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.   

Monday, April 03, 2017

Sermon for 4/3/17: Funeral of Donald Beckman

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Comfort


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


It’s hard to imagine a time where we might feel a greater sense of sorrow than when someone we love passes away. At such a time, we reflect on the happy memories, the lessons learned and shared, and the blessings God has given us through our departed loved one. And in doing so, we hope to ease the sadness and sorrow we feel. I was fortunate to share in that experience on Friday when Don’s wife, mother, kids and their spouses, and grandchildren gathered around the table in the very room where Don’s earthly life ended. As relatives, as friends, we may comfort each other and share our sorrow, and in doing so we might ease the sense of loss we feel. This is a blessing of God; we call it the communion of saints.
But in addition to that comfort which friends and family members seek to share with you, we also consider that comfort which we receive from our Lord. This comfort goes above and beyond anything we might receive from our fellow man. And it is this divine comfort which it is my privilege and pleasure to deliver to you this day.
The Bible tells us that death is the punishment for our sins; death is all we deserve. We see that demonstrated all too clearly in the coffin before us. Scripture teaches us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Only the sinless can enter into eternal life. Our sin bars the gates through which we would enter the kingdom of heaven. It should be impossible that anyone would enter into everlasting life—not Don, not any of us. If that is our last thought on the matter, there would certainly be no comfort.
But that is not God’s last word. In our text, our Lord tells us that there will be no more death. “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” God has made us perfect in the blood of Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus have restored to us the righteousness which was ours in creation. Jesus did not go through suffering and death for His own sake; our Lord shed His holy, innocent blood, and He died that sinless death, so that we would be saved from the power of death, so that, even though we die, death will not have the victory. We will not die the eternal death we deserve because of sin, for our Lord has taken that sin from us. He has carried that sin to the cross, and He has left that sin buried in His otherwise empty tomb. He has applied that work to us, marking us as His own, marking us as forgiven children of God in the waters of Holy Baptism. As St. Paul tells us, God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” This is God’s promise to you. All those who believe that Jesus died for the sake of their forgiveness will have eternal life.
And to all those who believe this, God gives comfort. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” God has taken away from Don the physical pain and suffering he experienced especially in the last decade of his life. God has taken away Don’s grief in losing a father, a brother, and a son, and what’s more, our Lord has reunited them in a rest that will last forever. This is already a reality for Don, and it is both a present reality and a promise for your future too. Even now He brings you comfort in His Word. He is wiping away your tears of sorrow, so that you do not grieve as do those who have no hope. He has prepared a place for you in the Kingdom, and that eternal reunion with your departed loved ones awaits you, as well. We will stand together before the throne of God forever, praising Him for His marvelous work. 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 02, 2017

Sermon for 4/2/17: Fifth Sunday in Lent

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“I Am”


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


Once again Jesus finds Himself at odds with the Jews. They take their bloodline connection to the patriarch Abraham very seriously. The problem they have with the words our Lord speaks to them is not His claim to be eternal. After all, only a lunatic would claim to be older than Abraham, their famous ancestor who had lived centuries before them. They could dismiss that. And if Jesus was only referencing how old He was, He probably would have said something like, “Before Abraham was, I was.” But the words that Jesus uses, confess something so full of the Gospel that the Jews pick up stones to kill Him for saying it.
When Moses was standing before the burning bush in Exodus, he asked the name of God. And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” So when Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” He is not only claiming to be older than Abraham; He is also claiming to be the Lord God Himself! When Jesus says, “I AM,” it means that He is the God that walked in the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden. It means that He is the God who spoke from the burning bush. It means that He is the God who brought the children of Israel out of the bondage in Egypt. He is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is the God of the Old Testament. And the power of that identity, and what that says about Jesus, is enough to drive the Jews into a rage.
When Judas and the detachment of troops came to seize Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked them whom they were seeking. The Scriptures say: “They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am.’ And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, ‘I am,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” When they came to seize Him, He identified Himself as God, and they fell to the ground. That’s what we sinners do before God in His glory: we fall!
Adam and Eve reacted the same way in the Garden, once they had fallen into sin. They knew that they no longer were worthy to be in the presence of the One True God. They heard God walking in the Garden, and they hid themselves. That’s the way we sinners operate. Sin does not like to be seen, and sinners do not like to have attention drawn to their sin. When we do something sinful, we do our best to make sure no one is around. And when we think we’re in trouble, we find a hiding spot. Think of how people in the Bible react when an angel appears to them. They fall on their faces in fear. The angels must comfort them: “Fear not.” Only then can they give their message. The power of God and His glory overwhelm the sinner. Either we cower in repentant fear, or we strike out in unrepentant anger.
But just as the angels comforted those who are brought to their knees by the reflected glory of God; just as the Lord comforted Adam and Eve with the comfort of the promise of the Savior; in the same way our Lord lifts us from our fear with the forgiveness of sins. This is our Lord Jesus, the great I AM, who led the children of Israel from captivity to the Promised Land, from the shadow of death to the fullness of life. And He is the One whose day Abraham was glad to see—and whose day this is. And so He cares for you by bringing you to this day. For this is the Lord’s Day, where He gives Himself to you. This is the day you taste Life so that you might never see death, but only the fullness of Life in God. This is the day He feeds you with His Body and Blood, so that you will stand before Him one day, face to face, in your renewed and glorified flesh. 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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sermon for 3/26/17: Fourth Sunday in Lent

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"The Passover Is Near"


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


St. John wrote, “The Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near. As we continue our journey to the cross, that statement provides focus for us. The true focus, today and every day, always ought to be on Our Lord and what He has in store for us: the great feast and celebration of His mercy. And the wait will not be long. This feast of Our Lord’s mercy and compassion and kindness is coming soon. Not too much longer, and then our joy will be full and free. It’s soon, and very soon.
But it’s not just Easter. St John is pointing us far beyond a particular Passover and even beyond this year’s Easter. St John is urging us to fix our hearts and minds on the marriage feast of the Lamb in the kingdom which has no end. To be sure, it’s present now, here in this place. Even today we are with the Lord in Paradise, but we are not able to experience it yet with all our senses engaged. The Old Adam within us dulls our vision and stops our ears to what is true and real right now. It is a wonderful reality that we stand even now in the Lord’s Kingdom and feast at His table, joining our departed loved ones and the angelic host. But we barely believe it because we can’t see it. St John knew this. And so he wrote, “The Passover is near.” He urges us to keep pushing forward until that day when the cloud is lifted and we know as fully as we are known, until we see as clearly as we are seen.
But until that day, as we journey first to the cross, we fast. We abstain—not just from foods, but also from the things the world insists are vital. We step back from the things that gratify our passions and perversions, from the things that we are sure make for the good life, from the things that lead us down the wrong path. But most of all, we fast and abstain because we’ve been enticed by Our Lord to follow in His footsteps, in the way that leads to everlasting life. And Our Lord’s footsteps mark a path that sets our hearts and minds, our stomachs and desires, not on the things of this earth, but on the heavenly food that He so earnestly, so lovingly, so freely provides us.
But then, here comes the devil in concert with the society surrounding us. They play on our hunger. They urge us to listen with our doubts, not our ears. And so, at their prodding we ask, “Can God provide food for us here in the wilderness? Can He give us bread? Can He provide meat for His people?” That’s what the children of Israel asked in the wilderness. And that’s what’s behind Philip’s question when he says, “Where shall we buy bread that these may eat?” Notice the unbelief in this question. Notice the fear. Remember Luther’s explanation of the First Commandment, and ask yourself: Do I really fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Do I trust God to provide my daily bread?
The answer Our Lord gives to our cynical, distrustful, prideful question is to feed us. And the food is His holy Body, which is the Bread which came down from heaven so that we might eat of it and live. And the food is the heavenly manna, laid out on this altar, so that whoever eats of it in true faith has everlasting life and will be raised up on the Last Day. With that Bread of Life, we move forward again. We no longer gaze longingly at the past. We no longer focus merely on the present. We live in the Day of the Lord. That Day is the marriage feast of the Lamb. And now we live in that Day—not yet fully, but by faith. And since that Day is both now and near, you no longer need to live as if death is running your life. You no longer need to live only for whatever you can get out of life. Life Himself is here, and He gives you all you need. He gives you the Bread of Heaven, which is the ultimate answer to all your prayers. 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.