Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sermon for 5/17/15: Easter VII

My computer is still down. Though I hope to have it back soon, there have been some complications in getting it repaired. I won't have audio recordings until I get it back. My apologies.

That You Would Not Fall Away

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

James and John, you may recall, wanted the best seats in heaven, right next to Jesus. Peter denied Jesus three times. Thomas rejected the witness of his fellow disciples to the resurrection. All the disciples hid in fear. Controversies and disagreements would shake the Church to its very foundations. And Jesus had told his disciples: "I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away." It almost sounds as if His words had fallen on deaf ears.  
Luke tells us that, after Jesus ascended, the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy. But can't you imagine, human beings as they were, that soon they began to feel the absence of their Master, and discouragement and disillusionment began to set in? Even after the glory of Pentecost, the disciples stumbled, and the Church struggled mightily. They weren't successful by worldly standards. They were rejected by the religious leaders. They were forced to worship in secret. The Pharisees had more money, bigger congregations, political control, and better working conditions. They enjoyed worldly success. The multitudes attended their synagogues and believed what they taught. But that is exactly the point. The apostles weren't sent to preach the kingdom of the world. God's true messengers are measured by different standards. They are sent to teach the truth to a world that would rather not hear it. They are sent to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God.
In the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone, a stumbling block and foolishness to the world. But upon Him the Kingdom of God is established. And He spoke to His disciples as He did that they would not lose that faith. He spoke to them that they would faithfully confess the truth. For doing so, they would face persecution, ridicule, worldly failure, disaster, and death. In other words, they would share in the sufferings of Christ. But with the eyes of faith they would see in these sufferings Christ's victory over the world. They would see the ultimate victory, won for them by the shedding of His precious blood.
So it is for you. Faith in Jesus Christ does not promise worldly success. Christians do not always live happily ever after in this world. Nor does faithfulness to God's Word carry with it any earthly guarantees. That is not how God works; that is not what He has promised. In the Kingdom of God, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. Those who proudly claim to have earned first place may well have hell to pay. The proclamation of the true Gospel always brings persecution and suffering in this world, not success. What the world counts as truth draws men away from salvation. Love covers a multitude of sins; to remain silent in the face of error is not an act of love. And so we are to speak the truth in love and hold to the Word of God and the teaching of Christ and His Apostles. Do not think it strange, as Peter said, that you would actually suffer for doing this. Rejoice that you are blessed to partake of the sufferings of Christ.
God has called you out from this world; He has set you apart. He has baptized you with that one Christian baptism given to the Church through the Apostles. There all your sins were forgiven. There the sinful creature you were born was drowned and died. There you were brought to new life in Christ. There you received the pure confession of the one true faith. There the Word of God and water washed you clean from sin. There God gave you a new heart and put His Spirit within you. And because Jesus rose from the dead, so will you. Your tomb will be opened and you, too, will rise. And because Jesus ascended into heaven, so you, too, will be changed, given a glorified body like that of the risen Jesus, and then gathered, body and soul, into everlasting life. And there you will live forever in the joy of the Lord. And so, in the face of persecution, in the face of the false beliefs of this world, in the face of worldly failure, and even when facing disaster and death, you have been given to see with the eyes of saving faith the victory of Jesus Christ over this world. This blessed gift is given to you so that you would not fall away. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sermon for 5/10/15: Easter VI

I apologize for the delay in posting this. My computer is still down, and so there will be no audio recording posted. I hope to have the computer back soon.

Whatever You Ask

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

What do you want? What do you lack that would make you happy? And if you had it, would you really be content? “Whatever you ask,” says our Lord. Of course, what we want is often far removed from what we need. Earthly desires capture our hearts, and our eyes become fixed on material things. Our anxious minds and grumbling mouths betray our failure to trust God to supply all those things that we need. That was how it was with the children of Israel. They were discouraged. “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.” They did not trust God. They did not appreciate the gifts He had given them.  
Today we are urged to pray. But what is prayer? Prayer is listening speech. You probably haven’t heard it described that way before, but that’s what it is. In other words, we don’t just begin to pray, but like a child who learns to speak by listening to its parents, we listen first. The Lord has His say first; we listen to Him speak to us in His Word before we respond to Him in prayer. And when we listen first to the Lord, the first thing we learn is that we are sinners. Because of that, prayer begins with confession, just as it did for the children of Israel. They said to Moses: “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you.”
Like those children of Israel, we have a tendency to be careless about this: to ignore prayer, to wallow in self-pity and impenitence. That is one reason why the Lord allows tribulation to come to us: that we might be called back to Him, turning our hearts from hardness to repentance. Tribulation and affliction is the Lord’s instrument to turn us back to Him. I know that many of you have afflictions of various kinds. No one else may know them, but the Lord knows them. He knows the conflicts you have in your family; He knows your problems at work; He knows your loneliness and your ailing body; He knows the sins you struggle with and the sins you should be struggling against. He knows how you despair over such things. Too often we respond with regret and shame, when we should see this as an invitation from God to call upon Him out of the depth of our troubles. In this way, the very things that plague and afflict us will cause the Lord to draw us to Himself, leading us where true joy is found: in Christ's victory over the world. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
When Jesus invites us to pray to the Father in His name, that means the invitation to pray is based upon His cross, His atonement for sin, His redeeming work, His victory over death, the world, and our sin. The words “in the name of Jesus” are not an incantation that promises some divine magic. They mean that we have access to the Father in heaven, and that He hears our prayers because of what His Son has accomplished for us. Saying His name without faith means nothing. But what that name stands for--His redeeming work--that means everything!
So what do you want? Our Lord says: “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” Ask for those things that help you in your life as a disciple of Christ and a child of God. If you ask for something that hinders your salvation, if you ask for something that keeps you from leading a God-pleasing life, then you have not really asked in the name of Jesus, no matter what words you have used. The name of Jesus is not a formula that guarantees an answer to prayer. Rather, the name of Jesus is that righteousness that stands outside yourself, righteousness by which we ask for and receive life, forgiveness, salvation, and everlasting joy.  
Ask the Father to have the righteousness of Christ be for you and in you. “Ask anything,” He says. Let us ask, then, for what His Word says. Let us seek His Kingdom and His righteousness, gifts He is glad to give us. And in addition to those holy gifts, He will even provide all that we need for this body and life. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sermon for 5/3/15: Easter V

I apologize for how late I am in posting this. My computer is still down. I hope to have it back soon. In the meantime, there will be no audio recording posted.

The Spirit Preaches the Gospel


The work of the Holy Spirit is not as well known or recognized as that of the other two persons of the Holy Trinity, Father and Son. However, that is by design, because the work of the Spirit is to bear witness, not to Himself, but to Christ. That is what the Holy Spirit does: He bears witness to what Christ has done, and then brings us to faith through that witness. Honestly, though, that is not what usually comes to mind when talk turns to the Holy Spirit. Mention the Spirit, and most think of the wild claims of Televangelists, faith healers, speaking in tongues, and "God spoke to me" talk. All of this misses the real work of the Spirit and perverts the Gospel. 
These are the marks of the Church: Baptism, Absolution, Preaching, and the Lord's Supper. These things are the work of the Holy Spirit. Everything else in the Church is really secondary to these, for these are the things that create and sustain faith; these are the things that grant forgiveness of sins, victory over death and the devil, God's grace, and Christ in all the fullness of His grace and glory. God makes Christians by water and the Word, by His gift of grace. Christian faith and life do not happen because God's ears are filled up with our words of promise; those words are untrue and uncertain. Christian faith and life comes by hearing the Word and promise of God, for those words and promises are most certainly true and unbreakable.
So, what happened to the Holy Spirit? Nothing, really. He is alive and well. As Jesus tells us in this Gospel, He is convicting us of sin, because of that stain of unbelief that still wants to live in our hearts. He is convicting us of righteousness, because even the holiest of our good works are but filthy rags. And He is convicting us of judgment because Satan has already been condemned. In all of this the Spirit preaches the Word of God into the ears of the unbelieving and the skeptical so that they, too, might receive life and faith and righteousness in Christ.
And that same Holy Spirit preaches the Gospel into your ears. "Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is (your) Lord, who has purchased and won (you) from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death." All of this, so that in His blood You are declared holy.
You don't have to be good to go to heaven. In fact, you can't be that good. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Jesus said that He came to seek and to save the lost, that is, the condemned of the world. Again, He said that those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Of the goodness and mercy of God, for the sake of the suffering, dying, and rising of the Son of God, you needn't lift a finger to inherit eternal life. It is yours as a gift of the Father in heaven, for the sake of His Son, delivered into your ears, and through your ears to your hearts, by the preaching of the Holy Spirit.
The holy Christian Church on earth is a hearing Church, not a seeing Church. It is all by way of the Word of God, preached and taught; the Word that is heard, and not by the seeing of the eyes. Preaching and Absolution are the things. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." For this reason, everything in the Church is so ordered that the Gospel is preached into the ears of those who would believe such words and promises of God, by the work of the Holy Spirit. And the very same is true of the Lord's Supper and Baptism. If you come to the altar seeking with your eyes, you see only bread and wine. But if you listen with your ears, then you know that the body and blood of Christ are there for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. If you witness a baptism only with your eyes, all you see is water. Listen with your ears, however, and you hear of the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
The Church lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. You are not an apostle; neither am I. We did not see Jesus for ourselves. Our eyes are no good to us, only our ears. Be like Mary, the mother of our Lord, who heard the word of God by the angel Gabriel, and then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word made flesh was conceived within her. In the same way, Christ dwells in the depths of your being through the work of the Holy Spirit, who preaches Him into your ears and hearts.
Dear Christians, you have every reason to rejoice. You have been declared righteous for the sake of Christ, who went to the Father through suffering, death and resurrection. You are righteous because He absorbed your unrighteousness in the font of the Jordan River, and then put it to death on the cross. You are righteous because the Holy Spirit preaches the righteousness of Christ into your ears, and opens your ears and the eyes of your faith to His body and blood which is given to you under bread and wine, for the forgiveness of sins. You are righteous because that same Christ is now your Mediator with the Father in heaven, pleading with Him, praying to Him that He would see you now in Christ's perfect righteousness. That is what the Holy Spirit is about. That is the work He does. He takes what is Christ's and gives it to you. As the Introit today bids us: "Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations." ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA! In the name of the Farther and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sermon for 4/26/15: Easter IV

I apologize for the delay in posting this. My computer is still down, and so there will be no audio recording posted. I hope to have the computer back soon.

Jesus and Time

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Seven times in this Gospel reading reference is made to "a little while." It is a reference to time and its passage. There is much that can be said and thought about the passage of time. As Moses said in Psalm 90: "For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh." You know just how this is from your own experience. All you have to do, especially if you are bit older than the rest, is think about those people and places and times you once had that are now nothing but memories. Memories are often a cause of sadness, of longing, of wishing we had back what we once had. Every joy or gladness this life gives you is transitory. These things will pass away. The things you now enjoy on earth won't last. The people whose company you now enjoy will not always be around. And we tend to ignore this and live only in the present. But we know it's true. It can be a terrifying thing to contend with: time marches on, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Jesus knew all about the painful passage of time, and here was His answer. He was with them for a little while. Their Master was with them, but only for this little while, as every little while on earth will pass. "A little while and you will not see Me." But now comes the good news: "Again, a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father." And that's just what happened. Good Friday came. Jesus died and was buried. And while the world rejoiced that He was gone, His disciples mourned and wept, as He said they would, but only for a little while. On the third day, He rose from the grave; their little while of mourning was over.
When someone is dead, they are dead, and there is nothing you can do about it. And that is a helpless experience, as many of you know firsthand. But He who was dead is now alive again. He turned back the clock--or perhaps better said, He turned the clock ahead. The resurrection of Jesus is a foretaste of the heavenly feast to come, a glorious glimpse of the everlasting salvation God has prepared for His people. There He stood before them, having conquered sin, death, and the devil. He had won the forgiveness of sins and, in doing that, guaranteed their resurrection from the dead and everlasting life! And this is the answer to that dreadful passage of time we would prefer to not think about.
Every time He would vanish from their sight, they would still expect Him to return. Indeed, on one such occasion, on the road to Emmaus, He went in to eat and stay with two of them. At first they did not recognize Him. When it was time to eat, He took bread and blessed and broke it, and their eyes were opened and they recognized Him. But then He vanished from their sight. And they came rushing back to Jerusalem to tell the others how Jesus had revealed Himself to them in the breaking of the bread, a phrase that came to refer to How Jesus comes to His Church in the Holy Supper.
And then, the day of Pentecost came, another Sunday, and Jesus returned again, though not in the way He had been returning before--that is, not to their sight, but in the apostolic ministry, where He charged His disciples to preach the Gospel and administer the Holy Sacraments. And from that day, Jesus kept on returning to His people, and they rejoiced. Were they sorrowful the day after Pentecost? No, because they knew He was coming back. And so moves the life of every Christian lived in the light of the resurrection of Christ. That resurrection is an eternal thing. And every single Sunday since then, Jesus has returned to His people in Word and Sacrament. He is here at this very moment!   
But where is He? Can you see Him? That question can only be answered by a confession of faith that says that He is known by us, too, in the breaking of the bread. He is recognized when His Word sounds forth as it is rightly proclaimed and taught among His people today, especially in the words of forgiveness and life. The resurrection of Jesus provides victory, not only over Satan, sin, and the grave, but also, as we may celebrate on this Jubilate Sunday, a victory over the passage of time. Yes, even this He has conquered.
This victory over the passage of time is reflected in the way we worship. Week after week we say and sing many of the same words. This is a reminder that the feast of everlasting life is an ongoing feast that has no end. Time stands still when you come to this place and stand before the Holy One and kneel before His presence. Time stands still--or rather, unending time begins. The reign of the Lamb of God upon His heavenly throne has begun, His unending reign. Do not be sorrowful, therefore, about the passage of time, about people and places and times that you miss and long for. Do not be worried about the passage of time, and those things to which you will bid farewell on some day to come. The little whiles are, indeed, little, but the eternal life our Savior gives us has no end. And every longing, every sorrow, every grief among God's people will be put away. You know this because Christ has risen from the grave. Let us, therefore, continue to sing our Alleluias to Him! ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sermon for 4/19/15: Third Sunday of Easter

My ccomputer died. I have no way of editiing the audio of the service right now. I'll try to come back and post the audio when I have it available.

Shepherd and Sheep

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the words just after our Gospel reading, Jesus explains why He is the Good Shepherd. He says: "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from my Father." The only One who ever was without sin, the One who seemingly could not die, laid down His life. His enemies killed Him, but only because He let them. Take note of this: no one takes His life from Him. He lays it down on His own. And only when the ransom had been paid in full, only when an eternity of hell had been suffered for every sinner ever, only when the sacrifice had been enough for the sins of the whole world, then, and only then, would He proclaim, "It is finished." 
The Good Shepherd, the loving, kind, gentle, providing, protecting Shepherd, was killed by the sheep! And, wonder of all wonders, the murderers were exonerated; the very crime itself declared them, and us, innocent. For He who laid down His life of His own accord also had the power to take it up again. He died the common death of men, but when the task was done, when all things were fulfilled, He rose back to life. The victory is His. And we, poor, miserable sinners, we murderous, rebellious sheep, are spared by the mercy of the Lord, our Shepherd, our Holy Redeemer, who loves us and names us as His own.
For this dying, His Father loves Him. Dying to save us was what His Father gave Him to do as the fulfillment of divine promise. He was born of the Virgin and became Man to be a sacrifice. God Himself has provided. There is no ram in the thicket for Him, no angel to hold back the knife. He takes our place and dies our death. His dying fulfills His Father's will by paying for our guilt with His life. He buys us back, and the angels rejoice! He redeems us, and all of heaven is overcome with joy! He crushed Satan's head and opened the gates of heaven to all believers. This is why He is the GOOD Shepherd. No one is good but God. Only God has saved us. He is the only sacrifice that is good enough.
If our Lord had not been true man, if He did not have a true human body and soul, human emotions, and all that it is to be man as man is intended to be, then He could not have acted in our place under the law and fulfilled it for us. Nor could He have been able to suffer and die for our guilt. But He was and is true Man. He kept the Law that we broke. He let that Law do to Him as it should have done to us, exacting its full punishment on Him who was innocent, for us who were guilty. But the One conceived in Mary's womb is also God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. He is equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, without beginning, uncreated. His fulfilling of the Law, His life, suffering, and death, is a sufficient ransom for all people. Because He was and is true Man, He could do it. He could die. And because He was and is true God, His ransom is sufficient, not just for one person, but for all people. Because He was and is God and Man, His death would be enough. And having paid the full amount, the Law being fully satisfied, He rose again. For He, our Good Shepherd, is the Lord of life. He gives and sustains life in all who live. By Him is all that lives and moves and has its being. He has the power and authority, for He is true God, who has overcome death and risen to life again!
By this great act, His death and resurrection, He is our Good Shepherd, our Redeemer, our King, our Lord, our Brother. We are His sheep. He was lifted up from the earth. He laid down His life, and there He has drawn us to Himself. We hear His voice. He speaks to us--not in the chirping birds, not in the rushing waters, not in the gentle breeze--He speaks to us in His Word. In the Holy Scriptures he beckons us into green pastures and still waters--not those of our imagination, but of His declaration. He reveals Himself to us in Words that enter our ears, in green pastures of bread that is His body and wine that is His blood. In Him we see undeserved kindness; perfect, undemanding love; a sacrifice for all who are without merit or worthiness. We know Him by His voice, the gentle Word of forgiveness He speaks to us. That Word of life changes us, cleanses us, and makes us new again; murderers and rebels no longer. Now, by grace, called again to life out of death, we are sheep as sheep were meant to be. We are His. So let us be what He has called us to be: His forgiven, His beloved, His sheep. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Sermon for 4/12/15--Second Sunday of Easter



Doubt and Faith

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Even though we may remain uncertain about the things of this world, there is one all-important question that seeks a sure and certain answer: How can I be certain that God forgives me? We are still very much in the midst of the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord; what does that have to do with forgiveness? What does that have to do with my life?

We are often uncertain about forgiveness because we use our experience with this world as a judge. For many in our world, forgiveness is for weaklings. Revenge, not forgiveness, is what motivates so many in this world. In this world you are judged by your actions, and there is no mercy in the court of public opinion. We use that view of things, and then we apply it to our relationship with God. I am guilty, therefore I cannot be forgiven. That’s it. It’s all over.

Another reason we are often uncertain about forgiveness is that we want visible proof, like Thomas thought he needed. We try to turn faith into sight. If I can’t prove it, if I can’t measure it, if I can’t see it, then it must not be true. That is what our science-above-all-else world would have us do to the Christian faith. But even worse, perhaps, we want our faith to have all of the perfect answers to life’s problems. If the Christian faith cannot answer everything the way I want it answered, then it must not be true. That is how this world trains us to think and believe.

Yet another way we doubt forgiveness is when we look inside ourselves, rather than to Christ and His cross and resurrection. Our world thrives on self-empowerment. Even the church is infected with this plague. We try to judge the condition of our faith based on our feelings and emotions. If I don’t have a particular feeling, then there must be something wrong with my faith. Somehow we have gotten the idea that we have to do something to prepare ourselves for God, and that He won’t forgive us until we are in the right frame of mind.

Now, compare that uncertainty to the resurrection of Jesus as the firm foundation of our forgiveness. When Jesus died, He took on all of our sin for us. He paid the full and final price for all the sins of the world. Christ alone is our confidence. There is nothing we can do or say or feel that adds anything to our salvation. By the standards of the world, that doesn’t make any sense. Why should Someone else pay the price that I deserve to pay? He did it simply because He loved us, even to the point of His own death. That’s who He is; that’s what He does.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the solid ground of our faith and the source of our forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t something we get, like a new pair of shoes. Forgiveness means reconciliation with God. It means communion with Christ. It means receiving from Christ. We receive forgiveness by becoming one with Christ. Again, this isn’t something we do. In Baptism we put on Christ, but there is no work on our part. It is an objective fact, something that happens to us. St. Peter writes, “Baptism now saves you.” And then He comes to us with forgiveness through Holy Absolution and the preaching of the Gospel. Jesus gave that gift to the Church so that we could see and know that He is always with us, forgiving our sins. It is that gift that stands behind the words of your pastor when he says, “In the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And He finally comes to us in His body and blood, feeding us with forgiveness and life.

It is through these means that Christ gives you a solid foundation for faith. In spite of any uncertainty you may have—and we are all visited by uncertainty from time to time—He gives us the certainty of the forgiveness and salvation that comes through the resurrection of Jesus. Thanks be to God that He has given us so many gifts to bring us to everlasting life. Thanks be to God, that by His grace we are among those of whom Jesus said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

Monday, April 06, 2015

Sermon for 4/5/15: The Resurrection of Our Lord



What Has Changed?

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Do not be afraid! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here! See the place where they laid Him!” The young man in the white robe is telling them the Good News! Death is defeated. Jesus is alive. Yes, He was crucified for sinners. But it would all have been for nothing if He hadn't risen from the dead! Jesus is alive. His resurrection means that He really did pay for your sins. The wages of sin is death. Jesus dies because He had your sins. Now He is alive. Your sins are gone, left buried in the tomb. Jesus has accomplished your salvation. He paid the price for your sins. He has defeated death. Jesus who was crucified is risen. You won't find Him in the grave. He is alive forevermore.

“Go and tell His disciples and Peter”—Peter, who especially needs to hear this Good News—“that He is going to Galilee and they will see Him there, just as He said.” What about you? Where shall you find Jesus? Look no further. He is right here in His church. Don't go looking in Galilee. Look here at the font where His water and Word washes sinners. Listen for His voice in the absolution and preaching of your pastor. See Him raised from the dead in His own body and blood given and shed for you to eat and drink at His holy altar. Right here, present in His church, Jesus is present. And right here, present in His church, by water and Word, sermon and Supper, He is delivering His forgiveness for all your sins and His victory over sin and death.

So the angel tells the women to go tell the disciples. They run off and do it, right? Not quite. St. Mark says they were frightened and didn't tell anyone because they were afraid. Oh, sure, later it all came out. But right away, they were still overcome by fear. That's us. Today we just heard that Jesus is alive! He was dead and now He's risen. So what? Do we go back to business as usual? Do we go back to arguing with and hating others? Do we go back to lusting and fornication and coveting and stealing? Do we go back to doing the things we do as if Jesus isn't alive at all? The greatest triumph the world has seen, and we will yawn and go our merry way, with the same sins at work in us. Jesus rose from the dead. Does that mean anything? Does it make a difference? Or do we do what we’ve always done? Repent! Repent of living as if the stone was still there and Jesus was still dead!

St. Paul calls us to eat the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. That's why you are here today: to be purged of your old leaven of sin and to have new life. That's exactly what your baptism, absolution, and the Supper gives you. Your baptism has raised you from the death of sin. You are a new creation. The very body and blood of Christ cast out from you all that is sinful and selfish. Christ's body and blood are the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Your sins, whatever they are, are buried in that tomb forever. There is no need to go and drag them back out! Jesus has taken care of them once and for all. The same Good News which eventually overcame the women's fear and sent them shouting what they had heard is the same Good News by which the Spirit works in you to love God and your neighbor. Your sins have been put away by Jesus' death. They were buried with Him. And only Jesus came out of the tomb. Christ is alive. Your sins are done. And Jesus, who has defeated death, promises that you have defeated sin and death forever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

Friday, April 03, 2015

Sermon for 4/3/15: Good Friday (Wounds sermon series)



The Wounds that Heal

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You, for by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world. Amen.

A crucifix makes us uncomfortable, and well it should. We squirm before it—and our discomfort has nothing to do with any anti-Catholic bias. It is simply painful to look upon our Lord as He suffers and to know the reason for His suffering. Earlier in Lent we sang: “Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.” In the darkness of that first Good Friday, the totality of human sin—from the first sin of our first parents to the very last sin—all of it was gathered up and loaded on to Jesus. He bore the whole weight of it as if it was His own, including its penalty: death.

Look upon His cross. See His wounds, the nails fixing His hands and feet to the beams. See the blood continuing to run down His face from the cruel crown of thorns. Behold the gory mass of His mutilated back. And as you look, understand this: the wounded Man, dying in agony, is not suffering for a single wrong that He has done. His whole life was one of love. He was the only man who completely loved the Father with all His being, who perfectly loved His neighbor. And yet, it is because Jesus is love that He is now upon the tree of the cross. Love will not leave the sinner in his sin. Love takes that sin upon Himself. Love is wounded to grant us healing. Love is offering atonement for all the wrongs that we have done.

Yes, it is hard to look at a crucifix, because it is hard to accept the truth that this is the penalty our sins deserve. It is hard, and yet, it is salutary to look, to contemplate. It is salutary to pray that Christ would imprint this image on our hearts, so that we might carry it with us wherever we go, so that it can also be before our eyes in the moment of our death. You see, when the moment of death comes, Satan, who played down the importance of sin when he was luring you into temptation, will emphasize those sins in your memory in the hours of despair. When death is coming to you, he will replay in your mind the many sins you have forgotten. He will taunt you, saying that you are no Christian, that you are unfit for the Kingdom. He will tell you that you are his and that you have wanted to be his with every sin you have committed. And all the while, all those sins will be playing, in vivid detail, before your eyes, as you are struggling in the throes of death.

That is why it is vital to train yourself now to look upon the crucifix, to behold your Savior’s wounds, to hold them close to your heart. In the hour of your death that will be your only weapon against the despair of the enemy. You will be able to look at all your sins as the accuser brings them before your eyes, and you will be able to acknowledge their hideous nature as testimony to your countless failures. But foremost in your sight will be another image: the image Isaiah holds before us of the Crucified One. And it is this image that will shatter the devil’s attempts to draw you into despair. That is why we pray:
Be Thou my Consolation, my Shield when I must die.
Remind me of Thy Passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfold Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

The image you want before your eyes as they are closing in death is the image of the Son of God in His last agonies, where He answers for your every sin, pouring out His blood to blot out the accusations that Satan would use against you. Each sin, no matter how awful, has been covered over in the blood of the innocent Lamb, your Jesus. In the Book of Revelation, St. John writes: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the Word of their testimony.” In that final hour, you will say with boldness: “Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness. You have taken upon yourself the sin that is mine and have given to me the holiness which is yours. You have become sin to make me a saint.”
In this way you will indeed be prepared for death: when the image of the Crucified One hangs before your eyes. His life is your righteousness; His death is your forgiveness; His wounds are your healing; His sufferings are your crown and glory. You are beloved of God. That is what this day is about and nothing else! God in human flesh, Jesus Christ, has proved to be your dearest Friend, and He would make you His forever. Look upon His cross boldly and with confidence, and live.

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You, for by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world. Amen.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Sermon for 4/2/15: Maundy Thursday (Wounds sermon series)



The Wound of Abandonment

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

How many are the wounds we inflicted upon our Savior in His Passion, suffering, and death! We have pondered together these past Lenten evenings the wounds of betrayal, apathy, denial, and mockery. We have seen our own lives reflected in Judas, in those three sleepy disciples, in Peter, and in the Roman soldiers. Yet of all the wounds our Lord received, none so struck and terrorized and weighed on Him as the one we ponder this evening. We did not inflict this wound, though we were the cause of it. It came from His Father: the wound of abandonment.

From out of the depth of His agony on the cross, our Lord cried out the words of Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” As all the sin of the world is laid upon the Lamb of God, as He takes all of it as His very own, He experiences in Himself what every one of those sins demands. He will taste the bitterest dregs of the cup that He will drain down for us in its entirety. He will taste it for us all. He will know for us the loneliness so profound that its pain is unimaginable. How can we even begin to understand what it was like for Him in that moment? He is the Eternal Son, who took on human flesh from His virgin mother without ever leaving the presence of His Father. He is the Word made flesh, who lived among us as all men were meant to live, conscious of His Father’s never-failing love and the presence of His providential hand. All of this is now withdrawn, and Jesus is all alone.

People joke about hell, saying, “Well, at least I will have a lot of company there.” Such willful ignorance! Think of the story of Lazarus and the rich man. In that story, the rich man is all alone. Lazarus has angels for company as well as Abraham, to whom he is so close that he lays his head on his bosom. The rich man hungers and thirsts for a human touch. “Send Lazarus to dip the end of His finger in water to cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” He is alone—all alone—and he will be alone forever. Ponder that, and you will begin to understand the reality of hell. Ponder that, and you will see its true terror. Ponder that, and you will bow in love before the Savior whose love for you was so great that He chose to enter that loneliness Himself and to endure it in your place that you might be set free from it forever. Never alone, never again!

Because Jesus endured the wound of abandonment that our every sin demands of God, because He drained the cup down to this, its last and bitterest dregs, you can look to your Savior and pray with the confidence of being heard:
My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, O leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!
Do you see it now? You will never have to know what Jesus went through in those darkest hours. You will never have to face life or suffering or even death alone. He has made sure of that. He will be with you. He will walk with you every step of the way. For you hell itself is undone, sin forgiven, death destroyed. Your Savior, Your Shepherd, attends you through the valley of the shadow of death so that you fear no evil, for He is with you. His rod and His staff, they comfort you. He feeds you in green pastures with His own body and blood. He brings you out from the valley of darkness into the glorious light of the never-ending day in the kingdom of our Father. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sermon for 3/29/15: Palm Sunday



God’s Ways

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

It's sort of ironic that when Jesus rose from the dead, His disciples weren't expecting it, even though He had told them it would happen. But His enemies certainly understood what He meant when He said He would rise from the dead. So they told Pontius Pilate to make sure that grave was secured. The disciples don't know. The enemies know. A murderer goes free. The innocent Christ is crucified. The High Priest, whom the Bible says is never supposed to tear His robes, tears them. But our Lord’s clothes are not torn. Everything about the suffering and death of Jesus is backwards. The liars and wicked seem to have the upper hand. Jesus goes to the cross. His faithful disciples fall away in fear. Everything is backwards, upside down. There’s darkness during the day, dead bodies rising. This is how God works. Where there is suffering, He works forgiveness and salvation. Where there is darkness, the Light of the World is dying for sinners. Where there are lies, Jesus is the Truth. Where there is condemnation, Jesus brings acquittal.

Listen to everything we've read. What do you notice? The Jesus who walks on water and feeds 5,000 and heals every disease and raises the dead and casts out the demons? That Jesus looks weak and powerless and awful. What is there about this story that makes Jesus look good? What is there in these details that shows the power and glory and majesty of God? Nothing...unless the power and majesty and glory of God are not what you think. God doesn't do things the way that impresses the world. He does them the opposite. Here in suffering and weakness, there is salvation. Here, sinners go free while the Son of God dies. Here, God gives His life, and those dead in sin are brought back to life. Forget everything the world tries to come up with about God being the "Supreme Being" and "all powerful" and all that. Forget shiny and majestic and mountains and sunsets. Strip it all away, and you see the real, true God, Jesus, nailed to the cross for you. And see also that through what is most despised, most horrific, most dishonorable and sad, God saves sinners.

And then repent of the unbelief you share with the high priest and the Pharisees. They wanted to seal the tomb to keep Jesus in. We'd do the same thing. After all, if He comes out, then He was right! If He comes out, then we have to really believe that our sins were paid for and we can’t keep living in them. If He comes out, we learn that we were wrong, that He was right, that sins are dead and we are alive in Christ. And just as Jesus was despised on Calvary, the greatest gifts God gives us now are completely hidden behind common and ordinary things. The world sees a mere splash of water, and yet there is nothing more mighty and powerful and saving than your baptism! The world sees two young people who have bought into what they consider the “Jesus myth,” but Leah and Ryan are a young Christian lady and gentleman who are clinging to the faith they were given in Holy Baptism. The world sees a guy in a robe, speaking worthless lies. And yet that is the very voice of God coming from that man’s mouth, declaring your pardon! The world sees ordinary bread and wine. But that is Jesus Himself, His body and blood, come to raise you from the dead and make you live forever. That's the same Jesus that was nailed to the tree and sealed into the tomb. And just as the tomb couldn't hold Him, in the same way, your sins don't hold you. You are free from them. Despite the high priest, and the Pharisees, and even despite you, the Jesus who was crucified was alive the third day. That is what God is all about. That's how He works. And it all happens for you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sermon for 3/25/15: Lent 5 midweek (Wounds series)



The Wound of Mockery

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The soldiers thought it funny, this Peasant pretending to be a king. They decided to have some fun with His apparent delusion. They began by taking His clothing. He had to stand there naked as they mocked Him. Then they found a scarlet robe and draped it over His shoulders. “There; now He is beginning to look like a king,” they joked. “But something is missing. He needs a crown!” And so, one of them thought up a crown for this peasant King from Galilee, a crown to teach Him a thing or two about His foolish dreams: a crown of entwining thorns. Hear the distant echo of those words of judgment God spoke to Adam in the Garden: “Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.” They smashed the crown down upon His head, and the thorns drew blood. His response was not what they had hoped for. He was silent to their taunts, the mockery, and the jeers.

Then someone came up with another missing item: “A king needs a scepter!” They scrounged around and found a reed, and put it in His hand. They stepped back to admire the finished product: blood running down His face from the thorns piercing His brow, His naked body barely covered with the scarlet robe, and a flimsy reed that flopped this way and that in His hand. “Behold, the man who would be king,” they said. Laughing with scorn, they fell on their knees. “Hail, King of the Jews,” they cried. Still, He looked on in silence as their mockery turned vicious. He would not play along with them, so He would pay. They began to spit on Him to show their utter contempt for Him. They took His scepter and whipped His head with it. “Some scepter. Some kingdom. You are nothing. You are about to die, King of the Jews!”

As He looked at them, these men missed the depth of His pity for them, for those who wounded Him with mockery, who tried to shame Him, who prepared to torture and murder Him. Look into His eyes, though, and you will see a depth of pity and love that will shake you to your core. It is a mere human trait, common to all of fallen humanity, to love your friends and to seek to do them good. But to love your enemies? To have nothing but pity and compassion for those who taunt you and are preparing to kill you? That is the mark of the heavenly Friend, our Lord Jesus Christ.
What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
There is no end to His love, His pity for them. The pity from the mocked King extends not only to those who tortured Him, but also to the entire human race, all of whom are complicit in His death. Only a few hours later, He would say: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Of course, the truth beyond all truths is that Jesus actually was King. Yes, Jesus was the long awaited Son of David. But even more, He was also the King of Gentiles and their Ruler. He is the One to whom the entire universe belongs. Every one of us, including those who mocked and shamed Him, owe our existence only to His will that we exist. You will never ponder the Passion correctly until you remember that a single thought from Jesus could have undone all those who sought His death; a single act could have destroyed us all. But all He returns is love, pity, and mercy. That is what fills Him. That is who Jesus is. And that is how He reigns as King. He rules in love: a love that hatred cannot conquer.

Jesus was determined to share fully in the lot we have chosen for ourselves. We were destined to lives of glory and majesty; that was what God wanted for us. But we threw all of that away and embraced instead the path of suffering and death. But He would not have that be our end. He came to walk that path as King so that, through His suffering, all that we lost might be restored to us again. Jesus was stripped of His clothing that our naked sinfulness might be clothed in the robe of His righteousness. He wore the crown of thorns, that we might wear the crown of eternal life. He was beaten and mocked, that we might be welcomed and treasured. The love of Christ overcomes all hatred and mockery, and remains love, so that a way would be opened for us to return from this misery of sin and death to the kingdom the Father planned for us from the beginning.

Jesus walked that suffering road in kingly fashion. None of the mockery can take from Him His majesty, His glory, His peace. He carries out every act of His Passion in burning love for the fallen race of men so that we might be restored. He chooses to lay down His life that we might live in Him. Such love on His part creates love on ours. That is why we sing:
O make me Thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.
Behold your King! Behold, beneath the blood and the blows, the eyes that look upon you with tender compassion. He does this for you, in undeserved love, that you would live with Him forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sermon for 3/22/15: Lent V



Judgment and Truth

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The devil is a liar, and he lies in order to murder. Jesus is the truth, and His Word is truth in order to save you from death. There is no middle ground. There is no gray area. You can have lies, sin, and death, or you can have truth, forgiveness, and life; devil or Jesus. But it's not for you to decide. Corpses don't get up on their own. They need to be raised from the dead. Sinners don't save themselves. They need to be saved. This is how the devil does his lying and murdering. He lied to Adam and Eve. His lies led to their unbelief. They stopped trusting in God's Word and they died. Jesus went toe to toe with the devil; but where we fail, He trusted in the Word for you. The devil seeks to possess you, corrupt you, destroy you. He seeks to bring you misery and sadness. Jesus comes to throw Satan down and save sinners. The devil seeks to hold sinners in slavery to sin. Jesus comes and sets you free. The devil wants you to believe God doesn't care about you and will abandon you when you need Him.

There's a war between the devil and God. You are the prize. Either the devil wins and keeps you in slavery and brings you to everlasting death, or else Jesus wins and saves us for everlasting life. There is no gray area, no middle ground. Those who hate Jesus are the sons of the devil. The devil is their Father of Lies. Jesus says simply that His Word is life. He was before Abraham. He is about the living, not the dead. That's enough to drive His enemies to stone Him...but not yet! He has to stand before the high priest and the governor. And He won't die by stoning but by crucifixion. We would have killed Jesus, too—not even so much because we want to do sins, though we do. Rather, it's our religion that will kill him. “I’m going to save myself. I’m going to be righteous and holy because I’m a good person! You can't tell me that I’m not a son of Abraham! Don't tell me I'm not a good Christian. By all that’s holy, I'm a lifelong Missouri Synod Lutheran! I’m much better than those other people all around who do those horrible things.” …That's what kills Jesus. But He dies because the Father of Lies has us trapped. He's captured and enslaved us. He's brought death to us. We're in serious trouble if Jesus doesn't save us. So that's what He does. His suffering and death at the hands of sinners is to do exactly that. The truth that gives life is that the Lord who is Truth dies. He dies. You live. He suffers lies so that you know the Truth that sets you free.

And it is His Word that means you will never taste death. Baptism means you will never taste death. Absolution means you will never taste death. The Good News of Jesus died and risen means you will never taste death. And the body and blood of Jesus means you will never taste death. "No," you say. “We're still going to die.” No. You're not. You will fall asleep. But you fall asleep in Jesus. That's not the same as death. Baptized into Christ, you fall asleep. And then, on the Last Day, He wakes you up. Death is forever: forever cut off from God, forever stuck forever with the Father of lies. His lie is that you die. The truth is you fall asleep. His lie is that you are a sinner doomed to die. The truth is that Christ has set you free. The same Lord who is before Abraham is the same Lord today: the same Jesus, the same Savior, the same Word that rescues you from death. Here you are, today, hearing Christ's Word. There will be no death for you! All you have is forgiveness and eternal life. When it's Jesus versus the devil, and you are the prize, Jesus won't let him win. His cross and empty tomb, His Water, Word and Supper—they are the weapons He wields, and He uses them to set you free. “And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sermon for 3/18/15: Lent 4 midweek (Wounds series)



The Wound of Betrayal

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Even if I must die with You, I will not deny You!” That is what Peter said to the Lord he loved. Peter could not imagine his love for Jesus ever being insufficient. But of course, the Lord knows what is in man. And in fallen mankind there is fear—fear of death above all. And fear of death is something the devil uses against us. So, the Lord tells Peter before it ever happens that it will happen. Not once, not twice, but three times Peter will be given the opportunity to confess his Lord. And not once, not twice, but three times, Peter will deny Him.

Among the wounds that afflicted our Lord during His Passion, surely the denial of His brash, but beloved, disciple, Peter, figures large. And who among us has not added to that wound? Opportunities to confess our Savior arise at every hand, yet how often we pass them by in silence. And our silence denies Him. Isn’t our fear the same? We fear the loss of a respect from others, for who can respect someone with such narrow views? We fear the loss of friendship, for who wants to befriend a religious fanatic? We fear the loss of our reputation, for what will others say about us if we become known for speaking up for the Lord? And thus, the silence, which is denial just as surely as saying, “I don’t know the man.”

But Jesus goes into His Passion to be wounded for our transgressions. Our denials of Him do not result in His denial of us. He has carried those denials into His death and, where we denied Him, He made the good confession before the high priest and before Pontius Pilate. Jesus did not let fear of anything deter Him, and we do well to ponder that truth. Though our Lord despised death, He did not fear it. He came into this world to destroy it. Indeed, He came among us to let death devour Him so that He would destroy death forever, and so that His faithful people would be set free from the slavery of sin and the fear of death.

Standing before Israel’s High Priest, Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. He knew He would give up His life on the cross, an offering and sacrifice to His Father, His blood blotting out forever the guilt of our sin and the sin of the whole world. And Jesus also knew, and rejoiced, that His Father would never abandon Him to the grave. Although death would take Him, He would break the bonds of death. Jesus did not fear death because He knew that death would not be the end of Him or of anyone who is joined to Him in faith.

To this point, Peter had only heard that Jesus would be raised from death. But now, before his eyes, he saw the Master in the hands of those who would turn Him over to be crucified. Peter’s heart trembled in fear. Rather than, in peace, confessing His Lord, in terror of death Peter denied Him. And as the fateful rooster crowed, he recalled how Jesus said it would be so, and Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Peter wept bitter tears for his own fear and sin and cowardice, but he did not despair. Here Peter differs from Judas. He saw the look in his Lord’s eyes when they took Jesus away, the look that said: “Remember, I told you that you would deny Me, and I was right; so you have. But remember that I also told you I would rise again, and I will be right about that, too! And I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith will not fail!”

Now, think of the man we meet on the other side of the Resurrection, on the Day of Pentecost. That same man, who crumbled in fear before the serving girl and her friends, boldly told the crowd that day: “This Jesus whom you killed by hanging on a tree God has raised from the dead, and we are all His witnesses.” What changed is the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit. And so it is with you and your baptism. There in the water you were drowned, placed into the tomb with Christ, and raised with Him as the guarantee of a life that will never end. In that water, the Holy Spirit descended on you even as He descended on Peter and the other disciples on Pentecost, transforming them from quivering cowards to bold confessors. What changed was the conviction of faith that Jesus truly had destroyed the power of death by enduring it Himself. And He has atoned for all our denials by His confession and His suffering for us.

Years later, the story goes, Peter was told that he had to sacrifice to the emperor and deny Jesus, or die. By the grace of God, he refused the emperor’s demand. He refused, and Peter went the way of his Lord. He, too, was crucified, though, according to a long Church tradition, upside down, because he did not feel himself worthy to die in the same manner as his Master. In the end, Peter looked the fear of death in the face. Peter’s prayer that day might have been what we sang only moments ago:
My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O Source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.
May we be so faithful when called upon to make confession, and may that be our prayer at the hour of death as well. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Sermon for 3/15/15: Lent IV


He Already Knows

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

The Lord already knows how He's going to take care of you. Are you going to trust Him and not worry about your future? Or are you going to get all worked up because you aren't sure how everything is going to play out? Jesus already knows how He's going to provide for this congregation. The question is, are we going to trust that He'll take care of things? Or will we get agitated because we think we have to figure it all out ourselves? This is our problem. This is our sin. We live as if we think the Lord is ignorant of what's going on in our lives. We get downright grumpy because we don't believe the Lord is paying any attention. Suddenly we're on a hillside after three days and there's nothing to eat. We're in the desert and wondering whether God just brought us there to starve. Is that how you live? Our ears are filled over and over with God's promises, but one thing comes along that we don't like and we stew about it for days, getting grumpy and complaining. We forget about God and ignore or mistreat our neighbor.

If you are ever in doubt as to whether the Lord will take care of you, then think of this account. Five thousand people are sitting there, and they need food. Jesus feeds them. It's that simple. Jesus knows what you need before you need it. He knows what you need even before you ask for it. And He still knows what you need even if you don't think He is going to provide it. And that’s not just true of food. Our real problem isn't that we're hungry. It's that we're sinners. It's that we are filled with unbelief. We don't think He can do anything about our sins. We don't ask Him to. We don't even know we need Him to. But He comes to save sinners.

There's a reason John mentions that the Passover was near. The Passover was coming when Jesus, the Lamb of God, the true Passover Lamb, would be killed so that we are set free from sin, from death. Today it's a hill with green grass. Soon it will be a hill covered with crosses and criminals and skulls. On the first Passover, the lamb dies. But because of the blood on the door, the Angel of Death passes over. On the final Passover, the Lamb of God dies. But because of His blood sprinkled on you in Baptism, the Angel of Death passes over. On the first Passover, the lamb dies and is eaten by the people. On the final Passover, Jesus dies, giving Himself to you in His Holy Supper. You head out into the world where nothing seems to go your way, where you don't think you'll have what you need, in which the devil and your flesh try to drag you into sin. And Jesus takes care of you.

We are in the midst of our own wilderness wanderings. But as we’re told in the 23rd Psalm, Jesus the Good Shepherd has led us to a place where we lay down in green pastures. Grass is where sheep graze. Grass means God's Word in this pasture called the Church. There’s plenty of grass here, plenty of the Word of God. He feeds you as much as you want. On the hills with Jesus, you are filled to bursting with bread and fish, and there's still more. That's how His forgiveness goes too. He gives you more than you need, more than enough to drown your sins. Jesus knows what you need before you need it. He'll give it to you before you ask for it, even when you don't know how He's going to do it. That's how He feeds five-thousand people. That's how He saves the world. With a Jesus like that, there’s no need to worry that you’ll have enough, no need to worry about being able to help your neighbor. After all, what is there to worry or complain about? Jesus gives you everything you need and then some. And not even your worry can keep Him from saving you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sermon for 3/11/15: Lent 3 midweek (Wounds series)

The Lent 2 midweek service was canceled due to inclement weather and horrible road conditions. This was the sermon meant to be preached that week. We're just moving all the sermons back a week, with the sermon that was supposed to be Lent 5 midweek preached on Maundy Thursday, since I originally had to import a stanza from TLH for O Sacred Head Now Wounded to fill Maundy Thursday.


The Wound of Apathy

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus didn’t want to be alone as He wrestled in prayer with His Father that night. How easily we forget that our blessed Lord was truly and fully human! He desired the comfort of companionship, the encouragement that comes from loved ones. And so, as Jesus leaves the larger group behind, He takes with Him His three closest friends: Peter, James, and John. He can no longer hold back the grief. “My soul,” He says, “is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with Me.” He stumbled a few steps further and landed on His face.

Before the eyes of His soul was the cup of suffering. To understand that cup, you must go back to the Old Testament. In Psalm 75, David said: “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and He pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” Isaiah later foretold of a time to come when that cup would pass from the people, to another. “Thus says your Lord, the Lord your God, who pleads the cause of His people: ‘Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of My wrath you shall drink no more.’”

And so, the cup that was set before Jesus for Him to drink, down to the bitter residue, was the cup that held the wrath of God: His wrath against all your rebellions, all your lovelessness, all your passing of judgment on others, all your selfish acts, all your indulging the flesh, all your spiritual apathy. That was set before Jesus, and He knew exactly where it would lead. Jesus quotes the prophet Zechariah: “(The Lord) will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” Make no mistake about: Jesus receives what is coming, knowing that it comes entirely from His Father.

None of us is nearly as frightened of hell as we should be. We have no clue about the terror of its emptiness and eternal loneliness. But Jesus knew. And before that reality, looking into that ultimate and eternal poison in the cup, He trembled. And why wouldn’t He? He trembled and begged His Father that, if possible, some other way may be found, some different approach, something other than what was in the cup before Him. He looked over the brim of that cup into its bottomless depths, and He shook in terror.

We sin so casually. “God will forgive,” we say. “He is loving and merciful and kind. Sin is really no big deal.” Go with your Lord this evening to Gethsemane, and see with your own eyes whether or not it’s a big deal. Look at Him as He shakes in terror before the sin we carelessly and foolishly choose for ourselves time and time again. And see Him as He lifts His eyes from the cup to the Father, and pleads for some other way. But then, see also how our Savior distinguishes Himself from all other sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. See Him lower His eyes to the cup again, and say, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done.”

It has exhausted Him and terrorized Him, looking into that cup. And so, He turns back to His friends for the comfort they can give. But here, another wound strikes Him. As He has struggled with the terrors of death and hell for them, they have fallen asleep. He cries out, “Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We wound our Lord with our weakness, our apathy. We wound Him with our careless sinning. We add to the terrors of the cup He must drink. Surely Jesus’ word of warning will keep His disciples awake, and in prayer. The most terrifying events of their discipleship are only moments away now. Surely they will realize that, and pray. But, no. They are like us after all, or we are like them.

Jesus turns back and, again, struggles in prayer. Then He again returns for comfort from His friends and again encounters only apathy. They are sound asleep. He is all alone in this. He turns back for a final prayer. The sweat falls from his brow in great drops of blood as He bows to the Father’s will. He will do it; He will go forward to drink this cup. He will do so, trusting that, having experienced in Himself the penalty of our disobedience, His Father will not abandon Him forever. Look into the face of your Lord as He rises from prayer, and you see peace.

That peace came from His trust in His Father. To submit to the One who has loved you with an everlasting love is not terror, but joy, no matter how dark the path. In that peace, Jesus turned back to His disciples for the last time. Their apathy can wound Him no more; He is going forth to bear that sin, together with all their sins and the sins of the whole world. While they had slept, He had won the battle; He had won it alone! Now He would go forth to meet His betrayer. And He woke up His disciples so that they too might meet the terrors to come.

Seeing Him go forth to meet these terrors in peace, we sing, in astonished awe:
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered
Was all for sinner’s gain.
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve Thy place.
Look on me with Thy favor,
And grant to me Thy grace.
As He looked in pity on His disciples, so Jesus looks in pity on us. Through His struggle to drink the cup and empty it forever, He shows us that He will never be apathetic about us. He who drained the cup can be counted on to save us completely. To Him be glory, with His all-holy Father and His life-giving Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sermon for 3/8/15: Lent III



Cast Out

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Satan is no pushover. His army of evil demons and men will do everything it can to stop our salvation from happening. He started already when our Lord was barely even born, stirring up evil King Herod to try to kill Jesus. Throughout his life, Jesus encountered the devil and his powers. Satan went after Jesus directly in the wilderness. But Jesus doesn't give in to the devil's temptations and lies. He sends the devil packing by His Word. Every time the Lord throws a demon out of someone, the demon says Jesus is the Christ. The demons hate it, but they know. So the devil sends evil men—men who are full of their own religion, men who are so pious and holy they will kill an innocent man. It all seems like a perfect plan for Satan until we realize that this plan is exactly how the Lord is going to overcome the devil! By His bloody death, Jesus pays the price of the sins of the world, robbing the devil of his power to accuse us! By His descent into Hell, Jesus announces once and for all to Satan that his kingdom has fallen and his days are numbered! By His resurrection on Easter, Jesus throws down death itself and turns what was ruin and misery brought by the devil into our passing into eternal life. At every point, Jesus takes down the devil's power.

Beware, dear Christian! The devil is prowling like a roaring lion seeking to consume you. He has endless tricks up his sleeve to drag you away from Christ and your salvation. He sneaks his agents into the church, preaching and teaching what is false and wrong. He tells you that baptism is a good work we do to show that we're faithful to God. The devil works hard to keep you away from hearing God's Word. He sends preachers to say that the Christian faith is about prosperity and happiness instead of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. He tries to teach us that all religions are the same and then fills the world with false religions that all hate and fight one another. We are born into that kingdom of Satan. We are born into this world full of the sin of Adam. We are born enemies of God and lovers of ourselves.

And so, to rescue us from this kingdom and bring us into the kingdom that Christ won by His death and resurrection, the Lord must cast the evil one out of us. Did you know that you've undergone an exorcism? It was the day of your baptism. At that moment when you were born by water and the word, the finger of God cast out Satan and the kingdom of God came upon you. You've had the devil cast out of you. Make the sign of the cross, and Satan will remember your baptism and run away scared! When the devil brings your sins back to haunt you and trouble you and make you question whether you really are a child of God, then come and receive absolution, and wave that announcement of forgiveness in his face! When the devil tries to wear you down by throwing diseases and sickness and trouble and the prospect of death at you, then come and eat Jesus' body and drink His blood. If you have Jesus in you, then there's no way Satan can take you down. If the devil wants you, he's got to go through Jesus who lives in you and you in Him by His body and blood. With these gifts, the devil can't touch you! Ignore these gifts, despise them, and you have no defense against him. But with these gifts, have no doubt the devil can't stand to be near you and must run in fear when these gifts are given!

Lent is all about Jesus defeating the devil at every turn. His going to the cross and rising again means the devil's kingdom has been overthrown. But it's not just overthrown for Jesus. Satan’s defeat happens for your sake. By your baptism into Christ, His victory has become yours. The devil has been thrown down for you too. That doesn't mean he won't keep trying to tear you away from Jesus. But the Word and Sacraments that Christ gives you keep throwing the devil down. They are your shield and armor and weapons against the Evil One. As long as you are in Christ Jesus, the devil can't touch you. Jesus casts out demons by the finger of God. That same finger has touched you and cast out the devil. The kingdom of God has come upon you, and you are safe now in Christ Jesus. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Sermon for 3/1/15: Lent II



Hold On to Jesus

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you want to make sense out of the readings for the Sundays in Lent, you need to know that the Church Year, when it was put together many centuries ago, was designed in part as a period of instruction for those who were new to the faith. It was a period of teaching to prepare new Christians for their reception into the Church. The first Sunday in Lent introduced these new Christians to the devil, to let them know that there really is an enemy out there who is literally hell-bent on wiping out their faith in the God. The first Sunday in Lent issues a serious warning: expect to be tempted. The Word of God, however, has the power to defeat and drive away this enemy.

The second Sunday in Lent introduces new Christians to a phenomenon that older, seasoned Christians know very well. Not only do they have to deal with the devil roaring like a lion, looking for someone to devour, but they will also have to contend with another painful spiritual experience: getting what seems to be the cold shoulder from God. Many times we struggle and wrestle with God in prayer, much like the account of Jacob. And like Jacob, who never walked the same again after that wrestling match with God, we may well walk away from our struggle with God wounded. We cry out like the woman in today’s Gospel, and we feel ignored, excluded, insulted. But our text urges us not to give in to despair. That woman from Canaan is a living enactment of those words of our Lord: “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.

She came to Jesus. “Have mercy on me, O Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” One of Satan’s crew had grabbed hold of her daughter, filling that poor child with hatred and bitterness, with the rage and anger and resentment that is Satan’s stock-in-trade. And when she heard that the Great Healer had come into her area, it was like a gift from heaven. Never had anyone been known to cry out to Him in vain. And so, she ran to Him, and pleaded for her daughter.

But what treatment did she receive? “He did not answer her a word.” Even the disciples were shocked at how He treated her. They intervened on her behalf, but it did no good. He simply told them: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He knew she wasn’t one of the chosen people. But did she just slink away and give up? No! She fell down before Him and insisted: “Lord, help me!” Surely now He would help. But He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” He didn’t just tell her that she was not one of the chosen people. He told her she was a dog. In other words, she was completely unworthy of the bread He was sent to give to His people. But she acknowledged the truth of what He said. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” She was only asking for crumbs.

Like Jacob, she would not let go of the Lord until He blessed her. She let herself be emptied of every claim, and yet still she threw herself on His mercy. And she was not disappointed: “‘O Woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire!’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” You see, this is His way to test those who come to Him; that is the truth! He teaches you the long and hard way not to rely on yourselves or on your feelings or how you think things should be going in your life. In this way He teaches you to trust in Him and His great love and mercy. He does this, strangely enough, by giving you the cold shoulder.

This woman didn’t even know the whole story—at least, not like you know it. And yet, she would not let loose of Him! How much more reason, then, do you have to not give up on Him? After all, you know where His love landed Him: on the cross, laden with your sin! You know how He spilled His blood to wipe out your sin and undo your death and deliver to you the gift of eternal life. Every time we hear His Word, every time we receive the Holy Communion of His body and blood, we are eating the crumbs from His table. And we are made ever more certain that the God who would do this for us can be trusted, absolutely, not to deny us or forsake us in the end, no matter what sorrow we may know right now, no matter what pain we may be having to bear right now, no matter what temptation we may be facing right now.

Hold on to Jesus; keep praying; keep asking; no matter what happens. And remember, always, that He uses that cold shoulder to bless you. As St. Paul said: “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.