Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) – 2017

Sermon: Misericordias Domini (Easter 3) – 2017
30 April 2017
Text: John 10:11-16 (Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

One of our fathers in the faith, the Blessed Doctor Martin Luther, wrote this:

“Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do,” says Dr. Luther.

This, dear friends, is a beautiful expression of what our Lord says, “I know My own, and My own know Me.”

For our Lord Jesus Christ is “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  He is not just any shepherd, for He isn’t a “hired hand” who “cares nothing for the sheep.”  No indeed!  He is the Good Shepherd.  He is the Good Shepherd because “He lays down His life for the sheep.” 

Rather than allow the wolf to come and snatch us and scatter us, our Shepherd gathers us into one flock, and He protects us from the wolf.  He will even suffer death upon the cross before He will allow you to become the wolf’s prey.  Is there any other shepherd who stands up for you like this?  Is there any other shepherd so good?

Jesus doesn’t just make promises and talk, rather He takes up His cross, and He speaks words of condemnation to the devil, and words of comfort to His flock.  Our Shepherd’s goodness is in His love for us.  For out of this boundless love and mercy for us, He is willing to suffer and bleed and die – all so that we might live.

That, dear brothers and sisters, is the hallmark of the Good Shepherd. 

He is not just working to make a few bucks off of us, but rather He works in order to take the sins away from us.  He doesn’t only save our lives by defeating the devil, but what’s more, He gives us life – eternal and joyful life – by being our one true Good Shepherd.

For what did the Lord speak through the prophet Ezekiel?  “Behold, I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out…. I will seek out… I will rescue.”  He goes on to say that He will bring them out, gather them, bring them in, and feed them.”  The Lord God Himself does this.  He doesn’t leave this to a hired hand.  The Lord, the Son of God Himself, is this very Shepherd!

Dear friends, the Lord Jesus defied evil by rising from the dead.  He confounded the devil and the grave by forgiving our sins and restoring us to the Father unto eternal life.  And so whenever sin tempts you; whenever death haunts you; whenever the devil lies in wait for you, you have a Good Shepherd to defend you: to crack the head of the devil, to defeat death by dying, and by destroying the power of sin.  You do not have a hireling.  No, you have a Good Shepherd, one who wields the shepherd’s crook mightily, all for you, and He does not back down.  And so you can trust Him!  This, dear friends, is the very faith that Luther writes about.

Perhaps in your life you have had a pet that trusted you without wavering – even in frightening or difficult times.  Your animals perceive that you love them and will take care of them.  And if you are a good shepherd of sorts, your pet will show unwavering faith in you.

But in the case of Jesus, He is our truly Good Shepherd.  He is perfect.  His love is perfect.  His care for us is perfect.  And we are not brute beasts, but human beings created in the very image of God.  We are valuable not because of what we can do, but rather because of the love God has for us.  Christ died for us.  That is how valuable we are to Him.

“He Himself,” declares St. Peter, “bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but now have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  Because of His perfect love toward us, we can perfectly trust Him, for He is the Good Shepherd.

Dear friends, Dr. Luther is right.  Because Jesus is our Good Shepherd, we can follow Him implicitly, even trusting our lives to Him a thousand times over without question.

This is the source of our faith: our Good Shepherd in whom we trust, in His promises, in His atonement of us, in His resurrection that points forward to our own resurrection as well.

Dear friends, Your Shepherd is calling you to follow Him.  He is beckoning You to the rich pasture of the eternal feast.  He is inviting you gather with the flock, to remain faithful, to trust Him, and to enjoy the blessings of eternal life.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sermon: Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2) – 2017

23 April 2017

Text: John 20:19-31 (Ezek 37:1-14, 1 John 5:4-10)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In this second Sunday of Easter, we often focus on the person of St. Thomas the apostle, “Doubting Thomas” as he is often nicknamed.  And Thomas’s confession is dramatic.  But what is far more important than Thomas and his doubt and confession, is the object of his confession: our risen Lord Jesus Christ!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that He was truly dead, and now He truly lives.  What the disciples saw at the cross was not some sort of illusion or trick.  The wounds they saw – including St. John’s gory account of the Roman spear being thrust into our Lord’s side to assure His death through the issue of “the water and the blood” from His body – these mortal wounds were not a clever conspiracy.

But there is so much more that our Lord is teaching us to confess about Him.  For example, our Lord confirms the Most Holy Trinity: “As the Father has sent Me,” He says, “I am sending you.”  And then He breathes on the disciples, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.  If you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

Here we see the Father sending the Son, and the Son sending the Holy Spirit.  Here we see the Most Holy Trinity coming to sinful men, authorizing them to speak on behalf of God, bearing the keys to forgive or to withhold forgiveness from others.

Our Lord gives this authority to those whom He is sending out, which is what the word “apostles” means.  He gives the Holy Spirit to them, so that they can forgive sins.  And they in turn will lay hands on other men to give them the Holy Spirit, so that this ministry of forgiveness and the use of the keys will continue for as long as people need to be forgiven their sins.  Our Lord also passes to them the burden of church discipline, to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant.  

St. Thomas had seen the Lord forgive sins.  He had heard our Lord delegate authority to preachers and send them out bearing Good News, even being empowered with authority over demons.  None of this was Thomas’s stumbling-block.

Rather it was the bodily resurrection of the Lord.  This was, and is, the most difficult – and the most liberating – teaching of the Christian faith.  Nobody has a problem with Jesus being born.  Nobody has a problem with Jesus preaching and teaching.  Nobody has a problem believing that Jesus died.  And truth be told, most people would have no problem with Jesus “going to heaven” and doing whatever disembodied spirits do.  Most people love the idea of Jesus’s “teachings” – especially in matters of ethics, of tolerance, of love, of acceptance, of turning the other cheek and of not being judgmental – even as there are other teachings of Jesus most people would rather ignore.

But where we Christians get real pushback is from what really put Thomas to the test: the physical, bodily resurrection.

Unbelievers tell us it’s a myth (though they cannot explain the empty tomb, the historical accounts of appearances of Jesus, the fact that the apostles chose to die rather than renounce their belief in the risen Jesus, and other such dilemmas).  Some unbelievers weave together laughable theories, such as a botched crucifixion, or a conspiracy to steal the body of Jesus, to lie about it, and then to die under torture rather than admit the truth.  Jews tell us Jesus died, but deny the resurrection.  Muslims deny the execution of Jesus.  Some heretical groups argue that Jesus ceased being divine when He died, while others claim He became an angel after the crucifixion.  

The resurrection of Jesus is both the central tenet of Christianity, and the one that is hardest to believe.  Even Thomas, who witnessed Jesus’s miracles for three years – including the raising of Lazarus from the dead – had trouble believing the testimony of the Marys – and now of the other disciples – that they “had seen the Lord.”

Thomas expresses his resistance to a bodily resurrection by invoking the flesh of Jesus: “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”  He simply will not believe in the physical resurrection of the once-dead Jesus.  

He might have believed that the disciples saw an apparition or ghost.  He might have believed that they had some kind of vision or trance.  He might have believed that Jesus spiritually rose from the dead.  But what he could not fathom was a revivified body walking out of His own grave.

But, dear friends, think about what the bodily resurrection of Jesus means!  It means that Jesus has truly overcome sin, because sin leads to death, and death leads to corruption.  Jesus has reversed the process.  Just as His body saw no corruption, and His body rose from death, and because He, the sinless one paid the ransom for us poor miserable sinners, that means that we too can look forward to standing upon our feet, a great army of the redeemed, former dead, dry bones revivified by the Holy Spirit: not to be ghosts or angels or fond memories in someone’s heart, but rather to be restored with sinews, flesh, and skin, to have the spirit blown back into our dead bodies so that, yes indeed, these bones can live!

This is what it means that our Lord Jesus Christ “has overcome the world.”  We live in a fallen world.  Everyone and everything dies.  Every human being is sinful and corrupt and mortal.  That is our world.  We accept it as normal.  “To err is human,” we say.  But Jesus says that to be human is to be in the image of God.  And He leads the way from the tomb to the newness of life, to incorruptibility, to eternal communion with the Most Holy Trinity.

And that communion is fleshly, dear friends.  Jesus communes with us the same way He communes with Thomas: physically, in the body, in the blood of His wounds.  “Put you finger here,” He says to Thomas.  “Take, eat; take drink,” He says to us.  “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

And like St. Thomas, many Christians find it hard to believe that the physical Christ is among us.  He is with us in His Word, forgiving our sins by means of the Holy Spirit that He sent to us as pastors bear the keys.  And He is with us in the same risen fleshly body presented to Thomas, being offered to us in the sacrament.  

And what is far more important than our ability to explain what happens in the Lord’s Supper is just who is physically present with us when He comes to us.  He bids us: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

And on this day and on every day in which the Lord comes to us in His body and blood, we receive with great joy the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation, even as we confess with St. Thomas that the risen Lord Jesus is: “My Lord and my God!” and with St. John that “by believing you may have life in His name.”  “Blessed are those,” says our Lord, who have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sermon: Easter – 2017

16 April 2017

Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 15:51-57

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

If you ask Lutherans all around the world, “What is the First Commandment?” they will recite, “You shall have no other gods.”  Then if you ask them, “What does this mean?”  They will reply in whatever language is spoken in their part of the world: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Loving God and trusting God are things that are easy to understand.  Of course, God loves us, so we love Him in return.  Of course, God is faithful, so we trust Him implicitly.  But what is it about God, that the first item on the list is “fear”?

Why should we fear someone that we love and trust?  Several times in the Psalms we are told that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Not the love of the Lord, nor faith in Him, but fear of Him.  

As we get to know God through the Scriptures we learn that we shouldn’t fear Him because He is petty and mean, but rather because He is righteous and just, and we are anything but.  We shouldn’t fear Him because He is sadistic and loves to see us hurt – far from it.  That’s more our attitude toward others. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom because to fear God is to acknowledge His holiness and our unrighteousness.  And it is in understanding this reality, that the entire Bible makes sense, that the Christian faith falls into place, and that we can really grow in our love and trust of God.

One of my former professors observed a few days ago that what plagues our culture and society more than anything (and we, the church are included in this observation), is that we no longer fear God.  I agree with him. For we have reduced God to a fuzzy idea, a superstitious belief not in an Almighty One, but an All Tolerant One.  We don’t feel the need to repent, because God is love.  And since we are saved by grace alone, we don’t have to work hard in the kingdom.  We can be lazy and just take and take without ever doing our duty as believers.  We don’t need to support our brothers and sisters by being at Divine Service, because we are instead thinking about whether or not “we get something out of it.”  It’s all about us.  And if we think we “get more out of” watching TV preachers or looking at facebook stories about religion, or reading our Bible at home instead, then that’s what we do rather than obeying the Lord’s command and invitation.  And since God is a big pushover who doesn’t ask anything of us, we don’t fear His wrath at our self-justifications, that we know deep down inside, are wrong.

As Luther says, “We should fear His wrath and not do anything against” the commandments.  The disciples of Jesus saw firsthand the wrath of God, as did the chief priests, the scribes, the soldiers, the Pharisees, the crucified robbers, Pontius Pilate, Barabbas, and all of the witness of the crucifixion, friends and enemies alike.  They saw the skies darken, the earthquake, the bodies of some of the saints emerging from the graves, the curtain of the temple torn from top to bottom.  They saw Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in real time.  They saw blood and gore and torture, the worst miscarriage of justice in history, and the confirmation that the most righteous Man the world has ever seen, was truly dead, as blood and water poured from a gash in his chest made by a Roman spear.  They saw the bloodied and mangled corpse of the One who raised Lazarus from the dead, the One who fed five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, the One who cast out countless demons and cured myriads of the sick – hastily laid out on a slab in a garden tomb as the High Sabbath Day came rushing in with the setting of the sun.

Good Friday was a frightful time, a day when the fear of God was on full display, and the wrath of God was poured out upon the Lamb.

But we are now at Easter morning.  Jesus has risen!  He has borne the wrath of God for us, and now He lives!  What is there to be afraid of?

It has always struck me as ironic that the last word in the Easter Gospel reading is: “afraid.”  It is said about the Marys, the very first witnesses of the resurrection: “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” 

After all the terrors that they saw on Good Friday, why are they afraid now?

Actually, it makes perfect sense.  Fear is a natural reaction to being jolted out of a normal situation.  Our hearts race, our breathing quickens, and adrenaline courses our veins, making us tremble, and filling us with nervous energy.  This is how our bodies react to the unknown, to things that perplex us, to situations that unnerve us.

The Marys went to the tomb on Sunday morning expecting to find the body of Jesus so they could complete the embalming ritual.  The first thing that set them on edge was that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.  It was very large, so this was no accident.  Had robbers come?  Would they encounter a group of violent men hiding inside?  Their hearts must have begun to race.

They went inside and found “a young man sitting on the right side dressed in a white robe.”  We are explicitly told that “they were alarmed.”  The word translated as “alarmed” could be thought of as “stunned” or “gob-smacked.”  The angel immediately told them not to be alarmed.  He also told them the good news: “He has risen; He is not here.”  He showed them so that they could see with their own eyes.

Now, dear friends, if you could only put yourself in their place.  Can you imagine going to the cemetery and finding the tomb of one of your loved ones open, and an angel were to appear and tell you such a thing?

Imagine the power and might of God to raise Jesus from the dead, to send an angel to tell the good news, and ponder that these two humble women have been chosen to bring this most extraordinary news in the history of the world to the world by breaking the news to the disciples.

In the span of seconds, their lives have changed.  The entire world has changed.  History itself has changed.  Death has been conquered.  Sin has been destroyed.  The devil has been defeated.  In spite of the workings of the mighty Roman Empire and the powerful chief priests and Council of Judea – our Lord has walked right out of the tomb –under the noses of a guard detail, in spite of the governor’s seal placed on the door. And even before the stone was rolled away, Jesus was alive, and had departed what was supposed to be the place where His body would decay, where one day His bones would be collected and put into a box, eventually to be forgotten in a cave somewhere.

Not today, dear friends.  Not today.  And not any day.  Those days are over.  We have the promise of the resurrection of our own flesh.

For God is in charge.  God’s will has been done.  The love of God has raised Jesus from the dead and has cleansed us from our sins, from our mortality, and from our bondage to the evil one.  The faithfulness of God has proven flawless, as the will of God from before the foundation of the world was carried out, according to the Scriptures, by the word of the prophets.  Jesus has come, has conquered, and now lives again.  And so it is fitting that we love and trust in God above all things.

But let us not forget the healthy fear that the Marys experienced on that greatest and most wondrous day.  Their fear was a holy fear, borne of the knowledge that God is almighty and that He is carrying out His will – and even using them as His humble instruments to do so.  They are dealing with the mightiest power of the universe, the One against whom death itself is ineffectual and the seeming power of the grave is nothing more than an annoyance to be swept away by the nail-scarred hand of Him who has overcome.

Let us celebrate the resurrection!  Let us hurl defiant curses against the evil one!  Let us say to death, “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  Let us praise God with great joy!  Let us love God all the more as the one who loves us and all of His creation.  Let us trust in God that His plan is always good, even when we cannot see its inner workings, knowing that our dear Father only intends our benefit.

And let us also fear God, dear friends, knowing that His power is without limit, that He has saved us as a free gift for the purpose not that we should be lazy, but that we should work all the more fervently, with gratitude for all the blessings that He has bestowed upon us: even our own resurrection in the fullness of time.

The fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of wisdom.  

Let us “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” with “boldness and confidence asking Him as dear children ask their dear father.”  Let us joyfully sing the praises of our risen Lord for all eternity, for we know that our Redeemer lives.  And let us pray that the Holy Spirit would direct us to carry out our own labor of love for the Kingdom with the obedient fear of the Marys, ready to live out our vocations in the church in a life that will have no end!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sermon: Good Friday – 2017

14 April 2017

Text: John 18:1-19:42

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In the Good Friday detailed account of our Lord’s arrest, trial, flogging, crucifixion, death, and burial, very little is said about the crucifixion itself.  St. John writes: “He went out bearing His own cross, to the place of a skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.”

There are no other details about the crucifixion itself.

And yet, the cross is central to the church: to salvation, to the faith, to the liturgy, to the doctrine, and even to the history of mankind and of all creation.  The death of the Lord upon the cross is the pinnacle of the entire Bible: the fulfillment of prophecy, the culmination of the Divine plan and will, the one great atonement to restore the universe to its right existence after mankind’s tragic fall into sin and death. 

The cross is the very expression of Jesus in His Kingdom, the reason why the King was born in the flesh, the purpose for which He came into the world. The cross is where the Lord bears full witness to the truth: the truth that God loves His creation and will stop at nothing to save and redeem sinful men.

The cross is the entrance to the kingdom of heaven.

Our Lord said that to follow Him, we must all take up our own cross.  For no disciple is above his Master.  We follow Jesus, dear friends.  That means we follow Him by gathering where He is to be found, hearing His Words, following in His footsteps – even to the place of a skull, the place of death, the place that is called “Golgotha.”

For in this fallen world, there are many crosses.  We are all to bear our own, and to help our brothers and sisters in their burdens.  And this is unnatural for us fallen men.  We all seek to avoid pain and run to pleasure.  But Jesus says that to follow Him means to bear the cross. That is because bearing the cross is an act of love and an act of faith: love, because the Lord suffered for the sake of our sins, and faith, because we trust that our suffering is part of a Divine plan from which will come good, just as His cross is – even though we cannot see the meaning behind our own crosses.

On this Good Friday in which we are saved by the cross, we do well to consider our own crosses and how we are bearing them.  Are we embittered or angry?  Are we jealous of others?  Are we enraged at God?  Do we see our own suffering as cosmic meaninglessness?  Do we find ways to avoid our crosses and seek our own pleasure – even at the expense of others?

The cross is the most beloved symbol in the Christian faith, and that is true for a very good reason.  Without the cross, we remain in our sins. Without the cross, our suffering is truly in vain.  Without the cross, there is no love for us, to us, or by us.  But in the cross of Jesus, we have love, life, victory, hope, communion with God, and strength to face our own crosses.  This is not to say that bearing the cross is easy.  This is not to say the old slogan that “God won’t give you what you can’t handle.”  But rather, God has given us His Son, in love for us, so that we might conquer death and the grave, and ultimately, the crosses that we suffer are conquered in eternity.  We may not be able to handle our crosses, but Christ has, does, and will until He returns in glory.

The cross did not stop with our Lord’s execution on Good Friday.  All of the apostles suffered because of their confession and their preaching of Christ and Him crucified.  All but one of the twelve were themselves executed, and some of them by literal crucifixion.  The earliest days of the church saw cruelty beyond imagining, and no Christian was exempt: not the very old, nor the very young.  Not the pregnant woman, nor the invalid.  Because of the cross of Jesus and the faith given to them by water and the Word, they, our martyred brothers and sisters, were willing to bear their own crosses, even unto death, as a living testimony of the Lord’s cross.

This past Sunday, Palm Sunday, 49 Christians were killed in Egypt during their worship service.  While waving palms and singing “Hosannas”, they were martyred for the sake of Christ.  They were called to bear an enormous cross with no warning.  Our beloved martyred brothers and sisters include a little girl barely old enough to walk, and a young altar boy vested and serving at the altar.

There is a recent video for all the world to see of Arab Christians whose church was recently bombed.  The people are standing around the ruins and saying the Nicene Creed together in Arabic.  They are bearing the burden of a weighty cross, and there is no end in sight to their suffering.  And yet they confess the Creed.

Our sister in Christ, Asia Bibi, for whom we have been praying for many years, has just passed her seventh Good Friday bearing the cross of living in a cruel dungeon, separated from her husband and children, for the sake of her Christian confession.

For many people around the world, our Lord’s command to “take up your cross” is much more than putting money in a plate and getting up early on Sunday. The Lord calls us not to go to church, but to be the church.  Five days ago marked the 72nd anniversary of the martyrdom of Lutheran theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose book “The Cost of Discipleship” ponders the meaning of bearing the cross.  He writes: “The cross is laid on every Christian.  The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world…. When Christ calls a man, He bids Him to come and die.”

Confessing Christ in this country will not likely get you killed, but it could very well cost you your life’s savings, your business, your house, and everything you have accumulated in a life of hard work, simply for following your conscience as a Christian.  Again, American brothers and sisters in Christ who have had to pay this price to follow Jesus did not ask for this cross, and they were not warned.  But they bore it when it came.

You may be passed over for a promotion at work or may get a bad grade in school because of your Christian confession.  You may be ostracized and mocked by people you thought were your dear friends.  You may be disowned by your family. You may be confronted and asked questions out of the blue by people with power over you, and your life will radically change based on that one answer that you give in that one moment.  Will we bear our crosses if and when that time comes?

Dear friends, by our own strength, we would all certainly fall.  But in Christ’s cross we glory, because in Him we can do all things.  He comes to you as a sacrifice, the Lamb of God, who pays your admission to eternity, the ransom for your own resurrected body that will never see decay. He offers His body and blood to the Father, and He shares it with you this very day in the Holy Sacrament.

We bear the cross because we know what is coming next.  We endure this Friday that pains us to call “Good,” because we know the “very good” that is to come Sunday morning.  We pray for strength to bear our own crosses, for He has born the cross for us. 

Let us keep vigil with the body of the crucified Christ, dear brothers and sisters.  Let us keep watch at the cemetery.  Until Sunday.  Until the Lord’s return.  Until eternity.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sermon: Maundy Thursday – 2017

13 April 2017

Text: 1 Cor 11:23-32

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There wasn’t much reason to expect anything extraordinary.  Everyone knew how the meal was going to work.  It was a traditional ritual that the disciples had done every year of their lives.  It was scripted.  The leader of the meal said prayers, and the attendees replied with responses and “amens.” 

There was bread and wine.  There was a roasted lamb.  There were bitter herbs.

These things took place to recall the ancient history of Israel’s exodus from slavery under Pharaoh to freedom in the Promised Land.  The holy meal commemorated the time when the blood of the lamb delivered the children of Israel from death, as the angel passed them over. 

Although this meal was a holiday tradition, it was repeated so often that much of its meaning was probably lost amid thoughts about the other people gathered around the table, as well as mundane thoughts, like, “Did we buy enough wine?”, “Was the lamb overcooked?” and “Will someone drink too much and make  fool of himself this year?”

And everyone looked forward to this feast.  It was a time for family, fun, and friends.  And it was so regular that everyone was comfortable with his part in the drama.

And then came this particular Passover meal.

Unbeknownst to the disciples, every Passover they had ever attended, and every Passover their ancestors had taken part in, every Passover ever celebrated on the planet for some fifteen centuries was leading up to this one.

For the fullness of time had come.  The “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world” has taken His place at the table to be eaten, the bread that is His body, the wine that is His blood, He, the priest and the offering, He, the host and the guest, He the Master and the servant, He, the new and greater Moses, the true Promised Land, and the One who delivers the world from its slavery to sin and leads all who join Him and this table – all who are washed, all who believe – to everlasting life, to pure and perfect righteousness, to eternal communion with God.

What seemed so ordinary and common has become extraordinary and holy: bread that becomes His body, wine that becomes His blood, Words spoken by a man that bear within them the very power of God Himself.

For the God who created the universe in six days by means of His Word has delivered us to a new day, a new week of creation even, by means of the word of the Word Made Flesh, words of institution that the apostles themselves would speak as called and ordained servants of the Word over bread and wine, and the miracle of the Lord’s presence continues – through them, through us, through those who will come after us, and even unto the Lord’s return.

And indeed, as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

The Lord Jesus also did something shocking and unexpected that had never been done in the ordinary ritual before: He stripped down and wrapped Himself with a towel.  He washed the feet of each one present as if He were a lowly slave.  He explained that this cleansing with water was necessary in order to have a share with Him.  And having washed them unto their regeneration, our Lord quizzed them: “Do you understand what I have done for you?”  Yes indeed.  He washed us – we did not cleanse ourselves.  He made us worthy – we did not make ourselves fit to be in His presence.  He used water and His Word to act upon us physically to prepare us to receive the holy feast that He had planned for us upon the table of the altar.

He did this out of love, and He bade us to love one another.  It is not an option, but a command, a mandate, something that is as much a part of Christianity as the cross itself.  “By this,” says our Lord, “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The time of instruction for the disciples was coming to a close.  Our Lord was preparing them to become apostles, to be sent out among all the people of the world, to wash them with water, to repeat His Word, to announce His coming, and to share this ongoing meal with all who have been washed in His name.

For this meal, this last Passover, this first Eucharist, was the Lord’s last will and testament: the testament of His blood, the blood shed upon the cross, the blood of the Lamb without blemish.  Jesus was giving to them the benefits of His sacrificial death, and commanding them, “This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” – bringing Himself closer to them than they ever thought possible, even sharing in a mysterious bodily communion that continues in the church – we who are called “the body of Christ” to this present day.

For in this ritualized meal that seems so ordinary and scripted, with its prayers and its “amens,” with its bread and wine, with our wandering minds and the ordinariness of it all, is something truly extraordinary: the Lamb who was roasted, the burnt offering of the Son upon the cross, whose offering was a sweet aroma in the nostrils of the Lord, a sacrifice willingly offered out of love and a desire to save and redeem, that Lamb is with us, dear friends.  Not as a carcass of meat, but as a resurrected body given to you to eat and to drink unto salvation and everlasting life.

Our Lord’s Supper is at the same time ordinary and extraordinary.  For it is bread and wine and the same prayers and ritual we do every week, and nevertheless, our Lord is with us each and every time, the Shepherd feeding the Sheep, the Lamb whose blood sets us free, giving us His body and blood, leading us to eternal life.  Take eat!  Take drink!  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Sermon: Palmarum (Lent 6) – 2017

9 April 2017

Text: Matt 21:1-9

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

The sixth week of Lent has begun, dear friends.  Holy Week is finally here.  It begins the same way that the First and Holiest of all Holy Weeks began: with palms and Hosannas to the Son of David.  It began by a royal welcome to our King. It will reach its pinnacle with the cross and the empty tomb.  We remember our King’s regal Palm Sunday entrance to claim His throne, leading on that Good Friday to His coronation that is like none other in history, and culminating in next Sunday’s Paschal victory celebration in the most unlikely of all places: a grave.

Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus is not just a great teacher or a really nice guy or a role model.  He is not our buddy, nor our genie in a lamp.  He is a King.  He is our King. He is the King.  He is the Creator and the Ruler of the universe.  He is being welcomed to Jerusalem in the exact same way that David’s son Solomon was brought into the Holy City to receive his crown.  And make no mistake, Jesus is the Greater Son of David, and He will likewise receive a crown – not of gold or silver, but of thorns.  He will be hailed as a King – not in reverence, but in mockery.  He will be brought to the palace – not as the potentate but as a prisoner.

His Kingdom is not of this world.  Nor is it like anything this world has ever seen. 

Very seldom will a king lay down his life for his countrymen.  And never does a king willingly die for his enemies – but this King does just that, and more. 

In our day and age, most of the kings still left in the world are mere figureheads: hollow men with portraits on paper money and stamps, human props trotted out on national holidays to wave to the crowds and pose for pictures, powerless men who have nothing to do with actual governance. 

And King Jesus seems even more pathetic at first blush.  Here is a King who goes about barefoot.  He has no throne to sit upon, no palace to live in, no country to call His realm.  Instead, this King is destined to hang upon a cross, take up His abode in a tomb, and be rejected by the very people of whom He is King.

But what is really happening, dear friends?  Here is the King of the Universe who is truly God and yet who takes upon Himself human flesh and blood.  He willingly enthrones Himself upon the cross out of love, to rule as no other Sovereign in history, to reign eternally in love and forgiveness, with both unlimited power and boundless mercy.  And He allows His dead body to be laid in a tomb – the abode of the dead, the fate that awaits every sinner from Adam and Eve, to the present, and until the last day.  He takes up His Sabbath residence in the cold stone grave in order to blow it up, to turn the grave from the place where even every king is defeated, transforming it into a place where even the lowliest servant of Christ is victorious.  Jesus has come to turn the world on its head, to turn a sign of torture into a sign of life, and to turn a place of mourning into a place of celebration.  He has come to pay for your sins with His blood, and to offer His righteousness as a trade for your sinfulness.  And only He has the power to do this.  And so we sing: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

Our modern-day powerless kings cover themselves in gold and furs and jewels, though they can do nothing.  But our True King, the Son of David, our King who comes to us humble, and mounted on a donkey, comes to us without even a robe to cover Himself upon the cross, and yet His might is limitless and His power beyond all reckoning.  He is covered with a burial shroud that explodes with light and energy as His body is reanimated, as He walks effortlessly out of the tomb, and as He appears to His disciples.  He clothes Himself to this day humbly, mounted by His Word, coming to us by means of bread and wine, His triumphant body and His sacrificial and saving blood, bursting from the tomb, blasting through space, and transcending time, reigning from the altar, given to you, here and now, more powerful and fearsome than an exploding galaxy, and yet as tender as a flower swaying in a gentle April breeze. 

That one wafer and that one sip, dear friends, contain the power to destroy and rebuild the entire universe in the blink of an eye.  And it is given to you, as a free gift, a merciful King’s Ransom from your Lord, the gift of Himself, the gift that means you will live forever, and even your body itself will rise from the grave, as His has done.  All of this is given to you as a free gift, which you claim unto yourself by simple faith in His Word, calling to mind your second birth by means of baptism – all of which is what we are expressing when we say each and every time: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

For all of this is embedded in that little word “Hosanna” – which means “Save.”  Unlike today’s figureheads and even unlike the kings of the past who actually ruled, King Jesus is not merely a Ruler, but a Savior.  He has come to rebuild our broken world and to place us upon His throne.  He has come to reconcile and renew and re-create.  He has come to forgive sin.  He has come to destroy death.  He has come to obliterate Satan.

It may have been the understatement of all time when our Lord told Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world.” 

Let us pray that this holy week will be a time of holy joy as we ponder our King, as we hear the Word of the King, as we are rescued by the King, and even as we are allowed to sit at table to eat and drink with our King, as we ponderZ anew that our King has come to defeat our bitterest enemies and to bring us victory and peace.

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Sermon: Judica (Lent 5) – 2017

2 April 2017

Text: John 8:42-59 (Gen 22:1-14, Heb 9:11-15)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

If you ask people to sum up Christianity and the teachings of Jesus in two words, a lot of people would say: “Be nice.”  And niceness means non-judgmentalism, tolerance, and acceptance of everyone.  It means never saying anything insensitive or making people uncomfortable with their words.

Our Lord Jesus speaks to His audience today, beginning with: “If God were your Father, you would love Me…. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”  And things go downhill from there.

And who is our Lord’s audience, dear friends?  To whom does He say these really hurtful and judgmental things?  Surely, He is speaking to war criminals, dictators, and serial killers.  And He is.  But He is speaking to more than just the worst and most obvious sinners.  Who is our Lord’s audience?  You are.  I am.  We all are.

We do not love our Lord when we break the commandments.  We serve the devil when we sin.  We do Satan’s work when we fail to keep God’s Word.  

This is bitter medicine.  Because it is true.  This is the cause and source of all human unhappiness, the reason behind aging and sickness and disappointments and death itself.  

In our Gospel, the response of the people was not to hang their heads in shame, cry out for mercy, and seek the Lord’s help to repent.  Instead, they accused the Son of God of being possessed by a demon, and they tried to stone Him to death.

They wanted a nice Jesus who would tell them what they wanted to hear.  Instead they got truthful Jesus who told them what they needed to hear.  And we need to hear this today, dear friends.

We also need to hear the Word of the Lord from Hebrews, in which God again tells us something shocking.  For thousands of years, the people of God have sacrificed animals in a bloody ritual.  They would bring lambs and goats and bulls to the Temple where the priests would shed their blood by the hundreds, thousands, and perhaps millions over the centuries.  And this was done at God’s command.  But we are told today that, “not by means of the blood of goats and calves” are we redeemed.  All of that slaughter, and those sacrifices did not forgive sins.  

Nor did the rituals and the priests, who, for generation after generation, lived without property, without the ability to become wealthy, subsisting only on the offerings of the faithful; their lives of sacrifice did not forgive sins.  Nor did the sacrifices of the people, who gave ten percent of their possessions for the priests and the Temple: a huge sacrifice, but one that did not redeem a single soul.

Our Old Testament reading from Genesis is also disconcerting.  For God instructed Abraham to slay his one and only miraculous son as a sacrifice.  How long and torturous that walk up the mountain must have been, with wood on the son’s back, with the father knowing what would happen at the peak.  How horrific must it have been for Abraham to obediently raise the knife over his son, who was bound by ropes, waiting for the blow, anticipating the blood, the screams, and the onset of death.  And yet even Abraham’s willingness to end the life of his beloved son did not earn redemption, not for himself, his son, or anyone.

Indeed, to unbelievers, the Christian faith is either a fairy tale, or the story of a sadistic God who takes pleasure in making his creatures suffer for nothing, and who ultimately abuses His own Son.  It is the story of a God who watches innocent animals slaughtered, and who picks fights with people by calling them sons of the devil. And for what?

But, dear friends, what makes all the difference is knowing what is really happening here. 

For when God tested Abraham’s faith, God had no intention of allowing the child-sacrifice of Isaac to happen.  This is why the angel of the Lord stayed the hand of Abraham, and provided a substitute in the form of the ram caught by his horns in the thicket – a preview of the Son of God, the Lamb, caught by His head in the crown of thorns.

What we are seeing here is not a picture of a God who delights in suffering, but rather a God who is willing to suffer out of love to save and redeem sinners – even those like us who do not love our Lord when we break the commandments, who serve the devil when we sin, and who do Satan’s work when we fail to keep God’s Word.  

Yes, indeed, Jesus is that Lamb provided by the Father, our Father who is merciful.  And that Lamb is the Son who loves us so as to die for us.  And this gift of forgiveness, life, salvation, victory, and redemption is given to us by the Holy Spirit. 

For the work of the priests who sacrificed animals and offered their own life’s work as sacrificial labor for the Lord and the people, was not in vain.  For although the blood of those sacrificial beasts did not save any of us, their sacrifice pointed to a greater reality: the atoning death of our Lord on the cross – and this has atoned for the sins of the whole world. The animals did not die in vain, for their sacrifice pointed us to Christ, who has come to renew the world, and undo the very deaths that we have brought into the world by our sin.  Nor do the people of God sacrifice in vain, whose gifts and offerings support the Temple and the priests, the congregations and the pastors.  For though you cannot buy salvation, your sacrifice does make the ministry of Word and Sacrament possible, as you place money in the plate with grateful hearts, not begrudging what you could have done for yourself instead.

We all sacrifice according to our vocation, not to earn salvation, but again, to point to Jesus, who is our salvation, and who has indeed earned our salvation, and who graciously gives us our salvation as a free gift.

And so we are back to our Gospel, as Jesus tells us to repent of our stubbornness regarding our confession of Him.  For if we believe Jesus is of God and not of Satan, we will serve Him, gladly and willingly, hearing His Word, receiving His body and blood, seeking absolution for our sins, and listening eagerly to the preaching of the Gospel.  Instead of accusing our Lord of having a demon, we will hearken back to our baptisms to distance ourselves from Satan and his works and his ways.  We will hear the Law and not be angered, but grieved.  We will confess.  We will ask for forgiveness.  We will repent.  We will gladly hear the Gospel.  We will repudiate the devil.  We will keep God’s Word, and will never see death.

For all of these images in the Holy Scriptures: the provision of the sacrificial Lamb in the stead of Isaac, the priests obediently sacrificing the animals of the faithful given as offerings to the Lord, and the preaching of both Law and Gospel by our Lord Jesus Christ, all point us to where our hope and our help are to be found, in Him and in none other than Jesus Christ, the crucified, the Lamb, the Priest, and the Word.

The two words that sum up our faith are not “Be nice,” but rather: “Receive Christ.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.