Monday, June 19, 2017

Sermon for 6/18/17: First Sunday After Trinity

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Repentance and Life


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


The rich man was in hell. He deserved to be there, for he failed to love his neighbor, and, in doing so, he failed to love God. So he was in hell, tormented as only one who resides in hell can be tormented. Still, he was convinced that he had a way to save his brothers from those torments of Hell that he was experiencing. All it would take would be for this poor, dead Lazarus to make an appearance at the house of the rich man’s father. Surely there is nothing like an appearance from the dead to change the hearts of callous sinners into faithful believers! At least, that’s what the misguided soul of the rich man dearly hopes.
But Abraham knows differently. It’s not as simple as that. Even the appearance of one who is risen from the dead will not be enough to change the heart of the unbeliever. That power is reserved for Moses and the Prophets. Only the Word of God has the power to convert those who do not believe. It is the Word of God alone that gives faith and life, and this is a gift that can only be given by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our world has a problem with hell. Our world has a problem with the idea that faith is an important thing. As much as we might like to think that magical appearances of the face of Jesus on a piece of toasted bread or some vision of the Virgin Mary will cause nonbelievers to turn from their wicked ways and become Christians, it will not happen. But more than that, anyone who believes in a heaven, even if they don’t believe in Jesus, is convinced they belong inside those heavenly gates, resting in Abraham’s bosom.
How could someone who claims to be a loving God allow His children to be banished forever from His presence? How could someone who claims to be a loving God allow His children to be tormented forever in hell? Even representatives of our country think it is hateful, and maybe even a hate crime, to believe that those who do not believe in Jesus as the Son of God will be condemned by God to everlasting suffering. They blame God and His faithful children for what they believe to be such horrible ideas. But the truth is, those who do not believe condemn themselves; God just gives the person what they want: an eternity without God. That’s the practice the Church calls “excommunication,” when those who claim to be Christians but act contrary to the faith exclude themselves from the fellowship of the Church. The unrepentant sinner has excluded himself; the Church just nods its head and says, “Okay. We hope you’ll come back to us.”
True repentance for our sin and true faith can only come from the Word of God. It is the Word of God that points us to Christ, whose death and resurrection alone bring us to the comfort of eternal life. There is no otherworldly vision, no ghost, not even someone rising from the dead, which will bring the unrepentant to faith. The leaders of the Jews in our Lord’s day saw the evidence that the real Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, rose from the dead; it did not bring them to faith in Jesus or repentance for their unbelief. Only the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit can make repentance and belief come to the hearts of sinners.
And that’s exactly what the Spirit does. The Spirit comes to the sinner in the waters of Holy Baptism, where the Word of God in the water brings repentance and faith. The sinner is drowned to die with Christ, cleansed in that holy flood, so that the new man emerges to a new life in Christ. And the Spirit continues to feed that repentance and faith in the preaching of the Word and in the body and blood of Jesus. Where is the best place to hear Moses and the Prophets? You are already here, for God’s Word is proclaimed in its fullness when God’s people gather together to receive His gifts. 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.   

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sermon for 6/11/17: Feast of the Holy Trinity


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Communion


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


God created man and woman for only one reason—to live in communion with Him. So the Lord did not make the world and then walk away. He did not leave man to fend for himself when man sinned. Instead, God has done everything for only one reason: to draw us, and through us all creation, into a personal relationship with Himself. But our first parents sinned; they broke communion with God. And when we inherited the curse of death, God did not sit back and make us come to Him. The Father sent His Son by His Spirit to draw all men back into Himself.
Our Lord God made us and then sought to redeem us—not because He had to, but because this is who He is. God is the very definition of communion. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three Persons in such intimate communion that They are not three, but One. And our loving God earnestly desires that all His people and all His creatures participate and live in this communion that He is.
Holy Baptism is where God restored us to what we were made to be. Holy Baptism is where God draws us back into communion with Himself. Holy Baptism is where He renews our life by drowning our hard-hearted, self-centered Old Adam. Holy Baptism is where the Father through the Son in the Spirit takes the initiative and comes to us so that He might draw us back into communion with Himself. This communion is God’s agenda, His desire, His motivation. But most of all, that is His love and delight.
And so when Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night and tells Him that His signs and wonders demonstrate that God is with Him, Jesus does not explain how this happens or talk about what this means. Instead, Our Lord Jesus invites, encourages, prods, urges, and pretty much begs Nicodemus to enter into the same loving communion with God the Father. For to enter the kingdom of God is to come into communion with God—a communion that you cannot know or even participate in until you have been born from above. And this heavenly birth does not come from your initiative or desire, but from the love of God the Father. He sends His Spirit to hover over the water of Holy Baptism, just as He hovered over the water of creation, to make you a new creation, to cleanse you from all sin. And with that water your life is made new, for you are returned to what you were made to be: a child of God in communion with the Holy Trinity.
So, just as Jesus urges Nicodemus, do not marvel when Jesus says you must be born again. Again, this is not your doing, but God’s. By your words and actions, you show yourself to be a self-centered son of Adam. But the Lord’s Spirit comes to you in the water of Holy Baptism and gives you a new Spirit: the Spirit which creates a clean heart and restores in you the joy of the Lord’s salvation. Because of that Spirit, you now have from God Himself what your heart desires—to see the kingdom of God, to enter into the Lord’s presence, to share and participate in His life, to let His love have its way with you as you deal with all people in the way that the Lord has dealt with you. That’s what the Spirit gives you in the water of Holy Baptism—not just a fresh start and a new life, but God’s life in you and through you for the benefit of all men. That is communion in God: living in the Lord, living in His righteousness, living in His kingdom.
God grant that we who have been baptized into Christ Jesus remain in true communion with Him by remaining true to the holy catholic Faith. And He will keep us steadfast in this Faith: the Faith which is found most completely in the Holy Christian Church. 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, June 05, 2017

Sermon for 6/4/17: The Feast of Pentecost


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Never Alone


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


One of our greatest fears is to be abandoned by those we love, to be orphaned, widowed, left alone. We fear the loss of a parent, a friend, a spouse. Nothing hurts like being left behind. The disciples certainly understood this heartbreak, for Jesus kept telling the disciples that they would “see Him no more.” Jesus was speaking to His disciples, preparing them for His “departure,” His exodus—meaning His death, resurrection, and ascension. Soon they would no longer have Him as they did now. They would no longer see Him, hear His voice, touch Him, walk with Him, or share a meal with Him. But Jesus would not abandon them.
He was going to prepare a place for them: a true and eternal home. He was going take them to be with Him by being lifted up on a cross, buried in a tomb, raised from the dead, and being glorified at the right hand of His Father. He was going to prepare a true home for our humanity in glory. And yet, this going didn’t mean He was going to leave them; He was coming to them in a more profound way. He would send another—a Comforter, the Holy Spirit. And in sending His Spirit, He would be with them more intimately, more profoundly, more fully than even His being with them at a table, sharing a meal. The Holy Spirit would teach them to understand everything Jesus had taught them, and the Holy Spirit would guide them as they shared our Lord’s teaching with the whole world, beginning with Jerusalem, and finally making its way to the very ends of the earth.
Jesus gives them His words, and with His words, His Baptism, His Body and Blood, His forgiveness, life, and salvation. And He gave them peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you”—peace given in a way the world could never give them; peace which the would could only understand through the preaching of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. He would no longer be with them in the way they had experienced for the three years leading up to His ascension, but He would not leave them alone. He would be present as they gathered in His name, and He would send His Holy Spirit to them.
In the same way, He promises to be with His Church, and He will never leave us alone. Clinging to His word by faith, you have all that Jesus is for you and all that Jesus won for you. Clinging to His word, you are loved by His Father and are given to call Him your Father, too. Clinging to His word, you have His promised Holy Spirit, given you in your Baptism. Clinging to His word, you have a peace that the world does not give—a peace that only comes through dying and rising with Jesus.
Thanks be to God our Father and to our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of abandoning us to our own selfish cravings; rather than leaving us mired in our mindless strivings; instead of giving us over to our base desires, God has given us His Holy Spirit so that we might know Jesus, rejoice to receive His life-giving sacrifice, and be gathered into His Body, the Church. In this way we live through Him, with Him, and in Him—and we also live in love for our every neighbor. By being in communion with God in Christ by His Spirit, we also our now in communion with each other. We are never alone. 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.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Sermon for 5/27/17: The Ascension of Our Lord (observed)


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“He Ascended into Heaven…”


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


Jesus has done all the work of salvation! So let me ask you this: What good is the Passion of the Christ if there is no one to proclaim it? What good is Our Lord Jesus shedding His blood if there is no man to immerse you in that same blood? What good is Our Lord Jesus giving His Body and Blood for us to eat and drink if there is no man to serve it? What good is the Lord’s pardon, absolution and remission of all your sins if there is no man to speak that Word into you? What good is our Savior reconciling us to Our Father if there is no man to be God’s ambassador?
It’s not just that our Lord’s earthly ministry time is finished. He has completed our salvation, and destroyed our death, and crushed Satan and his demons. So our Lord Jesus, the Savior of all, mercifully authorizes certain men, so that He might speak and work through them to proclaim and distribute Himself in preaching and in His holy sacraments. His desire is to draw all people to Himself, to be the one Shepherd of the one churchly flock, and in doing so to restore all people to full communion with God by making them partakers of His divine nature.
In our arrogance, we act as if Jesus has left these things in our hands to do with as we please. We treat His gifts as if He has left us only a vague outline that we can manipulate. We act as if the Holy Spirit is a slave to our whims, so we can treat the Church and Christ’s ministers as our slaves. But our Lord’s desire is not that we take what is His and do what seems good to us. The Lord’s desire is that His apostles and their successors speak and work in His name by the direction of the Spirit. So in these latter days, our Lord Jesus, working through His Spirit, delegates some of His authority to the men He has called. Through the pastors He Calls and Ordains, our Lord Jesus extends His hand and “throws His voice,” so to speak. And in this way He drowns sinners in a baptismal flood, and He distributes His Body and blood to the people He died to save.
So when our Lord tells these sinful, confused men to make disciples; when He gives them His authority and promises that He will work through them; when He says to preach and work in His name; our Lord is clearly and forthrightly saying that this work is not theirs, but His. With these words, our Lord unmistakably says to these Apostles, to their successors, and to the Church, that He will do His work; He will speak His Word; He will give His sacraments; He will perform His ministry. And through these gifts and actions, He will restore all men to communion with God and with each other. Why He chooses to work this way, and why He has determined that this is best, is not ours to question or change. Ours is simply to rejoice and believe.
Here, then, is your comfort: You can be certain that when those men ordained by Christ give you His ministry—particularly when these men baptize, absolve, preach, and administer the Eucharist—they do not act on their own authority; they do these things “in the stead and by the command” of Jesus Christ. And you can be sure that what they speak and do in His name is valid and certain precisely because it is not their work; it is the Lord who gives you these holy mysteries.
In this way, then, Our Lord’s ascension is your comfort and delight, your joy and hope, and a necessary part of your salvation. If Jesus had not ascended, His ministry and, indeed, His very body would have been confined to a particular time and place. But when He ascended on high, “He gave gifts to men”—most especially the gift of Himself in His body and blood through the hands and ministry of those whom He has called and ordained. 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.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sermon for 5/24/17: Funeral of Anita Edgar



"Unto Death"
Revelation 2:10


Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Our text is Anita’s Confirmation verse, Revelation 2:10, which says, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.”


The crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ told the Apostle John to write these words to the troubled Christians in the Church at Smyrna. They experienced trials and persecutions in such measure that they wondered if they should still continue to confess the Lord as their God. Smyrna’s Christians experienced worldly poverty, but Jesus reminded them just how rich they were in the holy things of the Lord—things like forgiveness, eternal life, salvation, hope, the Word of God, and the eternal inheritance awaiting them. “I know your tribulations and your poverty.” Jesus said to them. “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.”
Jesus could say this to them—and to us—because He is not a God who is far off. He does not watch from a distance, as Bette Midler would say He does. He became one of us—Emmanuel, God with us, God dwelling among us—for our salvation. He knows our trials and struggles—not just from observation, but because He experienced them Himself. His first bed was a food trough for livestock. His family fled with Him to Egypt to preserve His life from the murderous intentions of King Herod. He mourned the death of His friend, Lazarus. And He felt the excruciating pain of the scourge, the humiliation and mockery brought upon Him by both the Jews and the Roman soldiers. He was forsaken by His father, suffering and dying on the cross.
Anita certainly experienced a great deal of tribulation throughout her life. It’s heartbreaking enough to bury one child; Anita buried three young sons. She also buried her husband and eight siblings. She experienced health issues of her own. She spent most of the last years of her life in a wheelchair, and her memory was failing her near the end of her life. In our many visits together over the past seven years, first at the Manor and then at Three Springs, she often despaired that she was still here on earth. She frequently expressed to me her longing for the Lord to take her home.
And yet, through all of this, Anita did not lose her faith. Through all these struggles, she rejoiced at how the hand of the Lord upheld and sustained her. She rejoiced in the many blessings she had received from the Lord: a loving husband; a faithful daughter who visited her nearly every day; grandchildren and great-grandchildren; food, shelter, clothing, and, indeed, “all [she needed] to support this body and life;” and she especially rejoiced that the Lord made her His child in the waters of Holy Baptism, that He forgave her sins, and that He fed her with His own body and blood. This is not to say that Anita was worthy of all these blessings from God, or that she had strength or reason to trust in the Lord on her own, or that she earned her place in heaven. But she took the Word and promises of God very seriously. She wore out two copies of the Bible, diligently surrounding herself with that Word and clinging to those promises. Her pleas for the Lord to take her home were pleas of faith, for she knew the eternal joy the Lord would give her, the removal of tears and sorrow that were promised to her, and the reunion she is experiencing even now with those she loved who had gone before her in the faith. By the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit within her, Anita was faithful until death, and now the crown of eternal life belongs to her.
This promise is for you, too. Of course, just as this was true of Anita, there is no way that we can remain faithful in our own power—nor could the Christians in Smyrna or any of the other Christians who have died for their faith down through the centuries.  Faithfulness only comes by the power of the Holy Spirit, even in good times. That same power of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit you have received in the waters of Holy Baptism—will give you the faith to cling to the words and promises of God.
So “do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” Do not be afraid of the grief that you’re experiencing right now. Do not be afraid to mourn. Anita was a blessing to you, and it’s okay to miss her. Do not be afraid, for the Lord is with you. He knows your pain, your suffering, and your grief, for He is with you, and He will not leave you nor forsake you. He will send His Spirit to keep you steadfast in the faith. By His grace, you, like Anita and all those we love who have departed in the faith, will receive the crown of 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 5/21/17: Sixth Sunday of Easter

My apologies for the delay.

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“Anything”


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


Today’s Gospel tends to disturb us. We are impatient and overly sensitive. We are easily and quickly offended when we ask a question and get no answer. And we are cynical. We both say and believe that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. But most of all, we are slow to believe. We are so sure that others won’t come through that we’re already making a “Plan B” even before we ask someone a favor.
And then we hear about St. Paul, and that only confirms us in our impatience and cynicism. You know the story. It’s seared in your memory, and it haunts you every time you pray. Paul writes, “A thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan. Three times I begged the Lord that He might take it away from me.” We all know St. Paul’s frustration, because we’ve all lived it. And then Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you: Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Sinners that we are, we hardly believe what Jesus says. “Ask anything”? We’ve tried that, and it didn’t work. We think He must mean something else.
But we also have selective hearing. The singer Paul Simon wrote, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” This perfectly describes the ears of the sinner. We hear what we want to hear, and we make the Bible say what it never says. We pray only because we’re supposed to. And sometimes we do not pray at all. Instead of asking “anything,” we believe that God helps those who help themselves. Of course, you won’t find that anywhere in your Bible. What your Bible does say is this: “LORD, it is nothing for You to help those who have no power; help us, O LORD our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we carry on.”
So why is St. Paul not helped? Paul certainly prayed in Jesus’ name. The problem is, we refuse to see Our Lord’s help when He gives it. We give up on the Lord when we don’t get our way. We think He doesn’t keep His promises. But the truth is, St. Paul is helped. He himself says so. His thorn is not taken away so that he might keep his eyes, his heart, his mind and his soul fixed on Our Lord and His mercy. If his ailment goes away, then Paul says, “I will be exalted above measure.” In other words, we would believe in ourselves and the power of our prayers and the strength of our faith. And the worst thing a man can do is believe in himself, for then he is believing less—or not at all—in the Father who created Him and who provides what is truly needful.
That’s why Jesus tells us to pray the way He does. We should not ask for things that make life easier. We should seek His mercy, which increases our peace even when we’re in pain. We should seek His grace, which increases our joy even when we’re sad. We should seek His compassion, which gives us true peace even when we’re depressed or stressed.
So the “anything” in our Lord’s “Ask anything” is not “anything you want.” The “anything” we’re to ask for is that which helps us attain the Lord’s kingdom, that which grows and matures and perfects our faith and life in God. He urges us to pray for those things which aid our salvation, which are useful for our life in God, which reinvigorate our communion with God.
Ultimately, the “anything” that we ask for is not a thing, but a person, for it is in the Holy Spirit that our life in God begins; it is through Him that our selfish desires our suppressed; it is by Him that our hearts are cleansed; it is in Him that our communion in God is made whole; it is through Him that we receive every blessing, including the kingdom of heaven. And so we pray for and rejoice to receive the Holy Spirit, so that our joy may be true and full. 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 keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon for 5/14/17: Fifth Sunday of Easter


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"Where Are You Going?"


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


When our Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, the question in the minds of the disciples was not “Where are You going?” but “What’s going to happen to us?” And so, just before He ascended, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” You can see, then, that the disciples were focusing not on our Lord, but on themselves; not on how He was helping them, but on what would happen next. To this day, that is still our question. For we don’t ask, “Where is the Lord so that I might be there with Him?” We do not ask, “How can I attain His kingdom?” We do not even ask, “How does His death and resurrection—how does His love for me—change the way I live and how I treat others?” For to ask those questions is to think of our Lord and His Church and His life lived for us and in us. Instead, we think of ourselves.
And this is why our hearts are quite often filled with sorrow. For we are convinced that God is getting back at us, or that He’s meanly testing us, or that He’s forgotten us. In fact, we’re so convinced of this that it takes all our effort—and, indeed, more effort than we possess—to live the life of Christ within us by suppressing our appetites, by denying ourselves sensual pleasures, by sacrificing our time in prayer, by holding our tongue, by living only for others, and by coming before the Lord to worship Him. These are the hardest things for us to do day in and day out. And it’s all because we don’t ask, “Where are You going—and how can I be there with You?”
Yet even though we are selfish, our Lord still gives of Himself. Even though we refuse to live a life of self-denial and prayer, our Lord still has mercy. And even though we only come to God when we’re desperate, our Lord does not shun us or neglect us. Instead, He sends us the Helper, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Lord and Giver of Life. Such is the love of God for us. He does not leave us orphans. He does not leave us without hope or comfort. He does not leave us wallowing in our self-pity and misery. And He doesn’t leave us to our own schemes. For it is our own plans and purposes—the false belief that we can make do, that we can deserve the Lord’s love, that we can be like God knowing good and evil, that our riches matter, that the life we live is good enough—it is this pride and self-belief that truly leaves us comfortless and standing outside the kingdom. And the Holy Spirit comes to show us how miserable and pathetic we really are when we believe in ourselves and make our own way.
But then this same Spirit, who tells you the truth about yourself, comes to you, to guide you into the fullness of truth. In other words, He guides you right into the arms of your heavenly Father in the embrace of your Holy Mother, the Church. For in the Church—not just this little parish, but in the communion of the godly and faithful—there is where the Way, the Truth, and the Life are declared and given to you.
There is much more that can be said, both about our life in God, and about the way the Holy Spirit works that life into us. But for now, let us be content with what our Lord’s Spirit has given us at this time. Even this little crumb is more than enough to satisfy our hunger and thirst for righteousness. And let us also be content that the Lord’s Spirit will continue to guide us into all truth—perhaps in ways that may shock or surprise us. For who are we, that we can determine the mind of God or even see what happens next? Instead, let us simply be content to ask the Lord Jesus, “Where are you going? Where are you taking us?”—and then follow Him in the faith that forsakes all so that we might attain the Kingdom of God. 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.


Sunday, May 07, 2017

Sermon for 5/7/17: Fourth Sunday of Easter


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You Will See Jesus


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


Christ is among you! He is now and will be forever! I tell you this, not because you refuse to believe it, but because you forget both its truth and its comfort. Our Lord did not promise that he would be with us only when He thought it best. He said, “Behold, I am with you always—even until the end of the age.” And He did not say He would be with us only when we invited Him. He said, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Christ is among you! He is now and will be forever! It must be repeated, for you are accustomed to believing only what you see with your eyes or what makes sense to your reason and logic. Our Lord knows this. And so He says, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” He is not just preparing His disciples for His arrest and death; He is also comforting you. He is telling you that there will be a time when you will not see Him. But that should not cause you alarm or make you wonder about His love for you or cause you to believe that He has left you. Neither should your inability to see Jesus mean that you can now live as you please. Just because you cannot see the Lord, that does not mean He is not among you.  He says, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” And He says, “I will be with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Christ is among you! Your physical eyes cannot discern His presence, but that is due to your inability, not His absence. The veil of sin and doubt covers your eyes. But our Lord wishes to be seen by those He has come to save. And by His Holy Spirit, He grants you the ability to see Him…but first with the eyes of faith. Jesus does not say, “You will not see Me,” and leave it at that. Instead He says, “A little while.” In other words, for a short time you do not see the Lord. But then He says, “Again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.”
You may think that you now live in the “little while” when we do not see the Lord. And, in a way, you are right. For who has seen the Lord in the same way that St. Thomas or St. Peter saw Jesus? None of us have sat in Gethsemane with Him; none of us have put our fingers into our Lord’s wounds. But Abraham saw the Lord, and He “He rejoiced to see the Lord’s Day, and he saw it and was glad.” Do we not see the Lord in the same way Abraham did? And what’s more, do we not see Him the same way Simeon saw Him? Do we not receive Jesus as our Consolation? Do we not hold Him in our mouths in the Holy Supper just as Simeon held the Christ in his arms? What good is the idea that Jesus might be here—or the sense that we feel His presence—if He is not really and truly among us? And so the Holy Spirit helps us to recognize Jesus as He comes to us. We behold Him as Immanuel: God with us in the preaching of His Word; God with us in the washing of rebirth in Holy Baptism; God with us in His body and blood.
Christ is among you! And not because we said, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest.” Christ is in our midst because He said to you, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And when you come to Christ—that is, when He draw you into Himself—then My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
So let us rejoice and be glad, for with the disciples, we see the Lord. And because of them—because of their ministry, their eyewitness testimony, their prayers—we are now in that little while when we see Him with the eyes of faith. So do not be down-hearted or distressed. Christ is among you! He is now and will be 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.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sermon for 4/30/17: Third Sunday of Easter


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The Shepherd


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


Wolves eat sheep. They don’t care whose sheep they eat; they don’t care that you lose sleep or income. They just want your sheep. Build all the sheep pens you want. If the wolf wants your sheep, there’s a good chance he’ll get it. Without a shepherd to fight off the wolves and gather and protect the sheep, the wolf will have his prey. And when the wolf steals your sheep, it’s easy to point fingers at others—at coworkers and neighbors, at family and friends. “Why did you let the wolf cross your field to get to my sheep?” “Why didn’t you raise an alarm?” “Why didn’t you slay the wolf?” So not only do wolves drive away and kill the sheep; the devil also uses them to put a wedge between us, to mar and destroy our life together in Christ.
Now where is Our Lord Jesus in all this? Does He stand idly by? Or does He lash out against wolves, hunt them down, and give them what they deserve? When Our Lord was beset by sheep-stealing priests and wolfish Pharisees, when they sought not just His sheep, but also His life, He did not let the devil have his day. “He was reviled, but He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” And when He was beaten and murdered by the wolves, He did not point the finger at His disciples, or accuse them of not defending Him, or blame them for those who killed Him. Instead, He stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” He spoke peace to the very men who let Him down. And He visited the very women who would not believe that He was still with them.
Doing this, He showed that He was their Good Shepherd, the true and steadfast Bishop of their souls. He did not do what we do: He did not criticize or whine or place blame. He did not give in to devilish thoughts and desires. Instead, He embraced His own and pointed them to their heavenly Father. He pointed them to the rich gifts He set apart to feeds them.
The Good Shepherd knows His sheep. He knows your fears, your complaints, your misgivings, your anxieties. He knows you are quick to cut and run and fall over the edge of the cliff. He knows that you think you know best, that you are quick to believe He has once again let you down. And He knows that you foolishly value your stuff more than you take comfort in the Baptism that makes you a member of His flock or the Holy Supper with which He feeds you.
And so our Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, restores your soul. He lays down His life for His sheep. He lays it down so that He may take it up again. He lays it down so that you would have His life as your life. He has come—precisely when wolves come to devour you—so you may have life, and have it abundantly.
Jesus is not just some hired hand. He is the Good Shepherd. Any shepherd can chase away wolves, but the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep—both to drive off the wolf and to make His body and blood into a sacrament. In this way, our Lord saves and delivers you: by dying your death and by satisfying you with His body as food.
So Jesus is your Good Shepherd. He spares your life by laying down His life on the cross, and by giving you His body and blood for you as Gospel food on the altar. And your response, your thanksgiving, is to take to heart our Lord's death by feeding off Christ's body and drinking His blood. And our confession is to say, “I cannot live without receiving the Supper of our Lord's body and blood.” So let the wolves come. Our Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, still stands among you, still feeds you, still cares for you, and still guides and guards you with His unsurpassed love. 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 24, 2017

Sermon for 4/23/17: Second Sunday of Easter


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Doubt and Faith


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


            Thomas doesn’t deserve all the accusations we throw at him. Well, maybe he does, but he is not alone in his doubt. All the disciples doubted. All were frightened. All thought that they were seeing a ghost. And all of them falsely believed that Jesus was not standing before them in a real, tangible resurrected body, but that He had discarded our flesh in favor of some unreal apparition. It is Thomas who draws them out, and in doing so, he lets us see what they at first did not see, and he helps us believe what they at first could not believe.
But notice how difficult it is for him—and for us—to believe. First, we must believe against what we think is reasonable, discard what we are sure is true, and suppress what we feel is good and right. Thomas had to do that because he was absent when Jesus first appeared to the apostles. And when he returned, the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas refused to believe what he heard. He preferred, instead, what made sense and what felt right.
And so, for the sake of Thomas—and also for your sake—the Lord comes again as He came before. The doors are barred shut. Yet Jesus stands in the midst and says to them, “Peace to you.” The resurrected Lord shows Thomas the nails wounds on His hands, and invites Thomas to touch the wound in His side. Don’t think that any of this was an accident. None of this happened by chance. Our Lord’s compassion exposed the doubt of Thomas so that we might believe. For when the doubting disciple touched the wounds in His Master’s body, Our Blessed Lord then cures the wounds of our unbelief and soothes the aches of our doubts and fears.
So the disciple’s unbelief was of more advantage to your faith than the faith of the other ten. For when Thomas is led back to faith by seeing and touching Jesus in the flesh, you too are made firm in your faith. You are taught to believe that our Lord truly does rise from the dead; He really can convert your dying body into a glorified, resurrected body by the same power that enabled Him to overwhelm death. You believe in and confess the resurrection not just of the soul or spirit, but also of the body—the same body you live in now. You believe in and confess “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” You bring your infants and children to Baptism with the confidence that, if they hold to the faith, the Holy Spirit will raise them in their bodies and give them and all believers in Christ eternal life. You come forward to the altar, where He gives you His holy Body and precious Blood, where He invites you to put away your doubts and fears, and instead to trust and rely and depend completely and absolutely on Him for all things and at all times.
“Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” That is what Our Lord says, not just to Thomas, but also to you. Do not fear what man can do to you. Do not let your heart be troubled. Christ has already overcome everything that frightens and troubles you. And in the waters of Holy Baptism, He has given you His victory. No longer will fear run your life. No longer can sin control you. Flee from your fears, resist your sinful urges, confess your sins, and be reconciled to God and man. For the same Jesus who showed Thomas His hands and side has gained for you the victory over sin and death, and He will raise you up in your body. “Faith shall cry as fails each sense: Jesus is my confidence!” 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.   

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sermon for 4/20/17: Funeral of + Bernadine Liefer +

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Rest for God's People
Hebrews 4:9

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is from the fourth chapter of Hebrews. We consider verse nine:

There remains a rest for the people of God.


Death comes in many ways and at many different times in life. When we attempt to judge the way and time of death by our human standards and forget the will of God, sometimes it seems to come too soon. It may take an infant that has barely begun to live from the arms of its grieving mother, or a young man or woman in the prime of life, snuffing out the flame of life that seemed to burn so brightly for them. And the very purpose of their existence seems frustrated. At other times it may strike with apparent tragedy, taking a young mother from her children, or leaving a young husband without his wife. At such times, the question “Why?” haunts our thoughts and makes acceptance hard.
But no such situation meets us here this day. Yes, the family circle has been broken, and a dear mother and grandmother has been taken. But in the end, death itself came to Bernadine as another of the many blessings from the Lord she had known throughout her life. Her burden of suffering and weakness has been lifted from her. The Lord has given her a holy rest after long and painful labor. And if ever there was a person who was ready to rest—ready to be done with the pains of earthly life, ready to find the peace which comes at long last to God’s people, ready to be done with eyes that no longer saw and ears that could barely hear—it was Bernadine.
The writer of the words of our text drew on something from the past: the Old Testament Sabbath day. After God had created the world and everything in it, He rested in the seventh day; He ceased His creative activity. And in like manner, our Lord Jesus Christ completed the work of salvation for us, and then He rested. He went to the cross bearing our sins. As Peter reminds us, we have not been redeemed with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but with the holy, precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without spot or blemish. That blood of the Son of God cleanses from all sin. And when His suffering was complete, He said, “It is finished.” And then He rested in the grave before He rose in triumph on Easter morning. He then ascended to eternal glory, to that eternal day of heaven, where all the saints of God are gathered together. This is a rest that is to be shared, a “rest for the people of God.”
And this is where we receive our comfort, our hope—and yes, even our joy and thanksgiving this day: “There is a rest that remains for the people of God.” For those who hear the Gospel in faith, that rest comes from Jesus, who went to His rest after laboring for the salvation of the world. And just as Jesus said, “It is finished,” so now the work has ended for Bernadine; she has joined the saints at rest. Of those saints, Scripture says: These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
We do not grieve as those who have no hope. We do not begrudge Bernadine the fulfillment of God’s promise to her, the hope in Jesus Christ that so filled her life. The circumstances of death are seldom pleasant, but the fulfillment of God’s promise is pleasant. That promise rises above sin and death. And in this we find our comfort, joy, and thanksgiving. The eternal Sabbath day is a day of rest, and that rest is in Christ. After the suffering that often makes up the end of our days, we receive rest in Christ.
And so it is that we can truly take to heart those words of St. Paul: “Where , O Death, is Your Sting? O Grave, where is Your victory?” For Bernadine, the sting of death is gone, and the grave has been undone by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ, the victory of eternal life over death—a victory we rejoiced to celebrate this very week. God grant you comfort and hope from this. As we rejoice that Bernadine now rests from her labors without fear, without suffering or tears, we rejoice all the more in Jesus and His salvation—a fully-realized joy for Bernadine who now sees Him face to face, and the bright future for you who walk as yet by faith. He will comfort you in the days ahead, and, just as He has done for our beloved Bernadine, He will grant you that holy rest in His time. 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.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sermon for 4/16/17: Resurrection of Our Lord

Sorry for the delay. I've been dealing with personal illness all week.

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Victory


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


The earth shook. The angel rolled away the stone. The seal is broken. The tomb is empty. Death is defeated. The evil one is cast down. The holy angels rejoice. Christ is risen from the dead! He has died for our sins and rose again for our justification. The battle is done. God has won.
Why does not all the world rejoice at the defeat of death, at the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Are there men so cold as to stay in bed this morning?
The ladies went into the tomb. They found the empty grave clothes, a blood stained shroud, and an angel with a promise: “He is not here. He is risen.” He also told them, “Fear not.” But they were afraid. When Mary Magdalene came back, she failed to recognize the Lord. She thought He was a gardener. She wept as though Jesus was dead and His body desecrated. The same is true of those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Thomas in the upper room, those other ten who locked the doors: they were all afraid.
Jesus is risen. The tomb is empty. Some had seen Him; others had seen the empty shelf where His Body had been and heard an angel proclaim the Good News. But, still, they were afraid. What was it that those first witnesses of the Resurrection feared? Did they think that they would be held accountable for their Friday betrayals and cowardice, for denying Him or turning away? Did they know that it was their fault that Jesus suffered so and died? Were they afraid that He was coming for revenge?
You who live in fear: repent. There is no end of such things for which you should be afraid, according to the flesh. What if your spouse or your friends knew your secret thoughts and fantasies? What if your vain ambitions, your work failures, your lies, and all your sins were exposed? Repent…but do not be afraid. It was His heart and will to suffer, die, and rise again to free you from fear and death, from sin and Hell. He wanted to buy you back and set you free.
He rose not for vengeance but for mercy! He is the Alpha and the Omega. This is the way He has always been. Behold, I tell you a mystery. You were once dead. You were conceived in sin. You were born in death. You lived in fear and as an enemy of God. But by His grace, you were brought to life through the waters of Holy Baptism. God’s Holy Name and promise were placed upon you. You were joined to His resurrection. Now you are not dead. You are Baptized. You are filled with hope, awaiting the fulfillment of the promise and the return of Jesus Christ. And there is no stopping your heartfelt song of praise, even as His Body and His Blood are place within you, even as He declares you righteous from His grace.
The angelic prophecy made in the fields of Bethlehem has come true: “Peace on earth!” Peace has been won through the violence He endured on the cross. Peace is bestowed in His Body and Blood, by the power of His risen Word. You may depart this day in peace, for you are not God’s enemy. Your guilt has been covered. Your sins have been removed. There is no one to accuse you. Jesus loves and forgives you.
Jesus is the Firstfruits of them that sleep, the Firstborn out of death. He is the Resurrection and the Life, the Redeemer who buys back His wayward children with His blood. He is merciful, gracious, steadfast and loving. His humiliation is ended. Death is dead. Jesus is not. He lives. He is risen. And, as always, He bestows that hard won victory upon you without cost or price. He did it all for you. He gives it all to you. He applied that victory to you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He feeds it to you in the Holy Supper. You have nothing to fear. He lives, and He loves you. Rejoice. Be at peace. Do not be afraid. 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.  

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Sermon for 4/9/17: Palm Sunday and Confirmation

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Sorrow


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


Don’t feel sorry for Jesus. It’s true that you can see in your mind’s eye the blood-lust of the soldiers. Your ears hear the jeers of the frenzied mob. Your heart feels the lurking of the devil. You can imagine all too well the grief of Mary, the horror of the scourging, the cruelty of the crowd, and the torture of the stakes driven into His hands and feet. Even so, don’t feel sorry for Jesus. After all, He doesn’t suffer anything against His will. Yes, He begged His Father to take this cup from Him if possible. Nevertheless, He submitted to His Father’s will. He drank down the cup of your sin and death, the cup of the full fury of the Father’s wrath. He drained it.
When you look at Our Lord Jesus suffering, as Luther suggests, “perceive and understand not only what He suffered, but also how it was His heart and will to suffer. For whoever looks on Christ’s sufferings without seeing His heart and will must be filled with fear rather than joy. But if you can truly see His heart and will in it, then it gives you true comfort, trust and joy in Christ.”
So no, do not feel sorry for Jesus. Or, as Jesus Himself says, “Don’t weep for Me. Weep for yourselves and for your children.” Jesus doesn’t need your sympathy or your weeping. The sorrow He requires of you is your repentance, your contrition and faith. He desires your confession that He endures His passion for you. This is your salvation, your hope, your joy, your life. Take to heart and always recall that it is accomplished for you.
Our Lord Jesus was the defenseless, forsaken Lamb, led to slaughter. He is the sacrificial Victim. He who was sinless is made to be Sin for the sake of sinners. Because of that, He becomes your Savior. Because of this Passion, He is your deliverance from slavery to sin, from the death-grip of Satan, from the gaping maw of the hell. He has not done this for His sake. Rather, “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” He has not done this to prove His righteousness, but to reconcile you to God.
How is that reconciliation accomplished? Jesus is your Passover Lamb. He who is beaten and bloodied; He who goes to His death—He is your food and drink. He is not killed to gain your sympathy; our Lord suffers and dies so that you might eat Him and live. This Passover Lamb is not killed simply to show perfect surrender or true obedience. This Paschal Lamb of God is killed to take away the sin of the world: to have His blood splashed on the door, to have His flesh eaten by all in the house.
Behold, this is the house of God, and the watered blood of the Paschal Lamb of God now marks the door of your heart and mind in Holy Baptism. And the One who was sacrificed for the sins of all—His body is given into death for you to eat; His blood is shed for you to drink. And in this food you receive forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. My dear confirmands, this is why we’ve spent the last two years learning about God’s gifts. This is how Our Lord Jesus makes all things new: Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God, sits at the eternal wedding feast with the angels, the archangels, the saints and martyrs, the blessed dead, and all the company of heaven.
And what does that holy assembly say? What song do we share with them? “Holy! Holy! Holy Lord, God of Sabaoth! Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.” For “worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” That is our song today, and it is the song of all the faithful as we partake in the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. 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.