Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Struggle or a Triumph?

How do you view your "relationship" with sin, O Christian?  Because, well, you do have a "relationship" with sin - of sorts.  It relates to you, it impacts.  How do you view your relationship to sin?

Are you a forgiven sinner who continually struggles against sin - where sin is like the crazy stalker ex-girlfriend... or maybe on the bad days you are actually sin's crazy stalker-ex, where you keep ending up walking down sin's street and by her house, even though you know you shouldn't be over there.  (Perhaps those are the times when you feel like a sucker with no self-esteem)

Or, do you view your relationship with sin as a triumph - you have Jesus, and now you don't have to worry about sin.  Sin, oh, that was just that grade school crush you had... or maybe if you were really, really bad, well, that sin was just somebody that you used to know.  In fact, you are so beyond and over sin that you get sort of annoyed if anyone even mentions sin - you are that OVER sin. 

So, which view of sin do you normally take?  I'd argue one of these views is the view of a believer - and that is the first.  Sin is always a struggle, never something we triumph over completely in this life.  You think I am wrong?  Let's consider some folks from the Scriptures.

Well, there's David: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

"But wait," you cry out!  "That was only after David sinned with Bathsheba."  Yeah... when he knew his sin, he had faith.  When he was all triumphant, he stole peoples wives and murdered them.  That's where triumph gets you.

Or then there's Paul.  You know what he was doing when he thought he was triumphant over sin?  Holding cloaks and coats so they could go stone Stephen.  Rather, when Paul believes he confesses, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost."  I am.  Present tense.  Sound like a man who knows some struggles.

If you would be faithful, if you would know God's peace, know your sin.  See it, fight against it.  Don't deny it away, don't pretend that it isn't there.  You are a sinner - but thanks be to God, He is merciful to sinners.  Christ Jesus has died and risen for you, and you are forgiven.

Late at night, I knock on her door...

Easter 2 Sermon

Easter 2 – John 20:19-31 – April 27th, 2014

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) + Amen
          The bunnies and the chocolate are all eaten.  The new dresses, the nice suits, for the most part they’ve gone back into the closet.  The eggs, the family dinners are done, the pictures have been posted to the internet – and as far as the world is concerned, Easter is done – now, when’s Memorial Day and the start of summer?  Not so in the Church.  We’ve only just begun Easter – the altar will be wearing its Easter white 5 more weeks, and in this time we will be studying the Gospel of John, hearing from our Lord and pondering what His resurrection means for us, how it shapes our lives.  And now that the hoopla is past, consider for a moment that forgotten theme of all the Easter stories – fear.

          You see, the Gospels don’t deal with Easter the way Walmart or Hallmark does.  In the Scriptures, it’s not all sunshine and daisies and spring.  Every Gospel has in its account of the resurrection fear.  Matthew – you’ve got the guards fearing, you’ve got the women afraid.  In Mark, everyone’s afraid.  Same with Luke – except in Luke you hear about the bewildered disciples on the road to Emmaus, the two who figure it’s best to high tail it out of Jerusalem – that’s how fearful they are.  And then, there’s John – and last week we heard of Mary Magdalene’s utter fear and confusion.  And what do we hear this week?  “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for FEAR of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them.”   Fear.  Disciples, have you heard?  Jesus has risen!  That’s nice, now, let’s lock the doors.  Ain’t no sunshine and daisies there.  And here’s the great kicker on this – Jesus shows up, talks with them – and then what do we hear?  “Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.”  All of them except Thomas have seen Jesus risen from the dead, and yet, what’s going on?  Still locked doors.  Still hiding.  Still fear.

          Too many people in the Church do a grave disservice to the Gospel, to the preaching of Christ, when they pretend that if you only are a Christian then life is so much easier and everything is laughter and bouncy-bouncy happiness and money and wealth and fabulous prizes.  It’s not, not yet at least.  Until Christ comes again, we are in the fallen world.  And you know what life in the fallen world is?  Quite often, lousy.  Terrifying.  Disappointing.  Aching.  Sad.  This world is doing its best to turn us all into dry bones, to suck the life out of us.  And it does a pretty good job of it, doesn’t it?  And the temptation for us sinful men, especially us in America, with all our wealth and luxuries and technology and cosmetics and the like is to try to pretend that we can make the world less… fallenish.  Less harsh.  We think of the Church like some sort of spiritual gated community – we come here, we do the right stuff, and all those bad things will be kept far, far away and God will give us Money, wealth, and prosperity.

          If you want to think about it this way, our Gospel text tells us of the first two Sunday worship services in the History of the New Testament Church.  What is Church but where God’s disciples have been gathered together – have been made into a congregation – and Christ is present there and His Word proclaimed?  It’s what we see.  And yet, what’s the context?  Not that if we make it to the upper Room Jesus will make all of our wildest dreams come true.  Not that if we make it there we will get a raise at work and our spouse won’t be so mean and our kids will do better in school.  The context for the disciples was fear.  No blinders about life.  There are evil people out there that want to do us harm.  Our livelihoods are messed up – the next chapter when Peter tries to start up the old fishing business it doesn’t start off so well.  And let us be honest, who among us doesn’t have fear, plenty of fear?  Every one of us has them – and there’s no magic bullet to make those fears go away – not money, not booze, not even showing up to Church with the biggest smile.

          So, why even be here?  What then is the point, pastor?  If things are so dour and always will be, why not just sleep in?  Listen to Christ Jesus.  “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.”  Peace.  Yes, disciples, I know there are people out there who want to do you harm – look at My hands, look at My side, boy howdy do I know.  Yet I say, peace be with you.  As scary, as terrifying, as real and as persistent as those problems in the world are, peace be with you.  See, I have risen – the world did its worst, and in the end, I live.  So shall you.  Peace be with you.  You see, dear friends, Jesus doesn’t show up and tell the disciples that their lives will now be caviar and champagne.  Far from it – He had told them that they would end up taking up their crosses and following Him – that being a disciple would mean not hiding from the world, not pretending it isn’t lousy, but rather going out into the world – As My Father sent Me, so I am sending you – that the disciples would be in the world, working there, in the middle of that pain and sorrow.  All that pain and fear and hurt and suffering is real – Jesus doesn’t pretend otherwise.  Instead He proclaims another truth, a greater truth, a truth which supersedes the world.  Peace be with you.  You are forgiven, disciples – and forgiveness reigns supreme.  You tell folks that they are forgiven, and guess what, they are.  There is peace – the rebellion of man against God – it’s over, I, Christ Jesus have finished it, and now there is peace.  Peace be with you.  Even as the world rages around you – Peace.  There is the forgiveness of sins, so look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.  Peace be with you.

          Likewise, dear friends, the Church isn’t going to suddenly make the world turn up roses.  Oh, we do help each other out, maybe we can give each other good advice, a helping hand – and that’s all good.  But the world is still going to be the world, and there will still be problems.  When our Lord said, “sufficient for the day is its own troubles” He wasn’t whistling Dixie.  But what you will get here is Peace – and not some hippie “peace out, man” sort of thing.  God’s Peace – that is, the forgiveness of sins.  In the Scriptures, peace is a forgiveness word – and whenever you come to this place, you will get the forgiveness of sins.  That’s what a Church is – a forgiveness place, and I don’t care what the sign on the door says, if they aren’t proclaiming Peace be with you, it ain’t a church, because that’s what Christ’s Church is about.  You are forgiven.  Yes, the world is scary – but you are forgiven.  Yes, your sins are vile, the guilt of them is heavy – Christ has borne that guilt and you are forgiven.  Be at peace.  Go in peace.  Even Rest in Peace.  You realize that term – rest in peace – it isn’t talking about how nicely the grass is mown in the cemetery – it means you are forgiven.  It means even though you die, yet because of Christ, you shall live.  Forgiveness has been won – this is the great truth – greater than all the junk in the world.  This is what the Apostles are to go out and proclaim, this is what the Church has proclaimed ever since, this is what we proclaim even to this day.  Because Christ Jesus has died and risen, you are forgiven.

          But, what of life out there?  It’s nice that I’m forgiven and all – but life out there has its fears, and I have to face them.  Did you notice one other thing, and this really is wondrous.  The disciples are hiding in fear – fear has basically paralyzed them.  It doesn’t stop Jesus.  He’s risen – He is God and Man, raised, glorified – like a locked door is going to do anything to stop Him.  Fear is there, the doors are locked, but still Christ Jesus comes there.  Yes, Disciples, you have fear.  But I am with you – peace be with you.  The world, it’s troubles, they don’t drive Christ from you – indeed, He is with you not just for this brief time on Sunday morning, but every moment.  You are baptized – He has made you His temple.  Matthew’s Gospel ends on this very truth – So often we will say Matthew’s Gospel ends with the Great Commission, now get to work people.  Bah.  First off, the great commission isn’t “work hard” – it’s about forgiveness – about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  But over and above that, how does Matthew end?  Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Peace.  Why?  Because Christ is with you – because nothing can separate you from Christ Jesus, neither heights nor depths or powers nor anything.  Not even your suffering – He suffered too.  There is nothing you can face in this world that will drive Christ away – He is risen, and He always says Peace.  He is always eager and quick to forgive you your sin, for that is why He came in the first place!  He is your Lord and your God – and you do have life in His name.  He has washed you clean of your sin, poured His Holy Spirit upon you, gives Himself to you and is with you always.  Yes, the world is a scary place, yes, my sin is great – but Christ Jesus is Risen, and He says Peace be with you, and that trumps all.  We need never pretend otherwise.  Amen.  Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia.  Amen

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Little Bit o' Luther

We may see this in an everyday example. When a husband and wife really love one another, have pleasure in each other, and thoroughly believe in their love, who teaches them how they are to behave one to another, what they are to do or not to do, say or not to say, what they are to think? Confidence alone teaches them all this, and even more than is necessary. For such a man there is no distinction in works. He does the great and the important as gladly as the small and the unimportant, and vice versa. Moreover, he does them all in a glad, peaceful, and confident heart, and is an absolutely willing companion to the woman. But where there is any doubt, he searches within himself for the best thing to do; then a distinction of works arises by which he imagines he may win favor. And yet he goes about it with a heavy heart and great disinclination. He is like a prisoner, more than half in despair, and often makes a fool of himself.
Thus a Christian man who lives in this confidence toward God knows all things, can do all things, ventures everything that needs to be done, and does everything gladly and willingly, not that he may gather merits and good works, but because it is a pleasure for him to please God in doing these things. He simply serves God with no thought of reward, content that his service pleases God. On the other hand, he who is not at one with God, or is in a state of doubt, worries and starts looking about for ways and means to do enough and to influence God with his many good works. He runs off to St. James,7 to Rome, to Jerusalem, hither and thither; he prays St. Bridget’s prayer,8 this prayer and that prayer; he fasts on this day and that day; he makes confession here and makes confession there; he questions this man and that man, and yet finds no peace. He does all this with great effort and with a doubting and unwilling heart, so that the Scriptures rightly call such works in Hebrew aven amal, that is, labor and sorrow.9 And even then they are not good works and are in vain. Many people have gone quite crazy with them and their anxiety has brought them into all kinds of misery. Of these it is written in Wisdom [of Solomon] 5[:6], “We have wearied ourselves in the wrong way and have followed a hard and bitter road; but God’s way we have not acknowledged and the sun of righteousness has not risen upon us.”
7 Cf. p. 12, n. 9.
8 St. Bridget of Ireland (d. 523), called “the Mary of the Irish,” was second only to the Virgin Mary in popular esteem and devotion. Perhaps she is confused here with the Scottish Bridget (d. 1373), who wrote prayers which were circulated all over Europe.
9 Cf. Ps. 90:10.
This is from a Treatise on Good Works, written in 1520.  Works flow from forgiveness, from peace.  Christ said, "I am the vine, you are the branches".  In Him, there is much fruit.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sermon

Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia) – Amen
          It was early – before dawn.  It was still dark outside when Mary Magdalene left her home.  She headed to the tomb, to the hole in the middle of some rocky wall, where just few hours before they had laid the body, the remains of Jesus.  And what a state they had laid that body in.  He had been beaten, He had been whipped, He had been flayed – and then He had been crucified.  Even when dead, the indignities to His body continued – a spear thrust into His side – just to make sure He was good and dead.

There had been no time for Mary to do what was right for Jesus’ Body.  On Friday, the light was fading, it was becoming dark.  At sunset the Sabbath would begin – the time of rest when no work was to be done – no work, not even tending to Jesus’ body.  Joseph and Nicodemus had gotten the body from Pilate, and they had hurriedly wrapped it in cloth, some spice – but it wasn’t done with the pains-taking care that Mary wanted.  And so there Mary was – wanting to do things right – to show the body the respect and care it deserved.  To clean the gore, to take care with the linens, to take care with the spices.  After the abuse Jesus’ Body had taken Friday, Mary at least wanted to do right by it for its stay in the tomb.  The Sabbath rest must have been hard for her – the fretting and anxiety too much to bear.  All that time to fixate on what yet needed to be done.

          And so Mary, in her anxious eagerness comes to where the tomb is.  She’s not thinking clearly – for the stone should still be there.  It is beyond her ability to move – even with all her might she could not reach her Lord’s Body – but then, something happens.  The stone is already moved.  The grave is open.  And so Mary runs.  She doesn’t walk, she doesn’t turn calmly, but in the wee hours of the morning, over ground still covered with shadow and gloom Mary runs to Peter and John.  The tomb is open.  He’s not there.  The Body is gone!  Peter and John both run, again, sprinting in the pre-dawn dimness to the tomb.  John, he was younger, faster. He gets there first – but he can’t bear to go in.  He stands at the mouth staring.  The burial linens are lying there.  Those temporary, stopgap linens that would have been carefully removed by women who love Him, those linens that would have been so lovingly replaced by well spiced and scented cloths – just lying there.  Empty.  John didn’t understand.

          Neither did Peter when he arrived.  Peter, ever bold Peter barges into the tomb – wants to see up close and personal what has happened to the Body of the Lord he so recently and carelessly denied in the gloomy pre-dawn dark of the day on which Jesus was put to death.  And it’s gone.  Not even a body to mourn over – not even any remains to weep over with the women.  And dumbfounded Peter and John return home.  Jesus had been placed in the tomb on Friday – they had seen it.  Yet where was He now?

          I would submit, dear friends in Christ – that Jesus entered the tomb long before Good Friday.  Do you wish to know when Jesus first entered the tomb?  It was when the Angel Gabriel said to Mary And behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bear a Son.”  There, when Christ Jesus, when God Almighty took on flesh, when He became Man – that is when He entered the tomb.  Holy and perfect God became Man – took on one of our bodies.  And what by nature are our bodies but walking tombs.  St. Paul says that we were dead in trespasses – dead.  Walking tombs?  Since the fall in the garden our flesh was flesh doomed to die – God had taken the dirt of the ground and breathed into it life – and by sin we rejected that life, tossed it aside – and condemned our bodies once again to be mere ash, mere dust.  Walking tombs, fit only for the grave.  Ashes on their way to being simple ashes once again – dust waiting to return to dust after a few brief years.  This is the lot we humans had won by sin.

          And then God intervenes.  God Himself – the God who made Adam to be perfect – the very one by Whom all things were made – comes down from heaven and was made Man.  Have you pondered that – that God becomes Man.  What that means?  What’s it like being a man in this fallen world?  How many of you ache with pain in your joints right now – how many of you feel your body calling out to return to dust once more this very instant!  God becomes Man and takes up that same pain – we just witnessed this past week how intensely He took it up.  How many of you have seen relationships fall apart, people abandon you, their love and friendship which seemed so promising fall apart, taste like ash in your mouth.  God becomes Man and takes that up.  Hear what Jesus says in John 6.  He has just preached – and pretty much everyone leaves, wants nothing more to do with Him.  He even asks the disciples – Do you want to go away as well?  Pain, suffering, abandonment by friends,  Judas – friend, do what you must! – God becomes Man, He enters the tomb of our flesh, the slow, walking death that our lives are – He enters it – and He takes it all, He follows it all the way through to it’s bitter end – Dying on a cross with nothing but sour, bitter wine on a dirty sponge to refresh Him.  Christ has entered the tomb of our bodies by becoming Man and suffering and dying.

          And there sits Mary before that hole in some rocky wall – tears in her eyes.  Even Jesus’ body is gone.  And she looks in again – maybe just to check again, maybe to hope against hope that the body is there – maybe it fell off and we just hadn’t seen it – and still, no body there.  But this time two angels who ask her why she weeps.  She says that she is looking for a body.  And then, a voice from outside the tomb asks again, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?”  I’m seeking a dead body, I’m seeking a lump of lifeless clay.  If you’ve taken it, I want it back.  I’ll drag it away myself – what a sad sight that would be – a weeping woman dragging a corpse through a garden – but at that moment that is the most that Mary thinks she can hope for.

          Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  And it clicks – the Lord Jesus, now risen from the dead speaks to her, calls her by her name – and it clicks.  No Mary, you will not get to see a dead body, you will never see Christ lying dead again for He has risen.  You will never see Him in the tomb again for He has left it, never to be consigned there again.  He is risen, He has life, He is life – and that tomb, that hole in the wall is empty and shall always remain so.

          Do you see what this means for you, dear friends?  Christ lives – that walking tomb of flesh that He entered – it’s no longer a tomb.  It is life itself.  Christ took up our body, took up our own flesh so that He could justify it – make it righteous and perfect again.  He took up our body so that He could sanctify it, make it holy again.  He took up our flesh and died so that He could remove death from our body by His own life.  Right now, this instant Jesus is a living Man, is the Living Man – right now this instant He breathes, He draws breath, He is alive in His Body – and death is done away with.  And so, your Body is a mere tomb no longer – for Jesus by His death and resurrection has won life again for His creation – He has done away with Sin, He has destroyed death.  This is the great wonder, the great mystery of the faith – that even though we should die here we will live – Christ will raise us – that just as He died and now lives again, we too will live again – for He has swallowed death.

          And here is the beauty of our Gospel lesson this morning – the wonderful twist.  There it is, all in front of Mary.  The tomb is empty, the angels are there – and she doesn’t understand, she doesn’t understand until Christ calls her by Name.  Mary – and then she gets it, she understands.  You too, dear friends, understand this because God has called you by name.  How is this child to be named?  That is what we ask at Baptism.  And then, by name, you were called by God, you were baptized.  36 years ago Pastor Brunner said “Eric James Brown, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” and I saw.  Called by name, adopted as a son and granted the gift of faith.  This is what happened at your baptism, God called you by Name and by the power of Water and the Word He opened your eyes and established faith within you – so that even now you see Christ – you see the Living Lord and see in Him your own life.

          And moreso – Just as Mary looked and saw the Lord’s Body, alive – what does God present to us here in His Church?  Take and eat, this is My Body.  Take and drink, this is My Blood. That’s not mere coincidence. Christ lives – He still has His Body.  He has not decayed but He lives – and He still shows us, still gives us His own Body.  I live – and here is the proof.  Take and eat.  I live, and so you shall too.  Here is the proof – take and drink, for this is My Blood which was shed for the forgiveness of your sin – see, you are forgiven.  This is done for you.  He gives His own Body to us – so that He might save and redeem us – make these fallen bodies like to be His own.  By His Supper we receive His own resurrected Body so that we might be ready and prepared for the day when He raises us and all the dead to new life.  He gives us His Body so that we might have holy bodies like his. 

          This is what Christ Jesus has done.  This is what His resurrection means.  It means that He lives and gives us His life.  It means that He calls out to us in the midst of this world of sin, calls to us by name and says, “I give you life, life eternal.  It is mine to give and I give it to you.  Death need no longer alarm you, for I have defeated death.  As I live, so shall you.  You will not be abandoned to the grave, but you will stride forth from you tomb just as I have – for you are mine, I have won you – I have gone to the Father and secured your place at my side, with me for all eternity.”  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  This is our hope, this is our joy, this is our salvation.  This is what Christ has done for you.  Amen.  Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, alleluia.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Loving the Lectionary

I love this time of year in Church - and I'm sure I'm not alone.  Holy Week, although tiring, has such a wonderful slew of services - you could have services every day!

So.  Why do I love them?  What is it about these services that is so great and astonishing?  Is it the pomp and circumstance?  The finery and the color changes.  The fact that this is the time when one can get his high Church on?

Well - I'm in Oklahoma.  We dimmed some candles last night - and Maundy Thursday we used the service of Corporate Confession.  It wasn't overly fancy -- and I'd still love the services if they were more fancy or less fancy.  The amount of gravy isn't what makes this a great time - it's the meat... the READINGS.

Think about it.  Palm Sunday - eh, let's have two Gospel readings, and one of them, eh, let's have it be two chapters long.  4 Passions - let's read them all over the course of the week.  The Suffering Servant, let's read that.  Psalm 22 - bring it on!

And tonight, there is the Easter Vigil.  New fire - that's neat... but the readings, that's where it's at.  The Word of God proclaiming the triumph of Christ against sin and death - over and over and over.  Seeing that the fulfillment of the ages is Christ the Crucified Rising triumphantly. 

If you have the chance, go swing by a vigil - hear the Word.  It's a great thing.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday, 2014 – The Passion according to John, the 7th Petition

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          But deliver us from evil.  This you have just heard your Lord do when you heard His passion.  When we talk about “evil”, we aren’t speaking about anything abstract, we aren’t speaking against just some vague idea in some sort of mamby-pamby way.  No, we have the Scriptures, we been given by the Spirit the ability to see things as they are, we will call a thing what it is.  There is evil.  Sin is evil.  This fallen world is full of evil.  Death is evil.  None of it is right, none of it is good anymore.  The good that I want to do I do not do, the wickedness that I do not want to do I do – who will save me from the body of death, who will save me as all of creation groans as in travail, with earthquakes and tempests and lightnings - literally the world is tearing itself apart – that evil, who will save, who will deliver us from that evil?

          Christ Jesus rises from prayer, and evil comes to seek Him.  Betrayed by His friend, set to be handed over to wicked kings and spineless judges who will heed not the law but their own ambitions and an angry mob.  Evil comes for Christ Jesus, and so that we would be delivered from it, He faces it.  Whom do you seek, Evil, do you seek Jesus of Nazareth?  Well, I AM He… and evil recoils.  He must tell them again – I am He, I am Jesus of Nazareth, I have come to be handed over to evil, “so if you seek Me, let these men go.”  Let these men be delivered from evil – for I, Christ Jesus will give Evil more than it can handle.  No Peter, put down your sword – I am not going to consign you to a life of violent evil – I will drink this cup of woe and wickedness down to the dregs, and you will be delivered from evil.

          And Christ goes.  He is taken away, bound by the tyranny of evil men.  And even before His sacrifice for His friends begins in earnest – His friends deny Him.  Peter, in the courtyard, I swear that I don’t know the man.  John hanging silent in the shadows, watching but saying nothing – the others have run for the hills, run for their lives.  They didn’t quite think that Jesus really would get them out of this.  So much doubt and fear around Him, and yet onward He presses.  The fears and failures of the disciples don’t dissuade Him – indeed, your failings don’t cause Him a moment’s pause. That is why He is there.  He knows you are weak, He knows that you cannot fend off evil, and so He will be strong for you.  And His strength is shown as He goes unto His passion.

          Various muckety-mucks of the Jews examine Him – not to seek the truth, but to assert their own power and control.  Again, thus is evil in the world.  Adam was created to tend and serve, Eve to be a helper – yet since the fall we have been striving more and more to show who is boss, who is in charge, our lives are endless shows of dominance and control.  The soldier smacks Christ – is that how you answer the High Priest?  Yet, the irony is this – Christ Jesus is the Great High Priest, the One who will offer up the true sacrifice to thoroughly deliver people from Evil.  And He lets it be.  He will deliver you from evil, and so He is slapped.

          Then it is on to Pilate.  Pilate is so concerned about making friends and influencing people – what does the mob think, what will Caesar think (if you let Him go, you are no friend of Caesar).  Maybe this Christ will give Pilate influence – so you are a King?  Oh, Your kingdom is not of this world… then I guess you can’t help me and I really can’t help you.  There is a mob out there, and they want blood – better Your blood than mine, Jesus.  And the wonder – Jesus agrees.  Yes, I will be crucified, I will be delivered unto Evil so that even you, Pontius Pilate, you who quips “what is truth” may be delivered from evil by the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life Himself!

          There also is the flogging, the mocking, the crown of thorns.  The cross laid upon His shoulder as His already wrecked Body is paraded towards His execution.  His people reject Him – We have no king but Caesar – nothing more blasphemous or evil could be spoken by a Jew, for God is their King.  Jesus is delivered to that evil; He takes up even their blasphemy.  All evil, it all comes swirling upon Him.

          And He is crucified.  Adam and Eve, when they sinned knew that they were naked, and they were ashamed, and they hid.  There is Christ, not hiding behind bushes or trees, but hung naked and exposed upon a tree, nailed to it – behold His shame, see Him, mock Him, wag your head at Him – let all the evil come at Him, let His clothes be gambled away.  So be it – He is there to deliver people from evil – and even in the midst of His suffering, He pauses to deliver His mother. John, behold your mother.  Care for her – do not let the evil of poverty or starvation take hold of her when I have died.  Even as evil is heaped upon Him, He delivers others.  As the other Gospel writers note, even as woe and wrath is piled upon Him, He delivers from evil.  You, O repentant Criminal, today you will be with Me in paradise, for I deliver you from evil.  Father, forgive these who are mocking Me, for I deliver them from evil. 

And one other little blip of evil.  I thirst – and what do they give Him?  Sour wine.  The very One who turned water into wine at Cana so that there would be joy and celebration and life now meets His death with vinegar.  Let even wine which was given to gladden the hearts of men be rather sour and bitter and joyless– let all the evil of the world of all times and of all places come flowing upon Him there upon that Cross.  And it comes, all the evil, and it is laid upon Him, and He cries out “It is finished”.  All evil, all of it, there upon Christ.  And He dies.

He dies, and Evil is finished.  It is spent upon Christ.  There is no wickedness, no vice, no shame that can ever happen that is not tied to Christ upon the cross.  The sin you did today – Christ has tied that sin unto Himself upon the Cross.  The shame you feel from something long ago – Christ has tied that shame unto Himself the Cross.  The wickedness that you suffer from, that people do unto you – that has been tied to Christ upon the Cross.  Even your own death – tied to Christ upon the Cross.  And all of it – it is Finished.  You are delivered from Evil.

“It is finished.  And He bowed His Head and gave up His Spirit…But One of the Soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”  Christ Jesus takes up all the evil in the world… and then what does He do?  He gives out His Spirit, He pours out blood and water.  Your evil is taken away, you are delivered from Evil – but you are not left empty.  Christ Jesus’ Word and Spirit come to you, giving you faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation.  The water which poured from Christ’s side has washed you clean, been placed upon you to mark you One delivered from evil, redeemed by the Crucified.  This is true, this is reality.  And should evil still sniff around you, should your sins mock you and threaten you with punishment, should you suffer rejection, indeed, even if death itself should hound you – take and eat, take and drink, this is My blood, shed for you for the remission of sin.  Evil is finished and you are delivered.  Even death is destroyed – this we shall see on the third day. 

But deliver us from evil.  We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in Heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.  Christ Jesus has walked through the valley of sorrow, the valley of the shadow of death, and you are indeed delivered by Him from evil.  It is finished, now and forever more.  Amen.  In the name of Christ the Crucified +  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Best Four Days

Four Days.  Four Days in a row I will have church.  And they are the best four days of the year.

Tonight - Maundy Thursday.  Now, try as some might to turn this into the finger wagging night of moralism (oh, look, a new commandment... see things are new and different in the Church -- as though we have not always been told to love our neighbor), it's still the service where you get to talk about the Supper.  Given and Shed for you.  Awesome.

Friday - Good Friday.  The Passion.  It is Finished, hear Him cry.  Gotta love seeing Christ defeat sin and death by taking sin upon Himself and dying.  Ain't what I do - look at Christ.  Awesome.

Easter Vigil - yeah, let's have a service with tons of readings about deliverance - how God is wonderful and good to us and always has been.

Easter.  Death, go get bent.  Jesus lives, and so shall we.

What better days are there?  What is more wondrous than this?

And it's all about Christ Jesus and what He does for us.  We decrease that He may increase and give us blessing after blessing after blessing.  Just total awesomeness.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Odd Timing of Being a Pastor

One of the strange things about being a Pastor is that quite often the Church year shifts slightly. Here we are, it is the middle of Holy Week - thoughts would normally be strong upon the Passion... but I've got Maundy Thursday and Good Friday finished.  Those are done - and there is Easter to prep.

Good Friday yet to preach, but the bulletins for Easter need to get done.  Sermon draft for Easter is written.  And those are where my thoughts are this morning.  Wednesday of Passion Week means make sure Easter Sunday is set up and in order.

Just an odd quirk.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lent 5

Lent 5 – John 8 – April 6th, 2014

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

          As a pastor who talks to other pastors, I hear about all sorts of complaints about the Church and its preachers.  “You know, churches today are just too mean.”  You are of your father the devil.  “We should be more understanding of the world and the lifestyles people want to lead.  We shouldn’t be so judgmental.”  And your will is to do your father’s [that is the Devil’s] desires. “Who are you to tell me what is right or wrong, I can do as I please!” He was a murderer from the beginning and has nothing to do with the truth.  “Well, that might have been how they did things back in Jesus’ day, but things are just too different today.” There is no truth in him.  “I don’t know why you say we are sinners, we are pretty good people after all.” When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  One of the burdens we face today, dear friends, is the simple fact that this world, at least as we know it in America, is becoming more obviously and openly opposed to Christ and His Church.  In reality, this is the way it has always been, but we see it more now.  Instead of silently rejecting, the rejection is open and bold – and we panic.  We think, “What will we do – we have to do something.”  This is nothing new. In the 50s the big catch word was “relevant” – we have to make the church relevant to the people, in other words, whatever we think people want.  And there have been other things – the 60s and 70s gave us the folk masses set to acoustic guitar, in the 80s there was the big push to make the Church and worship more exciting, in the 90s the big focus was on trying to meet “felt needs”, a few years ago everything was “extreme”, now you see pastors running around with Hispter glasses trying to draw folks in that way.  In a few years there will be some other gimmick.  People aren’t coming – *we* have to do something. 

          There is a simple truth that we in our vanity, in our salesmanship mentality have forgotten in the US – people don’t reject the Gospel because it isn’t relevant, or it doesn’t hit their felt needs.  The problem isn’t that we don’t package the Gospel rightly – it’s something much simpler than that. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.  People are terrified of the truth.  This is what we see in our Gospel lesson.  Jesus is discussing things with the Pharisees, and He has just told them that He is the Messiah who comes to bring truth, that the Truth will set them free from sin.  Just prior to our text, our Lord said “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . . .  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  And the Pharisees don’t want any of that. They are angered by that idea.  And Christ calls them on it.  Why do they not understand?  Why do not they not care?  It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word.  This is the simple fact – that sinful folk do not like to hear God’s Word.  The Pharisees didn’t like it in the text – they even plan to stone Jesus.  People don’t like it today, either.

          Why?  Why don’t people like hearing God’s Word?  A lot of it has to do with the Law.  God’s Law is an unpleasant thing.  You want an example of God’s Law being unpleasant – look at our Old Testament lesson.  Hear what God commands Abraham to do – Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering. . . .  That’s a statement of Law right there.  Isaac is going to die.  And he deserves death.  Abraham can’t argue against it – Abraham knows that he himself hasn’t done anything to earn this child –Abraham was old, so was Sarah, they shouldn’t have even ever gotten Isaac, and if God wants Isaac back… well, Abraham can’t gainsay God here.  If God wants Isaac dead, well, that’s the wages of sin.

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

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

          And yet – the Pharisees in the text are still angry, still reject Christ after he explains this.  People today still reject it.  Why?  Because the Gospel truth is this – that Jesus is our Savior.  The Gospel makes sense only if we know and believe the Law.  Jesus doesn’t get rid of the Law, He fulfills it to be our Savior.  If Jesus is our Savior – it means that we need to be saved, it means that we lack, that we sin, that we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t perfectly fine as we are, that we always can and ought to do better.  You can’t preach the Gospel without preaching the Law first – because the two go hand in hand.  And that is why so many people reject the Gospel – they reject the truth of the Law – and so they reject the truth of the Gospel as well.  When do the Pharisees want to stone Jesus – not just when He says that they are sinners, but when He reveals to them who He is – Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.  The Gospel is that God gets involved in your life, that God is the one who saves you – and that involvement of God is something that man according to his sinful nature fears – that he runs away from, just like Adam and Eve in the garden after the fall.

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

          But also this.  We are tempted, especially in this day and age, to soft sell God’s truth.  To try and make it more appealing to sinful man, to accommodate and cater to people – thinking that if we just get them in the door, eventually, eventually they will learn.  We are tempted to put what we think people want to hear over what God says. Then, they won’t be mad at us, or think ill of us.  But dear friends – that is not the way.  Consider you yourself – you were brought to faith and you have been kept in that faith by what – by God’s Word rightly preached and rightly taught.  That’s the same thing the people who don’t believe right now need – the same thing your family and friends need as well.  The truth is that they are in need of God’s love – and that God richly loves them and offers them salvation and forgiveness.  Speak them the Word, over and over again, even if they don’t like it.  That doesn’t mean be a jerk about it, but be honest and truthful, even when the truth is difficult and hard to hear.  That’s what Christ does here – even when the Pharisees certainly don’t like it.  And He speaks over and over again – and some never like it – but because our Lord preaches again and again – some do end up believing.  Because the Apostles preach God’s Word in its truth, some do end up believing.  Because faithful Christians, Pastors, parents, friends spoke God’s Word in truth and purity to you, you believe.  And we are part of that chain now – now we are called to speak God’s Word rightly, so that the people we know might know what God’s truth is, so that the Holy Spirit might work, not through the plans we dream up, but that the Spirit might work through the Word which He places upon our lips.

          Your sinful flesh rebels against Christ – but thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit has given you the gift of faith.  He has worked faith in you, made you to have life in Christ.  You now know and hear God’s truth, you see Christ for you and rejoice, just as Abraham, just as all the faithful have.  God keep us ever focused upon Christ and His great love for us.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +