Monday, April 27, 2015

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Easter 4 (April 27 - May 2, 2015)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed.

Verse: John 15:5 - “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #633 “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing”
Hymns for Sunday: 602, 633, 623, 467, 548, 487

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  James 1:16-21
What is the chief gift our Father has given us, that gives life and saves us?

Tuesday:  John 13:31-35
How did Jesus show His love for us? How was this His glory? How can you show this same love for others?

Wednesday:  Psalm 150
This final psalm is all about what? Why is this fitting for the last psalm? Where will this finally and fully take place?

Thursday:  Acts 8:26-40
How is Jesus the key to understanding all the Scriptures and to life itself?

Friday:  1 John 4:1-11
How do we know what love is? What does the world say love is? How is this different from the love God showed us?

Saturday:  John 15:1-8
How do you remain in Jesus? How do you receive life from Him?

The Catechism: The Creed: The First Article (Part 2): I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. What does this mean? . . . He also gives me clothing and shows, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.  . . .

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ safe travel for Dr. Just and for our Good Shepherd Seminar on Saturday.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational president Pete Brondos.
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, guidance, and provision for Lutherans for Life.
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 4 / Good Shepherd Sunday Sermon

Jesu Juva

Text: Psalm 23
(1 John 3:16-24; Acts 4:1-12; John 10:11-18)

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.

I would like to know when David wrote the 23rd Psalm.

Was it after his confrontation with Goliath? Or maybe after he survived that period of time when King Saul was after him, trying to kill him. Those were certainly times when he walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

Or was it was after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then murdered her husband in his attempt to cover it up and get away with it, and then when the son born of that tryst died? That was certainly a time when his soul needed his Saviour’s restoring forgiveness, and when he needed to be put back on the path of righteousness.

Or was it after he survived the mutiny of his son Absalom against his kingship by fleeing to the land of the Philistines and pretending he had lost his mind? That was a time when the Lord was providing for him, preparing a table in the presence of his enemies.

Or maybe it was when Samuel anointed his head with oil as king of Israel. 

Or maybe it was at the end of his life, when he looked back at all of this and perhaps wondered: How did I ever survive? I shouldn’t be here! Either because of my own sins or the sins of others, I should have been dead long ago! Surely I had a Shepherd all along - even when it didn’t seem like it; even when I was being really stupid and sinful. Surely goodness and mercy has followed me all the days of my life.

Now think back on your life. You probably already have been, as I’ve been going through David’s life. And it really doesn’t matter how old or young you are. Think about the sins and stupid things you’ve done, the dangers you’ve avoided or survived, the times you’ve wandered or rebelled. What or who are the Bathshebas, Goliaths, Sauls, and Absaloms in your life? That pepper your past? Should you even be here? Should you still have the privilege of being a child of God? 

And the scary part of it? We don’t even know the half of it! So how good, indeed, to have a Good Shepherd.

David, a shepherd himself, knew something about that and what it meant to be a shepherd. It wasn’t an easy job, just sitting on the hillside and soaking up the sun while the sheep grazed. It meant watching out for the young and the old, caring for the rebellious and the tame, finding good pasture and good water, binding up the injured, looking for the lost, and even killing the beasts that came upon his flock, looking for an easy meal (1 Sam 17:34-35)

Yes, David thought, David realized, that is what the Lord was to him. Watching out for him in his youth and in his old age. Giving him the Law when he needed it, when his sin needed confronting; and then giving him the refreshing food and drink of the Gospel, the forgiveness and life he needed. Searching for him and bringing him back when he wandered and rebelled, and caring for him and binding him up when all seemed hopeless and lost. Standing between him and the satanic wolf looking to devour him, and then fighting the Goliath of death for him. So that in the end David could confidently say not only has goodness and mercy followed me all the days of my life, but this too: and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Now, such confidence might seem foolish when you consider David’s life and our lives. How inconsistent we are, how often stupid and foolish, prone to wander into other pastures where the grass seems greener and the sheep look like they’re having more fun. How sheepy we often are. Knowing ourselves, maybe we shouldn’t be so confident . . .

Or, maybe such confidence seems far away from you and beyond your grasp, when one little word or wrong look from a doctor can make you tremble. When you see what is happening to Christians around the world and to religious freedom in our own country, and you feel timid and weak, like a sheep under attack and without a shepherd. Such confidence, perhaps, seems impossible for you.

And when you look at yourself, at your heart and at your life, that is exactly the conclusion you should come to. Our hearts do condemn us when held up next to the holiness God requires and desires of us, and so we should not be confident at all.

But listen to what the apostle John told us in the Epistle today: whenever our heart condemns us, - as it rightly does - God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Or in other words, your condemning heart doesn’t get the last word; your heart isn’t the final authority - God is. The God who knows your heart and knows your fears and knows your inconsistency and failure even better than you - He is your Good Shepherd not because you’re holy but because you’re not. Not because you canmake it on your own but because you can’t. Because you need the forgiveness and life that only He can give . . . and does give. So that when your heart condemns you, there be another voice that you hear, a greater and trumping word from your Saviour: Do not be troubled. I forgive you.

And so, John can continue: Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; - and there it is! There is the confidence we need. It’s not something we have in ourselves or from ourselves, it’s from Him, from His Word through which the Spirit fills us with faith and hope. The faith and hope that then enables us to live in faith toward God and love toward one another. Which enables us, John goes on to say, to [keep] his commandments - not in order to have Him as our Shepherd but because He is. Keeping them, treasuring them, guarding them, and doing them, because He is keeping and treasuring and guarding and caring for us. For He, our Shepherd, through His Word and life and death, teaches and defines for us what love is, so now instead of being rebellious, we are free to [do] what pleases him - which is not only doing good for others because we know He is caring and providing for us, but repenting when we don’t, and forgiving those who sin against us. And so, John says, whatever we ask - and what do you think you’re going to ask for when God and His Word fill your heart? - whatever we ask we receive from Him! Forgiveness - done. Love - done. Faith - done.

Done. That’s a good word, isn’t it? A confidence word. The same confidence that enabled David to be so sure. The same confidence that enabled Peter and John to stand before the Jewish council and speak the truth they didn’t want to hear. Because they knew it was done. That Jesus’ death and resurrection was done and therefore death was done, their sin was done, and satan and hell were done. And even though this world is still a scary place, they knew and believed in that name - the only name given among men by which we must be saved. And were confident. For that name made lame men walk, and would raise them from the dead, if that’s what it came to. 

And that is the name you know as well, and is our confidence. The name you are baptized into. The name by which you are absolved. The name of your Good Shepherd. Your Good Shepherd who saw the satanic wolf setting upon His flock and did not run away like a hired hand, but who came and stepped in to defend and protect you, letting that wolf sink his teeth into Him instead of you. To fill his belly and howl in delight that he devoured the Shepherd, so there is nothing to stop him from devouring you next. Except that on the third day, as we are celebrating all this season, the wolf received a rude surprise - the Shepherd was alive not dead, and could not die again. His teeth were useless now against the Shepherd, and so the flock He was so looking forward to feasting upon, is safe.

And so you are safe. For I am the Good Shepherd, Jesus says. David’s and yours. I know you that you might know me. That you listen to My voice and follow Me, for in My flock, My pasture is the good food you need, the water that refreshes, and safety from the wolf. My pasture is one of forgiveness and life. In My pasture you shall not want

I will provide what you need and more - your cup will overflow

Though the world is still a scary place and the enemy is all around, I prepare My table right here in the midst of it all - take eat, and take drink, My Body and Blood, the food and forgiveness you need to sustain you. 

My rod and staff, My Law and Gospel, will keep you, and you need fear no evil, not even death. I went through that valley and came out alive, and will take you through the same way. 

Yes, it’s true - My goodness and mercy shall follow you, be with you, all the days of your life, My child. Even in those times it may not seem like it. And yes, you shall dwell in My house forever.

All that, those words of Psalm 23, are the promises of God to you. The promises of your Good Shepherd. There are no maybes in that psalm, no conditional statements - just promises. What He has done, and what He will do for you. And that’s your confidence. Not in yourself; in His Word and what He has done. Not in yourself; in His life and death and then back to life for you. Not in yourself; in His faithfulness and consistency. So hear His voice. Follow where He leads. You have a Good Shepherd.

For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
And you are His lamb.

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

Monday, April 20, 2015

Easter 3 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Raised to a New Life”
Text: Acts 3:1-21; Luke 24:36-49; 1 John 3:1-7

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.

We don’t know much about this man. We don’t know his name or the names of his parents. All we know is that he had been born lame (Acts 3:2) and had been unable to walk for over forty years (Acts 4:22). And that everyday some kind people carried him to a gate of the Temple so he could beg. So he could, with every person going into or coming out of the Temple, lower his eyes and raise his hands and beg for mercy. That was his life.

I wish I knew how many gave him help. I wish I knew if they were like us, like me, suspicious of those people I see on street corners or Metro stations, with cardboard signs, asking for my help. How many passed by looking the other way? How many pretended not to hear or see? How many thought ill of him, that he would just use their money on drugs or drink, and so justify their lack of compassion? Yet everyday the man was back, eyes down and hands up, begging for mercy. That was his life.

Until one day, Peter and John approached his gate. The lame man did as he did for everyone, but instead of filling his hands, Peter filled his ears and said: I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk (Acts 3:6)! And he did. And from that moment he clung to Peter and John, as the first reading today began. He would not let them go, those who had given him not just healed legs, but a new life.

And soon a crowd gathered, for the man was causing quite a scene. For he was not only walking, but, we are told, he was leaping about and praising God (Acts 3:9). This was not proper Temple behaviour and etiquette, and so people were running to see who or what was causing such a commotion. And so with a great crowd of people now gathered around him, Peter preached. Just as he had preached to the lame man, so he preached to the crowd. They hadn’t done this amazing thing, Jesus did. Yes, that Jesus! Of Nazareth. The same Jesus they had rejected and traded for a murderer, the same Jesus they had crucified and thought was dead, the same Jesus whose grave was empty because - their leaders were telling them - His body had been stolen to perpetuate His hoax - guess what? That Jesus was alive, risen from the dead, and still doing powerful things, like making men lame from birth walk. A dead Jesus couldn’t do that. Peter and John were witnesses of His resurrection, and now these people were witnesses of His living power. 

Now, we’re not told, but I’ll bet you could just about hear a pin drop at that moment . . . because of the lumps in their stomachs and throats. They had Him crucified and now He’s back? What’s He going to do to them? What will be His revenge on them? For that’s what people do; that’s what they were used to. An eye for an eye. But that’s when Peter tells them: no revenge. He has come back to forgive. You! Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. Or in other words: Jesus was raised, Jesus raised this man, and He wants to raise you too. 

Peter knew that and could preach that because not that long ago, he had been in the very same place as those in that crowd. We heard it in the Gospel from Luke today. The twelve had let Jesus down, they had denied Him and run away, and so when He appears to them they are startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost and perhaps wondering what Jesus would now do to them. But no revenge; no chastising or finger shaking that they should have done better, been stronger. No. Instead, there is forgiveness and peace for them. And Jesus then opens their minds, to clean out all the sin and junk, all the fear and despair, all the worldly and wrong thinking, and fill it with His Word and truth and love. That just as He was risen from the dead, and now they had been raised from their sin and fear and doubt, so now they go out and preach, proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins . . . in his name to all nations. That Jesus is not dead, but alive and well, and continuing His life giving work. Only now through men, through words, through Sacraments. But the same mercy, the same forgiveness, and same new life. He will ascend, but the work will go on, when they are clothed with power from on high.

And it has, and it is! For the gate of the Temple is now here, at this font, where perhaps your parents or friends brought you to receive the mercy and forgiveness and new life of Jesus.

The gate of the Temple is now here, at this pulpit, where your ears are filled with the preaching of the living Jesus and all that He has done for you. That by His Word and Spirit your minds be opened and all the sin and junk and wrong thinking be cleaned out and you instead be filled with His Word and truth.

The gate of the Temple is now here, before this altar, where you come with your eyes cast down to the ground in repentance and your hands lifted up for mercy, to receive from Him what you need the most - and given in those wonderful words: I forgive you all your sins.

And the gate of the Temple is now here, at this table, where the risen and living Jesus gives you His own Body and Blood, the new food of the new life that starts now and never ends.

And thus just like that lame man, you have been raised to a new life. He was over forty years old when it happened to him - for some of you it may have been forty days, forty hours, or even forty minutes after your birth; for others maybe more than forty years. But no matter how old or young, it is the same Jesus, the same power of His resurrection, His same mercy and forgiveness given to us sinful beggars, that we may have - and live - a new life.

And that new life is what John is encouraging in his letter, the Epistle that we heard today. He starts out: See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. That’s who you are, he says, so don’t go back. Don’t go back to the old, to the sin, to the world, when you have been given what is better; what lasts not just for a time, but for eternity. You are children of God, the most high God, the creator of all things! You are the dead raised, the sinful forgiven, the old made new. You have been raised from doubt to faith, from despair to joy, from captivity to freedom, from fear to confidence. You may look the same and feel the same but you are not the same. You have been raised, just like that once-lame man, to a new life. To have - and live - that new life. That new life from, and in, Christ Jesus.

And so, John says, don’t abide in sin. No one abiding in Christ abides in sin. 

You know, the first time I read that I got the same lump in my throat and stomach as the people in the Temple when they saw the power of Jesus’ resurrection and learned that He was alive. Because I still do sin, in my thoughts, my words, my deeds, my desires. Try as I might not to, I still do. But John said that no one abiding in Him, in Christ, keeps on sinning. So does that mean . . .

But then I read earlier in this same letter from John: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1:8). And then: If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1:10). And then I remembered the struggle of St. Paul, when he said: For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing (Romans 7:19). And he got so frustrated with himself that he finally said: Ach! Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death (Romans 7:24)

That sounds like just at that moment it was Paul at the gate to the Temple, eyes down and hands up. He was a sinful, spiritual beggar who needed a new life, just like us. And then he points us to the answer, just like Peter and John did to the lame man that day and to the people in the Temple that day: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25)!

The new life that we need Jesus is alive and here to give. Not so that we can abide and remain in sin, as if sin doesn’t matter and Jesus’ forgiveness means I have a “Get out of hell free” card in my back pocket, and so I get to continue to do whatever I want, all the sin I want. No, John says, that’s not who you are anymore. That’s not the new life and new heart and new mind Jesus has given you. We’ll fall into sin, no doubt about that. As long as we have this sinful flesh there will be times when temptation gets the better of us, and even when sin just impulsively bursts out of us. But we’ll not abide there, won’t stay there, ‘cause that’s the stuff of death, not life. 

You see, John’s words there are prescriptive, not descriptive. Children of God, he says, don’t remain in sin, don’t abide in sin. Don’t stubbornly stay there. Instead, when sin knocks us down, once again lower your eyes and put up your hands, and say: Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner. And He is. Always ready to forgive, always ready to raise us up again with His life, always ready to restore and refresh us. To set us free again, that we live the new life He has given us, forgiving, serving, and giving, in the places He has put us, in the callings He has given to us.

And maybe, just maybe even making a commotion once in a while, like those disciples after Jesus appeared to them alive, and like that once-lame man so filled with joy. For your Saviour is alive! His resurrection is powerful, and He has raised you to a new life. Your sin cannot condemn you, satan cannot have you, and the grave will not be able to hold you. Things will not always go your way in this world and life, but you have a God and Saviour who has promised to be with you through it all, to keep and preserve and provide for you, and to bring you to everlasting life. Is that not a reason to leap and rejoice? Is that not a joy to share with others? Is that not a life worth living? Indeed it is! 

For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!
Risen with life for you.

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

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Easter Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“From Despair to Joy”
Text: Exodus 15:1-18; Luke 24:13-35

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

The reading from Exodus that we just heard is the song of joy sung by the nation of Israel after the Lord led them safely through the Red Sea.

Mere hours before, they had been camped on the western shore of the Red Sea, and they were in despair. For on that shore was Egypt. And not just Egypt, MAD Egypt! Pharaoh had had a change of heart about letting them go, and pursued the people of Israel with his chariots and horses and the best of his soldiers. So Israel was frightened and in despair. What would happen now? Would they be slaughtered? Would they be taken back to Egypt and made subject to an even harsher slavery? That time on the western shore of the Red Sea was an uncertain and desperate time.

But then they watched with amazement as Moses stretched forth God’s staff over the waters and they miraculously parted, allowing Israel to cross the Red Sea on dry ground. And then once they had crossed, they watched with equal wonder and awe as God closed those waters back up while the Egyptian forces were still crossing, swallowing them up and drowning them. And suddenly, there on the eastern shore, there was nothing but rejoicing and exaltation in their God. What had looked hopeless and like sure defeat, God turned into a great victory and deliverance.

And that is the story of Easter. That the cross which looked hopeless and like sure and utter defeat, God turned into a great victory and deliverance. Delivering us not from the Egyptians, but from a pursuing army far worse - the forces of sin, death, grave, and hell, seeking to enslave and devour us.

But for those two disciples walking back to Emmaus that Easter Sunday night, they were still on the western shore, in despair. For the image of Jesus arrested and bound, of Jesus mocked and whipped, of Jesus strung up on the cross, of Jesus dead and his lifeless body buried, had been seared into their minds. Kind of like that song you hear that sticks in your head and no matter how much you want to get it out, you can’t - that image of the dead Jesus was in their minds, and they couldn’t get it out. There on the western shore, the enemy had won. Death had won. We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. But all we see is that Pilate, the Jews, and the grave have won. And all is lost.

So Jesus comes to them. He doesn’t let them recognize Him at first. He wants to lead them through the Sea, as it were, from despair to hope, a hope based on the Word and promises of God. And so, Luke tells us, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Jesus teaches them that things had not gone horribly wrong, as it looked and as they thought, but that this was God’s plan all along. He teaches them that the cross is not a place of defeat, but victory, He teaches them that God is greater than their fear and despair, and to put their confidence and trust not in what the see, feel, or think, but in the Word and promises of God alone. That alone is our infallible guide. And as they listened and learned, they say later, their hearts burned within them. Burned with the fire of faith and hope, enkindled by the Word of God and the Spirit that works through that Word.

And then Jesus has one more surprise for them - He opens their eyes and allows them to see who He really is. That though they did not know it, Jesus had been there with them all along. And He would continue to be with them, now and forever, in the breaking of the bread, which is Luke’s name for the Lord’s Supper. And right at that moment, those two disciples had arrived on the eastern shore. They crossed over from death to life, from despair to hope, from doubt to faith, from sadness to joy. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they sang the Song of Moses and Israel from Exodus all the way back to Jerusalem. For they knew that Christ was risen! He had won.

And that is the source of our joy as well. How often we are like those two disciples, like Israel on the western shore. We look around and all we see is doom and gloom. Problems, troubles, pains. Our friends betray us and sin against us, nothing seems to be going right, all I get is grief. My own sins won’t leave me alone and Jesus sometimes seems a million miles away. 

But our God specializes in turning defeat into victory, into taking us through our seas of trouble to the shore of triumph and rejoicing. That is what Easter is all about. That in Jesus, we have been delivered from all that threatens us. Our sins have been forgiven, our graves have been opened, our death has been defeated, hell has been invaded, and satan has been crushed. All by Jesus in His death and resurrection. And if that’s true - and it is! - then what can man do to me? What do I need fear? Why do I despair? The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. For Christ is risen! He has won. And for you, His baptized and beloved child, there is nothing He won’t do for your good.

Maybe, though, like those two disciples, He’ll keep your eyes closed for a while and prevent you from seeing, so He can teach you and strengthen your faith. But if He does, joy comes in the end, when He enables you to see. When you look back and see that even in your most fearful and desperate times, you had nothing to fear and He had been with you all along. 

And if you’re not in that situation, maybe you are one who can hurry back to Jerusalem and help those who still are. Take the message of Jesus’ victory over all our enemies to those still on the western shore, still stuck in sin and despair, and given them hope. Speak God’s Word and promises to them, and point them to their Saviour. Don’t worry if you don’t see results - that’s not your job. The Word does its work. The Spirit enkindles faith and makes hearts burn. You just take your joy to them and show them life on the eastern shore - the joy of our Lord’s salvation. The joy of living in His promises. The confidence that we have in Him. 

For that is what Easter is all about, long after the bunnies and baskets have been put away and the candy eaten. For still Jesus is revealing Himself to us in the breaking of the bread, in His Supper, and giving us His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. And He won’t stop, until He leads us through this life to the shore of the next, His heavenly kingdom, the promised land with the feast that has no end. 

So as we sang earlier:
Let us give praise to Him with endless joy;
Death’s fearful sting He has come to destroy.
Our sin forgiving, alleluia! 
Jesus is living, alleluia! (LSB #466, refrain)

For 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 5, 2015

The Resurrection of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“I Know That My Redeemer Lives!”
Text: Mark 16:1-8

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.

I Know That My Redeemer Lives (LSB #461) we just sang. We know . . . but those women did not. They went that morning looking for a dead body; expecting a dead body - a corpse which still needed its final preparation for a proper burial, for there hadn’t been enough time on Friday. Everything happened so suddenly they didn’t even have the spices at that time. Now they had bought them and went to that awful place. 

They didn’t know how they would get to that body - who would roll that enormous stone away, or even if the soldiers would allow such a thing. Even when they get there and find the stone already rolled away, and an angel, appearing as a young man sitting in the tomb tells them the good news of the resurrection, they were too confused to rejoice; they were too astonished to understand or think straight. They simply did not know what was happening or how to put all the pieces together. Death they knew, death gripped their minds and hearts, death and its sadness and grief.

You’ve been there. You know exactly what they were going through. When you get that phone call telling you a loved one has died. When you stand at the side of a hole in the ground and watch your loved one lowered into it. When you hear of another massacre of Christians in the name of a false god. Death grabs you by the throat. Sometimes its sudden and sometimes drawn out. Sometimes its expected and sometimes not. Sometimes the dead one is old and wrinkled and sometimes so young. But it always grabs you by the throat. Like those women, death we know, death grips us, death surrounds us, death and its sadness and grief.

But today we look death in the face - death in all its horrible, destructive terror - and say: I know that my redeemer lives! As those women and the disciples would soon come to realize, Jesus’ tomb was empty not because some grave robber or gardener had come and taken His lifeless body somewhere else, but because death could not hold Him. Death could not hold the one who (as Isaiah said) swallowed up death. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and so when Jesus paid the wages of sin in full, atoned for sin in full, then death was stripped of its power and Jesus rose to life again. Death is no longer the terrible, final, unconquerable end for all men and women - it is now a servant of Jesus Christ!

Should the women and disciples have known this? At least of Jesus’ resurrection? Perhaps. This was all in accordance with the Scriptures, Paul said. Predicted and spoken of in the Old Testament. The resurrections of the dead foreshadowed this. The sign of Jonah pointed to this. The Psalms and Isaiah and other prophets spoke of this. Jesus Himself told His disciples three times that He would die and rise again (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). This was God’s plan all along, now, finally, accomplished. Sin, death, grave, satan, and hell all now lay defeated. For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

And so notice how St. Paul now talks of death. He says that Christ died and was buried, but after that he says that now some have fallen asleep. For that’s what death is for us now. It’s finality defeated it has been transformed into a sleep for us. And so as we sing in one of the evening hymns in our hymnal: Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed (LSB #883 v. 3). When you’re united to Jesus, you fall asleep in death and wake up in Paradise. 

And you are united to Jesus. For as we remembered last night, your baptism united you to Christ in His death and resurrection. He joined you in your death to provide for you a resurrection. And He promised it to you in those waters when He gave you His forgiveness and promised you everlasting life. And so when faced with death you can say: I am baptized! Death does not own me, Christ does. I am baptized! Death is not the end, life is. I am baptized! My sin cannot condemn me for Christ forgives me. I am baptized! And there is no hell strong enough, no grave deep enough, and no devil terrible enough to separate me from my Redeemer. I know that my Redeemer lives! His grave is empty, and so will mine be.

What comfort this sweet sentence gives, the hymnwriter then added. Comfort not only to face death but to live life. To live not afraid of what tomorrow may bring into my life, but knowing that if I have a Redeemer, a Saviour, who has taken care of my greatest need, then He will be with me in all my other needs as well. Or as we’ve been praying in the Great Litany all through the season of Lent: In all time of our tribulation and in all time of of our prosperity (LSB p. 288). Now we usually don’t think of needing our Saviour’s help in our times of prosperity, though we may acknowledge Him as the Giver of such times and gifts. But maybe it is especially at those times that we need Him and His presence most of all, for how easily can ease and comfort and wealth and success cause us to forget about Him and cause us to cling to these things as false gods; as if our lives depended on them

But as we remember today, our lives depend on no one but Christ alone. Our life now and our life forever. Our life from birth and our life after death. Or again, as the hymnwriter put it: He lives and grants me daily breath; He lives, and I shall conquer death (v. 7).

Daily breath. He gives it and one day He will take it away. He is the Lord and Giver of life, we confess in the Creed - only He. We think we are. We try to control it. We want to define how we live and when we die. But that is not up to us. Your Lord created you here and now, to be His blessing to those around you, and in His time He will close your eyes in the sleep of death, gather you to Himself, and give you rest. His empty tomb preaches that to us today. For it wasn’t Pontius Pilate, the Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers, or the sealed tomb that had control of Jesus’ life and death. He did. He had the authority to lay down his life, and He had the authority to take it up again (John 10:18)

And because He did lay down His life for you on the cross and today take it up again in His resurrection, you have nothing to fear. That was the message of the angel to the women: Do not be alarmed, though they were. And we sometimes are too, and how much joy and life that fear robs us of! Jesus has come to restore that joy and life, that no matter what this world and life throw at you, no matter how difficult things become, no matter what doubt, despair, or uncertainty descend upon you, you can look it all in the face, in its terrible face, and say: I know that my Redeemer lives!

And one day, you and me, we’re going to be like Israel when they arrived at the eastern shore of the Red Sea. On the western side, they were filled with fear and dread because they saw Pharaoh and his chariots and army come to get them. But once they passed through the sea to the other side and looked back and saw the waters of the Red Sea crash down on Pharaoh and his army and utterly wipe them out, they rejoiced with the song we sang in the Introit: 
I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation (Exodus 15:1).

That’s our song - of faith - now, because of Christ’s triumph. But one day, when we get to the other side of eternity, we’re going to look back and see how Christ has completely swallowed up all our enemies. And that truly, all along, we had nothing to fear. 

And that you might the more confidently believe that, your Lord comes to you today, here in His Body and Blood for you to eat and drink. Not His dead Body and Blood, but His living Body and Blood, born of the virgin Mary, hung on the cross, laid in the tomb, and now risen from the dead, He puts here for you now by the power of His Word. A feast even better than Isaiah’s rich feast of the best of meats and the finest of wines. Better than any feast to enjoy now for a time. For this is a feast that gives forgiveness of sin, life from the dead, and salvation from the enemy. That you may know. That you may believe. That you may be confident. That you have no fear. That your song - not just on Easter, but each and every day - may be: I know that my Redeemer lives!

I know . . .
For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!]
Yes, He is risen indeed, for you.

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

Vigil Homily

Jesu Juva

“In Between, but Not in Doubt”

Tonight is a night unlike any other. It is a night “between.” We are between Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection to life. We are between the fulfillment of the old and the inauguration of the new. We are now rejoicing in our Saviour’s triumph but not yet in its fullness. We rejoice, and we anticipate an even greater joy.

And so tonight is a perfect night to celebrate baptism. Because our baptism into Christ is what pulls all of this together. In baptism, as we will hear, we are united with Jesus in His death and in His resurrection. It is for the drowning of the old man in us, and the rising of a new man, a new creation. In baptism, we receive Jesus’ triumph over sin, death, and the devil, and begin to live a life that will not end even now . . . but not yet in its fullness or completeness. We rejoice in these baptismal gifts now, and anticipate and even greater joy when our Lord Jesus comes again in glory.

So tonight we’ll feast on the Word of God. More Word tonight than any other service. We’ll hear stories of the old and mark how they teach of us Jesus and how He has made all things new. We’ll remember our baptism and that we wear the sign of the cross. And then we’ll look forward to the feast that awaits us tomorrow, even as we know that feast is but a foretaste of the feast to come.

And so as I remind you each year, we gather tonight in this vigil not to mourn the dead but to await the living. We gather as the wise virgins to await the coming of our bridegroom.

And also each year we hear the same story as the last of all: The three young men in the fiery furnace. It seems to me with each year that goes by how much more timely that story becomes. For just this week some armed thugs in the name of a false god assaulted a college campus in Kenya and basically did the same thing as King Nebuchadnezzar - any who were not willing to bow down to and confess their god were not thrown into a fiery furnace, but shot. Room by room then went in their murderous rage until not three, but nearly 150 lay dead.

Yet both the three young men, and the nearly 150 young men and women, knew this: that whether they died or not, their Saviour, our Saviour, would deliver them. Whether the flames burn or not, whether the bullets hit their targets or not, our Lord is greater than any king, weapon, or threat on this earth. Our Saviour is greater than even death itself.

That is what those three young men made known to King Nebuchadnezzar that day, and what we make known still today. And while the Lord took them through those flames that day, one day later died. Was it from flames or sword or old age? We do not know. But the Lord was no less faithful then as He was that day in the fiery furnace. For though they died, yet shall they live. Our Lord was with them still and took them with Him through death to life again.

And it is so for us. Our Lord is with us and protecting us from danger and harm every day, but one day we too will die. Whether it be from flames or bullet, knife or old age, we know not. But this we know: even then our Saviour will be with us, taking us through death and to our rest and life eternal. Our Lord is faithful and He will do it. He promised us so in baptism, He strengthens us in that promise with His absolution, He feeds and strengthens us with His Body and Blood, and the flames of hell stand no chance against those great gifts.

So let us hear now the Word of God. Listen in all these words for Jesus, how they all point to and talk of Him. Hear of His goodness and faithfulness, now and forever. And know that He is all this for you. Until the not yet becomes the now when our Bridegroom appears and takes us into the feast and joy that has no end.

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

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Good Friday Evening

Jesu Juva

“His Love for You”
Text: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; 2 Corinthians 4:14-21;
John 19:17-30

If you were God, if you were almighty and could do anything, what would you do? Tonight, we see how God chose to use His power - to die for you.

Is that not a most remarkable statement? Perhaps we hear it so much we’re used to it. But realize again tonight what exactly we are marking - that the God who is so powerful, so great, and so mighty, who created all there is simply by His Word, who holds all time and all life in His hands, freely chooses to become weak for you and die. And not just die, but to die your death. A sinner’s death. A criminal’s death. A most agonizing and humiliating death. Everyone’s death, that everyone may live.

Could He have chose to use His power to simply wipe out what He had created? Yes. He did somewhat once with a flood. But to wipe out all . . . His love would not let Him do. You see, that’s the thing. In this world you have those who are mighty but not loving - we call them tyrants. You have those who are loving but not mighty. But when you combine all power with perfect love, you have God. The God of life. The God of the cross.

And so we remembered at Christmas His weak and humble birth. As He grows, He accepts the weakness and limitations of man - hunger, thirst, sorrow, temptation, rejection. Then in loving and willing weakness He allows Himself to be arrested and cruelly abused, as Isaiah said tonight: despised and rejected by men, and stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He who holds all universes in His hands is crushed for our iniquities, and He doesn’t even speak in defense or objection. Oh how we and our world today would cry out! The unjustness and unfairness! Trying to get what we can. Not Him. He will give - give Himself for us. He will be weak with us. He will be low with us. He will die with us. And Jesus is never so strong as when He is hanging on the cross in loving weakness, for you. 

And with His death He reconciles you to God. You and all people, alienated from God by sin. For as St. Paul said, He became [that] sin for us. Another most remarkable statement that we perhaps do not appreciate the enormity of. He became sin, the sin of all the world, and the sin offering, the perfect lamb and the scapegoat. All your sins on Him, and then He pays their wages: It is finished, and He bows His head and hands over the Spirit, His Spirit. To you.

And so, Paul says, the love of Christ controls us. This love. It is not fear of a powerful God that controls us, but the love of Christ, the love of God become weak for us. The love so lavishly poured out for us in all His life and in His passion and death, as the readings, hymns, and even the darkness, so abundantly portray for us tonight.

And yet how often does the love of Christ not control us. When we lose sight of this love of the cross, when we take our eyes off of it, and go our own way. Our sinful way, when we are controlled not by the love of Christ, but by laziness, rebellion, stubbornness, selfishness, despair, doubt, and our love for the things of this world. 

And so we gather this night to repent of all that and to see once again the sacrifice that atoned for all those sins, every single one, none excluded, and so gives us hope and life and the love that we need. The sacrifice of the 
Lamb of God, pure and holy, who on the cross didst suffer, 
Ever patient and lowly, [Him]self to scorn didst offer.
All sins [He] borest for us, Else had despair reigned o’er us:
Have mercy on us, O Jesus! O Jesus! (LSB #434)

And He does, have mercy. For He hangs there on the cross not because of some miscarriage of justice and not because of the control of the Romans or the envy and hatred of the Jews, but because He is merciful; beause He is giving Himself for you; because He lays down His life for you; because He loves you. Powerfully.

Powerful tonight His word of forgiveness.
Powerful tonight His word promising Paradise.
Powerful tonight His leaving His mother to the care of His disciples, that leaving Father and mother He hold fast to His Bride, you.
Powerful tonight His cry of forsakenness for you.
Powerful tonight His thirst for your salvation
Powerful tonight He finishes His course.
Powerful tonight He entrusts Himself to His Father and breathes His last.

This is not the end of His life, though. He will live again. On the contrary, this is the end of the power of our sin, the end of our condemnation, the end of our death. This is the beginning of the new creation, for the seed that falls into the ground and dies arises from the ground to grow - and is still growing. And we, baptized into Him, grafted as branches into Him, the true vine, are new creations in Him. His forgiveness and love controlling us, that if we could do anything . . . we would do as He did: lay down our lives for others, those God has brought into our lives, who need our love.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us now hear again His loving words spoken from the cross. Powerful words. Not really His last words, for His third day is coming and He will speak again. 

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