Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ascension Observed

Ascension Day Observed – May 27th and 28th – Luke 24:44-53

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.
Yes indeed, Christ is risen, and more than that, He has ascended, and He is seated at the Right Hand of the Father, and He shall come again to judge the living and the dead, that is He rules the world with truth and grace, and that He shall come and finally put an end to all sin and wickedness, taking us to His side for all eternity. This is our faith as Christians, this is what we look forward to, what we long to see. And on this day, when we remember and celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, it is a time to see that all that Christ has done, indeed, all of the Scriptures are driving that this end – that Christ Jesus shall come again and that because of Him, you will live with Him forever.

Listen to our Lord. Then He said to them, “These are My Words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. Everything must be fulfilled, all the things of the Old Testament must be fulfilled, because God loves you and will not let anything stop Him from showing you love. You realize that is the story of the Bible right? It’s not just events of long ago, not just a list of rules, or even practical advice. It is the story of Christ Jesus not letting anything get in the way of His love for you, not sin, not death, not the Devil.

Consider creation. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. By Him all things were made – a garden where man and woman would live, delight, enjoy, and walk with God in peace. Sin messes that up – so then Christ Jesus will come and redeem sinful men and women, and He will make for them a New Heavens and a New Earth not tainted by sin, because that’s His love for you. Or Cain and Abel. Cain slays Abel, and Abel’s blood cries out. So then Christ Jesus will come, and He will be slain by His brothers, and His blood calls out for your pardon and peace. The world at the time of Noah is so wicked that it must be washed away – then Christ will come and give you the gift of Holy Baptism, so that your sins are washed away and you are left to live with Christ. Abraham had no children – so Christ comes to be His descendant, bringing Father Abraham the many sons that the children’s song extols. Isaac deserved to die, to be sacrificed! The Lamb of God will come and be sacrificed in Isaac’s stead, so that father and son can rejoice together – whether that father and son are Abraham and Isaac or God the Father and all of you. Jacob thought he had to fight and cheat for his blessings, but instead Christ wrestles him down and says, “I will be the one who comes and gives you blessings!” Joseph suffers all sorts of wickedness, is sold into slavery, unjustly prisoned… but this is all so that he would be exulted by Pharaoh so as to save his brothers and give them bread. Likewise Christ is betrayed by His friend, handed over to wicked men and killed – and though they intended it for evil, God intended it for good; He raises and exults Jesus, and now He gives you a better bread, the Bread of His Supper, now His own Body so that you have life and life everlasting. All of it, all of Genesis – driving and pointing to Christ Jesus and His love for you.

And there’s 38 more books of the Old Testament… we could see the same in them all – in Moses, in the Exodus, in Joshua, in David, in the story of Boaz and Ruth, in the Prophets, in the temple, in the rules and regulations, in the Sabbath itself that points to Christ’s Sabbath rest in the tomb after Good Friday… but if we did, I might not make it out of this pulpit alive. And that’s not suggesting that any of you would do anything to me, I’d probably just keel over from exhaustion. But this is what Christ makes the disciples to see – that the Old Testament, the Scriptures, are the story of God showing love to His people, fixing the fall, preparing the way for Christ Jesus, pointing us to the coming Messiah, so that in Christ we would see and know the great love that God has for us.

And having shown this to the disciples, Christ Jesus continues. [He] said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem….” This is what the Scriptures proclaim. Christ will bruise Satan’s head, while Satan bruises His heel. Or Psalm 22 – I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint, my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast.” Hanging on the cross, joints destroyed, the spear pierces His side, His heart, and blood and water melt out. The Son must die and rise. And this truth is to be proclaimed – repentance and forgiveness. Behold your sins, for they are great, but Christ and His death and resurrection are greater, so there is forgiveness in Him, in His Name. And begin in Jerusalem, but go to all nations, for Abraham must have many sons, and the sheep not of this fold the Shepherd must gather, and go not like Jonah grumbling on his way to Ninevah, but rejoicing that this salvation is for the Gentiles as well! Yes, you here in this room, those of you without even a drop of Jewish blood, who cannot claim Abraham as your physical father in the slightest – the promise is for you as well.

You are witnesses of these things. And from our point of view, not just the Old Testament points to Christ. Indeed, the New Testament, the writings of the Apostles do the same thing. These witnesses preached, and they also wrote things down – the Early Church would call the New Testament the “memoirs of the Apostles”. And what do they do? They proclaim repentance and forgiveness in the Name of Christ. The 4 Gospels proclaim this. The Epistles all proclaim this. Paul is determined to know nothing among you but Christ and Him Crucified. Luther is right – every page of the Old Testament drips with Christ, and the New Testament is the revealing of what was hidden in the Old, namely Christ. All things are set, all things are prepared.

And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the City until you are clothed with power from on high.” And Pentecost will come. And the Apostles will be sent out, and the preaching of Christ will spread through all nations, through various languages, even making it’s way out to Illinois, even in a language as strange as English. But more on that next week when we celebrate Pentecost. For today, let us consider what happens next.

Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. While He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” And His work is done. He has accomplished all things and won your salvation. He has died and He is risen – your salvation is won. But did you note what He is doing even as He ascends? He is blessing them. And what do you think Christ is doing now? Right now, at this moment, Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. That implies two very important things. First, that is a position of power – All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Christ rules the world – and how does He rule it? For your blessing, for your good. And that may not always be obvious – the world still intends things for evil – God still works it for good. It may not be the blessings you expect, but Christ Jesus is in charge, and He will still bless you and keep you, will make His face shine upon you (like the transfiguration) and be gracious unto, and will lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace – Peace be with you, see My hands and My side! Christ Jesus is your Lord and your God, and He still cares for you. He has been crowned with many crowns, and the King reigns for you and acts out of love for you.

And not only that – you have an advocate with the Father. You have an advocate with the Father who has borne all your sin, who has with His own stripes healed you, and so that now in Him the Father is well pleased with you. You have been restored unto the Father, you have been forgiven by Him. This is the great joy and reality – and it is the reality and truth that we shall see in full, for one day this same Jesus who ascended shall come again with trumpet sound, and the dead will be raised, and we shall go to the joys of eternity with Christ. Christ has done it all, and in Him we have life, all thanks be to God. Amen. Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Easter 4 Sermon w Confirmation

Easter 4 (and Confirmation) – May 6th and 7th, 2017 – John 16:16-22

Christ is Risen! (He is Risen indeed, alleluia!) Amen.
You will be sorrowful. There you go confirmands. You will be sorrowful – happy Confirmation Day! Boy, that took a turn, didn't it. Well, understand where and when our Gospel Lesson takes place. In a sense, it happens immediately after the Disciples have been confirmed. It's Maundy Thursday evening, and Jesus has just celebrated the Lord's Supper for the first time, they've all just had their first communion – and our Gospel text is Jesus talking to them after that first Lord's Supper. And what does Jesus know that the disciples don't? He knows that Good Friday's coming. The Crucifixion is coming. And even after Jesus is raised from the dead, His ascension is coming. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Your class time is done disciples, and soon, you won't be following Me around as my learners, but you'll be out there, you'll be doing things, you'll be teaching. Dare I say, you're going to be all grown up, expected to be adults.

And this sort of freaks out the disciples. “So they were saying, 'what does He mean by a little while? We do not know what He is talking about.” It's scary, and they want to ask, but again, they are proud, they are the disciples, they've spent so long learning, they shouldn't need to ask. Lesson 1 from our text – even though you've all studied, you never learn enough to where you can't ask questions, to where there won't be things you ask questions about. I've been a Pastor nearly 13 years, and I still try to meet with other pastors at least once a week, because I still get questions. And Jesus understands that. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you have them folks – do you see how welcoming of questions Jesus is? He'll actually ask them for the disciples. “Is this what you were asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, 'A little while and you will not see Me, and again a little while and you will see me?” Questions don't bother Jesus. And 'what does this mean” questions certainly don't bother Jesus – being done with confirmation doesn't mean you're done with “what does this mean?” Nope, questions continue – and sometimes the answers are hard.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” And you guys all thought me starting the sermon with “You will be sorrowful” was rough. But Jesus is just speaking the truth. What will the disciples see in the next 24 hours? They will see Jesus arrested, beaten, unjustly condemned, and crucified, all while the world mocks and jeers and rejoices that Jesus the troublemaker has been finally put down. And Peter, bold Peter's going to be weeping bitter tears after the cock crows three times; John's going to be at the foot of the Cross getting told to take care of Mary. It's going to stink on ice, and even while it's at it's worst for the disciples, the world will be laughing and celebrating.

Lesson number 2. In your lives, you will see things that will rip up you. The world will do things that are horrible – I hope you don't see much, but chances are you will. And Satan will still keep on stirring up all sorts of hatreds and anger – the world's never going to be a nice place. And even your own sinful flesh will get in on the act, and you will be tempted to do all sorts of stupid foolish things, you'll have discontent from wanting things you don't have, you'll get caught up in stupid fights and anger, and you will sin – and then Satan will slug you and attack you will guilt. That's the way life goes in this sinful world – and it keeps going this way. Bad times, rough times, can come sweeping up at you at any moment – and it doesn't matter what you've learned, it doesn't matter how old you are. Growing up doesn't mean everything suddenly makes sense and is easy – just means new problems. Every single one of us in here has something rough to deal with, and if things are fortunately sort of smooth now, just wait a bit, something will come up soon enough. You will be sorrowful. That's just a fact.

Now, if we stopped there this would be an utterly dour and depressing sermon, wouldn't it? And some folks might want to skip over all this – but we can't. Being a Christian isn't a golden ticket to sunshine and daisies all the time. There will be sorrows in this life. There will be hurts and pains and anger, and as a Pastor I'm probably going to be stuck doing funerals until someone does mine. Sorrow happens, we can't pretend otherwise, we can't live in denial – Jesus teaches us specifically this fact. When sorrow comes in your life, don't pretend it's not there. Being macho never impressed Jesus. When sorrow comes in the lives of people you know, your family, your friends, your neighbors – don't downplay it. We are Christians, we know sorrow – we know just how rotten sorrow is because we know just how Good God had created this place to be. We know sorrow, because we know sin for what it is, and how horrible it is. But Jesus doesn't just leave us in sin, Jesus doesn't just let sin and sorrow stand. No – You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. Now, quickly, let me point out something. Jesus said joy. He didn't say happy. Happy is an emotion, how happy or sad we are is internal, it can go up and down and all over the place. Happy is all over the place. That's not what Jesus said; He said joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Joy is something that is given to you. Joy isn't an internal emotion, but Joy is seeing something else, something greater, something outside yourself.

Jesus explains what I mean. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish for joy that a human being has been born into the world. See how that works. Several gals I know, that we know here, have given birth recently, and you know what's fun? Seeing all the baby photos on Facebook. And there's lots of them. Tons of them. That's joy. What's the mom focusing on – not “three weeks ago I was shouting and asking for stronger drugs” - it's “oh look, isn't he cute!” That's joy. Joy in that human being, in that other person. Joy pulls your focus off of that sorrow and then puts it onto something wondrous and wonderful. It doesn't mean that the sorrow was any less sorrowful, it doesn't mean that the labor was any less laborious – but now our focus isn't dominated by that sorrow, our focus is on this little bundle of joy. Not looking at, not overwhelmed by my sorrow anymore – even though there might still be some soreness that still lingers – but look at this fella, isn't he sweet?

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. This is beautiful, oh people this is beautiful. Jesus acknowledges to the disciples that they will have sorrow now – He doesn't downplay it, He doesn't soft-sell it. But He makes a promise. I will see you again. And did you note that – Jesus says I will see you again. He doesn't say, “You'll have to look to try to find Me.” He doesn't say that He'll disappear. Nope – I will see you, and because I see you you will have hearts that rejoice, joy that no one can take away from you. And what does Jesus do after He rises? This was two weekends ago – even when the disciples are locked away in fear and sorrow – there Jesus is. Peace be with you. I told you I would see you again, and lookie here, I see you, and I say peace. And even a week later, He shows up again. Jesus comes again to the disciples – and really, the next few weeks are going to be lessons on how Jesus comes to us in His Church through His Word and Sacraments. We'll get plenty on this the rest of this month, but let's tie it up now.

When you were baptized, Christ Jesus saw you. He saw you and said, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He saw you and declared that you are His brother, His sister. He saw you and declared that you are forgiven and would be an heir of eternal life. That He would be your God who would always be merciful. And you know what – no one can take that joy from you, no one can change the fact that you are a baptized child of God. And what is confirmation? Nothing but this: I will ask these 5 young adults the same question I got asked – Do you this day in the presence of God and of this congregation acknowledge the gifts that God gave you in your Baptism? Do you acknowledge the gifts, do you recognize this joy that Christ has given you that no one can take away from you, that no sorrow can take away from you? Are you starting to see things like an adult, see and understand what actually goes on in this service?

What happens in this service? Jesus sees you. He sees you here in His Church, He sees you coming into His House, facing whatever sorrows you're facing in life. Doesn't freak Him out, doesn't make Him ashamed of you. Instead, He sees you, and He sends a pastor, this day it happens to be me, and He instructs that pastor to say, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +” See, your Baptism still holds true. God still sees you as His, and no one can take that joy from you.

Jesus sees you. He sees you, and He calls you to His table, to give Himself to you in the wonderful mystery of the Lord's Supper. Take and eat, take and drink – given and shed for you, for you, yes, for you, so that you would have joy. It's all about the forgiveness and life and salvation that Christ has given you – freely, completely out of His love for you. And this is what He offers you, even until you reach the feast of eternal life with Him – when He appears and you are like Him, raised to a new and glorious and sinless life. This is what Christ has done for you.

You will be sorrowful. That's how we started this sermon – but hear again how Jesus ends it. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy, turn to and see Christ and His everlasting love for you. This the truth, the truth we see whenever Christ comes to us in His Word, in His Sacrament. God grant that we see this all our days in this world of sorrow, even until we see Christ Jesus face to face in the life of the world to come. And we shall see Him. And we confess together why we will see him saying – Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia +