Friday, March 30, 2018

Sermon for 3/30/18: Good Friday (Hands series)

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Hands That Bleed

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

At our Lord’s trial, the mob cried out about Jesus, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Most accomplices to murder have no desire to have the victim’s blood on the hands or their consciences, so this cry is particularly stunning. Who actually wants to be covered with blood? But when someone is filled with so much hate—a hatred multiplied by the mentality of the mob—sometimes it’s worth it to be covered in blood. The crowd, fueled with the hatred of the religious leaders of the Jews, certainly thought they could handle the consequences of killing their King.

But blood is a powerful thing. Moses tells us that the blood of Abel cried out from the ground to the Lord. God told the Israelites not to consume the blood of any creature they killed, for “the life of all flesh is its blood.” And the mob, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who were gathered to celebrate the Feast of the Passover, knew the power of blood. The very Passover they were in Jerusalem to celebrate was a celebration of the blood of the Passover lamb. The lamb’s blood marked their homes as the homes of the children of Israel; seeing that blood, the angel of death would spare the firstborn sons of Israel. They knew the power of blood; their ancestors had slain “prophets, wise men, and scribes.” And now they wanted to see blood spill from their King of Kings. 

Blood is, indeed, a powerful thing. The blood of the Son of God is exceptionally powerful. If Abel’s sinful blood was able to cry out to the Lord, how much louder would be the cry of Christ’s innocent blood to His Father? The farmer Cain was cursed from the earth, and his toil would no longer bring forth fruit; how much more dreadful would be the punishment of those with the blood of Christ on their hands? And we are not innocent of the blood of Christ, either, for our every sin gives out a cry for the blood of Christ to rest upon us and our children as well, as surely as if we ourselves had pierced our Lord’s hands, feet, head, and side. 

The Lord allowed His blood to spill from His innocent hands. But the blood of Christ is not merely powerful to condemn the unfaithful. For the repentant, for those who realize by faith the power of the blood of Jesus upon their hands, that blood is a cleansing flood. When the Apostle John was given a vision of heaven, he was blessed to see the true power of that blood. The elder stood before the throne of heaven, pointing John’s attention to the white-robed worshipers, the saints singing praises to the Lamb of God. He told John, “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.” They have been clothed in the spotless baptismal robe of the righteousness of Christ. They stand before the throne and sing praises to the Lamb eternally. 

The old adage says, “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.” The crowd screamed for blood. Only by the gracious and merciful power of God could such a dreadful prayer be heard and answered as a mighty blessing to His children. The children of Israel wanted the blood of Jesus to spill? The Father allowed that blood to be spilled. The thorn-encircled brow of Jesus spilled blood. The hands and feet of Jesus spilled blood. Blood and water flowed forth from the pierced side of Jesus. And just as the Father promised it would be, “the life of all flesh is blood,” for the blood of Jesus is the life of the Church. The blood and water flowing forth from the side of Jesus are the sign of the Sacraments: water with the Word of God washing us clean in Holy Baptism, and blood with the body of Christ feeding us in the Holy Supper. His blood is, indeed, upon us and upon our children. And His righteous blood, flowing from His pierc├ęd side, His thorn-encircled brow, His feet, and His hands, is our 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.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Sermon for 3/29/18: Maundy Thursday (Hands series)

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Hands That Consecrate

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

            Our Lord Jesus Christ does nothing by accident. Everything He does, He does with a purpose. So when He takes bread into His hands and blesses it, and then does the same with the cup of wine, it’s not just because that’s what’s handy as they celebrate the Passover. Jesus has a purpose, and everything He says and does is for that purpose. Everything He says and does is for the salvation of His creation.
            Since our Lord always acts with purpose, it is important that we examine what our Lord says and does. He began with the command: “Take and eat.” “Take and drink.” He does not call upon us to do something miraculous. We do not have that ability. He tells us to something natural—something, in fact, that we need to do to live. Eat. Drink. It’s no coincidence that He connects His gifts with eating and drinking. Our earthly lives are fed by what we take in with our mouths; the same is true for eternal life.
            And that’s true because of the Word of Christ. Hear the Word of God, recorded by the prophet Isaiah: “As the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” So when Jesus says, “This is my body;” “This is my blood;” “given” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins;” His Word does exactly what He says it will do. The bread is His body; the wine is His blood; in taking and eating and drinking, we eat and drink His body and blood, and we receive the forgiveness of our sins. The hands of our Lord consecrate this holy Meal, setting apart the bread and wine for the purpose of our salvation.
            This is a stumbling block for many, including many who call themselves Christians. They doubt the power of Christ’s Word to do what He says it will do. When Jesus says of the bread, “This is my body,” they can’t bring themselves to believe that Jesus means it’s actually His body. Bread is bread, they think, and it certainly cannot contain anything that isn’t bread. In their minds, when Jesus uses the word “is” when He says, “This is my body,” the bread can only represent His body; it’s only a symbol. But that raises the question: If Jesus cannot actually do what He says He will do, then how can we really trust that He has the power to take away our sins?
            My brothers and sisters in Christ: Do you trust the power of the Word of God? Do you trust that, when your pastor poured water on you and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” you were made a child of God and given faith to cling to what our Lord says? Do you trust that, when your pastor makes the sign of the cross and says, “In the stead of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins,” Jesus is taking away your sins? It is not your pastor who is doing the work; he is only acting as our Lord’s hands and mouth. Your pastor’s hands and mouth have been set apart, consecrated to deliver the gifts which Christ has called him to deliver.
            Here is the truth: Christ is truly present, body and blood, in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, just as He says He is. Your faith doesn’t put Him there, but it recognizes Him in this holy gift. The ordinary bread and wine, combined with the Word of God, deliver the crucified and resurrected Christ to you. These ordinary, everyday things, combined with the Word of God, deliver the forgiveness, life, and salvation Jesus died and rose to give you. Receive it from His hand, the hand of Christ which set it apart for you, the hand that has set you apart as one whom He has redeemed. 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, March 28, 2018

Sermon for 3/28/18: Wednesday of Holy Week

I was the guest preacher today at St. John Lutheran Church in Chester, Illinois. Every year during Holy Week, St. John welcomes LCMS pastors from the area to preach a brief sermon for a short service during the noon hour, and I've been one of the guest preachers for at least the past three years. I enjoy the opportunity, and not just because the ladies of the congregation provide lunch for the guest preacher after the service. As always, RIGHT CLICK HERE to save the audio file.

Daring to Die

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

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the world seems to be upside down right now. The evils of this world—things like abortion, homosexual marriage, living together outside of marriage, and a whole host of other sinful and evil things—the world calls them “good” and “just” and “loving.” Even some who call themselves “Christian” have given in to this. At the same time, the world condemns the life of faith in Jesus Christ. In some places it is capital crime to confess that Jesus is Lord, and those who act as judge and jury and executioner are quick to carry out that death sentence, often in the most gruesome ways. One theologian wrote, “When Christ calls a man, He bids that man come and die.”
In the recent shooting spree in the school in Parkland, Florida, in the middle of a horrible act of murder and terror, stories emerged of teachers, coaches, and students who put the lives of their fellow human beings ahead of their own lives. Some of these heroes died; others survived. St. Paul wrote, Scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.” Seeing so many heroes in this tragedy does not disprove Paul’s words; it testifies to their truth. We would not consider them heroes if this was the normal way of things. We all value the lives of children—the ones who make it to birth, at least—so we can understand why these heroes would take the extraordinary measures they did. For a good man, and yes, for children, some might dare to die. But would someone step in to take the place of the Parkland shooter?
That makes what our Lord Jesus has done for us so astounding. Our Lord was born into a fallen world. He did not come for good people. He came to people who hated him, who wanted Him dead. And He gave them what they wanted. He gave Himself willingly to hang on the cross. He gave Himself as a blood sacrifice for the very people who killed him. He offered Himself, dying for His enemies—for poor miserable sinners who deserved to die in our sins. His willing substitution as the Sacrifice to pay the price for our sin has reconciled us to God, made us right with Him. The watered blood He shed has poured out on us in Holy Baptism. That blood washed us clean of that sin and made us children of the heavenly Father. Our Lord Jesus dared to die in our place. He died to give us life with Him 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.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sermon for 3/25/18: Palmarum--The Passion of Our Lord

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Blood and Life

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

The unbelief and pride and rage of the Jews blinded them. They could not see—indeed, they refused to see. The man they killed was their Messiah, their King, their Lord and God. They would not believe. They did not even believe their own words when they attempted to convince Pilate to kill Jesus: His blood be on us and on our children.” With those words, they called down upon themselves a curse. They were blinded by their unbelief and rage. If only they could put away their pride and confess their sin. If only their unbelief did not veil their hearts.
When we decorate this sanctuary for Good Friday, we veil the processional crucifix. We veil the body of Christ our Lord, extended and suspended on the cross, to remind ourselves that we have much in common with that angry mob. We all so often are blinded by our unbelief, blinded by the desires of our flesh. We are blinded by our will to choose death of our souls. We choose death by living for ourselves, by living against our neighbor, by living against the Lord’s will, by living as if we matter most.
We veil the Christ who hangs before us because we are ashamed and afraid. We are ashamed of what our sins have done. We are afraid of our own selves—what our hands will do, what our mouths will say. We are ashamed that, by our words and deeds, we have plotted against the Lord. We are afraid that our lust for everything but the Kingdom of God has nailed the Son of God to the cross. And so we veil the Christ who hangs before us.
That fear and shame, the sight of what our evil has done, the knowledge of our unworthiness to stand here in this place where the sacrifice is available—let that drive us to our knees so that we cry out in true faith saying, “His blood be on us and on our children.” For that is precisely what Our Lord Jesus wants for us. He wants to bathe us in His holy blood, to revive and refresh and nourish us with His precious and life-giving blood. And when His watered blood has hit your forehead, when you’ve drunk from His holy chalice—then, as St. Paul writes, “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus.” He does not see this as your undoing, but as your life. He does not see this as the reason to damn you, but the way to save you. He does not see this as the justification for punishing you, but the reason for reconciling you to Himself, renewing you in Him, and restoring in you the Life He is—and the Life He desires to live in and through you.
Our Lord Jesus does not feel cheated as you look at Him on the cross. And even though He is humiliated, He will not humiliate you for what you’ve done to Him. Instead, He uses His cross to lift you up and exalt you. He lifts up your heart and presents to you His broken body so that you might give Him thanks. And His spilled blood now becomes the promise and the blessing for you and your children.
What a wonderful exchange occurs. The Jews meant this as the death of a blasphemer. But He converted it into the way of Life for those who had rejected Him. You see the Son of God suspended on a tree. But He tells you to believe that it is your life and salvation. We veil His cross because of the shame and fear we feel. But He calls it His triumphant day, the day He is glorified. You look and are repulsed. But He uses the repulsive cross to draw all men to Himself. The world calls it the curse of a fool. But we have come to believe that this crucifixion is the wisdom and power of God. Let us boast in the cross of Christ our Lord. To Him be all glory, honor, and worship, now and 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.   

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Sermon for 3/20/18: Midweek Lent V (Hands series)

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Hands That Protect

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

When God made His creatures, He did not simply make them and then leave them to their own devices. He is not watching us, as Bette Midler would assert, “from a distance.” He has taken it upon Himself to protect His people. The Creator took responsibility for the well-being of His creation. Our Savior’s hands are hands that protect. 
That was true when the disciples were alone in a boat. Jesus came to them in the midst of a storm; He was walking on water. The disciples were terrified, thinking Jesus was some sort of ghost. Jesus reassured them: “Be of good cheer. It is I; do not be afraid.” That wasn’t good enough for Peter. “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Peter is either incredibly confident in the Lord or incredibly foolish to test the Lord; maybe both. Either way, Jesus invited Peter to come to Him. You know the story. Peter stepped out of the boat and began to walk toward Jesus on the water. When he took his eyes off the Lord and allowed himself to be distracted by the winds and the waves and his own doubts, he began to sink. But our Lord reached out with His powerful hands and pulled Peter to safety. 
How easy it is for human beings to be distracted by the fearful events of life. How easy it is to lose sight of the Lord who promises His goodness and mercy and protection to all. In fact, it doesn’t even need to be something terrifying to distract you from the Lord. You allow all sorts of everyday things to distract you, to pull your attention away from the Lord: relationships, jobs, school, sports, hobbies—the list could go on endlessly. Maybe you’re just not familiar enough with the Lord’s Word to trust in His goodness. Maybe you allow yourself to see the little things of this life more clearly or to view them as larger and more important than the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
But your perception is skewed. Think about the many times our Lord’s hands protect His people. Think of the woman caught in the act of adultery, how He protected her from being stoned to death. Think of the many times He protected the lives of the disciples. Think of the time He healed Malchus, the servant of the high priest, whose ear Peter cut off. And In the same action of protecting the high priest’s servant, He protected Peter from certain death, telling Peter to sheathe his sword in the face of overwhelming odds.
Think of the many times you have had our Lord’s protection. Think of the times in childhood that the Lord protected you from illness or from the dangers of your curiosity. Think of the times our Lord guided the hands of doctors and nurses and other health care providers. Think of the times you’ve survived driving in Carbondale. You may rejoice with the Psalmist: “The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.” The hands of the Savior protect His creatures.
But beyond the needs and dangers of the body—beyond even the danger of physical death—you need protection for your soul. You need protection from the folly of your sin. Without this protection, without His intervention for the sake of your soul, you would face eternally damning consequences, far more deadly than the mere death of the body. With His hands our Savior carried the cross upon which He would die, suffering those consequences you deserved for your sins. He who protects you from the perils of this life also preserves you for eternal life.
Do not focus on the perils of this life. Do not even focus on the perils that come with your sin. Our Lord extends His hands to you, inviting you to come to Him, to trust in Him. He who has used His hands to pour Baptismal water on you, who has put His own body and blood in your mouth, will use those hands to shield you from all dangers of body and soul. With those hands He will lead you through the valley of the shadow of death and into His presence, where you shall dwell with Him in the house of the Lord 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.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sermon for 3/18/18: Fifth Sunday in Lent

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

As we journey to the cross, let us consider the mercy of God. The Father sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved, rescued, redeemed, liberated from death, and reconciled and restored to the Father. This is the mercy of the Father: because of His love for us, He sends and offers up His Son. And this is the mercy of the Son: because He shares that same love for us, He willingly and freely lets Himself be man-handled, offered up, and killed for our benefit. Nothing stands in the way of this mercy of God—not the machinations of the Jews; not the betrayal of Judas; not the denial of Peter; not the threats and assaults of Satan. Nothing prevents the Father from offering up His Son, and nothing prevents the Son from carrying out His Father’s gracious plan. At no point does the Father consider withholding His Son; and at no point does the Son work to avoid His cross.
In fact, so great is the mercy of the Father, and so relentless is the love of the Son, that our Lord Jesus spends nearly all of His time with those who reject Him most: with the scribes and Pharisees, with the reluctant and recalcitrant Jews. He does not run or hide from them, but continues to engage them in disputation, not because He loves a good argument; not because He wishes to expose their blasphemy; but because He loves them with a love that will not quit, a love that will do whatever it takes to win them over.
Yet they accuse, indict, try, and convict Him of sin. Jesus, who knew no sin; Jesus, who is the sinless Son of the Father—they have the nerve and arrogance to accuse Him: “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” And we are like them: accusing Him in our moments of need of not caring for us; accusing Him of looking on in amusement as we suffer. If He were like us, long ago He would have thrown up His hands and said, “To hell with you all.”  And if He were like us, He would have turned His back on them. If He were like us, long ago He would have said, “It’s hopeless. Your minds are made up.” If He were like us, He would have blocked them on Facebook. “The Shepherd dies for sheep who love to wander.”
But Love doesn’t speak or work that way. Love is patient and kind. Love endures and suffers all for the sake of another. And Love is willing to endanger His life in order to save the soul of another. There our Lord Jesus stands. He kindly, gently, mercifully, lovingly speaks the truth to the Jews—not to spite them, but to love them back to His Father. He once again invites them to Himself and tries to win them over with a most gracious and simple promise: “I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he shall never see death.” No finer words have ever been spoken. They demand nothing except to follow Our Lord in the works of His Law and in the ways of His commandments—and even these commandments flow from the mercy of God.
Our Lord Jesus invites those who wish He would leave; those who seek to run Him out; those who want to kill Him. Once again He urges them to quit their fears and to follow Him, as true spiritual children follow their true spiritual Father. He comes, not to brow-beat or threaten, not to make us submit, but to submit Himself for our sake so that we might see and know and believe that He is truly the mercy of God and the love of God. He has come in the flesh to bear our sin. He comes to us in flesh so that we might feast on Him and receive the fullness of Life, which we receive only from Him. 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 14, 2018

Sermon for 3/13/18: Midweek Lent IV (Hands series)

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Hands That Raise

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

            The hands of our Lord Jesus have the power to raise the dead. This makes our Lord uniquely qualified to be the Redeemer of the world. The Son of God is in control of life and death; He can help us in life and serve us even in the hour of our death. This is important, because death is God’s enemy, and because death is God’s enemy, death is the enemy of everyone who trusts in God.
            This centurion, this man of authority, came to see Jesus with a plea for His all-availing mercy. His daughter was dying, and our Lord’s reputation had come before Him. Jesus would not refuse. Responding to the man’s prayer, the Son of God determined to use His hands to restore life. The little girl was dead. The mourners were already gathered by the time Jesus arrived. It seemed as though death had already claimed this girl as his victim. But Jesus would not allow death to have the victory. He told the mourners that the girl was only asleep. Leaving the scorn of the mourners behind, Jesus went into the house. He took the little girl by the hand, and He raised her from death into life.
            This was not the first time our Lord had made life. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, including all living things. As we confess in the Nicene Creed, all things were made by Him. Life is the very reason He came in the flesh to dwell among His people. This is how He explained His purpose: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” This life He came to give was so much more than just inhaling and exhaling; this life He brought with Him is linked to very heart of God Himself. He came so that we would have a faith to rely on God. He came so that we would have a hope which would depend on what God alone can do and that peace which the world cannot give. He came so that we would enjoy communion with God and fellowship with our neighbors.
            So that this little girl would have that life, our Lord used His hands—the same hands by which He gave life to the world—to raise her from the dead. That action also gave that same life to her father. These were not the children of Israel, but Jesus came for them anyway. The hands of the Savior worked to bring endless blessings to both Jews and Gentiles, believers and doubters. He came to lay His hands upon us who were dead in our sin and raise us to new life.
            Where do you stand before God? Are you alive in Christ? Or are you dead in your sin? The hands of Jesus have raised you from death to life. At your Baptism, our Lord placed His hand upon you, pouring His Word-filled water upon you, marking you upon your forehead and your heart with the sign of His cross as one who has received the forgiveness He died to bring. It is the Lord’s hand which makes the sign of the cross over you as He speaks His word of forgiveness to you. It is the Lord’s hand which places His body in your mouth to feed you with forgiveness. In all these things He gives you abundant life. The hands that led you into Sunday School and Catechism classes; the hands that brought you to worship the first time and every time since; the hands that hold you up and comfort you in times of grief: these are the hands of Jesus, touching you, blessing you, raising you up, giving you that life He came to bring.
            And He came to give you that life, to raise you up, by dying in your place, letting His hands be nailed to the cross in place of your hands. His love for you is beyond measure. It is a love so powerful, so astonishing, that you can be sure that the same hands that raised this little girl from the dead will pull you from the veil of tears, through the valley of the shadow of death, to rest in His arms, until that day when He will raise you and all the faithful to life everlasting. 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, March 12, 2018

Sermon for 3/11/18: Fourth Sunday in Lent

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Bread Like Rain

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

The first time the Lord God led a crowd into the wilderness, the children of Israel were on their way to the Promised Land. Despite their complaints against Him, He had compassion on them. So He said, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you.” Our Lord satisfied them with the bread of heaven, not because of the murmuring that they made against Him, but because He was moved with compassion. It was mercy alone that prompted Him to act. Yet His intention also was to test them. For He said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not.” The test was whether they trusted Him and His mercy. And the test was whether they would live that trust by living according to His commandments. If they lived as they pleased, if they walked their own walk, if they made their own way—even if they boasted loudly about how faithful and pious they were—then it would demonstrate how little they trusted Him, how ungrateful they were, and how little they thought of His Word.
In the Gospel appointed for today, we hear that the Lord God again leads a crowd into the wilderness. Like the first time, it is near the time of the Passover. Like the first time, the Lord has done signs and wonders which draw them to trust Him. And so a great multitude follows Him, because they see His signs which He performs on those who are diseased. And like the first time, the Lord gives bread in the wilderness—not because a crowd follows Him; not because the disciples clamor for it; but because He has compassion on them. It is mercy, and mercy alone, that prompts Him to act. Yet His intention is also to test the disciples. He knew what He would do. So our merciful Lord says to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” With words like these, He urges Philip—and even you and me—to believe that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.” And Our Lord also urges us to trust and obey, to receive and submit to Our Lord precisely because He is compassionate, faithful, and merciful. The more we see that, the more we understand that we are at a loss to give anything—except to give thanks; and to do anything—except to do whatever Our Lord commands. Notice, then, how it goes. When the disciples confessed that they were helpless to feed the multitude, Our Lord Jesus worked the miracle, and they came to understand the power of God.
And then what? Then, as He did centuries before, Our Lord Jesus rains down bread from heaven—not just food to fill the belly, but spiritual food: food from heaven given to strengthen you in the journey to the cross and grave, and through the cross and grave into eternal life with Christ. Our Lord gives bread from heaven so that we might all eat the same spiritual food and drink the same spiritual drink, which is Christ Jesus Himself.
The first crowd in the wilderness had a hard time believing this. The crowd was equally slow to believe and trust in Christ the living Bread. So are we. But our Lord continues to urge us on; He lays down His life to be our food; and He continues to invite us to rely and depend not on ourselves, not on our strength of will, but on Him. Yes, our Lord continues to test and try us, to chastise and discipline us. He does this to draw us to Himself; so that we would fix our eyes on Him; so that we might learn to live from Him and the Bread that He is; so that we might not lose our way, but rather walk according to His commandments. Then we shall not rejoice in ourselves but in His saving strength. To Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor and worship, now and 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.   

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Sermon for 3/6/18: Midweek Lent III (Hands series)

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Hands That Pray

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

Why did Jesus need to pray? Prayer is, after all, a uniquely human endeavor, and Jesus is God. In the Old Testament we see the three Persons of the Trinity consult without using prayer—at creation, where God says, “Let us make man in our image...;” at the tower of Babel, where God says, “Let us confuse their speech...;” and elsewhere. So why would Jesus need to pray? The answer is simple: Jesus prayed because Jesus was also human. Jesus came into the world in flesh, as a man, and it was as a man that He carried out His earthly ministry. He used His divine powers only to help others; He never used His divine nature to make His work of salvation easier for Himself.
            So yes, Jesus prayed. But just as important as knowing that He brought supplications to the heavenly Father in prayer is to know what it was our Lord prayed for. He folded His hands in prayer because, as a man, He faced temptation in every aspect of His life and work. Sometimes we allow ourselves to believe that Jesus only faced temptation when He went into the wilderness after His baptism. But Scripture reminds us that Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” And Scripture tells us that, after Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, “he departed from Him until an opportune time.” There were more temptations to come. And just like us, Jesus needed strength to meet temptation every day of His life. We see in the Garden of Gethsemane that, with His hands folded in prayer in the midst of agony, in the midst of the great temptation to avoid the cup of suffering, the Son of God received strength to endure, to submit to the will of the Father, to complete His journey to the cross and grave.
            Jesus prayed because He knew the Father would sustain Him. Every kingdom of the earth already belonged to Jesus; how easy it would have been for Him to manifest His glory and claim what was already His. He could easily have turned stones to bread, just as He provided water from the rock for the children of Israel. He could have leapt from the pinnacle of the Temple and come down unharmed. He could have come down from the cross effortlessly, with legions of angels to drive off the Romans.
            Human nature lives by desires and cares rather than the will of the Father. We know those desires all too well: the temptations of overindulging in fine foods and potent drinks; the temptations of the flesh, especially when pornographic images are so easy to access by means of the Internet; the temptations of wealth and power; the temptation to live contrary to the will of God. Satan knows us very well. He knows what will make our blood boil, our skin tingle, our reason and strength fail. It is in these temptations that our Lord shows Himself to be our greatest ally, for He has faced all our temptations, yet without giving in. In facing His temptations, He called upon His Father. And knowing that we cannot by our own reason or strength resist, our Lord has overcome them, and He has given us His name to call upon, to help us resist and to forgive us what we cannot resist.
            Before He went to face His arrest in Gethsemane, His trial, and His crucifixion, our Lord prayers what the Church calls the high priestly prayer. He prayed that the disciples would be united and that they would be able to overcome temptation. To pray for others is an act of unselfish faith. Jesus also prayed for His enemies even as He hung upon the cross. And we are included among those who have been listed as His enemies, for we were His enemies, lost in sin, unable to do the will of the Father. And so He prays, “Father, forgive them.” By grace, through our Lord’s cross and Passion, we are no longer enemies of God. God and sinners have been reconciled. We have been forgiven; our Savior’s prayer has been answered by His work. Now, with our own hands folded in prayer, we praise God for His mercy and love for us, and we pray that we, too, may demonstrate the love of God in our lives, praying for our neighbor as Christ prayed for us. 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, March 05, 2018

Sermon for 3/4/18: Third Sunday in Lent

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Eyes and Fingers

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

The Lord is not in league with Satan or Beelzebub. When you’re being charitable, you want to think that, deep down, His hearers know that. They may want to think the worst about Jesus. They may want to convince themselves and their neighbors that Jesus is a tool of the devil. But even a fool would be able to figure out at some point that Satan isn’t going to help anyone, and he certainly isn’t going to help anyone cast out his own demons. As Jesus says, “A kingdom which is divided against itself cannot stand.” So if Jesus was casting out demons with Satan’s help, Satan’s kingdom would be divided, too. That’s not going to happen. Satan knows the Law, and he knows how to keep his cronies in line. The devil won’t let his own minions work against him in his desperate fight against the Son of God.
But consider this: What if God’s hand is working through what our Lord is doing? What if the finger of God is the power behind the miracles Jesus is doing? If that’s the truth, then the kingdom of God truly has come! What if God really is coming into our world and into our lives? What if Jesus really is like a guy breaking into a house that’s guarded by the strong man, Satan? First He ties up the strong man who is guarding the prize. Then, after He has overcome the strong man, the spoils—the souls that should belong to the devil because of our sin—now belong to Jesus. He takes us back, redeeming us from our sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. The devil is tied up, defeated—but not merely because Jesus is stronger than the devil. He is, but that’s not what defeats the devil. The devil is done in, defeated, overthrown by the Son of God who dies for your sake. Jesus suffers and dies for the sin of the whole world. That’s the victory that overcomes the devil.
Give up living life with your eyes closed to the truth. And what is that truth? All by yourself, by your own strength, you are a whitewashed tomb—good works covering a body dead in sin. You are a poor, miserable sinner. You are under the control and watch of the devil. Jesus has come, and He has saved you by dying for you. There’s nothing inside of you worth saving—nothing in and of yourself worth rescuing. Our Lord does what He does because of His grace. And when He rescues you, when He saves you, it is accomplished by the finger of God. Our Lord’s hand lifted the water that drained down your head at the Baptismal font, and that water washed your sins away. His voice absolves you and puts salvation into your ears through the Word. His fingers put the Body and Blood of Christ into your mouth. Your pastor is doing these things, but he does them by the finger of God. Our Lord Jesus is working through him.
This Sunday is known as Oculi—Eyes Sunday. With that in mind, pay attention to what you see during worship this morning. Don’t concentrate on what you think you feel. Don’t be concerned with what you think about yourself. Instead, fix your eyes on Jesus and what He is doing. He saves you by binding up the strong man, the devil. He saves you by delivering His salvation to you through His means: His Word preached into your ears, His Baptismal waters poured over you, and His Supper placed into your mouth by the finger of God. And when our Lord does that—when He breaks into your world and saves you—then you know the kingdom of God has come upon you. And it has, for Jesus has come to you and lives within 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.