Saturday, April 29, 2017

Easter 3 Sermon

Easter 3 – April 29th and 30th, 2017 – 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 Last Day. Last week, we heard that Christ uses His Word of forgiveness to counter 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 those 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? Today 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 dependent 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 someone else? “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 part of the textis 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 have a Church Council, 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. Whenever 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 from your neighbor – 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 become 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 the 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 back 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 always 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 are content in 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.

So 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, not because I think you don't believe, but 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 all 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.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Easter 2 Sermon

Easter 2 – John 20:19-31 – April 22nd and 23rd, 2017
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) + Amen
The bunnies are gone and the chocolates 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 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 sometimes it does a pretty good job of it, doesn’t it? And the temptation for us sinful folk, 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 can think of the Church like some sort of spiritual gated community – if we come here, if we do the right stuff, then all those bad things will be kept far, far away and God will give us Money, wealth, and prosperity.

When you are tempted to think about the Church this way, consider that 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 families won’t fight 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 – in 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 fears, plenty of fears? 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's not really 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 – but 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 actually end? Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Peace be with you. Why? Because Christ is with you – because nothing can separate you from Christ Jesus, neither heights no r 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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Teaching: Know the Lord

What does it mean for a Christian to teach?  Is it making people to know facts of theology that they can regurgitate upon demand to demonstrate their bona fides?  Is it telling them what they need to do in order to be living the sanctified life?  These tend to be the de fact positions that we fall to in the English speaking world as of late.

However, I'd argue that the Scriptures put forth a different goal, a different emphasis in what teaching *is* within the Church.  Consider the following verse - Jeremiah 31:34 (and also quoted in Hebrews 8:11): And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

This is the image we have of teaching, one emphasized in both old and new testaments - to make people "know" the Lord.  From Yada, from Gnosko - to know... but not just in the sense of being aware of, but of experiencing, of seeing and participating in.  To "know" in this sense is to participate in the reality of something.

For example - I've never be to the Taj Mahal.  I am aware that it exists, but I don't know it, I have experienced being there.  I have, however, been to the Pyramids of Giza.  I've touched them, leaned upon them.  I know them in a completely different way than simply being aware that there is such a thing called a pyramid.  With the Taj Mahal their is an eidos - and idea of the thing.  With the pyramids there is gnosis - there is experiential knowledge.

So what does that have to do with anything?  Teaching is not about getting ideas straight, nor is it a matter of making your listeners jump through the proper holy hoops.  Instead, it is giving them knowledge, it is giving them and bringing them into the reality of who God is and what God does for them.  This is the move Jeremiah and Hebrews make - to know the Lord is to receive forgiveness.  They will all have known God for they receive forgiveness.

Knowing is a receptive thing.  It's not an active endeavor of my own organization or my own activity - but rather I "take it all in".  Stop and smell the roses.  Or if you don't like modern euphemisms, be still and know that I am the Lord.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received; that Christ died for our sins...

Do you see the movement?  Teaching is not fostering mere repetition, nor is it fostering pious responses.  It is not a mere dead orthodoxy, nor is it pietism - nor is it the 21st century hideous love child of the two where you demonstrate your "orthodoxy" with pietistic virtue signaling letting people know you hate all the right things and the right people (or would that be the wrongs things and the wrong people).

Teaching is giving Christ for the remission of sins. 
Teaching is "Peace be with you" - because that is the highest truth and reality in the world.
Teaching is absolving.
Teaching is declaring the love of God, how He has loved you in giving Christ for your sake.

Know the Lord.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Day

Easter Sunday – April 16th, 2017 – John 20:1-18

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia – Amen
As Mary trudged to the tomb that Easter morning, she was miserable. Her Lord, her friend was dead. Finished. Caput, that’s all she wrote. The best she could hope for was to mourn – the best. Maybe she could treat the remains with some care, but it had been quite some time since He died, and He was sorely abused as He was put to death. Do you see what this means? As she approached the tomb that Sunday morning, the most she was hoping for was a dreary and disgusting one-sided farewell. She was miserable. And then, she gets to the tomb, and confusion is added to her misery. The tomb has been unsealed. Has it been robbed, has it been vandalized, have those who hated Jesus in life hated him so vigorously that they would desecrate Him in death? What is going on? And so she runs to Peter, to John, tells them what has happened – maybe they will help. They run, John runs faster and looks, Peter runs slower and charges in – and they are left in wonder. The tomb is empty, but the burial cloths are simply laying there, the head cloth folded neatly. They don't have a clue either. So what do they do? Do they help and comfort poor Mary? Nope. In their confusion, they head back home… and simply leave Mary there. The friends she had run to for help have no answer, and off they go, and there stands Mary in misery and sorrow and confusion and despair.

This is the morning that Mary is having. “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.’” Is it any wonder, with the morning that Mary has had that she would be so distraught, so upset, so hopeless that she wouldn’t even recognize or understand two angels talking to her? Not at all. And so in utter despair and despondency, she cries out her lament and then she turns to trudge out of the tomb. “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’” So wounded, so hurt, so torn that the best she can hope for that morning is to drag a corpse around by herself – that’s all that she thinks is left to her, that is the best she thinks she can look for.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means teacher).” And this is where it all changes for Mary. What had been a morning of nothing but death and sorrow and sadness and doom and despair is swept away and in its place is nothing but joy and peace and love and gentleness and goodness. And why? Because Christ Jesus, risen from the tomb, risen victorious over sin and death and the power of the Devil, stands before her, and He calls her by Name. Mary had been right to weep that morning – when one sees the cruelty of life in this sinful, fallen world, one is right to weep. And if one assumes that Jesus is gone, dead, destroyed, what would left be but weeping? But behold, there stands Christ Jesus her Lord, and He knows Mary, and He loves Mary, and He calls out to her with His own voice. Do you see what this means? It doesn’t mean that the horrors of Good Friday never happened, it doesn’t mean that the sorrows Mary faced weren’t real – oh no, they were real, and they were strong and they were horrible, too strong and horrible for Mary to bear. But they were not too strong for Christ, for He strides victoriously from the tomb, He strides victorious over sin, over death, over hatred and chaos. They were strong foes, but Christ Jesus is the Stronger Man, and He is the Victor. But His victory was not just for Himself – it was for Mary. See, He is risen, and He calls her by name – and she knows at that moment, as He calls her by name, that even in the midst of a world full of sorrows and terrors and fears, His victory is her victory, and at the last when this world has done it’s worst, she too will stride forth from her tomb. Jesus is Risen and calls her by name.
Now, dear fiends, understand the ploy that Satan uses. He used it on Mary; he uses it upon us today. He tries to make the sin and ruin and vileness of this world that we see all around us overwhelm us, tries to use this to rob us of hope and joy. But over and against the assaults of Satan, one thing remains true. Christ Jesus is Risen, and this Risen Jesus has called you by Name out of the kingdom of Satan unto His own family. You are forgiven by your Risen Lord, and Satan can harm you none, he’s judged, the deed is done – for Christ’s Kingdom remains your forever.

Does Satan show you misery in this world? He probably does, but this does not change the fact that Christ is risen, and He has called you by name. Does Satan show you suffering in this world? He probably does, but Christ is still risen, and He has called you by name, and so you will rise past suffering. Does Satan try to terrify you? So be it, Christ is still risen, and He has called you by name, and there is no fear that is stronger than Him. Does Satan try to make you overwhelmed with guilt and despair? He probably does, but Christ is risen, and He has declared you to be forgiven, and He still calls you by your Name to His church precisely to forgive those sins that weigh heavy on your mind.. Does Satan try to rob you of hope? I’m sure he does, but Christ is risen, and He has called you by name, and there is nothing Satan can do to rob you of Christ and the hope of life everlasting that Jesus has said is yours. Does Satan throw anything and everything he can at you? Of course, for he was a liar and a murderer from the beginning, but Christ is Risen, and He has called you by name and He has said, see, although Satan has bruised my heel, I have crushed his head and freed you from him. Over and against any sorrow or pain or wretchedness we may encounter in our days in this fallen world, this truth stands out. Christ is risen, and He has called you by name.

What we are gathered here this morning to celebrate and rejoice in is the most important event in the history of the world, the point at which everything changes. Christ has risen from the dead, and the power of Satan is snapped, is destroyed. Death has lost its sting, it has no more victory. Death could not hold Christ – and because of Christ it cannot and will not hold you. Sin rears up its ugly head in your life – your risen Lord Christ Jesus says, Enough of that, I am your risen Head, and in Me you have forgiveness and life and salvation. I have called you by Name in the waters of Holy Baptism, and because of Me you are clean and forgiven and have true life, life that sin and this world cannot destroy. The world tries to beat and break you down, to whittle you away – your Risen Lord Christ Jesus says, “Enough of that – all that I have is yours for you are Mine, and I give you My strength, My life, My love – here, take and eat, this is My Body, take and drink, this is My blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.” Although the world will try to cloud your vision, to encumber you with pain and sorrow so that you forget this, Christ Jesus calls out to you once again this morning, He says to you, “I have risen for you, and you shall live now in this life and you shall rise and you shall be with me for all eternity, and there is nothing that Satan can do about it.” This is His love for you, a love stronger than death and the grave, a love stronger than sin and Satan, a love that is steadfast and sure. He is risen, and He is risen for you.

My dear Christian friends, indeed, more than mere friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom I will in Christ’s presence share the joys of everlasting life both now in part and in full in the life of the world to come, what more needs to be said? Christ Jesus is Risen from the Grave, and He has called you by Name. His life is now your life, His resurrection is now your resurrection, His victory is now your victory, and so it shall ever be. Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia, Amen. +

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday - 2017
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
But deliver us from evil. You may not have noticed, because generally we aren't watching each other while we pray the Lord's Prayer, but when we get to the 7th Petition, I generally make the sign of the cross. And I do this for a specific reason. When we pray “deliver us from evil” we aren't dealing with something abstract, we aren't dealing with merely a pious wish for better days. No, we are Christians, we know what evil is, what it looks like, what it does. Sin is evil. Sin breaks things. Sin causes suffering. Sin kills. And that is what we see around us so often, it's even what we see in us, in our own sinful flesh. We see evil, evil at work. And we call out to God for deliverance from this evil – and that is what Christ Jesus does by going to the cross. It is in our Lord's death and passion that you are delivered from evil. In undergoing His passion, our Lord acts like a giant sponge for evil, taking it all up, taking it onto Himself, taking it away from us and delivering us from evil. So let us spend a few moments pondering our Lord's passion through the lens of “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. There are five evils, or angles of evil that get listed there: Body, Soul, Possessions, Reputation, and Death. You do realize that these are what Christ Jesus faces down in His Passion? Take evils of the body. Consider the Passion of your Lord. So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him. Arrested without cause, bound, and confined. When He had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand. And that's just the start of the beatings – Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged Him. Then He bears His own cross upon His own weary Body, and on that Cross His body is tortured to death. Every imaginable evil of body – taken up by Christ.

Or evil of the soul. From the passion accounts we remember the 7 words of Christ from upon the Cross – John records three. Consider one of them – Jesus cries out, “Woman, behold your son – son, behold your mother.” How about that for an evil that wrenches the soul – John, you're going to have to take care of My mom because I am dying. Or what we heard Sunday in Matthew – My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Jesus your Lord takes up the evil of abandonment, of being snatched from life and of being taken from those you love, of being dumped into the midst of sin. Every imaginable evil of soul – taken up by Christ.

Or evil of possessions. Christ doesn't have much to begin with, yet even the little He has is taken away. “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took His garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also His tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, 'Let us not tear it, but cast lots to see whose it shall be.'” Even His clothing is taken, and He is left to die naked on a cross. Everything, every possession gone and stolen unjustly. How about that – to be hanging on a cross and watching them gamble for the few things you had owned. What could be more humiliating or denigrating? And then, they take care not to tear the tunic when they have pounded nails into your Hands! Everything stolen and despoiled. Every imaginable evil of possessions – taken up by Christ.

Or evil of reputation. What people think of you, what they say of you. Consider when Pilate addresses the crowd: “I find no guilt in Him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. To be thought of as lower, as worse than a highway man, a bandit, a terrorist – that's who Barabbas was. To be called a King, but only to be mocked – They came up to Him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' and struck Him with their hands. Indeed, to take one who is utterly innocent and treat Him in such a way, to crucify Him with criminals. Every imaginable evil of reputation – taken up by Christ.

One evil left. We pray that God would give us a blessed end. Now consider your Lord upon the Cross. Nailed there. Left to slowly suffocate, to be tortured and exhausted to death. This is not good death, this is not a good way to die. Horribly painful. But even then, it's not a private pain in a private room – no, it's in public. You realize why they crucified Jesus on Calvary – because it was a hill by the side of the road. The Cross was a billboard – an advertisement showing forth the power and might of Rome, and this is what we will do to you if you don't toe the line – this is what will happen to you if you cross the High Priests. You will be left to hang naked and cold and exposed, your shame open for all to see, until you die. Pain and embarrassment all wrapped up. Every imaginable evil aspect of death – taken up by Christ.

Do you see? Throughout His passion, more and more evil just flows on to Christ, it rolls on to Him, pours on to Him. All our evil, all our sin, the weight and wretchedness of it all, clinging to Him there upon the Cross – and having taken it all upon Himself, when He drank to the dregs the cup of the bitterness of evil, “He said, ' It is finished,' and He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.”

It is finished. All of it. All evil is finished in Christ. He has taken it all – taken it all away from you and onto Himself. Indeed, the evil that we see in our lives, in our days – these are just the dying aftershocks of sin, death, and evil. They are destroyed, destroyed by Christ upon the Cross. And so that you would know this truth, Christ Jesus gives up His Spirit, He pours His Spirit upon you. Having taken up your sin, He gives you the Holy Spirit and His own life and righteousness, so that you are well and truly and thoroughly delivered from evil. No evil here that you see can touch you now, not in any lasting way, for You belong to Christ. He has purchased and won you from all evil with His precious blood and death – and even when you die, when evil tries to do it's worst to you – you are delivered from it, you will rise again to new life because Christ has said it is finished and so evil is. You will live – for Christ has died... and as we will see come the third day, He is risen. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Maundy Thursday - 6th Petition – John 13

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

There are two senses, two ways in which the word “tempt” is used in the Scriptures. One refers to forging a weapon – where to set the metal you heat it, you tempt it – all so that it can be made into something stronger and better. It's a trial – not in the sense of wanting to throw someone into jail, but to strengthen them. The other way is what we normally think of today when we think of tempting – and that is an attempt to try to make someone sin. There's a trial, but it's an attempt to get folks to mess up. When we say that God tempts no one, we are confessing that God never leads us to sin, never tries to make us go astray as it were.

So then, where does Jesus lead? It might be good to ponder for a few moments what we see our Lord doing this night. There He is, the Rabbi, the Teacher, the Master, and yet He stoops down to wash the disciples' feet. Now, let me remind you, this would be a gross job. We get that feet can be icky and messy – but you know what's different about today than Jesus' day? Socks and shoes. That's what we wear, by in large, and you know what? They keep our feet a lot cleaner. Now, imagine wearing sandals all day on dusty roads and foot sweat and dirt all combined. That's what's on the feet. That would be what Jesus would be kneeling down to clean. Do you see why washing the feet was seen as the work befitting the lowest servant in the house? And yet, there Christ Jesus is, washing away. Peter doesn't understand, Peter wants Jesus to stop, but no, still our Lord washes away.

Then, when He finishes, Jesus says, “If I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.” Jesus leads you to service. When we think of our service as Christians, often we are tempted to think of high and wondrous and glorious things – real service to God would mean converting the heathen nations, or huge sums of money given to the Church, or something like that. Nope. Those are the temptations of pride springing forth from your evil flesh. What does God's service look like? It looks messy and dirty. It's never high and exulted and glorious – it means getting down in the dirt and the mess and serving your neighbor. And you have plenty of people that you are given by God to serve – in your family, in your job, in the normal, simple mundane every day tasks that are set before you. You know, the things that a common servant would face. And you know what – it's okay to be a common servant to your friends and family. It's who we ought to be in Christ.

And here, my friends, is where temptation kicks in. So often, when we think of temptation we think of it in terms of doing “BAD” things, where if we can make the, bigger and badder, grander and grosser and all the more salacious, well, all the better! And yes, when you are tempted, you are tempted to do bad things... but when we as Christians talk about bad things, we shouldn't just talk about the sort of things that would end up on the evening news or gossiped about over coffee. Listen again to our Catechism lesson. “We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.” When we talk about temptation, the first we as Christians ought to start with isn't the grand and showy sins. No, Satan is much more subtle with his temptations. The two that are given are false belief and despair.

Think about your simple, everyday life. Satan and the world and your flesh will strive to make you hate it, to despise it. To Complain about it. You will be tempted to view your life as pointless, inconsequential, not everything you'd want it to be. You'll be tempted towards despair, towards the blahs – where you'll be tempted away from just simply going and washing your neighbor's feet or whatever task it is at hand. We all know that temptation. You'll be tempted to think that your life doesn't really matter, isn't important – and this is a false belief – because if Christ Himself serves, then it is truly a good and important and special and wondrous thing that you get to serve in the various ways He has given you to serve. Do you see how we are tempted away from the simple service that God leads us into?

Now when we see this, when we realize how often we mess up in even these little things, that's when Satan will shift gears. Oh, he'll still play around with false belief and despair – but instead of getting you to not do what you are suppose to for your neighbor, he'll attack you inside. Satan will pile the guilt on and tell you that you are just lousy and worthless and unlovable. Which, again, is false belief. God Himself has said that He loves you, that He forgives you all your sins, that you are His own precious child. Yet the temptation we face is to listen to what Satan says of us rather than what God says.

For this reason, Christ Jesus your Lord comes. He came, and as we see in our Gospel lesson, He was the perfect servant for us. And when I say for us, I don't mean merely that He was a good example – He is, but also, in His perfect and unfailing love, Christ Jesus takes your place. He fulfills all righteousness without giving into temptation, He is the spotless Lamb of God. And He follows His service to you all the way. He follows it all the way to the Cross – as we will focus on tomorrow in great detail. He goes to the cross in service to you, He even rises in service to you. He gives you His body and blood in service to you – and why? So that when these temptations of Satan come around, so that when false belief and despair come creeping around you – whether over what you ought to do or over what you have failed to do – you would not be focused upon Satan's temptations but rather focused upon Christ Jesus.

Do not look at the world's temptations, do not listen to Satan's braying, do not even listen to your own flesh. Rather, Jesus says, “Look to Me, o Christian! Take and eat, this is My Body, given for you. Take and Drink, this is My Blood shed for the remission of all of your sins. Taste and see that I am good to you, that you are redeemed and forgiven, and that in Me you will long outlast Satan and the world and even your sinful flesh.” Christ makes us to focus upon Him and see that because of His perfect service, His perfect death and resurrection, we are forgiven, we are given holy lives to lead now (even if the world doesn't think all the much of them), and we are promised a resurrection where we will have a new heavens and a new earth, a resurrected body – a life where temptation will be done away with for good. This is what Christ Jesus your Lord has done for you. This is where He leads you. This is why He comes to you in His Word, in His Supper. To lead you away from temptation and to give you Himself – for He loves you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5 – April 1st and 2nd, 2017 – Genesis 22 and John 8

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 decade ago everything was “extreme”, now you see pastors running around with Hispter glasses and big beards 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 that 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 and its burden. This is the great and wondrous word of the Gospel – this is what the Gospel truly is – that you are forgiven by God not on account of your works, not on account of your effort, but on account of the precious death and resurrection of Christ Jesus your Lord.

And yet – the Pharisees in the text are still angry, still reject Christ after he explains this. People today still reject it. Why? Because the Gospel truth is this – that Jesus is 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 – my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault, as we confessed 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 people's sin. 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. God grant that we would speak God’s Word rightly, so that others might know what God’s truth is, so that the Holy Spirit might work, not through the plans we dream up, but that the Spirit might work through the Word which He places upon our lips.

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 +