Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Easter 3 Sermon

Easter 3 – John 10:11-16 April 26th, 2020

Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! +
We often downplay sin, we treat it as but a trifle as one old hymn puts it. I mean that – whether we talk about white lies or just bad habits – things that are bad but if they are habitual and daily it's no biggie – we tend to downplay sin. We tend to downplay the impact of our own sin – whether it's the addict who says it's not a problem or whether it's the times where we've hurt people and but then said, “Well, they are just overreacting.”

Jesus never downplays sin. He never minimizes it. He never poo-poos it and pats it's on its head. He calls sin what it is. And in our Gospel text the image of sin that our Lord uses is that of a ravenous wolf that snatches and scatters a herd of sheep, while the hired hands all run in fear. That's sin in a nutshell, right there. Sin snatches – sin will grab a hold of us and tear into us and shake and not let go until we die. Anyone slightly uncomfortable hearing that? I am – I am now, and I was during the week, and I was while writing it. There's a reason we tend to keep with those bad habits – they've got their claws into us deeply whenever we care to admit it. And sin scatters – folks who should be together get blasted and blown apart. We see a physical example of this right now – disease and death are a consequence of sin, and we've been scattered and separated now, most certainly. But even before last month, well, none of us have to think too hard to ponder relationships that were blown apart, friendships scattered, and people we were once close to from whom we are utterly distant. And sin drives us to fear, drives us to abandon our duties. The hired hand – he was hired precisely to protect the sheep – but he hears the growls, he sees the teeth and the strong jaws of the wolf – and terror hits him. He is “unmanned” as they would say back in the day, and he flees. I like that word “unmanned” - he ceases to be a man and instead flees like a beast. Sin lessens us – as instead of being whom we were created to be, we give into base emotion and are driven away from those whom God has placed into our lives.

Thus the reality of sin. All described neatly in one verse – 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. Actually, Jesus just needed the second half of that verse to set up what sin looks like. And if that was all that we had to talk about, this would be a right dour day for us. And these would be right wretched weeks for us. And we'd be left with nothing but fear and panic and dread – the fear and panic and dread that is floating in the air right now – and it's rightly to be there. People are seeing face to face the impact of sin, the impact of death – an impact long denied. People are seeing that there's no quick and simple governmental solution, that a simple change of policy won't perfect anything. Trust not in princes, they are but mortal – and seeing this drives the fear deeper into so many bellies.

But did you note what else Jesus said? All this impact, all this sin unleashed, all this terrible reaction – it's all from either the sheep or from folks who do not own the sheep. The owner, Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd – well, His reaction to sin is quite different than ours.

I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. You aren't just left on your own – in spite of what the fear driving you away from others might try to tell you, in spite of what your own shame over derelicted duties might make you feel. Sin attempts to scatter, to isolate. Sin tries to drive a wedge between you and God, and that wedge is in a word, death. God gives life and blessing – sin brings as its wage death. And it would have, except for one mind boggling thing. Jesus Christ, your God and Lord, lays down His life for you. When you are snatched away from Him by sin into death, He dives willingly into death for you.

And at first, this sounds like the most idiotic thing in the world. What shepherd ought lay down his life for the sheep? Is not the shepherd worth more than the sheep? I mean, this doesn't seem worth it, or heroic – the economics and math don't line up. That's because we don't own the sheep – economics and price think about selling the sheep or utilizing the sheep or turning a buck off the sheep – and that's never been Christ's relationship with you. He's never viewed you simply on the basis of your utility to Him, how much wool He could sheer you for. No, simply this – you are His, and He delights in you. The great sheep story of the Old Testament is the one Nathan tells David – think on it. “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds,  but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.” That's not economics and profitability – that's the rich man's world. No – love, loves it like a daughter. Some rich man watching a tragedy unfold won't run into a barn to save a sheep – that's why you have insurance after all. Risking all to rescue one who is as your daughter – that's another thing entirely.

And so when you hear that Jesus is your Good Shepherd, He's not a Shepherd who views you merely as a commodity – He is your Shepherd who loves you, and there is no way on His green earth that He is just going to let Sin and Satan and Death get their wolfy little paws on you. And so He lays down His life for you – He chases down sin and death, dives right on into the pit where they hid, and He rips them apart. For your good. To rescue and redeem you. You bring you back home upon His shoulder rejoicing.

Jesus doesn't abandon His duty – He loves you constantly and continually, and His steadfast love endures forever. And Jesus is not scattered from you – all the things that you think would drive Him away, He forgives – Peace be with you. And even should death snatch you – so be it, for Christ is there and yet you will live. This the reality of the Christian faith – this is the truth we hear and delight in and sing forth. This is the truth that forgives the sin in our own life and calms our fears and forgives each other when we sin – you note that – we begin service by forgiving each other. Utterly astonishing, that. Mayhaps this stay at home stuff has just taught us how much we need to be forgiven and to forgive others. Because over and against the hardship of sin, you have forgiveness and life in Christ Jesus, because you are His, and He will not let you be taken from Him.

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one Shepherd. And the voice of Christ Jesus, His Word, goes forth even today. Even unto us – we who most certainly were far from the disciples in terms of both time and space. Even through us unto our own friends and neighbors. You know them, the ones who are fearful and afraid now. Who are snatched and scattered and fleeing in panic. They too are people for whom Jesus died – and you are able to proclaim the peace of Christ Jesus, His love and forgiveness to them – and you will do so as the Holy Spirit gives you the opportunity and the words so to do. When? Beats the tar out of me, I'm not the Holy Spirit – but this is what God does – He gathers sheep into His fold by His Word, by the voice of Jesus – and the Lord does open our lips, and into the midst of a world of sin and fear, even over and against our own sin and fear, the Spirit brings forth the praise of God.

This is what Jesus has always done for you. This is His love for you, for you are His, and He will always readily forgive you and restore you to life, for you are His now and forever. God grant us His Spirit, that we might ever more see this and grow in this, even in whatever strange days we see. Amen. Christ is Risen!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Easter 2 Sermon

Easter 2 – April 19th, 2020 – John 20:19-31

Christ is Risen! (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!) Amen +
We hear the Scriptures differently depending upon the events of our lives, what we have been through. You hear things differently as a child than you do as a parent, or a grandparent. Thing resonate differently. Because you have experienced different things in your life, you end up noting, keying in on different things in the text. Now, with that being said, how much different is our Gospel text, how much more keenly does it resonate in our ears this morning? Consider – 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.... There had been the disciples, gathered together in fear. Why? We can't go out there – we go out there in public and there's a good chance we will die. I've preached on this text over 15 times, and I'd bet that every time I've preached it I've taken pains to point out how this is a reasonable fear, how it's understandable for the disciples to be locked up in fear – and I'm sure this text is familiar to you. It sounds a bit different this year, doesn't it? With us having been cooped up, staying inside, going out in public only when wearing masks?

I'd also be willing to wager that the disciples hated their quarantine, their hiding themselves away as much as we do. I mean, a week later, the second time around in this text, they are still locked up. Things are still rough and strange and bizarre for them. And things are rough and bizarre for us. I reckon that quite a few of us are going a bit stir-crazy, that this is some of the worst cabin or spring fever you've felt. Or the uncertainty, the random dread. The fear mongers constantly peddling panic. Our situation isn't the same as the disciples, clearly – but perhaps now we understand it a bit better. Our comfortable lives have been disrupted, just as theirs had been. And their pious stories had been disrupted too – after all, these were the disciples, the students who had dedicated their lives to following Jesus. Well, I'd say that's been tossed out the window expect the window's closed and locked and nothing is going out it. And likewise too, so many of the pious things we do, the good works that we cherish and value, well – lots of those are are on hold. And it sits poorly, it gnaws. We're Americans – we value hard work and what we do – and that's changed now, so what does that say about me? If I'm not doing what I used to do, what does that say about me?

The disciples weren't doing anything. For three years they had been defined by following Christ, their identity was that they followed Christ and now they are hiding precisely to keep from following Christ to their own graves. What does that say about them? What does that say about how God sees them? Will there be wrath and anger and punishment? Will there be fear never ending? The disciples aren't doing anything – doesn't that mean that God must now hate them?

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 and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Hi there disciples. Peace. With you. Shalom – for you. Yeah, I know you're freaked out, I know you've been lousy – I was there when you all ran off, and you're probably expecting some fire and brimstone, if not an angry mob... but, um... no. No, instead you get Jesus. You get Peace. You get Christ the Crucified who has died and has risen – see the nail prints, see the spear wound – it's the real Jesus. And He says peace. Jesus is the Truth, and He says Peace be with you, even in that locked room to lousy disciples who hadn't been doing a thing.

Now the lie, the terrible damnable lie that we tell ourselves is that our relationship to God is based upon what we do. That God's attitude towards us is shaped by what we do for Him, how hard we work, how devoted we are, how we keep our nose clean, how we might have our faults but at least we don't fill in the blank like the other guy. And we make idols out of our actions – and these idols seem great and good... until they fail and crumble as all idols do. As all of our own actions do. And then comes the fear, the crippling fear that locks us up and wraps us up tight. And that's all based upon a lie – the lie that our relationship to God rests upon what we do. Over and against that, over and against what we think we need to do, or ought to do, or should do – or ought to or should have done – over against all of these recriminations, over and against all of that sin comes Jesus Christ, Christ the Crucified – and He says, “Peace be with you.”

Seriously. Even now. Peace be with you. And this peace doesn't rely upon you, or your actions, or what you have done. It's on Jesus – He's died and risen for you, and so you have peace. Period. And it's not in doubt, it doesn't hang upon you or your reaction – God did it for you well before you were born. All that Jesus has done – for you. So that you would know this peace that He gives. In fact, we hear: Jesus said to them again, “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, “Recieve the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” There you go fellas – just as I've come into here in the midst of your fear and proclaimed peace to you – you're going to do that for others. You're going to tell them that they are forgiven by Christ the Crucified. Might have to tell them that they are loving their sin idols and not looking at Christ – but the point is to give them Jesus, Jesus Crucified for them. And thus has been the history of the Church.

There, in the upper room that Easter Evening, Christ Jesus made sure that you would have people who would speak Christ's peace to you, this day. Established well before you came along, established well before you did a cotton picking thing, but established for you. Jesus even set up this Congregation here for you – before any of you were born – put it here so there'd be a place where that peace would be proclaimed, that there would be pastors put here to proclaim it. Because it isn't about you or what you do or don't do – this peace is yours because of Christ Jesus and what He has done.

It's so simple, but oh, the temptation to not believe! The temptation to think we have to do things, that there are hoops we have to jump through first. Consider much maligned Thomas – Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe. Too good. Too good to be true. Surely there are hoops I must jump through, and here are the qualifications I need met. I'm going to poke around for myself. Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” And still, Jesus shows up. Still Jesus proclaims peace. Even to grumpy, cynical Thomas. Peace be with you. And then, of course, in what really is one of the more humorous lines of the Scriptures we hear Jesus: Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” I heard you talking smack to My preachers that I sent out, Thomas. I heard all your bluster and bravado... and I still showed up and proclaimed My Peace to you. I can take your Pepsi Challenge if you want – I mean, you can dig around here if you want to... but the important thing is that I'm here and proclaiming peace – so away with this not-faith demands about what you're going to do and let's get onto faith, shall we. And so it was – Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!” Yep, that's who it is who says peace. Your God and Lord.

And Christ Jesus, your Lord and your God still proclaims His peace to you here today, even right smack dab in the midst of your fears, your doubts, the bluster and false bravado you've shown this past week. Right in the midst of your foolish sins, your silly idols – all of it. And your Risen Lord has sent forth His Word and Spirit to proclaim to you this same peace, proclaim to you this forgiveness that He has won for you. It's all been written and read and proclaimed that Jesus is the Christ – that He has done it – and you... you believe. You hear, you receive what Christ does – and you simply get life. In His Name. The Name you received as your own in Baptism when He joined Himself to you. The Name proclaimed in His Church, week in and week out. The Name proclaimed in our homes in our own devotions, at our meals. The Name that does actually give peace and forgiveness and righteousness – true righteousness – His righteousness. And all we do is receive this. And even when distracted and fearful, Christ bursts in again and says Peace be with you.

So – once more. Peace be with you. That is, all your sins are forgiven by Christ the Crucified, and even if you should die, yet you will rise because of Jesus. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Easter Sermon (Viral - as in the bug, not spreading via the internet)

Easter Sunday (Viral) – April 12th, 2020 – John 20

Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia +
My dear friends, indeed, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you who have been bought by Christ, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, and brought together into His family, perhaps separated physically now yet united with God Himself and with all the patriarchs, the prophets, the Apostles and saints of all ages, most blessed and joyous greetings be unto you this Easter morning in the Name of Christ our Risen Lord.

Now a question. Did you notice in our Gospel text for this morning, dealing with our Lord’s Resurrection, how everyone’s dire expectations are not met, how what people come expecting isn’t what happens. Mary comes to the tomb, and she expects a dead Body. It’s not there. That’s not what Mary expected that morning. Peter and John go rushing to the tomb – and by rights there should be a Body there. If anything this is probably just Mary being overwrought and confused – there has to be a Body there, John had seen Him die. No Body there. Not what they expected. The resurrection of our Lord turns everything on it’s head. Dead bodies are supposed to stay dead bodies. But not after our Lord’s Resurrection – nothing is as it was before.

There’s a reason why Mary was expecting a Body to be in that tomb. There’s a reason Peter and John don’t make the connection right away with what is going on. They were sinners in a sinful world. They had seen death over and over again. People are born, they grow old, perhaps, and then they die. That was life, and life always turns tragic. But they were wrong. That wasn’t life. That’s wasn’t just nature. That wasn’t what we were created to be, created to do. That wasn’t life, that was death. That was the wages of sin. Sin had turned creation on its head, turned everything upside down. Sin turned people created to live into people doomed to die. Sin turned people created to care for God’s creation into selfish beings who would hurt and harm their neighbors in order to please themselves. And even those who feared God, who trusted in Him, they were still sinners. They might fight against their sin – but they never won completely, and over and over again we see in Scripture how the faithful messed up. We see this in our own life – the times where we look back and think, “Why in the world did I do that. . . I can’t believe it.” Sin has turned everything on its head – sin has so taken and shaken this world that we have come to expect nothing but death. That’s what Mary and Peter and John were expecting – because that’s how the story always ends – and he died. That’s what life in this fallen world has taught us to expect, that’s how twisted, how tragic, how fallen we have become.

And Mary walks to the tomb, expecting nothing but death – but there’s no death there. Peter and John run, surely, there must be death, that’s how the story always ends. There’s no death there. Nothing is like they expect it to be. Peter and John don’t know what to make of it – they wander back to their homes. But Mary, Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. She is still weeping. The story has to be that He’s still dead – she’s so thoroughly turned upside down by life in this fallen world, that that’s just how it has to be. And as she wept she stooped to look in the tomb. Maybe if I look again, the Body will be there, it will all have been a silly mistake and I'll still have my tragic ending that I'm expecting. But there is no dead body in that tomb. No, instead, now there is something else – And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the Body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Why are you weeping, woman – do you not see, the World has been made right again – Death has been undone, what is there to weep over! Now is the time for joy and laughter – Christ lives – He has risen.

Mary hasn’t seen that yet. She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” She still thinks only of a Body, of a motionless lump of clay – that someone has dragged off, that someone has put somewhere. She doesn’t see, she doesn’t understand that He is not dead, but that He is alive. And she turns, and there He is, standing in front of her – yet she doesn’t see Him yet, not really. Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. This is funny. Mary is so distraught, so caught up in this world of sin and so sure of how things have to work, must work in this world, so ridden with tears that she doesn’t even recognize Jesus. Even when Jesus says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping, whom are you seeking?” – even when Jesus says, “Hey, I’m over here, you were looking for me” – she still is so caught up, can’t conceive of expecting anything else, that she carries on, begins to babble quickly. Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where You have lain Him, and I will take Him away.” Just let me be, let me hold on to that dead body because I have nothing more that I can expect in this fallen world.

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” And then the lights come on – then she realizes Who it is there in front of her, what has happened, then she gets the joy, then the wonder is revealed. Christ lives! Jesus who died now lives, to die no more. The Lord is living, and this world of sin, the power of death, the struggles and trials of this life, they are all undone. Christ Jesus has done it – He has undone death. Oh, this is a happy ending, this is a comedy! He tells Mary to tell the disciples “go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.” Oh yes, it's a comedy with a happy ending. The sin which had sundered us from God, which had cut us off from life, which robbed us of true life – it’s done, it’s defeated, it is destroyed and is no more. Behold Christ lives. Behold, He is going not just to His Father, but to your Father. Reunited, restored, everything put back to how it should be – for because Christ lives and is with God we too live and shall be with God. That is what Mary finally sees, and that is what she proclaims.

What do you see, this morning, O Christian? What did you gaze upon this morning? It is most certainly true that we still live in a world impacted by sin, where things fall apart, where things don’t work right, where decay comes and moth and rust destroy. But do you see the greater reality, does the higher truth shine through the tears of sorrow and pain that this world so often causes? Christ Jesus lives – and all the wickedness of the world, all the sin which clings to us, all the death that threatens us – all of it, is defeated. And it’s not just defeated in general – it is defeated in your own life. Do your fears and tears threaten to overwhelm you, just as Mary was overwhelmed by hers in this text? Jesus calls out to Mary by her name and she understands – guess what, God has called you by Name – there, at the font, in your Baptism, you, by Name, the very Name that is your gift from God, you were called forth by name from this world of sin and death unto Christ’s life. Our Lord has claimed you and united Himself unto you – and nothing tops that. Not even death can destroy that – behold your Lord lives – death can do nothing to Him – and so it can do nothing to you, for just as God called you by Name at the waters of the font so too at the Last Day He shall call you again by Name and you will answer your Lord’s call. If that day comes before our own death we will turn our heads to Christ and never see our own tomb, if that day comes after we have fallen asleep in Christ we will come forth in risen bodies and shake the dust of our grave off of our feet never to be troubled by it again. Why? Because He lives – and nothing can stop that.

But the world will try to distract us – the fallen world, defeated as it is, will still try to make us miserable, Satan will still scowl fierce and seek our distraction, will try to tell us what Jesus says could surely never be. . . but our Lord continually bursts forth into our lives with His Word, With His Blessed Sacraments and declares to us “I am Here, I am your life, I am your righteousness, I am your forgiveness – and Satan can go burn in hell, you are Mine and I have won you.” And Jesus knows that this world will still try to turn you on your head – and so He comes to you over and over again. What is the preaching of God’s Word but Jesus saying to you once again, “Yes, I see your sins which call out for your death – but I have died and I have risen, you so you shall have My life”? Or consider the Supper? Oh, my friends, when we can gather together again and have it, do you know what you will see? The world sees nothing but bread and wine, but our Lord says, “Behold, this is My Body which is given for you, which has died and risen so that you will rise. Behold, this is My Blood, which I have shed so that you receive my forgiveness and are made clean and whole.” In the midst of very real sorrow and tragedy and suffering, in Christ Jesus you have joy and victory, now and forever. That is the reality which Christ brings us into, that is the reality which He makes us to see. That is what Christ ensured, guaranteed, that Easter morn when He broke the bonds of death and strode forth from the tomb Alive.
Everything, my dear friends in Christ, my brothers, my sisters, you who in Christ are my closest family who will be with me for all eternity, everything is different, everything is more wondrous that it was, more wondrous than we comprehend, because our Lord, Christ Jesus has risen from the tomb, and has undone the fall, and restored unto us life and salvation and paradise. Christ has triumphed, Alleluia! He lives, and so shall we, indeed, so do we. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia + Amen.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Good Friday Sermon 2020

Good Friday (Viral) – April 10th, 2020 – John's Passion

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The death of Christ Jesus our Lord was not a tragedy. Let me say that again – the death of Christ Jesus our Lord, the Passion which we just heard, it is not a tragedy. To be sure, it has tragic elements. To be sure, it can be quite sad, it can be quite moving – but it is not a tragedy. Ours is an overly dramatic, pessimistic day and age. Think on conversations from this past winter – everything was a tragedy, a terrible to-do. This didn't turn out right, that desert wasn't good, I cut my finger, everything is a tragedy. Let's watch made up drama on 'Reality TV.' Someone said something I didn't like, let's go complain about it on social media because I want some drama. We love the idea of tragedy – we try to turn everything into tragedy today. It's partially why we are so overwhelmed with this virus – we've been so used to blowing everything out of proportion that when we come across a legitimate mild catastrophe, because historically speaking this is serious but no where near the Spanish Flu or the Black Plague – we can't handle it.

I say we, because I'm no exception. As much as I disdain all the drama, I fall into it too. We are creatures and products of the times in which we live, and a church and a small town are not immune to the lure of turning everything into drama and tragedy. It's how we see see the world, quick to lament, quick to wring our hands and say, “oh how terrible.” So I say unto you, the Passion of our Lord is no tragedy. Even though it is sad and even horrific at points, quite the opposite is true. As the name of the day says, this Friday is Good.

I want you to think on some of the great tragedies, of history, or story, things like that. They all have some things in common. One of the basic elements of a good tragedy is that the main character doesn't know. Juliet doesn't know that Romeo is only asleep. Oedipus doesn't know who his wife Jocasta really is – and if you don't get the reference, your Pastor with a Classics degree says to go reread Oedipus Rex, because you've got plenty of time in this pandemic. In a tragic story there is something that the main character doesn't know, some crucial bit of information that could have solved all their problems. But they don't know, and it leads to their downfall. Now hear again our Lord's Passion – Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward to them and said, “Whom do you seek?” John is adamant throughout the Passion, throughout his Gospel, that Jesus knew precisely what was going on. Jesus knew precisely what would happen. Jesus knew precisely what He was doing.

It was not ignorance that brought down Jesus. Well, not His. We in our ignorance and folly sin, we sought to know good and evil, we stick our hand in the cookie jar, or play around with the bear trap – and we fall into utter tragedy because of our ignorance. But not Jesus. Nope. He walks into the Passion with His eyes wide open, knowing exactly how bad, how lousy it's going to be. And He goes, because it's what needs to be done in order to rescue you. Jesus isn't ignorant – no, By His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities. Jesus knows what this Friday would be.

Another classic element of tragedy is the idea of someone fighting fate – that things are destined to go against the hero but they vainly struggle against their destiny. Cassandra knows what will happen, but she is cursed and King Agamemnon cannot believe her. MacBeth knows what is coming, but he still fights against it. And we think this idea, the fight against what must be is heroic, or laudable. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, Rage against the dying of the light. And even Peter decides they wouldn't go quietly, that they wouldn't get Jesus without a fight. But listen again to our Lord – So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” Jesus isn't fighting anything. In fact, the surprising part of the Passion, the thing that really frightens people in how little He fights. The soldiers shrink back in terror when Jesus declares “I am.” Pilate is astonished at how Jesus doesn't try to fight His way out of what it clearly a sham trial and a set up. But no, Jesus is not going to fight against what the Father gives Him.

Of course, this is another classic way of describing sin. When we sin, we are fighting against what the Father gives us. I don't want the things God gives me, I'll steal, I'll scheme to get yours. I don't want this spouse, I'll lust after that one. I don't want this family, I'll get out if it's the last thing I ever do. I don't want that fruit that God has given me, I want this other fruit. Sin isn't so much fighting destiny – it's fighting God and refusing the gifts, the blessings, and even when called for the punishments He sends. And Jesus doesn't play that game. In fact, He goes and He takes up your punishment. The burden that should be yours He willingly receives from the Father in your place. No, Jesus doesn't fight – He is obedient.

Another element of a tragedy is that the struggle, the fight is pointless. Needless. In vain. In Les Mis, all of Javert's struggles to bring Valjean to “justice” are needless. And if you want the tragic figure from the Passion, it's Pilate. Pilate jumps through hoop after hoop all in this vain effort to keep Jesus from being killed. Three times Pilate appeals to pity and sorrow, to get the crowd to give him any reason to release Jesus. So much struggle, and for nothing.

We should know this feeling, this reality, all too well. Think of how many things we fight and struggle for that are vain and pointless. Some of those are gone at the moment, put on pause. How many stupid things did we strive after, now much did we sacrifice to vain and stupid pursuits... and how quickly will we return to them when they start back up again? We do not know what is really important, we do not know what is really needed, and we wear ourselves out futility chasing the foolish. That is tragedy.

Jesus upon the Cross is not futile. No, when He cries “It is finished” it's not merely some tragic lament, but rather Jesus proclaims a truth utterly profound. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled. Jesus fulfills the Scripture – the promises of God, the promise of your salvation. It was not useless and in vain that He goes to the Cross – for there, upon the Cross, Jesus Christ your Lord gets to the point – the point, the reason why He was born at Christmas, why He did signs and wonders, why He lived in perfect obedience to the Father. To see that your sin is destroyed upon the Cross. To see that the power of death that threatens you is undone. To see that your life would not simply end as a tragedy – a tale of mistakes and regrets that would end, “and they died.” Nope – not anymore. Because Jesus died, because Jesus rises, your story is no longer a tragedy, it shall be a happy ending. It shall be joyous, the most wondrous comedy ever. Because of Jesus, even though you die, yet you shall live.

J.R.R. Tolkien coined a term that I love – and that is “Eucatastrophe” - the Good Catastrophe – something that looks to be utterly horrific and terrible, but in actuality it is the turning point and from there the victory is assured. He puts some great examples in his stories, and I can talk about them at length, but in reality, he spun them off of the Passion. This horrid, terrible event is actually in truth the greatest, most wondrous moment in History, where God Himself puts an end to all tragedy in Himself. It all wraps up in Christ Jesus. It is Good Friday. A Good that stands out over and towers above any and all wickedness and sorrow or suffering that we see in the world. And it is good for you in Christ Jesus. And nothing can change that.
And as for the comedy – as for the villains getting their comeuppance and the tables being turned and the wild joy – well, the Third Day shall come quickly with all of it's splendor. And remember, Christ Jesus ensured your own Easter would come by going to the Cross for you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Maundy Thursday 2020

Maundy Thursday (Viral) – April 9th, 2020 – John 13

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. This verse has always struck me as a bit odd. A new commandment? From the beginning we have been instructed to love one another. When Jesus sums up the Law, He sums it up as “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” How is this “new”?

Well, this is one of those places where as modern, 21
st Century people we don't hear Jesus fully. When we think of “new” we tend to think of the latest, the greatest, the new invention, the novel – that's what “novel” means in the “Novel Coronavirus” - it's just the new one, because there have been plenty of other coronaviruses before. Now Greek had two words that often get translated into English as new – one you know. Neo. That is new, especially as we think of it. The start, the beginning, a neophyte is a beginning, neo-new. But Jesus here uses the other word for new, and that is Kainos – and this is new, but it is more like new and fresh and clean – like if I were to say, “I love the smell of a new spring day,” I don't mean that there was nothing beforehand, but there's a renewal, freshness, the spring back in the step aspect to it.

Jesus is freshening up the Commandments, He is renewing them. Why? Because we had totally messed up God's commandments, God's law. And what I mean by that isn't just the breaking of the law – we had forgotten what the purpose and point of God's law was. Ever since the fall, ever since we sinned, mankind has misunderstood the point of the law. Sinful man thinks we can use the law to get back on God's good side. Sinful man thinks we can use the law to manipulate God – if I just do X, Y, and Z then I will make God give me blessings. We, in our sin, try to work our way back up to God – we think the law is the way that we elevate ourselves back up to God.

And that's catastrophically dumb. St. Paul points out in Romans that since the fall the Law ought to silence every mouth and simply show us our sin, how we have fallen short of the glory of God and that it is impossible to work our way back up to God. But our sinful flesh always wants to try to use our works to manipulate God. That's what we do – we manipulate people by our actions, and we think we can do the same thing with God. And so every act, every thing we did, we made it something we gave up to God to work our way closer to Him.

That was the point of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple, that was why the Chief Priests and the Scribes so fought against Jesus. He overturned their “holy works” in which they trusted. This is why the Pharisees fought against Him – in your pride you leave the temple unjustified, for no one will be justified by his own works. Your scheme, your plan, your way of thinking is wrong. You cannot work your way up to God, that's not how the story goes.

And so, on the night when He was betrayed, Jesus changes the story, refocuses the Disciples and us. John gives this really long introduction to this – Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During Supper, when the Devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. We can hear this and think, “that's a lot of preamble just to get to the story.” No, it's not. It's important. John is reframing the story. What Jesus is going to do isn't going to earn Him heaven – He's already received everything from the Father. This isn't about buttering up the Father a bit more – this isn't to earn His ticket to heaven. This is simply to love His friends, because that's what Jesus does.

And then, “He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.” Jesus doesn't elevate Himself – He lowers Himself. He's not going to get a thing out of this action, no reward, no merit, no pat on the back. He is simply going to love His friends and serve them – because it's good for them. That's all, that's the only point. Love and care shown simply for the sake of those receiving love and care.

Peter balks – Peter didn't understand. Peter would have refused – You shall never wash my feet. No, Jesus, you can't lower yourself, you can't simply serve me. That's not how the pious old story goes – I'm supposed to work and elevate myself up to you. Jesus cuts that off – If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me. Peter, I show love, and if you refuse My love and service, our relationship is broken. That's what sin is – it's refusing to receive God's love and service that He gives to you, it's running off after something else. Which is why Peter then bounds to Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head! Let me give you a better idea, let me tell you how to do things Jesus. And thus it has been since the fall – not just all the other trees, but let's eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil too! No, Peter – just receive the love, the good gifts that God knows you need.

And so Jesus washed the disciples feet. They had been dirty – now they are clean. And Jesus gained nothing for Himself by this – no honor, no praise. There was no elevation, no self-aggrandizing glory. Simply this – love and service flowing to take care of what was needed. No thought of pay back, no thought of restitution, no thought of merit. This is how it is now. And the commandments are freshened up.
And then Jesus fulfills it all. Then Jesus goes to the Cross, utterly lowering Himself to our level. And He dies, taking up the weight, the filth of our sin upon Himself. Then He rises – and gives us His own life as well. And we are freshened up.

You don't have to do anything to prove yourself to God. You don't have to do good works to get on His good side. You don't even need to attend Church X number of times to prove your love or devotion to Him. That's not the point. That's not the story. No – God loves you. You are forgiven and redeemed in Christ Jesus. And He gives you blessings. He serves you. And likewise you are free to do so to your neighbor. Not to earn anything – for God already gives you everything and more. Not to prove anything, because Christ Crucified is all the proof of life and salvation that could ever be needed. Not to atone or make up for anything – Jesus has already done that. Nope – we simply receive from God good things, and others receive from God good things too, sometimes through us. And we are free in Christ Jesus to delight in it all.
Because as Christ loves you, as He fills your cup – so you will love one another, so too will your cup overflow unto them. And not in a “you have to” sense, not in a “you better” sense – simply because this is what Christ gives you to and what Christ brings about in you. You've been freshened up – and yes, you are still sinful now, so there is this constant struggle. You constantly sin, and yet God constantly redeems and works good through you – daily die to sin, daily rise – the new man shining forth. But the same God who redeemed you comes to you and blesses you and enlivens you now. It doesn't hinge upon you, It hinges upon Christ the Crucified, and He has cleansed you. Sometimes sin drives us to forget this – but when He comes again we will be utterly free of sin and we will see nothing but Christ Jesus and His love and blessing for us. He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Of course He will – tomorrow we will hear Him cry, “It is finished, it is complete.” He has done it all for you, and now we simply receive, Even in our works, in our giving – even these we simply receive. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Palm Sunday Sermon

Palm Sunday – April 5th, 2020 – John 12

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Palm Sunday is a day that tends to bring with it great expectation – all our Easter festivities are getting closer and closer. Soon there will be the candy, the eggs, the pretty dresses and hats (don't forget the hats, ladies). There's that whole Spring is in the air vibe normally. There's anticipation. We can understand anticipation, especially when we think of Palm Sundays past. Now, ponder for a moment that first Palm Sunday. We hear, “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out, 'Hosanna!'” Can you imagine in your head the excitement, the thrill? First off, these folks were already traveling to Jerusalem to be in Jerusalem, at the place, for the celebration of the Passover. Celebrating Passover itself was a big deal – it was a feast, literally. It would be the giant family cook out, a dinner as looked forward to as any celebrations we have. But then, these folks weren't just going to have any feast – they were in Jerusalem – they had made the trip, and they were there for the entire week of preparation. This would as grand as traveling to the Final Four when your team is there, or the Super Bowl – that's the level of excitement these folks would be having.

And to top it off – Jesus is there. And we all have heard all about all this great stuff that Jesus has done – healing, casting out demons – why just two days before He had raised Lazarus from the dead. Why, this should be the biggest, bestest Passover feast ever. And the crowd went wild!

And the crowd was shortly to be disappointed. Okay, maybe not sorely disappointed – Jesus in Holy Week does some things that are nice. Nice. Not thrilling, but nice. Turning over the money changers tables – that's neat. And Jesus out argues everyone in Jerusalem – He puts the scribes, the Pharisees, the Saducees, everyone in their place. But then, He starts preaching warnings about how things are going to go lousy for Jerusalem – how there will be trouble and strife – abomination of desolation and woe and all that. And to boot, He doesn't even do any miracles on Holy Week – no major healings, no giving everyone bread and fish. He just... preaches. And they are good sermons... a bit scary, but good. And the week goes on... and it's just more preaching. And there's no more signs. Well, come on Jesus, aren't you going to do anything else? No. And by Friday, when the Chief Priests and the Pharisees shout for Jesus to be crucified, most people there go along. At least that would be something interesting to see. After all their anticipation, after all their expectation of something showy – meh.

And here we are on Palm Sunday... and let's face it, this is probably the most low key Palm Sunday any of us can remember. Not a single kid waving a Palm to be found. No fanfare. We don't even get to sing the Palm Sunday song in the liturgy – no “sing hosanna in the highest, sing hosanna to the Lord, truly blest is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” And by in large, we're stuck at home. And those plans for Easter celebrations that we had – maybe traveling, seeing the grandkids, seeing mom and dad – yeah, that's just not going to happen this year. The candy for the egg hunt – it hasn't been stuffed – it's sitting back there in the Shepherd's lounge, just waiting. (No, I haven't gone and started snacking on... though the Kit-kats are tempting.) Things just aren't what they are normally cracked up to be this year.

You realize what this does – while I'd rather have the normal slew of stuff going on, we have been given by God this year a chance, a rare chance for a bit of understanding, a bit of empathy. The people of Jerusalem who were so excited for Jesus on Palm Sunday were just disappointed... and this year, perhaps we can understand that disappointment a bit better. Or consider the Chief Priests, the villains of the whole Passion story – the meanies who want to kill of Jesus. They were worried that the people would riot and revolt, and that Rome would do reprisals. In normal years we can be tempted to poo-poo them and their fears – oh silly Caiaphas, you should have trusted God more. They figured Rome might come and kill 20, 30 percent of the population, slaughter children. How anxious and nervous have we been over this virus that might take out 1 or 2 percent of us? Do you perhaps now have just a touch more sympathy for them, a bit more understanding of how fear could drive them?

Jesus understood what was happening that Palm Sunday, that Holy Week. That's why He weeps over Jerusalem, that's why He is silent before the Chief Priests, that's why He doesn't summon a legion of angels to destroy those abusing Him. That's why He calls out, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Jesus saw clearly the power, the impact, the twistedness of sin. He saw clearly how sin blinded people, how fear drove them, how it ruined everything. Instead of rejoicing in the day that the LORD had made, and a wondrous one at that – everyone was lost, trapped, wanting something else, something they figured would be better. Because that's what sin does – it warps the way we view things, so that we cannot see the blessings right in front of our eyes because we're wanting, lusting after something else, something we think would be better.

And so Christ Jesus went on into Jerusalem, and He went to the Cross. He did so to rescue us from sin, to give us life, to open our eyes and fix them upon Himself – come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith! Jesus dies and rises – and the way we see the world is changed, is shifted. Neither life nor death shall ever from the Lord His children sever! Jesus Lives, the Victory's Won! Death no longer can appall me! The plan of salvation unfolds and we are redeemed! And that Palm Sunday no one but Jesus saw it coming. And still, Jesus made sure that it happened. For you. To redeem you and win you your salvation. So that you would see and know in all times His love for you.

Man, this is a weird week. This is going to be a strange month. But you know what? It doesn't stop Jesus from being Jesus for you. It doesn't stop Christ Jesus from being your Lord. It doesn't undo your Baptism in the slightest. And while we get to have a little fast from the feast for a bit, we will be gathered to the Lord's Table again, and when we finally get to sing This is the Feast we might just belt it out with a bit more gusto – even you stubborn men who don't sing. Christ Jesus is still our Lord, we are still forgiven, and all His promises still ring true. Because Jesus isn't distracted by silly expectations, nor driven away from His task by fear. Nor is Jesus ashamed of us in our weaknesses – it's because we are weak that He came to be strong for us. And He is – even now.

And so my friends, know that you are in Christ Jesus, that you are forgiven, redeemed, and strengthened by Him for life now and everlasting life. And His Spirit will work in you, to make you see, to give you His fruit of patience, and peace, and joy and love and all the rest, even now. Because none of this junk we see is bigger than Christ Crucified, and none of this stops Jesus from being your Lord in the slightest. In fact, the same Jesus who has promised to work all things, even this crazy April, to your good – will do so. God grant us hears to hear the Good News of our salvation, eyes to behold with wonder the blessings of body and soul that He still gives us, and lips to sing forth His praise in our homes now, together again soon, and with all the saints for all eternity. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +