Saturday, April 28, 2018

Easter 5 Sermon

Easter 5 – April 28th and 29th, 2018 – John 16:5-15

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia – Amen
And 40 days after He rises, Christ ascends to heaven. Jesus knows that this is what He is going to do, it isn’t a surprise to Him. And so, that Maundy Thursday night, where He prepares the disciples for the events to come – He points them to after His ascension. On that day the disciples will be slightly confused – Angels will appear to them and ask, “Why are you staring up in the sky, He will return.” Yeah - But what of the meantime? What of the time between Christ’s ascension and Christ’s return – what about the times that you and I, brothers and sisters in Christ, what about the times we live in? The disciples were confused – what do we do if Jesus isn’t standing here right in front of us. Our Lord knew that the Disciples would feel this, so He speaks to them the Words of our Gospel lesson today. In fact, note what He says. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. Christ here speaks of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost – that is the Helper, the Comforter, the One who is to come.

Christ today teaches us about the Holy Spirit. Now, I tremble to start talking about the Holy Spirit – not because it is difficult to talk about the Holy Spirit – but rather because so many people blather on and on and say sometimes stupid, sometimes down right blasphemous things about the Spirit. To use the “hip” lingo, half the time stupid junk people say about the Spirit “triggers” me. As such it could be very easy for me to turn this sermon into a nice long rant about people who just don’t get it. But that’s not what this sermon is to be about. Rather than focusing on the foolish, empty words others spew forth about the Spirit – let us instead give heed to the Words of Christ Jesus our Lord, and from them learn what the Spirit does.

Today we're going to start at the end of Gospel reading consider the last three verses first, for they are very important in understanding how the Holy Spirit works – and once we see how He works, we’ll look at what He actually does. Our Lord says, When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. All the that Father has is Mine; therefore I said that He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” Twice, two times our Lord uses the word “speak.” Thrice, three times, our Lord uses the word “declare.” Do you see the emphasis here? How does the Holy Spirit guide, how does the Holy Spirit accomplish everything and all the things that He does? By the Word – by Speaking, by Declaring – these are actions involving the Word. The Spirit takes that which is Christ’s, that which belongs to the Very Word of God incarnate and declares it unto us! The Spirit takes that which He has heard, that which the Word, Christ Jesus, has said to Him, and that alone is what the Spirit speaks.

There is a connection, dear friends, a connection which we cannot emphasize enough – a connection between God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t a loose cannon just bouncing around all over the place looking to smack people upside the head. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God. The Spirit has tied Himself to the Word – not because He has to, but for our benefit. You see, God could do anything – but you and I, we can’t. We're limited. So what God does is He ties the Spirit to the Word – so that we know where to look, so we know where to listen, so that we don’t wander blindly, vainly searching for God – rather we know that God comes to us through His Word. You never have to wonder if God is active in your life, you never have to wonder if God is present here. It’s simple – wherever the Word of God is present, there the Holy Spirit is present and active. We don’t grope around blinding searching for the Spirit – the Spirit is found where He has been promised – wherever the Word of God is spoken, wherever it is declared.

And ponder this – when I say Word of God, I’m not just referring to reading Scripture. I am referring to whenever God’s Word of truth is declared, indeed, even when we speak out God’s truth, the Spirit is there. We are taught in Scripture that no man sayeth Jesus is Lord – not a one of us can say Jesus is Lord – except by the Holy Spirit. This whole service we've been declaring that Jesus is Lord, asking for mercy, singing scripture to each other. When that all happens, the Holy Spirit is present. God Himself is there at our confession, our prayers, our praise. In fact, whenever you speak out God’s truth, when you speak to a friend what the Scriptures teach, be it Law or be it Gospel – the Holy Spirit is there – God is present using your Words and making them His own. When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity there the Holy Spirit is present, active and working in the Word.

And this dear friends, is how you can tell if the Holy Spirit is present, how if what is spoken is from God or if it the babblings of egotistical men. Does it agree, does it come from, is it centered in the Word? Listen again, He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak.” There’s the way it works. What’s the sign of the Spirit? Is it whooping and hollering? Nope. Tongues? No. Nein, Nyet, eeih. Is it big, powerful, emotional speaking? Nope. It’s simply this – is what is Spoken in agreement with the Word of God? Not is it flashy – for God doesn’t promise Himself to come with flashy words, nor is it a dynamic speech – for all sorts of charlatans can speak with pretty words – but does it declare what God has taught in His Word? If it does, if a person speaks rightly about the Word – about what you have been taught and trained in – if it agrees with Scripture, the Creeds, the Catechism – then it is safe. Otherwise, it ain’t from God, no matter how much a person might jump up and down and insist that it is. The Holy Spirit always works in and with and through the Word – He has tied Himself to the Word, so that we might not be led astray, but rather into truth.

So what is this Word of God that the Spirit speaks? Christ tells what the Spirit will say, what right and proper preaching will deal with. And when He comes He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness because I go to the Father and you will see Me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. That’s what the Spirit speaks about, that is what our preaching is to be about. It’s not to be about wealth and power, it’s not to be about 7 simple steps to whatever. Our preaching is to be about Sin. God is concerned with Sin – because all sin pushes us towards unbelief – all sin pushes us away from the Word of God. All sin tries to kill faith. And so the Holy Spirit will speak concerning sin. He will warn us of it – for sometimes we slip into it without thinking, and foolishly harm not only our neighbor, but also our own faith. He will speak of sin to show us that we have a need for a Savior, lest we become too prideful, and in our folly start to forget God and go off on our own. The Spirit will speak out a Word of Law, so that those who hear the Law will be crushed, will despair of their own righteousness, their own goodness – and so that they will be prepared to repent, to be turned by the power of God away from their sin. This we need, for our lives are to be ones of continual repentance. If sin, if our sin is not condemned, then the preaching is not of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit will also speak of righteousness – and note here – because Christ goes to the Father. When the Word of God speaks of righteousness – it’s not talking about how you are a nice person – remember that whole convicting of sin thing? Rather Christ is righteous, and we have the proof – See, He rose. See, He ascended to the Father – the Father is well pleased with what the Son has done – the Son is righteous – and the Spirit takes what belongs to the Son and declares it to you – the Spirit takes that righteousness that is Christ’s and by the Word delivers it to you. In other words – forgiveness – justification – the fact that because Christ is holy and righteous He can speak His Holy and Righteous Word of forgiveness and life unto us. Christian preaching will give the forgiveness that is ours through the death and resurrection of Christ. The Word gives and declares forgiveness. That’s why preaching should always be centered on forgiveness. That’s why when we think of the Sacraments – what are they for? One baptism for the remission of sins. Take and drink, this cup is the new testament in My Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. The Word is given to us for forgiveness on account of what Christ has done – and the Spirit declares this by the Word.

Finally, the Spirit will speak of judgment. There is judgment. For the ruler of this world – indeed, for those who reject God, reject God’s Law, reject God’s Gospel – there is condemnation. Judgment is there, and the Spirit warns people of that. Satan is defeated. As Luther would have us sing, “He’s judged, the deed is done, one little word can fell him.” But also this – you have been judged – but judged righteous, declared, that wonderful word, declared righteous on account of Christ. This world is judged, Satan is judged and condemned – but you, dear friends, you have been declared righteous, declared forgiven, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus – the blessings that Christ has won have been given to you – and so you can stride through the trials of this life boldly knowing that your salvation rests solely upon Christ.

This is the help, the comfort that Christ gives to us, this is the comfort that we are to use and rely upon now in this time between Christ’s ascension and His return. We live by the Word of God that the Spirit declares to us – and we live only by that Word, we trust only what the Spirit declares. For that is life, that is our hope, that is our help and our salvation. God grant that we always give heed only to His true Spirit, and cling solely to His Word. Hearing that Spirit filled Word, we have joy and by the Spirit say: Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia – Amen.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Easter 4 Sermon

Easter 4 – John 16:16-22 – April 21st and 22nd, 2018

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia!
“You will weep and lament.... You have sorrow now.” Well, happy Easter everybody. We have reached a shifting point in the Easter Season – where instead of having lessons that emphasize that Christ is Risen, we have lessons that prepare us for what life in the Church will be like after Jesus has risen and ascended. Because this is a radical change for the disciples and for the Church. And what Jesus does on Maundy Thursday evening is that He spent lots of time giving the disciples a heads up, an explanation of how things were going to be. And what Jesus says is very blunt – but if you ride through the bluntness, you if accept it and deal with it, what Jesus says in full is utterly comforting. So, let's dive in.

“A little while, and you will see me no longer, and again a little while and you will see me.” Jesus starts off our text today with a puzzler – a very cryptic and mysterious sounding phrase. And it threw the disciples for a loop. 4 verses are spent basically reiterating this idea – you'll not see me, and then you will. It gets spelled out three times. Now, we get this, we understand this. We live after the resurrection, long after the disciples had lived. There is a shift coming – Jesus will die, then He will rise. The Saturday after Good Friday, you aren't going to see Jesus – but you will see Him again come Easter. And indeed, you will see Him again for all eternity in Heaven – even though while you're running around doing all your apostle stuff or your normal life, you aren't going to see Him. We're used to this idea – we're the folks from John 20 who have never seen and yet have believed. But think about what a shift this would have been for the disciples and the early Church. If you were a disciple, you lived with Jesus. You woke up – there's Jesus. And you ate your meals with Him, you spent your day with Him. You saw Him all the time. If you were a believer in Galilee, you could hear Jesus preach regularly.

That's coming to an end for the disciples. 50 some odd days out, and they're going to be the ones doing the preaching. That's a big shift – and that shift isn't going to happen nicely. There's not going to a graduation ceremony where they get a nice piece of paper – it's going to happen after Jesus gets nailed to the Cross. How's that for pomp and circumstance? And when Jesus is crucified, it is harsh. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” And Jesus wasn't lying. It's hard enough having a loved one die – now imagine there's a crowd jeering and cheering for their death. And Jesus doesn't soft sell how hard this will be – You will be sorrowful. Good Friday was a miserable day for the disciples. Even that first Easter was miserable – everyone was confused and afraid. Yet Jesus promises – but your sorrow will turn to joy. Your sorrow will turn to joy, so much so, in fact, that eventually we'll end up calling that day of sorrow “good Friday” because it is in fact a good day, the great day, the day when Christ defeats sin and death.

A moment if you will, to pause and think on joy. What is joy? What is meant by that when we come across that word in the Scriptures? I would remind you, friends, that St. Paul says that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. When we speak of joy, we aren't talking about a mere feeling. We aren't talking about “happiness”. This is a joy of which “no one will take your joy from you.” Why? Because by the Holy Spirit you know Christ's death and resurrection, and you know that it is for you. That's the joy – it's akin to the peace that surpasses all human understanding. Let's consider the example Jesus uses – 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. My mom was in labor for 36 hours with me – and while she might have often brought that fact up when I was doing something that annoyed her – she had joy. Didn't always mean happiness – there were plenty of times I annoyed the tar out of her – but there was still joy. Joy isn't describing an up and down emotion, it is the knowing and realizing that something is good – that everything really in Christ is good and will be good – even if right now doesn't look good.

Disciples, you are sitting here confused, you don't get what I'm saying to you – but really, everything is under control, everything is working out for your good, for your salvation, for your rescue. Even though the world jeers, even though sin fights hard to mess with you – I am still Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, and your rescue and salvation is in the bag. Now, when you see Me rescue you, it's going to scare you a bit, because I'm going to rescue you through death and resurrection, but it is good. And when I am raised, you'll know this as joy.

This also was the operating pattern for the Early Church – a promise that they needed to hear. The Early Church, the first generation or two, they expected Jesus' return – now. Lots of the New Testament is devoted to calming the fears of people who were wondering why Jesus' second coming didn't happen now. 1 Thessalonians deals with comforting those who mourned – those who have died are with they Lord, they don't miss the second coming, it's okay. John in chapter 21 has to warn people that he himself might die before Jesus returns, because there was a rumor that Jesus just had to come back before John died. No, that's not what Jesus said – He said that no man knoweth the hour, so you can't time the second coming by me. And so Jesus' words “a little while and you will see me no longer, and again a little while and you will see me” served as a reminder that the second coming was in fact coming – but coming on Christ's time table. Don't be surprised at the sorrow – don't be surprised at the persecutions that come and what Emperor Nero does to you in the coliseum. But know that you will see Christ in the end, and you will have joy that no one can take away.

And to be honest, it is also a reminder that for us now who are in the world, waiting for Christ's return – well, things will be hard on occasion. Maybe even often. You're going to have sorrow. You are going to be sinful people in a sinful world, surrounded by folks who do you harm. And here's the thing that is terribly hard for us. We see so much junk. So much terror and sorrow. And actually technology just makes it worse. Think about how quickly we can hear bad news today. Think about how quickly we can see it – images, pictures, videos of atrocities from the other side of the planet. And think about how terribly people can hound us, mock us, jeer at us. With social media for the kids, you can't hardly escape it. Bullies aren't just at the lunchroom – they can post junk about you all night now. And it's easy for us to see just the terror, just the junk – where we can't pull our eyes off of it, where it's everywhere we look, where it threatens to overwhelm us. If you want to be angry and offended and upset, if you want to live in a state of rage against the world, it is easier now than ever – from Fox News to Facebook, from MSNBC to Instragram – the world wants to shove sin and anger in your face – wants to rob you of all your joy.

And it's hard. Often we see the negative – often we want to see the negative, we want to see what stupid things “they” are doing. Or sometimes this is closer to home – we want to see the worst in our classmates and co-workers, even our family, and we wait like predators just waiting to see some flaw or weakness to jump upon. And it's a cycle and it feeds itself. That's the world of sorrow. And that is why Jesus notes that when we see Him, we will have joy. This is why we are instructed to focus our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. This is why Jesus reminds us that these people around us, the ones we want to call enemies – well, what you have done to the least of these my brethern, you have done it unto me. When we look at the world, we ought to see people for whom Christ Jesus died. We ought to see brothers and sisters in Christ. Even as the world shovels sin and hatred and disdain at us, we ought to see those whom God loves dearly.

And often we don't. Often we have a hard time ripping our eyes off of sin and death, and our flesh wants to run wild with it. Which is why Jesus says something very important in the last verse of our text. There is a subtle shift in the action that is very, very important. So also you will have sorrow now, but **I** will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Jesus has promised us that we will see Him – but our seeing Jesus isn't something that is done by our own strength or power. It doesn't rest upon us. Not by our own reason or strength – because it if were, well, we'd be up the creek without a paddle. With might of ours could naught be done. But Jesus says that HE HIMSELF will see us. Jesus is the one in charge here – not you, not the sorrow of the world, and He sees you, He knows your struggles, He knows your hardships. So He sees you, and He makes you to see Him, He turns your eyes off of sin and pulls you back to Him by His Word and Spirit. Jesus makes you repent – refocuses you to where you see Him and His forgiveness and mercy and love. He gets in your face about it. He gets in your mouth about it – here, take and eat, take and drink. See Me and My love for you.

And you have joy that the world cannot take away. You're baptized – that's what your Baptism means – it means that Jesus sees you, knows you by name, and that you are His, not the world's, not Satan's, not sin's – that you don't belong to that sorrow, but rather you belong to Him. And the world can never change the fact of your baptism – the world can't change the fact that Jesus died and rose again, and that His death and resurrection was for you. It might distract you from it – your sinful flesh might want you to focus on things other than the fact that you are a baptized child of God, than the fact that you are the light of the world because Christ Jesus is the Light and He is your Lord – but it can't change the fact that you belong to Christ Jesus – that He sees you, and that He loves you, and that He is well pleased with you. That He sees you not as a sinful, sorrowful mess – because He took that all up on the Cross and did away with that, because He washed you clean in your baptism so that you are spotless and radiant in His sight. Jesus sees rightly, because He sees you always through His death and resurrection, through your baptism. And when we see poorly, when we start to see mainly the sorrow and sin – He comes to us again and again and makes us to see His love and mercy and forgiveness – He even calls us to pour out that love and mercy and forgiveness upon others in this world so that they would see something beyond sorrow, so that they would see Jesus too.

That's what life in the Church is. That's what being New Testament people is – we are folks who have received the Holy Spirit so that we still see Christ and know that He sees us, even in this world. We're going to spend the next few weeks hearing and learning about how the Spirit focuses us upon Christ – and that good, because Jesus really has won it all and conquered it all for you – even the hardships. Therefore, we still rejoice and say – Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Easter 2 Sermon

Easter 2 - April 7th and 8th, 2018 - John 20:19-31

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.
Jesus doesn’t dillydally around. He gets to the point. He isn’t one for small talk, He doesn’t waste the disciples’ time in pointless chit-chat or self aggrandizing speeches. The very Word of God Himself is very efficient in using His Word – He wants His Word to do what it needs to do. This is what we see and learn from our Gospel lesson this Sunday. On the evening of that day [that is, Easter], the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” What do you make of that? There’s no “hi there guys.” No “so how are you all doing?” Peace be with you. And He shows His hands and feet – see, it really is Me, I am indeed risen – those women weren’t crazy after all. Jesus gets to the point.

So what was that point? Let us look at what Jesus says and does. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” Jesus gets to the point. Here it is, Easter day. Christ has been sacrificed, Christ has been raised. Things will be different now. There is no more need for all the sacrifices in the temple. There is no more need for all the cultural laws that kept Israel separate from the other nations, for the Messiah has come and done His duty. From now on, we are in end of days, the time of the Church – and Jesus sets it off.

In the past 2000 years there has been a lot of discussion about what the Church needs, what it should do to grow, how it will grow. There have been lots of theories, lots of different approaches. What do we tell people about? How do we get them in? I’ve seen various commercials for Churches – we offer this program, if you come here your family will be nicer to each other. Is that the key? That we offer folks a product that they will want to consume – even a good product? I drive down Kankakee, and there are signs telling me about exciting worship. Is that the important thing – that we be exciting and lively? That it could be like a rock concert, except more holiness and less smoke! Is that the key, that we be more entertaining? Of course, all these advertisements are different than last year, or five years ago. I just had a telemarketer leave a voicemail Friday for some new thing. Is that the key, to always be changing, to always be trying to be more hip and cool than… well, I don’t know who more cool than, but is that it?

Call me simple, but rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, or in this case the Church – I’d rather just look to what Christ says. Jesus shows up to the disciples, He gets ready to send them out – and what does He say? What is the essence, what does everything that we do as a Church flow out of or come from? What does Jesus tell the disciples that they are to do? Go and forgive sins. Preach the forgiveness of sins – and everything else flows from there.

There is a drastic need for forgiveness in this world, but it’s one we tend not focus on – in fact, it is one that we can shy away from. It’s easy to want to focus on “the family” – shoot, every politician says they are focused on family values, except that doesn’t mean anything. Or excitement – our culture thrives on excitement – simply watching TV or Youtube will show you that. And change – well – some churches go after those that want change – they say we are contemporary. Some churches will go after those that are annoyed by change – they say we are traditional. Or the Churches that proclaim that they are progressive – some like that! These are all terms we are comfortable dealing with. But are we really comfortable dealing with forgiveness – with the thing that Jesus sets before us as of most importance? Are we comfortable with seeing the need for forgiveness?

If you say that someone needs forgiveness, you are implying, you are saying that they have done something wrong. That doesn’t tend to be popular. Might upset them. But this isn’t a chance to sit and bash others – this isn’t a chance to talk about everyone else. Let’s talk about us. In fact, when we talk about the fact that we here need forgiveness – when we get to the meat and bones of the Law and look at our own sin – that can be quite uncomfortable, can’t it. How often do you squirm a little bit in a sermon when I start hitting the “wrong” law – the one that hits too close to home? I know I do. Or how often do you get upset when it lands on a certain topic that might touch too close to your own personal history? I don’t like it when the text does that for me. Talking about sin is uncomfortable. It isuncomfortable talking to other people about their sin, face to face. It can be quite scary to confront your own sin. It seems easier sometimes to just let the topic of sin go. Excitement, tradition, progress, justice in society – good. Sin – my sin, that's quite scary to talk about, and we avoid it until everything gets so bad that the only thing we can do is lock ourselves in a room and hide.

And what does Christ Jesus do? He comes busting on in with His Word. He shows up and is blunt and honest about your sin – but also blunt and honest about something even more wondrous. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. Simple and blunt. The goal, the endgame God is after is to see that you live, that your sin is forgiven and you have life. It's what Jesus says, how He sets up His Church to work. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. That's simple. Our sin can be complicated. We can scheme and plan and plot. Wicked twists and turns abound aplenty. But God’s forgiveness is blunt and bold and simple. Jesus died, and so you are forgiven. Jesus rose, and so life has been won. There’s nothing massively complicated to do – in fact we do nothing. God speaks His Word of forgiveness, and you are forgiven.

And that’s real. God’s Word is powerful – it does what it says. When God tells His church to forgive people by telling them that they are forgiven for Christ’s sake – He means what He says. Jesus gets to business – there’s sin out there, sin that I died for – proclaim it forgiven! Now, John deals with the first thing Jesus tells the disciples after Easter – what about what Matthew records as what Jesus says right before His ascension? All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Get that forgiveness out there. They need it. From the earliest days of our lives as we are brought into the Church in Holy Baptism all the way to our deathbeds, we are people who are in need of Christ’s forgiveness – we need forgiveness given to us, proclaimed to us again.

And that’s what the Christian Church is. That’s what this place is – it is to be a place where Jesus’ authority to forgive sins is used. It is the place where we gather to hear the Word and receive forgiveness from it. It is the place where we are gathered by Christ, and He deals with our sin by forgiving it. Think about what happens here – we start with confession. We confess our sin – and God forgives it. Week in and week out we struggle against temptation, we fight against our sin, and when we fall and stumble back in this place, Jesus just picks us up by His Word, dusts us off, and sends us back out there again. Then the service goes on, and we hear readings and a sermon. Listen, here are specific things that Christ has done, specific skeletons that might be in your closest that He has conquered – go and sin no more for He has conquered that sin and you are forgiven. Again – right to forgiveness. When we sing, what do we sing about – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Because of this, we are now sons and daughters of the King! When we celebrate the Supper, why do we do so? Because Jesus has said, “I give you forgiveness again through this, I strengthen your faith through the giving of My Body and Blood.”

And what does this forgiveness do? How does God strengthen us? Love your neighbor. That’s what the Law says. And that’s mighty hard. I of myself, I in my sinful flesh do not want to love – I don’t want to give of myself to others, I want to take and grab. I want to be selfish. I want to love only myself. God crushes that. By His Word God breaks us of sin, turns our eyes away from our own wants and places them upon the cross, places them upon our forgiveness – gives that forgiveness to us and makes us His new creation. To what end? When we see ourselves, not as “good” Christians, not as nice people, not as people who are kind and loving – but when we see ourselves for what we are – sinners, and when we see God for who He is – the God who forgives sinners, even thanks be to God sinners like me – we are. We are forgiven, God says so. We are a new creation, and so we see things differently in this world – when we see our neighbor – we don’t merely see someone who wrongs us, we don’t see someone who doesn’t fit some artificial standard of behavior that we use to prove what good people we are – we see someone who is fundamentally exactly like us – a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. And God uses us to show them love. When our focus is on Christ and His forgiveness, when we delight not in our own works, not in our own sacrifices to God, but when we delight in Christ Jesus and His death and resurrection and His forgiveness – God will show love through us, God will welcome the stranger through us, God will care for the outsider through us, and God will speak that same forgiveness through us. That is how God strengthens us – by forgiveness. That is how God shapes us to be who we are – He gives us Christ and makes us Christlike – and how – by Christ's forgiveness.

Jesus gets to the point. And the point is that He had died for your sins and risen again to give life. That is the point, and always needs to remain the point. Satan doesn’t want our focus to be there – Satan will hold other more exciting or “nice” things in front of it – or he’ll even try to make us want to shy away from anything that has to do with our sin – even the forgiveness of our sin. But Jesus will have none of it – He continually pulls our wandering eyes back to Him and to His forgiveness. Whatever our age, whether we are but a few days old or old enough to know that we have very few days left us in this life – the Holy Spirit calls and gathers us to the Church that we would receive Christ’s forgiveness and by believing in Him have life in His Name. This is how Christ wants it – that you receive His forgiveness – that you know His peace. Peace be with you. Amen. Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, alleluia

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter Sermon

The Resurrection of our Lord – John 20 – April 1st, 2018

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, alleluia)
My dear and beloved friends in Christ – we are gathered here and celebrating our Lord's resurrection not simply because of quaint tradition, or because we've always done it this way, but because the Resurrection of Christ Jesus is the most profound and impactful event, not just in the history of the world, but in your life. There is nothing more important in your life than the fact that Christ Jesus is risen from the dead. And I mean that right now – not just for eternity, not just for sometime off in heaven or on the last day whenever that gets here, but right now, your life is shaped by the fact that Christ Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus' resurrection shapes everything about your life, your day to day life. And we can forget that, overlook it, take it for granted sometimes. But our Gospel text this morning gives us an example of just how impactful Christ Jesus and His resurrection is in a very real way. Listen.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early. Pause right there. Who is Mary Magdalene? What's her story? Luke describes her thusly in chapter 8: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out. Being possessed by seven demons – that's not a happy place. And many people think that Mary is the same “sinful” woman who anointed Jesus' feet in Luke 7. Either way – if the best starting place for you is that you're merely just the gal who was possessed by 7 demons, you were in a bad place. Not only were you in a bad place, but you were isolated, alone, driven away from people. And if you were in fact a prostitute, you were even more isolated, used and abused and touched not for true intimacy and union, but to be tossed out and ignored like trash. That's where Mary was – and then comes Jesus. And she is healed, the demons are cast out of her. She is forgiven, and she is welcomed. She is clean and holy, and she becomes part of the group – she travels around with Jesus, she has friendships and connection with Jesus and the disciples and the other gals there. That life of isolation, terror, fear and shame has given way to a new life with Christ.

And then comes Good Friday. And they kill Jesus. The Disciples are panicked and go into hiding. Mary still gets to hang around with the women – the other Gospels note that other gals were with her, but John in his Gospel is just zooming in on Mary – but what would Mary's fear be? They were all gathered around Jesus, and what's going to happen to Mary now that Jesus has died? Those relationships she had – they were centered in following Jesus – are they going to crumble now? Jesus is the one who had protected her and had rescued her from the demons; are they going to come back for her now? Is it all going to fall and crumble back into the way it was before? And so going to that tomb that Sunday morning, Mary knows there's a very real possibility that it's all going to fall apart, that tending properly to a dead body is end; turn out the lights, the party's over. That's where Mary is when she reaches the tomb – and that's why she's so distraught.

[Mary] saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the LORD out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” And she gets to the grave, and the large stone is rolled away, and what does she think? They've taken Jesus body. They hated Him, this man who had made her life good, they hated Him so bad they stole and defiled His corpse. And so she runs to the disciples, gets Peter and John, and Peter and John run to the tomb, and they find it empty. But they didn't remember the promise of the Resurrection and comfort Mary. Instead, “Then the disciples went back to their home. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” They don't comfort Mary, they ditch her. Leave her crying at the tomb and run back to hide. Fear and isolation. And then Mary stoops in the tomb, and she sees two angels – and they talk to her: “Woman, why are you weeping?” And she doesn't notice, doesn't put together that there are angels there – that's how distraught she is. Of course she is – you see what's happened to her life, right?

She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” They, the world is at it, the world is messing with everything again and I don't know, I am powerless to stop it. And so she turns, and then there's Jesus, right in front of her – and she doesn't recognize him – probably staring at the ground through tears and fears. And Jesus asks, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Gentle, polite, kind words. But Mary in her distress cries out, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” And there's the best hope Mary thinks she has – I'll drag Him, I'll drag His body through this garden all alone and by myself and hide Him. In that moment, that's the “best” hope.

And then Jesus says one word. And this is the most important word, the hinge, the one that completely changes everything in Mary's life once again, the one word that turns an incredible darkness into light. And Jesus said to her, “Mary.” Mary. Her name. I'm not some stranger-danger body snatcher, I am your Lord, Mary. I am your friend, Mary. I am your Savior, Mary – and I'm standing right here risen from the dead. The world that you fear so much, those demons that you worry about, that sin and temptation that hound, they you all did their worst to Me, and I rose... and I didn't rise away from you, I didn't rise and say, “Thank goodness I don't need to have that demon-trollop girl hang around anymore” - I rose to call you Mary My friend. Forever. And then, for Mary, the utter joy. This is comedy – this is the wonderful twist that leads to the happy ending. Mary is so ecstatic that Jesus has to say: Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” I've got a bit more business to do, Mary – but go tell the disciples, because you're not cut off from them either, go tell them that My Father is still our Father – ours, together. That's what My death and resurrection have ensured. And in fact, next weekend we will see what Jesus does when He shows up to those fearful disciples (because they weren't quite sure of what Mary had said). But for this morning – do you see the shift, the change? Do you see the movement from the despair of Mary's life to the joy of Christ's resurrection for Mary?

This is why Christ's resurrection is the most important thing in your life. Today. Right now. You see, Satan recycles his tricks, and in this world the Devil will hound you. He'll toss out temptations and folly, and there will come times when you will look upon your life with regret and sorrow. Satan will stir up violence and wickedness and hatred all around you – we have that in spades today. And you will come across fears and worries and doubts – and fears and worries and doubts that often are very, very real. And understand, I'm not diminishing any of this – these things are often big and real and nasty – things we wouldn't breathe a word of to anyone. This past month may very well have been the worst of your life. Next Tuesday may be the hardest day you face – I don't know when, but hardship and trial will come. That's what Satan does to us while we are in this sinful world. Mary's tears were real, and often yours will be real as well.
And yet, here is the hinge in your life. You are baptized into Christ. Jesus Christ called you by name at your baptism – Jesus had you baptized by your name. It wasn't just some blanket, random thing – but He Himself had you brought to the font, and Jesus Christ called you by name. And therefore this is the truth – you belong to Him. You belong to the resurrected Lord who has gone through and conquered Satan and all of His tricks, and His promise to you at your baptism was to be your Lord who would see you through it all, to be your Lord who would be with you through it all. He cleansed you, He forgave you, He declared you holy right there at the font. He made His Spirit – the Lord and giver of Life - to dwell in you. He declared you worthy to be in His presence, both now in His church and forever in His kingdom – that's why we start our service with the words of our Baptism – in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Right there at the font, your risen Lord called you by your name.

If you would remember the catechism – what does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Daily. Even though you are daily caught up in this sinful world, your sin is daily drowned and you are cleansed. Daily you arise anew to live before God, live in His presence in His own righteousness and purity forever because Jesus loves you and is pleased with you and delights in you and has done everything to see that you will be with Him forever – that you will be with all of the saints, that we will rise from the dead ourselves and be with Him forever – and without the troubling taint of sin that makes us all too often annoying to each other. But this isn't just then – it's now – Romans 6 – We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. That's the reality of your life right now. That's who you are in Christ. And nothing, no sorrow or hardship, no matter how big or hard or difficult they are – indeed even death itself can't change that. Jesus Christ faced all that for you, He went through all that for you, and He rose from the dead, and He brings you with Him. You are safe, secure, loved, and protected in Him. You have true life in Him, life that will long outlast any junk you see now. Therefore we gladly proclaim: Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!