Monday, April 20, 2015

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

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

Shepherd and Sheep

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

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

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

Monday, April 13, 2015

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



Doubt and Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 06, 2015

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



What Has Changed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 03, 2015

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



The Wounds that Heal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 02, 2015

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



The Wound of Abandonment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon for 3/29/15: Palm Sunday



God’s Ways

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

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

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

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

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