Monday, May 22, 2017

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Easter 6 (May 22-27, 2017)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: 1 Peter 5:6-7 - “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #462 “All the Earth with Joy Is Sounding”
Hymns for Wednesday: 493, 494, 821
Hymns for Sunday: 564, 462, 640 (tune: 637), 491, 469, 829

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Monday-Wednesday are the Scriptures for Wednesday’s Ascension Service. The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Acts 1:1-11
What promises were made to the apostles? Why did they need them? 

Tuesday:  Ephesians 1:15-23
What does Paul do for the Ephesian people? What things does he want them to know? How is Jesus able to do all that?

Wednesday:  Luke 24:44-53
Why were the disciples joyful when Jesus ascended? Shouldn’t they be sad? What did it mean for them?

Thursday:  Acts 1:12-26
What did the disciples and the women devote themselves to after Jesus ascended? Why? Is this true for you? Why?

What should Christians expect in this life? Why? What should Christians then also expect after that!? Why?

Saturday:  John 17:1-11
Who is Jesus praying for? Why? For what?

The Catechism - The Commandments: The Ninth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ the Word of God to be proclaimed to all people everywhere.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Sunday School teachers.
+ the Lanka Lutheran Church (Sri Lanka), for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and provision for our Synod’s Soldiers of the Cross assistance program.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.


Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Easter 6 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Forever Helper”
Text: John 14:15-21 (1 Peter 3:13-22)

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia! And He is sending you another Helper.

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

I will not leave you as orphans, Jesus says to His disciples. It kind of sounded like that last week, though. For, Jesus said, I am leaving. I am going to prepare a place for you. And while, yes, He said But I will come back for you . . . what about in the meantime? What are we going to do until He returns? the disciples were probably wondering. It’s a cold, harsh world. It’s a dangerous, deceptive world. It’s a world that crucifies, beheads, and persecutes. We might not make it.

And they probably were wondering that because, even though it doesn’t say it here, what often happens with Jesus is that He gives answers to what people are thinking before they speak. He gives answers to what people are thinking but are afraid to say. We read it over and over in the Gospels: Jesus knew what they were thinking and so said . . .  

So here, too. Yes, I am leaving, going to prepare a place for you, but until I come back you won’t be on your own; you won’t be orphans. You will have another Helper. To be with you forever. Who will never leave you. And who is it? The Spirit of truth. You know Him as the Holy Spirit (v. 26). The third person of the Holy Trinity. And He will not only dwell with you, Jesus says, but in you. Wherever you are He will be. To help. To help you

Now to be sure, we have other helpers in this world. But they will all fail us. Sooner or later, they will not be there when we need them. Or they will be there but let us down, or not be able to do what we need. And often at the worst possible times. Friends (both real and virtual), family, spouses, doctors, government, teachers, professors, even pastors, district presidents, and synodical presidents - they’re sinners, all, and so they will all let us down; they will all fail. 

And they will not be with us forever. Nothing in this world is. Sin has seen to that, too. The sin that has brought fallenness has also brought separation and death into this world. And in fact, things in this world seem to be passing away now faster than ever. Things that are here today are either gone or obsolete tomorrow.

But it’s not even just people - other things in this world that we turn to as helpers will also let us down. Whether that helper is found in a bottle, a pill, or an injection; on the internet, or anywhere else. 

And as if all that’s not bad enough, there’s this too: you will fail you, too. And you will fail others. You cannot even depend on yourself. Maybe least of all yourself. For consider the first sentence of the Holy Gospel we heard today, when Jesus said: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. How ya’ doin’ with that? We say we love God, but honestly, how many times in a day do you even think of God or keeping His commandments? How often are you too busy to pray or gladly hear and learn God’s Word and live by it? How often are you too busy or too self-absorbed to help the people you run into every day? How often are you not even worried about the good you fail to do, the words you could have spoken but didn’t, the fact that - as the liturgy of Private Absolution puts it: I have lived as if God did not matter, and as if I mattered most? That’s all I need to say. That line right there convicts me every time.

Put that all together, and you know: we need help. We need a Helper.

And today, we hear that we have one. I will ask the Father, Jesus says, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever . . . I will not leave you as orphans. That’s not a maybe; that’s a promise. A promise that came to pass for the disciples at Pentecost, which we will celebrate in just a couple of weeks now. And it came to pass for you when you were baptized. There in that water, you received a Helper, the Helper, to be with you always. 

Now, you may not understand how the Holy Spirit helps you very much. He doesn’t put food on your table or money in your pocket, right? . . . Or does He? But maybe there’s something we need even more . . . something we need first . . . something without which all the food and money in the world really doesn’t do much good . . .

And that’s Jesus. The first way, the most important way the Helper helps you is by pointing you to Jesus and giving you Jesus. That once you realize that If you love me, you will keep my commandments isn’t true for you, to see that it is true for Jesus. That because He loves you, He did keep all the commandments. Perfectly. For you. In your place. All the time. What you couldn’t do, He did for you. That in the end your account not come up short, but be filled with His good. And then also because He loves you He laid down His life for you - all your sins, misdeeds, and failures held against Him and not against you. And that we call forgiveness. 

And the picture of that is what we are celebrating all this Easter season. The cross is the picture of your sin, the empty tomb the picture of your forgiveness. The cross - bondage and death - what you deserve; the empty tomb - freedom and release - what you’re given. Given by the Holy Spirit. For what Jesus did for you and earned for you is given to you by the Holy Spirit. For He is the Lord and giver of life, we confess in the Creed. And if Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (as we heard last week), then if the Holy Spirit is the giver of life, He is the giver of Jesus. Jesus’ good, Jesus’ forgiveness, Jesus’ life, Jesus’ love, Jesus’ sonship - all given to you. The Holy Spirit taking what is Jesus’ and giving it to you. 

And so you’re really not orphans. With the Holy Spirit you are sons and daughters of God. Born from above. With a Father who’s not going anywhere.

But we do, right? Go somewhere. Depart from our Father. That’s what sin is. Not just doing something naughty. It’s worse than that. For when we live as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most - to use the picture of the grave again - what we’re doing is crawling back into the tomb again and making our home there! Satan making us believe that’s a better place to be. That’s what sin is, really. It is us choosing life apart from God; life on our own; life as I want it. . . . But there is no life apart from God. Because you know what life apart from God is called? Death. Just ask Adam and Eve. 

But that’s not what our Father in heaven wants. That’s not why He sent His Son. That’s not why He gave us His Spirit. He doesn’t want a world full of orphans, living to die; but children, dying to live. Children of God, raised from the death of sin to life again. And Jesus promises that here, too. Because I live, you also will live, He says. The tomb is not your future, life is. Love is.

And the Holy Spirit, the Helper, who raises us to that life, will also then help us live it. We’ll begin to keep the commandments not because we have to, not because we’re afraid we’ll get caught, but because that’s who we now are. And we’ll begin to see them not as rules that take away our life or make it less than it could be, but as a description of what real life looks like. What real love looks like. Not the distorted and deadly picture our world gives us today - find you life here, find your life there. Bread crumbs leading us back into the grave. No, the Spirit of truth teaches us the truth. That we live. A life with Christ now, and a life with Christ forever.

And the love you need? That’s from the Spirit, too. He’s the divine channel, the connection, to all you need. That you be who you are. Not an orphan trying to find your way through this world, but a child of God, knowing whose you are and where you are going. Knowing that you have a home your Saviour and brother has gone to prepare for you. Knowing that He has given you His Spirit to keep you until that day of His return, when all is ready.

And to keep you when the world does not appreciate you living this life and love. Peter talked about that today - suffering for doing good. It doesn’t sound right, does it? Suffering, being punished, for doing good. But those living in the grave and those living outside of it have different understandings of what good is. And when we live and act and speak in ways that the world thinks not good, which runs up against what the world values and holds sacred, there will be resistance and backlash. Maybe severe. It may cost you your life.

But Peter then points us to Christ. To give us confidence in the midst of that. To know that what they may do to you, they already did to Him. But they could not take His life. They could not hold Him down. He rose, and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. And so it will be for you and all who are in Christ. He rose so that you rise with Him. He lives so that you live with Him. And you do, even now. For as many of you have heard me say before, your eternal life isn’t just something far, far away in the future - it is the life you are living now. Because the life you are living now isn’t going to end. Death is simply that moment when it will continue in a new way - when we will finally see what we now believe. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me, Jesus says. That’s a promise. That we will see what we now believe.

I will not leave you as orphans, Jesus says. How could He? He who has your nail holes in His hands and feet. He who here gives you His own Body and Blood to eat and drink. He who has prepared a place for you in heaven. 

He is sending you a Helper. How could He not? For He knows, better than we, how much we need Him. And so He continue to provide. Here He is for you. Here is His life for you, His forgiveness for you, His food for you. That you live. 

And that’s your answer, your defense (as Peter said), to all who ask you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Your answer, your hope, your confidence is that Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] And that because He is risen, so are you. To a new life. An eternal one. Not an orphan, but a child of God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Easter 5 Sermon

“Gone to Prepare a Place for You”
Text: John 14:1-14

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia! 
And He is going to prepare a place for you.

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

Jesus is going to prepare a place for you. Mothers do that. When I would go home for a visit, my mom would do all sorts of preparations and get all sorts of things ready for me. Things I didn’t think I needed, but she was pleased and excited I was coming and wanted to do all that. And now the mother of my children does the same thing. Our house is full again this weekend with my kids home from college - but not for long. Soon they’ll leave again, because they’re growing up and doing new things. But there’s something about a full house. It’s a good thing. It’s the way things were meant to be, even after our kids grow up and start filling their own houses.

Jesus is going to prepare a place for you. Maybe you don’t have a place here. There are homeless people, whose numbers seem to be growing. People in prison. Folks whose homes have been ripped apart by sin, so they’re no longer full, or where they’re no longer welcome. But whether or not you have a place here, and whether that place is large or small, luxurious or simple, Jesus is going to prepare a place for you. And His rooms, the rooms of life, are far more spacious than our abodes of death. And will last forever. 

This is the home satan is trying to take away from you. Maybe by making you want your place in this world, and to feel at home here, rather than look to that place that Jesus is preparing for you. Or maybe he will use persecution to try to make you turn away; to make you think all that you’re going through now isn’t worth it. I remember talking to the bishop of the Lutheran Church in Sudan. He said what the Muslims do there to Christians is take away their houses - both their homes and their church. They’ll bring a bulldozer to town and say the government is building a road - coincidentally, right here . . . right where your church or your home is. So it has to go. And they’ll bulldoze it right then and there. And, of course, the road never gets built. 

But Jesus is going to prepare a place for you that cannot be bulldozed, that cannot be taken away. For He is happy and excited that you are coming; that you will be home with Him forever. 

Jesus is going to prepare a place for you. The disciples needed to know that, because things were about to get messy. Things were about to happen that would shake them to the very core of their being. Jesus wants to lift up their thoughts and inspire them with courage and comfort, so that when they see Him arrested, taken away, and crucified in mere hours, they would not despair or lose hope. He is going to prepare a place for them. That’s what all this was about, He is telling them. His whole life and work. Yes, they had left father, mother, house, home, and job for Him, but they would not be homeless, and they would be rewarded. A hundredfold. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3) is the very first Beatitude.

So let not your hearts be troubled, Jesus says. Trust. Believe. I am going but I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life

Jesus is going . . . to the cross. He is going to the grave. To prepare those places for us as well. He goes to the cross so that the crosses placed upon us in our lives be not for our harm but for our good; not for our death but for our life. He goes to the cross to transform it for us, that the suffering, pain, persecution, hardships, and struggles you have not overcome you or be of no purpose, but join you to Jesus and draw you closer to your Saviour. And focus you on the place He has gone to prepare for you

And He goes to the grave to prepare that place for us as well, that it be not the end but a passage; that it be our resting place until the day of resurrection to life again. Jesus goes to the tomb to sanctify it; He goes to the place meant to destroy us, to transform it, too, into a bed, so that we may go to the place where He is - to the place He has gone to prepare for you.

And so having gone to those places with us and for us, He will come back. He came back in His resurrection, and He will come back again when all things are ready, the place He has gone to prepare - ready. And He will bring us up out of our graves to live in that place, with Him. He wants you there. He is happy and excited to welcome you home. Finally.

Jesus is going to prepare a place for you - all these places, actually. That we always have hope and never be homeless, no matter our situation in this world and life. And He is the only way to it. He is the way, the truth, and the life. The only one. No one comes to the Father except through [Him].

That offends some people, though it really shouldn’t. Think of riding the Metro. If you live in Vienna and want to get home, you have to get on the right train. Only one will take you where you want to go. You could argue that all the trains are alike, so what difference does it make? You could argue that those new ones are nicer, so you’d rather take one of those. But they won’t take you where you want to go. Only one will. 

No one comes to the Father except through Jesus. If you want to get home, to that home Jesus has gone to prepare for you, He’s the only way there. You may think there are other ways, ways that look nicer, that seem better, or that they all look alike - but they’re not. Jesus is the only one who died for you and rose from the dead for you. He’s the only one who can take you to where you want to be. He’s the only one. He is the way, that is the truth, to the life He wants you to have. A life free from sin, a life in abundance, and a life that will never end.

It’s not easy, though. Think of Israel going through the Red Sea. Think of how hard that first step must have been when they began to go through the Red Sea. Or think of what they must have thought halfway across - with all that threatening water on both sides of them! It’s not easy. You began the journey through water also, the water of baptism. And there’s lots of danger on the way for you, too.

But Jesus has gone before you. The waters you pass through, He has already passed through. In fact, they did overcome Him; the guilt of all your sin and all your death came crashing down upon Him, and yet He came out the other side. And now He is preparing a place for you there. For when you come out the other side, too. Or maybe better to say: when He brings you out the other side with Him, risen from the dead, to life.

Jesus is going to prepare a place for you. The disciples, as usual, don’t quite get all this. And I wonder where Peter is? He’s there, of course. But he’s unusually silent! He’s usually the one who speaks up and puts his foot in his mouth. This time it’s Thomas and Philip, though. And Philip who says: Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also, Jesus says. They thought they did know Him. They were with Him for three years now. They had seen things, they had heard much. But they still didn’t know Him? But, Jesus says, from now on you do know him and have seen him.

Well, what are they now going to know that they didn’t know before? What would they see? What was going to change? The cross. That is going to change everything. From now on, they’re going to know Jesus, they’re going to know the Father, like never before. For on the cross it would not be miracle-worker-Jesus, great-teacher-Jesus, man-of-unparalleled-compassion-Jesus, or mighty-Jesus - they’re going to see how much Jesus loves them as He lays down His life for them. They’re going to see and know a love they never knew before and could never imagine - even after all they had seen and heard. That’s the first thing.

But part of their wonder here is the same as our wonder - for what Jesus is speaking here is part of the mystery of the Trinity. Jesus is going to the Father, yet, He says, if you’ve seen Jesus you’ve seen the Father. These statements seem to contradict one another, and yet are both true. There is only one God, so when you’ve seen Jesus you’ve seen the one and only true God in the flesh. But this one true God is at the same time a trinity of persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is simply no analogy or example, no parable, to help us understand how this can be, this reality of God. God is distinct and separate and far above and far different from everything else we know or can understand. So we can understand Philip’s statement here. Maybe we even think the same thing sometimes. This is confusing. So show me, Jesus. Show me something, that I can believe.

Well, what He will show you is Himself, on the cross. What He will show you is Himself, laid in the tomb. What He will show you is Himself, alive, on the third day. That you believe. That He did this for you, and that now He is going to prepare a place for you, that where [He is] you may be also. That though you die, yet shall you live.

That’s the faith Stephen had when He looked up to heaven and saw not a strange and unfamiliar God - He saw His friend, His Saviour. 

And so will you. For Jesus is going to prepare a place for you, and will come again and take you to Himself. He will come again for you, maybe as you lie in the hospital, maybe at home, maybe when you’re young or when you’re old, maybe in the midst of turmoil and tragedy, maybe at peace. But He will. He is faithful. For God didn’t just create you to be a momentary blip in the history of the world, but to have life with Him forever. And so Jesus came, and so He will come again. The one who is the way, the truth, and the life. The way to the Father. The Father who wants His children with Him, in His house. And not just for a visit, but forever.

And so now He comes here to this place that we have prepared, to prepare us - to feed us with His Body and Blood. That our sin be forgiven, that our faith in Him and His promises be strengthened, and that His resurrected life live in us. That when we live as if this were our home and we cling to the things of this world and life, we be forgiven. That, as we prayed, He direct our hearts to where true joys are found. And we live like it. And that we be ready for when He comes for us - whenever and wherever that may be. Ready for the Lamb’s High Feast (LSB #633).

And so we pray: Come, Lord Jesus! Come for us. Come for me. And He will. For as He said: If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. So we’re askin’! And He will do it. 

For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] And will come again, to take you to that place He has gone to prepare for you. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Easter 3 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“With Us Still”
Text: Luke 24:13-35 (1 Peter 1:17-25)

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

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

You’ve been on that road, the road to Emmaus, like those two disciples on that first Easter night. Maybe you’re on that road right now. The road of struggle and sadness. The road of disappointment and dashed hopes. The road of fear and an uncertain future. The road where your mind is filled with more questions than there are answers. That road . . . it’s a hard place to be.

We get on that road with our everyday lives. When we’re little we have plans and hopes and dreams. We are excited about life. What I’m going to be when I grow up. A house, a spouse, and children, and happily ever after. The car I’m going to drive, the job and career I’m going to have, the difference I’m going to make in the world.  . . .  And then we find ourselves on the road to Emmaus. Things didn’t work out quite as planned. It wasn’t as easy as we thought. People we thought would help us instead worked against us. There is death and disappointment. And so instead of skipping along like we thought we would and dreamed we would, we are shuffling down the road, heavy laden, and wondering about life.

We get on that road also with our spiritual lives. As new Christians we are excited about the faith. We want to tell others about our Saviour. We look forward to learning about the Word and growing and making a difference. And then we find ourselves on the road to Emmaus. Things didn’t work out quite as we thought they would. We find out that faith is hard and that the Church is not full of wonderful people, but sinners like us! One day our faith seems to be growing and the next we are filled with doubts and fears. There is the death and disappointment and sadness of folks who leave the Church. And so instead of skipping along like we thought we would, we are shuffling down the road, heavy laden, and wondering about our faith.

You’ve been on that road, the road to Emmaus. You may be on that road now, or maybe you were in the past, or maybe you will be in the future. Yes, that other disciple, walking to Emmaus with Cleopas, is you.

For those two disciples, walking to Emmaus that night, had one thing on their minds: the cross. They looked at what had happened, and compared that to what they had been hoping for, and they came to this conclusion: it’s over. Done. That cross ruined everything. Now what? 

We think that too, when the cross comes into our lives. When our hopes and dreams meet the detours of trials and failure and suffering. When sin comes crashing down on us, we make wrong choices, or we become unwilling pawns in someone else’s game. We wonder if God sees, or knows, or cares. And we look at what has happened or is happening, and compare that to what we had been hoping for, and we too can come to the conclusion: it’s over. Done. Now what?

That’s the voice of unbelief. And it can be a rather loud voice, can’t it? In our ears, in our minds, in our hearts. And it seems right, and it seems true, and it seems to make sense. 

Except for this: the crosses in our lives are there for our good. Maybe they’re not what we thought would happen, not what we hoped or dreamed would happen, not what we were planning on . . . but what God brings into your life He brings only for good. And the evil that comes upon you in this life? He can use that for good, too. When you’re on the road of disappointment, sorrow, sadness, and struggle, that may be hard to believe, but that makes it no less true. The God who created all things good is working good in you, too. Even through crosses.

And so to those two just-like-us disciples, Jesus comes that night. The crucified Jesus. The risen from the dead Jesus. The victorious and triumphant Jesus. But He keeps them from recognizing Him right away. For He has work to do, first. Teaching. About the cross. To teach them that the cross was part of God’s good and gracious plan, and from the very beginning. That this happened not for ruin, but for good. Not to shatter hope, but to give hope. Maybe not the way they thought it would be, but better. In ways they could not yet imagine.

So while He walks with them, Jesus opens up for them the Old Testament. Beginning with Moses and then going through all the prophets. And He says: See? God knew this was going to happen. See? God planned for this to happen. See? This cross, this death and resurrection, was the plan for good all along.

They listened. Their hearts were burning within them. But, like us so often, they didn’t quite get it. Because when you’re on that road, when you’re in the thick of the struggle, it’s easy to hear the words, but it’s so hard to believe them. Because things look and feel and seem so bad. Because the voice of unbelief telling us the opposite of all that, seems so right and true and sensible. Because the Word of God seems so contrary to reality! Jesus is dead and buried, not victorious. My life is in tatters, not victorious.

But here’s what Easter teaches us; and here’s what Jesus needed to teach those disciples on the road to Emmaus: God specializes in raising the dead. Satan and unbelief want us to think death is the end; that it’s all over, done. That when our plans don’t work out, that it’s all over, done. That when life’s tough, that it’s all over, done. But in reality, God is just getting started. Because through death He gives life. Death and resurrection is God’s go to pitch, to make us stop relying on ourselves and what we think is and should be, and to start relying on Him and His Word. And to start believing that whatever is happening in my life right now is for my good. Yes, even if it seems the very opposite.

That’s your Father’s baptismal promise to you. His promise when in that water you were raised from being dead in your trespasses and sins to a new life with Him, He promised that as His child, He would give you only good. Not just what you think is good, but what He knows is good. Sometimes those things are the same, but often they’re not. Often they are good struggles, good disappointments, good challenges, good crosses. And while it’s hard to believe that sometimes, that’s why Jesus opens up the Old Testament to us, and now also the New Testament, and says: See? Struggles where I worked good. See? Disappointments where I worked good. See? Challenges and crosses where I worked good. Do not be unbelieving, but believe. For what I did then for them I am doing now for you.

Their hearts were burning. They wanted Jesus to stay with them. Did He? Well, yes and no, perhaps we think. Yes, He stayed a while and had dinner with them, but then no, for then He left. But did He? Well, actually, no, He did not leave. Yes, He did stay with them. For, we are told, He vanished from their sight. And that’s quite a different thing than leaving. 

And when it happened is instructive, too. It was while they were at table. His table, really. For though He was a guest, He took charge. And He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. Was it the Lord’s Supper? Probably not. But the way Luke writes it, he sure wants you to think that way, and make that connection. That to us who are on the road to Emmaus with all its doubts and fears and struggles, we are not alone. Our Lord is with us. Even if we cannot see Him with our eyes, He comes to us in His Word, and is with us. He comes to us at the table, and is with us. He is right here, with us. With us with His good, and with us for our good. To give us life from the dead now, that we might also have life from the dead forever. Because that’s His specialty, you know. 

Which is good, for your life is as Peter said today: All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of the grass. The grass withers and the flower falls . . . Or in other words, dying.

So maybe right now you’re like the green Spring grass and the beautiful Spring flowers that are bursting out all around us, that make the springtime so many people’s favorite season. And maybe it’s also the time of life we like best, when we’re young and things are new and the possibilities seem endless. But Spring doesn’t last long, does it? Pretty soon the weeds pop up, the heat of summer comes, damaging storms, searing drought. Does God love us in the Spring but not so much in the other? Of course not. Stay with us, Lord. And He does. Through it all. Because even though all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of the grass, and though the grass withers and the flower falls, Peter then adds this word of comfort: [but] the word of the Lord remains forever. And not just the word that we hear and read, but the Word made flesh remains forever. The Word that conquered death in His resurrection and who can therefore never die again. The Word who came to and stayed with those disciples and who comes to and stays with all of us on our roads to Emmaus.

And then they saw things in a whole new way. And they took the same road back to the others, to encourage them. And you’ve been on that road, too. When your eyes have been opened and you’ve been enabled to see things in a new way. When you’ve been raised from the death of disappointment and struggle and disbelief and given forgiveness and joy and life. You’ve been on that road, too. And maybe to help those who are on the road who are still walking the other way and still asking, still wondering, What shall we do? Perhaps it is through you that they will hear what they’ve never heard before. Perhaps it is through you that they will receive hope and life. Perhaps you are the one who will come and stay with them, and through you, Jesus. That in the midst of death, there be life. 

For that’s Jesus’ specialty, you know. To take those who are on the road of sin and death, and give them life. To turn two disciples around from knowing only death to proclaiming The Lord has risen, indeed! And not just two disciples, but starting with them and even to today. ‘Cause that’s what we say this whole season . . . did you notice? We say their words! We confess that Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] He is alive, and with us, for good. Just as He said.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Easter 2 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Gift of Peace”
Text: John 20:19-31 (Acts 5:29-42; 1 Peter 1:3-9)

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

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

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews . . .

The disciples were afraid. You can’t blame them. After what they had just seen. Their teacher, their Lord, taken away from them - and so quickly! The last three days had been a blur. And they were afraid. Afraid of what people can do. Afraid of what these people could now do to them. Because people can do all kinds of things to them. And to us.

Just look around. People kill. With swords, crosses, guns, bombs, and chemicals. And inventing new ways of killing all the time. People hurt. With whips, words, fists, hate. And inventing new ways of hurting all the time. People oppress, steal, belittle, rape, bully, mud sling, and enslave. And sometimes what is done doesn’t even make much sense - as if any of that I just said does, right? But think about it: at the same time babies are being aborted, new ways of conceiving them are being invented! We’re worried about health care and yet assisted suicides and mercy killings are on the rise. And while some weapons are banned, others - bigger and more lethal - are being invented.

Those words Jesus spoke from the cross were never truer: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). We really don’t know what we’re doing, do we?

But Jesus does. What He’s doing. What He came to do. And the cross couldn’t stop it. The grave couldn’t stop it. A giant stone or a locked door couldn’t stop it. In fact, this is what He came to do - break these. Defeat these. Overcome these. So that we who are locked in fear for fear of what people can do to us - and do do to us! - so that we can have peace. And with peace, joy. And with joy, confidence and life.

Because that’s really what Jesus was doing for the disciples that night - giving them their life back. Just as He had taken up His life again, risen from death and the grave, so He was giving them their life back again. Raising them from fear and unbelief, to life again.

So He comes to them. To those who thought He can’t come; He can’t help. He comes and helps. And He not only comes, He speaks to them. Words that make all the difference in the world: Peace be with you.

Think of all the things Jesus could have said. Think of all the things the disciples maybe wanted to hear. The things we want to know about life and death and life after death. But Jesus speaks this. Some things are not for us to know now. But this is. This is what Jesus wants us to know now. His peace. His forgiveness.

Think also of all the things Jesus could have done. Think of all the things the disciples maybe wanted Him to do. Slay their enemies and take revenge on those who did this to Him. But Jesus does this. This is how He gives peace. Not by getting rid of His - and our - enemies, for then He would have to get rid of those disciples, and us, wouldn’t He? For the times we in our sin have caused fear and trouble and hurt for others. 

And that kind of peace doesn’t work and doesn’t last anyway. Just ask the Romans. They tried to get peace through the cross. But they couldn’t. That’s why they had to keep crucifying people. Thousands of people. And you know it too. When one enemy goes away, another springs up in its place.

So no, that is not His peace. This is. The peace of a cross which finally did bring peace. Peace with God. The peace of sins forgiven. The peace of death defeated and the grave torn open. A peace, as Paul would later say, that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). That is there even when it shouldn’t be, humanly speaking. But is, because it’s not from us, but from God. Not our doing, His doing.

The kind of peace the disciples had that we heard about in the reading from Acts. Those people that killed Jesus were still out there and had, in fact, arrested the disciples. But they are no longer afraid of them. They have peace and joy and confidence when really, they shouldn’t have! (Humanly speaking.) It’s one of the reason why the Jewish leaders couldn’t figure them out. Why are they like that? Why would they rejoice that we beat them? Why would they not stop and so risk their lives?

If they would listen, they would know. For this peace comes through the Word of God. The Word that Jesus spoke to them, and speaks to us. And through His Spirit given to us through the Word that Jesus breathes. The very breath of God, breathed into Adam in the first creation, now breathed into us for re-creation. To give us the forgiveness and life we need.

A new life. A life the same, yet new. Different, yet new. For the Jesus that came to those frightened disciples was the same Jesus they saw nailed to the cross, speared in the side, and laid in the tomb. See? Here are the nail holes, He says. Here is where the spear went in. It’s the same Jesus, yet different. New. Resurrected. Triumphant. 

And that’s the life He has for you. The life He gave to the disciples, to Thomas, and the life He then sent them - and those who would come after them - to keep giving. As the Father sent me, even so I am sending you. They would go, and He would go with them. They would speak, and He would speak through them. They would forgive, and He would forgive through them. That there be peace for those locked in fear. Life for those locked in death. Forgiveness for those locked in sin. And hope. Hope for resurrection and life. For new life in an old, sinful world.

And the same Peter who was locked in that room that night, would later write about this new life here received - calling it a new birth. We heard those words today. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Born again. In Baptism. To a living hope. A new life. The same, yet different. A life, he goes on to say, in the midst of trials, but which the trials cannot overcome. Because its being kept in heaven for you. Because that’s where Jesus is. And where He is, you are, and will be.

So with such a hope, with such a life, though we sometimes want to hide from the world, just like the disciples; and though we may even want to hide from ourselves and what we see in our own hearts and lives . . . we need not hide. No. Peace be with you, Jesus says. See, here, My Body, My Blood. The same body and blood that hung on the cross. The same body and blood that Thomas groped. The same, but different. New. Resurrected. Living. And here not for your hands but for your lips. Not for proof, but for forgiveness. To pour My new life into you. That you taste and see that the Lord is good.

And blessed are you who have not seen as the disciples did in that locked room, and yet have had this new life poured into you. Blessed are you who have not seen, who have not seen as Thomas did, and yet have believed. Believed what? What John said. The reason why he wrote all these things. That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name

Life. New birth. In His Name. His Name put on you in Baptism that marks you as His. That marks you as His, and makes you what He is - a son of God. And so you are, as we sang: 
Sons and daughters of the King,
[to whom] the grave has lost its sting (LSB #470),
and so to whom peace has been given. Peace in forgiveness and blessing. To live, and to give. To live not in fear. And with freedom to give to others. Sons and daughters of the King, to whom the grave has lost its sting

For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia! 
And blessed are you, who believe.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.