Thursday, May 21, 2020

Ascension Day Service

Ascension Day, 2020 – Luke 24

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +
So, what's the point? If Jesus is just going to ascend, if we here don't get to tramp around following Him like the disciples did, if we don't get to live through the Exodus and see the Passover ourselves, if we don't get to visit the temple or see the miracles of Peter and Paul, then what is the point? That actually is a question these disciples were probably pondering, because they had hopes and dreams – they were hoping for a kingdom restored and earthly power... a nd they weren't going to get it. So, what's the point? Just before He ascends, before He returns to His God and My God (remember what He said to Mary on Easter morning), Jesus teaches His disciples once more before He sends them out as Apostles, and we get to hear it. These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets must be fulfilled. The point is Jesus does it all, He fulfills it all, overflows it all. The point of the Scriptures is Jesus Christ – this same Jesus Christ who died, rose, and ascended is God Himself, the Word of God by Whom all things were made, and the Word of God who became man to rescue you, His people, from sin, death, and the power of the Devil. And He's done that superabundantly well, pressed down, shaken, overflowing with good measure, my cup overfloweth well. And as you still get to spend some time in this world of fear and doubt, as you still have people to love, people who need your love and care – as you still have people to pray for, who need your prayers, Jesus wants to emphasize the point that in the end, when it all boils down, it's going to be okay because Jesus has got it all under control. Period. Even if you don't get to see Him sitting and teaching on a hillside in Galilee, or even if He isn't hanging out as a giant pillar of cloud, or relaxing as the Angel of the Lord in your tent – Jesus still has it all under control for your good, and His goodness and mercy endureth forever.

Every page of the Scriptures, from the start to the end, drive and point to Jesus Christ – to Christ Crucified for you. And this is something that we need to remember. The Scriptures are a gift; they are a gift given to us to point us to Christ Jesus. To give us Christ Jesus. To drop Christ Jesus and His love right into our laps when we've been distracted or conned by the world and fear and sin to forget that He is with us right now. And this is something you should consider whenever you are reading the Scriptures – what does this text have to do with Jesus being our Savior? Because it all drives to that. Jesus is promised to be your Savior as soon as the fall happens – He will crush Satan's head. He is the promised seed of Abraham in whom all nations are blessed – and everything in Israel points and drives to the Messiah. It's all driving to Christ for you.

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” The whole thing, it's all driving to this: In order to save you from your sin, Jesus had to live sinlessly in your place. In order to save you from your guilt, Jesus as the sinless One had to take up that guilt. In order to save you from death, Jesus needed to take up death in your place. In order for you to live, to have true life again, Jesus needed to rise and break apart death. And this is what the entirety of the Scriptures proclaim – Christ Jesus taking the battle to sin and death to win you salvation. He has done it.

And so then – how do you benefit from this? How do you receive it? How do you get into this story if you weren't there when they Crucified Jesus, or if you didn't get to hear the sermon on the mount back on that day, or cross through the Red Sea? Well, it is proclaimed to you. We don't get what proclamation actually is – in fact, if I asked any of you when the last time you used the word proclamation was, you'd probably be stumped. A proclamation is this: It is something that legally and officially enacts what it proclaims. It pronounces, it declares – and it is. And when you hear it, it is yours. I pronounce you man and wife, the Emancipation proclamation was read to slaves and then they legally received the freedom it declared. We're not used to all these sorts of things anymore, but Jesus is the Word of God, so it makes utter sense that He would use the Word proclaimed to give His benefits to you. That's how He created, that's how He makes you anew.

And what does the proclamation of the Word do? It repents you and it forgives you. “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name.” Both repentance and forgiveness are things that Jesus does to you by the power of His Word. It is the working of Law and Gospel, threat and promise. And, my friends, we need God's Law to be proclaimed – otherwise we run on and on in our sin and stupidity and folly, sometimes even to such an extent that our faith could be crushed or shattered. And so Jesus has His law proclaimed – yes, you sin, and yes, your sin is serious. Deadly serious. God dying serious – that's how serious that sin that you are trying to defend or brush off is – so stop it. Stop you. That's what God's Word of Law will do – it will stop you in your tracks and turn you around, re-pent you, change your attitude and way of thinking so that you are again revusled by your sin and fight against it. Which is good for your neighbor – if you are a sinful jerk you don't do anyone else any good. And so God will repent you for their good, so that you may better love and serve them.

But where does that leave you? God's law is a good thing, and it helps the world run much more smoothly – but if all we hear is the Law, then we are left in our sin and dying – even if we are nicer and our sin less catastrophic to our neighbor. Still sinners – thus it was necessary, to rescue you from sin, to win you forgiveness, for Jesus to do all that He did – to die, to rise, to ascend, to establish His Church, to establish the apostolic preaching office where His forgiveness would be proclaimed. He sends for His Word. Jesus declares people forgiven in His name – and they are. And you are.

And yes, an obvious place to look for that is here – me – oh look, a preacher, I guess he'll proclaim our forgiveness. Yep – as a called and ordained servant of the Word and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins. Biggest and best part of my job. And in this way Jesus ties us here today to His Church of all times and all ages for all eternity.

However, I want you to ponder something this morning. Something that is vitally important, especially as we are not able to meet as regularly as we are accustomed too. You are a Baptized child of God, you are a co-heir with Christ Jesus of His kingdom of eternal life. You are a member royal priesthood – that's what was pronounced at your Baptism - and so you too proclaim the Word of God. Not your job to do it here in service – but in your home, to your family, to your friends and neighbors. You proclaim. You forgive people. Try it. Say it. Proclaim it. I forgive you in Jesus' name... every one of you who are baptized has the right and privilege to proclaim that to anyone whom God places in your life. Because Jesus has given you forgiveness, He has preached it to you, and Jesus' gifts don't just stay in one place, they flow on and on and on – from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth thousands of years later.

So you are people of the Word. Hear preaching yourself, be in the Word – so that God would repent you and forgive you. And as people of the word, doers of the Word – repent folks in a spirit of gentleness, restore them – forgive them. Because that is what Jesus does – that is the blessing and gift that He has given to His church, to you.

What's the point? You, right now, are forgiven in the Name of Christ Jesus. And this truth shall be proclaimed always and forever, even to the ends of the earth. Even by you. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia! +

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Easter 6 Sermon

Easter 6 – May 17th, 2020 – John 16:23-33

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia!
Sinful human beings like control. We want to be in charge of things; we want things to be done our way. This is why these stay at home orders chafe so much. For almost two months I've been told I can't run up to Darien and sit down and have a nice, Lithuanian Lunch, or whatever other stupid whim of the moment that my mind fixiates on when I'm staring out my window. And on top of that, we certainly don't like being told what to do by others. Don't tell me I'm supposed to wear a mask in public – though really it's not that big of a deal and it's just a matter of being polite. See, I've got my mask on, I promise I won't cough on you (I can't wear one in service and we're socially distanced, an you have a hard enough time hearing me as is). Or on the other side, if you don't wear a mask, I want the police to make you wear one, because I want to fix this pandemic. Control you, control the virus! But this whole control mess – not having control, seeing places where others control you – we could even add in the times where you've been domineering over other people a nd tyrannical yourselves – this whole control mess epitomizes what sin is. We want control. And the fact that we don't have control angers and terrifies us.

And we can do stupid things to try to gain control back in our lives. We can jump through all sorts of justification hoops – whether it's conspiracy theories or I'm acting for the greater good, or they started it – sin is basically me wanting to control everything, me not wanting to let God be God, me not wanting to receive the days that the Lord my Maker gives unto me. We see a story about this in our Old Testament lesson. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Now think briefly on the Exodus – the children of Israel had seen the 10 plagues shatter Egypt, they crossed the Red Sea and saw with their own eyes God destroy the armies of Pharaoh, and they saw the Pillar of Fire, the Pillar of Cloud. They saw water from the Rock, and the worthless food was manna and quail! How can they complain like this – if you are left to die in the wilderness it is because you refused to believe the Lord when He said that He would lead you into the promised land! Why do you grumble so? Well, you see God, it's like this – I really want more variation in my diet. And so they grumble. Instead of seeing the miraculous care that they had received from God, they grumble.

Sound familiar? I can look at my pantry, my freezer, and I can loathe this worthless food because I want Lithuanian and I want to get a Kugelis – which is this wonderful potato dish... get the point? We really are no different, and although we like to do the whole “if I were there, I would have behaved better” - yeah, you probably wouldn't have. I probably would have been one of the idiots swallowed up by the earth in the rebellion of Korah – thank you Lord for saving me from my own stupidity. These days – well all days, but especially these days where we are frustrated are good days to remember the 1st Article of the Creed, the 4th petition of the Lord's Prayer. God still is your Creator, and He still takes care of you and preserves you. He still provides you daily bread, and He still protects you from harm and danger. God keeps on being God.

But I want to continue on in the Old Testament for a moment – let's push that a bit further. Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you.” Punishment and hardship comes, and they recognize that it comes from the Lord. Yes, God is letting these serpents run around and He is teaching us a lesson – again, understand why Pastor Brown doesn't like object lessons. And the people learn from it. They are driven to repentance.

Now, consider our days. Well a virus is less exciting and more tedious than fiery serpents, but how do we understand this? We are right to understand this as something which God in His wisdom and His Fatherly love has allowed, and even sent, to us to chastize us and to drive us away from our pride and unto repentance. I'm guessing in the extra time of reflection you've had these past two months you have seen things about yourself that you realize are not good. Excellent – you are being repented by God, and the mirror of God's law is doing it's work. Our sin is revealed so we are made to repent it and fight against it.

However, there is a danger, and false move and shift that the American preachers are want to do in times of tragedy. The temptation is to want to name someone else's sin. God's unleashing this upon America because of... sin that I conveniently don't happen to like or engage in. A conservative type might want to say this is vengeance against abortion or homosexuality; I've seen a few liberals saying that this is punishment for our capitalistic greed. But those are all pinning the tail on some other donkey – that's really blaming other people. And that's an attempt to exert control – because if we just change what THEY do, then everything will be better. And then of course, there are the more extreme attempts at control – Pastor, what if you made a pole and stuck a bronze virus on it – okay, maybe not bronze but we could take a styrofoam ball and stick push pins in it and it would make a really neat crafty model for a virus.... Not the point. It's not the time to blame, it's not the time to try to control things not given to you to control. It is a time to pause and ponder your own sin.

Moving forward to the Gospel lesson – it had turned dour in the Upper Room that Maundy Thursday evening, for after dinner Jesus had given this sad, confusing speech about scary things, how He's going away and we're going to have sorrow. And then, towards the end, He says, “In that day you will ask nothing of Me. Truly, truly I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you.” And Jesus has addressed the sorrow and the hardship that the disciples will face, the sorrow and hardship that we ourselves face, and He gives the solution. Pray. You, O Christian, have been given a fantastic gift, a wonderful access to God Almighty. When you pray, the Father has promised to hear you. You do not call upon His Name in vain when you pray, but rather He has promised to hear you. And Jesus has instructed you to pray - “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

And here's where we need to hold our sinful horses a moment. We are control junkies, we love control – and we hear “whatever you ask” and “ask and you will receive” and we hear this through the idea of control... whatever I want? Even the pony? I want to point out two things, the important things, that we forget. In My name, in Jesus' name – and for joy.

To pray in Jesus name is to pray with His authority – it is to pray confessing that Jesus is in control, not you. It is to pray in accordance with what Jesus has instructed us to pray – like what we pray for in the Lord's Prayer. And if we go outside of what Jesus has instructed, if we try to take control of the situation how we would want, well, that's bad. Consider this as an example – let's say I tell my son Victor, “Go tell your brother Ambrose to come inside.” If he tells Ambrose, “Dad said to come inside” - that's great. If he says, “Dad said to come inside and that you are supposed to clean my room” that's missing the point and bad. Likewise, when we pray in Jesus' Name, we pray what He has told us and instructed us to pray for – that's the range of the whatever we get. Prayer isn't something we use to control God – it's not witchcraft or sorcery – that's taking God's name in vain. Rather our Prayer throws us to God, places us back in Jesus' Word, reminds us that God is in control and that He is in control for you.

And we know this, because Jesus has said that He wishes our joy to be full. Joy doesn't come from me getting my way – if I get my own way on one thing, I'm still grumpy and unhappy because there's something else I'll want my own way on. It's why you can't please a person who constantly complains and why if you're a complainer you're never happy. That's all about control, and there is no joy in our control. Where is there joy? There is joy in Christ Jesus for you. There is Joy in Jesus Christ saying to you, “see all this sin that is driving you into misery and despair – see all you wicked thoughts and stupid wants and perverse plans – see your wretched mistakes and grating grumblings and casual cruelties – see your shame and your guilt and your anger and your fear... well, I have taken that all away from you, and I have carried it to the Cross, and I have borne it all for you, and I have died and I have risen and you are forgiven. You are forgiven and you will rise to new and glorious and utterly enjoyable life – not because of what you do, but because of what I have done for you. And what I have done for you – well, it is finished. It's good. And in Me, you are good again.

That's what Joy is. Restore unto me the Joy of Thy Salvation. And that is what God gives you, that is where His gift of prayer leads you. When you pray in Jesus' Name you are thrust back into your Baptism where that Name of Jesus was placed upon you, washing away your sin. When you pray in Jesus' Name, you are thrust back into the words and promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation that He has made to you. And Jesus' promise to you holds true. Even in hard times. No, you needn't take control. And yes, you may see your desire for control as the sin it is an repent of it. Jesus is in control, and He is in control for you, to redeem you. And this is true even today – hear again what He has said to you. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world. Amen. Christ has risen...