Monday, May 30, 2011


I am not a solder, nor am I a military veteran. I'm 150 pounds overweight, I have bad knees, and I have a bruised spinal cord, all of which means I will likely never be a soldier or veteran. Simple truths. After September 11, 2001, when I was only 75 pounds overweight and my knees weren't quite as bad (and nine years before I nearly broke my neck), I gave more than a moment of thought to getting myself in shape and joining up as a chaplain. Whether it was doubt that I could get myself in shape, a sense of duty to the congregation to which I was called, the conviction that it was not what God had in mind for me, yellow-bellied cowardice, or whatever it was, I decided not to sign up. That was as close as I ever got to military service.

Despite that, I have a keenly developed sense of patriotism. I love my country. Sometimes that love of country leads in some interesting directions. Sometimes it's engaging in political debates best left to others. Sometimes it's getting misty-eyed at the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner", a song I love despite that fact that I find it musically and lyrically inane. ("O Canada"--now THAT is a great anthem both musically and lyrically!) Sometimes that patriotism means that I get frustrated, not understanding how some of our leaders can make the decisions they do, decisions which seem to be destroying our country a little bit every day.

But today, that patriotism means that I remember and honor those who have served in our armed forces, especially those who have died in service. Though Memorial Day is meant to be a day of remembrance of those who have died in that service, I also choose to honor today those who served and those who serve now whose time had not yet come, those willing to make that ultimate sacrifice. Though I don't agree with the politics of the individual members of Crosby Stills & Nash, they said it very well when they said, "Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground." Those who served in the American Revolution and all those battles and wars since have fought and often died to win and protect the freedoms we enjoy (and sometimes abuse) today in the United States of America. I am proud of the men and women who have served, who upheld the honor and integrity and freedom of this nation. I am proud of those who serve today, who continue to uphold those virtues we as citizens hold most dear. And I am humbled by and thankful for those who have died upholding those virtues.

For those of you serving in honor today: Thank you.
For those of you who have served in honor in the past: Thank you.
For those of you who have been wounded in the honorable service of our nation: Thank you.
For those of you who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the honorable service of our nation: Thank you.

Thank you for doing what I could not. God help me, I won't forget.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sermon for 5/29/11--Rogate: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Ask in My Name

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

It was the year of our Lord 466. Throughout Europe a series of earthquakes and other natural disasters afflicted the entire continent, and the people were terrified. Bishop Claudius of Vienna, Austria, decreed that the weekdays between the Sixth Sunday of Easter and the Festival of the Ascension should be days when the sufferings of the people should be brought before God in prayer. In particular, prayer was lifted to God for the sake of the crops and all those things that were necessary for the life of man. This eventually became the custom in other places, so that by the end of the sixth century it was a consistent practice among the churches in Europe. And so, this Sunday before the Ascension of our Lord has come to be known as Rogate Sunday, drawn from the Latin word meaning “to pray.” The days of this week that lead up to the celebration of the Ascension are called the “days of rogation,” the days of prayer.

Prayer should be at the very heart of the Christian life. That is what St. Paul meant by his admonition to the Thessalonians: “Pray without ceasing.” Prayer is as vital to the life of the soul as breathing is to the life of the body. Just as you cannot live by taking a breath only now and then, so your souls cannot live by praying only occasionally. Prayer is to be practiced persistently. But if prayer really is that important, why do you tend to be casual or even indifferent about prayer? When the path before you seems smooth, when the way ahead seems to be clear of obstacles, it’s easy to feel self-sufficient. But when those clouds of adversity begin to gather on the horizon, it is only then that you turn to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It is for this reason that our Savior holds out this wonderful promise: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

It seems at times that God waits a long time before answering prayers. He even appears, at times, to be unwilling to help. And that leads to impatience and desperation. You pray, and then you pray again, and yet God seems not to be listening. Why? There are things to learn in your praying. He wants to teach you persistence, to keep on praying. He also wants you to know that you can depend on Him. He wants to have you say to Him, “Lord, You must help me. You are the only One to whom I can go. You can do all things. You are faithful and have promised to help all who call on You in faith and who trust in You. You cannot and You will not fail me.”

And more than that, you have the promise of God that, when you pray in Jesus’ name, you will be heard. “Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” This is the promise of the eternal, faithful God, and no promise of His can ever fail. And yet it’s so easy to say, “God does not always answer my prayers.” It may well be true that God has not answered your prayers in accordance with your timing. That being said, God does not give His children anything that might prove harmful to them, and He must be the judge of what is good. Those things which seem most desirable and beneficial often may prove the most hurtful in the end. You parents know how it is, or has been, with your children. Just because a toddler might like to wander around the house carrying a sharp knife doesn’t mean you're going to permit it. And yet, you sometimes pray for things that would be just as harmful to your souls and bodies. God is not a careless, indulgent father who gives everything his children ask for. You may ask for riches, or for health, or for the removal of your cares. But how often do you consider that to receive those things might actually lead you away from the things of the Spirit, those things that keep you close to God? Never forget that God in His great mercy sends us certain crosses to bear and then delays in removing them, because that is the way by which we are drawn ever closer to Him and kept on the paths of righteousness. That is how spiritual insight is deepened. That is how faith increases.

Remember our dear Lord Jesus Christ. In the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed that the cup of suffering He was about to drink be removed, if it were possible. But if that cup had passed from Jesus, your redemption would not have been accomplished. Do you see the wisdom of the Father in sometimes not answering our prayers as we would wish them answered? This is the wondrous certainty that is attached to prayer. Everything that you ask of God in faith you shall receive—or something even better.

And when you seek those great blessings of the soul, you know that it is the will of the Father to answer those prayers. When you ask for the remission of sins, for peace for your soul and conscience, for the strength to lead a God-pleasing life, for spiritual strength and courage to meet life’s battles, and for consolation in the hour of death, these things are yours for the asking. He gives them freely: in the water at the font of Holy Baptism, in the bread and wine at His holy table, and spoken from the pastor as by Christ Himself. These things are the outpouring of the Father’s love for you. And so, with His disciples you confess: “Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.” Asking, you shall receive; and receiving, your joy shall be made full. 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, May 23, 2011

Running on Empty

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too
                                    --Jackson Browne, "Running on Empty"

A week ago today was the one-year anniversary of the day I was Installed as Pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois.  That means I've been back in parish ministry for a few days over a year now. In many ways, this has been the best year of my life. After over four and-a-half years in the "purgatory" of CRM status, the Lord has brought me to this place and these people to let me serve and love them and to be served and loved by them. The reception my family has received here has been nothing short of familial, which, especially after how Faith was received elsewhere, has been a balm. I'm serving a loving and faithful congregation with a Board of Elders who is supportive and encouraging; and as long as I faithfully preach and teach administer the sacraments, visit the sick and shut-in, and keep the parsonage lawn, things are quiet and peaceful. If I were inclined to complain--and y'all know I am capable of such things--I'd have very little to complain about, other than the cows sometimes being too loud across the alley from the parsonage. But we love "our" cows, especially the white one who stands alone in the herd.

All that being said, I will admit to a certain fatigue. It's been a hectic year. We moved our family and belongings, with me nearly breaking my neck in the process. (And yes, I still have pain and tingling and numbness in my left arm.) To justify the faith placed in me by the St. Peter congregation, I've thrown myself into this Call with a vengeance. But I've been a little stupid about it. I've gotten out of the practice of taking my regular day off, and I know better than that. I learned that lesson in North Dakota when I didn't take a day off between Christmas and Easter during my first year in parish ministry. After over four years away from full-time parish ministry, I wanted to make sure I didn't miss anything. I wanted to cover all the bases, dot the t's and cross the i's, so to speak. I had my mid-week Lenten sermon series written almost a month before Lent began. I've done the visits, written my own Bible study for our Sunday morning class, and preached every week since my Installation, except when we invited Southern Illinois District President Scharr to bring the Word to us. I've been involved in every youth group activity, and we're planning more--much to my delight.

But now I've got a case of the blahs. It's not a bad case of the blahs, but I've got 'em. It's not burnout. It's not depression. (Don't think I haven't considered that possibility.) My diagnosis: Part of it is not taking that regular day off. Part of it is that I'm in sore need of a vacation, and we had to cancel the one we had scheduled (we'd be in Louisiana right now) because of Mississippi River flooding and the opening of the Morganza Spillway, which even now is spewing water towards my wife's hometown. Part of it is that Faith and I haven't been out together since New Year's Eve, and I really miss my wife! Part of it is that I'm not able to regularly exercise because of my neck issues, and I really miss my exercise routine from my time at the Rec. I can swim and walk, and that's it. My knees make walking problematic, and the nearest year-round public pool is . . . Carbondale? (Yeah, this is me making excuses, blah, blah, blah. Get those new sneakers on and just do it.) 

More than those, I think the real problem is that I've not been as faithful in my prayer life as I know I need to be as a parish pastor. I wrote my MDiv thesis on the topic of daily prayer, and I know how important it is for everyone, more than just pastors. My copy of "The Treasury of Daily Prayer" is sitting on my desk as I type. It's not collecting dust--perish the thought! (I keep a notepad on top of it to keep the dust away.) I have numerous hymnals, Gerhard's "Sacred Meditations", "The Brotherhood Prayer Book", Lindemann's "The Daily Office", Loehe's "Seed Grains of Prayer", Dobberstein's "The Minister's Prayer Book", and half a shelf more. The discipline to open and use these resources is what's lacking. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh" and all that.

I don't write this seeking your pity or even your recommendations. I've heard them all. Twice. However, if you are so inclined, your prayers would be appreciated. As always.

"O Lord, open Thou my lips . . ."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sermon for 5/22/11--Cantate: Fifth Sunday of Easter (LSB 1-year)

“If I depart, I will send Him . . .”

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

The Triune God does not necessarily work the way we think the Triune God should work. Once again this week we see Jesus telling His disciples that He must depart from them, that He must “return to the Father”; and the disciples look sorrowful at the thought of the departure of Jesus. Who among them could possibly imagine that they would be better off if Jesus was no longer in their sight? And who could blame them for thinking that way? Have you never imagined your life being different, better, if only Jesus were physically and visibly present with you? Have you never envied the apostles their firsthand witness of the life and acts of Jesus? Certainly it runs counter to reason and logic to believe that you would be better off without the visible presence of Jesus in your life. And yet, that’s precisely the point Jesus made to the disciples in our text. He said to them, “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” With these words Jesus began to prepare His disciples for His death, resurrection and ascension. He prophesied to them concerning the sending of the Holy Spirit, a sending first in the upper room on the evening of the resurrection, and then on the day of Pentecost. It still seems illogical, though. Why would you need a helper if Jesus would just stay?

As you heard the Sunday after Easter, Jesus spoke to the Apostle Thomas saying, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” After the ascension, the Apostles, the sent-ones, would no longer be able to present Christ to the world in a visible way. The Son had disappeared from their sight, promising to be with them always, yet not in the way in which they had grown accustomed. It would be the job of these Apostles to preach the good news, to present the truth of Jesus and His victory over sin and death; but they could not point to the visible presence of Jesus and say, “This is the Christ, the Messiah. Look at His hands, His feet, His side. Look upon Him and believe.” These same men who had run away from Jesus and denied Him would be called upon to give a bold confession of the Christ to the world no less hostile to Jesus than those who came to arrest Him. They would have to confess and stand firm with and rely on a Jesus they could no longer see. By the day of Easter, they had already proved that they could not be relied upon to confess Christ boldly in the midst of persecution of their own power and free will. They could not even understand with their own reason why Jesus had to suffer and die.

This is the state of the world around you, as well. The world is full of unbelief. It’s full of people who believe that Jesus was merely a teacher or a prophet at best, and at worst was just a rebel against the established authority of His day. It’s full of the self-righteous, people who believe that their own good works will earn for them sufficient merit before the almighty Judge—and that’s if they believe that such a Judge exists. It’s full of people who do what is right in their own eyes, who deny that a day of judgment is coming, who deny that a righteous Judge awaits them. Children of sinful Adam, you stand with them. Conceived in sin, you would rely on your own merit and self-righteous works. You doubt the goodness of God in your life. You doubt that you face judgment.

And so Jesus promised He would send to the disciples the Holy Spirit: the Paraclete, the Helper, the Guide. Everything Jesus had said to them, everything Jesus had done for them and for the world, would be made clear to them by the power of the Holy Spirit. And through the Spirit, you yourselves have this victory of Jesus made clear to you. You know this is true because you have the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles recorded in the Gospels: two Gospels written by the Apostles themselves, and two written by Evangelists—all inspired by the Holy Spirit. You have the testimony of the Acts of the Apostles, where you see Peter the denier and Paul the persecutor making bold confession of the Gospel of Jesus Christ across the known world. You have the testimony of the writers of the Epistles. You have the bold confession and faithfulness of the martyrs. You have the daring confession of the Church fathers who formulated the ecumenical creeds which you confess to this day. You have the plain language of the liturgy to guide you in your prayer life. You have the courageous confession of Luther and Chemnitz and the other formulators of the Book of Concord. And you have the preaching of faithful pastors who continue to preach the good news to you.

Look at what Jesus came to do. He came to die, bearing your sins to the cross, and then rise again so that you would have salvation and eternal life through Him. He came to deliver to you His own body and blood. Jesus died and rose again to win the victory over sin and death for you. And by the work of the Holy Spirit, mere mortal men have preached and continue to preach to you the good news of that victory and what it means for your life with God. Jesus won that victory, and the Spirit makes it known to you. You who have never seen Jesus with your eyes, who live only by the faith you have received in Holy Baptism and which is fed by the hearing of the Word, have more benefit from the work of the Holy Spirit than the disciples had from the personal, visible presence of Jesus!

Through the Holy Spirit, the world stands convicted in its unbelief and self-righteousness. Through the Holy Spirit, the prince of this world has been judged. But the Spirit doesn’t stop there. Through the Holy Spirit, you know the judgment that awaits you has been borne by Christ Himself. Through the Holy Spirit, you know that the Old Adam in you has been drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism. Through the Holy Spirit, you know you receive the body and blood of Jesus for your forgiveness and salvation. Through the Holy Spirit, you know that the victory which Jesus won for you is yours forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Monday, May 16, 2011

REVIEW: "Fashioned by Faith" by Rachel Lee Carter

I awoke one morning late last year to discover that I was, suddenly, the father of a teen-aged girl. Having never been a teen-age girl myself, there are certain things I will never know. Of course, the greatest of these unknowns is that I will never know how the female mind works. Only slightly behind that is the question of why girls dress the way they do. It seems these days that girls (and even mature women) are taking their fashion cues from prostitutes and sausage casing: "sex sells", and "the tighter, the better". I am fortunate to have a maturing daughter who has developed on her own a certain modesty. Nonetheless, as a Lutheran pastor and father I wish to be of support to her and others in making modest fashion decisions, even if I don't know a thing about fashion myself.

Though it's written with a feminine audience in mind, Fashioned by Faith by international fashion model Rachel Lee Carter is a fine resource for the Christian father who would like insight into the choices their daughters make in clothing. Carter offers three perspectives in each chapter: how boys and men perceive the apparel a girl or woman chooses, her own perspective as a model, and what God's Word says. This is not a trite, lukewarm book. The language is concrete. She addresses topics such as thongs, bra straps, and panty lines, and she talks about how seeing such things affect the minds and hearts of the boys and men who see them. She discusses her battle with bulimia. She talks about self-esteem without sounding like an after-school special, quoting Psalm 139:
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.
She even includes helpful guidance and suggestions for fitting together the clothing a girl or woman already has into a modest wardrobe. The included discussion and study questions help to guide the reader to God-pleasing thoughts and decisions.

I highly recommend this book--not only to young girls who are struggling with clothing choices and body image in a culture dominated by waif-like shadows who call themselves women, but also to the parents of these girls who love and care for these young girls. Rachel Lee Carter has done all of us a great service in sharing her experiences and insight.  Preview it here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sermon for 5/15/11: Jubilate: Fourth Sunday of Easter (LSB 1-year)

How Long, O Lord?

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

Historically, the Fourth Sunday of Easter has been known as Jubilate. This Latin word is the first word of our Introit, in which we sing, “Make a joyful shout to God!” It seems strange, then, that the Church should choose the verses of our Gospel reading—verses recording an event which takes place right before the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion—to be read and preached on one of the seven Sundays of Easter. There’s an awful lot of sorrow in this text, and it doesn’t seem quite right in what is supposed to be a season of great joy for the people of God.  In fact, it seemed as though the disciples were already in the midst of their sorrow. Jesus wasn’t even gone yet from them for that little while, and in their confusion regarding His words, it was as though Jesus had already left them. The thing is, Jesus wasn’t delivering the goods the way they expected. They expected an earthly King, an Anointed One who would restore the earthly Kingdom of Israel. This business of Jesus going away for a little while, of Jesus going to the Father—it made no sense in their vision of the Messiah.

Of course, it’s easy for us to look at this text through the lens of hindsight and know exactly what Jesus is saying. In fact, as we look at this text, it might be easy for us to suppose that the disciples are rather foolish and thick-headed. After all, Jesus had told them more than once that He would suffer and die and that He would rise from the grave. This would be the last time Jesus would share this message with them before His betrayal and arrest, trial, conviction and crucifixion. These words would begin to be fulfilled before that day had even ended. It’s obvious to us. But we have the luxury of hindsight and the understanding given to us through the Holy Spirit.

Then again, Jesus doesn’t always deliver the way we think He should, either. Jesus tells us, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” Sorrow, and anguish, and the cross will define your life; but your cross will yield to the resurrection!  These are wonderful words. But let us be honest: they are not really the words we want to hear. What we want to hear is that the life lived in Christ is a life of ease. We want to hear that being a Christian means that we will always be treated fairly in this life, that others will love us because of who we are. We want to hear that our blessed Lord has not only taken on our sin and died our death, but has also taken away everything that annoys and frustrates and bothers us, every bad thing that can happen to us, every evil word or deed that might be said or done against us. This is why men like Joel Osteen are so popular: they deliver the message we want to hear.

But instead of telling us what we want to hear, our Lord tells us what is true and real. He says: “A little while, and you will not see Me; and, again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” The message is plain for us who live under the burden of the Law and who daily earn the wages of sin. We need Jesus every moment. It is only the presence of Christ in us that allows us to do good works, that gives us true joy, that opens the gates of heaven to us. But we separate ourselves from Him in our sinfulness, and we become mired in sorrow because there is no hope or help or comfort for us apart from Him. Apart from Christ, the sorrow seems endless because the sorrow is endless apart from Christ.

But this is where we see the great blessing of holy absolution. When we find ourselves deep in sorrow over our sinfulness, when it seems as though the despair cannot be conquered, when the world is rejoicing because you have fallen, when it seems that sin and death will have their way, it is then that the Lord says to you, “You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” When you are in sorrow over your sin and crying out, “How long, O Lord?” with King David, Jesus answers you by saying, “A little while.” ‘I will bring your anguish to an end. I forgive you your sin, removing it as far from you as east is from west. My righteousness covers your sinfulness. And I will give you great joy that will never end.’

Even though we may be unable to see the end of our sorrow, our Lord sees it. The suffering in sorrow will end; and until then, He gives us the strength to bear it, nourishing our souls with His body and blood. “A little while,” He says to you. That is all the longer your cross will last. That is only how long it will be until your heartache passes. That is the length of Christian sorrow and pain—only a little while. It may seem like an eternity, as those three days between cross and resurrection surely did to the disciples, and the devil will want to consume your whole life, but it is really only a little while. It will feel as if it is always raining, but after the rain comes the sunshine. And what happens after that little while? Then comes the long while, the unending Day of the Lord. Sorrow and despair lasts but a moment. And then comes the joy which knows no end and the peace which surpasses understanding and the blessing that far outweighs any blessing in this life, the time when the sufferings of this present life can in no way measure up to the glory that our Lord has fully stored up for you.

But first, the little while. Though for now you have sorrow, the Lord even now comes to you when He gives you His life-renewing flesh and pours into you His life-saving blood. Even now the Lord sees you again as He smiles on you with His forgiving Word, even as the angel promised the shepherds when he said, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” Even now the Lord creates in you a clean heart, and renews His righteous Spirit within you, and restores to you the joy of His salvation.

As St. Peter wrote: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now, for a little while, if need be, you are grieved by various trials.” But even in this little while of grief, your heart rejoices, for you have been plunged into a joy that no one can take from you. You hear a Word of blessing that no devil nor any other enemy of God can undo. And you feed on Jesus, whose life no one now can take from you. Let the world have its rejoicing while you weep and lament; for that joy will only last a little while. In His time, the Lord will grant you joy that will never fade away. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Friday, May 06, 2011

Sermon for 5/8/11--Misericordias Domini: Second Sunday After Easter (LSB 1-year)

The Voice of the Shepherd

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

Sheep are notorious for getting themselves into trouble, for straying, for ending up lost and confused, subjected to danger and unable to take care of themselves. They’re dirty, smelly animals. Worse than that, though, they’d walk off a cliff without a thought. That’s why they need a shepherd. Sheep may be stupid animals, but strangely enough, sheep know the voice of their shepherd. Sheep hear the voice of their shepherd and everything seems right with the world. They have their shepherd, the one who will keep them safe from predators and lead them away from the cliff’s edge to food and water.

As a favorite saying goes for those feeling rebellious, “People are sheep.” Ask nearly any child or even a teen why they’d want to do something they know will get them in trouble, and you’ll hear something like, “All my friends are doing it.” And then someone will inevitably reply, “And if your friends told you to jump off a bridge, would you do that too?” I hope you younger folk aren’t offended. If it’s any consolation, sheep-like behavior doesn’t end when you turn 20, 30, or even 60. Advertisers know they can put pressure on anyone of any age just by saying, “Your neighbor is better off than you.” Left to our own devices, we will follow the crowd, even when that crowd leads us into hell. That’s why we need a shepherd, too.

In the Scriptures God often describes Himself as a shepherd. You heard that description again today, when God promises in Ezekiel that He will depose the false shepherds of Israel who scattered the flock and fed off the sheep. God says: “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.” You heard it in the Gospel lesson, where Jesus calls His voice the shepherd’s voice, the one God’s true sheep will know. Jesus is that Shepherd, the One who comes to dwell with His sheep, to feed them, to lead them, to comfort them.

Jesus pays us no compliment by calling us sheep. But that is, in fact, what we are. By nature we walk away from the Good Shepherd right into the jaws of death. As Scripture says, “We like sheep have gone astray, every one to his own way.” This is no temporary disorientation. It is separation and alienation from the God who alone gives us life. Too often we allow other voices to drown out the Voice that really matters. We hear the voice of false preaching, preaching that tells us we can earn our own ticket inside the heavenly gates—and it sounds appealing. The voice of the world is telling us that God really meant to say that homosexuality isn’t sinful. It tells us that abortion isn’t murder. It tells us that God wants us to be prosperous. It tells us that God will keep us from suffering as long as we believe enough. It even tells us that we can do whatever we want as long as it makes us happy. What could be more appealing than that? Of course our shepherd wants us to be happy. Surely He wouldn’t deny us things that would make us happy. Are there thorns in the pasture? Surely not—the grass is so green. We’ve let the hirelings lead us into the thistles, and the den of the wolf is nearby. We are poisoned with the putrid and stagnant water of worldliness with its passing fads that we think will quench our thirst, all the while refusing the streams of living water to which the Good Shepherd beckons us.

Jesus is no cowardly hireling who leads us into the wilderness of sin and then runs away when the old evil wolf comes seeking to condemn and destroy you with your sin. Our Good Shepherd died, as one of our hymns puts it, "for sheep who love to wander." He did not wait for us to find our own way out of the wilderness and back to the sheep pen. He came to us in this world of sin and death and He redeemed us by dying on the cross in our place. Such is the love of the Good Shepherd for His sheep.

The Good Shepherd still calls and gathers a flock by His Word. He says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." Martin Luther gave us a beautifully simple definition of the Church in the Smalcald Articles: “Thank God, a seven-year old child knows what the Church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Good Shepherd.”

So where do we hear His voice today? He speaks to us through pastors, men He raises up to serve as undershepherds. By the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, these undershepherds will speak to you with the voice of the Good Shepherd. They will lead you to the still waters of Baptism and the green pastures of the Holy Supper. They will restore your soul with the word of Holy Absolution, spoken by the pastor as from Christ Himself. There are still hirelings out there. People will continue to attempt to lead you astray. But you have your standard against which you can compare anyone claiming to be your shepherd. How does what this person says compare to what my Shepherd tells me? Ask that question, and you will be able to tell the true Shepherd and the true undershepherds from the mere hirelings. Listen to the voice. Does my voice and what I say to you lead you away from the true Shepherd and His gifts? If so, don’t follow me, and don’t listen to another word I say. If anyone steps into this pulpit and preaches anything apart from Christ and Him crucified, don’t follow them, and don’t listen to what they have to say. Kick them out of this pulpit and out of your fellowship. They would lead you away from your Shepherd, the One who would—and did—die to save you.

The Church is where the Good Shepherd is. Where His voice is sounding in Holy Absolution, in the pure preaching of His Word, and in His Baptism and Supper, there you will find the sheep that belong to Jesus. Keep your ears attuned to the voice of the Good Shepherd, for He alone has the words of eternal life. 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 01, 2011

Sermon for 5/1/11--Quasimodogeniti: Second Sunday of Easter (LSB 1-year)

Abundant Life

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

We have heard the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We have heard how he crushed Satan and won salvation for all who believe His Word. This is the victory of God over all the powers of darkness. Yet The disciples are hiding behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. Jesus has risen from the dead, but the disciples are afraid. They afraid of the Jews, they are afraid they are going to be found out, they are afraid that they have put their hope in a dead God. That is how it goes with our faith, too. It’s easy to feel good on Easter morning. The music, the readings, the beauty of the service, everything points to the wonder of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. But what about later? What about after the glow of the resurrection seems to wear off? What about those times when you are alone with your sins? What about those times in your faith-life when you feel like you can get no breath, when you feel like you are choking because it just isn’t in you?

We’ve all been there. Like the disciples, our emotions as Christians ebb and flow. There are times when we feel close to God, but there are other times when we feel far away and distant, unconnected, afraid and alone. That is where the disciples were that first Easter evening. They were there with you. This is how Satan seeks to work on you. The last thing Satan wants you to believe is the connection between Easter and your faith. If He can convince you that Christ’s death and resurrection were just events from a storybook a long time ago, then Jesus’ resurrection from the dead has no meaning. That is Satan’s ploy. He seeks to convince you that you don’t believe. He is willing to lie, deceive, convince, whatever is in His power to draw you away from Christ’s words of forgiveness and life. Left to yourself, you are stuck, right there in league with Satan. But you are not left to yourself. Jesus appears in the midst of them and says, “Peace be with you.” Jesus knows His disciples don’t believe in Him at that time. He knows that they are filled with unbelief and doubt. He also knows they are full of fear at the Law and that they need to hear words of comfort and hope.

So He says to them, “Peace be with you.” Notice how tender these words are in the ears of the disciples. Notice how tender these words are to you. Peace. The wall of separation between God and man was broken when Jesus burst forth from the tomb. God and man are not longer at war with each other. They are at peace. But like prisoners of war, the disciples have not heard the news. They haven’t received the fruit of Jesus’ work on the cross and in the tomb. So Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” They are great words. With those words Jesus comforts you and gives you hope. Jesus died and rose again from the dead to put those words in your ears. Peace be with you. He doesn’t pummel with the Law; he doesn’t mock them or condemn for their unbelief, although I suppose the disciples deserved it, as do we. No, Jesus gives them the only thing that could actually make a difference. He gave them peace. As Jesus uses the word here, it means the same thing as forgiveness. He forgives their sins. They are gone.

But Jesus isn’t satisfied to simply forgive the sins of the eleven some 2000 years ago. No; He then gives them the peace again, and says to them: whoever sins you forgiven, they are forgiven; and whoever’s sins you hold back, they are held back. In Lutheran theology we call this the Office of the Keys. Jesus gives the Keys to the disciples, now called the Apostles or “sent-ones”. He gives them the Keys and says that their work is to forgive sins. They are to release sins, get rid of them, cast them into the depth of the sea, as far as east is from west.

That is the work of the Christian Church. That is why we gather here Sunday after Sunday. God draws you together to this house week after week so that He can say to you, “Peace be with you. I forgive you your sins.” Christ has promised to be where two or three have gathered in His name. When we separate ourselves from the communion of Saints, the Church, the bride of Christ, we miss out on the peace which His presence bestows. But in this place God puts His peace on you. He gives it to you freely, not because of any merit or worthiness on your part, but because of His great and boundless mercy. This is what the world doesn’t get about Easter. For so many, even for many Christians, Easter is about the drama or pageantry of the event. We do make a big deal about Easter, but we do so because Jesus died and rose again for us. Remember again the words from the Creed: “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” God came down to earth with a purpose.

The old title for this Sunday is Quasimodogeniti, from the Introit, which begins, “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word.” The power of Easter lies in the Word of God. For it is in that Word of God that all of Christ’s work on the cross and in the tomb becomes yours. God puts those words of forgiveness in your ears in holy absolution. He puts those words into your ears in pure preaching. He puts those words on your heart in Holy Baptism. And He puts those words of forgiveness in your mouth in His Holy Supper. Open wide, and God will fill you. Receive His Word with thanksgiving, for all of God’s work is now given to you, that you might have life, and have it abundantly. 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.