is their point Christ Jesus for you? Because that's what the Scriptures and the Catechism actually teach. Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the Devil. Christ for you. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. For you. These words, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For you. So be wary of anyone who doesn't preach or teach Christ for you. The truth is this: the Shepherd is seeking you out and giving you His gifts so that you are forgiven and live and grow at peace in Him – that is the point, that is the voice of your Shepherd.
And that is why at Confirmation we are asked, Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord's Supper faithfully? And that is a question we answer, not just once on a specific day, but we answer it week in and week out whenever we come to this place, and we hear again and again the voice of Christ Jesus, giving us mercy and life. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. That is what goes on here – the voice of Christ Jesus. In the Word, in our worship, in our liturgy and hymns, all sung back and forth. From the beginning of service – In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – the very name and gift you were given in your baptism, all the way unto the end of service and the benediction – the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace – all of it the voice of Jesus, bringing us together.

That was the point of all this Easter stuff, after all. That was the reason that Christ Jesus went to the Cross, that was why He suffered and died, that was why He took bread on the night when He was betrayed. All that Good Friday and Easter stuff – all that took place simply and solely so that right now, this day, this moment, we here gathered together around His Word and His Supper would hear His voice again and receive His gifts again, and delight in them again. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep and rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. When Christ Jesus was there upon the Cross, clouds and thick darkness covered the land, and there Jesus, True God and True Man, drew us all unto Him. This is what Jesus said in John 12: And I, when I am lifted up from the Earth, will draw all people to Myself. This is what Christ has done for you and will continue to do in His Church, in and for His flock.

Because make no bones about it, life gets hard and messy. And every one of us here in this room will mess up, and sometimes mess up royally. There will be times when we give too much ear to other voices that would lead us into places we don't need to go. And there will be times when those voices will break us down and batter us. There will be times when we will be exhausted by the burdens and duties we face in life. In all those times, especially in all those times, Christ Jesus still is the Good Shepherd, who seeks the lost and the scattered by the power of His Word, His Baptism, His Supper. He says, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” Again and again, God doing good for His people. Again and again God doing good for you. And the world will do its best to drown that out, our flesh will try to distract us and drive us away. But Christ Jesus is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness – and His Church is the place where that forgiveness is given.

So, who do you listen to? You listen to Jesus who will over and over forgive you your sins (because sins you do have, and anyone who says otherwise is just trying to fleece you). Forgiveness is the point of this place, that's the point of this day, every day we are gathered here at Church – so that refreshed by Christ Jesus we are filled with faith towards Him and love toward one another – made ready to go out those doors and love our neighbor and be not just a voice of love and reason, but also a voice of Christ's peace and Christ's mercy and Christ's forgiveness out in a world where that is seemingly in short supply. That is the truth we confess together here, that is the gift we receive here together. Christ Jesus has done it all, and He has done it all for you. Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Easter 2 Sermon

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia +
They're still afraid. The disciples, gathered there in the upper room behind locked doors, are still afraid. They were afraid on Friday, and they are afraid now. They are afraid, even though Peter and John saw the empty tomb; they are afraid even though Mary Magdalene has told them that she has seen and talked to Jesus risen from the dead.
Now, a moment of honesty. We are still afraid, aren't we? We've just celebrated Easter, the high point of the Church year, and yet, I'm willing to wager that there was still fear preying upon you this past week. I'd be willing to bet that there were anxieties and worries that popped up. The problems of life don't go away simply because Easter comes (well, it does a little bit for Pastors simply because I had a lot fewer sermons to write for this week). But by in large the things that were a problem and troubling two weeks ago, most of them are probably still troubling and threatening now. So then, what good was 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.” Listen to what Jesus says. Peace be with you. Jesus doesn't suddenly take away all the problems and troubles that faced the disciples – He doesn't say, “Well, don't worry, I just called down fire from heaven and everyone whom you were scared of is now ash.” Nope. He says, “Peace be with you.” I'm not going to smite and get rid of all the people causing you problems – instead, I'm going to give you peace. When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. No, I'm not going to get rid of all the problems in the world – see, look here, I myself dealt with problems and dangers – and they were serious and big problems and dangers – and they did their worst to Me, but behold, I am risen and I say “peace be with you.”

Likewise, my friends, being a Christian doesn't mean that all your problems will go away. I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave and “Bingo” - everything is better. “Bing” - no more illness. “Bing” - your boss is no longer a jerk. “Bing” - the kids behave, um, I mean mom and dad are reasonable. “Bing” - you get more stuff! It doesn't work that way. That's how we try to make things work, thoough, isn't it? Those are the sorts of promises that get bandy about – if you only went to Church then everything would be “better” - if you pray hard the cancer will go away, if you just follow the 7 simple rules then your family will be better, or my favorite, if you give more to God in the offering, He'll give you more in your wallet. And too often, especially in the last 50 years, that's what preachers have been peddling. And it doesn't work. And people get mad and disillusioned and say, “What good is church? I went, and mom still died. I went, and my marriage still went down the tubes. I went, and my job still stunk and people still didn't like me.”

We've got to listen to Jesus. We've got to listen to what Jesus actually says, what He actually promises rather than just throwing out our own pipe dreams and pretending its the Word. Jesus doesn't say, “look, everything is hunky dory now.” He says, “Peace.” Peace is not a message that things are suddenly better in your life, that there will be less chaos or problems. Peace doesn't mean that the troubles go away, or that they are any less big or real. You are going to face incredibly large and real problems in your life, and some are not going to be fixed. Jesus doesn't make them disappear, but He gives you peace.

As a Christian, you have a radically different point of view concerning the world and your life therein. Typically, in the world we are left with either doubt or false bravado. People see something coming, and often there is fear and uncertainty that cripples and gnaws away at them. Or people see something coming, and the pressure is to put up a false front, just keep up a positive mental attitude and everything will be fine. People either admit that they have no control and panic, or they pretend that they have control and think that if they just smile enough through gritted teeth it will work. As a Christian, Christ Jesus gives you a third way, a true way. In this world, you will have suffering, but in Christ you have peace – and that peace means that you will get through suffering. Not that you won't suffer, you will. In fact, you are going to die even – Jesus Himself died – if He doesn't get to skip out on death, you aren't either. You don't have to fret, it will come. But, though you die, you will rise. Jesus did, and so will you. You don't have to pretend that pain and suffering isn't here in the world, you don't have to go to extremes in foolhardy hopes of avoiding it. No, the third way, the third day way is this – you go through it, but through it with Christ and at peace.

Because the reality we fight against as sinful human beings is the simple fact that there is no avoiding pain and suffering and death. We can't talk or work our way out of it. But in Christ, you have peace, even in the face of this suffering, because you go through it with Christ and you come out on the other side with Him and you live. This is what John says in his 1st Epistle. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. You want to know what overcoming the world looks like? It looks like the world doing it's worst you, getting all Good Friday on you, but then rising on Easter and standing there and smiling. And that is how your life is going to go, my baptized friends. You will live in this life, and while you strive after showing love to your neighbor and easing their pain, the world and Satan and sin will whip up suffering. I don't know what yours will look like, but I know it will be there. And eventually, you'll die. And then, you will rise, because Jesus has died and risen and He has joined you to Himself in Holy Baptism, He has given you His Spirit by His Word, He has given you His own Body and Blood, and so you will rise. The peace that He has, that's yours now. And that's what He declares, and that's what we listen to. Not pipe dreams of worldly wish fulfillment, but the truth that Jesus died and rose and that this is for you.

And this is why the same Jesus who declared peace to the disciples then says to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” Christ's Church is to be a forgiveness place. Why? Because in the midst of the fears and doubts and troubles of this life, especially as they loom large over you, you need to hear and receive forgiveness again and again. Because the temptation will come, where you will see suffering and think, “Ut-oh, God must be pretty ticked off at me.” And then, you will be tempted to run away from God – that's the only thing we can do when we are fearful that God is mad at us. If you've really upset some 6 foot 6 270 pound big dude who wants to punch you in the face, you don't just saunter on up to him, you avoid him. How much more, when you think that you've ticked off God do you try to avoid God – and the problem is this. The only way you get through this life is with God. So you need to remember that you are good with God. Actually, much more importantly, you need to remember that God is good with you. You need to see Christ and Him Crucified – because it is there on the Cross where all your sin hangs. Does Satan accuse you with your failures – they are on Christ Jesus, so you don't need to run away. Does the world threaten you with suffering – that's not going to scare Jesus away from you. You are honestly, totally, utterly and completely forgiven in Christ. You have peace.

And that's the point. And that's what we need. And that's what the Church alone can offer to the people in this world, to your friends and families and neighbors, even to your enemies. Christ's peace. Because He died for them all. And He knows the suffering that they too are going to face, whether they like it or not. And He died to give them peace, and He would be with them and see them through it safely as well. And we are the ones who know this profound truth, this Third Day reality of the death and resurrection of Christ. Nothing you see in this life, no trouble you face and no trouble that your neighbor faces is bigger than Christ Jesus' death and resurrection. And He says, “Peace be with you,” and we hear and believe and have life in His name. Amen. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +

The Pastor's Great Temptation

The great temptation that a pastor faces in the temptation to "fix" things.

We think that with our knowledge and skill and experience, we can fix various things. People, congregations, synods, the state, the world. And we can fix all these things if only people would do what I say.

That is the temptation in the garden. Do this, and you will be able to know both good and evil, you will be in control and authority. You will fix all things.

It is not our job it fix things. We receive them as gift - gifts to love and cherish and serve, but not fix. Not change and alter to fit our purpose and whim. 

Pastors, consider your own congregation. There are practices and customs here that you have inherited that you do not like.  Me too.  Now, if I am convinced that I must "fix" them, I will mess with the problem regardless of who doesn't like it. Now, there aren't some cases where that would be necessary - If they hadn't used Doritos and Coca-cola for the Supper, they wouldn't any more. But things and practices that aren't my cup of tea, or are less than "ideal" (according to my definition of ideal)... not my job to "fix" them.  Instead, I am to receive them as gift, and then proclaim the gifts of Christ to them.

I'm not to "fix" my wife... perhaps the things that annoy me most are in fact great gifts to me from God (who in fact gave me this specific woman and gave me unto her) in order to break my own sinful, selfish pride.  Is she gift whom I am to cherish as utterly precious, or is she a project that I need to work on via manipulation? Only one approach can dominate, and I hope it's the former.

Our temptations to fix people change the way we view them, and puts us into a position of Lording instead of a position of service. And the most insidious part is we will tangentially hold on to the Word when doing this. We will start adding "therefores" where there is no therefore in Scripture. One therefore perhaps is still in keeping with the Scriptures.... but when another is added, then another, you are no longer speaking the Word but rather your own logic.

We see the unscriptural nature of these chains when someone tries to throw out a "fix" that we dislike... but we are tempted to excuse and ignore our own. Because we like our own fixes, and we think if we can tie them into the Scriptures, however tangentially, that it makes them right.

It doesn't.

Let God be the judge. You proclaim Law and Gospel - and the Holy Spirit will kill and make alive as He wills, when and where He wills.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday

Easter Morning, 2019 – John 20:1-18

Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia – Amen
Mary thought she was going to a funeral. That's what Easter morning was going to be for Mary Magdalene (and all the other women with her, but John's Gospel just focuses on Mary). That's what the women were doing at the tomb. There had been no time for properly burying Jesus that Friday night – the day of Sabbath, the day of rest had been coming and there was no time. Joseph and Nicodemus had hurriedly buried Jesus, but understand the culture. They didn't have funeral homes back then, and it was the duty, the honor of the family, the women of the house to tend to the body. And these women were Jesus' family, His friends, and by George they were going to see Him properly buried. And all weekend they had thought about how they hadn't done their job properly, so they planned and worried and fretted. Then Sunday comes.

And they get to the tomb, and the stone is rolled away. And the first thought is that something has happened, some sort of vandalism, some act of desecration and destruction – and it was done by someone strong. That big old stone was taken away from the tomb – not just a rolled a small crack to let one person in – it was moved. Whoever opened this tomb was strong – so Mary Magdalene runs to get help. She finds Peter and John, the two old friends, and she announces that Jesus has been taken out of the tomb.

Peter and John thought that they were going to a robbery. They thought that they were going to a fight. Think about the emotions that Peter and John would have had over that weekend. Peter had wanted to fight – as a friend he knew in his gut that he should fight for, that he should stick by his friend. Instead, he fled, and he denied the Lord three times. As for John, John fled too, and then he stood at the cross, and Jesus told him to take care of His mother – and the first thing that Mary wants to do while John is supposed to be taking care of her – it's messed up. Already, John has failed Jesus' request. He failed on Thursday night, he's failed already. So they both run to the tomb, knowing they have failed and wanting to fixing things.

And they get there, and nothing. John runs faster and sees the tomb open – I'm too late. Peter, older and slower but brasher and bolder, barrels on into the tomb. Empty. The cloths lying there. Which is odd – because the cloths were how you carried a dead body. You wouldn't unwrap them first. And they are stumped. And they are once again crushed. They just go home, as failures again.

That's how Easter morning started to play out. That's how life plays out when there's no Jesus. Nothing but a never-ending string of fights and failures that always end with a funeral. And we might try to talk about the fights we won, the successes we had – but the failures still tend to loom large, however much we bluster about positivity. And then death comes. And we bury people, people we know and love, until the day comes when we get buried. And when there's no Jesus to be seen, when there's no Jesus around, that's a pretty dour situation. And as we are finding out as a society, all the wealth and all the meds in the world can't change that situation.

So that's where Mary was. She figured that she was now in a world without Jesus. That's it, that's all she wrote. And Mary is just standing there by the tomb, and everyone has run off, and all the folks who could possibly help her are lost in their own misery, and she stoops in, and there are angels. And they ask, “Woman, why are you weeping?” This is not meant to be a serious question – the Angels, who had been waiting for this, for the triumph of the King are there, and this should be the great celebration... and there's a gal crying despondently. Um, ma'am why? They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him. She's crying because – no Jesus. And then she turns and walks off, leaving the Angels stone cold.

And fortunately for her, she turns and Jesus is there. The angels have to be watching this play out slack-jawed, but she turns and Jesus is right there, Jesus has come to her, and He says, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Um, uh, um, why are you crying? Um, were you looking someone? And Mary is upset, so befuddled, so convinced that there is no Jesus anymore that she doesn't even see Jesus standing in front of her – If you've taken the body, I'll go get it, I'll go drag it off myself.

And now, my friends, the turn. Now my friends, the most joyous words spoken in the Scriptures, the biggest shift there is. Jesus said to her, “Mary.” Her name. And that's when Mary sees Jesus, only when He has called her by name. And then the joy, then the wonder, then the turning and the world is different and where there was only death and failure and sorrow – there stands Jesus, Risen from the dead, death defeated, sin atoned for, failures covered. There stands Jesus, and that old stinking story of sin and failure leading to death is done for. There's a new ending. It doesn't stop at “and He died” - it goes on to “then He rose.” And He says “Mary.” Jesus doesn't rise and go away from Mary – Jesus rises for Mary. He rises and comes and finds Mary– next week we'll hear how Jesus goes and finds the disciples on Easter evening. There stands Jesus, and it has all changed.

My friends in Christ. The world is going to try to keep you from seeing Jesus. The world is going to tell you over and over that there is no Jesus, or that you don't need Him. The world will try to entice with wealth and success, or lull your senses with drugs and entertaining pastimes, or even just grind you down to nothing – whatever it takes to try to tell you that there is no Jesus for you. Doesn't stop Jesus from coming to you to be Your Savior. Think about this – with all the powers of sin and Satan and death swirling around – Jesus has come to you and He has called you by name. Many of you right here at this font – by your name baptized into His name. You, you're with Me now. That's what your Baptism is. Jesus comes to you and calls you by name. And He comes again in His Word, to proclaim over and over that He has risen victorious over sin and death, that He has forgiven you – you! Not just that there is some forgiveness floating around out there and maybe you can find it – no, He comes to you and declares you forgiven in His Word. He sends Pastors to declare His forgiveness for you – that's my job. He comes to you in His Body and Blood to forgive you and give Himself to you. By name. Slight confession time – I'd prefer to distribute Communion saying, “so-and-so, the Body of Christ” - but I can't even keep my kids' name straight half the time and I don't want to be up here saying, “um, ah” in the middle of distribution, so “the Body of Christ.” But my absent-mindedness aside – this is Christ Jesus coming for you. You don't have to go on some quest to find God, Jesus comes to you, you personally, and He redeems you. I might be forgetful, but He's not.

Because the fights that we lose, and the tasks that we mess up – Jesus doesn't. He does them all, completely well and good – and He does them for you. And even all those funerals, all the times we try to do right by the dead, do what is proper – well, Jesus does that well and good too. We can only bury the dead, but Jesus raises them. And the day is going to come when you yourself will hear something as joyous and wondrous as what Mary heard Easter Morning. The day is going to come, maybe even long after loved ones have laid you in ground, but the day is going come when Jesus will say your name, and you will stand, you will rise, and you will see Him, and there will be only joy. Because you are His, and He loves you. And nothing in the world can change that fact – not even death could. See, there He stands risen, there He stands risen for you. Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia + Amen.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Holy Thursday Sermon, 2019

Holy Thursday, 2019

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed... well, that night is here. From sundown on Thursday, it is full bore, full throttle for Jesus – on to the Passion and Good Friday. No sleep, no rest for Him tonight. And on that night, Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples, the great feast of deliverance of the Old Testament. It was the religious highlight of the year. The Ten Commandments in Scripture are introduced with “I am the Lord Your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” And that deliverance, that Exodus really kicked into high gear with the Passover – when the first born of Egypt died, but those of Israel were saved, covered by the blood of the paschal lamb.

And it is Maundy Thursday now. And Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with His disciples, but there is something bigger going on. The Exodus, the first Passover – that was just a temporary reprieve. All those who ate that first Passover and lived, well, they died. Death passed them over, but only for a time. That old Passover lamb and that old blood was good for just a bit – now, it was a great bit, and a wonderful thing, but it was still just temporary, just for that day.

And there, in the upper room, with those disciples that Jesus serves, the ones who so often didn't understand what He was doing, Jesus establishes a new meal, a new supper. Not a meal that only works once but then is just replayed out as part of a yearly party. No, Jesus does something new and much more profound with His meal. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, all the world, in all times and places and days and ages, and so He establishes a new meal that is effective and true and wondrous in all times and places, even this day and unto the end of all the ages. Christ Jesus gives us His Supper.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My Body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying: “Drink of it all of you: this cup is the new testament in My Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” In the Supper, Jesus gives you Himself. It is His true Body and His true Blood under bread and wine, given to us Christians to eat and drink. It is Jesus' Body, which is Crucified for you, so that you do not bear up the punishment of sin. He took that sin up from you. It is His blood which is shed to forgive you your sin, to remove it from you and cleanse you from it. Your sin is gone, and in its place you are given Christ Jesus Himself – you are given forgiveness and life and salvation.

For understand this, in this Supper Christ Jesus Himself is present. This is not just a symbolic thing, it is not just a thinking about the past sort of thing like the Passover meal was. No, Jesus does something different. The Passover was a memorial – a monument dedicated to something of the past. The Supper is “remembrance” – and this is where we get tripped up by the English language. We think first and foremost of “remembrance” as a looking back. That's not the point – this is a present and repeated giving of Christ here. The way I like to explain it is like this – when I was a kid my mom would say, “Eric, did you remember to take out the trash?” She wasn't asking if I could remember two months earlier about that one time when I had taken the trash out – no, Eric, right now, this moment, is the trash taken out? The same idea applies to the Supper. This do, in remembrance of Me – this do and Christ Jesus gives Himself to us and is bodily with us right now, as often as we eat this meal. That is what it is for – Jesus being with us.

And that is why we treat this meal with respect. That is why we follow His Word and Institution. No doritos and coca-cola, no cheese slices and grape juice. No, we receive what He gives to us as He wishes to give it – and we recognize that Jesus is here in a wondrous way, giving us a great gift. This is why St. Paul warns us “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the LORD in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the LORD.” And worthiness here is not a matter of how good you are or how hard you've prayed – fasting and other bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training – But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” That's the point, that we recognize that Jesus is here in this Supper to do something wondrous – to give us forgiveness. And we don't mess around with it. We don't undercut Jesus' Word. This is Jesus here to forgive us, and we are to believe this, for “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the Body eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Now, Paul maybe talking about physical illness or death – but he's primarily speaking to faith. If you mess around with the Supper, if you treat it like a play thing and worthless, if you take your eyes off of Jesus, that damages your faith, and even can kill it. How else does faith die other than people ignoring and disdaining Christ and His Word?

But St. Paul says this not to scare you, not to keep you away from this altar – for Christ has said, “take, eat; take, drink” - this Supper is for you. It is a powerful gift – but because it is powerful we need to treat it with the respect it deserves. A car is a powerful gift – but if you mess around while driving it is a most dangerous gift. And you don't get in the car with a driver who is flippant and careless either. Modern medicine is a powerful gift – but if abused things become horrorific, so you don't abuse medicine nor do you go to a doctor who writes out prescriptions carelessly. Likewise, we pay attention to our Lord's Word, and we don't mess around with the Supper, and we don't join in when other places mess around with it, when they teach that it is just a symbol and does nothing, or when they teach that it's a sacrifice that their priests offer to God. No, the Supper is Christ's Body and Blood given by Christ for you for the forgiveness of sin– and so we only receive the Supper when and where that truth, where His Word, is clearly and faithfully proclaimed. That's why we don't just commune anywhere willy-nilly, nor do I let just anyone who claims to be a preacher preach here or celebrate the Supper. We treat the Supper with the respect and care that it is due, because we dare not abuse this gift. Doesn't mean that we are dour or mopey with it – that too misses the point. We don't make the supper the supper by our own preparations. It is the Lord's Supper – He does it.

So we listen to Christ and know what it is for. This is Jesus giving Himself not to the smug and self-righteous, not to the folks who know better than Him, but to sinners in need of His forgiveness. And that we are. We are sinful folk. We have many sins and trials and temptations. And when you see that, when you know your lack, then Christ Jesus calls you here to His altar. When you see your need for Christ and His strength, then you are ready to receive this promise for your good. And Christ Jesus is faithful, and whenever we celebrate His Supper, He is present for you, to forgive you, to strengthen you, to give you faith in Him and also to fill you with love, His love, for your neighbor.

And having established this meal on the night He was betrayed, having prepared the Church to receive His gifts until He comes again, Jesus seals the deal. He goes to the Garden and is arrested, and is accused, and suffers, and dies. And the Testament in His Blood, His Will and Testament, goes into effect. He dies, so that you have forgiveness, life, and salvation – and He comes to you again and again so that you receive this, rejoice in it, delight in it, even until we enter the never-ending feast of the life of the world to come. This is what Jesus does for you. In the Name Christ the Crucified +

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday, 2019

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
They were afraid. They were afraid. Over and over, throughout the Passion of our Lord, we hear that people are afraid. When Jesus said to them, “I AM” they drew back and fell to the ground. The big, tough Jewish boys who were sent by the priests to round up the Troublemaker, they were afraid. And Peter, standing in the courtyard, he was afraid. Pilate was afraid – the priests complain that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, and we hear, “When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid.” And Pilate was afraid of no longer being a “friend of Caesar” - Caesar's friends who stopped being his friend – well they ended up dead. And if we want to be honest about it, even the chief priests were afraid – afraid that Jesus was going to stir up a rebellion that would get Jerusalem destroyed. It's an understandable fear, because historically Jerusalem does get destroyed in a rebellion not even 40 years later.

They were afraid. That has been the way of the world since the fall. We often speak of sin unleashing death upon the world – and that is most certainly true – and we see what sort of death sin unleashes, humiliating and horrific death. But even before we get on to the reality of death, there is the anticipation of death. There is fear. That's the first thing Adam says after the fall - I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. I was afraid. I had sinned, and I know that the wages of sin is death, and there You are, LORD, walking in the garden, and surely that means that I am going to die.

And that fear dominates human history. Whether its the normal every day fears and worries we face, or the overblown fears that are mainly just in our heads, or whether it is the false bravado and bluster done to try to prove that we aren't really afraid – “don't you call me chicken” – fear is there. And fear drives us most cruelly. What is the reflex – fight or flight? That's what human history has been, that is what so often our own lives are. Stupid, senseless fights and lonely, desperate flights. And our fear is so strong that we fear even good things. We fight those who love us, we run away from people who care. Fear dominates human history – and all of it can be boiled down, drawn back to the simple, first fear. God is here, and I, a sinner, deserve to die.

And there is the LORD God, standing in another garden – not in the cool of the day, but in the chill of the night. He had been there with His friends praying, but they couldn't stay awake with Him. And then this Passion drama of fear unfolds and plays out. Of course it does – Adam was afraid when the LORD entered the garden, so of course when the LORD Jesus is in this garden fears are going to be all stirred up. Surely we have to do something, surely we have to stop this Jesus before there's massive death and rebellion unleashed!

And there stands Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God, sent to take away the sin of the world. The One Who knew no sin Who became sin for us. And did you note that throughout this swirling whirl of fear, Jesus is the only one in the entire passion account who isn't afraid? He's sorrowful – that's how Matthew describes Jesus' prayers as we heard this past weekend. Jesus knows that what is coming is going to be utterly wretched... but there He is, God Almighty, who had formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life. And there He walks amongst His creation, He walks with His friends, those whom He created to be His friends, and there's just a massive wall of fear. Sin separates man and God... the fear that flows forth from sin separates everyone from everyone else.

And so Jesus goes forth calmly and determinedly to destroy sin, to undo this pall of fear cast upon us. The fearful soldiers come to arrest Him – and without fear Jesus takes care of the disciples – gets them out of there. Jesus even calmly helps the soldiers – stay on task, folks, arrest Me. Oh, let Me heal that ear. Calmly, without fear.

Then, the sham trial. If anyone should be fearful, you'd expect Jesus to be. No, it's Peter in the courtyard who is freaking out – but Jesus, calm, utterly calm, even when they slap Him and mock Him. Even taking Him to Pilate, even when Pilate calls out authority – Do You not know that I have authority to release You and authority to crucify You? Why aren't you afraid, Jesus – why isn't your fight or flight kicking in? I've already beaten You and flogged You, why are you just standing there? Because, Pilate, you have that authority from above. I Myself gave it to you, so that you would help to protect people, especially in the midst of this sinful world full of fear. But no sinful man can do the job right, so I must put an end to fear and death, and you are going to use that authority I gave you to see it done, Pilate.

And then, and thus, to the Cross. The horrors there. The fear, the primal fear. Adam hid from the LORD in the garden because of sin; because of sin the LORD Jesus is dragged out of the garden and stripped of his garments (now gambled away), and hung on a tree, naked and exposed and brutalized. And even there, sin doesn't master Him. Even there fear doesn't dominate Him.

Jesus remains calm. John, take care of mom. I thirst – to fulfill the Scriptures, I am going to calmly point to everything in the prophets that pointed to Me. And from the cross, His own body battered, Jesus looks upon all that fear and sin and death, and He says, “It is finished.

And Jesus dies.

What does this mean? St. Paul writes – For the love of Christ controls us. He writes – We regard no one according to the flesh. No, we no longer see simply through the eyes of fear – If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself. With His death, Jesus puts an end to sin and death. He undoes the root cause of your fear. John in his first epistle writes - There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. John is talking about this moment, the death of Christ Jesus. That word “perfect” is the same word as “finished”. Jesus, with His love that has no fear, says, “It is finished, it is perfect” and He does this to cast out your fear. He takes up punishment, all the punishment possible, to cast out your fear. To bring you into love again, His love.

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, saw this, proclaimed it in the months just before Jesus was born. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And there, on the cross – it happened. It is and has been and is forever finished – your salvation is accomplished. You are saved and redeemed and rescued and forgiven. And Christ Jesus comes to you today, to make sure that you know this, that you have the knowledge of the forgiveness of your sins to strengthen you in the face of the sins and fears that you face. The Spirit which He gave up, He gave to you, He gives to you again and again in the preaching of His Word. The water which poured from His side is the same water that washes you clean in Holy Baptism. The Blood – yes, that is the blood that He gives to you in His Supper. Because of Christ, you are forgiven. This is reality, this is truth. And, as we shall see on the third day, because of Christ, you shall rise. +

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Lent 5

Lent 5 – April 6th and 7th, 2019 – John 8:42-59

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason that you do not hear them is that you are not of God. And thus Christ Jesus throws down the gauntlet before the scribes and the pharisees. All of Chapter 8 in John is describing discussions Jesus has in Jerusalem, discussions where He proclaims the truth about sin and mercy, and people don't like it. So Jesus calls a spade a spade. You don't listen to God's Word because you are not of God, because you don't trust God, because you hate God.

These proud people try to fight back against Jesus. The Jews answered Him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” That sounds a bit too formal for us – here is what they are saying. “I knew it! I knew it! This guy's a (insert racial slur of your choice) and possessed! He's crazy!” That's why we aren't listening to you Jesus, you are trash and nuts – we will dehumanize You and belittle you as an excuse to ignore You. Ponder that for a moment. The Pharisees use language designed to treat Jesus as less than human, when He is in fact both True God and True man, the best human being who ever lived. But do you hear how far gone these people criticizing Jesus are? They are completely caught and wrapped up in trying to fight off Jesus and His Word in anyway possible.

And I could go over the argument blow by blow – but let's cut to the chase. Why? Why are these people so adamant that they must tear down Jesus? It's all a matter of trust. Remember from two weeks ago – 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. The armor in which he trusted. There were many things that the Jewish people of Christ's day trusted in. The Pharisees trusted in their piety – and Jesus pokes holes in that. The Scribes trusted in their knowledge – and Jesus pokes holes in that. The Saducees trusted in how sophisticated they were, the Priests in the glory of the Temple – and over and over Jesus pokes holes in that. But there was one thing, one fall back that all the Jewish people trusted in. You'll hear it in a moment.

Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.” What a great promise from Jesus. Anyone who clings to His Word, who hears and listens to Jesus will not see death! You aren't going to see death or the grave – you die and today you are with Me in Paradise – that's what Jesus is here to do! Fantastic! And yet – what is the response to this wondrous promise? “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, 'If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste death.' Are You greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do You make Yourself out to be?” Did you hear it? Where do they flee to, what's the thing they they all have in common? Abraham. Their heritage. When push comes to shove, and when their standing, their reputation is at stake, what is their fall back position? Abraham. Abraham is our father. Abraham is awesome, so we win because he's our father. My dad can beat up your dad. (If there's anything more stupid to say to the Son of God than “my dad can beat up Your Dad” I can't think of it right now.) That was their pride, that was what they trusted in. They turned their lineage, they turned Abraham into an idol. And how dare You assert, Jesus, that You are greater than Abraham. How dare You say that You are greater than our idol.

And they missed the point. They missed the point completely. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad. Abraham wasn't focused on how great he was. He knew how weak he was. Abraham looked towards the LORD, looked towards the coming of the Messiah to rescue him, to rescue his son Isaac. Of course Abraham saw the day of Christ – Abraham heard it when the LORD Jesus said, “don't kill Isaac – I'll provide a substitute.” Abraham saw it when he looked up and there was a ram caught in the thicket – a placeholder until the LORD Himself would become Man and be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world and puts an end to all sacrifices and destroys death and redeems us all. Jesus is the One who saved Abraham, who saved Isaac – if Abraham didn't hear the word of God telling him to stop, Isaac would have died and none of you blowhards would have been born! It's not about how great Abraham is, or how great any sinful human being is, it is about how great and rich God is to save through the Messiah, and that's what you've forgotten.

Bah, you've seen Abraham? Of course, because I AM. I AM the LORD. Abraham is my friend, and I blessed Him greatly. And at that, they determine to kill Him. How dare Jesus say that He is God, that He is better than their chosen idol. They have to kill Him – it's either Jesus or their idol, one has to go – and so Jesus has to go.

This lesson, my friends, was not written so we would be able to look at those people then and say, “Oh, how silly they are.” No, it was written to warn us, to silence our complaints, to keep us from ignoring the Word as they did. So, I will ask the question – when push comes to shove, when you are attacked or belittled, when you get called on something – how do you respond? If someone launches a devastating attack upon you in an argument, what's your go-to defense? There's a ton of possibilities – pshaw, don't they know how hard I work? I do more than them. I've been a member here longer than them. I've been a Lutheran all my life. My kids are better than theirs, I mean have you seen how lousy they turned out? Don't they see how successful I am – who are they to talk? On and on the list could go. So think about it, when someone pokes you about something that you've done wrong, and you know it, you know that they're on point, that they've hit a sore spot, how do you hit back? How do you belittle them and elevate yourself?

Because you know what that response is? That's your armor in which your sinful flesh trusts. That's your idol.

We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things – but when push comes to shove what do you want to trust? What card do you play? What is the trump that you think will carry the day? That's your idol. And really, if you think about the fights and arguments we get into, they really are just a battle of our idols against each other. My idol is this, so I bang her over the head with it, and her idol is that, and so she whacks me with that – back and forth, smashing our idols into each other.

And the saddest part – a lot of times our idols aren't bad. We idolize our good works – well, your works are a gift to you from God. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. They are a gift from God, yet we turn them into an idol. I've been a Christian all my life – well, that's a gift from God, yet we turn that into an idol. My family, my possessions, all those things – again, gifts from God. These are first article gifts – the things listed off in the meaning of the first article of the Creed – He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. All gifts from God... and instead of simply receiving them as gifts, we weaponize them and use them to bash our neighbor.

But the real danger is when we want to use them against God. When we want to use these gifts as an excuse to ignore God and His Word. When we trust in these gifts instead of the One who gave them. The most dangerous idol isn't something that is bad – if something is outright evil and wicked it will come back to bite you. Eventually, hopefully with those you'll hit bottom. But the worst idol, the most dangerous one is the best thing about ourselves, the richest and most wonderful blessings given to us by God that we then turn against Him. It was a fantastic blessing to be a Jew, to be a child of Abraham – yet they turned that against Jesus and used it as an excuse to ignore Him. Likewise, Satan will tempt you to use to best gifts you have received from God as an excuse to ignore God, to pretend that you don't really need a Savior. After all – don't you see all the nice things I do, and I've been a good member here for a while, and see all my stuff and my success.

Sorry folks. Those blessings don't say a thing about you. You are and remain a sinful, selfish human being. And the wages of sin is death. And you can't get out of it. He who dies with the most toys... still dies. But this is where God Almighty, in His wondrous mercy acts. Those temporal blessings – those really are about Him – He chooses to give them to you without any merit or worth in you, simply because He delights in giving. But more than just temporal blessings – the Father sends the Son to the cross, so that father Abraham would not see his son Isaac die. Jesus goes to the cross because sin means there must be death, your sin means there must be death, no matter how much we want to pretend that this isn't the case it is – and so Jesus says, “I will go to the cross, and I will die – and all who keep hearing My Words will hear Christ the Crucified proclaimed – and they will have life.” You, you have and you will have life in Christ – because by His Word and Spirit He takes away the armor you trust in and fixes your eyes upon Himself. You are of God, His own child, Baptized, called, enlightened, redeemed, and sanctified. And in Christ, you live, and you receive every blessing of both body and soul, now and forever.

And the time is come. Next week – Palm Sunday – the triumphal entry, and then the Passion of our LORD, the true triumph over our sin, over Satan, over death itself. And all of this is done for your good, to be a blessing to you, a blessing greater than all the other wonderful blessings God freely gives. And why? Because Jesus loves you, and He loves forgiving you. And He always will. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +