Thursday, April 29, 2010

To New Pastors going to their Call

Here is some advice for the New Grad ready to head out to his first call.


1. Preach faithfully
- The preaching of Christ Crucified for the forgiveness of sins is your highest task. Period. Many other things can be delegated. People can assist you with many things. Unless you are an assistant or associate, no one gets delegated preaching. This is your highest task - and shape your schedule like it is your highest task. For me, the first thing I do Sunday after Church is look at the texts for the next Sunday - let them ruminate. Write a draft. Preach a few dry runs - see what flows well, what you get caught up on. And make sure you preach Christ - I point to the cross in the Church - if I realize I don't point to the cross in a dry run, I know I need to fix something.

2. Visit Your Sick and Shut-ins - No excuses. If someone is in the hospital - see them. Go pray with them. Pop your head in for even just 5 minutes, pray, and let them rest. If the hospital is within 30-45 minutes one way, do this every day they are in there. Be with them before surgeries. Nothing you say or teach or preach will demonstrate Christ's love as clearly as this.

As for Shut-ins - make sure you see them. If they are difficult about scheduling - you get to be flexible. Go when it is good for them. But see them, bring them the Word and Supper frequently.

Fewer things will win you good will quicker, and fewer things will lose you good will quicker than doing or not doing this.

3. Exercise Patience - You have no need of raising your voice unless it is to project. As the Scriptures say, be slow to speak, slow to anger, quick to listen. And as Ignatius of Antioch points out, the Bishop is to be feared, and all the more when he is silent. Nothing unnerves and publicly undercuts one who is bickering or a noisy malcontent more quickly or effectively than to simply quietly watch and then move on.

This also plays in with teaching. Remember, you had 4 years at the Seminary (and probably some prep pre-Sem) where you would spend 15 hours in class a week and many more hours studying - for four years. The class you teach is an hour a week, and they aren't going to be doing home work. Remember how patient your profs were with you - be that with your people. Don't expect them to be able to wax poetically about the hypostatic union 6 months after you've gotten there.

4. Be Flexible - You have a salaried position. You are on call 24-7. Thus, you have flexibility. Set up your day off, keep it as inviolate as possible - but if someone needs something - find a time for it. Example - I had a member who had moved 2 hours away, but her husband did his adult instruction here. Why? The pastor at the church they were at said, "Adult instruction is at X time" when X was right in the middle of the fellow's shift. I taught adult instruction on the weekends when they came home (and then pointed them to a different congregation in their locale where they are quite pleased). It took longer, it meant I lost some of my weekend time - but it served. You'd be surprised how many people you can teach and instruct when you are willing to work around their schedule - because it completely undercuts the "oh, I don't have time" argument. Sure you do, one hour a week -- oh, I could do it at 7 in the morning on Tuesdays -- okay, I'll see you Tuesday morning.

Then with that - don't be afraid to (within reason) take time for yourself. If you get your tasks done and just came off a busy week, go see the wife, go see the kids. Work first, then play - and be ready to go work if called upon. Make your priority the Preaching of the Word, the Administration of the Supper to those that desire it, the teaching of those who wish to learn -- and when that is done, enjoy the life God has given you.

5. Study - Learn more. Read good books. Read good blogs (of people who read good books that you haven't read). Do daily devotion and mediate upon the Word. Be in the Word. You ought to have a "study", not an "office". Grow in your own understanding, grow in your own sense of wonder at God's love, God's working - and then teach and preach.


1. Simply Use Jargon
- Don't talk about the Hypostatic Union - talk about how Jesus really is true God and true Man. Don't just toss out justification by itself (unless you are at a congregation full of Preus kin) - explain it as well - that Jesus has done all the good that we need and gives His goodness to us, that the Father sees us as good because of Christ. Always explain your terms - that way people will both learn the terms (so they can read things that are more advanced) and understand clearly what you are saying.

2. Try to change the congregation - Your job is not to change the congregation. Your job is not to turn them into a new version of Redeemer or St. Paul's or whatever congregation you have loved. They aren't them. Simple as that. Mayhaps they will never be the super high-church congregation - maybe they will never have this awesome program or that. Who cares. That's not your job - to make them into something else.

Your job is to preach and teach faithfully. If change comes of that - so be it. If it comes quickly - so be it. If it comes slowly - so be it. Some plant, some fertilize, and some reap the harvest. Don't assume that you are the one who will reap the harvest - you may just be breaking up the soil. It is not your job to turn your congregation into some hypothetical perfect congregation - it will never be that (there never is one), and more over, you won't be the pastor of the perfect congregation anyway. Simply be faithful and patient and teach faithfully.

3. Try to mimic another Pastor - I love the way my field work pastor Peter Cage preaches. I'm not Peter Cage. I love the way my field work pastor Kevin Karner lead the liturgy. I'm not Kevin Karner. I love the way my Vicarage Supervisor Stewart Crown taught bible class. I'm not Stewart Crown. There are many things I love about how Dan Dahling is a pastor, or my dad, or David Nehrenz, or Paul Harris, or Mike Knox, or Pless - but I'm not them. I can't try to imitate them -- but I can learn from them an I can incorporate what they have taught into how I teach - how they preach into how I preach.

But the simple fact is this. God has not called Cage or Karner or Crown to be the pastor of your congregation - He has called you. Learn to shape and hone your own skills with what you have learned from all the pastors God has given you time with, but learn and know and trust that YOU are the pastor there - and when you preach, it can be influenced by these folks, but it needs to be you preaching - when you teach, it can and should be influenced by these folks, but it needs to be you teaching. Quote if you like, mention, refer - I mention Quill in my sermon last week, and I enjoy doing the occasional Scaer impersonation in bible study (with appropriate introduction talking about the old cranky prof I had at sem who would say. . .). But you are the one who is called there to be a Pastor - and that is no accident. Do not put on airs - be whom God has called you to be.

4. Speak down to your people - There will be times when you want to strangle people. There will be times you want to beat people with a stick. Tough. Suck it up. It is not your place to speak down to them, it is not your place to assert your dominance or superiority over them. Rather, have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. . . you getting the whole Philippians 2:5-11 kick here? You lower yourself to below them and serve them. You don't need to prove you are _______er than them. You need to teach them simply and humbly. Don't treat them as foolish - although you might know more theology than some, chances are they know a lot more about other things than you, and you don't want them swinging around and humbling you in those areas - that is the way of pain and suffering. Teach with love and patience.


-Pause and Reflect-
Every once in a while pause and reflect on what you've been doing - and see where you have been doing poorly. In many ways I condemn myself in writing this - and that is not bad. It is good to reflect on what you need to do better, what you need to improve upon. I examine myself with my own standards now, and see what is lacking. It is best to fix that now before it gets worse. Do this

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What your Pastor is

(The following is a Public Service Announcement brought on by thoughts inspired by Call Night)

So, you are getting a Pastor. How exciting! But what do you do with this Pastor, how do you use him personally, apart from the corporate things, like Worship and Bible Study? There are many reasons why people might go and talk to their pastor. There are many reasons why one would use their pastor for a specific service. Some of these reasons are good, and some are bad. Let's review.

The Good.

1. Forgiveness
- Ultimately, a Pastor's chief job is to forgive sins - this is that whole John 20, Sunday after Easter thing. A Pastor is to speak words of Forgiveness - so if you want to have sin dealt with (and specifically your own sin), the Pastor is the place to go. Whenever Satan bugs you about sin, your Pastor can speak directly to you, telling you that your sin, that sin that bothers you, that this is forgiven. Good comfort.

2. The Understanding of Scripture - If you want to know what the Scriptures say, how to approach them, understand what something means - this is something your pastor should be well trained in. We are servants of the Word, and the Word is our chief tool. Hence, we should know, or if we don't know, we should know how to search and find. If you want to understand God's Word better, the Pastor is the place to go.

3. Spiritual Counsel - Do you wish to understand how to apply the truth of God in your own life - if you want to know "What does this mean" - then go to your pastor. He should be able to help guide you in applying God's Word to your specific situation. This doesn't mean he will tell you what to do always - but he will set before you the possible options that you in your Christian freedom have. Pastors can do this.

Now, the Bad

1. The Pastor is Cheap -
let's face it - Pastors don't charge. And a lot of times, the Pastor becomes the cheap, easy option. The Wedding Chapel is expensive - but the pastor is cheap. That professional counselor charges how much per hour - the pastor is free. The funeral home charges what - the pastor is cheap. If you are using your pastor because he is cheap -- that's not good. A Pastor's focus is going to be on the spiritual - and if you aren't wanting the spiritual, don't go there, even if he is cheap. If you don't want a spiritual approach - if you don't want your wedding to be about God and His love for you, don't go to a pastor. Otherwise, you won't be happy. Also, in terms of counselling, most pastors are not trained psychologists or social workers -- we can deal with spiritual aspects, but some serious problems are beyond pastors. It's worth it getting it fixed, even by that guy who charges $75 an hour.

2. The Pastor will fix. . . them - Don't go to your pastor to try to make them change someone who is annoying you. Now, if you want help in handling your own problems - excellent. If you are simply concerned about someone and don't know if pastor is aware of difficulties that they are having that he might help with - excellent. If you this X is a tool and want pastor to lay into them - bad, very very bad. When someone talks to me, I deal with the person talking to me. And frankly, that's all I can do. We have this strange idea that we can and ought to be able to control people. . . but that if I can't control someone myself, maybe the pastor can do it. No - it's not my job to control people. I teach. I show Christ. I show Scripture. And if people ignore - so be it.

3. Try to get the Pastor on your side - As a Pastor, my side is the Word of God. If the Word of God says "A, B, and C" I must say A, B, and C. If D supports A, B, and C, then I will say that D is a good idea. If the Word of God says, "Thou shall not E", then that is what I will say. If F leads to E, I'll say F isn't a good idea. That's it. Beyond the Word of God, my opinion, my thoughts don't amount to much, and I'm not going to try to make them amount to much. Besides, if my job was to sway people's opinions, wouldn't I already be swaying them to my own instead of you telling me what I should tell people? (If I thought they did I'd have sermons on why you should be a Libertarian. . . oh, but that's not really dealing with the Word of God, so I don't get to).

The Optional

1 - Your Pastor as a Person
- I like to cook. If you want to ask me about cooking - I'm all game. I like Star Wars - if you want to know whether or not stormtroopers have bellybuttons, ask away. I'm a history buff - you have a question about Feudal Japan, ask away. You want advice on fixing something. . . not so much. My mom was a nurse, so I'm a touch more familiar with hospitals and nursing homes than some are - I'll share what I know. But I don't know business management - just remember that. Your pastor will have personal and individual interests and talents that are not specifically part of the Pastoral Office. Hit him up for those if you are so inclined - but know that these will vary wildly. Enjoy them as you will, but never expect a specific one. I can teach you Greek - teach you to sing, not so much. To each his own.

Bearing these things in mind, your Pastor will be a blessing to you from God.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Legislating Morality always has reprecussions

So Oklahoma's Congress overrode a Veto and enacted two new Abortion Laws today - basically the law mandates that any woman seeking an abortion must get an ultrasound and the other that if doctors "knowingly and negligently" withhold key information or provide inaccurate information about a woman's pregnancy that they can't be prosecuted if concerns about abortion prompted the doctor... i.e. that a doctor can choose not to inform the mother of a deformity if he worries that the mother might then get an abortion.

I am opposed to abortion. I think abortion on demand is a horrid, horrid thing.

These two laws are terrible, terrible laws.

From a legal perspective, they are horrible. Why should it be that the government mandates a private person to undergo a procedure? Why should it be that doctors should be given legal sanction to withhold information from a patient? These are horrible.

From the perspective of opposing abortion, they are horrible. This legislation doesn't do anything directly to curtain abortion. It doesn't raise the ethical question of what abortion actually is and whether or not we as a country we should allow it. It does nothing to make people think about what abortion is. Instead, it simply tries to intimidate folks - and all it will do is provide a negative reaction. These laws will force people to harden their hearts even harder before they do what they want. It will drive people to cross state lines if they want an abortion, and thus cut them off from family and friends who may have given good counsel. And more to the point, it will only feed the rhetoric that anti-abortion laws are just about people wanting to control women's lives for them -- because that's what these laws really end up doing.

This is the thing people do not realize. The Law can tell you what you can or cannot do. It is very effective at this. But the law does not create morality - the law doesn't make people think correctly. A law against stealing doesn't make people want to steal less - it only prevents them if the cost of stealing becomes too high.

These laws won't cut down on the demand for abortion, and they will not prevent abortion on demand. They will not defend the unborn - instead, they will only harden the position of those who think their rights include the right to end the life of another. By playing the power and control hand, pro-life groups fall into pro-choice hands because this falls right into their rhetorical wheelhouse.

This is a sad day, and many will probably be celebrating.

A Judging Culture

So, I'm watching "Mike and Mike in the Morning" as is my custom, before I head to Church this morning. They ended up having a discussion on how we have become a "judging" culture - how so many TV shows have call in votes for who stays or goes - how the afternoon shows are dominated by the various Judge shows, how lots of media coverage seems to be breaking down someone's actions or even their apology (consider the discussion over the various statements that Tiger Woods made).

Now, let's consider this from a theological standpoint. The first thing I thought of when hearing this discussion is the common refrain whenever one points out sin of "don't you judge me!" It has seemed to me that this has increased in frequency so much. And maybe this is because we are now just in a culture where we commonly put ourselves in a position of superiority over others - evaluation over others. We rate this - we vote on this - and my on-line review might tank this place, my vote might help kick ____ off the show.

We are used to trying to exercise power over each other -- and so when a Pastor calls someone on something, the assumption is that this is an attempt to exercise power (and possibly even "ruin" someone). I should be honest and even say that perhaps sometimes it is -- but the confrontation of sin is to be a matter of love and service. It is to be a warning given out of kindness and love (because let's face it, if I didn't like you, I'd just let you keep doing stupid stuff until you drive yourself to hell).

The purpose of the Law is to call people to repentance so that they might not be harmed by their sin and might enjoy the growth that they ought to have in Christ. That is not "judging" as we think of it, that is not fostering condemnation, but preparing folks to receive life. Once again, we must learn not to simply think like the world.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

St. Mark's Day Sermon

St. Mark’s Day – April 25th, 2010 – Mark 16:14-20

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen +
Today, April 25th, is St. Mark’s Day. I have a personal fondness for this day. If you remember Professor Quill, who came here and preached at my ordination – I remember him preaching at the Seminary on April 25th a sermon for St. Mark’s Day – one of my favorites that I’ve ever heard. And then, I’ve been to Venice, where they have St. Mark’s Basilica, where Mark is buried – the Venetians actually sailed down to Alexandria in the Middle Ages and basically stole Mark’s remains and brought them back to Venice. I enjoy things with Mark, but, well, Mark sort of ends up being the forgotten Gospel writer, his Gospel the forgotten one. In the 1 year series, there are only 4 times a year where our Gospel is from Mark. Even in the three year series, when there is the year that is designed to focus on Mark’s Gospel – they still include a lot of John, some Matthew in that year. And partially, this is because Mark’s Gospel is just so short. Only 16 chapters – and those chapters aren’t very long. And if there is a specific story or lesson that is in both Mark and another Gospel, it’s going to be longer, fuller, in the other Gospels. As an example, I am going to read Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, something you should be familiar with – “The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And He was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to Him.” That’s it. Short and sweet. Mark’s account doesn’t tell us about the temptations, or have Jesus quoting Scripture at Satan. Short, sweet, to the point. Now, I’m sure some of you might be thinking – short and sweet, that doesn’t sound so bad! But generally speaking, when you are preaching on just a pericope, just a small bit of a Gospel, Mark’s version often comes out just too brief. And this is why his Gospel isn’t read that often in Church.

However, in many ways, Mark’s Gospel is really well set up for us to learn from today, especially in America. Let me explain with a bit of history. So, who is Mark and why does he write a Gospel? Well, Mark was a companion of the disciples, sort of like an assistant, often working as a secretary to them. St. Paul, on his first missionary journey, takes with him Barnabas, and also “John, whose other name was Mark.” Acts tells us that later on Barnabas and Mark head off west together. Eventually, other Church histories tell us that Mark ends up in Rome – and there in Rome he is basically the top assistant to Peter. And then Nero becomes Emperor, and then the persecutions come – and in the midst of this chaos and danger and confusion – Mark collects from Peter the things in the Mark’s Gospel and writes them down. Then, when Peter is killed, Mark heads to Alexandria, where he is the bishop there, until he too is eventually martyred. But here’s the thing about Mark’s Gospel – it’s written under duress. It’s written under the threat of persecution. It’s written in a time when the world was hostile to Christianity, when people were being fed to the beasts in the Coliseum, when Nero was using Christians as torches to light the streets. It was written in a dangerous time. And so Mark doesn’t mince words – He just dives on in and gets to the point. We don’t have time to chit-chat, the Romans might come at any moment, and we might be dragged off. So what is the point, what do we need to know right now? Do you want to talk about the Temptation of Christ – alright – Jesus was tempted just like you are. He Himself was surrounded by wild beasts, just like you might be. And He was victorious and endured, just like He will make you be victorious and endure, even unto life everlasting. A simple point, but an intense point, a comforting point.

So basically, Mark is a Gospel written for people whose lives are on the line, who live in a hostile world, who need to get to the point and get to it quickly. And sadly, this is becoming more and more a description of our world today. There are plenty of places in the world where if I walked around with my clerical collar on, or you openly wore a cross, you’d be much, much more likely to be arrested or killed. And then, even here in America, society is becoming much more hostile to Christianity. And so perhaps we would benefit from sitting down and studying this book, it would be excellent for a Bible Study – but for this morning, we will learn from just a small portion – our Gospel lesson for this day, where Mark recounts our Lord’s appearance to the disciples after His resurrection – and we will see what the whole point of this Gospel is.

“Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw Him after they had risen.” So this is where the Gospel starts this morning – and what do we see here? The two problems that will plague the Church at all times – unbelief and hardness of heart. And note, Jesus isn’t lambasting the world – Jesus rebukes the disciples. This is a danger for us – something we might fall into. Mark records this for us so that we might learn that as Christians, as those in Christ’s Church in a time of stress and persecution, we are going to be tempted with unbelief and with hardness of heart. Consider unbelief in today’s world. It used to be you could just assume that pretty much everyone was at least some sort of Christian. You can’t do that any more. And the so-called wise, the so-called educated often delight in trashing Christianity. One of my classmates, Rev. Charles St.-Onge writes a little religious article, a blog for the Houston Chronicle, and it is astonishing to see how vehemently he gets attacked in responses, how people just want to tear him apart. And that is the way the world, the way our own country is going. People are going to try to drive you to unbelief, people will try to tell you that your faith, what you have heard, what was recorded by those who saw Christ after He had risen, that all this is foolish. Don’t give into the world, don’t be misled by puffed up talk from so-called experts – Christ has given you the Word, learn and study that.

The other problem Mark points to is the hardness of heart. That’s the other danger we can face when the world is cold and rough and cruel. We can harden our hearts to where we just don’t care about folks out there anymore. They don’t want anything to do with God – so be it. They are going to behave like that – so be it. What’s the phrase – to hell with them? That’s literally the danger we face, where our hearts can become so hurt, where we worry so much about guarding ourselves that when people are off on the path to hell, we shrug and don’t care. Christ rebukes the disciples for this hardness of heart. We aren’t to let the world make us jaded – there isn’t anyone who is too lousy, too mean to hear of Christ’s love for them – “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation.” To all the world, to the whole creation. Do you see how that doesn’t let us cut someone out of the loop because they are difficult, how it doesn’t let us have hard hearts?

So how then do we avoid these dangers of unbelief, of hardness of heart? Jesus explains – “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” A lot of times we will speak of Baptism in the past – you have been baptized. And this is true, you have been baptized – however, note here that Jesus says, “is baptized” – that you “are baptized”. This past event of your baptism isn’t just something of the past, but it describes your reality, your life now. You are baptized. The way to avoid unbelief, to avoid the hardness of heart is to be in your baptism right now – to be in the faith into which you were baptized. When you were baptized, you were brought into God’s family, you were made a part of His Household – and that is all true right now. The way to avoid unbelief, to avoid your heart becoming hard is to receive the benefits and blessings you get as one who is baptized. Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins – the key to staving off unbelief and hardness of heart is focusing on the forgiveness of sins, of hearing this Word of love and mercy to you from Christ again and again so that your doubt is driven away, so that it is always wondrous and something to be shared.

And here is the wondrous thing – “will be saved”. The whole point isn’t that we must save ourselves, but rather that we are saved, that Christ comes and because of His death and resurrection, He saves us , that He is the one who does this saving – that is the point, that is where we live, that is what we believe and cling to – that Christ Jesus is our Savior from sin, and that He forgives our sins, He pulls us out of disbelief, He softens our hearts, and He gives us life. And this changes things in our life. We hear this passage then in Mark – And these signs will accompany those who believe; in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Now, let me tell you, some folks hear this and run with it – and they shouldn’t. This isn’t a “go prove you’re an awesome Christian” text – but rather this – a reminder that God gets us out of things that we would have no way of getting out of. In the Name of Christ we fight off the power and temptation of Satan – sometimes literally in an exorcism, which is rare, but more commonly in avoiding temptation. Christ will give us words to speak when words fail us – sometimes in a new tongue, but more commonly just giving us words of comfort when we don’t know what to say on our own. As for picking up serpents – well, there is the physical danger that God gets us out of, but this is more speaking to being able to deal with people who are difficult and speak venomous lies – God helps us deal with them. And as for poison, as for the sick having hands laid upon them – well, let me ask a question. How many of you, right now, by rights ought to have died a long time ago? How many of us have been preserved by God through danger and trial, how many of us have been supported by God? As Christians we understand that these things aren’t just dumb luck, aren’t just random chance – we see and believe in God’s care for us.

So this is the point. This world will strive to stir up doubt. This world will try to make you harden your heart, make you jaded just as it is jaded. But you are baptized, and you know and believe in Christ Jesus, and thus you have eyes to see not only His mercy and forgiveness, but also the support and love that He has given you all your days. In the midst of a world of increasing violence and chaos, you see the peace of Christ and this shapes your life. Rejoice in this wondrous message which Christ gives to you through His servant Mark, and rejoice in the truth of the resurrection of our Lord. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Christian Freedom freely. . . gives itself up?

I love Christian Freedom. I think it is something that we don't talk enough about - something that has gotten a somewhat dirty name because folks contradict the Scriptures under the guise of a "Christian Freedom" which is neither Christian nor Freedom (for anything doing with sin is always in fact slavery to sin). This does not change that Christian Freedom - the variety of good, God pleasing choices in our lives that we have before us - is one of the most wondrous (and sometimes intimidating) gift we have.

But here is something we can forget about Christian Freedom. Christian Freedom often freely gives itself up.

So here I sit, Saturday morning. Me bride still dozes. Out of love for God and her, out of my Christian Freedom, I gave my ascent and was bound to her in holy matrimony. That means I gave up some of my freedom. . . freely. The Super-awesome vacation. . . well, unless I can swing it for two, it doesn't get to happen (and instead, I get the joy of road-trips, or flying stand-by on the airline her dad works for). I'm not galvanting today on plans of my own whims - we probably will go to Stillwater (STILLWATER! ACK! The belly of the BEAST!) because an author she likes will be there for a signing this afternoon. And thus I go, freely - and freely giving up the other options that I might have done.

To join yourself to another means you give up your freedom freely.

This plays out in the Church. To join a congregation means that you give up your freedom. We tend to think of Church politics in terms of power and votes -- we shouldn't. When one joins a congregation, one pledges to support that congregation, not dominate it. You will not always have your way - nor should you. This holds true for a pastor as well. If I had my druthers, Church would be at 8 am, bible study afterwards and done by 10:30 - then home for Sunday afternoon sports. But that is not the custom of this congregation, nor would it necessarily benefit this congregation - so I'll probably be starting service (instead of brunch) at 10:45 for a long, long time. And that, in truth, is good.

This also ought to play out in the Synod. There are many things that congregations themselves could do - but unless you are independent, you are part of a larger group. In our case - the Missouri Synod - thus we have bound ourselves to certain things. We have agreed only to use Synodically approved hymnals -- so that means LSB, LW, TLH, or the various suppliments -- I'm not going to pull things from elsewhere. It means that I don't get to "ordain" an elder here and have him do word and sacrament ministry under my supervision and direction. . . even though that is valid Scripturally. We forgo that freedom for the sake of being in this Synod.

We forget that freedom means that often we freely give up some options to join together. We ought remember this.

A Great Problem of People

One of the great problems of people in general is that we do not take criticism well. When we are criticized, we point out how the other person:

a)isn't being loving.
b)doesn't know how I feel.
c)doesn't care how I feel.
d)has problems of their own that they ought to deal with.
e)focus just on one point but miss all the good
f)doesn't have the right to talk anyway.
g)hasn't been where I've been.
h)doesn't know the day I've had.

and many others (feel free to add to them in the comments if there are any you find you hear. . . or end up using yourself).

This blog has been up for almost three years, over 500 posts, and in many ways, it's focus has been on the giving and taking of criticism. Hence the name "Gadfly". Socrates referred to himself as a Gadfly buzzing around people's ears, asking questions they didn't like, questions that made them examine their thoughts, actions, and perspectives again. Never a popular thing.

When we are confronted with criticism, of people pointing out what we have done wrong, we wish to duck and dive. We wish to tar the person who speaks. We wish to say, "this doesn't apply to me." Any pastor who has done his job and preached a sermon with law knows this. We do need to remember this ourselves.

Gentlemen in the office - take your criticism. Listen to it. If it doesn't make sense, find out how it makes sense. Sometimes the criticism is. . . off base, or wants you to do that which is theologically wrong. Then teach in love. Sometimes the criticism is on target. Then repent yourself.

There is much pride amongst Lutheran pastors (oh, have I gotten the pride charged lobbed at me. . . taking a nickname of Socrates, for shame! Well, yes, I can be proud, I can be arrogant, I can be stubborn. . . but is what I have spoken correct?), and sometimes we think we puff ourselves up to levels of perfection that are false. It doesn't need to be, we sin, we make mistakes - repent and strive to do better.

Just as a thought exercise. When was the last time you apologized for something you did to someone from your Church? Can you remember it? Ironically, quite often the best way to deal with the person who is hostile is to apologize for what you have done wrong. . . it undercuts their anger and it shows that you have been listening and thinking to what they have said (or if you find them and apologize for something before they even get a chance to yell at you, oh my, that works wonders).

Be kind, show love. Confess your own sin, for it is there, and not in the abstract, but in specific ways that you know (and which the people you have sinned against may know as well). Abandon your excuses about the other person, abandon your rationales about how you are doing all things for God -- one doesn't get to be a jerk for God (cause man, if you could, I'd be the first in line). Act in love. . .and humility.

And remember - the Latin word for "Confessional Lutheran" is not "rectum".

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Funeral for LeRoy Kehnemund

The Funeral of LeRoy Kehnemund – April 22nd, 2010 – John 6:60-69

Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia) Amen +
Dorothy, Clayton, Olive, Robin and David, friends and family of Leroy, our beloved brother in Christ, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today we gather here to give thanks to our gracious Lord for the love He has shown us through His servant Leroy, to rejoice that God Himself has claimed Leroy as His own dear child in the waters of Baptism and brought Him safely unto the joys of heaven, and to ask that God would lead and guide us through our own grief now until that the Last Day, when all grief and woe will be thoroughly undone by the resurrection of the dead at the return of Christ Jesus our Lord. We gather here knowing that this resurrection will come, for our Lord has won our salvation with His death upon the Cross, and He Himself rose from the dead, showing to us that He would indeed call us forth as well.

This truth, the fact that Christ Jesus died upon the cross to save us from our sins and rose to give us eternal life, was and is one of the great joys of Leroy’s life. This is something that stood out clearly in the time in which I was blessed to know him here. Let me explain how and why this stands out. Now, as you all know, Leroy loved to talk. And talk. He’d give a little thoughtful sigh, and then proceed to let you know what you needed to know, and everything you needed to know. In fact, I don’t know if I can remember a time where Leroy left this Church without Dorothy pulling him out of some conversation or another saying, “Come on, it’s time to go.” We all know that Leroy loved to talk. But that’s not what stands out to me – what stands out is that Leroy loved to listen. I remember it well, it was right back there after service, and Leroy looked at me, gave me one of those determined sighs, and said, “Pastor, I like your sermons, I just can’t hear it.” And we got to talking, and the end result was that I would print up a copy of the sermon and have it at the back of the Church for Leroy next Sunday so he could know every word that I said. He wanted to hear.

And this wasn’t because I was had such a beautiful voice or was so wonderful, but because Leroy wanted to hear His Lord’s Word, and if pastor’s accent and lisp and his own hearing were going to get in the way, then let’s have it there to read. The thought, the point, was the exact same point that Peter makes in our Gospel reading this day. Jesus had been preaching the truth, and folks back then are no different than folks today – a lot of folks don’t like hearing the truth. And folks were getting mad at Jesus and abandoning Him, forsaking His teaching, and so Jesus asks the 12 disciples, are you guys going to leave too? And Peter speaks these beautiful words – “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter knew that hearing Jesus, listening to His Word was where it was at, that our Lord spoke the most wondrous words of all – words of eternal life. Think about that – that Jesus’ Words give eternal life – that the reason we are able to be here with hope, the reason we were able to say together that we believe in the life everlasting is because we learned them from Jesus’ Words, and if Jesus speaks them, they are true, they are powerful, they are guaranteed.

More than anything, Leroy wanted to hear those words of eternal life. And when Christ’s Word is our focus, it brings with it wonderful results. For Leroy, I put a copy of my sermon at the back of the Church – and other folks saw it, and wanted one too. So there were more. And then it was sent out to the folks who couldn’t make it on Sunday, and so on and so forth. I found out a couple of years ago that one lady was forwarding the sermons to folks in prison and that the prisoners were sharing it there – and none of this was expected, none of this was planned – it came about simply because Leroy Kehnemund wanted to hear the Word of God preached. God works, God accomplishes life and salvation through His Word. This is something that we ourselves should learn – that our desire to hear God’s Word, our focus upon it, quite often helps others to hear that word, helps them to be focused upon that Word, and thus the Word goes out, the Church grows, more and more know of Christ’s love for them, how He died to forgive their sins and rose again – that this all spreads through and by God’s own Word, even with results that we could never have planned for, never have expected.

And now, here is the wonderful part. Because of this word of life and forgiveness that Leroy heard all of his days, right now, this very instant Leroy is in the presence of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus hearing the Word of eternal life in heaven. Right now, Leroy’s soul is at Christ’s side delighting in our Lord’s presence, and when our Lord comes again with trumpet sound on the Last Day, Leroy will rise again and with joy hear that trumpet in His own Body now risen and made like Christ’s own resurrected Body, and for the rest of eternity He will hear the Lord’s Word of life. This is the promise and joy that our Lord’s Word worked in Leroy by giving him the gift of faith, giving him the forgiveness of his sins, by joining him to his savior in Baptism and in the Lord’s Supper. And this is why we are able to take this pause in the midst of our grief to reflect upon our Lord’s Word with joy and confidence, knowing that on account of Christ Jesus Leroy has everlasting life, and that on account of Christ Jesus our sorrows of this day will be done away with by everlasting Joy. And thus we are right to give thanks to God for all the blessings of both body and soul that he gave to Leroy.

All Praise, dear God, for Leroy/ Who did so dearly love
To hear and study God’s Word/ Which gave Him life above.
May we who still remain here/ Likewise cling unto Christ
And by His Word be gathered/ Unto eternal life.

Always the Damsel

To be a Christian is to admit that in the story of salvation you are always the damsel in distress. You aren't the hero who save the day, you aren't the quirky side kick who brings comedic relief. You aren't even a Princess Leia style damsel who gets to grab the gun, start shooting, and shout, "Somebody's got to save our skins." Nope - you are the clumsy, ditzy sort of damsel who keeps messing things off, setting off traps. The sort of damsel that would annoy the audience watching the film, the sort where people think, "Wow, may Indy should just let her get pasted."

This is how we are described in the Scriptures - as sinners in constant need of care, as sheep who wander, as those who are in constant need of rescue.

And this is why Christianity is never popular. Who wants to be the damsel in distress? We all want to be the hero, the focus of the story -- or even if we are rescued, we at least want to be the Princess who gets to command. But that's not what we see in Scripture. We see in God's Law what we really are, and we wish to avoid admitting it as long as we can.

We are always the damsel. Luther would say that we are always beggars before God. It is never about our own good, but rather that God is good to us in Christ Jesus, indeed, that He even works good through us. This is a lesson those who think along the ways of the world despise, but to the Christian it is the most wonderful news - it's not about me, it doesn't hinge on me. Christ Jesus has done it all.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Weekly Meditation - Easter 3

Greetings in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

The Epistle Reading for the 3rd Sunday of Easter is 1 Peter 2:21-25, and now we will consider verse 24, which reads, "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness."

Part of the Christian life is that we who have been forgiven would lead a life where we strive to turn away from sin - indeed, an image often used is this image of dying to sin and living to righteousness. This points to a truth - that the forgiveness which Christ won for us not only cleanses the sins of our past, but that it also is to shape and direct our future - that because we are forgiven and know this forgiveness, that our lives in the future are to be lives of Christ's own righteousness shining through us.

This idea is called "Sanctification" - that we are made holy ("Sanctus" is Latin for "holy" and "fication" deals with making something, like in the word "factory") and now do that which is holy. We are to strive to do that which is holy, that which is righteous, that which is just. That is the heart of what living as a Christian is - to strive to be like Christ.

There are many, many things that people will claim is the Christian life. Some say a life of power, some say a life of purpose, some will point to a life of glory and might. Eh, perhaps - but Peter nails it down here. The Christian life is to be a life where we die to sin, where we flee from sin, and a life where all that we do is to be righteous, to be holy, to be a matter of showing love. That is the path of the Christian life.

So why is this the shape of our life? Because it is the shape of Christ's life, and Christ gives you His whole self, all that He is. His love dominates and overwhelms and guides your life - He makes you do die to sin and to live to righteousness -- indeed, this is part and parcel of the gift of Baptism -- remember your catechism - what does such baptizing with water indicate? (If you do not remember the answer to the question, you may look it up in your catechism or find it here)

Know who you are in Christ - delight in His forgiveness for your sins of the past, delight in the strength He gives you for the week to come, and in all things trust in His mercy and love for you - for indeed, He Himself bore your sins for you, that you might have life in His Name.

Have a blessed week,

Pastor Brown

Easter 3 Sermon

aster 3 – April 18th, 2010 – John 10:11-16

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen +
The Gospel texts that we hear in these weeks after Easter really end up focusing us upon what the Risen Christ does for us and makes us into – what we in the Church are made into on account of Christ. On Easter, we get the foundation – Christ rises from the dead, and this is for us, it is to give us new life now and the assurance of our own resurrection on the Las Day. Last week, we heard that Christ uses His Word of forgiveness to remove our fears and doubts, to give us strength for this new life - that He makes us to be people whose lives are defined by the fact that we receive forgiveness from Christ. Do you see how both of these texts describe how Christ relates to us, and then describe who, describe what we are in the Church because of Christ and His love for us? We hear another description of what Christ establishes in His Church, what His love makes us to be. And it’s familiar – it’s the image of the Good Shepherd.

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” We hear these words, and we make those joyous connections – of course Christ is our Good Shepherd, and on Good Friday, the Good Shepherd laid down His life for us. We know this, we give thanks for this. As Paul would have us be, we are determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified in this place – we know that as often as we celebrate the Supper we show forth His death until He comes. Behold the love that Christ the Crucified has for us in dying for our sins so that we might have life in His Name! But let’s not run by this idea too quickly. Let us pause and consider it again – the Good Shepherd does what? What does a good shepherd do? He dies for the sheep. Do we realize just how odd an approach that is, how differently our Lord thinks and teaches from the rest of the world? A shepherd dying for sheep? For those sheep who exist so that you can sheer their wool, so that you can even slaughter them? For that a good shepherd would die? Who gives up their life for an animal, for a lowly beast? Yet, that is how Christ describes His Church. It is as though Christ were to say, “I am God Almighty – and although I am God and you are as below me as a sheep is below you, yet I choose out of My love for you to die for you.”

Do we believe this image? Does this shape how we think? Do we view ourselves as sheep, as foolish folk who easily wander astray into sin? Do we view ourselves as simple folk in need of constant and continued care, who are relatively powerless to defend ourselves against predators? Do we believe this? We ought, for it is true. Christ is the Good Shepherd, and we are sheep – we all like sheep had gone astray, and we need to be cared for. This is part and parcel of what being a Christian is – it means acknowledging that you are weak and lowly and that you need to be cared for – that you need God’s care for you, that if the Good Shepherd hadn’t died for you, then you yourself would have been lost, and that there is nothing that you could have done about it – that you are as dependant upon Jesus just as a sheep is dependent upon its shepherd.

This is who we in this place are, we are those who are dependent upon Christ. And why are we dependent upon Christ and not some other? “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 them and scatters them. This is because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” This is the other reality – to be in the Church is dangerous, for that old wolf Satan loves nothing more than to bound amongst God’s sheep and snatch them, seize them, scatter them. And if I could make an observation here. When are the sheep scattered? When the hireling who doesn’t care about them flees. This hireling is contrasted to the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd owns the sheep and lays down His life. The hireling – he doesn’t care about the sheep themselves – he thinks along the ways of the world. He cares for the cash in his pocket, and if this flock gets eaten up, well, there’s more places in the world to make money. Now, in many ways this text and passage is a warning to me – for I am a Pastor, and Pastor is just the Latin word for Shepherd. I serve under the Good Shepherd, and when I tend to you in His stead and by His command – the thoughts of worldly things are to be far from my mind. That’s part of the reason why we are having a Church Council Meeting, why we have a voter’s assembly – so that I don’t personally have to deal with the worldly, business affairs of this congregation by myself and begin seeing dollars and cents instead of sheep in need of care. When that happens, Satan delights. However, this passage also describes you. God has instructed, God has called you to love your neighbor – and how – love your neighbor as yourself. To see that you are involved in your neighbor’s life, that your neighbor is part of your own life. This is a warning to you as well. When you do not love your neighbor as yourself – when your own thoughts are distracted by what you can gain, what you can make, what you can take for yourself – that is when Satan comes in and snatches folks. When you don’t show love, your indifference and coldness lets Satan wreck havoc upon your neighbor. And more than that, when you don’t show love, your indifference and coldness lets Satan wreck havoc upon you yourself. If you do not show love, you are saying, “I don’t want to be a sheep – I want to be a wolf, I want to prey upon others, seize and snatch what is theirs for my own selfish desires.” This is what we need to be aware of – that if we fail to be content with simply being sheep who are cared for by the Shepherd, and instead we are focused on the things of this world, money, power, fame, respect, glory, might – we are no better than a hireling who flees and leaves the sheep to be slaughtered, we indeed become wolves preying upon our neighbor instead of praying to God for their good.

Our Lord teaches us how He makes us to avoid this horrible and wicked fate. “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 My life down for the Sheep.” Do you note what is so wonderful about this? Here we have just heard about the dangers facing us, the problems we might get into. And what is the solution? Does Jesus say, “Well then, sheep, you better learn to get tougher so you can fight off a wolf on your own”? Does Jesus say, “Well then, sheep, you’re on your own, you better formulate some master strategy and plan”? No – Jesus puts the focus upon Himself. Yes, I know that you sheep are in danger – but I am the Good Shepherd, and I know you, and because I know you, you know Me – and I lay down My life for you. Christ Jesus lays down His life for us – this isn’t just describing the one time, the once for all event of Good Friday – but rather this. Christ lays down, Christ always gives you His life. Again, this shows us how we need to think, how we ought to view the things in this Church. Everything here in this place is us receiving from Christ His life, the life He laid down for us – and this life protects us, it makes us to know Him and know His love for us. Christ is the center of everything here. We don’t just pay Jesus a minute of lip service and then go talk about something else. Our liturgy – this is Christ’s Word of love for us so that we might know Him, know the forgiveness that He won for us by laying down His life. Our hymns – they aren’t about us and what we do – they are about Christ Jesus and what He brings us. We don’t fear the foe because of Christ. Christ is our Shepherd. We rejoice because Christ’s death has set us free. Our Hymns proclaim Christ. The sermon – it’s not going to be 4 simple rules for having better stuff – it’s always going to be about what Christ does in winning and giving you salvation. The Supper – what is that – the Body of Christ, given for you. The Blood of Christ, shed for you. The Good Shepherd laid down for you. That’s what the Supper is.

And I am going to ask the question. Do we believe this – do we act as though what we confess here is actually true? Do we believe that God Himself is present here – do we believe that God gathers His flock here so that we can hear His voice, hear His Word and thus be safe and have life in His Name? Do we actually believe that it is Christ who gathers us here, that the Holy Spirit works through Christ’s Word, and that this is what makes us one, one flock? I ask, because Satan will do everything in his power to destroy, to distort this place. He will tell you it is pointless – as though eternal life and salvation isn’t a big enough point. Satan will tell you it is boring – as though the very wonder of the ages – that God becomes Man and suffers and dies so that you might live is somehow humdrum and dull. He will tell you it isn’t exciting - as though our sole goal in life is to be entertained. Satan will tell you that God’s Word isn’t enough – as though God’s Word which created everything, the world and our faith, somehow is weak. Do you believe, do you understand that you are a sheep who has heard Christ’s voice, who knows the voice of your Master, the Good Shepherd who has laid down His life for you, the Good Shepherd who has been raised from the dead proving that you will have everlasting life in His name? This is reality, this is what your life is – and indeed, this is what everyone’s life should be – this is why we are to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified so that these walls echo with nothing but Christ, so that we in our lives speak and show forth Christ – so that through us others, our family, our friends, our neighbors – so that these people whom God has placed into our lives would hear the voice of Christ as well, that they would be gathered here. And this is done by Christ Jesus – the Good Shepherd who lays down His life – the Good Shepherd who calls out and restores and forgives us through His Word. This is what our life is, this is what this place is. We are Christ’s own dear sheep whom He loves, whom He cares for by His Word, and whom He will never abandon, all thanks and praise be to God Almighty. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Weekly Meditation - Easter 2

Greetings in the Name of our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Today, let's consider this Sunday's Epistle Lesson, 1 John 5:4-10, and in particular verses 7 and 8 which read: "For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree."

I, personally, love the way John writes -- John puts before our eyes the depth, the interconnectedness of all the things we see in the Scriptures. Here we see one example - Spirit, Water, and Blood.

In John's account of the crucifixion, John records our Lord's Death by saying that the Lord "gave up His Spirit". And then, the proof of His death is that when the spear is thrust into His side, blood and water flow out from His side. These are the three things that bear witness to our Lord's death - His Spirit is given up, and then the water and the blood - these three all point to the truth that Christ died for us.

Now, consider this. When we think of the Holy Spirit, we ought always also think of God's Word as well - the two go hand in hand. This is clearer in Greek and Hebrew, where the word for "Spirit" can also mean breath -- (this is why breathing is called "reSPIRATion"). When the Word is proclaimed - the Spirit is there. No man can *say* "Jesus is Lord" but by the Holy Spirit. Whenever the Word of Christ is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit is there, active and testifying of what God has done for us.

And consider this - God's Word and Spirit use water in Holy Baptism and bring us forgiveness and faith. God's Word and Spirit use bread and wine and bring to us Christ's Body and Blood. Our life in the Church is establish and revolves around these same three witnesses - Spirit, Water, Blood, all proclaiming Christ the Crucified to us.

We are the people of Word and Sacrament - we live in this witnesses, we grow with their use, we are preserved by them and learn more and more their wonder and their usefulness. It's a wondrous glimpse God gives us into His love for us.

The Lord be with you this week.

Pastor Brown

Sunday, April 11, 2010

So many gifts under the tree

I am an only child, and before my dad went to the Seminary, we were solidly, solidly middle class with more disposable income than was needed. Given this, and the fact that my mom delights in giving gifts, I was, well, not quite rotten because they didn't let me become so, but I was a touch spoiled. And come Christmas morning the toys I had wanted would be there under the tree, and more and more beside.

As I got older, I noticed something -- even though the income of my parents dipped with Seminary and the number of gifts became less, oftentimes it seemed as though there were too many gifts. . . that I would focus so much on one that I would neglect others. I'd be so enthralled with one CD that it would be days or week before I even pulled the other CD (which I had wanted too) out of its wrapper. It was hard, even seeing how wonderful all the gifts were, to use them all like I ought.

I find this is the way we are in Church - we have a hard time being aware of and using all the gifts we have been given by God. Coming through the 50s and 60s, we were reminded the wonderful gift that the Word of God is -- but it seemed as though just now we are starting to re-appreciate the other gifts God gives us - an increasing appreciation for the Supper (that ought to increase more so!), an improved understanding of the comfort and gift of the Liturgy, and indeed, some are even starting to see the benefits of Private Confession.

By going to the Cross, our Lord set it up that we could be virtually overwhelmed with His gifts. From that tree flow all the preaching, the worship, the Supper, the absolution, the peace, the joy that we receive. So many gifts -- and perhaps it is time that we grow, that we mature, that we see more fully all that God gives to us out of His mercy. And maybe it is time we realize that no matter how much we grow, we will never exhaust or get to the bottom of the usage of all these gifts.

The 500th Post here - Sermon for Easter 2

(I find it fitting that the 500th post here is a sermon)

Easter 2 – April 11th, 2010 – John 20:19-31

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
So how many of you had the perfect week this past week? A week where nothing went wrong, where there was absolutely nothing that didn’t go according to plan? Me neither. That is just part and parcel of living in this sinful, fallen world. Stuff happens, and stuff continues to happen, and stuff will always continue to happen. St. John addresses this problem in our Gospel lesson this morning. The text begins, and it is Easter Night – the evening after the disciples learn about the resurrection of the Lord, and where are they? “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews. . .” The disciples are holed up together, barricaded up. And why? Fear. Their week was rough, and it might get rougher still, and so there they huddle behind locked doors, scared of what the future will bring.

Does that not often describe our lives and how we live them? Lives where we slide back into fears and worries about what might be – fears and worries where we are just sure that the worst will happen. . . and not worried so that we might prepare for it, but rather just that sense of dread. This is what the old evil foe wants to stir up in you – fear and dread. Fear and dread paralyze you. Hitler knew that – that was why he started sending V-2 rockets at England. . . it created a paralyzing fear. So who do you think is more cunning, Satan or Hitler? Who do you think crafts a more deadly and difficult attack, the Evil One or merely a wicked man? Satan is going to try his hardest to stir up fear and worry in you, to make it be where you become frozen, like a deer in the headlights simply so he can plow right through you. This is a danger we face in our lives.

Jesus, though, doesn’t just let Satan have his way. “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” So Christ shows up – locked doors don’t bother Him anymore, for He is resurrected and fully demonstrates His divine power. And Jesus comes to the disciples, and He says something that is wondrous, something we hear over and over again. Peace be with you. There it is – peace – calmness, joy, security, peace – that is the cure, that is the antidote, that is the way to fight Satan’s fear. To see Christ’s peace.

So then, what is peace? The word gets tossed around all the time. Sadly for us, peace often just means a cease-fire – means that our fights and wars have just become so taxing that we are just tired of them and want to stop fighting – not that there are any less problems, not that any disagreements are fixed – just that we pause and stop fighting. That way we don’t have to worry about it any more. But that’s not peace – not the way scripture speaks of peace. Peace in scripture isn’t a military term, it doesn’t refer to the mere cessation of war – peace in Scripture means that there is unity, that there is sharing, that folks have been joined together in love and harmony and that the reasons for fighting, the reasons for fear have passed away and been removed.

Christ enters that upper room, and He says, “Peace be with you.” He’s not just wishing them good luck, He’s not just sending happy thoughts their ways. No, Christ Jesus is describing reality. “When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.” He showed them His hands that had the nails driven through them, He showed them His side which had been pierced by the spear. He showed them the signs of His death. He showed them the signs of His death while living, while breathing, while standing before them a living, resurrected Man. That, dear friends, is what peace is. There is Christ Jesus, and the world has done its worst to Him, has thrown every pain and sorrow at Him that it could – and yet, there He stands. He stands victorious, He stands glorious. The first hymn we sang, Walther’s “He’s Risen, He’s Risen” – in German it’s “Erstanden, Erstanden”. He’s standing – right there, look, it’s Christ Jesus standing in front of us, not dead but alive. And really, ultimately, what is left to fear? Even with all that He faced and saw, there He is, standing alive. That’s where we end up. No matter what we face in this life, no matter what the world throws at us, we know how the story ends – it ends with us standing at our Lord’s side, risen because He is risen, living because He is living, in heaven for all eternity because He shall dwell in heaven for all eternity. Satan and death could not conquer Him, nor shall they conquer us – they shall be brushed aside, swatted way. Christ has brought peace – He’s removed the cause of fear, He’s defeated death – there is nothing left to fear.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we folks living in the sinful world cease to have problems. This doesn’t mean that Satan simply rolls over – he has lost, but he is determined to take as many of us with him as he can. And Christ knows the struggles we face, and so we hear this. “’Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.’” Christ Jesus knows that Satan will still throw around fear – and the first fear that He will attack with is sin, is guilt. We know that sin has consequences. When we are doing it, we will delude ourselves into thinking that it has no consequences, but eventually the weight of our sin and our folly comes crashing down upon us. We see things go horribly wrong in our lives, not because of those people out there, but because we ourselves have messed things up – sometimes beyond our ability to repair. And that is what Satan loves to cackle in our ear – oh, look how you are going to get it now! And that fear comes rushing in, followed by dread and despair. To cut this off, Christ Jesus has given to His Church people whose specific job, whose specific duty is to proclaim forgiveness to those who are terrified of their sin, to those who repent of their sin. That’s ultimately what a pastor is – I’m in the same line of work as Christ put the disciples to – to speak forgiveness to those who repent – and to speak bluntly about sin to those who delight and continue on in their sin. Every time you hear me speak in this place – you should hear forgiveness proclaimed – every sermon, every service – Christ has died for your sin – that should be the constant refrain. That way Satan pulls no wool over our eyes – we don’t run off after sin now, and we don’t wallow in despair when we see our sinfulness – because Christ’s Word of forgiveness is true. Yes, sin has temporal consequences – yes, sin messes up things in your life now – but because of Christ, your sin is forgiven, your story still ends well in heaven, live and be bold in that. Turn away from sin, beat it down with repentance, and turn towards the forgiveness proclaimed in Christ’s Name.

The other fear that stirs up now is doubt. “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.’” Thomas here is struggling with doubt – and why? He wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus showed up, and so, eh, I just won’t buy it. You do realize, dear friends, that doubt is the way of the world – that for 2000 years the world has railed against Christianity, that the brashest of the so-called thinkers have scoffed and mocked Christianity – indeed, they do their best to foster doubt, to shake and rattle you. And what happens when, for whatever reason, you decide to neglect Church? You have this going on, there was that thing – for whatever reason – you miss Church. What are you doing? You are exposing yourself to a world of doubt. If you are left to your own on anything, doubt will always creep in – and that is what Thomas is seeing right there.

“Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see My Hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’” The cure to doubt is to be gathered together with the people of God in Church, in worship. You realize that what happened in this text is what happens here in Church all the time. We are gathered together, and what happens? Christ is present – He is present in His Word proclaimed, and even more wondrously and miraculously – He is present in His Supper. I wish we had it more often, and we probably should. And why? Because the things of worship – hearing the Word, receiving Christ’s own Body and Blood for forgiveness and the strengthening of faith are the right and proper cures for doubt, the right and appropriate ways to fight doubt. We need to remember what we learned in confirmation class – we don’t come to faith by our own reason or strength, but that the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel – called us by God’s Word preached, by God’s Word poured over our head in the waters of Baptism, and that in the Church the same Spirit continues to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify us with His gifts – His gifts of the Word and His gifts of the Supper. It’s here where it happens – where we are pulled out of the everyday and humdrum of our lives and gathered up together in God’s House, in God’s presence, so that we are sustained until we are eternally in God’s presence in heaven.

You do realize that this is what happens here. This isn’t about us – this isn’t just us coming together and speaking some words, singing a song or two, listening to some crackpot pastor ramble on for a few minutes. No – this place is about God being active, God bringing us together in His Word – these Words that we speak, they are God’s Word, the very Words of eternal life. These songs that we sing – they aren’t meant to be entertainment – but they are the truth of God’s love that are designed to build us up – when we sing these hymns we proclaim God’s Word to each other – as I knelt for prayer before this sermon, you sang God’s Word of life into my ears so I was prepared to preach it into your ears. We are gathered by Christ to be in His Word, to receive His Supper, to grow in the faith – so that believing in Him we would have life in His Name. Christ Jesus has promised to be with us whenever we gather around His Word and Sacraments – even if there are only two or three of us, and to make us share in His life. He has risen from the dead, and He desires that you share in this life as well. Delight in His Word, rejoice in the gifts He gives you in His house – hear Him preached, touch Him in His Supper, and delight in His forgiveness and life. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia - Amen

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Zombie Day?

This morning I have seen this day of Easter referred to with the greeting of "Happy Zombie Day".

There are a few things to take from this - the crassness of it - the fact that public mockery of (or even public disagreement with) is generally condemned in our culture. . . unless you are mocking Christianity. But all of this does make a point.

We do live in a world of the walking dead. We do live in a world where many people shamble around looking for whatever satisfies their desires until the end where the best they can hope for is to simply stop. Sadly, it does seem rather zombie-ish tone to me.

But we who this day celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord this day are in fact alive. With our Lord we have already passed from this death of sin unto life. We were dead in trespasses - we are now alive in Christ. We were in bondage to sin and death - we have been set free by He who is the Way to Heaven, the Truth, and the Life Eternal which we now share with Christ.

This celebration of Easter that we of the Faith observe today is not just some historical footnote. It is not some passing happenstance. It is the reality of our lives, for now, wherever we go we show forth the love of Christ our Lord, and then on the Last Day, even though we should die, yet shall we live.

There are many passages of Scripture that one would hear, but on this, on the change and difference that this day brings in your own life - I would recommend this passage from Romans. A blessed Easter to all of you who enjoy your share of Life Everlasing in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Christ is risen - He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Sermon

Easter Sunday – April 4th, 2010 – John 20:1-18

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) +
My dear friends in our risen Lord and Savior Christ Jesus, today, this Sunday, we hear once again the reason for our hope, the reason for our joy, the reason why we know that we can face with confidence anything that we see in this life. Our Lord Christ Jesus rose from the dead. Do you see, do you understand how this shapes the way we approach everything, everything in life? There is nothing in this life, in this world that we as Christians do not see and understand differently than the rest of the world does because of the truth of our Lord’s resurrection. Everything is changed, everything is different, everything is turned for the better.

Consider the start of our text. Mary Magdalene approaches a tomb – and what does she expect? A dead body. That’s understandable. We all know death, we all know it well enough to dislike it. And as Mary goes, she’s expecting to see a body because in this fallen world dead is dead. Just how it goes. According to the thinking of this world – that’s all there is and nothing more. End of story. Yet when she arrives, there is no dead body there. Now, something is different, something is going on. Mary doesn’t know what to make of it, yet – she’s still thinking in worldly terms. There must be a reasonable explanation for this, so she runs to Peter and John and jumps to the following conclusion, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” This is actually a pretty lousy conclusion. Roman soldiers had been stationed by the tomb – who would this “they” be? Who would have the power to overcome the Roman Guards? But that’s all that she can think of. Someone must have taken Him, because the tomb is empty.

Peter and John don’t know what to make of this either – so they go running to the tomb – and it’s empty, and they know that something is going on – but they don’t know what. “For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.” They are left at a loss – and so there is nothing left for them but to go back to their homes in wonderment. Because they don’t know, because they don’t understand the resurrection – nothing makes sense. This, dear friends, is the state of the world. Without the resurrection of Christ, in the world pain and suffering and confusion will dominate, and people will go to stranger and stranger lengths to try and force some fleeting joy and happiness into their lives, until things all fall apart, until they all just. . . stop. That’s all the world can hope for, all the world can expect.

Mary doesn’t go home. She stays at the tomb all distraught. Weeping. She is so upset that when two Angels suddenly appear in the empty tomb and start talking to her, when two angels ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping”, it doesn’t stand out to here that there are two angels there who weren’t there a moment ago. It doesn’t register – her grief is that great. In fact, next we hear, “She turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.” She is so overwhelmed, that she doesn’t even recognize Christ, standing there in front of her – and then, Jesus speaks to her – “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Um, who exactly are you looking for – cause I’m standing right here. And she still is distraught and nothing makes sense and she starts rambling at Jesus, thinking He’s the gardener – “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Which makes a lot of sense because as we all know, gardeners like. . . to steal bodies? When my wife told me that she like gardening – I didn’t think it meant she was a grave robber. But this is just where Mary’s mind is at right now.
And then Jesus says something very simple. He says, “Mary”. He calls her by name. I know you, Mary, and you know Me, and behold, I am alive. And at that moment, at hearing her Lord speak her name, everything is different. What had been a morning of fear and pain and upset becomes a day of utter joy and wonder and rejoicing. Christ Jesus lives – and suddenly, that empty tomb makes sense! Jesus is risen – and suddenly those angels there talking to her make sense. Horror and grief take flight, chased away by the risen Lord. And so our Lord tells her to go, tell the disciples that He has risen, to share the joyous and wonderful news, to let them know as well that everything in this world is different, is changed now, because Christ has risen.

Now dear friends, consider your own life. In your life here in this world, you will see sorrows and hardships. For some, sorrows of the past stand out, for some it’s the hardships of the present. Probably both, to be honest . In this world we come across pain, we come across toil, we come across grief and loss. And the best the world can offer us is distraction – if you have enough stuff, if you eat, drink, and be merry you maybe can ignore all these things for a time. But that’s all the world can offer – and it doesn’t really change anything. The world doesn’t provide hope – the hope the world offers falls flat in the face of reality. The world doesn’t offer real change – because here the more things change, the more they stay the same. Still the same problems and pains now that there were then. In fact, they seem to be getting worse. No, the world has no permanent solutions.

God, however, does not ignore the problems of the fallen world, He doesn’t just try to distract us away from them, He doesn’t give us some song and dance number to put a smile on our face. He fixes the problem. The problem is sin and death – and Christ Jesus comes and He defeats sin upon the Cross and He conquers death on Easter when He rises from the tomb. That is what happened that Easter day – that is what Mary saw – that all those problems and pains and hardships she felt that morning were done away with when Christ Jesus rose – and more than that – it meant that every problem, every trouble, every thing in this life that always ends up in death – no, it doesn’t anymore. Now, once again, there is life.

You do realize, dear friends, that this same thing has happened in your life, do you not? You do realize that now, as a Christian, where the world sees only pain and death, you see the hope of the resurrection and life everlasting. And why? Our Risen Lord, Christ Jesus, took water, and then He called you by Name at Baptism, just as assuredly as He called Mary by name, and He not only washed away your sin but taught you the Truth, God’s Truth, God’s Hope, God’s solution. And that is a Truth that towers over anything we see in life. Is there pain – Christ brings healing, for He can heal even death. Is there sorrow – Christ brings joy beyond all sorrow. Is there weeping – Christ wipes away every tear from our eyes. Is there anger – Christ brings with Him peace, peace that surpasses all of our understanding. Is there death – Christ brings with Himself the resurrection. And because we are in Christ, baptized into Christ, we see the whole world through Christ – we see that these sorrows and pains and trials and even death all pass away, all fade away – and that we have newness of life in Christ. This is what we have as Christians – that everything in our life we see and understand in light of Christ’s resurrection, knowing that He is our Lord who loves us and will not only see us through the problems of the moment, but bring us unto the joys of heaven and life everlasting upon the last day. And nothing, nothing in this world can take this way from us, nothing can change the fact that Christ has risen – it is true, it is wondrous, and we have the victory.
But Satan, our old foe, tries his hardest to make us forget this truth, to not remember it, to not let it be how we see and approach everything. Satan likes to stir up trouble and rub our face in it, he loves to stir up doubt – as we’ll hear about in detail next week. Our Lord knew and anticipated this – He Himself has a body like ours, He Himself was tempted as we are tempted, and so, just before His Crucifixion, He instituted His Supper, so that in receiving His own Body and Blood for forgiveness, for the strengthening of our faith, we might learn to live like He lives – that always, over and against Satan, our eyes might be focused upon Christ, that we might know once again that we are already part of the Body of Christ, and so our resurrection and victory is ensured. This is what this Supper is for – it’s so that we might know that every Sunday is Easter Sunday – every Sunday is a celebration of Christ’s victory for us over Satan – indeed, that this victory is ours every day – and that being in Christ, being united to Him, learning from Him, receiving His Supper we might see this truth at all times every day.
My dear Christian friends – Christ our Lord has risen and with His resurrection there is no enemy that can destroy us, no foe that can oppose us, no hardship that can defeat us – for Christ Jesus is our Life and our Savior, and just as He lives and reigns to all eternity, so too shall we live to all eternity and delight in His kingdom forever more. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday Tenebrae Sermon

Good Friday Homily – The Passion According to St. John – April 2nd, 2010

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
How quickly we will complain. How quickly we will lament how harsh and unfair things are to us. How quickly we will blame our problems upon other people. So often we will assume that our lives would just be so much better if it weren’t for. . .him. . . if she wasn’t like that. As children we quickly learn to cry out, “It’s not fair” – and even as we grow, we repeat the refrain on and on. We learn to shout out, “it’s not my fault” when blame gets passed onto us. And sometimes, perhaps, we are right. Many times, we aren’t. We just duck and dive our responsibility. How quickly we will complain and lament what happens to us.

And yet, behold your Lord and Savior Christ Jesus this night on His Passion. There He had been in the Garden of Gethsemane, gone to pray. And what happens? His friend, His companion, Judas, betrays Him. Sells Him out to the Romans. Would not Christ be right to complain of this? Would not He have been justified in screaming, “This isn’t fair – I was simply going to pray – and now look at what My friend has done – He has stabbed me in the back!” But He doesn’t. What happens to Him, the unfairness of it no longer concerns Him. Instead, when the servant of the high priest, poor Malchus gets his ear cut off by a rambunctious Peter – Jesus sees it and heals it. Let me fix the unfair thing you have suffered.

Our Lord is taken off then, arrested, and there He goes. Led in the middle of the night to stand before men who want His blood, want His head. Do His friends come with Him? Do they support Him, encourage Him, defend Him? No, John follows Him in, but we hear nothing from Him – no passionate defense of Christ - no dramatic cries of “You have an innocent man!” And then in the courtyard, even far away from the action, simply out in front of the servants, in front of people who have no power to hurt him, even Peter denies Christ. To have your dear friend stand silent while you are accused, and that’s the kindest thing any of your friends do? Some besmirch you, forsake you. And yet – no complaining from our Lord.

Before the High Priest, Christ says that He has taught publicly, that He has no secret teachings – that they all know what He has proclaimed, and even implies that they know that it is true. For this, He is struck, slapped. Why? He spoke no falsehood. But there is no apology, instead He is bound and herded off like a common criminal.

He is taken before Pilate, before the Roman governor. It is hard for us to imagine what this would be like. Rome was an occupying power – it would be like a southerner in the Civil War being dragged by other southerners to a Union General – it would be humiliating and insulting. His accusers couldn’t, wouldn’t even enter Pilate’s home – but they shove Christ in. You take Him, Pilate, and you put Him to death, because that is what we want. And yet, still no complaint.

And then Pilate questions Jesus, grills Him – and Jesus answers calmly and truthfully – shows the governing authority that He is innocent. Pilate says that He finds no guilt in Him. Yet, does Pilate do his job of protecting Christ? No. Pilate caves to pressure – orders Him to be crucified at the whim of the crowd. Releases a murder and a robber – a heinous criminal that everyone knew was rotten gets released – and there is Christ, still set for death. But then Pilate thinks of a plan – if I can beat Him, if I can brutalize Him so much that the people will have pity upon Him, maybe the mob will no longer want His blood. And so the soldiers come, they place the crown of thorns upon His head, and flog Him. And consider this – this abuse, this flogging at the order of Pilate – this is the kindest thing done to Christ. How is that for a day – where literally the kindest thing a person does is beat You bloody so that people might have pity upon You?

To no avail. The crowds, Christ’s own kin, His own people, still call for His blood. And Pilate tries to convince the crowd – but they even go so far as to call out, “We have no king but Caesar.” Rank heresy, there was nothing worse for a Jew to say. God was to be Israel’s King – but the hatred is so enflamed, so impassioned, that they would rather claim Caesar as their own than see Christ go free. It would be as though your entire town joined a terrorist group, joined Al-Qaida simply to see you dead. And yet, Christ doesn’t rail or rave.

And they take Him – hand Him His own cross and tell Him to start walking. This would be like forcing you to tie your own noose, or to run on a giant hamster wheel to generate the electricity that is going to run through the chair that kills you. And then, He is crucified – nailed to the cross as we are told in other accounts. Left to hang naked and exposed and beaten and flayed out in the open air. And what does He see there? Men dicing for His belongings. Crowds that jeer Him. His mother left to watch with horror and revulsion. And yet, Christ does not cry out, “This isn’t unfair, this isn’t right!” He doesn’t spew forth hatred. No – He shows forth love. John – care for My mother when I am gone. And then, after a few hours there exposed, Our Lord says, “It is finished” and breathes His last – gives up His Spirit.

It’s not fair. Not in the slightest. The truly innocent Christ Jesus is brutalized and dies, His blood is shed for no legal reason, no moral reason. He has done nothing wrong. So then, why do we gather here today, why do we call this day Good Friday, when we see such horrors inflicted upon Christ. Precisely because it is not fair. You see, what Christ suffered, what Christ endured was what we deserved, what we have earned with our sin. It’s not fair that Christ should be there – it should be us – and not just for a day, but for an eternity. But Christ Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God steps in, and He suffers in our place – He makes a trade with us. Christ says, “Here, I will take your punishment and death – and now, behold the life and salvation I give you.” And note this – But one of His soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. Christ gives to you life. Water flows from His side at death, and now, by the wonder of His gift of Baptism, water gives you life, washes you clean of your sin, wins your redemption. Blood flows from His side at His death, and now, by the wondrous gift of the Supper, that Blood is given to you for the remission of all your sin. Everything that happens to Christ, everything He suffers, it is for your good, for your life, for your salvation.

He takes up the load that you could not bear. He takes up the suffering which you could not endure. He takes up the burden of sin that lies upon you, and He says, “Enough – I will pay for it all, and I will win for you forgiveness.” As Christ is arrested, we are set free from the chains of sin. As Christ is betrayed by His friends, we are made friends again with God. As Christ is harangued by the Chief Priests and condemned by His community, we are welcomed into God’s Heavenly Kingdom. As He is beaten, our sin is purged. As His is mocked, we are praised by God, declared to be Holy and Righteous on account of Christ. As He is given to death, we are given over to life everlasting.

We do not call this day fair Friday. It was not. But it was good – and indeed, for the love of God for you is that He willingly suffers every injustice for your own good, for your own life, that you might enjoy life eternal. And come the third day – He will rise and claim that life eternal with you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

4 of 7 Tre Ore Sermons

This year I will preach 4 of the 7 sermons at Tre Ore. Here they are.

In the Name of Christ the Crucified + (number 3)
When we ponder our Lord’s death, we ought also take this time to learn from Him, to ponder and learn from His example. And what do we see? Even as He is being put to death, even with the pain and agony He experiences, our Lord’s thoughts are not inward – are not about Himself. His thoughts are outward – His thoughts go towards His neighbor. We know this – for the very reason which He is being crucified is for us men and for our salvation. We know that Christ suffers for our sake.
We see so clearly that even in the midst of His passion that Christ’s focus is upon those whom He loves with these words – Woman, behold your son. Behold, your mother. This is one of the most amazing things Jesus says. Normally when the word “Behold” is used there is massive theological weight to it that points to Jesus. Behold, the virgin shall conceive. John the Baptist cries, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus often introduces parables with “behold”. Behold is the great “get ready word” – get ready for something of vast theological importance approaches.
Woman, behold your son. John, behold your mother. Mom, John will take care of you from now on – and John, take care of my mother. That is important – but at first blush it doesn’t seem to have the same ring as many of the other beholds – it doesn’t ring like Stephen crying “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But it is – it is as profound if not more so – and it is quite instructive for us.
We see the Crucifixion for what it is – God loves the world in this way, by the cross, by giving His Son over to death so that we might be forgiven. And even as this happens – even as God demonstrates in love in dying for us while we were yet sinners – behold, He teaches us how we are to love in our own lives. Love for the Christian is not simply a matter of casual aid given in a happenstance way. Love for the Christian is not a part-time, off again, on again thing. Jesus could have simply said, “John, care for her.” Instead, Jesus says, “Behold your mother.” Your mother. That is how you are to love, that is how you are to care for her – care for her as you would for your own family. Mary, behold your son. That is how you are to care for John, for this disciple whom I love – as though he were born from you, as though he was your little boy.
To love as a Christian implies closeness and sincere care and compassion. Indeed, Jesus is not speaking idly with these words. Indeed, being in Christ implies that you will love one another. This is what Christ taught us – While He was still speaking to the people, behold His mother and His brothers stood outside, asking to speak to Him. But He replied to the man who told Him, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward the disciples, He said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” Seven times our Lord speaks while on the Cross – and of all the things which He could choose, He chooses to teach, to reinforce this lesson again. His arms are stretched out upon the cross – and He teaches us to love – and love one another as though we were family – for indeed, in Christ we are. This is reality of our lives in Christ – that we are joined together, knit together in Him. That we are not distinct individuals who tend to ourselves, but rather that we are now united in Him, and that this truth is to flow out, to shape the love and care that we show to each other.
This is hard. In this effort, we often fail. We often treat those whom we are to love with disdain – sometimes the stranger, sometimes the acquaintance, sometimes even the very members of our own earthly family. We fail, but thanks be to God that Christ Jesus is a faithful brother to us – that He is faithful in the love He shows to us – faith even unto the point of death upon the cross. He does not fail in showing to us the very same love that He instructs us to show forth. Indeed, He goes to the Cross to die to atone for our failures, He goes to the Cross that He might pour out His Spirit to give us the strength to show this love. Thanks be to Thee, oh Christ, for Thy great love which Thou hast both given unto us and worked in and through us. Amen.

In the Name of Christ the Crucified + (number 5)
Two simple words, yet our Lord says us so much here. We are approaching the end now, and Jesus knows it. Everything is about to wrap up, and then Jesus speaks these simple words – I thirst. Let us ponder these words of our Lord.
John records for us that our Lord spoke these words to fulfill the Scripture. Once again our Lord makes reference to a Psalm, this time Psalm 69 where we hear “For my thirst they gave me sour wine.” To be honest, it’s not a connection I would have made had John not pointed it out for us, but we shouldn’t be surprised at this. Why? Because who is this on the cross? It is the very Word of God Himself, and we shouldn’t be surprised that the Word knows the Word of Scripture, knows His Word well. Over and over through His prophets in the Old Testament times, our Lord spoke about His coming, spoke about what He was going to do to win for us our salvation. This day we have even read some of the more poignant passages, Isaiah 53, Hosea 6, and others. Always, at all times and in all places our God seeks to draw peoples’ eyes unto Himself, to have us turn away from our own actions and look to God for forgiveness and comfort and salvation. And here we see God Himself upon the Cross, hanging upon the tree, making sure that all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed, making sure that every glimpse and picture and hint He gave to His people would be fulfilled, so that we would clearly see that He is the true Messiah. This is the diligence of our Lord. Jesus in this Gospel is so concerned with establishing who He is, and we see clearly our Lord showing who He is here with these Words.
I Thirst. These words remind us not only that Jesus is indeed True God, the very Word of God, the promised Messiah, but also of another truth about Jesus – that He is indeed True Man. When God becomes Man, when the Lord takes on human flesh, He doesn’t skip any steps, He doesn’t give Himself any super perks – He rather becomes a real Man who experiences all the typical things of human life. I thirst. A simple, human thing - to be thirsty, to have your mouth dry and sticky, to know that cool water would quench, would relieve that thirst. Here we see such a vivid reminder of our Lord’s Human nature. This is no play-acting – God isn’t just going through the motions here. On the Cross we see True God and True Man in Christ Jesus, suffering and dying for the redemption of the world. And note that Jesus doesn’t use His divine power here – when sour wine, when vinegar is given, it isn’t changed into the sweetest wine, the coolest water – no, no comfort here for Christ. He drinks the cup of suffering by rights should be ours but that is now His, He follows His Father’s will, just as He prayed that He would in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Do you see what this means? Jesus, our Lord and Savior, truly understands our sufferings, our pains, our trials, because He Himself bore them. Our God isn’t distant, our God doesn’t keep us at arms length, but rather Christ Jesus our Lord comes crashing into the world and fully embraces and experiences and deals with the worst that this world can dish out to us – hunger in the desert, grief and suffering from the loss of loved ones, scorn from friends and family, rejection by loved ones, bitter thirst on the Cross, and even the approach of death. All these things, your Lord experienced. Your feelings, your fears, your hurts and concerns are not some strange thing to God, He knows – not academically, but viscerally and tangibly. Our God is a King who does not rest on His Kingly nature, but rather chooses the life of a peasant, who comes down to us and with us and not only shares in our suffering, but takes up our own suffering to Himself, makes it His own. That is really the Scripture that our Lord is fulfilling this day as He goes to the Cross, as He hands Himself over to the pain of death – Christ our Lord is attacking the cause of our suffering, doing the work of destroying sin, death, and the devil – there upon the Cross Christ takes upon Himself our suffering so that in the World to come we might be freed by His Grace and Mercy from any and all suffering, freed from any and all sin, wrested out of hell and the power of Satan into eternity in Heaven with the Triune God.
Indeed, Jesus thirsts – He feels the strife against Satan even that bit more, but He also sees the end. The final stroke of the battle is soon to come, and Satan’s joy at the death of Christ his foe will turn to Satan’s crushing defeat on the third day. God preserve us in the One True faith until our end, that we might share in Christ’s Victory.

In the Name of Christ the Crucified + (number 6)
The rebellion had started long ago. The man and woman had decided that they knew better than God, that they would not be content with simply being man, simply being woman. That they would not be content with a life of service, a life tending to the garden, a life showing love to each other. No, the serpent slithered in, whispered words of poison and death in their ear – told them that if they ate of the tree that they would be like God. Really? To be like God is to disobey God? It made no sense – but it was appealing. The assumption was that to be like God meant to have power – meant that you got to do whatever you pleased. We like those words for God – we like the “All-power” words. And so, there in the Garden, Adam and Eve ate, seeking to be this flawed image of God that the Devil had spun them – and they rebelled. They fell.
The rebellion went poorly. One cannot fight God and win. Satan knew that – Satan wasn’t hoping to “win” by tempting Adam and Eve, he merely wanted to spread the misery around. And Adam and Eve quickly found out the consequences of their sin. They were naked, they were ashamed, they felt their bodies age and break down as they moved towards death. They knew, they experienced the impacts of evil – and they despised it. They turned on each other, as would be expected. Everything fell apart. The earth crumbled. Pain increased. Sorrow grew while plants withered. And there was nothing Adam or Eve could do about it – no solution that was within their power.
Into this fallen world strides Christ Jesus – God become Man, God incarnation, God taking Man’s place. And He lives, and He suffers, and He goes to the cross and He says, “It is finished.” Christ Jesus puts an end to man’s rebellion. Ever since the fall, every son of Adam, every daughter of Eve shared in their parents rebellion. In sin our mothers bore us. The taint continued, the taint spread – until, most wondrously, God Himself takes on Human Flesh – is born not of the will of man or the will of the flesh, but of the Will of the Father. We see Man without Sin. Man as He would have been had Adam not rebel. Man living perfect. Man showing perfect love and care for His neighbor – tending to them as assuredly as Adam had tended the garden before the fall. And this Christ Jesus does perfectly and completely – Jesus does what man was supposed to do. He ends the Rebellion of man – He hangs there before His Father and cries out, “It is Finished!” It is finished – I have done away with this rebellion, I have lived the life of a righteous, unrebellious Man. It is complete, all the good that You would have Me do, it is done.
But not only the good is finished. Wicked and evil is finished as well. Christ was good – Adam and his ilk were not – and so therefore punishment remained, the doom still hung over the rest of mankind, for they were not prefect as their brother Jesus. And so, Christ Jesus our Lord suffered as well – bore all the pains, the infirmaties, the things that man kind suffer in this fallen world. He does not live His life of service in the perfection of the garden, but His life of service takes Him to the wilds of the wilderness where there is hunger and thirst. His life of service takes Him to lands where people are set against people – Jew versus Roman, Galilean versus Judean, so on and so forth. He life of service takes Him to where He suffers scorn and insult and humiliation. All of these, the consequences of man’s rebellion, and Christ endures them though He in no way deserves them. He even endures torture and suffering and finally crucifixion. All of this, all which we deserve not only now for a time but for eternity He endured – and why? So that the punishment due sinful man might be used up in Him, might spend all it’s fury upon Him that we might be delivered from it. And in this, He is successful. He bears it all, and so He cries out, “It is finished”. The suffering due man is complete, it is fulfilled. Christ has done His job – and now He gives up His Spirit, pours it out upon us, that we might reap the benefits of His Work – that we might have our rebellion ended, that we might have our punishment lifted on to Him. The woe and wrath unleashed at the fall – it is finished. Thanks be to God, it all is finished by Christ.

In the Name of Christ the Crucified + (number 7)
There is one last thing for Jesus to do – one more drop of the cup of wrath and woe that the Father gives the Son to drink – one more drop in the cup that tormented Jesus in Gethsemane. Christ is to take upon the wages of our sin. What He suffers, He suffers in our stead, in our place. One more drop remains. The wages of sin is death.
The time approaches. The Lord of Life knows when life itself is eeking away. The time for that last drop is nigh. And so our Lord speaks – indeed, He cries, He shouts one last sermon “Father, into Thy hands I commit My Spirit!” And then the breath, the spirit of life leaves Him – and He dies.
We will often talk about our three adversaries – sin, death, and the devil. Death is a hard one to face. We often face it with panic and terror. That is the way of our sinful flesh – we know punishment when we see it. The sinful flesh knows it reaps what it sows, it sees the chickens coming home to roost, and it is terrified. Yet, as Christians, as those who behold Christ Jesus our Lord, we do not face death merely as those of sinful flesh. As the hymn says, we learn of Jesus Christ to die.
Note how our Lord dies. Where are His thoughts, where is His mind at as life is torn from His Body? Father, into Thy hands I commit My Spirit. Jesus dies in peace – Jesus dies trusting the Father. Jesus dies looking to God and trusting that though He breathes His last now, that it will in fact not be His last – that He will draw breath again, that this very Body of His will be restored to life again – the Father will raise Him up on the third day. And so He looks to the Father – I am in Your hands, Father. Do with me what is right and just.
Do with me what is right and just. It is hard for us to say that to God, sometimes. We know what we deserve. The guilty do not want justice. Yet I say to you, Christ shows us how to die. As we approach our own death – we are to say, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit,” we are to say, God, do with me what is right and just. And we say this, not because of who we are and what we have done – but rather because of who Christ is and what He has done for us upon the Cross, and what He has given us by His Word and Sacraments. Christ fights against our foes for us – fights sin and death and the devil. And He prepares us for our struggle against them as well.
Ponder this. Christ knows the struggle we face against death. He knows how terrifying death our foe can be. So all that He does, all that He gives us in His Church is meant to help us in this struggle against death – to help us at the hour of our death. You are Baptized. Do you not know you who have been Baptized have been Baptized into Christ’s death. Fear not God’s wrath towards you – you already received at Baptism. When the Water and the Word was poured upon you – you died – you died with Christ. Your Baptism tied you to this moment – so God beholds you and says, “There is no more punishment for you – there is no double jeopardy – the payment is made in full.” This is what Christ gives you – He gives you His death so that you might be free to live.
You receive the Lord’s Body and Blood in His Supper. What a fantastic weapon to fight death with. As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s Death until He comes. You receive the Body of the Crucified. Think on that. If our Lord died 2000 years ago, and simply remained defeated in death – what Body would there be to give? But no, our Lord defeats death, rises again, and He gives to you the Body that was crucified for you and now lives for you. Here, take My Body, take My Blood, it is the medicine of immortality, it is the medicine that gives life even after death – it is that which shows that the one who believes in Me, even though He die, yet shall He live. This is what our Lord gives you in His supper. And what do we sing afterwards. Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. God, You can let me die – You have prepared me for it – I will die in peace, I will give up my spirit into Your hands – for I know that I will not simply fall into the grave, but that I will follow where Christ my Captain has trod, and I too shall walk out of the grave and with my own eyes, I will see my Lord face to face. This is what Christ saw when He laid down His life. This is what Christ teaches us to see as well. Amen.