Sunday, May 18, 2014

Easter 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Different, and Better, Future”
Text: John 14:1-14 (Acts 6:1–9; 7:2a, 51–60; 1 Peter 2:2-20) 

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.

If you are old enough, think back in your life - ten, twenty, thirty, even fifty years. What were your plans? How did you think your life was going to turn out? What did you think your life would be like now?

Or if you’re not old enough to do that, what are the plans you’re making now for your life, for the future? Where do you think you’ll be in ten, twenty, or thirty years? What will your life be like? 

I remember when I was getting ready to graduate from college, I had plans about what kind of job I would have, what kind of car I would be driving, and how good a runner and golfer I would be! I thought I knew - even more, I thought I could control - how things were going to turn out. 

And then I did it again. When I wound up going to the seminary instead of having a career in computers, though I didn’t know where my church would be, I though I knew what kind of pastor I would be, what my church would be like, and what positions I would have in district and synod. 

And then I did it again when I took the call to this congregation, thinking I knew how the church would grow, that we’d have our own building, how successful we would be. I thought I knew - even more, I thought I could control - how things were going to turn out.

Now, of course, I see how completely wrong I was! Not only are things very different than what I thought and planned - all along, at all these different points in my life - but I am very different. The things I thought important then, the things I wanted, the things I thought I knew, not so much now. So while I am surprised at how different things are than the way I expected them to be, and while I am surprised at how many of those changes took place because of what I would consider unfortunate or terrible or sad events, I am not unhappy that things didn’t turn out as I thought and planned. For in many ways they’re better - though I would not have thought so while I was making other plans all those years.

I suspect it’s that way for all of you who are old enough think back as well, and I suspect it will be that way for all of us who are still trying to plan - and control - the future. But maybe, unlike me, you are unhappy and troubled about it. Maybe you don’t like where you are now, the situation you’re in, how life is turning out. Maybe you’re still hanging on to and clinging to the way you thought things would be, and maybe wanting to go back. Still wishing for that control. Still hoping for something different.

Well this is very much like the situation in which the disciples found themselves in the Holy Gospel today. Three years before they were living their lives, working out their plans, and perhaps thinking they had everything under control, when Jesus came along. And suddenly all their plans and the way they thought things would be were out the window. They saw things they never thought they would see, they did things they never thought they would do, and they came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. 

And then they did it again! During the course of those three years with Jesus, they made new plans. They thought about a new kingdom of Israel, they thought about their place in it, they had visions of greatness and who among them would be the greatest! And now that was about to come crashing down as they - in mere hours - would witness Jesus arrested and crucified. And they would be quite unhappy and troubled.

So to them, and to us, Jesus says: Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. Believe not only that God exists, and that Jesus is God in the flesh, come to be our Saviour, but that when it comes to plans and the future, God’s plans are the only perfect ones and the only ones that work out perfectly. So let not your hearts be troubled when things turn out differently than what you hoped, when plans suddenly change, when you realize once again that the control you want isn’t the control you have, believe in God; believe also in Jesus. That He is working. That He is working for your good. That, in fact, the way things are working is going to turn out better than your thoughts and plans. Even if it doesn’t seem that way. Even if for now, like the disciples, you are quite unhappy and troubled.

For, Jesus goes on to say: In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going. This is the future Jesus is working toward. The plans He has for you. That you be with Him in His Father’s house, in His Father’s kingdom. A house and a kingdom far greater than any we could have or plan for or even imagine in this world. 

But the way He is going to do this is quite unexpected: the way of the cross. The way for us to be with the Father in His kingdom is through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And that is the only way, for as Jesus says: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus and His death and resurrection for only through Jesus’ death and resurrection is our sin forgiven, our death turned into life, and the curse that came from the tree in the Garden undone by the curse of the tree of the cross. Undone, for if Jesus’ death on the cross curses the curse and is the death of death, then for us there is no longer curse and death - there is freedom, there is resurrection, and there is life. 

So let not your hearts be troubled, Jesus says. This is all according to plan. Not your plan, but God’s plan. A better plan, though you may not see it that way now.

But like us, the disciples don’t want to believe it, they want to see it. Now! Maybe we’re willing to admit that our plans are not always right and don’t always work out and that God has a better way, but we still want some control. We still want some say in the matter. So Philip says: Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us. This is even more than Thomas, who just wanted to see the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and feet and side in order to believe. Philip wants to see the Father in order to believe. That’s all. That’s enough for us, Philip says!

What is it that you want to see in order to believe? What do you think would be enough for you? 

But Jesus responds: Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Jesus really is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. One substance with the Father. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - three persons yet one God. United perfectly in thought and word and action. Jesus shows us the Father and the Father is seen in Jesus, the Son. You want to see God and the love of God and the works of God and hear the Word of God? See and hear Jesus. He is the way to the Father and the Father’s way to us. And the way to the Father and the Father’s way to us is the cross. There is the love of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - for you as you see what God is willing to do for you. There is forgiveness of God for you as Jesus bears the burden of your sin instead of you. There is the life of God for you as Jesus’ death is the death of your death. In that most unlikely place, then, that plan we never would have thought of, that place we never could have imagined, is the way of our future with God.

Which means that when the cross is a reality in your life now, when there is suffering and things take quite an unexpected and (maybe in your opinion) terrible and horrible turn . . . let not your hearts be troubled. The cross is still your way to the Father and the Father’s way to you. Through Jesus. To work in you repentance - that you not cling to your idols of the future or of the past; that you not cling to the idol of whatever control you want or think you need; that you not cling to the idol that what you see you can to believe - but repent and trust in your Saviour. Trust that He is working for your good. Trust in His forgiveness and life. Trust that He is working toward a future even better than you could ever have imagined.

And that’s what Jesus says in the conclusion of these verses with these amazing words about the future: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

That’s a future quite different than we usually think of! But Jesus’ going to the Father through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead is what makes all the difference in the world. Jesus’ going to the Father means that now His work is being done not just in one place by one man but all over the world, every place His Name is confessed. Every Baptism in His Name, every Absolution in His Name, every preaching in His Name, every Supper in His Name, every prayer in His Name powerful and effective.

Now, when I was growing up, my plans were all about making a name for myself. Maybe you too? But how much better - for us and for others - to, as Jesus said, glorify the Father in the Son. To make a difference in His Name. To work His works in your family, in your neighborhood, and wherever life takes you. And maybe it won’t seem like much compared to the great plans you had for your life! But this is better, and greater. To love, to forgive, to serve, to lay down your life in His Name. Like Stephen, as we heard in the first reading from Acts. No greater works could you do than these. And if it’s tough, if it’s not quite what you expected or planned, let not your hearts be troubled. Believe. Trust. The God of the cross works in most unexpected places, through most unexpected means, by most unexpected ways, at most unexpected times, and in most unexpected people. But all that you and all people have life in His Name.

On that cornerstone you can rely and be sure. For now and for whatever the future holds. For, as Peter said, whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. Which means that though your life turn out quite different that you think or want or planned, Jesus will never let you down. Your faith in Him will never be put to shame. He will do as He has promised. Which we know because the God of the cross is the God of the empty tomb. Because Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] And He lives for you.

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

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Easter 4 / Good Shepherd Sunday Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Shepherd of Sufferers”
Text: 1 Peter 2:19-25 (John 10:1-10)

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.

It seems to me that there are two ways to look at and think about life: the way things ought to be and the way things are. And those two things may be wildly different.

For example, today is the day set aside in our country to honor and celebrate mothers. If you go by what Hallmark says and what you see on TV, this is a day of all smiles and love and togetherness. That is the way things ought to be. The fourth commandment perfectly kept, and not just for one day but every day. 

But if you are a mother or ever had a mother - and so I think that includes all of us here today! - you know the way things are is often quite different than that. Being a mother is not all smiles and love and togetherness. Being a mother is tough. Being a mother often means suffering. Being a mother often means disappointment, heart ache, failure, guilt, worry, pain, and tears.

The news has given us some examples of that again this week, as we hear of those 276 school girls kidnapped in Nigeria whose whereabouts are still unknown. This week also marked the one year anniversary of those three young ladies in Cleveland who finally escaped after 10 to 12 years of captivity. But for all those well-known and famous stories there are scores of unknown and private pains and struggles, maybe one of which is yours. 

But it’s not just mothers. For all of us, the way things ought to be and the way things are rarely line up. At home, at work, at school, with family, with friends, with neighbors, there is often disappointment, heart ache, failure, guilt, worry, pain, and tears for all of us. The reality of suffering received because of others and given by us. The reality of how the sin in us and the sin in our world has turned smiles into tears, love into strife, and togetherness into separation.

God told Eve that her pain would be multiplied in childbearing because of sin (Genesis 3). Little did Eve know that was just the beginning of the pain . . .

So it is good for us that Peter addresses suffering in the words we heard from him today. It is good that the Scriptures never try to sugar-coat the Christian life and try to make you believe that if you’re a Christian things will be all rosy and easy. Because if that were true, then none of us are really Christians. Rather, the Christian life - now, after the Fall into sin, as God told Adam and Eve - is one that is filled with suffering. The suffering we bring upon ourselves because of our own sin and stupidity and rebellion (for Peter that would be suffering justly), and the suffering brought upon us by the sin of others - even when we do good (Peter calls that suffering unjustly).

So suffering is the reality - for mothers and for all the rest of us. The question is: what do you do in the midst of suffering? And here, Peter provides the answer: look outside yourself. If you don’t, if you look rather at yourself or inside yourself, you’ll either despair and have a pity party over the mess in you and the mess you’ve made of things, or you will seek revenge and begin plotting how you can make things right according to how you think things should be. Or both. But all either of those things is going to do is just continue the “suffering spiral.” 

Instead, Peter says, look outside yourself. Look at the One who suffered for you. Look at the One who suffered for you. Look at Jesus on the cross, and follow His example. And His example is this: not just that when He was reviled He did not revile in return. And not just that when He suffered He did not threaten. But the reason why He did not do those things: because He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. He entrusted Himself to His Father for His life and hope, even while enduring suffering worse than any of us will have to bear - while He was hanging on the cross.

So here’s what this means for you - two things: First, when your own sins and failures are weighing heavy on you, your sins and failures as a mother or father, a child or spouse, a worker or student, or any other walk of life, entrust yourself to Him who judges justly in repentance. Look outside yourself to Jesus on the cross and see that there, as Peter says, He Himself bore your sins in His body on the tree. And if He bore them for you there and took the just judgment of God upon Himself for them there, for you, then God does not hold them against you. For you, then, there is forgiveness, and in that forgiveness the freedom not to despair, but to die to that sin or those sins, and live to righteousness. It is the freedom not to stay stuck in the past, but to live and work toward that rightness of life that God would have for you, and through you for others. To love, not revile. To help, not threaten. 

But second, it means this as well: that when the sins and failures of others are weighing heavy on you and you are suffering unjustly for them, entrust yourself to Him who judges justly in faith. Again, look outside yourself to Jesus on the cross and see that there, as Peter says this time, by His wounds you have been healed. For He was wounded and crushed, He died and rose again, that you who are being wounded and crushed and killed by your own sins and the sins of others might also rise and have life in Him. For whatever is happening, no matter how great the weight, He is stronger. To maybe lift it and take it away. But always to be with you in it, and to see you through it. That it not crush you because it cannot crush Him. For He who defeated death and the grave can protect you from whatever evil and sin rises up against you. And thus receiving His healing and strength and life, you are, again, free to love, not revile. To forgive, not threaten. 

For, as Peter then concludes this section, you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls

You see, there’s one thing every straying sheep can count on, and that’s trouble and suffering. Separated from its shepherd, that sheep will not have what it needs and be exposed to the danger of predators. It may make it for a while and if it’s lucky, escape predators for a time, but in the end will lose its life. And that’s true for us too, who live in a world filled with danger and filled with predators, both physical and spiritual. 

But this Sunday, even as we are reminded of the suffering that is in this world, we are also reminded of our Good Shepherd. That we sheep who often stray have a Shepherd who seeks us out. That we sheep who often stray have a Shepherd to whom we can return. That we sheep who often stray have a Shepherd whose goodness and love faileth never (LSB #709 v.1)

He is the One who is not a thief or a robber, those who care only for what they can get for themselves out of the sheep, but the One who loves the sheep and gives Himself for them. For you. And so He is the door. The door to repentance, the door to forgiveness, the door to life, the door to hope, the door to heaven, through His death and resurrection. His death and resurrection that gives Baptism the power to give us life as His children, that gives Absolution the power to blot out our sins, and that gives the Supper the power to feed and strengthen us with His own Body and Blood. That what we need we have, what we lack He provide, and when we fail, He fulfill. 

And the death and resurrection of Jesus shows us this as well: that our Father can bring good out of suffering. That no matter how badly we have screwed things up and no matter how badly we think others have screwed things up for us, your Father in heaven is greater than this too. For what greater screw up was there than to put on our Creator on the cross? And yet what greater good came from that - the life and salvation of the world. And so again, as Peter said - good advice! - in all your suffering, in all your screw ups, in all things, entrust yourself to Him. To Him who loves you, who forgives you, who died for you, and has promised good to you. He lives to give you that good, maybe in ways you do not expect and cannot imagine. He lives to give you that good, both now and forever.

So if you are a mother celebrating today, or if you are celebrating your mother this day, know how blessed you are. Many mothers, many children, will find no joy this day. And if that’s you - for whatever reason - know our prayers are with you. But no matter who you are, know how blessed you are in Christ. And not just today, but everyday

Which reminds me of the old question children sometimes ask: How come if there’s a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day but there’s no Children’s Day? And you know the answer that usually given: Because every day is Children’s Day! Right? Children never buy that answer! But as a child of God, it’s really true. Because every day, in Christ, is a day in His blessing, in His forgiveness, in His life, in His love, and in His care. The care of the Good Shepherd. Who searches for us when we wander, who binds us up when we’re wounded, who feeds us when we’re hungry, who watches over us when we rest, and who will even be with us when we pass through the valley of the shadow of death, that we come out to life on the other side. 

So do not fear, little flock (LSB #735). Though we live in a world of suffering and death, where things are not the way they ought to be, the voice of your Shepherd is still sounding forth His forgiveness and life for you. Follow that voice to the font, to the pulpit, and to the altar, to the good and perfect gifts of your Good and perfect Shepherd, until you follow that voice home to heaven. Where the way things ought to be are the ways things are, and will be forever. 

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.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Easter 3 Sermon

Today we enjoyed the preaching of Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast, Professor of Historical Theology and President of Concordia Theological Seminary. Click here to listen.