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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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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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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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.