Saturday, May 23, 2020

Sermon for 5/24/20: Ascension of Our Lord (Observed)

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Ascended and Still Here

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

What a difference forty days makes! The Evangelist St. Mark records that, on Easter morning, the women fled from the empty tomb, saying nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Forty days later, everything changes! From now on, no matter what we face, God never abandons us, never leaves us alone. The apostles, once hidden in the upper room for fear of the Jews, now venture forth, armed with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Jesus has sent His men to preach His good news to all creation. He has put His name on us in the waters of Holy Baptism, promising that whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved. He has reclined with us at Table, feeding us His body and blood for the forgiveness of all our sins.
God won’t abandon us. How do you know? Jesus was taken into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God. Jesus, who is both true God and true Man, sits right next to His Father and our Father, whispering in His ear that Jesus has died to redeem sinners. A flesh-and-blood Man has the eternal attention of the Father, speaking to Him on our behalf, and His innocent crucified body and shed blood testify on our behalf. This is the miracle of the Ascension of our Lord: in ascending to His Father, in sitting at the right hand of God, Jesus lifts and exalts humanity in Himself.
How often does the Ascension Gospel get bumped from your mind? Or to ask the question another way, how often do you think about the Ascension of our Lord and what it means for you? Do you consider it at any other time than when we mention it in the Creed? How often do other things take over and leave you sad, mopey, and despairing? How often do you wonder if God loves you—or does He even bother to think about you at all? How often do you allow yourself to believe that you’re too great a sinner, that you’re too bad a person for God to forgive? How often do you despair of God’s goodness for you?
When these thoughts confound you and cloud your thinking, remember that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. Don’t despair anymore! Whatever else is true about you and God, this is the most sure: the One who died on the Cross, who rose on Easter morning—Jesus Christ, God with us in human flesh—now sits at the right hand of God for you. Everything that God does, He does through His right hand for your good. Jesus is there for you: your friend, your advocate, your high priest, your Savior.
With Jesus at the right hand of the Father, there is no power, no event, no authority in heaven, on earth, under the earth, or anywhere else, that can lay back on you the sins you have committed, so that you need to despair ever again. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Satan may prowl around like a roaring lion, but his teeth have been pulled; he has no more power over you, no accusation to make against you. You belong to God; Jesus has set you free!
What a difference forty days makes! Like the disciples, we have been tempted to live in fear, whether from disease, financial disaster, or any other tribulation that afflicts our daily lives. But Jesus has entered into our shuttered, fearful hearts, and has breathed on us to give us His peace and the Holy Spirit. He has made Himself known to us in the breaking of the bread of the Holy Supper. And now He stands with us and promises to be with us now and always, even to the end of the age. We have nothing more to fear, for Jesus, who sits at the right hand of God, promises that He will be with us now, and He promises that we will be with Him forever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sermon for 5/17/2020: Sixth Sunday of Easter

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God Hears and Answers

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

Our culture is big on hope, but short on belief. There is paganism and at least a touch of superstition dwelling in our hearts that still thinks dancing around the fire and peering into tea leaves has power. The popular opinion is that anything is possible; reality shouldn’t get in the way. Believe what you want about cancer, the moon landing, or 9/11, but nothing should be held rigidly; certainly nothing should be held to the exclusion of other opinions. We deny absolute truth, and gone with it is the concept of reality.
So it is that, when we find ourselves in a crisis, we are sorely tempted to call together all the religious leaders of the world and have them pray to the pantheon of gods. Just this week Pope Francis, the so-called vicar of Christ, called upon people of all religions to come together spiritually during this pandemic. We behave like a patient diagnosed with a terminal disease, going from one guru to the next, hanging on the words of every wacko in the vague hope of a cure. Maybe we are hoping that the gods would cooperate like comic book heroes. Prayer in such a context, even if the words are used, is not prayer in the name of Jesus. Jesus will not share the stage.
The One who hears His people’s prayers is our God by grace. He has made us His people. He is everyone’s God. It is just that everyone does not know it. In the end they will. Every knee shall bow and every tongue in Hell shall confess that Jesus is Lord. To pray to the Father through the Spirit in the name of Jesus is to confess that Jesus is Lord. That confession cannot stand alongside the rabbis who hold that Jesus is the deceased bastard son of a Nazarene peasant who was executed as a criminal. It cannot stand the idea that Jesus is merely a misunderstood prophet of Allah who did not make atonement for the world. Prayer in the name of Jesus cannot stand with witch doctors and shamans and druids. Prayer in the name of Jesus must condemn those demonic lies.
Jesus is the real God. He will tolerate no pretenders. The One who gave His life to make us His is the One who hears and answers our prayers. God is not like us; His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. He is good; His mercy endures forever. God’s will is always done, and it is always good. And even when it seems bad—even when the Father does not remove the cup of wrath from His Son, even when it means we suffer shame and hatred from the world—we will see that the will of God is always perfect. What we receive is what God’s children need.
Jesus tells His people to pray. You do not need to form the perfect request. Even before you ask, your Father knows what you need. You are not standing before an angry God, for Jesus has reconciled God and man with His blood. For the sake of Jesus, our Father welcomes your petitions. Through Christ, His Father is your Father, and your Father loves you. Nor must you seek vague signs in nature and wonder if, when the phone rings or the dog barks, it is a specific answer to prayer. God provides, not because you pray, but because He loves you. You do not pray to manipulate Him; you pray because that is what faith does. You call upon God because He will give you all things, and you know that somehow, in the end, it will be good.
You are not alone in prayer. God speaks to you in His Word. With that holy and inerrant Word, prayer is not a one-way conversation. In the Bible, God reveals His will for you. He exposes His loving mercy and kindness. This God of grace answers your prayers. He provides friends, family, food, and all things. But most significantly, He who provided the ram in the thicket so that Isaac would go free—He has provided His Son as a perfect sacrifice in your place, and He delivers that same Son to you in His body and blood. By His Word, He provides. He forgives. He renews. He strengthens and encourages. He hears and He answers. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Sermon for 5/10/2020: Fifth Sunday of Easter

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A New Song

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

The Lord has done marvelous things. They are greater in number than our feeble minds might comprehend. He has called the galaxies to be. He has set the planets on their course. He has formed our bodies, wonderful in their complexity. Then again, according to those who imagined Zeus, Islam’s Allah, Ba’al, the Earth goddess, and all the other deities, those beings have done the same work. And the devil says, “See? All gods are the same. Any name will do. Call him or her what you want. It does not matter to him or to me. We have more in common than that which is distinct. Unity is the highest goal. We should all be nice.”
But the devil always lies. Those so-called divine beings might be marvelous, but they are not gracious. And morality is good. Where the pagans agree with God, thanks be to God; but there is no grace in morality. A false god’s idea of creation and morality reflect what a man imagines in his own heart, and it does not reflect what the True God demands. Repent.
The God of Abraham in the Flesh from Mary’s womb is not imagined, nor is He like us. He has remembered His mercy. His right arm has gotten Him the victory. He submitted to defeat in humility to break death’s teeth. He died and He rose again. He lives. Unlike Zeus or Allah or any imaginary god designed in human fantasy or demonic impulse, our God died to pay for the sins of men who rejected Him. Our God died for us; and He rose for us. No other god has died for His creation. No other god has the power to rise fro the dead; only the true God in Flesh, Jesus Christ, has done this. This is the Truth. He has sent the Comforter to comfort us with that Truth, and that Truth sets men free. His love is perfect and forgiving. It reconciles sinners to the Father. It gives us a song to sing—not of idle fancies, but of history and of the future we have in Him.
Though our God was angry with us for our vile and selfish deeds, His wrath has been turned to the cross. It has been spent upon the Son. Our God sent His Son to die for us and to rise again! We could not have guessed what God would do to make us His, to buy us back again. We could not have expected or imagined such love. He has become our salvation, our strength, and our song. He has taken the sins of the world into His Body. The accuser has been robbed of his accusations. Jesus died for us and crushed the liar’s head. He let us kill Him rather than send us to Hell where we belonged. He is not fair. He is just and He is merciful. He is gracious and forgiving.
Death has no more claim upon us because He took our place. He died our death. It is finished. Death is now empty. There is nothing left. He rose up out of the grave, alive in His body on the third day, reunited with His soul, the Victor over hell. The grave did not hold Him. It cannot hold us. Like unto His glorious body, our bodies will be raised and perfected. This is the most marvelous thing. It defines our God and gives us a song. Our Lord and the Holy Apostles call it the Gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation. It is the content of our song.
This is our song: He has ascended to the right hand of His Father. He rules with perfect grace in the hearts of those who believe in Him. They call Him Lord and King. Once He was mocked; now is He worshiped. He has sent the Helper, that Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, who inspired the apostles and prophets to write His words, who delivers Jesus to us. And where there is Jesus, there is also life and salvation.
And where there is life and salvation, there is singing. We cannot help ourselves. It springs up from the depths of our souls, for we are forgiven. We are loved. Our lives have purpose and meaning. The Spirit inspires us and puts His words upon our lips, and we sing the new song of redemption. So “sing unto the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things.” ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Sermon for 5/3/2020: Fourth Sunday of Easter

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The Reunion

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

As He had prepared them for everything He would lay before them in the days to come, Jesus prepared His disciples for His death. “A little while, and you will see me no more; again a little while, and you will see me.” Death robs us of the visible, tangible presence of those we love. We long to see them, but we cannot. We long to hear their voice, but there is only silence from the grave. We remember all the good times we shared with the dearly departed. We remember all the joy, all the care, all the love. We mourn what we have lost—and rightfully so, for God has blessed us richly through those with whom we have shared our lives.
In that sense, we ourselves know the grief the disciples experienced, nor can we fault them for it. Lacking understanding of our Lord’s teachings, the disciples mourned their beloved teacher and friend. There was a great, fearful silence hanging over the world on that Friday we call good. Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” and then there was silence—a silent, breathless body; a silent, cold tomb; a silent, grief-loaded Sabbath. The enemies of Jesus doubtless rejoiced, for they believed they had silenced this troublemaking rabbi who called Himself the Son of God. In the meantime, His disciples were filled with fear and sorrow. They grieved as do those who have no hope, for Jesus, their Friend and Teacher, was dead. “Your sorrow will turn to joy,” Jesus promised them. “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” In the early morning, Christ’s followers, both the women and the disciples, saw the tomb; they saw that it was open and empty. They heard the good news: “He is risen! He is not here.” That evening they saw and heard and touched Him. And as they recognized their Jesus as the living Lord, their sorrow melted away into unspeakable joy.
Jesus compared that sorrow of grief over death to pains of a woman about to give birth. It’s true that her suffering is great, and it can last many hours. But then, when she delivers her child into the world, she forgets all the anguish—or, at least, that anguish is unimportant compared to the extravagant joy she experiences as she holds that newborn child in her arms. If that anguish wasn’t forgotten, it’s entirely possible that only the firstborn child in any family would arrive. But it doesn’t work that way. The anguish of labor, no matter how long or how bitter, gives way to the joy of a child who is born.
Thanks to our Lord’s death and resurrection, we are given to think of death as a new birth, and our suffering over death as labor pains that will give way to something of incomparably greater joy. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Our present sufferings do not compare with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” There is coming a Day of resurrection and reunion, a great and glorious Last Day. And on that day all the dead will rise, and we will be gathered together with Christ and all who have died in Him. There will be no more sorrow, for Jesus will wipe away all tears. There will be no more death, for our Lord Jesus has conquered death; death is now only the gate to eternal life. And then, as Jesus promised, at last, your sorrow will turn to joy, and your mourning into dancing. For now, we rejoice that we experience a humbler reunion, though no less joyful, when our Lord gathers us around His altar for the family feast. He brings us together “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” for fellowship in His body and blood. We will be reunited there soon, God willing, gathered together as a congregation to receive life. Soon and very soon you will see Him, and and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!